A MACLEAN'S NOVEL AWARD
As the boat slipped into Alberni where the sinister Robinson waited, Pat Crogan realized that Monica would like pulling the legs off flies
WHAT HAS HAPPENED
Prospector Pat Crogan was looking forward to a solitary summer sifting gold from the black sand of a remote west-coast beach. His idyll was broken by Monica Jack, a lovely if vicious halfbreed, Charlie, her rich and domineering father, and a mountie looking for a still. Then the battered body of a fisherman on the beach stirs Crogan’s suspicions and he visits Ucluelet.
The mountie jerked his head toward the office at the hack of the cluttered Ucluelet store. “Come and see what it’s like to do business with Charlie. He makes them keep four ledgers, one for the family account, one for the boat account, one for the cousin account, and the deadbeat account for those who aren’t cousins. Arms may get twisted but the cousin account is collectable. The deadbeat account not quite.”
The owner, rustling invoices, looked up at them.
“Will,” said Rise and Shine, “I've been telling Crogan of the Charlie Jack system. Could we have a look at the deadbeat ledger?”
With his free hand, the owner reached into a drawer and held out an oilskin-covered exercise book. “The record of sweet charity,” he said. “I’ll be wfith you in a minute.”
Each page was headed by the month, and columned to show the day, the recipient, type of merchandise, the amount, the signature, and space was reserved for expressions of gratitude or praise, happy comments and attestations of undying loyalty. The number of entries in any
month varied from perhaps a dozen to twenty. The merchandise listed was mostly tobacco, meat, flour, or simply groceries, boots, pieces of clothing, gallons of gas, quarts of oil. No individual amount was greater than ten dollars. The names were nearly all Siwash — Eddie Jacobs, Tommy Jacobs, Tommy Isaac, Agnes Jimmy, Keena Joe, Charlie Eagle, Runty Eagle, Pachena Eagle, Joe Abraham, Toquart Agnes. Half the signatures had perhaps been written by the owner and were marked with a penciled cross, and half the comments in the remark column were in his writing; God bless you, Charlie, Hello, Charlie, I pray for you, Charlie, Big Tillicum, Ten Hail Marys, Charlie, Thanks, Pal, Sorry, Charlie, Last Time, Charlie, Charlie, my boat’s no good. My kids say thank you, Charlie, You're all right, Charlie, My sweet friend.
“Toquart Agnes, Tzartus Mary and the simple ones like Runty Eagle he leaves alone,” the owner said. “The seven old-age pensioners we have living here, all white, are good for a can of tobacco, a pair of socks, a pound of butter, once a month or so. I’m supposed to give it to them and to see that they get underwear at Christmas. But the Jacobs and the Eagles, he lets them ride to forty or fifty dollars and then he hammers them. They pay off with fish or floating logs.”
Crogan. as he gave the deadbeat accounts back to the owner, said “With all this philanthropy, Charlie must be loaded.”
“I’d take his cheque on any bank in the Albernis or Nanaimo,” the owner said.
“How does he make it?” asked Crogan.
“With fish,” said Rise and Shine.
“That’s right,” said the owner. “He’s Mr. Fish around here, what continued on page 46
continued from page 28
with his own boats and an interest in perhaps thirty others. If you're a good Indian and you need a boat, Charlie will have it built for you. Of course, you’ll be working for him. He makes it a dozen ways. A raft breaks up. Nobody can find the logs. The company or the broker phones up and asks me to get in touch with Charlie. Then they get the logs. Let’s just say it’s magic. You buy cascara bark? Charlie has it by the ton. An Indian wants a stove, a radio, so he wants a bloody piano, Charlie can get it wholesale. Income tax? Phooey. Charlie’s treaty Si wash and registered on a reserve. No income tax. Fish buyers’ records? Charlie’s fish is sold under twenty different names. It’s a good thing for the world Charlie’s honest up to a point.”
Rise and Shine said, “We’d better see if the Uchuck’s in.”
“Hang around,” said the owner. “Annie will tell us. You know, it’s funny, at least I think it’s funny. Here's a big shot like Charlie and he can’t buy a drink.”
“How is he with it?” Crogan asked.
“Charlie? Sensible. He gets it but he’s sensible.”
"He may be sensible,” Rise and Shine said, “but if I catch him with it, he's had it. And if I catch anybody giving it to him, the guy’s had it. Hard.”
“Constable Freddy Trotziuk,” the owner said, “you chill me.”
“I warn you.”
“Freddy, from now on I’ll keep the blinds down.”
“I’m in a bad way.” Crogan said. “No blinds.”
There was a slight tension, a slight edge to the horseman’s and the owner’s voices. Rise and Shine looked at his watch. Without glancing at Crogan, he left. They listened to the thump of his heels, the tinkle of his spurs, receding between the trestles loaded with overalls, boots, cotton dresses, rubbers, out the door, over the porch, to the ramp.
The owner said, “Have a drink. You don’t look Indian to me. And now we’re alone, I’ll tell you something. If Charlie was sitting right here, he’d have one, too.”
“Good for you.”
The owner poured rye into two-ounce glasses. “Here’s to the Massacre at Frog Lake. Dead mounties all over the place.”
Crogan asked, “How did Charlie get his capital together to buy fishboats?”
“You should know.”
“Then that takes another drink. Give me the glass. There are all kinds of stories, and the stories are all about the time they had prohibition in the States. He started out with a put-put boat on the east coast of the island, running from some place in Saanich to the San Juans. Then he ran a couple of good boats between Sooke Basin and Port Angeles. Just a poor three-thousand-dollar-a-week Indian. He supplied the whole Olympic Peninsula. Even now you can notice things. For instance, the braves around
here smoke a lot of American cigarettes. I don't stock them. And they tell me the best nylons are seen on the reserves. I could say to the redcoat: Freddy, last time the springs were running, the boats came back full, but not the Jack boats, Freddy. They came back half empty. Do you think the buyers can be paying more for fish in American water, Freddy? But hell! I’m a free trader myself. Yes, sir! Reciprocity. Have a drink.”
“Did you ever see Monica Jack?” “Yes.”
“Did you ever see a kid like her? Crogan, she’s something. How does a girl like Monica Jack happen?”
“I understand a Siwash has to marry a Welsh woman and then wait eight years.”
“She shakes me, Crogan. A doll! And that little wiggle! You see her walking on Georgia in Vancouver and she’s a dish. If anybody wanted to know where she came from and you said Ucluelet, they’d say of course, that must be around Paris or one of those places. A little lady. Gloves, Crogan.”
“She walks with her toes in."
“Just in. It’s as cute as hell, Crogan.” The enthusiasm was moist, and fervent for a man who had a wife upstairs and a sister-in-law behind the counter. “You know, Charlie’s got a problem on his hands with Monica. She’s twenty-one and she’s not married.”
“Is that a problem?”
“It is when you belong to a tribe. She should have been married when she was eighteen. But he kept her in a convent, and in summer living on a gas boat, beating up and down the coast. John will be wanting to get married. She’s the oldest. Charlie has to get her married first. And how is he going to marry her? Marry her red or marry her white?”
“Couldn’t he leave that to the girl?” “No. Charlie will be looking round. He’ll pick out a man and say, how about him? If she won’t buy, he'll pick out another and say, how about him? Maybe he’ll marry her white. He’s got too much money invested in that little Monica lor her to spend the rest of her time digging clams. I hear there are some Indian kids going to the university. Charlie might get one of them. But, I don’t know. I think he’ll marry her white. But who? I don’t see anybody around here. Leave it to Charlie. He’ll grab some poor guy by the throat and say. you, you’re elected to marry my daughter.”
“And if the guy says no?”
“An insult. Nobody says no to Charlie. What Charlie wants, Charlie gets. It wouldn't matter what the guy said. Me, I wouldn't say no. Of course, my circumstances arc different. Have a drink with me, Crogan.”
“Are you related to Charlie?”
“What do you think? Do I look it?” “You don’t, but Charlie said if you wanted credit you were to have it.”
“I buy for cash. He must think I’m a deadbeat.”
“He didn’t say you were to go with the deadbeats. He said I was to put you on the cousin account. That’s what made me think you must be related."
The storekeeper’s sister-in-law, Annie,
came into the office. She stiffened and pursed her lips when she saw the bottle. “The Uehuck’s tying up.”
Crogan excused himself.
Crogan walked his beach close to the cliff. He remembered the report: at the base of a wave-washed cliff we found so
much in platinum, so much in gold. They did? Why had they not written, at the base of a clay cliff, a grassy cliff, a forested cliff, a rock cliff? The base of a wave-washed cliff. That was the whole beach. Even here at its widest, logs and drowned trees lay against the cliff. Not one part of the beach was left undisturbed by the winter storms. The south end and, as he had seen from the army road, the north end were awash at every tide. If the government geologist who had written the report had visited the beach in summer, then the so much platinum and the so much gold had been at one or the other of the crescent’s horns, and if he had come in the months of rain and howling wind then he could have found the values anywhere. Or perhaps he had. as Crogan was doing now, walked the beach under the hot sun and noticed logs against the same cliff and called it wavewashed.
He stopped when he came to his boxes, his tarp. his tent and Swedish saw. The boxes could stay where they were until he had used nitric acid on some of the black and grey particles that persisted in remaining with the colors in his pan.
Crogan knew that the vague geologist of the wave-washed cliff had also sampled behind the beach and that his assays had shown point nothing nothing one of gold. A bucket of gumbo at Seven Persons, Alberta, or dirt from Central Park, dust from Michigan Boulevard, chipped stones from a churchyard would have tested the same.
Out on the water the sky was overcast. As Crogan came to the blunt point where the curve began, the sun, through a hole, glared at the rose-covered roof of Inkster’s shack and at the green slope behind it. The grass undulated in a thousand lights and shadows, flowers were fluttered, tendrils swayed, and from his childhood Crogan saw a ball of pink popcorn on a Christmas tree. A burning bush, a recurrent spring and summer fire, and all from a brown root, an inch of raw stem, planted by the dead Inkster, given him by a dead Welsh woman, given her in Ucluelet by a man twitching with senility and hoping to die.
But there was blood and bone sitting on the doorstep. It had a sweater, blue jeans, a crewcut, bright eyes and a moist twelve-year-old smile. Crogan, as he climbed the steps, said, “Ah, one of the younger Jacks, I presume.”
The eyes beamed, the smile filled with bubbles, the hand held out a stiff white envelope.
“Thank you,” Crogan said. He saw his name written in the silver-wire calligraphy peculiar to convents, Patrick Crogan, Esq., and underneath. By hand of Matthew Jack.
Mr. Charlie Jack and his daughter, Miss Monica Jack, beg to inform Mr. Crogan that they will be leaving for Port Alberni on Mr. Jack’s Yeti No. I at eight in the morning, returning the same day to their temporary residence on Ucluelet Inlet. Should Mr. Crogan wish to avail himself of this opportunity to
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conduct business in Alberni, they would be delighted to take him. R.S.V.P.
"Matthew, did your sister, La Marquise, get this out of a book?”
The eyes beamed.
Ugly John and the brothers had lost no time taking home the news that Crogan was in need of nitric acid, and that his need, with finesse, could be the means of their parent obtaining a selection of bottled goods far removed from bootlegger rye and cab-driver gin.
“Matthew.” Crogan said, "you may shake it or nod it, but let me know, do you speak English?”
The feet squirmed, the shoulders jerked. the mouth had to be wiped, the head nodded.
“You do? I bet you’re a good boy like Augustine. Now, Matthew, since this letter demands a genteel reply, would you be so kind as to get out of my doorway?”
Mr. Patrick Aloysius Crogan accepts with pleasure the thoughtful invitation extended to him by Mr. Charlie Jack and his charming daughter. Miss Monica Jack, to accompany them to Port Alberni on the Yeti No. 1. He will be at Mr. Jack’s residence shortly before eight, Thursday morning. Excuse the pencil. Delivered by hand of Matthew The Silent.
“Matthew, before you go, could I tempt you to partake of a slight collation? Kid. do you want a cheese sandwich? A nod will suffice. Nod the head, Matthew.”
The nod was a big one.
“Matthew, are you the Jack boy who's come back from Kuper Island without his tonsils? They did a good job. Tongue and everything. You're not? What’s his name, Matthew?”
The mouth had to be wiped, the body was an agonized pretzel, the toes got
stamped on, the beaming eyes looked everywhere for assistance.
“He has no name? That’s not right, Matthew. I'll talk to your father. Here’s your sandwich.”
The body unwound itself, the feet moved with precision, the hand stretched as if drawn by a magnet, the eyes thanked him, the smile said good-by.
When Crogan awoke, he looked at his watch. He had forgotten to wind it. He judged the time to be, give or take half an hour, about six. Crows were cawing. He shaved, as he had done the day before, and again put on his good suit. For breakfast he had bacon and eggs. There was dust on the table. It probably fell from the rafters every time he shut the door. He wiped the table with his work pants. Inkster's shack was all an honest prospector would ever want, a stove still working, shingles on the roof, only one wdndow gone, a table, a bedspring. There w'ere even pictures. The wallboards had started to straighten, now that they were warmed by fire three times a day, and, although the clothes were forever torn, the Young Christ talking to the elders had lost the crease in His face, the mouth did not angle, the thumb was not misshapen on the hand that later was to touch Peter. Peter had touched others, and others others, until the feel of those fingers had been brought to Crogan’s shoulder.
He ate out of the frying pan and left his cup beside it. No one would walk down to the beach and wash just one cup at a flume. Making sure the fire was out, he placed the bread next to his ship biscuits and pancake flour on the shelf where, as yet, he had seen no sign of
mice. He closed the door behind him.
The grass was still dewy, his shoes and pant cuffs were sopping before he reached the trail. The homesteader’s decrepit house, the wrinkled apple trees had survived another night. Dead trunks, dead branches, dead window sills, square dead timbers, dead two-by-fours, nothing but dead vegetation left from someone’s dream. All life gone. The homesteader should have anticipated Inkster had planted ramblers.
Charlie’s Welsh wife perhaps had walked the trail. Or had she given Inkster the rose slip on a Sunday night after service at the United Church? Had she said, last year I saw this bush and it was lovely, it grew against a wall, and I thought of you. won’t you take it, plant it, friend, and think of me? Charlie had had a cold bed. His wife had boarded at Ucluelet. Female rubbish from a London street had thought herself too good for Charlie.
When Crogan came to the Tofino road he looked for the footpath leading to the inlet. Some one, probably the silent Matthew, had marked it for him by leaving an empty tomato can over a truncated shoot of hazel. The ground was sandier on this side of the road and there were outcroppings of rock. The cedars thinned, the wood was mostly Sitka spruce and fir. The distance to the water was less than he had supposed. As it reached the shore, the trail skirted a natural clearing of about two acres on whose farther end was a frame, steeproofed, unpainted house, two brown canvas tents, and three tarpaper cabins. Directly in front of Crogan lay a small cove, as narrow as a city lot, in which three fishing boats were tied to a wharf made of logs and planks. Two dugouts had been hauled onto the pebbly beach.
Charlie Jack was taking trolling poles from a square-stemmed, white and racy packer. Crogan cut quickly across the wharf.
“Good morning, Charlie.”
“Hello. Some letter you got, eh, Pat?” “Very high-class, Charlie.”
"Yeah. Some letter. The girl wrote it.” "1 thought so.”
“She wrote it. 1 never wrote it. That girl can spell anything.”
"And very fine handwriting, Charlie.” "Sure. Smart kid. Nice, too. Soft word for everybody. I get a feeling here, Pat."
"It does you credit. Tell me, how’s the boy who’s had his tonsils out?”
"Jacob? He’s fishing with Augustine. All the boys are fishing."
“He’s out with Tom. They went out last night.”
“Whose boats are these, Charlie?” “Those other two? My cousins’. They just came in. They’re working for me. I should be working but I got business in Alberni.”
“Important business, Charlie?”
"Oh, sure. Look." He pulled from his hip pocket a wad of orange and yellow bills. “Fish money. You want to make some, Pat? You want a boat?"
“What’s money, Charlie?"
“Good stuff. How do you like my girl, Pat?”
"She’s a fine girl.”
“A fine girl. Pat. Quiet. Reads books. Ciot a soft word for everybody. Pretty, too, huh?”
“As a picture.”
“Guy would be lucky to get her, huh?” “Who could deserve her. Charlie? Is this the Yeti No. 1?”
“Sure. A Jap boat. Used to be Herbie Hogashima’s. You got a brother a judge, Pat?”
“He's in Alberta. What's Yeti? A Jap name. Charlie?"
“No. Siwash. You got a brother a judge! Good family, eh, Pat?”
“Immigrant Irish. What does the name mean?”
“What name, Pat?”
“Oh. Yeti. Same as Sasquatch, Pat. Boy, not everybody’s got a brother a judge. You got somebody in the family can hang anybody.”
“When you say Sasquatch, Charlie, you mean the big men in the mountains?”
“Yeah. Hair all over. Eight feet tall. How do you talk to your brother, Pat?” “I don’t talk to him.”
“Do you say, hello. Your Honor?” “Your Honor, hell! He’s a sour little runt. Fourteen years older than I am. I’m the man in the family.”
“Pat, he’s a judge. What are you? He should give you money.”
“I’m doing all.right. I have money.” “Ah, you’re always laughing, Pat. You got a brother a judge. You should be respectable. Get a fishboat, Pat. Get married.”
“Charlie, when I find my gold mine, I’ll be respectable. Then my brother will be saying Your Honor to me.”
“Yah! Gold! Crazy stuff. You don’t find it. You work all day with a bucket for a dollar. I know. I watched Inkster.” “What’s the time, Charlie?”
“Oh. eight o’clock. You want to get on now or go to the house and get something to eat? You tell Monica to get you breakfast. Good cook, Pat.”
“I’ll get on, Charlie.” He saw the packer could be used for another purpose besides carrying fish; it could catch them; there were stanchions to take a net drum, sockets for trolling poles. The wheelhouse was the width of the beam and had sliding plate-glass windows and a sliding door. The engine, hidden in a compartment of its own, was remotely controlled. The cabin had ceiling lights, a charcoal galley, a head in the prow, a wall table, and wide benches to sleep four. “Is she fast. Charlie?”
“Not bad. Maybe three hours to Alberni. I got a faster boat. Two engines.” “Use it for fishing?”
“Oh. no. Looks like fishing boat but it’s not for fishing.”
“What do you use it for?”
“Sometimes I take a trip to the States. I got cousins at Neah Bay. I know lots of American Siwash. Do business.” “What kind of business, Charlie?” “Oh, business. Make a dollar.”
“I bet it’s monkey business.”
Oh. no. No business for monkeys. You got to be smart. You want something American, Pat? Maybe suit of clothes?” “Your cousins must keep a store.” “No. They work for me. I’ll tell you a secret, Pat. You’re like one of the family. Sometimes prices are better in the States, so my cousins take my fish. Sometimes they do business for me in Port Angeles, Port Townsend or Seattle. I bought them a boat like mine. Two engines. Looks like mine. Coast Guard says, there’s Eddy Jack, there’s Tommy Jack. No, Pat. It’s Charlie Jack. Bloody Canadian government sends out a patrol boat. They say, there’s Charlie Jack. No, Pat. It’s Eddie Jack. They got two boards with numbers. I got two boards with numbers.”
“Aren’t you afraid of trouble with the mountie?”
“Him? No father! He went over my boat once to see if I had a bottle. My boat! I’ve never been drunk since I got married. Overseas, that was. Bloody government says, you Indian, you can’t have a bottle. They make me cheat, eh? Okay. I cheat them. He cost me money. I got four pistons from my cousins for a diesel. I saw him coming and I had to throw them over. A sneaker, Pat.”
“Charlie, a businessman like you, you should have an office.”
“All up here in the head, Pat. Lots of room. But maybe I get an office. Use my other house on the reserve. No income tax. Maybe not. Too many Mounted Police. Maybe I’ll get the girl to help me. She got taught business by the sisters. She has a typewriter, you know. A good one, from Seattle. Smart kid, Pat. Nice to work with. Soft words for everybody.”
A woman screamed. The sound flashed like a bright light through the morning air. The voice was more fluted than shrill but its agony vibrated in the boat’s cabin.
“My God! Charlie, what was that?”
“I didn’t hear nothing.”
The voice screamed, “Charlie!”
“Did you hear that?”
“Oh, that! That’s my wife.”
“She’s in trouble.”
“She just talks that way, Pat.”
The screams now carried with them the frantic yelling of a child. Crogan threw himself out of the cabin and stood on the cedar planking of the fish well.
On the veranda of the unpainted house, a woman, her hand on the doorpost, was struggling to keep from being pulled inside. Her face, as circular as the full moon, was a copper-colored jelly of apprehension. A threeor four-year-old boy danced and bleated in front of her, and tugged at her blue skirt. Two Indians, impassive and middle-aged, looked at her from where they stood by one of the brown canvas tents.
“Those are my cousins from Clayoquot who are helping me,” Charlie said. “What the hell’s going on, Charlie?” Charlie did not have to answer. The woman tugged at the doorpost and fell full-length across the veranda. Straddling the body, her swinging hair as black as the ace of spades, in a white silk or satin
kimono, was Monica Jack. She looked like a destroying angel on a dark horse. She twisted the woman’s arm.
“That’s my wife.” Charlie said.
The small boy. yelling, flailed his fists at Monica. She showed him her teeth. He backed away.
“They’re playing an Indian game," Charlie said. "She wants me to stop it.” He roared. His words were not English but they had an instantaneous effect. Monica Jack, in a sustained glide, slid off the woman.
“Indian game,” Charlie said. “That girl’s always laughing.”
“She’s full of fun,” Crogan said.
“She plays it good. Pat. Strong girl.” "And a nice girl. Charlie. Got the soft word for everybody.”
The hoy behaved as if he had campaigned through many a domestic war. He sat on the step and phlegmatically sucked his thumb. Not so his mother. She was without soft words. She showed the red marks on her arm, pulled her own hair, hauled the blue skirt above her knee and pointed. Crogan saw the hem of her stocking, a fine grade of nylon. He had thought her legs were bare. Her gestures were dramatic, her tones bitter. He only understood three words, a recurrent oh! my God.
"What is she saying, Charlie?”
"They have lots of fun in the kitchen, she says.”
Charlie’s wife realized she was getting more attention from the cousins than from Charlie and limped to the side of the veranda.
"She’s a good woman,” Charlie said. He leaned into the wheelhouse and pressed the starter. Crogan felt a delicate throbbing. The wife still orated. For the benefit of the cousins she reviewed her wounds. Charlie roared. She turned and he talked to her. The cousins laughed. She looked indignant and tossed her head. Then, snapping her fingers, she tittered. She made a face at Charlie.
"You should have heard what I said. Pat. I said it good.”
"What was it?”
“Very funny. Man-woman joke. Not nice but very funny.” He sat on the gunnel and pulled out a pack of American cigarettes. "You marry an Indian woman and you got to be careful, Pat. You treat her good or you get in trouble. No fooling around. You can't stay out. You get rough, and they talk with the big mouth, Pat. They go. You come home sometime and there’s her nation sitting under a tree. When they get through, you're not walking straight. You be good to your woman, or. bang, you got it. Old custom.”
The brown eyes behind the gold-rimrr.ed glasses stared at Crogan and till the while the big head nodded. A point was being stressed.
Crogan said, “What happens if the woman gets rough with the husband?"
“What could happen, Pat? You can’t hit her. If she talks too much, it's natural.”
“But suppose she gets out of line? Goes around with somebody else?”
"That don't happen, Pat. Siwash woman gets married, she’s married. She’s no tart. Even when she’s Protestant that don't happen, Pat.”
"We’re just supposing. What if it did?” "Her brothers come and beat her up good. Maybe she dies. But that don't happen, Pat. You’ve been in England. Somass women are not English women.” “Are they more like the Welsh?”
The cigarette had hardly been smoked. With a thrust of his arm, Charlie sent it spinning into the water. The eyes had
hardened. The voice took an edge. “Somass women are not like Welsh women, Pat.”
Crogan counted the cedar planks that covered the fish well.
Do you know who gave Inkster this rose bush? My first wife. I used to watch Inkster.
She was a little woman. She boarded here. She asked me for a root.
I saw this bush, and it was lovely, it grew against a wall. 1 thought of you. Won’t you plant it, friend, and think of me?
The sharp click of high heels kettledrummed behind him. Monica Jack, in a sleeveless dress, linen, the color of old pongee, red shoes, red belt, red bag, a red clam shell of a hat, her squareshouldered body proportioned to threequarter size, said, “Hello, Mr. Crogan."
“Hello. Miss Jack."
She had arranged her hair to have it fall behind the ears. She looked eventempered and. with fingers about the bag. as demure as a girl with a red missal going to church. “You came early. Mr. Crogan.”
“1 forgot to wind my watch.” Unaided, she stepped from the wharf to the gunnel, to the deck. Her greeting to Charlie was. "Shove off, parent.”
Her earrings were red. She clattered her high heels into the cabin, saying, "Excuse me, Mr. Crogan, 1 think I’ll get a coat.”
">u»arlie. from the wheelhouse, eyes beaming his smile comparable to that of the silent Matthew, said. “Some kid, eh, Pat?”
“Some kid. Charlie." The trim behind, the small waist framed in the cabin
door, the turn of calf and ankle had been of interest.
The Yeti No. 1, after easing from the wharf, surged with the grace of a dragonfly. The surface of the inlet had be rowed all the colors of an oyster. The waters hissed as they passed Crogan sitting on the fish well. The Yeti’s wake was a turbulence of foamy green. The wind felt Crogan’s shirt and patted his chest with familiarity. Gulls with yellow beaks were
fried eggs thrown against the sky.
Monica came out of the cabin, the hat left behind, her pinky-brown Eurasian face snuggled in the upturned collar of a camel-hair coat. She had a man’s coat, a brown herringbone, over her arm. “You wear it,” she said. “It’s my father’s.” Crogan saw the label on the lining. Bon Marché. Seattle.
She sat with him. “You can stand with my father in the wheelhouse if you like.” “I would rather stay here, Miss Jack." “What do you want nitric acid for, Mr. Crogan?”
“To burn a certain kind of sand.”
“Is that the acid they throw at people?”
"You could, but sulphuric acid would be better.”
“That would make a change.”
“Throwing acid at people.”
"What are you throwing now, Miss Jack?”
She looked at him out of the corner of her eye, up and down, up and down. “Kisses, maybe.”
“Was it kisses you were throwing at
your stepmother in the kitchen?”
“Mamie? I’ll throw a hatchet at her one of these days.”
“Why? She has a kind face, Mamie.” “She’s got a face on her like a constipated crab.”
“Could that be a sentence the Sisters of St. Anne had you practice for your typing. Miss Jack?”
“The Sisters of St. Anne! Yah! Bah!" “Are you in a bad humor?”
“I’m thinking of Mamie. You burned my pancake, Mamie, I said. Your stove's too hot. My stove is not too hot. Your stove’s too hot, Mamie. She said, I can put my hand on it. Then put your hand on it, Mamie. She wouldn’t. Mr. Crogan. all I wanted to do was put her hand on it.”
Charlie kept to the west side. They passed a row of deserted houses built on poles, the water beneath them, connected by runways to the rock. “Jap houses,” Monica said. “The green one belonged to Herbie Hogashima. This used to be his boat.”
“Did you know him?”
“Not to speak to. He used to yell things at my father.”
"What was the trouble?”
"I don’t know. My father told him not to come back."
“And he did come back.”
“Yes, but he didn’t stay long.”
Crogan saw the wharf and ramp at Ucluelet and the red roof of the store above the trees.
"Anytime you want anything at the store, you go and get it. Never mind about money. You pay me back later." “Thanks, but I’ve got money.”
Charlie jeered, "Got gold in every pocket! Anything you want, Pat, you go and get it.”
Monica talked in Somass to her father. Charlie beamed. “Pat. she said, give him a fishboat if you're going to treat him like one of the family. Some kid, eh. Pat?”
Some kid. Crogan nodded. Her hair had a jetty glaze, her eyebrows were cuttings of black velvet, her lashes lacquered wire, the nose a delicacy between broad and narrow, the mouth a titbit, the bones of the cheek cream-colored hills on which had fallen a pinkish snow. Welsh-Siwash. The product of two subjugated peoples noted for soft voices and fine treacheries. Yet in spite of the geography between them, and old stories clouded and forgotten, they shared a wilted vestige of some ethnological bond. The Seminole in Florida used several Welsh words, and over the mountains from Charlie and his tribe the Okanagans spoke their numbers as a Welshman would, one to ten. It might have been in-
slinctive cousinship that had led the drunken Charlie into marriage with a Welsh and not an English girl. Crogan asked, “Do you remember your mother?” “Yes. I was nine when she died.” “What was her name?”
“Was she pretty?”
“Maybe. She was small, dark. Little feet about this size. Nobody liked her.” "Nobody liked her?”
“Nobody on the reserve liked her. I didn't like her. 1 liked my grandmother. I talked Somass until my father sent me to the convent.”
“What did you talk to your mother?” “Maybe Welsh, I don't know. I talked English to her after I learned English.” "Why didn't you like your mother?” “I was not comfortable with my mother, Mr. Crogan. Some people you are comfortable with, some people you are not comfortable with. Now, I'm comfortable with you, Mr. Crogan. Very comfortable.”
“Is it natural for a child not to be comfortable with her mother. Miss Jack?”
“When the mother pinches her, yes. When she calls you a dirty little Siwash, yes. When she leaves your father, yes. When the sisters give you a little statue of the Blessed Virgin and she snaps the bead off, yes. My grandmother was my mother, Mr. Crogan. I can make baskets,
I can make soup out of mussels, 1 can gut and skin anything. How was your mother, Mr. Crogan?”
“She was as tall as I am now and built like a battleship, Miss Jack. She believed in corporal punishment.”
“Were you comfortable with her?” “Spiritually. 1 was. Physically, just at times. You had to go by the rules in her book. What a woman! "There was only one Mass for her, and that was the halfpast-six one on Sunday morning. She farmed eight hundred acres after my father died. I bet she could gut and skin anything, too. And she washed and cooked. Turnips, baked potatoes and beef stew, turnips, baked potatoes and beef stew, and gallons of milk, and on Friday as many turnips and potatoes but no beef stew. I had a mother.”
“Is she living, Mr. Crogan?”
“No. She bounced herself off a tractor. I had just finished high school. I could have stayed with my brother I guess. But times were tough. He had a law office, and he and his wife were living in a room at the back. 1 hit the road.”
“What happened to the farm?”
"It was rented out on shares.”
“Do you think your mother would have liked to see you bumming around the country?”
“She would not.”
“Mr. Crogan, you live worse than any Indian I have ever heard of. You don't even build yourself a house. You move into any old cabin that is falling down.
It is not respectable.”
“It's a way of life. I'm a prospector. Here, there and everywhere.”
“You are not thinking of your mother, Mr. Crogan.”
“Now, look, Miss Jack!”
"You are living like a bum. It will have to stop.”
“Who says it will have to stop?”
“Me, Mr. Crogan.”
“My dear Miss Jack!”
“And my father says it will have to stop.”
“What can he do about it?”
“You don’t know my father, Mr. Crogan.”
“I’m beginning to. Now look here—”
"He thinks you should get married, Mr. Crogan.”
“That’s very decent of him. What do you think?”
“1 think .you should get married, Mr. Crogan.”
"And that's decent of you, too. But, Miss Jack, is it any of your business? How would you like it if I told you that you should get married?”
"Sure, I should get married. I’m twenty-one.”
“But suppose you didn't want to?” “There’s no supposing, Mr. Crogan.
None at all. I should get married.” “Then get married.”
“I'll get married . . . Mr. Crogan?” “What?”
“You don't know my father."
They were now in Barkley Sound. On all sides of the Yeti were tall foam mountains where the rollers hit isolated rock. Charlie took the waves not quite broadside. Crogan would have the sky about him and then there would be nothing to see but a wall of water. Monica said, “How’s your stomach, Mr. Crogan?”
“Please! Talk about something else.” “You don't look good.”
The waves were lumpish monsters, disorderly and agitated.
Charlie called. “You should see it here, Pat, when it's rough. Do you want something to eat now?”
"Tell him to sink the boat," Crogan said. His throat was bitter. He Hopped with the rolling deck.
“Here’s quiet water," Charlie said. C rogan opened an eye and saw mossy rocks and fir trees. I he Yeti No. 1 was between islands.
“You should go to the cabin and lie down, Mr. Crogan.”
“I think I will, Miss Jack.”
“Do you want me to talk to you?”
”1 would prefer to be alone. T am in a mood for meditation and prayer.”
“1 was praying your belt wouldn’t bust.”
“I heard you. You prayed in Somass. Prayers in that language seem to call for laughter, Miss Jack.”
“I was talking to my father.”
“I said to my father you’d be no good on a fishboat. You feed them, you don’t catch them.”
“That is funny, Miss Jack?”
“I think so.” The smile was gentle, the expression showed solicitude, but laughter crouched in the eyes. “You go and lie down, Mr. Crogan.”
lie lay on the bench, Charlie’s coat under his head for a pillow. He could see in the opening between cabin and wheelhouse Charlie’s black boots and serge-covered legs. Crogan thought of Charlie’s wife, the Welsh Louella. From Paddington or Battersea, from the Elephant and Castle, tripe and onions. Brussels sprouts, dark or pale, to oolichans and rock cod at Ucluelet. From malt to cedar smoke. Bethel Chapel to brown Catholics. Marble Arch to a reserve. Tart to wife. London behind and loneliness ahead, shunning the Indian women and being shunned, with only Charlie’s drunken recollections of her pavements to discuss, frail, not bright, God-troubled, a feeler of psychosomatic pain, without reliance, she had not even fought for the affection of her child. She had cheated Charlie into marriage and cheated him in bed. She had left him, to live in Ucluelet, to go to her own church, to meet Inkster, to give him a rose bush.
Crogan saw the red shoes and the Greek legs of Monica Jack come into the wheelhouse. She might have been a cause of trouble. Charlie had detoured his love to her. What love could Louella have expected? What could an amateur of commercial endearment, a veteran of hideaway hotels, have been to Charlie but a convenience, a foreign oddity, a dilemma to be explained, put up with, a brown man’s white burden? He had made Monica his pet, his showpiece, his rough native stone to be polished by the sisters, his one legitimacy to top the byblows he had conceived in the bush. Ugly John, Tom, Augustine had had to wait for Charlie’s first union to dissolve before they and their mother were accepted. Now Monica, as the oldest, was to marry to clear the road for John, Tom, Augustine who, if kept celibate, might start byblowing themselves. Leave it to Charlie, the storekeeper had said. Charlie would grab some poor guy by the throat and say, you son of a bitch, you’re going to marry my daughter. Poor son of a bitch, red or white, he would be bloodied often if never bored.
No family was without problems. Crogan’s big father and big mother had had Dennis Dalton and then waited thirteen, fourteen years. With barns and stable full of stock, calves in the pastures, wheat germinating, sprouting, heading, theirs had been a lonely house with nothing in it but dainty Dennis Dalton. Fourteen years of hope and false alarm, of doubt, of looking at each other in wonderment, of novenas, private prayer, and for what? For Crogan.
Dear dainty Dennis Dalton. Mr. Justice Dennis Dalton Crogan. His Honor. His big-headed runt following generations of tall men. The lawyer among
honest farmers, the scribe, the extractor of juice from widows’ estates, the writer of unnecessary letters. Integrity was for laymen who had not a judgeship but only the old-age pension to look forward to. The twister. Dear Pat. in probate of our rrother’s will expenses have been extrao-dinarily heavy, an itemized account is enclosed. Leech. This two-dollar letter costs you seven, boy. This thirty-cent pnone call is worth a dollar-fifty. Dear Pat. where are you now, France. Holland? Our share of the crop was six thousand three hundred and twenty-two bushels. The bank has the grain cheques. My fee is nominal. Come back sound. Scrooge. Educated Irish peasant. Dear Pat, the Department of Agriculture has offered to buy the farm for an experimental station. We can get sixty-five thousand. 1 am afraid I will have to charge you a broker’s commission of five percent. Dear Dennis Dalton. Christian brother. Dear buzzard.
Monica Jack's red shoes disappeared under the camel-hair coat as she bent to look through the opening. “Are you stell alive, Mr. Crogan?”
“I don't want anythin” to eat, Miss Jack."
“Come up here.”
"1 think I'll sit outside.”
"I'll sit with you.”
They were approaching the Alberni Canal. The only waves were those made b> the Yeti herself. Monica sat close to him. “What do you want to talk about. Mr. Crogan?”
“Nothing in particular.”
"There's lots of cascara at the bottom of that hill.”
"It's used for medicine, isn't it?”
"They make a syrup out of the bark. It's for babies who don't go to the toilet. What else do you want to talk about, Mr. Crogan? Babies?”
“I was a cute one.”
“You had a soft howl for everybody?” "I ve got a picture of me at six months, bin lying on a cougar skin, naked.”
“A tubby little bundle of fun. Always laughing.”
“Do you want to hear a story, Mr. Crogan? It's about cascara.”
"1 don't know. Miss Jack.”
“ I his is a good story. It happened last summer when we were picking cascara light here. It's about Tom and John and Augustine.”
"A big Italian boat stopped here for two days last summer. There were fires burning along the canal. The pilot was waiting for the smoke to go I guess. It put a small boat in the water and four fellows came ashore. One of them had a mandolin with ribbons on it. Augustine and Tom and John and me were on the hill. Ugly John had knocked a raccoon out of a tree and I was skinning it. The Italians were eating. They had wine bottles. Do you know what my brothers did. Mr. Crogan? You guess.”
“I'm not good at guessing, but I bet it was gruesome.”
“Was it! They took off their clothes, Mr. Crogan. Then do you know what they did? They picked up the skinned raccoon and rubbed blood all over themselves. Then do you know what they did? John made his cross-eyes and put the knife between his teeth, and the others took the axes they'd been using for cascara. and they danced down the hill. You should have seen those Italian fellow’s, Mr. Crogan. I never saw anybody get into a boat so fast. You know something, Mr. Crogan? They were so scared, they — I d better not say it.”
"They did. did they?"
"They sure did. By the way, you
play the mandolin, Mr. Crogan?” “No.”
“We got one.”
“My father wants you.”
“Did he call. Miss Jack?”
“I know he wants you, Mr. Crogan.” The door to the wheelhouse was open. Crogan saw Charlie sitting sideways, his head turned to the front. His attitude did not show he was expecting anyone. Crogan asked, “Do you know what he wants?”
"He wants to ask you to buy something for him in Alberni.”
“Did he tell you?”
“He doesn't have to tell me, Mr. Crogan. Later he’ll be talking to you about something else.”
“You'll find out. A big surprise, Mr. Crogan.”
“Oh, no. You’ll be happy, Mr. Crogan. He’s going to tell you to do something.” “I hope I’ll be able to do it.”
“You’ll do it. You don’t know my father. And, Mr. Crogan?”
“You'd better be happy.” The soft voice had hardened. The face was set, the mouth tight at the corners, the eyes as ferociously cold as those in the mounted head of a bearskin.
“Have I offended you, Miss Jack?” “You’d better not, Mr. Crogan.” “Miss Jack, you sound like a little girl who’d enjoy pulling the legs off flies.”
“I used to. I once pulled the leg off something else. Do you want to know what?”
“Never mind.” Cracks were showing in the veneers the sisters had applied. A perfect job of polishing was hardly to be expected. Her mother’s people had painted themselves blue, and no doubt Charlie’s father had traded oolichan oil
The Chilcotin was ugly in an ugly way. “Your Robinson has the face of a horse thief,” said Crogan.
for red ochre, and circled his eyes with a charcoal stick.
Crogan went into the wheelhouse. “Hello, Pat.”
“Hello, Charlie. What’s on your mind?”
“I’ve got nothing on my mind. Pat.” “The girl said you wanted to see me.” “What for? Ah. yes. She’s a smart kid. Pat, I’m an old soldier, you’re an old soldier, would you buy me a little bottle? I like to have a bottle, Pat, for when I get caught in the rain.”
“What do you want, Charlie?”
“Two scotch. Pat, one rye. one bottle of rum. Maybe one bottle of gin. Pat.” “What kind of scotch?”
“Okay, Charlie. How long are we going to be in town?”
“How long do you want to stay, Pat?” “I can do what I have to do in half an hour. All I want is nitric acid."
Charlie talked to Monica in Somass. “She says she has to get her hair done. We leave at three. All right?”
“I got to go to the bank, Pat. You take fifty dollars now. Maybe you can buy Monica her dinner. I've got business with some Chinese friends.”
“Charlie, my money buys the liquor. I’d rather have it like that.”
“No, Pat. You’re a poor man.”
“I’ll buy the liquor, Charlie. It will be my liquor. If Rise and Shine comes around it’s my liquor. I’m not selling it. That is. I’m not taking your money until I leave the beach. You'll pay me after the liquor's all gone. Charlie.”
“You're my friend. Pat.”
“I hold title to the liquor, Charlie.” “You want to keep it at your place?” “I do.”
“Maybe tonight I could get one little bottle?”
“I’m keeping it at my place, Charlie.” “Pat, I’m pigheaded. Don't you be pigheaded. One little bottle for tonight.” “No, Charlie. I don’t give it away in bottles.”
“Okay. You’re my friend. Who’s going to fight for a bottle? You’re a friend to all my family. John likes you. Matthew likes you. Monica says, parent, he’s a good man. She's a smart kid, Pat.”
“She said you wanted to see me about something else. What is it?”
“Ah, that girl! 1 get a feeling. We'll have a talk on the way home, Pat. Maybe sit in the cabin and have a couple of drinks, huh?”
“Who’ll look after the boat?” “Monica. She could take you from here to Alaska. Pat, how would you like to have a boat like this?”
“Charlie, all I want is a gold mine.” “Yah! gold. You can’t eat it. You can’t even find it.”
The air was white with mill smoke. The shore line between old Alberni and new Alberni seemed a barricade of stacked lumber. The drone of planers, the rip of saws were constant. The ships being loaded had each a foreign flag. French, Norwegian. Panamanian. The Yeti edged along the Maquina’s wharf, then along the little Uchuck’s wharf, then through
small craft to a float supporting a steel shed whose sides were legended, Charlie Jack, Private Property, Keep Off, This Means You. “My friends and the boys in the Brotherhood can use it any time,” Charlie said.
He touched a button on the panel before him. The Yeti's siren sounded. The shed door was opened by an Indian not much taller than Monica herself. He had a long jaw. “He’s a Chilcotin,” Charlie said. “A cowboy. He’s down here because he got into trouble. 1 got to talk English to him. The name is Robinson. He looks after things for me, buys cascara, lots of fur, sometimes fish.” Monica threw the Indian a rope. He snubbed it. She threw him another and he drew in the Yeti's stern. Charlie shut off the engine.
The Chilcotin, although far from cattle, favored high-heeled half-boots, sideburns and a black satin shirt. Smallpox had pitted his chin and cheek. The other cheek had burned into it the letter X between bars. Someone had touched him with a branding iron. His lids drooped. He was ugly in an ugly way, not pleasantly ugly like John.
Crogan said, “Your Robinson has the face of a horse thief.”
“I think that’s what he was,” Charlie said. “Are you ready, Monica?”
She clattered across the deck and stood on the gunnel. Robinson held out his hand and helped her to the float. “Pretty baby.” he said.
When they were all together, Charlie introduced Crogan. “This is my friend, Pat Crogan. I want you to look after him. If he needs anything, you see that
he gets it, Robinson. He’s like one of the family.”
The black marble eyes made a casual, almost contemptuous examination of Crogan. “If he needs anything he gets it, Charlie.”
“You treat him just like John and Augustine.”
“Like one of the boys, Charlie.”
“Maybe he needs a dollar sometime. You give it to him, Robinson.”
“A dollar, Charlie.”
“If he wants a boat to go anywhere, you get him one.”
“You’re knocking the idea twice into my head, Charlie.” He turned to Monica. “Do I smell something cooking, baby?”
She winked. In her spiked red shoes she was the taller.
There was a bantam’s cockiness about the man. Crogan knew the type. A pintsized brawler, and not a clean one. he would have a spring knife holstered in his half-boot, a birdshot sap in his pocket. A sour dog who might come to heel for Charlie but would thoroughly enjoy biting a stranger.
“I got business to talk with Robinson.” Charlie said. “You go uptown with Monica. Be back at three. Show him where the liquor store is, Monica.”
Robinson pulled an old-fashioned watch from his pocket. A golden turnip. It was tied by a leather thong to his belt. He said, “That gives you three and a half hours, baby.” ★
FLORENCIA BAY PART THREE