“Exactly. And Kedsty wasn’t expecting her, was he? If he had been, that first sight of her wouldn’t have shattered every nerve in his body. That’s why the big hunch won’t let loose of me, Kent. From the moment he saw her, he was a different man. His attitude toward you changed instantly. If he could save you now by raising his little finger, he wouldn’t do it, simply because it’s absolutely necessary for him to have an excuse for freeing McTrigger. Your confession came at just the psychological moment. The girl’s unspoken demand there in the poplars was that he free McTrigger, and it was backed up by a threat which Kedsty understood and which terrified him to his marrow. McTrigger must have seen him afterward, for he waited at the office until Kedsty came. I don’t know what passed between them. Constable Doyle says they were together for half an hour. Then McTrigger walked out of barracks, and no one has seen him since. It’s mighty queer. The whole thing is queer. And the queerest part of the whole business is this sudden commission of mine at Fort Simpson.”
Kent leaned back against his pillows. His breath came in a series of short, hacking coughs. In the star glow O’Connor saw his face grow suddenly haggard and tired-looking, and he leaned far in so that in both his own hands he held one of Kent’s.
“I’m tiring you, Jimmy,” he said huskily. “Good-by, old pal! I—I—” He hesitated and then lied steadily. “I’m going up to take a look around Kedsty’s place. I won’t be gone more than half an hour and will stop on my way back. If you’re asleep—”
“I won’t be asleep,” said Kent.
O’Connor’s hands gripped closer. “Good-by, Jimmy.”
“Good-by.” And then, as O’Connor stepped back into the night, Kent’s voice called after him softly: “I’ll be with you on the long trip, Bucky. Take care of yourself—always.”
O’Connor’s answer was a sob, a sob that rose in his throat like a great fist, and choked him, and filled his eyes with scalding tears that shut out the glow of moon and stars. And he did not go toward Kedsty’s, but trudged heavily in the direction of the river, for he knew that Kent had called his lie, and that they had said their last farewell.
It was a long time after O’Connor had gone before Kent at last fell asleep. It was a slumber weighted with the restlessness of a brain fighting to the last against exhaustion and the inevitable end. A strange spirit seemed whirling Kent back through the years he had lived, even to the days of his boyhood, leaping from crest to crest, giving to him swift and passing visions of valleys almost forgotten, of happenings and things long ago faded and indistinct in his memory. Vividly his dreams were filled with ghosts—ghosts that were transformed, as his spirit went back to them, until they were riotous with life and pulsating with the red blood of reality. He was a boy again, playing three-old-cat in front of the little old red brick schoolhouse half a mile from the farm where he was born, and where his mother had died.