He ventured to strike a match. The gunwale of the barge was slightly below the level of the bulkhead; so Mr. Daney realized that the tide had turned and was at the ebb—otherwise, the gunwale would have been on a level with the bulkheads. He stepped down on the barge, made his way aft to the Brutus, moored astern, and boarded the little vessel. He struck another match and looked into the cabin to make certain that no member of the barge-crew slept there. Finding no one, he went into the engine-room and opened the sea-cock. Then he lifted up a floor-board, looked into the bilge, saw that the water therein was rising, and murmured,
He clambered hastily back aboard the barge, cast off the mooring-lines of the Brutus, and with a boat-book gave her a shove which carried her out into the middle of the river. She went bobbing away gently on the ebb-tide, bound for the deep water out in the Bight of Tyee where, when she settled, she would be hidden forever and not be a menace to navigation. Mr. Daney watched her until she disappeared in the dim starlight before returning to his home and so, like Mr. Pepys, to bed, where he had the first real sleep in weeks. He realized this in the morning and marveled at it, for he had always regarded himself as a man of tender conscience and absolutely incapable of committing a maritime crime. Nevertheless, he whistled and wore a red carnation in his lapel as he departed for the mill office.
Following the interview with his father, subsequent to Caleb Brent’s funeral, Donald McKaye realized full well that his love-affair, hitherto indefinite as to outcome, had crystallized into a definite issue. For him, there could be no evasion or equivocation; he had to choose, promptly and for all time, between his family and Nan Brent—between respectability, honor, wealth, and approbation on one hand, and pity, contempt, censure, and poverty on the other. Confronting this impasse, he was too racked with torment to face his people that night and run the gantlet of his mother’s sad, reproachful glances, his father’s silence, so eloquent of mental distress, and the studied scorn, amazement, and contempt in the very attitudes of his selfish and convention-bound sisters. So he ate his dinner at the hotel in Port Agnew, and after dinner his bruised heart took command of his feet and marched him to the Sawdust Pile.
The nurse he had sent down from the Tyee Lumber Company’s hospital to keep Nan company until after the funeral had returned to the hospital, and Nan, with her boy asleep in her lap, was seated in a low rocker before the driftwood fire when Donald entered, unannounced save for his old-time triple tap at the door. At first glance, it was evident to him that the brave reserve which Nan had maintained at the funeral had given way to abundant tears when she found herself alone at home, screened from the gaze of the curious.