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The World is Yours

Chapter One

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Chapter One

That dusk and magic spot where history mates with legend is strangely difficult to find. One needs to seek long between its tall and twilit trees and over its green ancient mosses, and then may catch no more than a gleam of Spirit Truth, white-limbed and virgin or grotesquely male and lapped in wild-beast skin, flying still deeper into the thicket.

White limbs or wild-beast hide: this, it seems, is life as men and women know it. All ghostly god-like legend, all heroic and hideous history can do no more for us than simply present the surface, leaving us to interpret by our own alembic—grossly, it may be, or with a thin and antic cunning, or through one clear instant of vision—what power worked in those unforgotten souls to raise them above the common level of mankind.

In Yukon Territory men will talk for many years yet of MacDonald's Tamsin and Kirk Regard. Men old with that oldness which sees its youth god-high against the sun: making more fur in one winter than any other between Fort Yukon and Whitehorse made in two; washing up gold enough on the Stewart or the Pelly to buy Vancouver out—only it got lost someway; seeing on far ranges mountains of raw metal that stood above the snow like the plated ark of shittim wood and, returning thence, forgot the way and never raised those shining heights again. Or, in some hushed spruce forest numb with cold, trapping the one legendary perfect silver-fox and: "I give it to MacDonald's Tamsin, sure's I live. That's what I done with it… an' proud to."

No matter where they start, this handful of old fellows who page 10loved Tamsin so well upon the Kanana, it is certain that her name will break through somewhere. They will surely claim love-passages with her now that she is quit of all earthly love; nodding satyr heads and blinking horny eyes or, reverent and slow over their pipes, uncorking memories which have grown richly personal with keeping, richly untrue. In those mumbling talks in the brown warmth of the log shacks or by the camp-fire with the quick moonlit gleam of the river beyond Kirk and Tamsin will be the sacrifice upon the altars, and the little flames will run red in the leaves as she always loved to see them do.

Men called her MacDonald's Tamsin from the beginning. So soon as her gaily-embroidered moccasins could patter over the new sappy sidewalks of Dawson's First Avenue she was to be seen under the lee of MacDonald like a small blossomed twig projecting from the roots of a gnarled pine. But she had been produced through no such airy fantasy. There was also and very properly MacDonald's wife who had scaled the White Pass with him in the first year of the Klondyke rush, cut hands and knees to the bone almost apologetically on those steep glassy edges, and slept during most of that hurtling journey of four hundred miles from Lake Lindeman down the broad and shallow Yukon River into Klondyke.

In addition to wife and baby MacDonald had on the raft a horse and a husky pup, a cooking-stove and a black half-rigged tent. In the white smother and threat of Miles Canyon, with boats splintering on the mid-way rocks and men clawing with drowning hands at the smooth brown walls, both animals showed fear and the stove fell over-board; but when Mac- Donald, sailing into blue and placid water below the rapids at Whitehorse, inquired under the tent for his helpmate, he found her sleeping beside the sleeping child.

"She'll do," he said, congratulatory into his beard. And do she did; unconscious of self-adjustment as she kept house for page 11him under the black tent and later, when the canvas city of Klondyke moved across that stream and extended awkwardly into a Dawson City of streets and tempestuous buildings, in the store he built out of knees of broken boats, flattened cracker-tins and odd lengths of sheet-iron and did such good trading on First Avenue.

Tamsin loved this calm person perfunctorily and occasionally watched her embedded to the elbows in dough or water. But there was nothing here for that already insatiable temper around which one of the most tragic and burning episodes in history was playing itself out. A wild-fire of passions, a giant of toppling moods went by her. She saw men scream and laugh and dance, fall about her drunken, leap goatishly with the women they spent themselves upon, kill and be killed. She saw the ice come year after year and the roaring town increase. She saw beauty, sacrifice and visions; incredible ugliness; good and evil. But she never saw inside the Tinky-Tink, that gay and famous saloon kept by Aggie and Mat Colom, Kirk's foster-parents. MacDonald and Mat— who had a surprisingly tender conscience for all his sins—took very good care of that.

Kisses Tamsin had, and blows which she generally returned. Playmates among bearded men and enemies among children. But Kirk was never her enemy. He flicked through Dawson, erratic as sunlight, a tall dark ruddy child with thick tilted brows that gave him an elfish look; with fierce tempers and prides and unaccountable wild terrors which he told to no one but Tasmin. When she found him trembling in the scrub, afraid of his shadow or of some dark saying of the men, she would sit rocking his black head in her fat arms until the mood passed and he would jump up, often knocking her over, for she was fat and unsteady in those early days, and scamper off like a rabbit to shout and fight with other boys.

Usually he threw stones at her if she followed, but she bore him no malice. She loved him, and there were never any half-page 12way houses for her. Only loves and hates. She loved Maling, Sergeant of the Royal North-West Mounted Police, for no especial reason, just as she hated Jerry Hoskins, who tried to placate her with candy. She tolerated her mother, who seemed to take no interest in the matter, and copied MacDonald to the best of her powers, thrusting her chubby hands through her pinafore-belt as he did with his leathers before she rolled down First Avenue distributing morning greetings.

She had 'Howdy' for the Indians who behind their bronze impassive masks saw their Tron Deg River lose its claim to be Good Place for Wood almost as rapidly as it became Klondyke in the mouths of white men. To the drivers thrashing their teams up the part-stumped streets it was 'Damfine mornin', buddy,' but to the lovely ladies walking the highway with bustles and floating ribands no one ever said anything but 'Wa-al, me ducky de-ar.' Yet generally before she could take their kisses a Mounty, hard, red and upright as sealing-wax, would reach out of that murmuring river of people for ever flowing along the boardwalks and lift her high above contamination by a handful of calico or furs according to season.

The Mounty then found it urgent to seek the nearest candy-store before Tamsin's language shocked him over-much, and there he would set her right-end up on a rickety floor and say:

"You're a bad little girl, but I love you. Give her the kind with nuts in it, Mike."

They were all alike, these candy-stores; with gaudy chocolate-boxes in the window and curtained rooms behind which, like the Tinky-Tink, were barred doors to Tamsin. Yet, in common with most Dawson houses, they had a property which enchanted her. Within one magical night they could grow from mean scowling hovels into two-storied splendours, so that from the river they showed to the anxious newcomer as prosperous dwellings and sold themselves at inflated prices before page 13their buyer was near enough to find their height one board thick with painted windows.

Tamsin heard one day MacDonald's outburst concerning this eternal concussion between ignorance and craft. She brought it on herself when Constable Wishart, having carried her home, tried to impress on MacDonald the wisdom of tethering her somewhere.

"Na, na," said MacDonald. "Let the lassie grow up wi' her eyes open an' I'll not fear for her." He looked down from his gaunt height. "But I'll whup ye gin ye go in the Tinky-Tink, ye know, Tamsin."

"Sure" said Tamsin. "Feyther, I want you'll make our wee house look big from the river like the others do."

Then Wishart gathered something of MacDonald's notions of the dignity of man; but nothing came to Tamsin except the discouraging certainty that MacDonald would not put a false front to his store, for those who did had neither pride nor honour. "Only bellies," he said.

"I got a belly," exclaimed Tamsin, conscious that she had been neglected long enough. "It's hung'rin' for candy now."

Wishart looked helplessly at MacDonald. "If I had a child up here I'd go sick-crazy. Kirk saw the shooting at Colom's last night, you know. That little kid …"

Tamsin had already heard of it from Kirk. Through description she knew the inside of the Tinky-Tink almost as well as Kirk did. A dazzling place it was; all gilt mirrors and plaster Cupids which, having voyaged in barrels from some Art Emporium Outside, were a little chipped even before young Cornell began shooting at them, and when discouraged by the chucker-out shot him too. Kirk had all the fascinated horror of bloodshed that is the curse of a bold and highly-strung child, and he had acted it out for Tamsin between mouthfuls of purple saskatoons in the fall-tinted scrub on the flanks of the Dome.

"Lily Maud she wouldn't dance with Cornell, and he gave page 14her his poke and she took that and then she wouldn't. And she went away, laughin' over her shoulder like this. And Cornell he caught ahold of the big Cupid and he shook it and called it a lie. Why would he do that, Tamsin? And Barney tried to pull him off, and he out with his gun and shot the Cupid. And the head fell off and all the powdery stuff flew about, and then he shot Barney, but Barney's head didn't fall off. He dropped in his tracks like this." Kirk crashed down among the saskatoons, looked up with haunted eyes. "He was plumb dead, but he bleeded. The bleed was still there this morning, Tamsin."

"They might have let the dogs lick it up. Dogs like bleed," said Tamsin, thoughtfully. She always liked to be generous to everything. "Seems a pity to waste it."

"If Barney'd been killed a bit later they'd have had to put him in cold storage till spring," said Kirk. His voice faltered. "Where d'you s'pose they'd have put him, Tamsin? In one of the old shacks in the scrub? My! He'd a been cold! Would he have h'anted around, Tamsin, if they'd kept him above ground?"

"Eh, ye're a goop," cried Tamsin, wide-eyed. "Barney's ways up in the skies by now. Ridin' a comic, I wouldn't wonder."

"Oh," said Kirk with a dazzled breath of relief. Barney standing before the Throne, plucking at a harp with thick reluctant fingers, had somehow seemed quite as terrible as Barney in hell or haunting in the willow-scrub. But Barney astride a rearing comet, with red hair blown and wide mouth grinning, could be considered even with pleasure. Suddenly his tears ran down. He had not known until then how deeply he had feared for Barney.

Tamsin saw the tears and received a clout on the head for not minding her business. And then Kirk was off, leaping, shouting, laughing like a wild thing among the tar-paper shacks and the bushes. Again Tamsin had stood between him page 15and that ancient earth-inheritance of fear which was never very far from him. He did not understand that fear, any more than he understood the necessity to defy it sometimes. To dart out of nights into the scrub strange with shifting moonlight and there strut and mouth and threaten silently until a greater silence, a greater mystery than himself drew its huge primeval shape indolently, soullessly out of the void and reached clammy fingers to destroy him. Then he fled, inwardly shrieking and with heart battering his ribs, to the hot noisy kitchens of the Tinky-Tink. Here some busy cook would thrust a platter of food at him and, grasping it with both hands, he would scurry along dark narrow landings to his bed curtained off the long washing-place; feeding among the blankets like a young animal. Then he would lie, curled and wakeful, listening to the distant stridency of the band, holding his mind on to the noise of it because it deadened those stealthy echoes, stealthy steps that were always waiting for him round corners.

This Tinky-Tink, crowded with eager eyes and foolish laughter, with shouts and quarrels and kisses and stale smells of scent and smoke, was his one haven from the adorable and terrible Out-doors, just as Mat and Aggie Colom were his only human appeal. They had picked the baby up in the gutter of a dark Seattle street, chosen a name for him out of a cheap magazine, and trailed him with them over the North, bewildered and angered by the child's strange passionate temper and proud of his straight handsome body and quick ways. That the Tinky-Tink was known as "some hell" was, he learned, a point to brag about. That Aggie Colom was called a 'tight-wad' interested him less.

He was half-asleep that night he heard the Coloms quarrelling in the washing-place and realized with a shock of dismay that Aunt Aggie was 'picking-on' Uncle Mat. Beyond regarding them as the fulcrums moving his world and powerful as gods Kirk had not established any definite notions about the page 16Coloms, and his horror was as great now as though the Dome behind the city had moved under its shaggy growth and gone to fisticuffs with the river. Sharp-eyed as a fox he peered round the curtain, tremulous at the thought that they believed themselves alone and feeling very much as though he were seeing them undressed. Their faces looked undressed, somehow.

Mat Colom in the loose grey trousers and brown velvet jacket he always wore—it was too tight and he never had a waistcoat—was splashing his usually jolly red face in a basin and snarling at Aggie.

"Have some sense, won't yer? A man's gotta make himself pop'lar if he wants ter run a joint like this."

"Popular," shrilled Aggie. For a fat woman she had a very inadequate voice. "Sure it's popular to neglect all the dance-girls so they're talkin' of it an' go hellin' around with that Lily Maud." She made a step and Kirk saw with horror that her hands opened and shut as though springs controlled them instead of human muscles. "You've fell for her, you old heathen. Don't tell me! I say you have." Her voice ran on in a high wild stream and Kirk was profoundly puzzled. Lily Maud was the Show Girl of the Tinky-Tink and everyone fell for her. What was wrong about that?

Mat scrubbed his face with the towel. His little eyes looked horrible. Wicked, somehow, and yet scared.

"Quit it," he said, over and over. "Quit it before I make you."

"Yep! You'll make me, will you? You'll make me the day you fire that slut outer here an' not a minute afore. Think I'm havin' them games goin' on under me very nose, you old reprobate?"

She seemed to swell in the pale yellow light, and she was a very large woman at any time. To-night she had a green muslin dress very bunchy behind and very low on fat pink shoulders. There were chains of raw nuggets on her fat pink neck and arms, and her hair was fuzzed out in a big greyish page 17bush above her pale eyes and done up in a big knob at the back. Kirk thought her splendid and he supposed that he loved her, although Tamsin told him that he really loved Uncle Mat who beat him one day and gave him sweets the next.

Mat, Kirk saw with sudden amaze, seemed rather frightened. Himself had a deadly familiarity with many fears, but he had confidently expected them to pass with boyhood. If a man like Uncle Mat, with a black moustache and loud voice and a powerful way of helping the chucker-out when things got too gay could fear there was surely no security anywhere. It was his first step into the pitfalls of life, and he never forgot it. After Aggie had gone at last, heaving down the narrow passage like a great green hill smelling of cheap scent, he lay quaking, his sympathies entirely with the man, while Mat stood staring at the towel in his hands. For a long time he stood, and again his face was wet although he had dried it once. Then, with a kind of groan, he crushed the towel, pitched it under the basin and tramped off down the passage.

Kirk tried to understand. Curled in the dark like a bright-eyed squirrel he nibbled this new nut. Other men with wives fell for Lily Maud. Black Wynn had a wife. So had Sunny Bill and probably lots of others. But their wives were Outside and that probably made the difference. Goin' on under me very nose, Auntie Ag had said. Yes, that must be it. It was right to have Lily Maud to be fallen for or Uncle and Aunt wouldn't have her. But you mustn't fall in front of your wife. That was the mistake. Kirk had got it now. His keen busy little brain pigeonholed the discovery and he went serenely to sleep.

Mat Colom was still more alarmed when the Cornell shooting occurred. The Mounted Police ruled the North with a large comprehension but a firm hand, and they were not pleased with Mat. Nor was he pleased with himself.

"I'd chuck the Tinky-Tink," he told MacDonald. "Ter-page 18rnorrer I'd chuck it if Aggie's allow. Tain't right all this publicity Lily Maud's gittin'."

Between Mat and MacDonald existed a long and faithful friendship actively discouraged by their wives. They walked now on the muddy foreshore where glistening pools brought down the autumn glory of the hills and the river sank a thousand fathoms with inverted depths of sky. MacDonald knew that if Mat went off now he would take Lily Maud, who would bleed him white. A kind heart had old Mat, and always his own worst enemy—until he married Aggie. It was only human that such as Mat should turn to the Lily Mauds of life, but he wouldn't do this if MacDonald could help it.

"Aye," he said, "Cornell's no the first man to mess himself up through that bunch o' jades you've got, though mind ye I winna say as they dinna rin on the spears. But it's shook ye up some, Mat. Why not git an Injun an' take a spell in the woods like ye done since afore?"

"Not since I married Aggie I ain't. When I had Injun Kate it was diffrunt. I wisht I had her now, Mac. She sure was good to me. I ain't white-livered, yer know, an' I done my share of hellin' around, but that kid … he weren't twenty, an' I kip thinkin' in a few year it might be Kirk. I do love that boy, Mac. I'm fonder o' him than if he was me own if he'd had to have Aggie to mother him."

"Sure," said MacDonald. A genial sinner, Mat, even if MacDonald's douce wumman wouldn't have him in her house. "I wush ye'd go to the woods, though," he said, watching the blue smoke curl over Dawson City and its bizarre life. Why should men slave and sweat on those yellow hills the month through for what they spent at the Tinky-Tink in a night? MacDonald could not blame them. They were made that way. But, being innately religious, he could not blame God either. "Ah, weel," he said, lighting up his pipe. "Life's a queer thing. But I wush ye'd cut it all, Mat."

page 19

Some years later Mat Colom did cut it, and with MacDonald and Tamsin took Kirk to the summer woods. Suddenly in the fall before the douce wumman in MacDonald's house became terribly 'the first woman in the new cemetery' and took her baby with her. MacDonald was not a weak man, but the shack was lonely and so many pleasant young ladies offered to 'do' for him and Tamsin. He thought it over for a while, sitting through the winter with his long gaunt legs bent before the stove and glancing now and then at Tamsin with her lesson-books. "Aye," he said at long last. "Aye-e," as though he accepted a load that would take strong carrying, but it was years before Tamsin knew that he had that night accepted the straight and narrow way for her sake.

In spring he sold the good-will of his store, bought a half-decked boat and said to Mat Colom:

"What aboot it, auld mate? There's room aboard for you and Kirk?"

Through these years which had brought Kirk to fourteen and Tamsin near to twelve that great tide which had poured to the North had slackened, turned and commenced to trickle painfully back. Already a sharp nose could scent the irrevocable elements of decay and already the sharper men were getting out, for no town crashes quicker than the one built upon gold. Mat Colom knew it, but he did not want to leave.

"Aggie's chattin' o' goin' while the goin's good," he said, reluctantly. "She reckons to be visitin' Outside. We're well heeled."

"And what do ye reckon to do yerself?"

Mat kicked at a hole in the boardwalk. His hot blood and easy virtue generally did the reckoning for him, and the present Lily Maud had been too much even for Aggie, who was preparing to throw in the towel. Mat was soft, or Aggie would never have caught him in the gay heyday of his manhood, and MacDonald decided that La Flamme should not have him now to pick his bones. He said:

page 20

"If you don't come ye'll have young Kirk go t'hell. He is sure headed for't, Mat."

Aggie went out by the first boat, and MacDonald fought La Flamme for Mat. It was a fierce battle and a long one, for freedom was a dangerous gift to Mat, and the Tinky-Tink without Aggie was a joyful place. Kirk, now man-high and full of good looks and laughter, was beginning to attract the women, and MacDonald would have thought twice about taking these two if he had not trusted Tamsin. Although brought up to 'gude Presbyterian prayers' she was principally pagan; but she seemed to have annexed the Yukon for herself and entrenched her stout spirit upon the eternal hills, pronouncing from there her blessings and anathemas. Since his wife's death Tamsin had 'cared for' MacDonald remarkably well. She went through Dawson and among the shanties scattered along the flanks of the Dome without fear, and it was she who, hearing a shot from Dick the Duke's shack, had walked straight in to find him dying on the newspapers that made his only bedding and brought at once from the Tinky-Tink the girl his stiff lips were crying for.

Tamsin knew considerably more of life than Kirk with his queer reticences and inhibitions, his queer shyness with women. There was much of the unhandled colt in Kirk; much of the idealist. MacDonald saw it for an inevitable and passing phase in most boys, and he saw what a few more years at the Tinky-Tink would do to both Kirk and Mat Colom. "We must take them, Tamsin," he said, consulting her as he never had consulted his wife; and when Tamsin said: "Aye, feyther," he felt it as good as done. This red-headed happy girl of his had been his faithful mate since the very early days when he had whipped her for springing the fur-traps men set on the Dome and seen the first seedling of philosophy sprout in her with her cheerful answer: "Aye; you must whup me an' I must spring the traps. Maybe we both got to do just what we think right."

page 21

The marshfire light flickering and blazing about them from babyhood had taught Kirk and Tamsin to look on the weaknesses of men with boredom and disdain. Their real life was still secure with Nature, and MacDonald wondered sometimes what would happen when Tamsin learned to love. Kirk would probably love good and plenty. His temperament assured it. For Tamsin, thought MacDonald, pondering the terrible sanctities of the human soul, it was more likely to be a heart wrenching once for all.

Between them they rescued Mat, the man with his blue eyes like winter ice and the girl to whom all life was loveliness, and took him with them to the magic woods. Here their pitched tents stood like inverted convolvulus bells on the short moss by the river, and that first night the men sat with their pipes on the bank while the children hunted early berries through the long sweet glow of twilight. MacDonald sat silent, his gaunt knees linked in his arms, and felt the air about him tremendous with the breath of spring. Buds seemed to push as he turned his eyes and dryad flowers open. They raised pale faces wondering to the evening skies laced with the loose-flung skeins of birds winging North to their nesting on the tundras. The blue flowing dusk brought down an anxious tremulous twittering; there were soft rustles in the bushes; secret breaths. As always the forests were haunted by their own, but it was not MacDonald who felt the interloper. Mat Colom sat with his grizzled head in his hands and groaned.

"Guess I was cut out f'r a sinner from the first trump. Why didn't you leave me to it?" he said, heavily.

"Rats," said MacDonald. After stale years in a mining-town he had come back to life standing pure at its source, and he was more content than he had ever hoped to be. "Hark to they bairns," he said.

Elfin calling, elfin laughter flowed like water through the shadows. The wizened trees stood silent, infinitely wise, infinitely old. MacDonald had a momentary strange pang of page 22fear. It seemed that Someone went beneath the branches, old and wise as they, bearing in his hands the cup that all who love life must drink.

For many days many miles, they went on up the rivers, seeing flecks of human life now and again and, more rarely, that other crowded life all around. Miners rocked their cradles on grey-dazzled sandy spits. Indian fishing-camps were full of brown vigour and barking dogs and red and yellow canoes over-turned on the bright edge of the water. The heavy bucks stood with inscrutable eyes under the drying scaffoldings, and of evenings the young women round the cooking-pots had more than momentary allure in the firelight. Towards the white lands they went; through chains of lakes and up rapids where Kirk took his turn with the men on the trackrope and Tamsin stood at the long sweep and steered.

Glaciers in forgotten ages of mammoth and aurochs had worn the hills down to blunt butts void of beauty. But now spring-time had bannered them over in gay colours, and everywhere Tamsin saw bronze of sticky young poplar-leaves, sage-green of willow, bright green of cottonwood, maple and saskatoon. She wreathed her head with the little pink-eyed twin-flower, and never mended the tears in her frock, and always ruled her men. It was a proper kind of world this with barren iron-stone heights where lonely jack-pines stood wried by tempest, and prim little maidenly Yukon spruces were noisy with the red squirrels, and moose, their new antlers yet in the moss, swung silently on splay hooves down the runway to drink at the river.

Below a white majesty of mountains they camped in a log-hut some hill-gouger had built for his squaw, and while MacDonald took an axe and hacked windows out of the blank walls Tamsin looked with disfavour on the sticks, leaves and grasses brought in by nesting pack-rats and wolverine.

"Will ye make me a whisk-broom right now?" she demanded of Mat. "I'm no likin' this place much."

page 23

In the shapeless faded blue frock that veiled the immaturity of her figure she looked more than her years, Mat thought. Fifteen at least, she looked. Old as Lily Maud when first she came to the Tinky-Tink. Lily Maud was dead these five years, but she troubled Mat still as she had in life. "If ever I loved a woman it was her, damn her," he thought. "My, Tamsin. You're growin' up."

"I can't help that. Uncle Mat, I want a whisk-broom the worst way." He cut her one, and she kissed him with sweet pouting lips, damp like a baby's. There was a powder of little golden freckles on her nose, and the bright curling ends of her hair tickled his cheek. He flung away abruptly and went down to get a swig from the rum-cask still in the boat. MacDonald did not drink, but he never asked impossibilities of others.

Mat sat on the cut-bank among the saskatoons and drank and shivered once or twice in the heat. He was not a heavy drinker, but he needed a little. "An' I need a little fun," he thought disconsolately. "God knows I'm not a bad man … to speak of, but I do like a little fun."

In the light breeze the trees bowed assent with courteous remoteness. They were used to the stoic endurance of their compeers, moose and lumbering bear, squirrel and wolverine. This thing that lamented on the grass, mopping a red face, did not come within their ken. They felt in him no echo of the masterful beast-voices of the primeval past, no hint of the music of unborn bird-songs to come.

There was a cry back in the woods and Kirk came leaping down the runway, naked as the wind, with Tamsin after him, a clout around her slim body. Into the river they went headlong, a quiver of light, a flash of laughter, the broken end of a song. Cradling the tin cup in his hands Mat watched them, and presently their gay and fearless innocence touched in him deeper issues. That's the way folk ought to be an' never can, he thought. Adam and Eve before the Fall, beautiful without and within.

page 24

Kirk pulled Tamsin to him by her long braid. Uncouth as a seal he ducked and splashed her. She swam from him like an arrow, turned and came back through flying spray. Around them the little spruces stood, dark candles at a shrine. Here was the altar of youth; and the Balms of Gilead shook their honey-sweet leaves before it and the little willow-wrens sang like spirits possessed.

Mat suddenly knew that his life had come to a point where he could not bear it. He rose and lumbered off hurriedly to MacDonald, where he cleaned his gun in the shack door. Tall goldenrod leaned heavy yellow heads against the doorway, staring with steady eyes. Blue butterflies dipped and whirled. A squirrel ran up the roof and dropped a pine-cone. Mac- Donald with his long mahogany face and spare limbs was at home here. Mat knew that he could never be. For one thing he was too fat.

"I'm too fat," he said, bitterly. "That's what's the matter."

"Ye are, an' it may be. What are ye aimin' at noo?"

Excepting Tamsin, MacDonald loved this hot-natured, soft-hearted man better than anyone, although he never could tell why. But Mat was his own enemy and no one else's, and that cannot be said of many men.

"I want," said Mat, "to go home. Mac. you better let me go right away."

MacDonald considered gravely. The devil was not yet sweated out of Mat, perhaps would never be. But he was not the man to renounce a cure half done.

"Give it a try a wee while longer," he said, and saw to it that Mat was kept busy, setting fish and trap-lines, slicing a young moose for pemmican, caulking the boat and shooting fool-hens. Himself did the cooking, and Tamsin casually kept house, and tamed gophers and squirrels, and went off alone in the woods, forbidding Kirk to follow.

What strange trysts she kept she could not have told. But she knew that the woods were her own place, and their voices page 25were for her to hear. In primitive dawns perhaps a Tamsin walked here, catching echoes of yet more primitive years; feeling in her veins the tremor of early leaves shaping; the groping of beasts heaving out of the slime. Gods there must have been, too, in those days, for Tamsin heard them yet, nearly saw them … oh, so nearly, when she stood with held breath and watched twilight come down the glades. A fine place for gods, these sparse and ancient forests where no human foot before had trodden the dry deep moss or broken the slender stems of the water-avons beside the springs.

Kirk was like the Pan of the picture-books, thought Tamsin. Thin and bright-eyed, with torn and shaggy trousers fitting close to his narrow hips, and a round brown column of throat, and a jews' harp for his warm young mouth. And this small iridescent butterfly was Psyche, sipping among the pink wideeyed roses.

Tamsin went on her knee with clasped hands, and Kirk, scrambling down the wooded draw behind, halted, not knowing why. A man might have thought of virgin invocations, a maiden's mystery. Kirk thought only that the sun, lying on her as though it loved her, had in some way made her, not Tamsin, but girlhood itself, dazzling, sacred. Spring, passing overnight into summer, passed less rapidly than Kirk from coltish boyhood into the purification of first love. Trembling, he knelt by her where she sat on a mossy log. The butterfly was gone, but magic remained in the warm flowing silence.

"I wish we could live up here for ever," said Tamsin, dreamily.

The suspended blood in Kirk rushed along his veins, shouting that it was a grief and crime that Tamsin should not have what she desired. He said thickly:

"If I could manage it I'd … I'd do anything on earth to manage it, Tamsin."

"Dear Kirk," said Tamsin, absently. She had forgotten him. She broke into one of her wordless chirruping songs, page 26and he lay at her feet, marvelling that soft lips could curve like this, a slim throat rise and fall, a music beyond all magic fill the listening air. A gopher popped out of the end of the log and sat up like a plump pepper-and-salt pillar with paws clasped on his round stomach and yellow nose working. A red squirrel stopped chattering up in the balsams and sat on the end of a branch, his tail over his head. Kirk thought:

"They all know it. Trees n' everything. Music … magic … Tamsin."

He felt giddy, tumultuous and yet afraid to move. The far sky smiled, leaning down. The pool fed from a spring in the fern trembled. All this motionless world was throbbing with new promises, impulses. Kirk felt enormously alive and yet afraid with a new kind of afraidness. He groped for her hand, and the touch shot a more physical ecstasy through him. He whispered with a dry throat:

"I love you."

"Dear Kirk," said Tamsin. She stopped singing and smiled at him kindly. She might, and often did, chase him with the broom or throw things at him, but among her gods in her own woods she was always kindly. Kirk got on his knees. He whispered:

"May I kiss you?"

She gave him her lips simply as in the days when Aggie Colom or the douce wumman had ordered them to kiss and make friends. Her wide grey eyes were a little wondering although she did not recognize the reverence in his clumsy kiss. Then she sprang up.

"Time to go back … but it's so lovely here," she said.

Kirk went with her in silence, but his feet were shod with wings. Everywhere was a marvel of flowers. Frail pipissima, oxalis, columbines and water-avons slim and tall. Saskatoon and strawberry like a great flock of white stars, and out in the clearing a wilderness of roses. Their lucent pinky light shone from every side and their faint scent moved mysteriously page 27in the air. Kirk thought their eyes turned to follow him walking by Tamsin through that hushed radiance. The lake when they came to it was red as fire and the hills beyond hot gold. Kirk thought his heart would burst with the wonder and glory. It seemed terrible to think that Tamsin must go in and cook food.

He tried to help her and upset the kettle, and she hit him a crack with a billet of wood. This made him feel better, but he could not sleep in his usual bed on the living-room floor. MacDonald and Mat Colom had a lean-to behind, and for Tamsin they had done something with a partition near the stove. Going softly Kirk went out to lie in the blue grass until the mosquitoes drove him into the river. His body rebelled, but not his spirit. Long days in the open, solitude, the turn of the year, his strongly-developing body had all served to hasten the inevitable moment. Kirk was made of the stuff that would love tumultuously, but there is rarely anything tumultuous in a boy's first love. Usually it is a shy and delicate thing and far less sensuous than that of a girl.

The cock-grouse had long ceased their drumming in the ground-juniper. They were about the shack of mornings now with their broods and Tamsin let the fluffy grey babies peck from her yellow porridge-bowl with Kirk crouched beside her, holding his eager breath. In these days the sun no more than dipped behind the round-headed hills to rise again through pink clouds and walk the same azure sky. And so he saw again the little boat creeping on up side-streams, sailing across lakes, halting a night or two at Indian camps where the over-loaded dugouts splashed over twilit lavender patterned with silver thread.

MacDonald never wanted to go back, and no more did the children. But continually Mat Colom grew more restless. He saw the childish love-idyll that MacDonald never saw, and obscure instinct moved in him to make him bully Kirk and pet Tamsin. Once, finding her alone in the shack, he put his arms round her and kissed her. And although she kissed him page 28back as she had once been used to do he did not turn up at the Scriptural reading which MacDonald insisted on every night. He walked by the river, and thought of the Tinky-Tink and La Flamme, and heard the wild geese go clanging over, and wondered why man was made to find so little peace in his life.

MacDonald, gaunt and sinewy, cut wood and tracked the boat and shot a grizzly, and was grimly, silently happy; and for the children the elders kept the indifferent place of elders which was far outside their fairy-land. Together they bathed in the radiance of their own glory, and it was only Kirk who ever thought of the blasting end when they must go back to common life again with the delicate miracle of their love all spoiled by the gabbling world. His brain felt it less than his spirit. Of his body he was not fully aware yet, except that he bubbled with all manner of reckless doings when Tamsin was near and felt listless when she was away.

They lay on a sunny hill-side eating blue-berries which Tamsin took with her lips like a bird because the touch of fingers destroyed their bloom, blue as the sky.

"It's as if you braised the lovely things," she said. Kirk had her long braid in his hands, moving his lips along it.

"Seems it ought to make better music than the jews' harp," he said, half-wondering that music did not burst from its warm silky depths. He liked that she should braid her hair, shutting all its red-gold wealth up tightly. Tamsin was never very free with any of herself. She rarely gave kisses, rarely let him touch her. Now he took her round brown arm and put his lips to that.

"This should make lovelier music still."

"Don't! You tickle." She pulled her arm away, then suddenly flung it round him. "Oh, Kirk. Oh, Kirk. How I wish we could stay here always."

They leaned together, looking down. His dark face with the strong black tilted eyebrows was grave. Her peachy bloom page 29was powdered with freckles and her soft mouth half-open. Among the reeds in the lake below duck swam reflected in the translucence; great shining mallards and little bright butterball, stately pintail and others. In all the great world of warm naked hills and gleaming water and distant sky there was no sound, no other life. Gently, securely peace seemed to rise about them, enclosing them. Kirk dared not breathe or some subtle witchery would be gone. Tamsin said, dreamily:

"My own land. When I die I will walk in the Yukon for ever."

"Don't talk of dying." Kirk felt that he could not bear even to remember that there was death. He held her tight, and for once she let him. "Oh, Tamsin, I do love you. Don't you know I do. Tamsin, let's stay here, just you and me. I'm a real fine shot. I guess I could do for you all right, and we'd find a shack somewheres. Tamsin … couldn't we?".

"It would be bonny," admitted Tamsin. "Aye, lad, it would be bonny."

On the next evening Kirk, hunting alone after fool-hen, found the shack. It was deep-set by the shadowy trail and in the twilight tall columbines and goldenrod were mystical about it, and between brown weathered logs an open door invited. Kirk stepped in. Two bunks nailed to the further wall, a slab table set in the earthy floor, a rusty stove with a few pans and kettles lying round it, and in the corners piles of shredded fir-cones which had fed squirrels and rats throughout the winter. That was all, but to the tall boy trailing his gun, glancing round with glowing eyes, it was a place of glory. It was a home for him and Tamsin. It was …

Who can interpret a boy's mad fancies, or his glorious certainty of the unattainable? Kirk went back with wings at his heels. Love had for him a quality, a colour which it could never have taken anywhere but here, with great spaces to make it seem great to him, and the silence of half a world to give it dignity, and a sense of skies and of wandering gods to page 30turn it queerly sacred. Kirk who all his life had seen at the Tinky-Tink what men called love never thought of his own as even remotely allied. He would probably be sensuous later. Down in Dawson he had often pulled girls about roughly; kissed them to hear them squeal, and then pushed them off in a sudden disgust. He had the name among boys of being a "good sport, but durned stiff with the ladies." He knew in his own mind that he was rather afraid of women. There was Cornell, and Dick the Duke, and Uncle Mat in the washing-place—women behind all that. Best keep off 'em, thought Kirk.

But Tamsin. But this. Of course there had never been anything like this in the world before. Kirk planned when he would tell Tamsin. Not until night, he thought; when the two men were asleep in their hammocks swung under the big Balm of Gilead where the boat was tied, and Tamsin asleep under the half-deck, and himself in his blanket by the red glow of the long tree-trunk that they always found for a fire. Then he'd creep down through the fragrant darkness and across the slip of dark water, and find her, all rosy and warm with sleep, and tell her and take her away. "I may have to fight MacDonald," he thought, "but maybe Uncle Mat will help." Then a better idea came. "Suppose we let 'em think we're drowned. I could leave an old shirt on the bank. Then they'll go back to Dawson and let us be."

He began to quiver with visions opening out. Tamsin and he together for ever; growing to man and woman; bringing up children to run in the woods the way the Indians did. He had not thought of all that before, and for a while it made him serious. Then excitement shot up in him, and that night he flaunted in birch-streamers and made wild music.

The two men, smoking pipes just beyond a little clearing, saw the two at it. Tamsin, as usual, with roses and other flowers stuck all over her, was wooing the trees; whispering to them, patting their trunks and whirling away in sheer gladness of living. To-night Kirk had dressed the part, too. With page 31a boy's love of the grotesque he had bound horns of white birch-bark on his forehead and tossing streamers of it at ankles and waist. Followed by a tumbling coyote pup which he had tamed he pranced round the magic circle where Tamsin played, shaggy as Pan, blowing erratic melody on his jews' harp. Round he went, never invading the circle, leaping, capering, butting the air; in shadow and out to the pallid light, his warm brown glowing face and thin young graceful body earnest and absorbed. What he was doing he could not have told, but all his body knew. He was bent on some high emprise Which should keep Tamsin safe for ever. The enchantment in his blood insisted that he would never tire of weaving this secret circle about her.

The men on the edge of the clearing watched; saw the puppy lumbering after, his foolish tongue lolling, but true to his wild silence. Mat Colom burst out in sudden fury:

"What'n hell's he goin' around her like that fur?"

"Eh, they're but bairns," said MacDonald, smiling. He loved Tamsin with a strong love, and he knew that Mat loved Kirk, too.

"Kirk's nigh fifteen. He looks eighteen. And Tamsin … Damned if I likes these goin's on."

"Don't be an auld wife, Mat. They're all right."

He strode over the clearing, grabbed up the puppy and cuffed it until it yelped, snatched the horns from Kirk's head and ground them under his heel.

"Git ter bed outer this. I ain't havin' no boy o' mine act that crazy. Git off, I tell yer."

He launched a blow at Kirk's head. Kirk dodged it with skill born of long practice and capered away. Beyond the clearing sounded again the thin mocking music of his harp. Mat Colom walked down to the boat, hung his hammock under the broad scented Balm and turned in. He lay shivering because he knew that he had wanted to choke the life out of Kirk. "I must get away home outer here," he thought.

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Kirk curled up by the fire until all the night was asleep. He had forgotten Mat's tempers. He felt buoyant, lifted above the earth. By a tree in the trail he had hid his gun, an extra knife, a bag with flour and salt, a couple of bear-robes. Indians constantly passing up and down would supply the rest. Now there was nothing to do but creep down and arouse Tamsin, and he crept, the puppy trailing silently at his heels.

She was so dead-asleep that he had to shake her again and again before she roused.

"Come," he whispered urgently. "Put on your clothes and come. Don't make a noise."

Bewildered and sleepy she obeyed, asking no questions; and they were up the bank with the puppy faithful behind when a shadow loomed between them and Mat Colom said: "What's goin'on here?"

Kirk was stunned, but he held his tongue. He thought: "We'll never get away if I tell." Mat caught Kirk with one hand and Tamsin with the other.

"Git you back ter yet bed this minit," he said, harshly, and thrust her down the bank, where she fell asleep again on the deck, having scarcely known that she had been waked.

Mat dragged Kirk across to the hammock where MacDonald was sitting up with his grizzled hair all awry.

"Tell him where you was goin' with Tamsin this time o' night," said Mat. His voice was thick, and he had Kirk's arms pinioned behind him as Kirk had often seen him do when running men out of the Tinky-Tink. It hurt so terribly that Kirk feared to open his lips in case he cried out, but he whispered, quavering: "We … we weren't up to any harm."

"Don't lie to me, you young—" Mat's voice went up in a strange scream. He poured out accusations of a kind not new to Kirk although he had never dreamed that they could be applied to himself. He could not really think it now, blinking in the bewilderment that had so suddenly crashed down into his lovely dream. MacDonald, frowning under page 33drawn brows, thought how pitifully young and thin and dazed he looked, and said:

"Gie ower, mon. It was juist some bairn's ploy, mebbe. He dinna lee."

"He won't lie when I've done with him. Wait till I get my belt off, you young devil."

MacDonald lay down, turning his back.

"Dinna kill him, Mat," he said, and left the boy to what he thought was justice. But when he heard that beating back among the trees; heard Mat's brutal cursings and accusings he bit his grizzled moustache and worked his hands. Mat, not a doubt of it, was beating out his own devils along with Kirk's, and quite possibly it had been no more than a childish ploy. MacDonald himself was sure of it, but mebbe it was as well to make surer—and they had all been out in the wild too long. Mat had said so a dozen times.

"Now … you stay there," said Mat, flinging the boy down at last and tramping away. Kirk lay still among the strawberry-leaves, and the puppy came whispering to lick a small trickle of blood where the belt-buckle had torn the skin.

All night Kirk lay there. The physical pain was not much greater than he had borne under Mat's drunken tempers before now, but something had broken in his mind. That bright bubble of beauty which he had shared with Tamsin was broken, quite gone. He was sick with pain, but he was not angry and rebellious as he usually was after Mat's beatings. Mat had influenced Kirk's soul quite as deeply as he had intended; but, like other stupid people who set out to control others, he had no notion of the direction in which he had sent it. "Beasts," thought Kirk out of a red mist. "Animals. That's what he said we are. No God nor nothin'. Animals—"

He lay staring at the dark that brimmed around and in him until the sun came up. Then he rose stiffly, washed face and hands at the river, and came with dripping head to breakfast when Tamsin called. The men were silent, not looking page 34at him. He looked at Tamsin through the dark of his soul and looked away again. She was nothing but a freckled little girl in a soiled frock, with sleep in the corners of her eyes. Nothing but a little animal eating rather greedily. The Tamsin of yesterday was gone, like everything else.

"Tamsin," said MacDonald, his mouth full of bannock. "Ye'll pack oop directly. We're awa hame the day."

"We're no'!" cried Tamsin. She was nervous, having found herself dressed on the deck just now and not remembering how she got there. But the scowling faces invited no confidences. Likely I walked in my sleep,, she thought.

"Haud yer tongue," said her father with unusual sharpness.

"I won't." She spilt her hot tea on her leg, sprang up with a yelp of pain and anger. She stood, shouting out her disappointment and nervous anger, her red hair all over the place, her hands clenched. These months of freedom had spoiled her, thought MacDonald, taken her back to the naughty loose-tongued little girl he used to whip. Eh, he should have had them all out of here sooner! He said levelly:

"Go pack yer bag this minute, an' if I hear anither chirp out o' ye I'll whup ye."

Tamsin hesitated, glanced round on the unfriendly faces. Then she gave a gulp and rushed off with arm over her eyes to hide her tears. MacDonald arose with a sigh.

"Reef oop they hammocks, Kirk," he said. "Bide … I'll pit some balsam on yer back fust."

Kirk submitted in silence. When MacDonald asked if it hurt he laughed with a touch of hysteria. "What's hurtm'," he said, defiantly, and MacDonald went off, muttering in his beard. These young things facing life with such queerly pathetic courage! What was a man to do about it!

When everything was stowed aboard Tamsin came to Kirk standing apart on the bank with heavy eyes on the rippling water. He looked heavy, with shoulders humped and black head low between them.

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"What's got you all?" she asked petulantly. "What's happened?" She had an uneasy feeling that her being dressed last night had something to do with it, but she could not remember, could not ask.

Kirk did not move. He hated her. Hated everything. She would never be told of the shack in the woods now. He made a pitiful effort to snigger, to grin knowingly as he had seen the Dawson boys do, saying ugly things. But the torn and trampled loveliness of his visions was still too great a grief for that. He could only turn on her like an uncouth boy.

"Oh, git out. I'm sick o' you," he said.

He expected a cuff on the head; hoped for it. But she only stared with her wide eyes; then turned a little pale under the freckles and climbed slowly down the bank and into the boat.

MacDohald pushed off with Mat Colom at the sweep. In the middle of the stream they set sail and ran smoothly down before a freshening wind. Sky, hills and river were flat in the opaque light of midday. They offered no farewell, showed no regret. Tamsin did not come from under the half-deck for a last look at those white peaks she was leaving, those enchanted valleys. Kirk, hunched in the nose of the boat, stared sullenly at the water. "There ain't nothing bad I won't do now," he was thinking: "I'll learn him." MacDonald trimmed the sheet and on the decked space Mat swung the sweep, hour after hour, his moccasined feet taking his weight heavily, the long sweep groaning in the rowlock.

Bemusedly he laboured with his thought.

"Adam an' Eve leavin' Paradise, an' the Lord chose me to bring the fiery sword. I sure done the best I knew how. I wonner …" He watched the boy with troubled tender eyes as they passed into the shadow of tall timber. "I niver did know before as the sins of the foster-fathers was visited on the chillun, too. Seems a bit tough, that. Not a fair deal, is it, Lord?" He tried to straighten up his flabby body. "Must take a pull," he thought. "I sure do love that boy. I'm doin' page 36the best I know how, but I reckon I must do better. Reckon I must take a pull on me…."

He sighed, swinging the sweep. The water muttered. The little boat sailed on, in and out of the shadows, away from Paradise. On the half-deck the troubled old angel with the fiery sword blinked bewilderedly.