"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.
And Skinny Hill, dead many years ago, was his partner at the bat—lovable Skinny, with his smirking grin and his breath that always smelled of the most delicious onions ever raised in Ohio. And then, at dinner hour, he was trading some of his mother's cucumber pickles for some of Skinny's onions—two onions for a pickle, and never a change in the price. And he played old-fashioned casino with his mother, and they were picking blackberries together in the woods, and he killed over again a snake that he had clubbed to death more than twenty years ago, while his mother ran away and screamed and then sat down and cried.
He had worshiped that mother, and the spirit of his dreams did not let him look down into the valley where she lay dead, under a little white stone in the country cemetery a thousand miles away, with his father close beside her. But it gave him a passing thrill of the days in which he had fought his way through college—and then it brought him into the North, his beloved North.
For hours the wilderness was heavy about Kent. He moved restlessly, at times he seemed about to awaken, but always he slipped back into the slumberous arms of his forests. He was on the trail in the cold, gray beginning of Winter, and the glow of his campfire made a radiant patch of red glory in the heart of the night, and close to him in that glow sat O'Connor. He was behind dogs and sledge, fighting storm; dark and mysterious streams rippled under his canoe; he was on the Big River, O'Connor with him again—and then, suddenly, he was holding a blazing gun in his hand, and he and O'Connor stood with their backs to a rack, facing the bloodthirsty rage of McCaw and his free-traders. The roar of the guns half roused him, and after that came pleasanter things—the droning of wind in the spruce tops, the singing of swollen streams in Springtime, the songs of birds, the sweet smells of life, the glory of life as he had lived it, he and O'Connor. In the end, half between sleep and wakefulness, he was fighting a smothering pressure on his chest. It was an oppressive and torturing thing, like the tree that had fallen on him over in the Jackfish country, and he felt himself slipping off into darkness. Suddenly there was a gleam of light. He opened his eyes. The sun was flooding in at his window, and the weight on his chest was the gentle pressure of Cardigan's stethoscope.
In spite of the physical stress of the phantoms which his mind has conceived, Kent awakened so quietly that Cardigan was not conscious of the fact until he raised his head. There was something in his face which he tried to conceal, but Kent caught it before it was gone. There were dark hollows under his eyes. He was a bit haggard, as though he had spent a sleepless night. Kent pulled himself up, squinting at the sun and grinning apologetically. He had slept well along into the day, and—
He caught himself with a sudden grimace of pain. A flash of something hot and burning swept through his chest. It was like a knife. He opened his mouth to breathe in the air. The pressure inside him was no longer the pressure of a stethoscope. It was real.
Cardigan, standing over him, was trying to look cheerful. "Too much of the night air, Kent," he explained. "That will pass away—soon."
It seemed to Kent that Cardigan gave an almost imperceptible emphasis to the word "soon," but he asked no question. He was quite sure that he understood, and he knew how unpleasant for Cardigan the answer to it would be. He fumbled under his pillow for his watch. It was nine o'clock. Cardigan was moving about uneasily, arranging the things on the table and adjusting the shade at the window. For a few moments, with his back to Kent, he stood without moving. Then he turned, and said:
"Which will you have, Kent—a wash-up and breakfast, or a visitor?"
"I am not hungry, and I don't feel like soap and water just now. Who's the visitor? Father Layonne or—Kedsty?"
"Neither. It's a lady."
"Then I'd better have the soap and water! Do you mind telling me who it is?"
Cardigan shook his head. "I don't know. I've never seen her before. She came this morning while I was still in pajamas, and has been waiting ever since. I told her to come back again, but she insisted that she would remain until you were awake. She has been very patient for two hours."
A thrill which he made no effort to conceal leaped through Kent. "Is she a young woman?" he demanded eagerly. "Wonderful black hair, blue eyes, wears high-heeled shoes just about half as big as your hand—and very beautiful?"