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V the quarrel Perceptibly, at length, The days grew longer, and the winter’s strength Increased to fury. Down across the flat The blizzards bellowed; and the people sat Fur-robed about the smoky fires that stung Their eyes to streaming, when a freak gust flung The sharp reek back with flaws of powdered snow. And much the old men talked of long ago, Invoking ghostly Winters from the Past, Till cold snap after cold snap followed fast, And none might pile his verbal snow so deep But some athletic memory could heap The drifts a trifle higher; give the cold A greater rigor in the story told; Put bellows to a wind already high. And ever greater reverence thereby The old men won from gaping youths, who heard, Like marginalia1 to the living word, The howling of the poplars tempest-bent, The smoke-flap cracking sharply at the vent, The lodge poles creaking eerily. And O! The happy chance of living long ago, Of having wrinkles now and being sires With many tales to tell around the fires Of days when things were bigger! All night long White hands came plucking at the buckskin thong That bound the door-flap, and the writhing dark Was shrill with spirits. By the snuffling bark Of dogs men knew that homesick ghosts were there. And often in a whirl of chilling air The weird ones2 entered, though the flap still held, Built up in smoke the shapes they knew of eld,3 Grew thin and long to vanish as they came. Now had the scandal, like a sudden flame Fed fat with grasses, perished in the storm. The fundamental need of keeping warm Sufficed the keenest gossip for a theme; And whimsies faded like a warrior’s dream When early in the dawn the foemen cry. The time when calves are black4 had blustered5 by— A weary season—since the village saw The chief ’s wife pitching for her son-in-law The nuptial lodge she fashioned. Like a bow That feels the arrow’s head, the moon hung low That evening when they gave the wedding gifts; And men had seen it glaring through the rifts6 Of wintry war as up the east it reeled, A giant warrior’s battle-bitten shield— But now it braved no more the charging air. Meanwhile the lodge of Carpenter stood there Beside the chieftain’s, huddled in the snows, And, like a story everybody knows, Was little heeded now. But there was one Who seldom noted what was said or done Among his comrades; he would sit and look 44 the song of three friends Upon the fire, as one who reads a book Of woeful doings, ever on the brink Of ultimate disaster. It was Fink: And seeing this, Talbeau was sick at heart With dreading that his friends might drift apart And he be lost, because he loved them both. But, knowing well Mike’s temper, he was loath To broach the matter. Also, knowing well That silence broods upon the hottest hell, He prayed that Fink might curse. So worried past The days of that estrangement. Then at last One night when round their tent the blizzard roared And, nestled in their robes, the others snored, Talbeau could bear the strain no more and spoke. He opened with a random little joke, Like some starved hunter trying out the range Of precious game where all the land is strange; And, as the hunter, missing, hears the grim And spiteful echo-rifles mocking him, His own unmirthful laughter mocked Talbeau. He could have touched across the ember-glow Mike’s brooding face—yet Mike was far away. And O that nothing more than distance lay Between them—any distance with an end! How tireless then in running to his friend A man might be! For suddenly he knew That Mike would have him choose between the two. How could he choose ’twixt Carpenter and Fink? How idle were a choice ’twixt food and drink When, choosing neither, one were sooner dead! 45 The Quarrel Thus torn within, and hoarse with tears unshed, He strove again to find his comrade’s heart: “O damn it, Mike, don’t make us drift apart! Don’t do it, Mike! This ain’t a killin’ fuss, And hadn’t ought to faze the three of us That’s weathered many a rough-and-tumble fight! W’y don’t you mind that hell-a-poppin’ night...


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