IN HIS OWN COIN
T. MORRIS LONG STRETH
C. V. GROOME had left no friend behind him that evening he took flight from the Grand Central into his beloved Canadian North.
At least, he left no friend to whom he cared to say: “Look here, Ami, I’ve got to talk this thing out. This thing on my mind gets more insistent instead of fading away, and I’ve got to talk it out with you. For you'll understand.”
But there had been no one who he felt sure would understand; and at the best it would not have been an easy thing for Groome to say. Rich fellows of twentyfour in the New York milieu, and yet not of it, find speaking from the heart rather difficult. And Groome, big-moulded, quiet, woods-loving man that he was, combined a modesty of nature and a proficiency in manly things that prevented any sleeve-wearing of his sentiments.
On the other hand such men often think more because they talk less, and since Groome’s enlistment as sharpshooter with the Canadian forces—the natural outcome of his moose-hunting propensities—he had deepened. A man, committed to the moralities by a long line of ancestral integrity and susceptible to life, was bound to deepen on those long watches beneath the uncamouflaged stars of Flanders. And on returning to the New York milieu such a man was bound to find a distaste for certain of its traits.
He had stood it for five months of deepening distress, months of unenjoyed gaieties made bearable to him chiefly by the thought of his northern wilderness. The idea of getting back there trickled through his unrest as refreshingly as a spring-fed brook under-runs deep snow. Up there he trusted to find peace from the burden on his conscience; there he hoped to find a friend like MacDonald, to whom he could at last open his heart and say, some evening before a friendly fire; “I have killed men. How can I now atone?”
He could have said it to MacDonald, who was as uncouth as a saw-horse, but as sincere as granite. But MacDonald had been killed at Ypres; and in all the vast city of New York there had been no one else to whom he could imagine himself saying that.
And during this winter of his discontent there was no hope of spring. Hence his impulsive packing-up and his northern flight “with the other wild geese,” as he said savagely to himself, for it happened in the impossible month of March. And “Oh, what a fool, a fool!” he added on that dark and misty noon when he landed, worn and unexpected, in the slush of Ian MacAye’s deserted village.
TAN MACAYE was a name to him and no more. He -*■ had gone to an old friend at the Hudson Bay Company’s Montreal Headquarters and said: “It doesn’t
matter how far north, how inaccessible the man is; but I want a decent, hard-working chap who’ll be company as well. A big order of course, but you know. Anderson, there’s someone in the North who'll fill the bill. I'm not asking for a second MacDonald.”
“Guides like that are as rare as hen’s teeth. Groome,” said the alert secretary, wondering at the quiet insistence of the boy in front of him. “No, I’ll not find you a second MacDonald soon again. You don’t mind travelling?”
“I’d cross the Circle to find him, Anderson.”
“You won’t have to do that, quite. Look here,” and the grey-headed man unfolded a map before the other, saying “two days in the train, two by canoe to the Post,
and then Pickering will outfit you for the rest of the trip. It took me four days last autumn, and if Ian MacAye’s back from his lines he’s your man, reliable, expert, about your age, Scotch, and—and singular.”
“How do you mean?”
“He struck me as having a mind,” Anderson laughed, “Isn’t that what you said you wanted?”
“I want to steep myself in the old things,” said Groome. “I’ve been living with men made of streetsweepings. I want to be cleansed by the elements, Anderson. But most of all. . .” and there he stuck; he could not say it, and the older man, used to reticence, had not pressed him.
“Don’t get your hopes too high, Groome; Ian’s quite unconscious of it all, just a child of the wilderness. But if you think the search is worth...”
“I’m off,” exclaimed the hunter.. “You don’t know what you’ve done for me.”
TRONICALLY enough that same phrase “You don’t know what you’ve done for me,” came to Groome’s mind as he ploughed along the one street of eaves-dripping shacks which composed Ian’s village, the name of which will figure on a map some-day when the map-makers reach that far north.
And Groome smiled. That week of voyaging into the wilds on the very heels of winter had packed considerable grimness into the smile, not because Groome objected to the hardships so much as that he had grown sensitive to being called a fool, or even calling himself a fool; and when he had mounted the steps of the village boardinghouse it was the only suitable word. Indeed, “What kind of a damn fool am I?” he said quite aloud from the porch.
There was no answer. Indeed that was the trouble, there was no one to hear. He had paid off his Indians at the landing, and since then had not seen a soul. Not one person had looked at him from the unpainted houses, and all the contingencies which Groome’s native optimism had pushed back on the trip up abruptly closed about him. Suppose that MacAye should be still away on his trap-lines (though this was unreasonable) or dead or busy! In fact the whole village must be dead or very busy; he had never seen a place where the horror of lifelessness was so nakedly displayed. At the thought of what existence must be in such a place, Groome’s heart felt a qualm of sickness and flopped to the bottom of his bosom. He entered the boarding-house with rivulets of anxiety flowing in his veins, though he knew that some of it was hunger. He resolved to get something to eat before continuing the search for MacAye.
The barren smoking-room, the chilly dining-room opposite, the bleak corridor were all as empty and inhospitable as a fresh-dug grave. For some reason he could not bear to call out, and so continued exploring for possible inmates. In the kitchen he found a middle-aged woman, washing clothes. She jumped when a loose board betrayed his approach, being deaf; and being deaf she was garrulous. Groome thought that she had been crying.
But his most immediate concern was a piece of steak, for which he now inquired of her. There was none in the house. Then lamb? But there was no lamb. The excellent food of Groome’s New York Club was now far enough behind to seem very appetizing to this human young man.
“Have you any recent eggs?” he asked with what he considered unusual control of temper, “Or anything?”
“There’s no eggs, the hens ben’t sure if spring’s come or no; but there’s anything,” she replied, surprising him into a look at her with the slight rebuke of his sarcasm. “There’s the crooked hind leg of a pig, and some taties that’ll stand boilin’. Will ye have them right away off now, or will ye wait till after the execution? It’ll be soon now.” “The execution!” repeated Groome. “The execution, what
“Ye hadna’ told me the reason of your coming,” said the woman, conveying another slight rebuke, “so I thought it might mayhap be the execution brought ye. Bad news travels that fast nowadays.”
The woman shot a quick look at him, though busy squeezing the suds down her arms. Groome fancied tears again, and while eager to hear about the execution found his masculine sense of safety edging away from those tears. He uttered a commonplace hope for the pork and potatoes, soon. The woman was truer to life, knew that he was keen to be informed and so said: “It’s the first execution evers we had here, and a thousand pities. He was an awfu’nice man. But justice is justice, don’t you think?”
Groome acquiesced, but with an internal twinge. In these recent surface hardships he had forgotten his unrequited groping for light.
“That’s the rue on’t,” sighed the woman, “and he’s no wantin’ to beg off from the justice; but if he had to be executed, says he, he says why not shoot him instead of hanging? I heard him last night when they was arguin’ in Dundee’s and he says that. And I say so too, seeing’s as it is but paying him in his own coin, as the Bible says: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and a bullet for a bullet, you might add.”
“I suppose that’s one reading of it,” said Groome, meditatively. “Won’t they indulge the man?” and he smiled remotely.
“Indulge him?” she had not caught his meaning.
“Allow him to be shot instead of hanged?”
“Ay, that’s what the debating’s over, that’s the ques-
“I suppose it’s fair, since he shot only one,” said Groome. “But suppose he’s shot fifty, picked them off in cold blood, wrhat does one pay for that?”
The woman looked sharply at him again, startled by the new intensity in his voice.
“It would take fifty lives to pay according to your tariff,” he added.
“I dinna ken what you’re driving at,” she said, “Ian killed only the one, and him when he was crazed; but it’s all no light question for men who are pertikerler about justice. And the judges are solemn men, and pertikerler, and Ian has an uncanny comprehendin’ o’ justice, too, he has.” And here she wiped an eye with an apron-corner.
“Ian? Ian who?” asked Groome sharply.
“Why Ian MacAye, of course. And who else? Can ye be unawares that Ian MacAye shot and killed Buskie McAdam in a fit of temper?”
Groome did not answer her. His hunger had left him now, his sense of direction suspended itself, and his mind was blurred for the moment with a haze of futility. It was as if a man groping along a tunnel had had the light at the far opening extinguished. He had not realized till that moment how much he had built on Secretary Anderson’s recommendation—“reliable, expert, singular.”
“Perhaps,” he had thought during that interminable trip, “perhaps he will be the friend.”
He had caught at an inane hope, though it had seemed so real, dowm there in the city; and now he was being punished with inanity, “in my own coin,” he said aloud with a dry laugh.
“You are well famished,” broke in the woman. “I’ll
put on the taties right away. If I was you I wouldn’t wait here where it’s all cauld. I’ve been washing up. If I was you I’d just step over to auld Dundee’s store and see how the argyment’s a-goin’. It’s nothing for me to run across and call you when the taties is done. And I’ll look again for an egg, though the hens won’t lay till spring’s come, and it don’t look like spring now, does it?”
Her voice was almost tender. “No, it doesn’t,” said Groome.
“You know Dundee’s, I guess, or at any rate you can’t miss it.”
“No, I can’t,” said Groome, “I’ll go.” And he let his feet conduct him from her loquacious presence and the steamy gloom into the drippy silence of the street.
DUNDEE’S was obviously ahead. So Groome turned the other way, with a groan.
“So the wilderness, too, is useless. I might have known. A man lugs his fate with him, even in God’s wilderness,” he said, and involuntarily quickened his step to escape it. But the clearness of that kind of futility becoming apparent he stopped, as with the jerk of a fouled machine, beneath the grey, blank skies. And as he stopped a keenedged idea cut his grey, blank mood like a surgeon’s lancet. He did not say the words: “Thy will, not mine, O Lord!” but the feeling of them was so vivid within him that he could not stir, could only stand and wonder. The rough edges of his desperation were smoothed, as by hand, into composure, and as if turned about in his tracks by that same hand he wheeled and began walking toward Dundee’s. It was as if he had become planless, and probably his sudden ease of spirit came from abruptly relinquishing the struggle; for it is the stubborn planning that pains, or worse, the feeling that one ought to plan. But Groome did not realize that then, and there may have been even something more to it. All he realized, was that he had a desire to talk with this Ian MacAye, and a desire that was all the stronger since the man was in misfortune, identical misfortune perhaps.
He pushed up the latch and stepped into the store, inti "ding upon that fatal session with an equanimity he could scarcely have believed possible. The interior was dark, the extemporized courtroom full of the silent presence of humanity. A crowd of men and boys this side of the one high counter stared at the man who made his way without remark, a course which always wins approval in the North. On the other side of the counter sat the four older men who were the judge and jury for this frontier emergency.
Dark against the dusty blank of foggy window sat the prisoner, indistinguishable except as silhouette, a Rembrandt of the dusk.
Talk had ceased with the opened door, but one of the four now jerking a thumb in Groome’s direction, said:
“Mayhap he’d do, Dun.”
“Mayhap he would,” said Dundee, looking sharply at the on-comer.
“He’s a stranger complete,” offered an objector.
“Mayhap that’s the reason he’d do,” spoke the first, “since we who aren’t strangers can’t decide reasonable.”
“Youspeaktohim, Dun,” spoke the silhouette, “the Lord may have sent him.”
A curious remark, thought Groome, for a murderer; in fact a curious voice for a murderer to have, so unharsh, low-pitched and friendly. Groome’s eyes were soon native to the dusk, and instead of seeing the fancied thing in murderers—tangled hair, bloodshot eyes, wild gestures and the rest of it—he found himself looking into the open countenance of a squarebuilt boyish-looking fellow with bulky shoulders swallowed in a mackinaw. His
head was covered and his face was somewhat shadowed by a black hat, but Groome could see that k,in that weather-tried face there was no habitual lodging-place for evil thoughts. It conveyed a feeling of honesty first, and then strength.
A pipe pulled down one corner of the firm mouth.
He, like the rest, continued to stare unabatedly at Groome with clear gray eyes that showed no mirth, no happiness, but also no fear. Dundee was speaking again:
“Before I ask the stranger I’ll ask Daniel again. Will ye or won’t ye,
“I’d ruther not, Dun.”
Whereupon the storekeeper beckoned to Groome: “Sit down, young man, if ye will. This may be a lengthy business, seeing’s as we have no minds’ of our own in this matter. If ye have a willingness to help, we would feel obliged to you.”
“I’ve just arrived,” said Groome,
“and of course know nothing of the rights and wrongs of the case.
But if there is any assistance. ...”
“Ye look as ye had a conscience, ” interrupted the old man drily. “Now this is what all the coil’s about.” And in his picturesque, vivid way stated the question which was, briefly, a decision between gallows and firingsquad. No one of the judges seemed to bear rancor toward MacAye, or indeed anything but sorrow. Yet they hesitated to grant his request because they had been raised on one spoonful of justice to every one of porridge, and could find no precedent for lenience. MacAye, on the contrary, thought he had “a right” to the decenter demise, and preferred it that no stain of the gallows might be left on his name.
WHILE Dundee was thus explaining Groome caught the brave but hopeless eyes of the prisoner set questioningly on him. That mingling of glances, that second’s deep searching set a wave of sympathy, or rather kinship, a-twanging inside Groome, and he caught himself listening, not to Dundee, but to his own emotions. From their blurry noise he fancied he caught a marvelous
and moving harmony, a feeling of brotherhood with this cornered soul, and a desire to save him mastered the man who had come north to save ■
“To judge properly,” said Groome coolly, “I’ll have to know all the facts, won’t I? The whole story?”
“I’m thinking that same thing,” said Dundee, almost gently. “It’ll take time but it’s to satisfy a condemned man’s last wish. Will ye tell the stranger, Ian, or.... ”
“I’d ruther,” said MacAye, taking his pipe in both hands, but showing no especial eagerness in his voice.
The judges acquiesced by filling their pipes. Groome pulled a wooden-seated chair near the window, a man’s length from MacAye, but facing him, and saying to himself:
“Is it possible that three hours from now this man will be no more?”
The man himself seemed calm enough. Groome took the cue of apparent unconcern from him to keep the choking in his throat from being too prolongedlv painful. Ian commenced, speaking directly to Groome, in a voice amazingly forgetful of self—at least at first.
“It all came from us being pals, this trouble did,” he began, “all from being too good pals, stranger. If you wonder how that can be, that’s what I have been wondering, too, since it happened, and that’s what I’m proposing to tell you, truthfu’.
“Buskie McAdam was my pal from the time we was no bigger’n twa huskie dogs and ran the hills together. Buskie was a gay lad, and a good lad, and a whale of a shantyman when he got his growth, full of tricks and humors and a grief to all dour folk. And he was a glad pal to have. And I have nothin’ to say against him, barring a word on his pride. Buskie was proud of his paddle, and rightfu’ proud, for he was the best man with a paddle on the Peribonka River.
“Except yersel’,” spoke up Daniel from the silent group behind.
"Let Ian tell his tale,” said Dundee, conscious of his position.
"No, not exceptin’ myself,” continued Ian, with that quiet sincerity that spoke directly to Groome’s heart, "not exceptin’ anybody, and Buskie knew it. I wish you might have heard him laugh, stranger, when the rapids would stick out their white tongues at him, and he would josh back and slap their face with his paddle-blade, and laugh and cry out coaxin’ of them to come in if they dare and never a tiny drop would come in Buskie’s canoe. It was a sight to warm your heart, Buskie standing up the whole length of a white rapid, singing, ‘We twa hae run the thrawin’ stream.’ Yes, ever since we was kids. . . .”
"The young man understands that you and Buskie was good pals,” interrupted Dundee gently, but significantly.
“I don’t mean to be usin’ up time, Dun. I don’t mean to be puttin’ off the time. ‘Twill go smoother after I get away and going. It’s a wee bit like takin’ a rapid, stranger, is telling your tale. But nothing can stop ye when the current’s drawin’. As I was sayin’ Buskie and me had roamed around considerable since we was first pals, shootin and fishin’ and workin’ in the shanties and loafin’ when we was in the humor which wasna’ often, being Scotch from the skin in. And always together.
"LAST autumn the price o’ fur begins to rise. Hat jumps from two cents to ten, and from ten to twenty and on a day—late August it was and the first snip of frost in the air—on a day I very well remember, Buskie sticks his crackit head into the doorway and says to me: Tan, let’s you and me set out the lines this winter. Let’s go up river to a place where I know and make our fortunes wi’ the traps. Yes, sir, Ian, I’ve figured it out and we can make our everlasting fortunes out of vermin. What do ye say, ye auld dolt? Won’t ye?’
“And what with the de’il dancin’ in his blue eyes and the wheedlin’ of his voice, I’d of gone to the hot place with him, yes, I’d of gone where I’m a-goin’ now. . . .without
The boy’s voice thickened for a moment, and Groome noticed that Ian had been drawing on much strength to match the strain of this revelation of his feelings.
“So we bustled our traps together and set out in as pretty a shining autumn day as the Lord lets fall on this North country. We headed up the river here and bound for a place Buskie knew, about a hundred miles to the northward. When we came to portage around the rapid you can hear, stranger, above here we was singing and gay and never thinkin', Oh no, never thinking o’ the different tune we'd be usin’ cornin’ down again; no, never thinkin’... ,” added Ian, very low, to himself, and stopped. Groome could hear the dull boom and thunder of the swollen rapids, falling on the intense stillness of the room.
“Skip that part and tell about the winter.” prompted Dundee with a sort of kind severity; and the other was immediately master of himself again.
“I’ll not want to skip, Dun, seeing's as it’s the last time, but I’ll not be overlong. We poled and paddled up the Peribonka, stranger, a weary way; but we was in great spirits, for the world and winter lay ahead, with nothing to do but enjoy them in our own fashion. We found our territory and built us a cabin and laid out our lines and the first real winter found us as snug as a set of fleas in a dog’s ear. For a couple of months everything fared grand, with Buskie chaffin’ the hide off me, and me luffin’ at the wheedlin’ silliness of him when he was on a high horse, and the pelts pilin’ up in the chest. I dfnna ken how the change came, I dinna ken. It just crept in, that’s the way, it must have just crept in... . crept in... .
“Have you ever tried livin’ cheek be jowl with another fellow, stranger? Especial cheek be jowl in the bush? I don’t mean for weeks or days, like as on a huntin’ trip. That’s easy. I mean for months and months in a oneroom cabin, where there’s nothin’ but the same of everything and a lot of it. And especially the same ideas. It can be done, all right. But I know now: it shouldn’t be done with your best pal. It should be done with someone you don’t like too well. Just two easy-going enemies is best. I know now. They’ll come through, good respectin’ enemies and neither of them the worse for it; or they’ll come through good haters, and not changed from when they went in. Perhaps even pardners is safe, pardners on the business side, stranger, but not pardners of the heart.
Business pardners will divey the bannocks and the balks, and come through in justice. But with them who love, with pals like me and Buskie. . . .yet, could we have guessed it? How could we have guessed it.... ?
“The first difference we had was too small to remember. We ought to be both here to-day laffin’ at. it, instead ... It was too small to remember if it hadn’t been that it led right up to the last. It was just talk, stranger. Just a few words about handlin’ the paddle in a certain fix. Buskie argyed one thing and me another about. . . .well, I needn’t go to explain it all. If the river hadna been tight with three feet of ice we could have gone right out and proved it either his way or mine, and been no worse off than for a wetting. But we couldn’t settle it and . . it settled us instead. That’s the truth of it; it just crept in under our skins like a sand-tick in summer, and grew and grew until it was the only thing we’d talk about, that little motion of a wooden paddle. Stranger, I’m ashamed. That difference grew from a dispute into a tiff and from that into a real quarrel and so on into a hate. Oh, it became a hate savager than the hate that two mangy toothless wolves has for each other, two old wolves who can do nothing but snarl and hate. We could do more, and we began to think of those things. I’d say—”
MacAye stopped abruptly. The glimmer of the old feeling shone down in his eyes. He brushed his forehead with his hand, and Groome saw that it left streaks of perspiration shining.
“No, I’m not a-going into that,” Ian continued, “it wouldna be just, wi’ Buskie gone....” and he looked out of the drab window as if listening to the voices of the distant rapids. But as his eyes had turned to the window Groome had caught a look in them, as if the man were thirsting for the fellow he had killed. It was such a look of longing as startled Groome to a sense of tears. And through the tears that he felt within him there came a revelation to Groome, a knowledge of the decision he would make when he was asked to decide. The proper decision, even the steps that led to it, were as clear to him as Christ had been to Thomas. “He shall be paid in his own coin, truly,” said Groome to himself. Ian resumed: Continued on page 49
In His Own Coin
Continued from page 21,
“Stranger, I trust that you will never love and hate at the same time. It is too blinding terrible. It was terrible to me, and tore me, when I was myself and alone. On days when Buskie was running the line and I was back to the cabin baking or stretching skins I would heap myself with shame, savin’ : ‘Ian, you fool, you lost fool,’ and my heart would turn to water for love of him and the fear that I’d not be master of myself in some brute moment.
“Yet let him come back, and in three minutes we’d be glowerin’ over that silly bone of contention like twa dogs. ‘You’re wrang, you conceited gowk,’ he’d cry, ‘it can be done, I’ve did it, an’ I’ll show ye.’
“ ‘Show me, then,’ says I, ‘but bury yersel’ after. Don’t ask me to bury ye, for I’ll not throw so much as one clod over your fretfu’ face.’
“And so, as the days lengthened, our hate grew. It boiled over into everything we did. Nothin’ we said suited the other. Yet when we tried not speakin’ that same hate poured right out of our eyes. But there came a blessed relief once. It was when a late-winter blizzard swept down and caught us on our lines. I got home after a sore struggle and he wasna there.
I thought he was lost, and I prayed God for the gift of seein’ him just once, for the sweet gift of tellin’ him what was in my true heart. What was in it? Why, stranger, all the old times, the kid-laughter, the kid-scrapes we two’d got into, and got out of. Then God sent him in, hale and hearty enough, and he told me how he had wanted the same as I had longed for, one chance more to speak plain, and say. ...”
Ian had to swallow that recollection with the grief it renewed, and could not say the words withwhich Buskie McAdam had soothed that single hour of reconciliation. But Groome did not need to hear them, for the haunted gray of his faraway eyes told him of affection remembered, and of that hour so like some slumbering Indian summer afternoon that blesses autumn fields before the final frost.
“And yet, stranger, after that gladday was past,strange as it mayseem toyou we forgot. We clean forgot, and was at it again, clapperclawing and damning each other’s eyes. Aye, we worse than forgot; it was as if now we had fresh power to
hate.... and all because of. . . .........
and all because of careless jawin’ anent a paddle. The thaw began, early, as if God had still a care for us; the river broke-up sudden, and in a sudden fit we set fire to our own cabin. Yes, we set fire to it for sheer spite, so that neither would have the benefit from the work of the other’s hands. We watched it burn, standing around first on one foot and then on the other, not knowing how to face what it meant......
“Yes, that burning cabin brought shame to us. Ay, a fool it is that hardens his heart. Whilst I was watching the flames creepin' up that roof which had sheltered us those early weeks of gladness, had protected us for these past bitter months of cold, a voice drops into my heart as soft as a lark falls to her nest. It’s Buskie’s voice saying: ‘Ian....Ian lad, what are we doing?’
“But I was a fool, then, and my heart was ower-hard and I said nought. .. nought. That, stranger, was my crime. Punish me for that. There was my crime, more far more than what I am to tell ye of presently. And when I did not answer he turns away, and I know that at last the past is frozen up between us. It is a pity one canna die of his own free will. He turns away, and I never again see his blue eyes soft wi’ love for me, or shining with laughter. And then began the long sil-
“With the last ice we ran down the river, silent. We made camp, silent. We cooked our meals and pretended to eat them, silent. But. the food was dry in our throats, and it fed the deil’s own flame. ■Once, when Buskie was paddlin’ bow and tried to practise that notion we'd been fightin’ over, it sharpened my anger so that the flame flared up clear into my brain, and I raised my rifle to riddle his stubborn gawk’s skull for him. But God laid His hand on my arm so that it, trembled and I put the rifle down quickly. But Buskie knew that I had missed a
troke, he heard me put down the gun,
and guessed whyfor, and didn’t practise his fool stroke that day. But I trembled all that day when I thought how close I’d been to murder, to the murder of my pal. I canna understand that sudden flame red in my brain, nor what was in me from then on ; I canna understand......”
IAN’S voice, ever low and quiet, now died away as he looked out of the little gray pane again. There was no sound now in the store except of the dull muttering stove and the distant under-roar of the rapids. Groome was suffering, for he knew enough of what Ian was to tell, to be with him in sympathy. Groome was able, by leaning forward, to touch the young fellow’s knee. But he was closer in spirit.
Death seems such a phantom, such a mere word of breath until it is actually present.; and then, death is no innocent fairy-tale. The boy was about to go on. Groome could see that his eyes were not wet, not filled with present tears; but they seemed fixed on an event beyond all tears. Ian had to suck fiercely on his pipe before he could speak.
“Shall I tell the rest, lad?” asked gnarly old Dundee gently.
MacAye did not answer him; but said, simply: “You must fix the place in your mind, stranger, to ken the rest. Two mile above here is the place where it happened, a little whirl of an eddy leadin’ you into deceivin’ smooth water and then the fast fatal rapid you can hear. That was where all our argyment of the winter had been centering. In low water Buskie’s way of argying was right, but in high water I was right. And we both knew it, and if we’d hadn’t had the pride.... But what’s the use of sayin’ that now? We felt that whirl drawin’ us for days before it came, and we knew that we’d try out our argyment. A little while before the place came in sight I break the long silence because I have to. The words just begin of themselves. I’m for not riskin’ our winter’s catch of furs.
“But my words are like oil on flame, because Buskie has been wantin’ to say the same thing doubtless. ‘Blast ye for a snivellin’ coward,’ he roars, ‘I said I’d show ye, and by the devil I will.’
“ ‘Ye will not,’ I shouted, ‘not with my share aboard. Let it out and then go drown yersel’; it’s all indifferent to me ...’, and I jumps out as we round a rocky point and grabs the canoe.
“ ‘Let go,’ he yells, cryin’-mad, ‘damn ye, let go, I’ve a right. . .’ and with the paddle he comes down on my hand, the current catches him, and whisk! he’s off and swirlin’ round the bend, leavin’ me clutchin’ me rifle wi’ a broken hand, and madness runnin’ through my veins.
“Has God in Heaven ever known a fury like mine? The madness lifts me out of my pain, and starts me runnin’, runnin’ through the bush to keep him in sight. And as I run, I say things to the trees, things born of my whole winter’s store of hate. Just to have him raise his hands to me for pity, and then to riddle his pridefu’ head; that’s what I wanted. Or no, not I but my madness wanted.
“I come out in the next open, and see him sweepin’ for the rapid, the long one in which no man can live. But he was not reckless now, but wavin’ a broken paddle. His blow on the gunwale must have smashed it. Oy! How my heart leaped! He was already in the rapid, already lost. I see that, and I blaspheme the Lord for taking the revenge out of my hand, and I run on, blaspheming, to keep even with him and hear his death cry. I run on, forgetting that my hand is broken.
“I come to the water’s edge and the roar of the freshet is in my ears; and Buskie sees me, and standin’ up in the dancin’ boat he turns his white face to me. But it is no cry of fear I hear. He stretches out his arms and cries: ‘Forgive me, Ian!’
“And. . and my hate drinks in that beautiful cry like as desert sand drinks in water, and my hate raises my rifle and steadies it and pulls, broken hand and all . though love is fighting ini my heart and pulls, with that, beautiful cry of his in my ears. . and he falls. . and my hate is gone like smoke, forever I fall to the ground for the love of him that I had slain. They say the ball went
through his heart. . But that day, that night I lie in that spot praying God for this one thing, stranger. . , for this one thing, that my love has reached his heart. . . first. ..."
IAN stopped, unable to combat his mortal anguish longer. And Groome, with that cry of “Forgie me, lan,” in his throat, tasted with MacAye the bitterness of woe unassuaged. He longed, as a brother, to say something that might caress the bowed head before him. 11 is own sorrow was moving mightily in his heart. Surely he and this man were brother-sufferers. But what couM lie say? And how say it with inadequate words! But Dundee was speaking:
“You have heard the most of the story now, young man. Buskie’s body was found with the bullet hole as Ian has confessed to. And Ian was found, after he’d been lying a full day on that point, in a dead faint, his fingers still clutched into the grass-roots and slush. And so this has come upon us, friends to both these lads, the sore trial of judgin’, since the courts is far away and strange. Mayhap you are prepared now, young man, to give us a just return on your opinion?” Groome found his voice. “lam.” “Then I ask you, for the four of us, whether you be for the justice of hanging or for the justice of... of as he wants.” The stillness of a closet filled the room. “Before I answer you, I want to say something that may make my judgment valuable,” said the New Yorker solemnly but clearly, “may I speak sincerely?”
There was a nodding of heads. Groome’s seriousness was felt.
“I want to say this,” he continued, “that I came to your village this morning, lonely, friendless, weighed down by the pressure of my self. I came into this room from curiosity, or almost from that. Yet in the gloom of this dark noontide I have seen a light, a vista of glory, like St. Paul. It has come from the story of this unhappy man, who for so long was happy in his pal. This story has awakened something in me that I had forgotten. I came into this room unprejudiced. But I am prejudiced now, friends. You must believe me that I am sincerely speaking what truth is in me when I say that we would be worse than robbers, worse than murderers, if we permitted this man, Ian MacAye, to be executed.”
GROOME stopped. It was the longest speech he’d ever made in his life, and he could scarcely breathe. For a moment there was uncomprehending silence about him, and then the voice of Dundee, troubled,
“Young man, we didna want. . . .we canna take up that question. . . .the question is....” Groome held up his hand and spoke quietly.
“I said worse than robbers; let me explain. If I am sure of anything in this life of ours, it is that there isa price for everything, for every act. We pay for what we do, or we get paid for it, and in our own coin. Our work gets paid by our satisfaction. Our sin by the obstruction it causes, which amounts to death sometimes. Our love gets paid by love. Sin kills, love gives life.
“Now God gave this man life, and it is God’s right to take it away; God’s right, I say, and not ours. But some men’s lives cause evil to spread and threaten the world and it is our custom, sanctioned by good men, to take such lives. I say nothing about that here. A man who has repented is better than a man who is dead, but I say nothing about that now, for we are not talking about a man whose life has been a life of evil, and which threatens our world up here. We are talking aboutaman who has loved another all his life until strange circumstances arose like a thundercloud on a summer afternoon. They were circumstances of sickness. They grew worse until the sickness swallowed up the whole past love. Their years of being pals were darkened by a second of supreme hate, and Ian sinned. But do we judge that a man with a felon on his finger is wholly sick, and not worth the doctoring? Do we say that the day is totally spoiled liecause there has been an April shower? Friends, can we reward the lifetime of love that Ian has had for Buskie McAdam, with the wages of a lifetime of sin, -—death? If the finger is beyond saving, let us amputate it; and if a man has sinned, let us pay him justly. But let us pay exactly, and in his own coin.”
^rTIE judges listened gravely. The one 1 next to Dundee stroked his beard and ventured: “But Ian has killed, stranger. It says in the Book, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Is it not justice, a death for a death?”
To Groome the phantom of fifty Germans falling to his rifle rose like a mist before his eyes but he brushed it aside, asserting vigorously: “Then, my friend, you count hate more valuable to men than love. You reckon a moment of hate, even a winter of hate equivalent to a lifetime of friendship. Grant that Ian hated murderously for two months; does that cancel a lifetime of generous affection? Where is the justice, the square accounting in that?”
There was no hostility among the judges. Groome felt that. But their Scotch brains were not to be put off with something they did not comprehend to the last syllable. Dundee said: “Have you forgot Buskie, young man? Wasna he equal fond of Ian? What payment did
“Exact payment,” cried Groome triumphantly, d’for, first, it was he who pushed out into the river. He brought the rapids on himself. He was a dead man when he called ‘Forgie me, Ian.’ But the Lord was just to him and gave him the moment for that cry. The Lord gave him the comfort of complete forgiving, and welcomed him into the advanced world clean of hate. Buskie died happy.”
“It may be,” said one of the old men, wagging his head.
Groome continued. “But in complete justice I must ask one question. I cannot tell whether this story of MacAye’s is true or false. If it were false...”
“Ian does not lie,” said Dundee almost sharply, and a murmur of approval came from the silent crowd behind the counter. A ray of joy shotupward through Groome for he saw forward one step farther.
“Then I wish to ask the prisoner one question.” He faced the young fellow, who until now had been gazing into the mist through that one window.
“Ian MacAye, will you answer me this one question truly? I must know. Do you love Buskie McAdam nowP”
The youth raised his head forcefully, turned his physical self toward Groome, though the soul of him seemed at a distance, and said;
“I cannot carry it over into words.”
“You must,” said Groome sternly. It was as if his own life-happiness rested on that reply.
Then very low, and directly to Groome,
Ian said, “I do, stranger, and that is why I am content to hang, if they will not grant my wish. I am ever thinking of him. And not only thinking, stranger, but dying of thought for him. I do not wish to live. You need not argy for me.” There was no fear in those words, only an affection on the Cross. Itwas Groome s moment. “Ian MacAye,” he said, very gently, “it is not a question of what you wish. It is a question of justice, for which we must give an accounting of ourselves. Your hatred is gone, like that summer cloud, your suffering remains like the empty sky. It is the debt that you must pay. Because you are a strong man this suffering will flow from you to others, becoming love for them as it goes. It will become tenderness for them. I know this. I have found it out to-day. Sometime I will tell you. . .but no matter now. We have no right, Ian MacAye, to pay you for a lifetime of love with the wages of sin, which is death. And you, Ian, have no right to evade payment for your act of hate, which is suffering. Our payments would be short all round, our accounting crooked. If we take on ourselves God’s right of judgment we must take strict care to be mathematically just; we must pay every man in his own coin. Is not that right?”
Groome turned to the four. He was sure; he wasuplifted byhis inspiration and the joy that he felt must come of it. “Is not that right, friends? Measure for measure, of suffering for hate, of love for love? Is that not right?”
Groome sat down in his old place, his knees nearly touching the young fellow’s. In the utter stillness that followed his frank out-speaking only the distant monotone of the eternal rapids reached his ears. The four were leaning together for argument; and then he was aware of the other leaning too, of Ian leaning toward him, his face pale, yet strangely beautiful, and his hand sought Groome’s....
There are times when almost nothing happens that yet acquaint the soul with life such as it has not known before; and Groome at that hand-clasp knew that he had been visited by a clear understanding, one that would last forever. Neither could speak, and it was then that there broke in upon the room’s stillness a fumbling at the door, a click of the latch, and the shrill voice of the boarding-house woman through the opening saying:
“I just come to tell that young man that his dinner’s waitin’, and the hen’s laid too. It’s spring come at last, I dare say.”