FICTION

City Man

NORMAN MATSON August 15 1933
FICTION

City Man

NORMAN MATSON August 15 1933

City Man

NORMAN MATSON

THE SITTING-ROOM carpet seemed to breathe. Its centre rose and fell slowly. It always did that when a high easterly wind blew. All afternoon snow had fallen in big flakes, and the school bus had not climbed the long hill up from town; but now Farmer Terrill, bringing in an armful of hardwood logs for the fireplace, told his wife that the sky was clear. I here would be a moon, he said. I he three boys, evenly graduated in size like the three bears, spooned their suppers from bowls at the round kitchen table, cheeks flaming, eyes closing with drowsiness.

“Time for bed." Terrill told them. He had a slow, rumbling voice. They went without complaint.

Mrs. Terrill sat in a grey shawl, watching the carpet breathe. Through small silver-rimmed spectacles Terrill read the Star-, and the wind made a bassoon of the kitchen drain pipe soft and melancholy sounds that deepened the silence.

Mrs. Terrill dozed.

Her husband lowered the Star, looked sideways over his glasses.

"Louise," he rumbled, “what’s that?"

She started broad awake, listening. It was at the door; something groping, brushing against the panels out there. It was a lonely road, a lonely hour. They were surprised. Clearly then came the command to open; knock, knock, knock.

“Come in,” Terrill said.

No one came in.

Terrill looked at his wife, grey brows high in a question. He clumped down the long room, opened the hall door, opened the outer. His voice, muffled in the small entry, said: “Well, come in, in heaven’s name!”

A city man blinked in the bright warmth of the sitting room, a slim young man in a waist-fitted black overcoat and gloves. He had a derby hat in his hand: the other hand was in his coat pocket, held there. A thin face he had, with dark, dead eyes and unsmiling lips, the sneer line deep against a Haring nostril.

I here was a threat in him. He was strange and dangerous

as a cobra would have been in the sitting r<x>m. He said, l<x)king from one to the other:

“I'm on my way to Claremore. This the shortest way, George?”

Terrill, whose name was not George, replied gravely: “Claremore’s fifteen miles away. No car could make it in this snow.”

"I found that out, George. I’m walking.”

“Tonight?”

“No fooling.”

Mrs. Terrill seemed to think about this.

“No what?" she asked.

"No fooling.” He did not smile. With his thumb he pointed at the open kitchen door. "Go get me something to eat.”

She blinked as if he had slapped her.

“Goon, ma,” Terrill said.

MRS. TERRILL bustled about the kitchen. Each time she passed the door she looked into the sitting nx>m to guard her big husband.

Her big husband puffed his corncob. He was thinking about the boys in the next room and about his shotgun out in the t(X)l shed. Slowly he stood up, stretching.

“Sit down.”

He sat down again.

“Where’s your phone, George?”

“There, in the comer. The box has been taken away to be fixed, as you see.”

The stranger looked.

"That's too bad.” He smiled for the first time.

Ham and potatoes, smoking hot, rode in on the outstretched hands of Mrs. Terrill.

“Take off your coat, young man.”

Instead, he buttoned it tighter and began to eat.

“There’s blood on your wrists, young man.”

His eyes narrowed, upper lip snarled back from white teeth.

"You he started to say.

“Mow'd you hurt yourself?”

He looked long into Terrill’s grave, calm face, finally grunted and went back to his hasty eating.

"It's a lonely road to Claremore, not a house on it.” “Yeh."

“We got an extra bed.”

"Couldn't use it, George.”

They went slowly to the outer door.

Moon and snow made blue daylight on the hills.

"If you must, you must,” Terrill said. "Turn left at the next crossroads. After that keep bearing to your left, on past the lake, then up the hill again.”

"I get it “Good night."

Mrs. Terrill said in a loud whisper:

"That man scared me.” The sitting room seemed to remember the menace of the dark, ugly young man "Maybe you'd better get down to the Grahams’ and phone.” “Woman, that’s five mile away; and I'm tired.”

“A bad man.” she said, “with blood on him.”

“His own,” Terrill reminded her. “Calm down, ma.” They went upstairs to their bedroom under the steep roof. S<x)n they slept. It was late, after ten o’clock.

BEFORE DAWN Terrill was out. In the dark of the stables he stfxxl a moment listening to the munching and the crunching sound of the beasts eating. The sound always pleased him, particularly of a cold, dark morning. Stomping back on snow that creaked, he saw a big man in a sheepskin coat to his heels standing at the kitchen door.

"Hi. Mr. Policeman. Well, speak of the devil. I was just about to go after you. What gets you out before daybreak?” The provincial constable explained. He was looking for a city man. Terrill filled in some details.

“Yessir.” concluded the constable, "there was Tony—you know him, man from Montreal came here last fall and

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bought the big mill over to Clark's Falls, fine fellow if there ever was one—there he was. I say, knees to chin in a sugar sack, a great mess of blood, stabbed twenty times, dead's mutton and froze solid to the cushions of the back seat. Your man was taking him somewheres, the lake maybe, when the snow stopped his wheels. So he had to take to his legs. Then you go and let him get away. I’m ashamed at you. Terrill.”

“He had a gun and I didn’t, and my three boys was sleeping in the next room. But come inside; the old woman’ll fix breakfast.” The old woman was exceedingly anxious for conversation.

“Most every other word he said,” she told the officer, “was ‘no fooling’.”

“We’ll have breakfast in the setting room.” Terrill said.

“You'll have breakfast right here in the kitchen where you both belong.”

“We’re having it in the setting room.” They did. She heard the rumble of her husband’s voice, but not his words. Bringing in a leaning tower of pancakes, her eyes widened to see the officer’s big pistol lying

on the table; to see that the inner door was propped open against a chair, leaving unobstructed the view through the pane in the outer door.

The constable poured himself a cupful. Now they ate steadily and said little. The constable scraped his plate. He said in a low voice:

“Somebody in the road. And, by jingo, he’s coming right to the door. You were right, Terrill !”

The man trudged, head down. They watched him until, face against the pane, he peered into the house

Terrill opened and stood aside. The officer levelled his pistol. Gloved hands rose slowly. Dead black eyes stared long at Terrill.

“How’d you get here?” he said finally.

“I been here right along, young man,” Terrill said. “In fact. I been expecting you. You walked in a circle. That’s what you do when you bear to the left on the way to Claremore.”