“How’s that?” the correspondent asked, cheerily.
“By the same token that I met Lucile down the trail a piece, an’ the heels iv her moccasins pointing to yer shack. It’s a bitter tongue the jade slings on occasion,” Matt chuckled.
“That’s the worst of it.” St. Vincent met him frankly. “A man looks sidewise at them for a passing moment, and they demand that the moment be eternal.”
Off with the old love’s a stiff proposition, eh?”
“I should say so. And you understand. It’s easy to see, Matt, you’ve had some experience in your time.”
“In me time? I’ll have ye know I’m not too old to still enjoy a bit iv a fling.”
“Certainly, certainly. One can read it in your eyes. The warm heart and the roving eye, Matt!” He slapped his visitor on the shoulder with a hearty laugh.
“An’ I’ve none the best iv ye, Vincent. ’Tis a wicked lad ye are, with a takin’ way with the ladies—as plain as the nose on yer face. Manny’s the idle kiss ye’ve given, an’ manny’s the heart ye’ve broke. But, Vincent, bye, did ye iver know the rale thing?”
“How do you mean?”
“The rale thing, the rale thing—that is—well, have ye been iver a father?”
St. Vincent shook his head.
“And niver have I. But have ye felt the love iv a father, thin?”
“I hardly know. I don’t think so.”
“Well, I have. An’ it’s the rale thing, I’ll tell ye. If iver a man suckled a child, I did, or the next door to it. A girl child at that, an’ she’s woman grown, now, an’ if the thing is possible, I love her more than her own blood-father. Bad luck, exciptin’ her, there was niver but one woman I loved, an’ that woman had mated beforetime. Not a soul did I brathe a word to, trust me, nor even herself. But she died. God’s love be with her.”
His chin went down upon his chest and he quested back to a flaxen-haired Saxon woman, strayed like a bit of sunshine into the log store by the Dyea River. He looked up suddenly, and caught St. Vincent’s stare bent blankly to the floor as he mused on other things.
“A truce to foolishness, Vincent.”
The correspondent returned to himself with an effort and found the Irishman’s small blue eyes boring into him.
“Are ye a brave man, Vincent?”
For a second’s space they searched each other’s souls. And in that space Matt could have sworn he saw the faintest possible flicker or flutter in the man’s eyes.
He brought his fist down on the table with a triumphant crash. “By God, yer not!”
The correspondent pulled the tobacco jug over to him and rolled a cigarette. He rolled it carefully, the delicate rice paper crisping in his hand without a tremor; but all the while a red tide mounting up from beneath the collar of his shirt, deepening in the hollows of the cheeks and thinning against the cheekbones above, creeping, spreading, till all his face was aflame.