So there could be no compromising there; no inter-marrying and sentimental burying of the old feud. Betty would tie his hands. He was afraid of her power to do that. He did not want to be a Samson shorn. His ego revolted against love interfering with the grim business of everyday life. He bit his lip and wished he could wipe out that kiss. He cursed himself for a slavish weakness of the flesh. The night was old when MacRae lay down on his bed. But he could find no ease for the throbbing ferment within him. He suffered with a pain as keen as if he had been physically wounded, and the very fact that he could so suffer filled him with dismay. He had faced death many times with less emotion than he now was facing life.
He had no experience of love. Nothing remotely connected with women had ever suggested such possibilities of torment. He had known first-hand the pangs of hunger and thirst, of cold and weariness, of anger and hate, of burning wounds in his flesh. He had always been able to grit his teeth and endure; none of it had been able to wring his soul. This did. He had come to manhood, to a full understanding of sex, at a time when he played the greatest game of all, when all his energies were fiercely centered upon preservation for himself and certain destruction for other men. Perhaps because he had come back clean, having never wasted himself in complaisant liaisons overseas, the inevitable focusing of passion stirred him more profoundly. He was neither a varietist nor a male prude. He was aware of sex. He knew desire. But the flame Betty Gower had kindled in him made him look at women out of different eyes. Desire had been revealed to him not as something casual, but as an imperative. As if nature had pulled the blinkers off his eyes and shown him his mate and the aim and object and law and fiery urge of the mating instinct all in one blinding flash.
He lay hot and fretful, cursing himself for a fool, yet unable to find ease, wondering dully if Betty Gower must also suffer as he should, or if it were only an innocent, piquant game that Betty played. Always in the background of his mind lurked a vision of her father, sitting back complacently, fat, smug, plump hands on a well-rounded stomach, chuckling a brutal satisfaction over another MacRae beaten.
MacRae wakened from an uneasy sleep at ten o’clock. He rose and dressed, got his breakfast, went out on the streets. But Vancouver had all at once grown insufferable. The swarming streets irritated him. He smoldered inside, and he laid it to the stir and bustle and noise. He conceived himself to crave hushed places and solitude, where he could sit and think.
By mid-afternoon he was far out in the Gulf of Georgia, aboard a coasting steamer sailing for island ports. If it occurred to him that he was merely running away from temptation, he did not admit the fact.