A MACLEAN’S NOVEL AWARD
WHAT HAS HAPPENED
On Canada's far west coast prospector Pat Crogan, in search of gold, finds himself being drawn into a web of death, disappearance and romantic intrigue. With the Jacks — father Charlie and pretty daughter Monica — he visits Alberni to buy acids for his prospecting and liquor for Indian Charlie.
Monica Jack took Crogan’s arm above the elbow as they left the dock and walked into Alberni. Against the dark cloth her nails looked like a cluster of cherries. “Come on, Mr. Crogan.”
The novelty of walking attached to a woman was pleasant but disturbed him. His strides were longer, and until he thought to shorten them she had to skip. It was untidy. Men in cars, rough eggs in trucks, people on the sidewalk, everyone looked. Then he realized that the world was looking only at Miss Jack, at her supple scaled-down body in the linen dress, at the face that could have come from the land of Prester John, her red hat.
They stopped by the hotel across from the station. "We'll eat here,” she said.
“Needless to say, you’re hungry, Miss Jack.” “I'm hungry, but you need a haircut, Mr. Crogan.”
“Oh. 1 don't know. 1 never get my hair cut in summer.”
“You do this summer, Mr. Crogan. Right now.”
“Anything else. Miss Jack?”
“Two things, Mr. Crogan. You get a shoe shine.”
“You go to a place where they’ll sponge and press your suit.”
“In other w'ords. Miss Jack, you object to being seen w'alking with a bum.”
“You’ve got nice eyes, Mr. Crogan. You get a nice haircut.”
“What will you be doing in the meantime?” “I’ll be having a sandwich and a piece of pie and a glass of milk.”
“Aren’t we eating together?”
“Of course we’re eating together, Mr. Crogan. I just want a little bite before my lunch. Don’t make me mad. You get your hair cut.”
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“Miss Jack, my mother sounded like you.”
"You’re wasting time, Mr. Crogan.”
“I had a sergeant who sounded like you.”
“1 am losing my temper, Mr. Crogan.” “You wouldn’t jump me in public like you jumped Mamie on the porch?”
“I'm going to.”
"Now wait a minute. Where and when do we meet again, Miss Jack?”
He did as he was told. He sat in his underwear behind a curtain until his suit was pressed. He had his hair cut, and borrowed a cloth from the barber and cleaned his shoes. He bought a white shirt and a blue tie. And so his four ounces of nitric acid was to cost him much more than the dollar he paid for it. He insisted that the druggist put it in a bottle with a glass stopper. He had seen the stuff eat the cork out of a little bottle Harry had once carried in his hip pocket, with embarrassment to Harry. He bought razor blades, and a small box of chocolates. He sat in the hotel lobby, read someone else’s magazine, and waited for Monica.
He remembered Robinson’s watch. It would have looked better in a museum than in a corrugated steel shed on a cedar float. Crogan's father had had a similar antique, inherited from his father. Crogan did not have to wonder what had happened to it. The dainty buzzard, Dennis Dalton, had claws. But he did wonder how a sawed-off Indian, a range-
land jockey, could have found the one he carried.
Monica said, “My! you smell pretty, Mr. Crogan.”
“How do I look, Miss Jack?”
“Ah! you have nice grey eyes.”
He rose. “I had them an hour ago, Miss Jack.”
“I know. How do I look?”
“I’ve had my hair cut, Miss Jack.” “Sure. How do I look?”
“My clothes are pressed. I bought a tie.”
“And you’ve got a white shirt. How do I look?”
“Miss Jack, am I handsome?”
“Oh, sure, Mr. Crogan.”
“In a repulsive sort of way?”
“Oh, no, Mr. Crogan. How do I look?” “You smell pretty, Miss Jack.”
“Mr. Crogan, I am losing my temper. How do I look?”
“You have dark, mysterious eyes.” “Oh! my God, Mr. Crogan. I want to know how I look.”
“Like a ladyslipper, a dog-tooth violet, a woodland orchid, Miss Jack.”
“You are stupid like my father, Mr. Crogan. I’ve had my hair done.”
“Why, so you have! It’s all up. 1 can see your neck.”
“Do you like it?”
“It’s a lovely neck.”
“Lovely hair, too. You’re a little French lady.”
“Okay. We can eat now, Mr. Crogan.” It had been some time since he had sat at a table covered with a cloth. Monica had spoken to the woman who showed them to their table, smiled at the waitress. They knew her. She did not open her menu but waited for him to open his. She absorbed the scrutiny of the other diners with gentle unconcern. Her manner was composed, as if never in her life had she lived in an unpainted house or skinned and gutted anything.
"I doubt if you arc hungry, Miss Jack.”
“I am. All 1 had was a sandwich and a piece of pie. You must be hungry. You lost your breakfast.” The quality of her private remarks was somewhat removed from the lustre of her public deportment. “Tomato juice, Miss Jack?”
“No. Soup, thick soup.”
“Some chicken and a salad?”
“I’d like a porterhouse steak, Mr. Crogan, and fried potatoes. Maybe a salad with tomatoes in it. A glass of milk. Coffee afterwards.”
“Pineapple pie and ice cream. What are you having, Mr. Crogan?”
“Sausages and mashed potatoes. Coffee.”
“Yah! sausages. Eat big. It’s my father’s money. He won’t mind.”
‘T1I take sausages, Miss Jack.”
She finished her soup, spooning from the far edge, sipping noiselessly. She ate all the fried potatoes that came with the porterhouse.
“Miss Jack, aren’t you afraid of putting on weight?”
“Why should I? I'm getting married. I don’t care if I get fat.”
“Who is the lucky fellow?”
“Big surprise, Mr. Crogan.”
“What’s he like?”
“Him? He’s a nice six-foot man, Mr. Crogan.”
“I bet it’s Rise and Shine.”
“My father doesn’t like policemen, Mr. Crogan. Don’t ask any questions.”
“I know already.”
“He’s too old for you, Miss Jack.” “Who is?”
“And he’s not six feet.”
“What is he?”
“He’s just a little more than five. The name is Robinson. He called you baby.” “You disgust me, Mr. Crogan.”
“You are not amused?”
“I am not laughing, am I? Robinson’s a wolverine.”
“You seem to be friendly with him.” “He’s fine with my father and the family but he’s no good for anybody else.”
"I believe you. He gave me a poor impression."
“That’s the best thing he’s got. When somebody owes my father money that
poor impression helps to collect it, Mr. Crogan.”
“He's a trouble shooter, is he?”
“I don’t know, but he sure is a trouble starter. He works hard.”
“What all does he do?”
“Everything. Buys cascara for my father. Buys fur. If we ship fish by truck to Vancouver, he looks after it. My father sends in a boat to be fixed, Robinson brings it back. A deadbeat Indian gives my father trouble, Robinson goes and sees him. He brought back Augustine’s boat last week. I forget, maybe it was longer than that. I think it was the day the Jap had the accident.” “Hogashima?”
“That’s right. You leave a tip here. Mr. Crogan.”
“I know, Miss Jack.”
The brand on Robinson’s cheek, the X between bars, might be the mark of Cain. Perhaps he had used Augustine’s boat not for fishing but to hunt, had circled the waters and. like a seal after salmon, pounced on Hogashima’s old tub, and no one there but Charlie’s boys and Charlie, and perhaps had turned again to run at Hogashima’s head, and all because Charlie had said, don't come back, Herbie. Or, as Rise and Shine thought, had the seams of Hogashima’s boat simply opened, his engine quit, had he stumbled, or had a stroke and died, his boat a casket bouncing among rocks?
“You’d better go to the liquor store, Mr. Crogan. Do you know where it is?” “I know.”
“I’ll sit in the lobby, and then walk over to the float. I like sitting in the lobby.”
“To have people look at you, I imagine.”
“I like it.”
“Miss Jack, I left a couple of parcels at the desk. When you go will you take them with you?”
“All right, Mr. Crogan.”
“One of them holds a bottle of acid and an old shirt. The other is for you.” “A present?”
“Don't hurry. You’ll appreciate it more if you let your lunch digest. It’s something to eat.”
“I’ll get it now.”
Me bought a bottle of rye for himself, not that he wanted it, but the opportunity was there, he had a taxi, and six bottles could be carried as easily as five. Crogan’s parents had been temperate and he was inclined, himself, to keep a cautious eye on the barleycorn. He had been drunk twice, once in Prince George, through inexperience, once in the army, through boredom, and he doubted if ever there would be a third time. Crogan was afraid of the bottle. He had read that his chances of becoming an alcoholic were forty times greater than if he had been born a Jew. It was God’s mistake. The race qualified to be chosen had not been chosen and had taken to the malt. But they forgave Him. They could swill and • still be saintly. They drank to His justice in the next world and to forget His error in this one. Who but an Irishman could lie in the gutter and talk to God?
“What Charlie likes, I like,” said Robinson “He likes you. That’s tough”
The taxi took Crogan to within fifty yards of the float. Crogan made sure that the vicinity was free of policemen. He held the bag before him to conceal it from anyone passing on the road Robinson's black marble eyes watched him. There was nothing in the Chilcotin's manner to indicate he was prepared to treat Crogan as he would a member of the Jack family. He said, "How many bottles have you got?”
“Maybe I want one.” Menace flowed from the little man. not charm.
Crogan looked at him. "I don’t like you,” he said.
Opposition brought life to the craggy face, the eyes widened, he stretched his lips, making a clicking sound. "And I don't like being told to treat you like one of the boys.”
“Then don't. Is Charlie here, or Monica?”
“Do you like Monica?”
“I hear she's a smart kid. Got a soft word for everybody. How do you like her?”
“What Charlie likes, I like. He seems to like you. That makes it tough, Crogan.”
"And what Charlie wants done, you get done.”
Crogan stepped aboard the Yeti. Robinson said, “I'll get one of those bottles.”
Crogan turned. The Indian’s black eyes could have been made out of glass. “You won’t.”
“I will. I'll ask Charlie. He’ll leave me one.”
Crogan sat down in the cabin. He decided it was not Robinson’s ugliness that made him unlikeable but his manner. Robinson balanced his pitted chin, the branded cheek, his small stature with a calculated aggression, a cold eye, a gamecock’s strut. A snarl had been built into the little man. Crogan only knew that Robinson gave Charlie satisfactory service, that he was exiled from his own country, and had been about Ucluelet the day Hogashima died, but no one should be damned because of a coincidence. He went outside. “Robinson!”
The Indian came from the shed. “Robinson, I’ll explain about the bottles. They don't belong to Charlie. They’re mine.”
"Whose money bought them?”
“Ask him when he comes. I guess I was kind of short with you when I came down.”
"I never noticed. I told you before, what Charlie likes, I like.”
“When Charlie gets here, I'll open a bottle.”
"Thanks. I don't drink.”
“I don’t drink. But I can always sell it.”
On the catwalk Monica’s high heels sounded like water dripping from a faucet.
Robinson said, “You're late, baby.”
She said, “I've got a new weapon, Robinson.”
“Acid. Robinson, the kind you throw at people.”
“Give me some.” He spoke with the eagerness of a collector, of a schoolboy trading stamps.
"1 can't. Robinson, it belongs to Mr. Crogan."’
The black Chilcotin eyes looked at Crogan.
"I need it to burn some sand.” Crogan said. "I'm a prospector."
Charlie came in a taxi. From the trunk, he and the driver took boxes of groceries, hams, a side of bacon, and a stalk of bananas.
Monica Jack, as she stepped on deck and crossed to the cabin, said. "Thanks for the present. Mr. Crogan.”
“Think nothing of it. Drug-store chocolates. Miss Jack. Taking them home to eat with Mamie?”
Her eyes sharpened with indignation.
“Mr. Crogan. you bought them for me!” When Charlie started the engine and eased the Yeti away from the float, she came out of the cabin and shouted to the little Indian, "What do you think. Robinson?”
"It’ll be all right, baby.”
With a hundred feet of water between them, she shouted, "You'll be needing a new suit.. We’ll get the parent to pay for it.”
“How about a shotgun, baby?” “You're an awful man, Robinson.” “Good-by, baby.” The Indian went into the shed and came out. locking the door. He wore a broad-brimmed hat with the crown punched down and a green silk handkerchief about his neck.
“He's going uptown to shoot pool,” Monica said.
"Do you know where he got his watch?” Crogan asked. “I haven't seen one like it for years.”
"He’s had it for a long time. When I was a girl and going to the convent, he’d put me on the train, and he'd stand outside the window looking at his watch and holding up five fingers, four fingers, three fingers, two fingers, one finger, and if the train didn’t go he'd pretend he was mad and make faces.”
"Watches like that are pretty scarce now.”
"The man who lived in your shack had one.”
“Did you know Inkster?”
“I saw him the summer he went away.” “Did you speak to him? Did he ever talk to you about gold?”
“I was a little girl. Mr. Crogan. He wouldn’t talk to me about gold.”
“Where did you see him, at Ucluelet?”
“Sometimes. He and my mother went to the same church. She wasn't Catholic, Mr. Crogan. They went to church on Sunday after supper. He'd walk back with her to the house. She boarded in Ucluelet. He'd say hello to me. 1 used to spend every July in Ucluelet. She didn't live with my father. She didn't want to live with me either, 1 was too Indian, but 1 guess she had to because of what people would think. So I'd live July with her. August with my father, and back to the convent. I never came home for Christmas. My father would come down to sec me between Christmas and New Year's. She wouldn't even get together with him for Christmas. She wasn't any good. Mr. Crogan. She didn’t like me.”
“That’s hard to understand. Miss Jack."
"How do you like me, Mr. Crogan?" "I m fascinated. Now let's hear more about Inkster. Did lie ever show you any gold?”
“Just his gold watch. My mother used to make me go with her to the beach. That’s a long way, Mr. Crogan.”
“You saw him on the beach?"
“I went with her a couple of times. Maybe she went by herself when I was with my father or at the convent. I don't know. She'd ask me to go away and play. You can’t play by yourself. Mr. Crogan. I wouldn't. I'd stick around. Then Inkster would say. Monica. I left a shovel where the cliff fell down. I'll give you a quarter if you get it. There was no shovel. But I'd get a quarter. I suppose that was a game. Of course. I suppose other things, too. Mr. Crogan. They just didn’t want me.”
"What was he like?"
“He was a Scotchman. I bet he found it hard giving me a quarter. He didn't know how to talk to kids.”
“Why did he go away? Did the gold give out?”
“I don’t know.”
"He never came back, did he?”
“I don’t know, Mr. Crogan. I wouldn't know. My mother died in thirty-five, in August.”
“You never saw Inkster again?”
"No. I don't think my father liked him.”
"I just don't think so, Mr. Crogan.” "He's dead, is he?”
“I'll ask my father.” She talked to him
Charlie, the sun dazzling a silvered side of his big head, his eyes reserved and flat behind the gold-rimmed glasses, looked down at Crogan from the wheelhouse. “I hear he's dead. Pat.”
“Monica said she knew him, Charlie.” "I hear he's dead. Pat. I told you. I told you before.” He stared at Crogan.
Crogan thought of all Monica had told him. It was clear there had been conniving between the Welsh Louella and Inkster, some hanky-panky, a middleaged holding of hands, a fusion of two lonely lives. Inkster with his picture of the Christ Child, she and her remembrance of the London streets. She had not told Inkster she once had walked them. She had gone to church with Inkster, sat in the same pew, sung the same hymns. She had said she was a country girl, deceived and bullied into marriage with a North American Indian. And poor Inkster had listened and all (the week felt pity for her as he shoveled Florencia sand into his sluice. After church, as they walked in the darkness, she would hold Inkster's arm and on the uneven road lean against his body, talk of the island they both had come from, tell of tribulations with her husband, of his want of understanding, his neglect, his scorn, of his abstracting from her the affection of her child, of life among the Indians. She would fish in Inkster for all that she had lost, and try old skills. From the platonic it would go to the absurd. Poor Inkster had obeyed the lust in her foolish heart. And Charlie knew.
“Do you want me to get you a coat, Mr. Crogan?”
I'll get it. Miss Jack."
"No. I’ll get it. I ll throw it out to you. I'm going to have a sleep in the cabin.” “Miss Jack, why did your mother die? What did she have?”
“She had nothing, Mr. Crogan. She fell off a fishboat. Robinson was taking her into Alberni. She was standing outside when they hit a log. They never found her. Don’t let me sleep more than an hour. Mr. Crogan. Then you can have a drink with my father.”
Robinson and Hogashima, Robinson and I ouella Jack, Charlie’s Robinson with the big gold watch like the one Inkster had carried. How far could coincidence be stretched before it became reality? People did drown, seams opened up. small boats did hit logs, a golden watch could be had in any pawnshop. In these waters, death came by accident, not by contrivance. Contrived deaths were shore deaths, or were they?
On the west coast sad things had often happened. I here had been so many bodies on the beaches, the American
sailors of the John Bright at Nootka, all on the beach, all with smashed heads, and the men of the Hawaiian barque Maura kea at Quatsino, and those of the Narramissic right here in Barkley Sound, and the Emma Utter blown from Oregon to Clayoquot and boarded, and the men of the Florencia, the ship from Peru, had lain on the sand where Inkster's shack was now. all. all. with smashed heads. Charlie would have heard the stories from his father who must havehelped at several of the smashings. And the solitary men. the castaways, the ship jumpers, the gold seekers from California. how long had they lasted? To kill or enslave the intruder was the custom, and so was the killing of someone taken in adultery. Adultery to Charlie's people was adultery. Tribal thought would persist after a tribe had abandoned dugouts for diesels, a man could conduct his affairs by tribal action after he had sent his daughter to a convent, could carry his tribe’s colors on his soul and leave them off his face. A man could wear the whitegarment of Christianity to hide a loincloth made of beaten cedar bark. A man could take white lives, or yellow lives, and see to it that old-age pensioners at Ucluelet. not of his race, had their tea and tobacco. But would Charlie havehired Robinson to fulfill a tribal duty? Or was murder by agent part of the tradition? Or was the damned thing all coincidence?
The horseman. Rise and Shine, had said Charlie was a cute Indian, and the storekeeper had said what Charlie wants. Charlie gets. The three old men on a bench at Ucluelet had told ugly John. Tom and Augustine, your father is a good man. they don’t come better than your father, there’s nothing wrong with Charlie. So had the comments in the oilskin exercise book the storekeeper used for Charlie's deadbeat accounts shown his merit, you're my friend, Charlie. God bless you. Charlie, thank you, Charlie. I pray for you, Charlie, and my kids saythank you, Charlie. Big Tillicum, Big Friend. And there had been the strangeone. Old soldiers, Charlie, never die.
Crogan walked around the fish well and stepped into the wheelhouse. "Are we making time, Charlie?”
“Could go faster, Pat. But cheaper this way. We'll be home by seven . . . Pat. why do you want to waste your timelooking for gold? The government’s a liar if it says Inkster took any from the beach.”
“There's gold down there, Charlie."
“Sure. You work all day with a shovel and get four-bits worth. Vly wife, Mamie, can make that in an hour digging clams. Working all day with a shovel! That's no job for a man. That’s woman's work."
“When there's gold on the shovel, or when you think there’s gold on the shovel. it's the loveliest job in the world, Charlie.”
“It’s no job for a married man. Pat. You can’t live on four-bits."
“I’m not married.”
"A married man can't go bumming round the country. Pat."
"I agree with you.”
“Monica said I was to wake her in an hour.”
“It's an hour now.”
“I don't think so."
“Close enough. Pat." Charlie dropped to his knees and shouted through the opening. He motioned to Crogan to take the wheel. Any steering Crogan had ever done had been with poles and paddles. He saw, miles ahead, surf tumbling on a reef and it made him remember the upand-down water that had cost him his breakfast. He supposed he would make a spectacle of himself again.
“You went off course. Pat.”
“I was thinking of the waves waiting for me, Charlie.”
Charlie said, “That’s what Monica was talking about. She says she'll come south of Macoah Passage and follow the land, l akes half an hour longer but we'll only have a couple of minutes of open water. She's a smart kid.”
The smart kid clattered into the w'heelhouse, eating a banana. "Beat it, parent,” ■die said.
In the cabin, Crogan saw she had gone to the trouble of laying a small jug of water and two glasses by the charcoal galley. "What will w'c have, Charlie?"
Charlie watered his drink, drank half of it and sighed. Above the big head, the broad face, Crogan saw through the opening to the wheelhouse the red shoes and fine nylons of Monica Jack. She could hear every word.
Charlie sipped w'hisky and talked of his war years, of Flemish mud and farmers, of rats and the RosS rifle. "For two weeks," he said, “I was a lance-jack. 1 had a stripe on my arm. But 1 lost it. One day they gave me five men and told me to take back some prisoners, about fifty. There was one German officer. We »topped when we-got out of the lines and went through their pockets. They had heen gone through before, they had nothing. I grabbed the officer. He was taller than you, eyes like a codfish. All he had was a picture of a woman. Pat.
I showed it to the boys and 1 said something, Pat, 1 made a man-woman joke, that German said to me, he said, you dirty English pig. I clubbed him on the face with my rifle. His hat bounced off and I smashed the back of his head. Then 1 told the other boys there’s nobody going to call me English. Everybody thought that was pretty good. Pat, but I lost my stripe.”
And so, even in a foreign land a foreign intruder had had his head smashed in the Siwash fashion. In a continental slaughter of young men there had been a private and impulsive killing, one stalk of wheat eut by hand and not by combine or a binder, an extra drop of blood to swell a sticky tide. What happened to an indiscreet antagonistic prisoner was more incident than tragedy, vet Crogan would have liked it better if Charlie had said, this is the story of another lance-jack in our battalion. But it was not altogether damning. Germans, to Crogan, had only been shadows with metal chamberpots on their heads, and German corpses, grotesqueries in good boots and cheap clothing, and German prisoners, tired men of such docility they could be herded.
"Yes. Pat. You dirty English pig, he said, and I said, nobody's going to call me English.”
Crogan nodded. Charlie with a glass in his hand was a picture of distinguished sobriety. The eyes were intelligent, the mouth firm.
"Monica said you had something to tell me, Charlie.”
“Ah! that girl. Nobody’s got a girl like that girl. Nice thoughts. She sees you bumming on the beach and she says, parent, that's no life for a good man. he ought to get married."
"She said that, Charlie, because she’s getting married herself."
"Sure, she is.”
“Who is she getting married to, Charlie?”
“To you, Pat.”
The voice was soft, the big hands fumbled for an American cigarette.
Crogan’s reaction was to drink his whisky. He laid the glass on the floor and stared at it. He stared at the cigarette in Charlie's hand. He raised his eyes above Charlie’s head to the opening between wheelhouse and cabin and stared at Monica Jack’s red shoes. He had stopped thinking. A glimmer of sense told him to play for time, that the situation was of considerable delicacy. A tension had developed in the cabin. He suspected it was also making itself felt in
the wheelhouse. He lowered his head and stared at the glass on the floor. He said, “Are you ready for another drink, Charlie?”
"1 have enough here, Pat. I'll take one before we get in.”
“1 think I'il take one, Charlie.”
"It may help me keep from being seasick. Charlie.”
“Take a good one.”
Crogan took a small one. He looked again at the opening. The red shoes, the trim legs, the hem of the camel-hair coat
had not changed position. She was waiting. Charlie was waiting. Something had to b*;.*iaid. "What were we talking about, Charlie?”
The question was a good one. Monica moved her feet. Charlie’s eyes rounded behind the gold-rimmed glasses.
"What was it, Charlie?”
“Pat, I said you and Monica are getting married."
“I remember. That's what you said, Charlie.”
"She’s a good girl, Pat.”
"A smart kid."
“Pretty, too, Pat. Don’t forget that.” “And for everybody, a soft word, Charlie.”
“A nice Catholic girl, Pat.”
“She's a lady, Charlie. I’m a bum.” “You’ve got a brother who’s a judge.” “Charlie, would you marry your daughter to any bum who’s got a brother who’s a judge?”
“I’m giving you a boat, Pat.”
“Have you talked this over with Monica?”
“But, damn it! Charlie. I’m thirtythree. She’s a kid."
“What’s that got to do with it? She’s twenty - one. I’m fifty - four. Mamie’s twenty-three. I’m getting a family. No trouble.”
Crogan looked at the red shoes. One of the heels was tapping.
“What the hell would I do with a fishboat, Charlie? You saw me this morning. Water makes me sick.”
“Were you sick all the time when you went overseas, Pat?”
“Yes. Like a dog.”
“Maybe you won’t be sick when you’re fishing all the time. How do you know?” “Look, Charlie. I appreciate the honor. But you can do a lot better. You must know a hundred young fellows who want a fishboat. I’m a prospector. I’m mining that beach.”
“Go ahead, mine it, mine it all summer, but you’re getting married.”
Crogan felt stifled. The situation was preposterous but he saw no immediate way in which it would be resolved. The shock was still on him. A girl had been offered him in marriage, and it had sounded less like a proposition than a demand. The business was as cold and as plotted as a bank robbery. He did not want to hurt Monica, nor did he want to
hurt Charlie, and he knew Monica could hear him. He did not see how he could respect their sensibilities and still tell them to go to hell. The cabin of the Yeti had become a pit, a private arena that he, a stranger, had fallen into. Monica was a tawny tigress, Charlie a lumbering bear. Crogan said, “You don’t rush into marriage. It calls for thought.”
“You’ve got nothing to think about. You’re getting married. Take your time. You don’t have to ask today. Ask her next week. Maybe you want to do some courting.”
“Charlie, do you always get your own way?”
“I’m pigheaded, Pat.”
“Ah, she’s pigheaded, Pat.” “Charlie?”
“Then I'm going to have pigheaded grandsons.”
“Sure. Man. woman, in the same house, they don’t get pigheaded about that, Pat. Now you go up and see Monica.”
“I’d rather stay here.”
“Pat, I got one question. How come you’re not married now? You’re thirtythree.”
“I never wanted to get married.” “You’re not weak some place?”
“Just in the head.”
“That’s nothing. It’s not the head you need to get married, Pat. How would you like to do your courting Siwash style?”
Crogan had his eye on Monica Jack’s red shoes. Somehow, he did not want them subjected to a bawdy conversation. They had developed a personality of their own, and had followed his and Charlie’s words with interest, had come together, spread apart, stamped, the right one had rubbed the left one’s ankle.
“I'll tell you about Siwash courting, Pat. The man comes to the girl’s house and puts his head in the door. The father and the brothers throw him out. They beat him, Pat. He comes again. Bang! Every day he's got the top of his head in a different place. After a while the father gets tired, he says, okay. You don’t want to do it Siwash style, Pat?”
“Good. You just get married.”
The Yeti had started to bounce. Crogan asked, “How long will it be like this, Charlie?”
“Ten minutes, Pat.”
“I’d better go outside,” Crogan said.
He sat on the fish well with his back to the wheelhouse. He had no desire to talk to Monica. Her feelings could be bruised some other day. Charlie, too, would have to be disillusioned. Crogan needed time to find the words that would ease him out of any involvement with the Jacks and yet allow him to retain their friendship, no show of bad manners, but a firm and amiable rejection. He was not to be shotgunned into marriage with a young girl he had seen twice, and with whom his greatest familiarity had been to sit beside on the fish well of her father’s boat, and to tell her in Alberni. when prompted, she had lovely hair.
Crogan realized that if he had been brought up in a city, and had friends with sisters, or had worked in an office surrounded by girls, or if he had stayed in one place long enough to be run after, he might have married, but there were no women along the creeks, or on the hills above the timberline, and none in the winters he had worked underground. The women miners met on pay day and soldiers met on leave were not for Crogan. He knew them. They could be looked at, their femininity admired, they stimulated, caused a billy-goat excitement. but it all washed out on nearness, with the smell of food, drink and tobacco on their breath, their rumination of gum, their empty phrases, empty heads, underarm and perfume smells, their blatant availability. And the others, the good women like Dennis Dalton’s wife. Paul had said it. marry or burn. But he could have said a little burning is preferable to boredom. If a man lived without a woman for six weeks, he could do so for six months, for six or sixty years. It would be time to marry when the gold hunger and the need to take to the hills had left him.
Now, Monica Jack. A woman-chaser could be driven to idiocy by Monica Jack. A fine little body, fine legs, firm breasts, black-blue hair, and something about the small face not of the Western world, a feline unexpectedness, the temperament of a wise child, of an innocent savage, these attributes would fascinate a woman-chaser. But Crogan felt he would be better off with a book.
The Yeti had reached the quiet water of the inlet. He had forgotten to be sick. They passed the village. When Monica blew a long note on the siren, he turned his head and saw the unpainted house, the two brown canvas tents, the tarpapershacks and in the narrow bay the fishboats of Charlie’s cousins. Crogan returned to the cabin. He glanced at the bottle of whisky to see how much was left. It was the same. Charlie might be pigheaded but he was not a whisky pig.
“Pat, you’d better eat at the house before you go.”
“No thanks. I want to get to the beach in daylight.”
"i’ll be coming to see you, Pat.”
“Anytime, Charlie. Is Monica taking the boat in?”
“I’ll take it in. She'll want to come down here and fix up.”
Crogan carried his parcels outside, not caring to be cornered by Monica in the cabin. There was nothing he could say.
Charlie shouted to him, “Are you leaving the bottle, Pat?”
Why not? “You keep it, Charlie, and buy the cousins a drink.”
“And a little one for Mamie. You're a good man. Pat."
Charlie stepped into the wheelhouse.
The middle-aged cousins were standing on the float. Charlie said. “Pat. throw them that line.”
Crogan heard Monica's red heels going into the cabin. He threw the rope and nodded to the cousins. They had shoulders like Charlie's, and were perhaps as tall. What Charlie wants, Charlie gets. He could have a small thing like a bottle, let him want a big thing like an Irish son-in-law and he could expect to be disappointed. Crogan said. “Thanks for the ride, Charlie.”
Monica came from the cabin. She had
the box of chocolates under her arm. She asked, "Do you want to eat with us?” “Not tonight, thank you.”
She kept her eyes on the deck. In her hand she carried the red hat. and for the first time he noticed how her hair had been piled in some sort of a bun. She said. “Good-by. Mr. Crogan.”
“Good-by, Miss Jack."
FLORENCIA BAY PART FOUR