3 January, 2017 by katelaity
Rae smiled but there was a kind of absent look on his face. It was a face that bore the marks of a life lived in harsh climates and yet for all those marks I saw in it a kind of gravity that lent it, if not handsomeness, a dignity and confidence that would outlast any kind of momentary beauty. I had begun to realise that one’s face bore the stamp of one’s living in a very different way than I had ever considered.
What tale did my own tell? It could not be much yet. Perhaps these adventures with Tansy would lend my face some distinction it currently lacked. I am not handsome, surely, but the drabbed comfort of my life has given no character to it. I must amend that. I looked over at my pal. Now Tansy was handsome whether woman or man, no one could gainsay that. Something of the mystery of the colonial experience was there, too. And a touch of sorrow as well. Why had I not noticed that before.
But Rae went on with his tale and I was enraptured once more.
‘When I arrived by chance at their cosy home, I thought the frosty welcome was due to the usual scarcity of food in winter. Though I did not remember her immediately, Paskus soon reminded me of a visit she had made to my infirmary and her good opinion of me seemed to arise from that. The precarious position of a physician is to always be dealing with illness and injury. One often gets taken for granted when the patient heals—and assumes all credit due to his own amazing powers of recovery—but all credit seems to go to the doctor when the patient worsens or dies.
‘Fortunately Paskus had recovered completely from her illness, which I believe to have been passed to her during a visit to the settlement, many of the European traders being lax in their habits often passed along dysentery through carelessness. I always warned patients to avoid the worst of these and to stick to water they knew to flow pure.
‘Anyhow, she thought kindly enough of me to let me bide a while with them as a storm blew up. I should have paid better attention to the skies but I was not as accomplished a reader of the weather then as I became over time.
‘As I say, her sons regarded me with a great deal more loathing, though their wives and children took Paskus’ approval as golden and were both curious and kind in their attentions. When I demonstrated that I had not come empty handed but brought a variety of food stuffs with me, the sons grudgingly warmed to me a bit, though there was still something that kept them aloof.
‘That night I had my first inkling of why. We had enjoyed a fine feast, rounded off with some of the shortbread I brought with me—I am inordinately fond of the stuff—and then some songs and stories from the family, which I tried my best to follow. I was well ready for sleep but they seemed to keep delaying for some reason. At first I thought it was just the party atmosphere of jollity, but I began to grow uneasy for no reason I could name.
‘When Paskus made for her bed, I thought I could safely head for mine without any loss of face before the others. In a moment or two I was fast asleep even though the winds howled fierce threnodies about the cabin. Whilst training in medicine I had developed a keen ability to sleep just about anywhere at any time so the howls outside did not even cause me to stir. A long day of snowshoeing will tire one considerably.
‘But there was a sound that woke me from the deepest sleep. I could not have described it at once. All I know was that I was instantly awake and though the cabin was dark as pitch I could feel that everyone else in the long building was also awake and listening.
‘I called out as softly as I could to Paskus, whom I thought might answer me to say what it was, but they were all silent. How long did we all sit there mute in the black night? I could not say. We heard the howl once more though further away. It was no animal I had ever heard and I was astonished at the fear I could feel in that home.
‘Yet when I asked aloud what made that sound, not a person spoke.’