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Title: The Ebbing Tide
Author: Fred M White
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1402691.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: October 2014
Date most recently updated: October 2014

Produced by: Maurie Mulcahy

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Title: 
Author: 

*



THE EBBING TIDE.

BY

FRED M. WHITE.

*

Published in the Maryborough Chronicle, Wide Bay and Burnett
Advertiser, Qld. Wednesday 2 April, 1924.

*

Jake Paterson scanned the narrow valley with a grim smile on his rugged
features. In his own words he was up against it good and hard. To all
practical purposes he had come to the end of his quest. And for this he
had tracked across half the American continent. And there was nobody
else besides his dog to share in the danger and fight the spectre of
death. He filled his pipe carefully and gazed calmly around him.

"Brasso, my boy," he said to the dog. "I guess we've got to pull the
curtain down here. This is our sarcophagus and don't you forget it. We
can't get up the valley because of the snow, and we can't go down the
valley because of the water. A frost may save us, but there ain't going
to be any frost. On the contrary it's going to rain. And as soon as it
does rain, down comes that doggoned avalanche and we're either buried
under it or, swept into the valley. Once in the valley we're drowned
mariners. And it's all my fault, Brasso!"

The dog whimpered something that sounded like dissent. The big
wolfhound seemed to scent danger. And the danger was there sure enough.
They had reached the little valley the night before, dead beat, and
ready to drop with physical exhaustion. There was food and tobacco and
tea and whisky on the sledge drawn by Brasso, to say nothing of fuel,
but a night trapped in the snow was sufficient for a man drunk with
fatigue and obsessed with sleep. Even then Paterson had grasped the
peril of the situation. If the sudden thaw came the valley below would
be a raging sea if the snow that blocked the head of the valley like a
rampart gave way; death would be swift and merciful. And Paterson had
deliberately risked it.

He came to his senses to find a glorious morning with the balmy breath
of spring in the air, to see the little channels of water breaking from
the great buttresses of snow, to see in the valley below a whirling
waste of waters. The man was absolutely trapped, and the reflection was
none the less bitter because he had walked into the trap with his eyes
open.

"Last night nothing seemed to matter," he reflected. "There was only
one thing necessary in the world and that was sleep. Well I got it. Now
I am going to have a monopoly of the same article for the balance that
lies between this and eternity. This is the end of the quest."

It had been a very long and arduous quest, too. The search had taken
two years, ever since Kate Paterson had disappeared, leaving no trace
behind. Why she had vanished in that mysterious way, Jake had not the
remotest idea. She had left not a word or sign behind her--she had
disappeared out of his life as if she had never existed.

It had been a staggering blow to Jake. Like most silent men he had a
spring of deep feeling in him, and he had loved the little fair-haired
woman deeper than he had words to express. And, so far as he could
judge the affection was as pure and holy on her side. She had made
his homely hut on the side of the hills a perfect paradise for him;
she seemed to have no thought for anybody else. He had been away for
the best part of a month looking after his traps, and then he had
turned his face homewards. The mere suggestion of home set his nerves
tingling. On the whole that was the most successful season he had ever
had. He had saved money, too. The time had come when he could abandon
the lonely cabin on the hillside and turn his face towards the east.
The life was too hard and strenuous for a fragile little woman like
Kate. And it was terribly lonely for her at times. Well, there was
going to be an end of all that now.

He had bent beneath the blow, and for a week he had sat with the dog's
head on his knees thinking the matter over. Then he ate and slept, and
when the morning came his mind was made up.

Neighbour he had none in the ordinary sense of the word. Even if he
had, he would never have asked one of them a question. The suggestion
was that his wife had gone east for a holiday and he was to follow her
as soon as convenient. So far as the hillside was concerned that was
all. To judge from Jake's face nobody would have imagined that he was
sitting amongst the ruins of his own life.

There was only one logical explanation of all this, of course, but Jake
refused to recognise it. By some means or other Kate had been decoyed
away from him, or some sudden trouble had come upon her, and further
than this Jake declined to go. He had the most childlike and implicit
faith in the certainty of finding Kate again, and his whole life was
devoted to the search.

He had realised everything, and had invested his money through a
trusted friend in New York. It came quite as a surprise to him at the
end of a year to find that he was worth sixty thousand dollars. When he
found Kate again he would take her to Florida and start the fruit farm
there they had always talked about. Oh, he was going to find her all
right.

He stumbled on more than one clue, every one of which ended in a blind
alley. But he never lost patience, he never worried or displayed
temper. The last time it seemed to him that he had all the threads
in his hands, he had pushed on with Brasso till the night before,
when they had both dropped off half dead with fatigue. The rate of
progress had been terribly slow, for the snow was soft and wet and the
enervating atmosphere of spring was in the air.

And so this was the end of it. Next summer his bones and those of
Brasso would be found and perhaps incontinently buried, and there would
be a full stop for evermore. It was characteristic of Jake that he
wasted no sympathy on himself in his awkward predicament. The pity of
it was that he would see Kate no more. He looked death fully in the
face knowing that at any moment the end might come. Over his head the
great snow precipice curled and hung like a bow. Little flakes detached
every now and then, presently there would be a bigger breakaway, and
the whole valley would be filled. The valley was in a kind of shelf,
and below the shelf the mountain stream, fed by the melted snow, had
swollen to a great yellow seething lake. There were islands here and
there in the lake crowned with trees, and if one of them could be
reached!

But no swimmer ever born of woman could have breasted that seething
whirlpool for five minutes. Obviously there was no escape that way.
As Jake measured the distance with his eyes one great cornice of the
avalanche broke away and carried a white flood to his knees. With it
came a great pine chopped off above the root like a carrot. The tree
rolled over till it filled the narrow gorge of the valley just above
the flood of yellow water. A fighting light crept into Jake's eyes.
He ran back to the sledge and took the harness in his hands. A moment
later Brasso was attached to the tree; Jake pulled him encouragingly.

"Now, my lord," he said. "You just pull as you never pulled before.
We've got to play this card for all we are worth, my boy. Now
then--with a will."

Slowly the tree moved, slowly it turned over. The small branches
snapped and cracked, then the mass plunged down into the stream. Jake
made a flying leap for the trunk, the dog rose and scrambled up on the
broad black bark. Above the roar of the water came the hoarse rumbling
of the avalanche as it rushed down, filling the valley high as the
surrounding trees.

"A mighty close shave that," Jake said between his teeth. "But I always
said I should find her. Well, there's nothing left now, Brasso, besides
the clothes I stand up in. But we're through."

The dark was falling when they fetched up against one of the little
islands in the roaring lake. It seemed to Jake that he could make out a
hut amongst the trees. It was a hut surely enough with a stove burning
brightly inside.

"The luck's in again, Brasso," Jake said cheerfully. "Guess this place
is only an island at certain times of year. Nobody appears to be at
home. If this chap here has a boat I guess he's all right. Let's make
ourselves at home, old boy, and get those wet clothes dry."

The clothes were dry at length, a meal dispatched, tobacco and pipe
duly exploited. It was not till then that Jake turned to regard his
surroundings. There were pictures on the walls, a photograph or two,
some letters in a little heap on a writing table close by.

"Civilised sort of chap this," Jake mused. "Evidently keeps up a
correspondence. Some of his friends, those photographs, I expect. Good
heavens, it's--it's she!"

He grabbed one of the photographs in a shaking hand. A similar picture
on an oilskin case lay close to Jake's heart. Oh, yes, he was on the
track at last. He had found Kate!

Somebody addressed him by name three times before he became conscious
that he was no longer alone. He came back to earth again with a start.
A man tall and well proportioned stood glaring at him, demanding to
know what he was doing there, snatching for the photograph in his hand.
A bright red stained the newcomer's cheeks, he burst into a spasm of
coughing.

"Want to know who I am?" Jake demanded. "Well, you can guess. I'm Jake
Paterson. And this picture in my hand is my wife's. Where is she? Tell
me. And if you don't, though I am your debtor for food and lodging, one
of us will never leave this hut alive!"

The stranger's head dropped to one side. He fell into a chair and
coughed again till his lips grew bloodless.

"It's Providence," he gasped. "Nothing else. Ever heard of Ned Carson?"

"Never in my natural," said Jake solemnly.

"Well, I knew Kate before you did. Knew her in town where she was born
and loved her from the time she was no higher'n my knee. Always meant
to marry her, I did. And when I was away in Canada that year you came
along and took her. Many's the time I've had my gun levelled on you,
only somehow I couldn't. And I couldn't live without her. . . That
time you were away, I told her you were dead. Oh, it was a pretty lie
altogether, and she believed me. I took her away, and I hoped that
perhaps at the end of a year she might--But she didn't. Faithful to
death, never anybody but Jake. Still I didn't give up until the doctor
told me my time was come. They gave me a year to live if I moved into
these parts. And the time's nearly up. Another month will see the end
of me. I was a long time getting the necessary courage, but I wrote and
told Kate at last. And on the table you will find a letter from her
forgiving me such a letter."

"It would be," Jake said in a choked voice.

"It is. And there is her address on the letter. She thinks I know where
to find you. She thinks that I am looking for you still. Don't tell her
I didn't. And don't you go thanking me for anything. But for what the
doctor told me I should never have told her, never. Don't you think
there is any sort of death repentance about me. I wanted Kate too badly
for that. Now then!"

The speaker glared defiantly, but no expression of anger came from Jake.

"I guess I understand," he said. "It was hard on you, mate. I've no
more to say. Only you just give me that address and row me across to
the mainland. I'll get a sledge train at Maryport and by to-morrow I'll
be at Fort Joseph."

"And next day you will see Kate," the other man murmured. "Well, some
men get all the luck. Better go or I might get up in the night and kill
you. Like to go now?"

"Right away," Jake said curtly. He strode off presently, his face
to the setting sun, the letter in his hand, and the other watched
chokingly till he was out of sight and the dark was falling.



THE END.



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