“I couldn’t save him. It was done like that.” MacRae snapped his fingers.
“I know,” Old Peter said. “You’re not to blame. Perhaps nobody is. Them things happen. Manuel’ll feel it. He’s lost both sons now. But Steve’s better off. He’d ‘a’ died of consumption or something, slow an’ painful. His lungs was gone. I seen him set for weeks on the porch wheezin’ after he come home. He didn’t get no pleasure livin’. He said once a bullet would ‘a’ been mercy. No, don’t worry about Steve. We all come to it soon or late, John. It’s never a pity for the old or the crippled to die.”
“You old Spartan,” MacRae muttered.
“What’s that?” Peter asked. But MacRae did not explain. He asked about Dolly instead.
“She was up to Potter’s Landing. I sent for her and she’s back,” Peter told him. “She’ll be up to see you presently. There’s no grub in the house, is there? Can you eat? Well, take it easy, lad.”
An hour or so later Dolly Ferrara brought him a steaming breakfast on a tray. She sat talking to him while he ate.
“Gower will have to pay for the Blackbird, won’t he?” she asked. “The fishermen say so.”
“If he doesn’t in one way he will another,” MacRae answered indifferently. “But that doesn’t help Steve. The boat doesn’t matter. One can build boats. You can’t bring a man back to life when he’s dead.”
“If Steve could talk he’d say he didn’t care,” Dolly declared sadly. “You know he wasn’t getting much out of living, Jack. There was nothing for him to look forward to but a few years of discomfort and uncertainty. A man who has been strong and active rebels against dying by inches. Steve told me—not so very long ago—that if something would finish him off quickly he would be glad.”
If that had been Steve’s wish, MacRae thought, then fate had hearkened to him. He knew it was true. He had lived at elbows with Steve all summer. Steve never complained. He was made of different stuff. It was only a gloomy consolation, after all, to think of Steve as being better off. MacRae knew how men cling to life, even when it has lost all its savor. There is that imperative will-to-live which refuses to be denied.
Dolly went away. After a time Wallis came over from the cottage at Cradle Bay. He was a young and genial medico from Seattle, who had just returned from service with the American forces overseas, and was holidaying briefly before he took up private practice again. He had very little more than a casual interest in MacRae, however, and he did not stay long once he had satisfied himself that his patient had little further need of professional services. And MacRae, who was weaker than he expected to find himself, rested in his bed until late afternoon brought bars of sunlight streaming through openings in the cloud bank which still ran swift before the wind.