“That’s a compliment, if it’s true,” he grinned.
“I dare say, but that doesn’t make it any safer.”
“They couldn’t give him a harder one than you did when you sent him into the Barrens to bring back West.” His eyes, touched with humor and yet disconcertingly intent on information, were fixed steadily on hers.
The girl’s cheeks flew color signals. “Why do you say that? I didn’t ask him to go. He volunteered.”
“Wasn’t it because you wanted him to?”
“I should think you’d be the last man to say that,” she protested indignantly. “He was your friend, and he didn’t want you to run so great a risk alone.”
“Then you didn’t want him to go?”
“If I did, it was for you. Maybe he blames me for it, but I don’t see how you can. You’ve just finished telling me he saved your life a dozen times.”
“Did I say I was blaming you?” His warm, affectionate smile begged pardon if he had given offense. “I was just trying to get it straight. You wanted him to go that time, but you wouldn’t want him to go again. Is that it?”
“I wouldn’t want either of you to go again. What are you driving at, Win Beresford?”
“Oh, nothing!” He laughed. “But if you think Tom’s too good to waste on the Mounted, you’d better tell him so while there’s still time. He’ll make up his mind within a day or two.”
“I don’t see him. He never comes here.”
“I wonder why.”
Jessie sometimes wondered why herself.
THE IMPERATIVE URGE
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.