Read CHAPTER XLII - THE IMPERATIVE URGE of Man Size, free online book, by William MacLeod Raine, on ReadCentral.com.

The reason why Tom did not go to see Jessie was that he longed to do so in every fiber of his being.  His mind was never freed for a moment from the routine of the day’s work that it did not automatically turn toward her.  If he saw a woman coming down the street with the free light step only one person in Faraway possessed, his heart would begin to beat faster.  In short, he suffered that torment known as being in love.

He dared not go to see her for fear she might discover it.  She was the sweetheart of his friend.  It was as natural as the light of day that she turn to Win Beresford with the gift of her love.  Nobody like him had ever come into her life.  His gay courage, his debonair grace, the good manners of that outer world such a girl must crave, the affectionate touch of friendliness in his smile:  how could any woman on this forsaken edge of the Arctic resist them?

She could not, of course, let alone one so full of the passionate longing for life as Jessie McRae.

If Tom could have looked on her unmoved, if he could have subdued or concealed the ardent fire inside him, he would have gone to call occasionally as though casually.  But he could not trust himself.  He was like a volcano ready for eruption.  Already he was arranging with his uncle to put a subordinate here and let him return to Benton.  Until that could be accomplished, he tried to see her as little as possible.

But Jessie was a child of the imperative urge.  She told herself fifty times that it was none of her business if he did accept the offer of a place in the North-West Mounted.  He could do as he pleased.  Why should she interfere?  And yet - and yet -

She found a shadow of excuse for herself in the fact that it had been through her that he had offered himself as a special constable.  He might think she wanted him to enlist permanently.  So many girls were foolish about the red coats of soldiers.  She had noticed that among her school-girl friends at Winnipeg.  If she had any influence with him at all, she did not want it thrown on that side of the scale.

But of course he probably did not care what she thought.  Very likely it was her vanity that whispered to her he had gone North with Win Beresford partly to please her.  Still, since she was his friend, ought she not to just drop an offhand hint that he was a more useful citizen where he was than in the Mounted?  He couldn’t very well resent that, could he?  Or think her officious?  Or forward?

She contrived little plans to meet him when he would be alone and she could talk with him, but she rejected these because she was afraid he would see through them.  It had become of first importance to her that Tom Morse should not think she had any but a superficial interest in him.

When at last she did meet him, it was by pure chance.  Dusk was falling.  She was passing the yard where his storehouse was.  He wheeled out and came on her plumply face to face.  Both were taken by surprise completely.  Out of it neither could emerge instantly with casual words of greeting.

Jessie felt her pulses throb.  A queer consternation paralyzed the faculties that ought to have come alertly to her rescue.  She stood, awkwardly silent, in a shy panic to her pulsing finger-tips.  Later she would flog herself scornfully for her folly, but this did not help in the least now.

“I - I was just going to Mr. Whaley’s with a little dress Mother made for the baby,” she said at last.

“It’s a nice baby,” was the best he could do.

“Yes.  It’s funny.  You know Mr. Whaley didn’t care anything about it before - while it was very little.  But now he thinks it’s wonderful.  I’m so glad he does.”

She was beginning to get hold of herself, to emerge from the emotional crisis into which this meeting had plunged her.  It had come to her consciousness that he was as perturbed as she, and a discovery of this nature always brings a woman composure.

“He treats his wife a lot better too.”

“There was room for it,” he said dryly.

“She’s a nice little thing.”

“Yes.”

Conversation, which had been momentarily brisk, threatened to die out for lack of fuel.  Anything was better than significant silences in which she could almost hear the hammering of her heart.

“Win Beresford told me about the offer you had to go into the Mounted,” she said, plunging.

“Yes?”

“Will you accept?”

He looked at her, surprised.  “Didn’t Win tell you?  I said right away I couldn’t accept.  He knew that.”

“Oh!  I don’t believe he did tell me.  Perhaps you hadn’t decided then.”  Privately she was determining to settle some day with Winthrop Beresford for leading her into this.  He had purposely kept silent, she knew now, in the hope that she would talk to Tom Morse about it.  “But I’m glad you’ve decided against going in.”

“Why?”

“It’s dangerous, and I don’t think it has much future.”

“Win likes it.”

“Yes, Win does.  He’ll get a commission one of these days.”

“He deserves one.  I - I hope you’ll both be very happy.”

He was walking beside her.  Quickly her glance flashed up at him.  Was that the reason he had held himself so aloof from her?

“I think we shall, very likely, if you mean Win and I. He’s always happy, isn’t he?  And I try to be.  I’m sorry he’s leaving this part of the country.  Writing-on-Stone is a long way from here.  He may never get back.  I’ll miss him a good deal.  Of course you will too.”

This was plain enough, but Tom could not accept it at face value.  Perhaps she meant that she would miss him until Win got ready to send for her.  An idea lodged firmly in the mind cannot be ejected at an instant’s notice.

“Yes, I’ll miss him.  He’s a splendid fellow.  I’ve never met one like him, so staunch and cheerful and game.  Sometime I’d like to tell you about that trip we took.  You’d be proud of him.”

“I’m sure all his friends are,” she said, smiling a queer little smile that was lost in the darkness.

“He was a very sick man, in a great deal of pain, and we had a rather dreadful time of it.  Of course it hit him far harder than it did either West or me.  But never a whimper out of him from first to last.  Always cheerful, always hopeful, with a little joke or a snatch of a song, even when it looked as though we couldn’t go on another day.  He’s one out of ten thousand.”

“I heard him say that about another man - only I think he said one in fifty thousand,” she made comment, almost in a murmur.

“Any girl would be lucky to have such a man for a husband,” he added fatuously.

“Yes.  I hope he’ll find some nice one who will appreciate him.”

This left no room for misunderstanding.  Tom’s brain whirled.  “You - you and he haven’t had any - quarrel?”

“No.  What made you think so?”

“I don’t know.  I suppose I’m an idiot.  But I thought - ”

He stopped.  She took up his unfinished sentence.

“You thought wrong.”