Incredible as it seemed, MacRae had no choice but to accept that explanation of strangely twisted motives, those misapprehensions, the murky cloud of misunderstanding. The tone of Gower’s voice, his attitude, carried supreme conviction. And still—
“Yes,” he said at last. “It is all a contradiction of things I have been passionately sure of for nearly two years. But I can see—yes, it must be as you say. I’m sorry.”
“Sorry? For what?” Gower regarded him soberly.
“Many things. Why did you tell me this?”
“Why should the anger and bitterness of two old men be passed on to their children?” Gower asked him gently.
MacRae stared at him. Did he know? Had he guessed? Had Betty told him? He wondered. It was not like Betty to have spoken of what had passed between them. Yet he did not know how close a bond might exist between this father and daughter, who were, MacRae was beginning to perceive, most singularly alike. And this was a shrewd old man, sadly wise in human weaknesses, and much more tolerant than MacRae had conceived possible. He felt a little ashamed of the malice with which he had fought this battle of the salmon around Squitty Island. Yet Gower by his own admission was a hard man. He had lived with a commercial sword in his hand. He knew what it was to fall by that weapon. He had been hard on the fishermen. He had exploited them mercilessly. Therein lay his weakness, whereby he had fallen, through which MacRae had beaten him. But had he beaten him? MacRae was not now so sure about that. But it was only a momentary doubt. He struggled a little against the reaction of kindliness, this curious sympathy for Gower which moved him now. He hated sentimentalism, facile yielding to shallow emotions. He wanted to talk and he was dumb. Dumb for appropriate words, because his mind kept turning with passionate eagerness upon Betty Gower.
“Does Betty know what you have just told me?” he asked at last.
Gower shook his head.
“She knows there is something. I can’t tell her. I don’t like to. It isn’t a nice story. I don’t shine in it—nor her mother.”
“Nor do I,” MacRae muttered to himself.
He stood looking over the porch rail down on the sea where the Blanco swung at her anchor chain. There seemed nothing more to say. Yet he was aware of Gower’s eyes upon him with something akin to expectancy. An uncertain smile flitted across MacRae’s face.
“This has sort of put me on my beam ends,” he said, using a sailor’s phrase. “Don’t you feel as if I’d rather done you up these two seasons?”
Gower’s heavy features lightened with a grimace of amusement.
“Well,” he said, “you certainly cost me a lot of money, one way and another. But you had the nerve to go at it—and you used better judgment of men and conditions than anybody has manifested in the salmon business lately, unless it’s young Abbott. So I suppose you are entitled to win on your merits. By the way, there is one condition tacked to selling you this ranch. I hesitated about bringing it up at first. I would like to keep this cottage and a strip of ground a hundred and fifty feet wide running down to the beach.”