THE PEBBLE

M. L. C. PICKTHALL November 1 1921

THE PEBBLE

M. L. C. PICKTHALL November 1 1921

THE PEBBLE

M. L. C. PICKTHALL

MAYBE this happened. something like Two angels leaned on the wall of heaven, looking down on the Clearwater country. They were strong angels.

One seemed especially capable and quick on the wing. He had need to be. He looked after Bernard and Francis Carr. The first angel, the one sheathed in copperred wings, tapped his fingers thoughtfully on

the coping. He said, “Have they always.been like this?” “Yes.” The angel in the dark blue plumes pointed with silver spoke wearily. “From the time they could walk, if either of them wanted a thing from the other, he didn’t care what he did to get it.” The first angel gazed down to where, a tiny darkness on a tiny wrinkled star, the rolling universe heaved up the great fir forests of the Clearwater. His eyebrows were raised. He said, “Have, they ever done anything as bad as this before?” “No,” answered the second. “They haven’t. And they -won’t again, if I can help it. This has got to stop.” “How will you stop it? Drop something on them?” The experienced angel shook his head and smiled. Then he heaved himself over the wall and sank until his wings took the air and spread; over the hills of the Clearwater he swung, smiling again to see their littleness; and near the top of Tyee Kamosuk, hung with the great blue beads of glaciers, with the tip of his wing he loosened a common pebble. Then he went back to heaven.

On the beach of a stream fed from a glacier-lake on Tyee Kamosuk, Bernard Carr sat idly, building little walls of those same pebbles. He built them four-square, without doors or windows; they were prison walls. He built them about a black thought. Behind him on the river flats was a deserted logging camp. Shacks and bunkhouses still stood, but all awry, tilting, settling into the soil. They were straddled by a tottering flume. All about the whitened wreckage of trees gleamed like bones.' When the sun shone into the canyon, Bernard got up. He took food from a box nailed to a standing tree, set it on a shingle, and carried it to an old bunkhouse that had a door. He set the door open with his shoulder and entered. He stood, looking down on his brother. Frank Carr was sitting on a heap of spruce boughs against the log wall. His hands and feet were free. But around his waist passed a band of leather. This was rivetted behind his back by a nail, driven through and flattened, and the two ends were then taken through the

cracks of the logs and fastened outside the wall. Without knife or tools, a man held thus was helpless to free himself. For nine days, Bernard Carr had held Frank a prisoner in the deserted

camp. He held him there because he wanted something which Frank would not give. What had commenced as a conflict of obstinate un licensed wills was now darkening to a possibility of tragedy. Each man lived only to defeat

man only and break the implacable spirit in which each so resembled the other. FRANK did not stir when Bernard came in. He sat and stared past him as if ho did not exist. Bernard set the food down beside him. He said, “Is there anything else you want?” Silence. “Is your arm paining you?” Silence. Men said the Carrs had dark blood in them; and it was a darkness rather than a flush which now stained Bernard’s face. Frank’s silence was an outrage on his tormented nerves. But he mastered himself. His brother’s arm was bound in a sling of handkerchiefs. These Bernard now unfastened, and Frank suffered it, His arm la in Bernard’s hold like a dead man’s, and his face showed no consciousness of the other’s presence. Bernard rolled back the sleeve. The arm had been nearly broken. It was Bernard who had given the in-

jury, in pursuit of what he wanted. He bathed the bruise and rebound it. His lightest touch must have given Frank kepn suffering, but he did not betray it even

by quickened breath.

When tiiis was done, Bernard stood up. He said quietly,^ “Will you tell her?”

Bernard went out and shut the door.

When he was gone, Frank began to shiver. He shivered intolerably from pain and strain. He had only to give Bernard what, in a sense, was his by right; but he would not; he preferred to wreck Bernard against the rock of his own silence. He drew up his knees, rested his head on them, and sat waiting for the next battle; striped from head to foot with the free sunlight entering the unstopped logs.

Down on the river beach, Bernard was staring haggardly at the hills; he said, “I won’t lose you, Honor. I swear I’ll keep him here till he tells you the truth, or till

he........”

Here his thoughts stepped back, as a man steps back from the edge of a pit. He too rested his head on his knees; prisoner in the free sunlight to his own resolve.

For it all began with Honor Maitland and a story she had been told.

It was not the story of any great evil, as men count such things. But Honor had just given to Bernard Carr her own singularly sensitive and unstained heart. And she had faced him with a mortal hurt in her eyes, saying wistfully, “Did you do this, Bernard?”

“No,” said Bernard Carr. Then, meeting her look, “You don’t believe me?”

“Dear, I can’t! I can’t....”

The story had been well and truly told, you see; with just this error; it had attributed to one brother the doing of the other. Bernard considered her. He saw that she could not believe him, though she was longing to be able to. He knew that he was in danger of losing what, in his fierce secret way, he wanted even more than her love. He said, “I’ll bring you the man who did it. He shall tell you he did it. And then you’ll believe me.”

He had trailed Frank all through the Clearwater country, run him down at last, and told his need. And Frank had lavghed at him. And Bernard had struck Frank’s laughing face, beaten him down, dragged him half-insensible across the hills to the deserted camp, and held him a prisoner there until he should promise to tell Honor the truth. And from that hour Frank had refused to speak one single word. Bernard thought much less of Honor now He thought of nothing but making Frank tell. Just as Frank thought of nothing but keeping silence, though two lives * were hurt for it.

IX^HEN the canyon was in shadow Bernard again carried food to the bunkhouse. Again he stood looking down at his brother.

He saw that the food he had brought in the morning was not touched; and that Frank lay flat among the scattered branches at the very end of the straps. Bernard asked monotonously, “Are you going to tell her?” Silence.

To Bernard, it seemed a heavier silence than usual. Something in the attitude of the other struck, from old kindness, a sudden spark of fear. His hardness softened. He leaned over his brother, a hand on his shoulder, saying in a changed voice, “Frank. .. .?”

Instantly Frank had turned, caught him savagely round the neck with his sound arm, while with the hurt hand he groped feverishly in Bernard’s belt for the strong knife he generally carried, there.

Bernard’s fear chilled, became a strange horror; for there was little less than murder in that gripping arm, that searching hand; then everything went out in anger the blacker for that momentary softening. He flung back, but could not get free. He toppled and fell, and they both rolled, struggling among the boughs in fierce silence, while woodrot rained on them like dust from the shaken

It was not a struggle that could last long. Bernard got his hand free and grasped Frank’s wrist. It was the injured wrist. Almost instantly Frank’s body went slack and weak. The pain nearly made him faint. But he said nothing. Bernard got up and stood again, looking down on him.

Presently he said in a thick, drunk voice, “I left the knife outside. And anyway, do you think you’ll get the better of me this way?”

Frank said nothing.

You can stay here,” said Bernard in the same strange voice, “until you speak, or until you’re dead. Understand?”

Silence. The man among the boughs lay as if he was dead

already. For a second Bernard hesitated. Then he went out and shut the door.

He would not have left Frank so four days ago; five days ago, he would have looked to see if he was hurt; six, seven days back, that white face of pain among the branches might have broken his bitter resolution....

But now he went out. Striding along the beaches under the earliest stars, he had a feeling of utter solitude. He was shut off from the eyes, the opinions, the laws and manners of men. No one watched them. No one knew they were there. Unbidden as a snake, the thought slid into Bernard’s mind that he could do anything, and it would never be found out. ...

He turned and ran from the thought. It persisted. He was afraid of himself, of his brother. Above all, of this strange isolation in which they were together. Most of all, he was afraid of losing Honor.

He looked up at the night. “I’ll do anything," he said, “but he shall speak! Honor, I won’t lose you!” His words and his resolve seemed to vanish into utter space. He shivered, and went to the shack where he slept. He slept heavily as a sick man, with black dreams. He thought Frank was outside, pattering with his fingers on the door, on the walls, trying to get in. He woke with a cry. It was only the pattering of rain, falling on the deserted camp that in its decay housed such hate and passion, on the forest: on the high slopes of Tyee.

With the morning, Bernard went again to the bunkhouse carrying food and water. His voice was a little unsteady as he asked, “Are you willing to tell her?” Silence. Frank’s face, so like his own, was set like stone; a stone face, grown somewhat haggard about the eyes and lips. A feeling that shook him swept over Bernard. He hated that stone face. He wanted to see it scared, hurt, asking for pity and freedom.

He caught himself back again. He repeated, almost with appeal, “Frank, won’t you speak today?” Silence.

r a long minute, Bernard said thickly, "There won’t be many more days.. .” As he went out, he himself did not just know what he meant by this. He ran from the bunkhouse into the rain as if he was crazy. He wished there had been someone else with them. The sense that they were all alone with their own passions, unwatched, unjudged, solitary as if they were marooned on a bare star adrift in space, unloosed queer things in a man’s soul. All alone. And no one would know. . . .

Bernard began to pace the wet beach rapidly,

saying, “Honor, Honor, Honor____” Once he

stopped, staring into the mist of rain above Tyee. He had heard a dull thunder. In a moment, he had forgotten it. It was only a pebble, loosened by the rain, that had slipped, and gathered other pebbles, and paused, and rolled again; a scrap of the commonest stuff of the world, such as he ground underfoot, slipping from the heights of Tyee; plunging, gathering stones, trees, rubble; finally sinking, under a few tons of assorted rubbish, into the mouth of the glacier lake which fed the river by which Bernard paced.

Back in the bunkhouse, Frank was holding something that Bernard had dropped. It was a single match.

He nursed it a long while in his hands, sending quick glances at the door. A sudden creak, a twig tapping, made him start. But there was no sound of Bernard. Only of the rain.

Having made sure that Bernard was not near, Frank began to hunt for the dryest twigs of the boughs which had, for ten unimaginable days and nights, made his bed. He picked out the dead slivers, the frayings of bark, the golden beads of resin. He gathered everything that might be dry enough to bum into a small heap close beside him. His hands shook as he kindled the heap with his one match. He hardly dared breathe. But the small flame grew and mounted. A flame rose in him with the fire among the twigs. A heat which blotted out clear thought, but left him the picture of himself, standing over Bernard and laughing.

When the flame held a little core of heat like a coal, Frank leaned over it. He thrust a handkerchief stripped from his arm between his body and the strap round his waist. With set fierce lips, he waited for the flame to crack and shrivel the leather. He did not care if it cracked or shrivelled his own flesh, so long as he got free.

He only wanted to get free so that he might break Ber-

The leather blackened and shrivelled in the flame, with a strong smell. Frank watched. It was only superficially charred. He set his teeth and leaned lower. His shirt scorched, points of fire burned his side. He did not

Suddenly he heard a step. Bernard was coming back. He was opening the door.

Frank instantly dropped so that he lay right on the little fire. He hoped it might burn through the leather before Bernard found out.

But the bunkhouse was full of the smell. Bernard went to Frank at once and pulled him back. Frank flung both arms round Bernard, striving to get him down. He could not. There was a black hole burned in his shirt, and he was weak with what he had suffered. He struck Bernard once, with all his strength remaining, across the mouth. Then Bernard laughed and beat him down and trod out the fire.

The strap was sound yet. Frank’s side was burned worse. Bernard looked at both, wiping the blood from his mouth. He stood as usual, looking down at Frank. And for the first time Frank looked full at him. What was in their eyes was not good to see. Cut off from mankind for just a few days, alone with their own passions, they had become something different to men; different to beasts too, since their battle was not with their bodies only. For a minute Bernard waited. Then he said, “Will you speak?”

Frank was silent, staring at him with eyes like stones.

“All right.” Bernard’s voice rocked a little, he rocked a little on his feet as he stood. “You persist in being silent. Well, I’ll be silent too.” He glanced at the empty plate and water-can, the wrapped wrist, the burned hole in the shirt. “If you want anything,” he said, in that strange voice he hardly knew for his own, “you can ask for it.” f

The silence held. Bernard had the feeling that it would hold forever and ever. That nothing would ever break that silence of hate between them. He went again out very quickly and shut the door.

Continued on page 47

The Pebble

Continued, from page 10

He did not go near Frank the rest of the day. Nor that night. There was no sound from the bunkhouse. He listened. He never stopped listening. But Frank never spoke once.

The rain kept on. Bernard, pacing the river beach, was wet through. He wondered if Frank was very thirsty. It was queer,with all that rain, that the water in the river should have shrunk. The next morning, there was only a small thread trickling over rain-wet shingle, pebbles brought down from the hills. But Bernard never noticed.

Softly as a cat, he crept to the bunkhouse door. He was afraid to open it.

In the gray,wet dawn light, he stood and listened.

He was quite alone in the world. No one heard or saw him. No one knew..._.

“Frank,” he whispered under his breath, “Frank, ask me for it! Speak to me, Frank! Say you’ll tell!”

Everything was very still. Even the voice of the river was silenced. There was no voice from the bunkhouse. Only the rain fell heavily, heavily.

The strong man who was all alone in the universe put out his hand and touched the door. But he was afraid. He shrank away and ran to the river again. He was scared because he heard nothing.

Silence met him here too. The channel wras nearly dry.

Then he knew he must got, away at all costs from this silence he had made.

HE STOLE back, and with trembling hands snatched together part of his camp outfit. A dozen times, as he loaded himself, he thought he heard a sound, and stopped, gasping. But there was none. The bunkhouse was voiceless under the mournful rain.

He climbed to the rim of the canyon. He looked back. The little rotten buildings were there beneath him, black in the wet, and the tottering flume. He went on, and they were hidden, gone as if they didn’t exist. He was cut off from the old camp and what it held as if he was on another world.

He went on in furious haste, travelling blindly, back into the hills. Direction didn’t matter to a man that the universe had forgotten.

Silence still followed him. Beneath, in the canyon whose course he followed, the river should have sung in a hundred happy rapids and deep-noted pools. But the channel was nearly empty.

Bernard Carr climbed with the silence all day. He climbed until, with the night, he dropped. He slept where he lay. He woke to light and sound.

And for a soul’s instant, as he woke, he knew he was not forgotten; that in some way, the light and the sound were for him; that some vast working had stayed in itsibusiness because of him and that everyAforce of the universe was a little

changed because of himself and Frank.

The flash of revelation passed. The light was only a stormy sunrise. The sound. .. .

He leaped to his feet and crashed through the wet bush till he looked down into the canyon.

Beneath him roared a frothing torrent of flood-water, fretting against the canyon walls. The slide, started by the one pebble on Tyee, dammed the mountain lake that fed the river; the pressure of the water, rising in the rain, presently burst the dam. That was all.

But Bernard; Bernard stood on the edge of the canyon and was wrenched by an agony more than physical._ He saw all that he had done in one stripped and burning second. It came to him in a picture,—a picture of the flood, speading over the narrow flats on which stood the deserted logging camp.

He turned and began to run.

He ran back the way he had heavily climbed the day previous. He had reached the exact psychological limit. He could abuse Frank himself, with all the queer savagery hidden in his wild soul. He could not leave him to the river. .. .

He hurled himself down the steep trail. He was racing the river,—the river whose voice seemed already a beast’s roar of triumph. Bernard groaned and cried as he ran. He did not know it. He hurled himself from rock to rock. Avoiding detours, he swung himself from ledge to ledge by the roots and boughs of trees. He went through the buSh on one fierce direct line, as if he was of steel, not flesh. He was ripped and torn, bruised and fouled. He only felt the released flood in his own spirit, the dam gone down; and the thunder of the released stream beneath was as his own’ voice, crying him on.

He came out by the camp at last, after hours, panting and reeling. He swept the sweat from his eyes and looked.

The flood was over the flats from wall to canyon-wall. It was whirling treestumps with it, ancient wreck of forests. It was fingering and pushing the small decayed buildings; the roofs of some were partly submerged. The old flume stood gaunt over all. The bunkhouse... .

Bernard pitched himself anyhow down the rocks, clinging to slippery madrono roots with bleeding fingers. He lowered himself into the water and began to wade towards the bunkhouse. The flood took him off his feet. He found them again. A log came down on him. He ducked, the old roots entangled him. When he rose he was half-drowned. He struck out, swam a few strokes, got his feet again, staggered on, pitched against the bunkhouse door.

THE bunkhouse stood on a little rise of ground. The brown flood was barely to his thigh. He rested against the post a moment, his hands weak, with-

1 out strength to open .. He felt the old I post quiver. He set the door wide with his shoulder and entered.

He stood, looking down on his brother.

Frank was sitting as Bernard had left him, strapped to the wall. As he sat, j the water was nearly to his throat.

Bernard splashed forward. He said j quite quietly, “Frank.”

Frank's eyes opened. He looked at ! Bernard. Presently his lips moved. He ; whispered, “1 knew you’d come hack

Bernard, down beside Frank in the deepening water, was slashing at the wet leather with his knife. The blade turned, j or his hand was weak. He could not cut I it. He tore fiercely at the fastening. The riveting nail yielded, frank was free. Bernard got an arm round him, raised him to his shoulder, and staggered to the door. He plunged into the deeper water, carrying his brother.

Frank’s head had fallen. Now he raised ¡t. He said faintly, “Set me down. You can’t carry me....”

Bernard did not reply, but he would not have set Frank down then, for anything the world could offer. In all life, there was no possible combination of circumstances that could make him quit Frank again.

[ Down the river came a fresh wave of flood-water, the rain and ruin of the hills, crested with torn wood-stuff. Bernard was taken off his feet again. He struggled. He could make no head against the torrent. The earth was running with the water. He saw a shack crumple and melt away into sticks, which swung down the canyon.

He looked round. There was a chance. The current was sweeping them down on the low end of the old flume, which was now not three feet from the level of the

He said in Frank’s ear, “Can you use your hands?”

He said it twice. Then Frank said,

“Yes.”

“Be ready to catch hold, then, when I yell at you.”

He ceased his efforts. He let the flood do its will with them. They were swept down on the flume. Gaunt and crazy, it was corning,—near,—straddling right over them.....

“Now!” yelled Bernard.

He gathered all his strength, and heaved Frank up as high as he could. Frank caught at the raw ends of the old timbers and clung on. The whole structure swayed. Frank did not let go. Inch by painful inch Bernard, holding a strut with one hand, raised him with the other. At last Frank dragged himself up on the rotten planks that still in places floored the flume.

In a little while Frank whispered. “Help me up, and I can walk now.”

“No,” answered Bernard with a kind of sob. “I’m goin’ to carry you....”

Along the tottering pathway of the flume, sometimes on a single timber, sometimes striding from cross-piece to swaying cross-piece, Bernard Carr carried his brother to the shore.

THEY pitched down together among the rocks, one as weak as the other, and had no count for awhile, of time or place. Then Bernard drew himself up slowly, and looked at the river, and looked at Frank, and covered his face with his

Frank said weakly, “I started it. I was wrong to begin with.. .”

“Will you ever forgive me?” ^saidTernard. A **

“Berny,” said Frank in a shaking voice. For fierce Bernard Carr was down'on (his face, crying like a girl.

“It’s—all-right,” he said hoarsely, “I’ll he—all right—in a minute. Then I’ll -fix a camp where I can—nurse you up—till you’re fit to—lick the bones out

It was nearly a month later that the Carrs,—very lean, very quiet of eye, and curiously gentle of each other,—came out of the wilds to Springvalley, where Honor Maitland was waiting. And to Honor Maitland, Frank Carr, quietly and gravely, told the truth.

So they were happy, all three, after the happiness of people who have, each one of them, something to be sorry for and something to forgive. And miles away, in a nameless glacier lake, a pebble lay under the weeds and gravel and stirring of waters; a worn scrap of the commonest substance of the earth, which had redeemed them all.