“M” For Morse
Two in the village bathed that day. The other was Tom Morse. He discarded his serviceable moccasins, his caribou-skin capote with the fur on, his moose-skin trousers, and his picturesque blanket shirt. For these he substituted the ungainly clothes of civilization, a pair of square-toed boots, a store suit, a white shirt.
This was not the way Faraway dressed for gala occasions, but in several respects the trader did not choose to follow the habits of the North. At times he liked to remind himself that he was an American and not a French half-breed born in the woods.
As he had promised, he was at the McRaes’ by the appointed hour. Jessie opened to his knock.
The girl almost took his breath. He had not realized how attractive she was. In her rough outdoor costumes she had a certain naive boyishness, a very taking quality of vital energy that was sexless. But in the house dress she was wearing now, Jessie was wholly feminine. The little face, cameo-fine and clear-cut, the slender body, willow-straight, had the soft rounded curves that were a joy to the eye. He had always thought of her as dark, but to his surprise he found her amazingly fair for one of the metis blood.
A dimpled smile flashed him welcome. “You did come, then?”
“Is it the wrong night? Weren’t you expectin’ me?” he asked in pretended alarm.
“I was and I wasn’t. It wouldn’t have surprised me if you had decided you were too busy to come.”
“Not when Miss Jessie McRae invites me.”
“She invited you once before,” the girl reminded him.
“Then she asked me because she thought she ought. Is that why I’m asked this time?”
She laughed. “You mustn’t look a gift dinner in the mouth.”
They were by this time in the big family room. She relieved him of his coat. He walked over to the couch upon which Onistah lay.
“How goes it? Tough sleddin’?” he asked.
The bronze face of the Blackfoot was immobile. He must still have been in great pain from the burnt feet, but he gave no sign of it.
“Onistah find good friends,” he answered simply.
Tom looked round the room, and again there came to him the sense of home. Logs roared and snapped in the great fireplace. The table, set with the dishes and the plated silver McRae had imported from the States, stirred in him a pleasure that was almost poignant. The books, the organ, the quaint old engravings Angus had brought with him when he crossed the ocean: all of these touched the trader nearly. He was in exile, living a bachelor life under the most primitive conditions. The atmosphere of this house penetrated to every fiber of his being. It filled him with an acute hunger. Here were love and friendly intercourse and all the daily, homely routine that made life beautiful.