Read CHAPTER XXIX - NOT GOING ALONE of Man Size, free online book, by William MacLeod Raine, on ReadCentral.com.

“Morse, I’ve watched ye through four-five days of near-hell.  I ken nane I’d rather tak wi’ me as a lone companion on the long traverse.  You’re canny an’ you’re bold.  That’s why I’m trustin’ my lass to your care.  It’s a short bit of a trip, an’ far as I can see there’s nae danger.  But the fear’s in me.  That’s the truth, man.  Gie me your word you’ll no’ let her oot o’ your sight till ye hand her ower to my wife at Faraway.”

Angus clamped a heavy hand on the young man’s shoulder.  His blue eyes searched steadily those of the trader.

“I’ll not let her twenty yards from me any time.  That’s a promise, McRae,” the trader said quietly.

Well wrapped from the wind, Onistah sat in the cariole.

Jessie kissed the Scotchman fondly, laughing at him the while.  “You’re a goose, Father.  I’m all right.  You take good care of yourself.  That West might come back here.”

“No chance of that.  West will never come back except at the end of a rope.  He’s headed for the edge of the Barrens, or up that way somewhere,” Beresford said.  “And inside of a week I’ll be north-bound on his trail myself.”

Jessie was startled, a good deal distressed.  “I’d let him go.  He’ll meet a bad end somewhere.  If he never comes back, as you say he won’t, then he’ll not trouble us.”

The soldier smiled grimly.  “That’s not the way of the Mounted.  Get the fellow you’re sent after.  That’s our motto.  I’ve been assigned the job of bringing in West and I’ve got to get him.”

“You don’t mean you’re going up there alone to bring back that - that wolf-man?”

“Oh, no,” the trooper answered lightly.  “I’ll have a Cree along as a guide.”

“A Cree,” she scoffed.  “What good will he be if you find West?  He’ll not help you against him at all.”

“Not what he’s with me for.  I’m not supposed to need any help to bring back one man.”

“It’s - it’s just suicide to go after him alone,” she persisted.  “Look what he did to the guard at the prison, to Mr. Whaley, to Onistah!  He’s just awful - hardly human.”

“The lad’s under orders, lass,” McRae told her.  “Gin they send him into the North after West, he’ll just have to go.  He canna argy-bargy aboot it.”

Jessie gave up, reluctantly.

The little cavalcade started.  Morse drove.  The girl brought up the rear.

Her mind was still on the hazard of the journey Beresford must take.  When Morse stopped to rest the dogs for a few moments, she tucked up Onistah again and recurred to the subject.

“I don’t think Win Beresford should go after West alone except for a Cree guide.  The Inspector ought to send another constable with him.  Or two more.  If he knew that man - how cruel and savage he is - ”

Tom Morse spoke quietly.  “He’s not going alone.  I’ll be with him.”

She stared.  “You?”

“Yes.  Sworn in as a deputy constable.”

“But - he didn’t say you were going when I spoke to him about it a little while ago.”

“He didn’t know.  I’ve made up my mind since.”

In point of fact he had come to a decision three seconds before he announced it.

Her soft eyes applauded him.  “That’ll be fine.  His friends won’t worry so much if you’re with him.  But - of course you know it’ll be a horrible trip - and dangerous.”

“No picnic,” he admitted.

She continued to look at him, her cheeks flushed and her face vivid.  “You must like Win a lot.  Not many men would go.”

“We’re good friends,” Morse answered dryly.  “Anyhow, I owe West something on my own account.”

The real reason why he was going he had not given.  During the days she had been lost he had been on the rack of torture.  He did not want her to suffer months of such mental distress while the man she loved was facing alone the peril of his grim work in the white Arctic desert.

They resumed the journey.

Jessie said no more.  She would not mention the subject again probably.  But it would be a great deal in her thoughts.  She lived much of the time inside herself with her own imagination.  This had the generosity and the enthusiasm of youth.  She wanted to believe people fine and good and true.  It warmed her to discover unexpected virtues in them.

Mid-afternoon brought them to Faraway.  They drove down the main street of the village to McRae’s house while the half-breeds cheered from the door of the Morse store.

Jessie burst into the big family room where Matapi-Koma sat bulging out from the only rocking-chair in the North woods.

“Oh, Mother - Mother!” the girl cried, and hugged the Cree woman with all the ardent young savagery of her nature.

The Indian woman’s fat face crinkled to an expansive smile.  She had stalwart sons of her own, but no daughters except this adopted child.  Jessie was very dear to her.

In a dozen sentences the girl poured out her story, the words tumbling pell-mell over each other in headlong haste.

Matapi-Koma waddled out to the sled.  “Onistah stay here,” she said, and beamed on him.  “Blackfoot all same Cree to Matapi-Koma when he friend Jessie.  Angus send word nurse him till he well again.”

Tom carried the Indian into the house so that his feet would not touch the ground.  Jessie had stayed in to arrange the couch where Fergus usually slept.

She followed Morse to the door when he left.  “We’ll have some things to send back to Father when you go.  I’ll bring them down to the store to-morrow morning,” she said.  “And Mother wants you to come to supper to-night.  Don’t you dare say you’re too busy.”

He smiled at the intimate feminine fierceness of the injunction.  The last few hours had put them on a somewhat different footing.  He would accept such largesse as she was willing to offer.  He recognized the spirit in which it was given.  She wanted to show her appreciation of what he had done for her and was about to do for the man she loved.  Nor would Morse meet her generosity in a churlish spirit.

“I’ll be here when the gong rings,” he told her heartily.

“Let’s see.  It’s nearly three now.  Say five o’clock,” she decided.

“At five I’ll be knockin’ on the door.”

She flashed at him a glance both shy and daring.  “And I’ll open it before you break through and bring it with you.”

The trader went away with a queer warmth in his heart he had not known for many a day.  The facts did not justify this elation, this swift exhilaration of blood, but to one who has starved for long any food is grateful.

Jessie flew back into the house.  She had a busy two hours before her.  “Mother, Mr. Morse is coming to dinner.  What’s in the house?”

“Fergus brought a black-tail in yesterday.”

“Good.  I know what I’ll have.  But first off, I want a bath.  Lots of hot water, and all foamy with soap.  I’ve got to hurry.  You can peel the potatoes if you like.  And fix some of those young onions.  They’re nice.  And Mother - I’ll let you make the biscuits.  That’s all.  I’ll do the rest.”

The girl touched a match to the fire that was set in her room.  She brought a tin tub and hot water and towels.  Slim and naked she stood before the roaring logs and reveled in her bath.  The sense of cleanliness was a luxury delicious.  When she had dressed herself from the soles of her feet up in clean clothes, she felt a new and self-respecting woman.

She did not pay much attention to the psychology of dress, but she knew that when she had on the pretty plaid that had come from Fort Benton, and when her heavy black hair was done up just right, she had twice the sex confidence she felt in old togs.  Jessie would have denied indignantly that she was a coquette.  None the less she was intent on conquest.  She wanted this quiet, self-contained American to like her.

The look she had seen in his red-brown eyes at times tantalized her.  She could not read it.  That some current of feeling about her raced deep in him she divined, but she did not know what it was.  He had a way of letting his steady gaze rest on her disturbingly.  What was he thinking?  Did he despise her?  Was he, away down out of sight, the kind of man toward women that West and Whaley were?  She wouldn’t believe it.  He had never taken an Indian woman to live with him.  There was not even a rumor that he had ever taken an interest in any Cree girl.  Of course she did not like him - not the way she did Win Beresford or even Onistah - but she was glad he held himself aloof.  It would have greatly disappointed her to learn of any sordid intrigue involving him.

Jessie rolled up her sleeves and put on a big apron.  She saw that the onions and the potatoes were started and the venison ready for broiling.  From a chest of drawers she brought one of the new white linen tablecloths of which she was inordinately proud.  She would not trust any one but herself to set the table.  Morse had come from a good family.  He knew about such things.  She was not going to let him go away thinking Angus McRae’s family were barbarians, even though his wife was a Cree and his children of the half-blood.

On the table she put a glass dish of wild-strawberry jam.  In the summer she had picked the fruit herself, just as she had gathered the saskatoon berries sprinkled through the pemmican she was going to use for the rubaboo.