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The World is Yours

Chapter Ten

page 236

Chapter Ten

The effects of a great passion are incalculable. Because the whole of Tamsin was turned on the notion of getting Kirk back she did not hesitate at all in her purpose. She felt that she had been walking for years through some black stony cavern, and now that she saw light at the end it would be madness not to rush to it, no matter what might be in the way. Later, when she had learned her lesson, it seemed to her impossible that she should have been so utterly blind, so incredibly stupid and self-centred—she who thought she had trained her life to think of others.

She threw out little sops to that thought as she hurried on. It would make MacDonald so happy if she married Stewart. The breach would be healed between him and Mat Colom. Stewart's declining days would be comforted … for to Tamsin on the edge of twenty, fifty was aged beyond compare. She felt no emotion towards that grey man and did not imagine that he felt any for her. He wanted something to tend and cheer him, that grey man. Something between a nurse and a child. Well, she could do that …

But she was too honest to deceive herself. All this would not have counted if she had not come to believe it the only way to bring Kirk back. Life on these stark virgin hills had kept her mind so acutely virgin that she began to see her passion for Kirk as merely a more splendid form of the spiritual ideal. Something of the monk in queer wild restless Kirk was there? Very well; then she would match it with a nun in herself. A nun who would put away the longing to hold him in her arms and, like the old stories of delicate lords and ladies, live their married lives with a drawn sword between.

Lying awake through long nights the nun-project did not seem so easy to achieve. She wanted him: wanted his kisses, the sheer physical look of him, and fought the more fiercely page 237because she wanted. There was fanatic stuff in Tamsin along with her warm passions, and although she grew thinner and whiter she soon found ecstasy in the battle. And an old word read somewhere stayed always in her mind. "The world is yours," it said; "but you must pay for what you buy."

Well; she would buy. Buy the old friendship with Kirk again. Buy the right to help him out of his sloughs as she had always done. Now she began to see this as the proper logical way. The Holy Grail, the highest peak, even the football goal were not achieved without self-sacrifice. You must pay for what you buy.

She opened the back door on the chill icy world and lifted her arms worshipping to the sun, pale but definite above the shoulder of Tall Thing, and her thoughts swung up to it with gallant impossible fantasy. She saw herself and Kirk, climbing through the years, working out the brute and the dullard and the sluggard because of that sword between which would never cease to cut her flesh, until Death met them at last upon the heights with great suns and warm winds bearing them off into the great spaces…. Oh, that bright starry ending and beginning again!

Kneading her dough, filling the stove with billets, passing here and there quickfoot with her shining head and blue overall, she sang at her work until MacDonald got the habit of coming in on clumsy pretences just to look at her. She was making him happy again, and there was the beginning. Now she must make Stewart happy, too.

Stewart was a silent man; austere and heavy in his attitude to women, and she would not have had him otherwise. She began to woo him, lightly, frankly, and perhaps it was not his fault if he was startled at first. He knew enough of humanity to suspect that Aggie Colom's tellings were not all lies; but he knew enough of himself to realize that he could forgive Tamsin that—forgive her almost anything if she would turn to him at last. His youth was long gone; but he felt himself page 238grow younger every day while the Chinooks of spring blew their wild harmonies down the valley, sweeping the river ice clear and black as onyx and opening up sunny spaces for the snow-birds to peck in. Now Tamsin sang again to the men in the evenings, and talked and laughed with Stewart in the store, and let him do for her little things … little things big with meaning to them both, for Tamsin did not much care to be waited on.

For a long time the telegraph was silent about Kirk Regard, although Challis had Dawson letters concerning Regard and Wagner and showed them all to Stewart, asserting that Kirk was no better than he should be and it would give Challis much pleasure to "hunt him."

"The way he's treated Miss MacDonald is enough for me," said Challis, strutting about in his blue and scarlet with eager eyes.

He was not in the shack when the wires clattered out news of the Patrol's return with what was supposed to be the remains of Glafssen, and Stewart was glad of that as he took down the long Police message which must go to Challis presently. There was to be a reward for the apprehension of Ooket now, but Stewart's knowledge of the centuries of silence and repression that go to the making of Indian women told him that the Police would make nothing of her unless she was still mad enough to wear the ear-rings. It came on him with a sudden shock that this tiny link was the only vital one, and it was himself who had secured it and passed it on to Challis.

"I'd rather have taken Tamsin with my hands quite clean," he thought, uncomfortably, and then felt a queer impelling desire to get her promise before he gave Challis the message. He had now no doubt that Kirk had had a hand in the killing of Olafssen, and Challis would have none. The discovery of the skeleton had only hardened conviction, yet it had hardened it.

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Already it was evening, but in the cold shadowy shack he hastily got into clean socks and shirt, shook a few drops of young Blair's brilliantine on his sparse grey hair and tied on a blue tie. "Spring plumage, you old fool," he thought, but he went out with a swagger and a stiff smile. Hadn't Tamsin already shown him which way she wanted the wind to blow; and although he was unused to women—for the old episodes of his youth seemed to belong to another man so distant they were—he felt less nervous than he expected as he came into the dim-lit store where MacDonald was squabbling with some Indians.

"Tak' 'em to Dawson, then," he shouted. "Try Dawson gin ye want better prices. I'm no givin' them. Aye … tak' 'em an' find oot that wha spits agin the wind spits in his ain face." To Stewart he said: "Tamsin, is it? She's gane oot tae Hugon's wood-camp tae order seven cords. She said mebbe she'd be late seein' the mune's full. But I'd as lief ye went an' brought her safe hame, Stewart. My team's at the door yet."

He looked old to-night, with his lined and withered neck and stringy hands. He was just one year older than Stewart, and Stewart went out with a sudden sick memory of Kirk Regard with his round brown throat singing, his young lips making music like the pipes of Pan.

Where is your mandolin, Pierrot? Almost he saw the youngster laugh, mocking, and he groaned as he climbed stiffly into the sled. "Oh, God! what have I to offer her in place of all that?" he thought.

The moon was a silver plate, pouring down a queer ghostly radiance which gave fragility and mystery even to the naked willows, the runty little spruces. Up the flank of Tall Thing a coyote was baying with that broken howl which is the cry neither of full dog nor full wolf but of one who is bastard son of both. There were plenty of men just as unable to manage a decent bark or a decent howl as that coyote, and page 240many times Stewart had felt himself to be one of them. He felt that he must not think of that now, or courage would fail him. He would think of the chill clean smell of the snow and the fir-trees; of these fluttering lights crossing the inky sky in saffrons, cardinals and greens; of the fantastic play of shadow among the trees; of this great silence of earth listening unmoved to the anxious heart-beats of man.

The wood-camp showed up through the thick spruces, lit like an incandescent burner by the lamp and stove inside and turning the snow around in the colour of rubies. Felled trees stripped of their slash lay by the trail, and a great ghostly heap of stacked lumber stood beyond. In the tent a phonograph was blaring The Duck-trot Toddle, and Stewart thrust his head in between the ties. Tamsin had gone on, said the men, to the old Power House some three miles farther away.

Stewart started again with the sensation of chase stirring him. Tamsin flying through the woods with himself after her as a man has always gone after the one woman became suddenly a real and vital occurrence. He shouted to the dogs, feeling the sweat break on his forehead. He laughed and whistled. Who said he was old? By all the powers that make a man he was not old.

The black heap of the old buildings rose sagging against the white hills, and all about it was the shadowy incoherence of a dead mine. Dead mines and abandoned machinery everywhere in the North, thought Stewart, growing suddenly grave. "Waste of money, of effort, of men. Well; isn't that what life does with most of us in the end?"

Tamsin's dogs lay in the snow by the overturned sled, and they clamoured a little as Stewart went into the great cavern where a little fire of leaves and rubbish burned below the overhanging shapes of engines, wheels, rotting driving-belts and other things. By the fire was Tamsin, full length and propped on an elbow like Brunhilde. She was looking out through the opening into the night, but he felt with an uneasy page 241sense of awe that she did not see him. Tamsin at her communings with the invisible was not the Tamsin of houses. 'The passion that left the earth to find itself in the sky'—was that the secret of this girl whom he desired to bind down to his middle-aged bed and board?

He sat on a knee of decaying wood which had once helped to brace the monstrous wheel canted into the earth beside him and waited. But the place was oppressive; Tamsin in her splendid poised silence was nerve-racking. He blurted out:

"Shall I mend the fire, Tamsin?"

She turned her eyes on his slowly, and the Scotchman in him remembered the old song of Kilmeny:

"For Kilmeny had seen she knew not where, And Kilmeny had seen what she could not declare."

"Yes. If you like," she said, absently. But she seemed to have forgotten him again as he gathered sticks and made the flames leap up. He felt not for the first time that there is something strangely remote about women. They rarely disclose even their bodies to each other as men do so easily, and never, he believed, their entire soul. Always they kept something withheld, he thought: a secret something schooled in the ancient mysteries.

"Tamsin," he said, hastily, forgetting all that he had meant to advance of reason and persuasion, "will you marry me?"

"Do you want me, Mr. Stewart?"

She seemed as though answering him from very far away. Kilmeny! This was not what he had looked for, not what he was well able to meet. He went down on one stiff knee and put his arm round her.

"Tamsin. Listen. That's what I came for. To tell you again that I wanted you. You know that I do want you?"

"Yes," she said, with a long sigh. She sat up, brushing her hand across her eyes.

"Then … will you marry me, Tamsin?"

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"Yes. If you want me, Mr. Stewart."

She did not seem fully here yet. She moved her hands over the fire slowly, as though magicking something out of the red glow. Above and about them both the flame-flicker brought out and hid those swart dusty images … engines … great desperate defeated thoughts of men's brains. He took her suddenly and fiercely in his arms as though defying them and kissed her. He kissed her lips and, giddy with their soft fragrance, did not know that they never kissed him back. He said things, incoherent awkward things that seemed foolish in his own ears; laughed as foolishly and helped her to her feet.

"Now we'll go home," he said, triumphantly. "It's too cold here for my little girl."

In spite of love these few minutes in the old Power House had chilled his elderly veins, but Tamsin was warm and soft and pliant and incredibly young. Her face glowed now, and again he put his arm round her. It seemed now that he could not do without touching her.

"We'll be married soon? Soon, Tamsin?"

"Whenever you like," she said, eagerly. "Yes, Mr. Stewart."

"You must call me Rab now. Say it, Tamsin."

"Rab," she said, frankly. She smiled at him. "Now I'm going home, Rab. Catch me if you can."

She was into her sled and away through the dark-cowled forest before he could get his team untangled and his stiff limbs tucked in the covers. He felt that he had reason to be content. He had won the right to make her his wife as soon as he chose; to hold her, take her kisses. But the long sourness of loneliness and doubt would not leave him for that. It had been so easy that there must be something behind, he thought, struggling not to think it. He had come prepared with so much of persuasion and demand … and where had it all gone to? He had not even asked her to love him. He knew that he had not dared.

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He put the dogs in the corral without seeing MacDonald and went to Miss Tinney's for his supper. Later, when he was warm and surer of himself he would go to the Store. Nervously he told Miss Tinney his news, and she stared hard, rubbing her nose.

"Well!" she said. "Well!" Then: "This sure is your lucky day, Mr. Stewart. There's cranberry-pie for supper, too."

He felt the something lacking in tone and words and said, defiantly:

"She's not doing it because of Mrs. Colom's lies. She hasn't heard them."

"I'd not think the worse of her if she was." Now Stewart almost felt the implication that she would think better of them both. "I'm sure I hope you'll be happy," she added, primly, going away.

Stewart ate a lonely meal in great irritation and a kind of panic which sent him presently down to the Store to see if it was all real. But MacDonald left no doubt of that. His rejoicings were almost explosive, and he breached his new permit to pledge the two in strong whiskey. Tamsin sang to them, laughed, talked, was gay as she had not been since Kirk left, and that old suspicious devil in Stewart stirred again. It was surely not natural that she should be so glad to exchange himself for Kirk Regard. What was she after, anyway? And then she passed him by, smiling down at him frankly, and he was all giddy and melted and humble again at her nearness, her dearness, the clean outdoor scent of her bright hair.

Tamsin was still lifted up by her exultation. She had never felt saner, surer of herself. "We have to win out for ourselves. No one else can do it for us," she thought. "I've won out. I know where I am now, and it's all fine … fine."

She sat with glowing eyes on the music-bench, singing Stewart his favourites. Some day now she would sing them again with Kirk, and the melody would be the deeper because page 244of the depths into which she had gone to fetch it. Unconsciously she strayed into Auld Robin Gray; stopped in consternation on the second line and ran out to the kitchen to get supper. MacDonald reached a sinewy hand to grasp Stewart's.

"Eh, mon, but this mak's me michty happy," he said.

"D'you think I can make her happy?" asked Stewart, feeling suddenly pinched and grey. "I'm only fifty-two, but I'm old for my years, and she's … so young."

"Hoots! She'll coax ye young agin. Never fear. Tamsin's no blate. A lad tae play wi' but a mon tae mairry, an' she kens it. Never ye fear."

So Stewart tried to persuade himself that he was comforted, and MacDonald, smelling very strongly of whiskey, took Tamsin on his knee when the grey lover was gone and held her tight.

"Losh," he said, tenderly. "What wull I dae wi'oot ye, bairn."

"But you don't have to do without me." Tamsin laughed at the absurdity of that. "Why should you? Mr. Stewart marries us both."

"Tits! What are ye thinkin' of! Stewart's a mon, an' I'd no affront him that way. Nor I dinna fancy playin' second fiddle maself…."

"You'll never do that."

"Aye, but I wull." MacDonald held her off, suddenly searching. "A wumman's ain mon comes first … or should dae. Ye've no right tae mairry him gin ye dinna think that, Tamsin."

"Oh, I'll take care of him," she promised, blithely. She felt a match for any man to-night. She pulled MacDonald's hair, sitting on his knee with her warm coaxing face close to his rugged one. "Feyther dear, I want that you should go around and tell Uncle Mat about this. It … it's fair silly to stay ill-friends now there's no more cause."

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"Eh? What's that?" said MacDonald, startled. He considered, biting the corner of his beard. Tamsin was right, as she so generally was. Besides, he felt that it would certainly give him enormous pleasure to see Aggie Colom's face when she learned that Tamsin had given her boy the go-by. "Weel … gin ye'll come along, tae."

"Ah! I always said you had no courage where Auntie Ag was concerned, feyther!"

"Eh, get awa with ye," said MacDonald, and went to bed laughing for the first time in many months.

But he did not sleep, for at once his keen brain began planning. The sooner Tamsin was wed the better, and then there could be no more of that talk of her and Kirk Regard. MacDonald had heard but a few stray words, but he knew by his own experience of men what men would say this winter round the camp-fires and over the shack stoves and along the trails. There was no ugly scandal they would not be saying when they met for a drink together, and for months the thought of that had burned him like hot irons. Now Tamsin would be a decent married woman, God bless her dear heart; with that young scoundrel well forgotten and a fine man whom MacDonald could trust, and money enough and to spare.

Tossing under the covers he continued to plan and think. Stewart must give up the Telegraph. It was no job for a married man and Tamsin couldn't live in that shack. They had better come here, and likely Stewart could run the store with help from Jasper and Tamsin while MacDonald fulfilled the dream of his life and went to look for the Mother Lode.

"Never aince since I came into this country have I been what you may call free," he thought. "Now's my time, an' by heck I'll do it. I'll miss, her less on the trail than between walls, anyways."

He sighed with deep content, thinking of the wild places. Slews turned by moss and berries into spilled jewel-boxes page 246that no other man had seen…. He had always loved colour, and there was endless colour in slews and on hills green with spring and pink with roses and dazzling with purple fireweed and goldenrod. And in deep piney woods he'd hunt fur, too, and maybe he'd get one of those new Remington high-power rimless 14.A rifles just to see how much better his old ironmongery was. But he'd never chance a grizzly with anything but the Savage. He would follow up the trails of prospectors he had staked, and talk of pegamite and diotite and uranium, and maybe happen on a pink stretch of hillside that would be pure cobalt, as Watson had done on the Kesikat five years ago. And he'd sit with Indians in their tepees and spit where he liked and never need to button up his shirt when folk came in.

"Eh, I've been civilized too long … and that durn stove must be oot," he thought, getting up to ram more billets in the stove standing on its iron plate in the living-room. Tamsin's plants would freeze yet if the fire went out. He remembered Tamsin standing there on a summer night with her hair in a braid, dribbling water on the flowers. But there was no sign of her to-night, and her door was fast shut. "Dreamin' of her man," he thought contentedly, looking from the window on the white night. Already the snow was going and there were blow-holes in the ice. By and by would be duck again among the reedy sand-banks and scrub willow. He would find duck where he was going, but maybe he would never shoot Siwash. Pert little devils, the Siwash, but Tamsin loved them. They enjoyed life so much, she always said.

A loon came laughing and racketing down the dim sky like one of those dark thoughts men are for ever turning up in themselves. MacDonald thought of Kirk—wild, rootless, careless, and so set on what he was going to do that he never heeded what he was doing. Plenty of men like that, trampling everything down….

"But he hasn't trampled her for all his damned trying," page 247thought MacDonald, padding back to his cold bed. This would soon be Tamsin's marriage bed, and maybe when he came back there would be a youngster or two tumbling around. A glorious mother she would make, although he could wish Stewart were a little younger. Not too young, though. A proved man was always better, especially with so much money to handle. He would give Tamsin a fair slice as a marriage-portion, but the bulk Stewart would administer on trust for himself. He might want it later if he didn't find the Mother Lode.

He stretched and yawned, feeling utterly at peace. People in cities were still hankering after the Eight Beatitudes, the papers said. Weel; ony man could have them if he cared to look. He had only to come back to the wide spaces and be content with the little things instead of being driven as men had been driven too long through the old crowded hells.

"To-morrow I'll juist see have I ony canoe-paddles," thought MacDonald drowsily, and fell asleep.

He had meant to meet Mat Colom stiffly; but when Mat came, slow and pottering, into the Store next morning MacDonald knew suddenly how much they both had missed the old friendship and went to him at once.

"Tamsin's mairryin' Stewart. Gie us yere gude wushes, Mat," he said.

Mat started, stared, fumbled for his hand and held it tight in his two soft trembling ones.

"I've prayed for this, Mac," he said. "I've prayed for this …"

"Weel, weel." MacDonald was embarrassed. "That boy o' yours didna mean sae much tae her after all, ye see." Then he added, handsomely: "Ye can bring Aggie aroond taenight gin ye've a mind tae."

"Sure. Sure. We'll come around …" Incoherent and wiping his eyes Mat went through into the house to find Tamsin, and flung his arms about her with a sob. Now his page 248purgatory was ended and his oath absolved, and Kirk could come back.

"Now he'll come back, darlin'," he cried, gladly.

Tamsin sat on a chair suddenly because her knees shook. For a moment shame and anger swept her, so that she sat with bent head, feeling that she could never forgive Kirk. How dared he make her love him if he was going to revolt against fulfilment like this? How dared he tell Uncle Mat? Then that terrible starved longing for him began again. Any way he chose to come—any way was better than no way. She had had the thirst of one who drinks stale water rather than none. If it gave her fever she did not care so long as her thirst was satisfied. But she did not know that already she had the fever. She asked greedily:

"You do think he'll come now?"

"Well, I dunno why not." Mat's blunted senses could no longer conceive of love; but he was always very conscious of fear for Aggie kept that alive in him. Love came and departed, but fear remained. He would write at once and tell Kirk that there was no longer cause for fear … "Tamsin," he said, earnestly: "For a great whiles my Emenation fr'm within has been weepin' incessantly for his sin, but I'll tell him it's all right now an' confirm it with a thund'rous oath. I guess I ain't forgot all of them yet."

"Uncle Mat. Does … does Kirk think marriage … wrong?"

"Why … it'd be wrong for him, honey. Feelin' the way he does it'd be …" Mat stopped. He couldn't be too cautious here, especially now the Police had started offering more rewards. "Man is a fallen god that remembers heaven," he said, "an' the sign of his fall is his visible body. The Great Blake says so, but I'll surely be glad to see Kirk's visible body agin, for I dunno how else one would know he was around. He's been made to sow the thistle for wheat an' the nettle for a nourishin' dainty, but I guess he's improved some.

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Yes, sir. He's sure been put through it. Now; d'you reckon he might mebbe come to the weddin' if you wrote askin' him, Tamsin?"

"I … I don't know." Suddenly she felt giddy, stifled, as though she could not bear that. No … No. She could not go through it if he were there, and yet she was eager, frantic to go through it. Not in the least understanding herself she got up, laughed, kissed Mat and went back to her work.

"My! Won't Aggie be peeved," cried Mat, hurrying off to tell her. And it was from Aggie Colom only that Tamsin did not receive congratulations through the following days, although Miss Tinney's were faint enough to surprise her. Miss Tinney, standing on the chilly boardwalk, rubbing her red nose with the tips of her woollen gloves, opined that marriage was heaven or hell. No half-way house in it, said Miss Tinney, although a girl never thinks of that when she's buying her trousseau.

"I won't have a trousseau," said Tamsin, amused. This dear awkward old maid with her views on marriage! Feeling very wise, Tamsin explain: "There's no one to buy from up here but feyther, and although he'd give me the whole store I don't want it. Why should a girl dress up just because she is going to be called Mrs. instead of Miss?"

"Tamsin, do you love that man?"

"It's for him to ask me that. Not you," said Tamsin, surprised that she should feel angry. Unabashed, Miss Tinney went on:

"You've got to love your man good an' plenty up here, Tamsin. Down in cities one can get along pretty well, I guess. Go out one door as he comes through the other if you feel that way. But in the North it's like there's just one door for you both. No gettin' away. He's liable to turn up any time, an' you got to be always ready for that. Yes, sir."

"Dear Miss Tinney!" Tamsin patted her arm. There was something pitiful in this starved old woman giving advice to page 250one who knew it all. She felt that now there was no more to know. Life would go on with Stewart much as it had done with MacDonald. "I'm very happy, really," she said. "I really am."

"Sacrament or sacrilege," said Miss Tinney, mysteriously, and stalked off. She began to say something the same to MacDonald when he came to see her a little later; but he so cut the ground from under her feet by his requests and demands that Stewart, arriving for supper, found her collapsed in the parlour and hysterically appealing for help to the bearskin Ida.

"I never did know the beat of that man," she cried, taking a distracted face out of Ida's folds. "Why's he want the hull nation to the weddin'?"

"Does he?" asked Stewart, horrified.

"Does he? I guess you ought to know." She sat down, regarding him with a new dislike. "Fixed it all up for next month, he says; and that's jest before the ice breaks an' all the trails in a mess an' Injuns comin' in all the time like one thing. I reckon you're all mad. But I s'pose when a man' old he gets scared to wait."

Stewart stiffened. This spite was more like Aggie Colom, who was busy telling all Knife that Tamsin was lucky to get any man at all. "If you knew what I know …" Aggie was saying. Miss Tinney gave a long blasting sigh.

"Well," she said, resignedly, "I guess you might better ask Tamsin to come right down and consult with me, seeing I've apparently got to feed and put up everyone for a hundred miles around. An' every Injun to be fed and git a stick of tobacco. And his own piano comin' down and a dance after the weddin'. My; you'd think that man had a hull string of banks. I'd hate to be as danged slick over everything as he is. And before I'd be so ready to get rid of Tamsin…. Well, you just tell her to come right, along, will you? I'll have to have this room painted over, I guess."

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She watched him go out, stiffish, greyish, his lean veined hand clenched up, and sighed again, thinking of Kirk and Tamsin swinging hands as they came lightly down a sunny hillside like Children of the Morning.

"There's many a man goes out after ba'r and comes home with a rabbit," she said. "But I'd give somethin' to know why Tamsin had to."

Stewart, protesting to MacDonald, got no comfort. MacDonald said, quietly:

"I want all the folk around should see Tamsin. There's some only knows her by what's said about her. I'd like you to help me all you can, Stewart."

He turned again to his account books, and Stewart went away, abashed. So that silent angular man had known what was being said all the time and had held his hand with the large dignity that belonged to both MacDonalds until he thought he had found a way of refuting it. For a jealous moment that left him shaken Stewart wondered if that was why they had accepted him so gladly, but he crushed that thought. MacDonald had liked him long before, and Tamsin was above any double-dealing. Tamsin, he felt, had much the qualities she was for ever finding in the Yukon; a grandeur of simplicity; a calm certitude.

"She did care for that young scoundrel," he said half-aloud, tramping through the cold and empty evening to his shack. "But now she's put him out of her mind as he has done with her."

It seemed suddenly that the words took life, flew chuckling about him in the white and frosty air, leap-frogged derisively over the stiff willow-thickets. "Put him out of her mind … her mind … her mind …" He heard them echoing, and shut himself into his shack with a slammed door and a sense of mocking laughter pursuing him. The telegraph instrument was clacking and he went to take the message. And after that was done he should have put in a call to Dawson, for page 252MacDonald's notice of the wedding for the Dawson papers had been lying on the shelf since yesterday. But he dropped the key and went over to sit by the stove. He could not send that message while there was still time for Regard to come. In a week, ten days, when the regular mails had stopped and blow-holes came in the thinning ice, then let Regard try it if he dared.

"It's not a case of trusting her," he thought, forgetting to light the pipe between his teeth. "We don't want unpleasantness, that's all."

But he knew that it was not all.

Challis came with congratulations and cheerful talk.

"If you don't mind my saying so, Stewart, it's a damn good thing Miss MacDonald has come to her senses and taken the better man. Regard's a hound, though he surely is a bright hound. To camp the Patrol just where he knew the skeleton to be was a stunt that every man couldn't carry off, although of course it was the cleverest thing he could do to avert suspicion. He'd glory in it, too. I can imagine him laughing up his sleeve."

Until this moment Stewart had thought Regard foolish. All the daring and delights of youth were so far from him that he could only imagine caution. Now he said, grudgingly:

"You may be right—supposing he knew anything about it. We have no right to think so, and … and I hope he doesn't, Challis."

"Oh, sure! Now you've got the girl," thought Challis. "But what about me?" He swung his leg, sitting on the table, and said, wickedly: "I certainly am most uncommonly obliged to you for putting me on the trail, Stewart. Without the information that the girl was wearing the ear-rings, and without the knowledge that Regard cleared out directly after he'd seen her we'd have precious little to go on. She and her man may be in any day now, and I'll have to arrest her, but no one ever got anything out of an Indian by questioning. Let him know page 253you know it all and then he'll give up. It's the only way, and I can do it, thanks to you."

"Don't thank me," said Stewart, irritably. "And keep my name out of it, for God's sake."

"Oh, certainly." Challis could understand that. For Tamsin's sake he would rather keep the thing quiet, too. It is not necessary for a woman to be good in order to rouse chivalry in a man, and indeed it is often the other way, but the young man did feel a chivalrous pity for Tamsin. This grim old grey fellow was not the right mate for her, and he guessed that she had taken him out of pride more than anything else. He got up. "I may have to call on you to identify the girl if she comes in, Stewart. The kind of description the Police puts out is apt to be a bit scarce sometimes."

And leaving Stewart to think uneasily over that he went away.

A busy woman is usually a happy one, and through the next month Tamsin was so very busy that she was quite sure that she was happy. The life she had led so long kept its claims on her. Mat Colom, her father, Stewart—the three old men she had always been good to were made happy now. This counted for much with Tamsin, who could not conceive a time when she would not care though she made them unhappier than they had ever been in their lives. Each chore she did now, each change in the old house where she was to live with Stewart was no more than a step on the way to Kirk, and she knew it and felt it and was not afraid. Kirk had condensed for her into an elixir so intense and fiery that the intoxication could never fully leave her, and yet she had already persuaded herself that she would never feel that intoxication any more.

She sat on her narrow bed watching the white clouds drift high above Tall Thing and thought: "This is how nuns feel when they take the veil. They put away the earthly thing they page 254care for most and then they are content. I am content." It would be much like taking the veil to be married to the old grey man, Rab Stewart, and yet she could still have her friendships and so she was more fortunate than any nun. She looked round her little plain room with its bare whip-sawed walls stuck all over with snapshot photographs. There was no need to take down even those of Kirk. This would be her private shrine as it ever had been. Stewart would not come here. Gentle as he always was and kind, he would understand that even a married woman must have some place of her own. He had dropped back now into his stiff shy silence, and she was glad, for his nervous kisses had made her remember too keenly the quality of those others.

She sighed, then jumped up, thrusting back her thick hair.

"Come now, get along with it, Tamsin," she said, and went out to help in the arranging of the new store-room which MacDonald was adding to the house. "For it winna dae for ye to tak a can o' beans frae the Store gin ye like, noo, Tamsin," he said. "Yer husband wull hae tae render accounts tae me, noo."

The wedding-night came soon enough, with Knife packed by Indians and whites whom wild tales of MacDonald's munificence had brought down the uncertain ice and over the thawing trails to drive the last elements of sanity out of Miss Tinney in the crowded Rest-house. Women in pink satin and blue silk frocks treasured up since their last trip Outside possibly ten years ago rode in on horses, behind or beside their men. Others came in dog-sleds, the fur artiki over their finery; and in Miss Tinney's back room they were all demanding hot irons to smooth out their crumpled skirts and hot coffee to smooth their tempers. Many who had not met for years were kissing or quarrelling in that back room; and Miss Tinney, still in curling-pins and a wrapper, slammed the door on them and hustled the Indian maids in the kitchen.

"Come Christmas an' we'll be ready, maybe," she said, page 255grimly. "For the Land's sake, Tamsin! Haven't you gone home to dress yet?"

"It won't take me five minutes to slip into my frock," said Tamsin, flushed, and competently doing five things at once. "We'll be ready all right, dear Miss Tinney. I've mixed the hot biscuit and flapjacks."

"It sure might be me goin' to be married instead of you, I'm that het up," grumbled Miss Tinney. "I'm sartin that haunch o' moose won't be cooked on time, Tamsin, and one o' my sponge-cakes went sad on me…."

Challis, seeking Ooket and her Loucheux in the swarming Indian village or where muffled figures moved over the dirty trodden snow, realized that he was not likely to discover them without the help of Stewart whom he had left distracted in his shack, trying to staunch a razor-cut. They were all alike, these brown high-cheeked flat-nosed faces, these muttering voices that never made clear words, these stealthy movements that never seemed to lead anywhere. Ooket was almost certainly here, for no Indian could resist a spread, but without her ear-rings few white men could pick her out from fifty others. Stewart could. He had an uncanny knowledge of faces. "I must get hold of him after the wedding," thought Challis and raced off to his shack in the sudden terror of every best man who believes that he has surely mislaid the ring.

Getting Tamsin MacDonald married seemed to entail great responsibilities on Knife.