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The World is Yours

Chapter Twelve

page 267

Chapter Twelve

Back in Dawson from the return trail Kirk came to realize the puniness of man's powers in the fight against Fate and the necessity laid on him to continue it eternally, thereby hammering himself a soul out of plastic matter. Not that Kirk was regarding his soul just now. He was too relieved at the saving of his skin, for although the hunt was up he knew that it could not lead the Police anywhere. They could not identify the skeleton. They would learn nothing from Ooket now that the ear-rings were gone. That one link connecting up the whole business lay at the bottom of the Kanana, and short of being confronted with it nothing would move Ooket. He understood the Indian temperament well enough to know that.

Also he was now safe from Dierdre. Occasionally he saw her at the Adelphi or elsewhere, her thin arm and shoulder like a bat's wing shadowed on the wall, her long predatory eyes roaming from one man to another. But they gleamed only triumph at him, and at last he understood. It had been Dierdre's force behind that beating from Wagner. All the venom of her revenge because Kirk had not loved, had not married her, was in it, and he could guess how her words and looks had penetrated that dull clod with fire— for an hour or two. There was no fire in Wagner now. Dierdre, the respectable matron, was having such a slow time that Kirk almost pitied her—when he thought of her.

But that was seldom, for all his thoughts were on Tamsin now. In some way he felt curiously refreshed, curiously cleansed by what had happened on the trail. Superstition, always about him like a veil, averred that he had put the matter in the hands of Fate, and Fate had marked out for him his way. It led straight to Tamsin; to pastures of starry page 268and immortal happiness, with all his sins and troubles shed like a tattered cloak by the wayside.

There was only old Mat to win over, and nightly Kirk wrote him long explanatory letters which he tore up next day. He was writing in the corner of Billy's Pool-Room when a newcomer spoke first in his hearing of those wandering lies of Aggie Colom's which had grown somewhat stale in Dawson since he had been away, and that the newcomer escaped breakage was only due to the united struggles of the community. Then he rushed to his shack, still scarlet and breathing flame, and began to throw his belongings into a gunny-sack. He was going to Tamsin. That very night he would go. That very hour…

But Fate, however accommodating she might have been, did not provide stage-coaches at will and by morning the old puzzle was just as deep again. If Kirk went to Tamsin, Matt would denounce him. The fact stood stark between them and no argument would change it. Although it killed him—and it might—Mat, like a Roman father or something, would go to Challis.

"Seems like I must wait till he dies," thought Kirk, bitterly, and tried his hand at a letter to Tamsin.

But this was even worse. What could he say to Tamsin branded by Aggie Colom as 'too easy' and forsaken by him because she offered more than he cared to take? Supposing she had heard nothing, why should he enlighten her? And if she had, what was he to say, since the one thing she would expect of him could not be said? The curse is surely on me, he thought, and realized through the next days that he could do nothing else but wait. Something, he thought with a gambler's optimism, would turn up. Sure to.…

But he could not stay in Dawson until the turn of the year took him out to the Guiding again. All these places where he had run with the child Tamsin were haunted places, tearing his heart. He loved her deep and truly now, and alternately page 269he cursed and prayed and found what peace he might in the hardest work to which he could lay his eager hands.

This year the W. P. & Y. ceased their regular service, for Dawson was dying faster than they had thought. In all the four hundred miles between Dawson and Whitehorse there were no more cooks in the road-houses, no more men in the great stables, and yet some restless travellers there would always be on that road. Kirk leased some of his pack-horses to a Dawson man who was prepared to run a few stages; took a miner and his wife and went down to Big Thumb Portage to keep open the road-house there. Likely there'll be folk enough to make it pay, he thought. And he was right.

Before many months now the mysterious witchery of spring would be at work, preparing for the stupendous break-up of the rivers. The heavy ice which had laid like a dead thing for so long would stir and quiver and hear the Voice that moved between it and a sky newborn into blueness and rosy clouds. And, like a blind and mindless beast, the ice would obey, groaning and heaving and, with many stoppages and slow-grinding persistence, drag its ever lessening bulk down the long, long river-ways through Alaska to Behring Sea. Last of all old stubborn Lake Laberge would yield to summer, and the first steamer off the Dawson slips would follow the ice out through its bottle-neck into Whitehorse. And then there would be no more need of the road-houses. And by then, thought Kirk, something will surely have happened to put things right.

At the road-house work was hard enough to keep him nearly content, and the rough man-life about him was good for his new spirit. They were always taking a chance, these hunters who came with their sacks of furs from the loneliness, these miners drifting South for a while with their specimens and their half-empty pokes, these indomitable bag-men always hoping to make a living. And on nights when the stage pulled in there were the good smells of steaming horses, page 270of bran mashes and red-top hay and sweated harness. Once in a while there were some of his own string to pet and examine, and Kirk was fond of his horses and happy to see them hardening well for the summer's work.

He kept the stoves hot indoors, and there were usually two or three round them nightly; quiet men with the dim light on their weathered skin and rough hair and in those wonderful eyes of the dweller in large spaces, eyes steady almost to blankness, and yet so startlingly alive. Their talk ran much on chances, and under the sedatives of warmth and smoke Kirk could make himself believe that his own chance would soon come. He had the worker's respect for a worker; but for young Haynes, traveller for the big Taylor-Drury Company which does for the Yukon what the Hudson Bay does elsewhere, he had the worker's contempt for a snob, and to bait Haynes on the nights he came through was a definite pleasure.

"Of course I'm only trying it a few times for experience," said Haynes out of his plump security. "My people wouldn't stand for my taking a job like this at any price."

"Figurin' to go Outside next trip an' turn gentleman, likely?" suggested Kirk with considering eyes on young Haynes' cigar and signet-ring.

"My dear chap! I hope I'm one already. But possibly one has to be born of gentlefolk to recognize them, y'know."

Someone laughed, but Kirk was unperturbed. He said, cordially: "Sure. I guess maybe I didn't know what they were like myself until once I happened on a whole town full of'em."

"Really?" cried Haynes, amazed. "Where on earth could that be?"

"Why… along the Alaskan Coast." Kirk leaned on the wall and his face was reminiscently happy. Now he was going to destroy Haynes, hair and limb. "It was this way. In all Injun towns there used to be just one big bug, and he had a totem-pole with all his fam'ly history carved on it, and page 271the rest of the folk looked up to him something fierce— almost as if they were made of different flesh."

"A feudal lordship. How interesting! Exactly what I mean when I… "

"Sure. Well, in time the young bucks got workin' in steamers and canneries an' made enough to bring home presents to their squaws—silks an' sham jool'ry and suchlike that the big bug's squaws couldn't afford."

"They had their blue blood and their totem-poles. Infinitely better."

"Sure. And they sat around in their blue blood under their totem-poles and said so until they sure got those nitchies peeved some, an' they all felt they must have poles too or bust. My! they went for those poles bald-headed. Sold their land, killed their friends, bartered their wives an' daughters, bribed their wizards. The notion of sittin' under their own totems all dolled up in silk an' jools fair tickled 'em to death. Well, they got 'em at last; a hundred feet high an' all painted an' carved over with family hist'ry stolen from someone else. And then were they in the soup? I'll say they were. All bein' gents they had no one to look up to. An' all bein' thieves an' liars they couldn't look up to themselves."

"I take no interest in uncivilized peoples," said Haynes, abruptly.

"Lordy! They wasn't uncivilized! Ain't I just telling you how they acted like white folks right along?" Kirk thrust billets in the stove, and Haynes, puzzled, saw how grave he was. "They're as civilized as we are, now. Lit their fires with their totems an' gone in for lace-curtains an' pianos. Back of the curtains they sleep in skins and play mouth-organs an' contract phthisis, but the public don't know it any more than they know the private life of others who set out to be gentlefolk. Those nitchies have learned that most folk respect a man just for the junk he can gather round him. They've rose to the same status as the feller who buys himself into the Peerage page 272or wears a signet-ring with someone else's crest on it. Those are that man's totem-poles all right, even to the stolen crests…"

"Look here!" Young Haynes started up, suddenly enlightened. "If you are meaning to insult me, Mr. Regard… "

"Why… what do you know about that?" Kirk turned plaintive eyes on the others who were laughing. "I was just telling a yarn everyone knows."

Haynes hesitated, scarlet and uncertain. Then he elaborately immersed himself in a week-old Dawson paper and tried to ignore the chuckles. A prospector remarked that he hadn't seen a paper in donkey's years and asked for news.

"Dunno. Never have time to look at papers," said Kirk, drawing on his pipe with satisfaction. Haynes had been making him tired for some time, and men remembered later that they had never seen him so alive and full of mischief as just then. A man from Dawson said:

"I saw 'bout MacDonald's Tamsin in one lately. A fine kid she was, an' now she's a married woman. Seems queer, don't it?"

"It would if she was," said Kirk, lightly. "But she's not."

"Yeah. She is, too… or on the aidge of it. Where your ears been pasturin' that you've not heard that yet, Regard? She's marryin' the Telegraph Operator up at Knife. I just forget his name… "

"Was it Stewart?"

Kirk heard his voice unusually loud and harsh and saw the men stare in sudden startled concern. Of course they were all remembering Aggie Colom's stories, and while not putting too much weight to them they were curious and abashed. It is not etiquette to inquire into a man's private life in the Yukon. The Dawson man said, hastily:

"Stewart? Of course it was. Sticking to the Scotchies, I remember thinking. The Scotchies always did well for themselves. Ike, do you remember that Scotchy on Happy Meg page 273pup who cleaned up a fortune and didn't lose it again? Ferguson, wasn't it?"

They all warmly remembered Ferguson. They all began talking of him trying hard to be tactful. Kirk left them and walked out into the night forgetting to shut the door. The cold roar of wind on his face steadied him almost at once, and that fighting quality which always waked when the danger was near enough told him what to do. He must go at once to Knife and stop this marriage although old Mat made Challis put the handcuffs on him right away. He was acutely glad later that selfishness had no part in that thought. "She doesn't love him. She's doing it to stop that scandal since I wouldn't stop it," he thought. "My! what sort of a man do you call yourself. Kirk, to let it come to this?"

He thought of Tamsin as he had seen her last: her eyes drowsed, her lips still a little open with the ecstasy of his kiss; and suddenly the night seemed warm with summer scents and moonlight, and her voice, broken with love, was in his ears. He shook off that vision with an effort, for he had gone weak clear through. The eagerness to get to her again overshadowed everything now. Let him once see her and not Stewart, not old Mat, nor Challis, nor the Law of the North could keep them apart. All the pulses of his body knew it, and all his brain that was now half-mad with haste.

How soon could he get there? Four… five days? If he took the stage next morning down to Gopher maybe he could catch the pony-jitney up to Knife. Or if that had ceased running he'd borrow a horse… walk, anything. Sometimes the ice went out early on the side-streams and then he might make it by canoe. No matter. Let him get to Gopher first. He thought of sending her a wire from the Telegraph-shack at the next stopping-place, but he vetoed that. Stewart would take the message at Knife, and how could he trust Stewart there? At best it might only hurry up the wedding. And he could get there as soon—sooner than a letter.

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He did not go to bed that night. There were a thousand things to see to before he went out on the stage next morning, leaving his head stableman in charge at the road-house. There was little work now, and if there was more Doherty must manage it. Kirk was going to Tamsin.

And the first thing he heard in Gopher was the news of her wedding.

He could not stay in the hot jovial road-house. Mechanically he took his coat as he passed through the entry, and mechanically he walked through the motionless night along the trail as though still going to her. But he knew that he would never go now.

"I've saved myself and lost her," he told himself, over and over. And sometimes just: "I've lost her."

He heard himself repeating it aloud as he walked. After a time it had no meaning whatever and yet he fancied that it had had one when he started. There was a man in France… he had been mortally hit, yet for a while he kept walking just like this, repeating just like this some sentence which Kirk did not remember. Then he dropped, kicked for a minute and lay still. And the rest went marching on.

Things did not march here. They sat still and looked at him, this man who had betrayed Tamsin. The sky, sown with star-seed, was callously remote. The hills, shawled by cloud into a dark shapelessness, were like exhausted Indians after the obscenity of a potlatch. Nothing moved in the white waste of the valley. Nothing spoke from the black fire up the slope. From Kirk's shoulders sticks snapped away brittlely as he pushed under some cottonwoods, and then an owl planed by on noiseless wings and near at hand sounded a faint shriek as some small creature met its death-blow.

Kirk turned back at last, his mood changing. The inevitable reaction was making him blindly savage now. Tamsin was not the sort to be bludgeoned into marriage by fear of what folk might think. That was not her quality. Either she had dis-page 275covered that she liked Stewart best or she wanted to revenge herself on Kirk. Kirk could understand that kind of defiance, but it maddened him.

"All right, my dear," he said aloud. "We'll see who gets buffaloed at this game. Not me, I'll swear. Keep your Stewart."

He tried to imagine Tamsin married to Stewart; all the way-ward young delight of her tied to that stiff grey man, and his helpless fury grew. From the beginning of time, he thought, it was woman who had been the destruction of man's hopes and beliefs and reverences. He would go to Tamsin; not to touch her, but to tell her with the icy conviction that now was creeping over him that she had destroyed his trust in women. They're all out to get the most they can, he thought, and remembered that he had once heard O'Kane say that. O'Kane, he believed, was still in Ketchikan, greasing the ropes down which unfledged youth slid to damnation. He presently decided to go down and help O'Kane. There would be some fun in that.

"Hell! Let me go someplace quick and get drunk," he thought, aching with misery and humiliation.

Within a few days he passed through Skagway and was landed by a little coastal boat under the tall dark crags of Ketchikan.

Technically all these Alaskan towns were under prohibition, but Kirk knew how to overcome that. And so did O'Kane or he had not stayed Outside so long. Wondering in what condition he would find the man, Kirk left the deserted canneries where the boat had dropped him and walked through the wet and windy night along the trestle-trail up the canyon to the town. He passed a mailman like a cloaked gnome pushing a small cart, and two huge negroes laughing raucously. After that were only pale glints from far-apart lamps on the streaming hoarding, smell of rotting leaves and earth from the woods that hung like a thunderstorm on the steep cliff to his right, and the roar of the dark river below meeting the dark sea under the houses that stood to his left on tall stilts.

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All the world here was dark as a loon's wing. Kirk almost fancied that presently it would scream like a loon and rise up flapping with his own dark thoughts for company. At the end of the trestle-walk stood the familiar totem-pole and tall tree with the veiled hut beneath it and roads forking to right and left. Kirk halted at the fork. But he did not take the trail that ran by the cliff and over the river to places of doubtful delight. He went on into the town and found O'Kane's lodgings.

O'Kane's room was gay with liquor and light and smoke. He was having a supper party for three pigeons about to be plucked and Gladys. There was no doubt about Gladys. Assuredly she lived among those airy structures over the river like some small defiant bird pecking away regrets. She pushed out her scarlet lips at Kirk; pulled him down on the lounge beside her and lit him a cigarette, never ceasing her chatter to the three boys. They were all half-dazed with drink; but O'Kane with his lids drooped over his rheumed eyes had never looked more astute, thought Kirk, feeling the squalor of the situation as a personal insult after the clean North. Just now he welcomed insult. Tamsin and life had insulted him, but he would show them that he could insult himself when he so chose. Furious as a spoiled boy he thought that the insults he would presently heap upon himself would make anything they could do look like missionary work.

"Why are you here, nice man?" murmured Gladys. Her round eyes were friendly as she poured him a drink. "You're a fool to come to this old wretch to be fleeced, you know."

"The biggest fools are the best hell-makers. That suits me."

"Poor baby! Some girl give you the mit, eh? Well, I guess there are plenty more girls around. Drink this, son. It'll help you grow up."

Kirk took the glass, smiling at her impudence. After her own mad fashion this girl had courage. Poor little devil, sailing her battered barque with its gay pirate-flag through such rough page 277waters. But O'Kane had fallen pretty low to have her sort in his rooms.

He sat drinking, ignoring her as he watched the players, and presently she flounced up indignantly and went over to one of the boys, sitting on the arm of his chair.

"How goes it, buddy?" she asked, her hand about his neck.

The boy, a callow young Englishman, looked up nervously.

"I need a mascot badly. Please stay here," he said.

The game went on, with O'Kane lighting one cigar after another, pushing one filled glass after another towards his guests. A shameless exhibition, Kirk thought. Two of the youngsters were Americans from one of the canneries; raw and deliberate, with a touch of Yankee cunning. The English boy had apparently come North to "see life!" His blue eyes, now dilated with drink, still looked on Gladys with admiration, on O'Kane with respect. Even when he was forced to retire, cleaned-out for the time, he kept his nervous courteous smile.

"I'm afraid I need more practice," he said, ingenuously.

"Watch me win it off him, son," said Kirk, sitting down.

Up and down the world he had learned all O'Kane's tricks and more, and he meant to teach this old vulture with the drooping moustache a lesson. With grim concentration he did it, rising when the night was far spent with his pockets stuffed with bills.

"Don't go, Regard," said O'Kane, pulling at that moustache until the roots turned white.

"I wasn't thinkin' of it, I guess." Kirk held out a bill to Gladys. "Take that English kid to his hotel," he murmured. "An' don't lose him by the way."

Their eyes met in a stare. Then Gladys nodded. So the English boy, very sick and shaky, was delivered safely at his hotel and after the others were gone Kirk sat down again opposite O'Kane.

"Want another dust-up, Doc?" he asked.

O'Kane looked with his thin lips drawn in an acid smile.

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"There is no limit to what man may possess by fully possessing his potentialities. You and I might get on excellently well, Regard."

"Meaning …?"

"I have a spare room," said O'Kane, formally. "If you have not already made your arrangements it would give me great pleasure to have you remain here."

For a little Kirk looked at him, bright-eyed and silent. O'Kane thought: "He's wondering if a fifty-fifty basis is good enough." Kirk thought: "This way to hell is as good as another, I guess." Aloud he said:

"All right. But no more Gladys. Two grown men can do without that."

"Well, well; disillusionment is the first drink after the feeding-bottle and the last drink before the gruel of senility. I should have imagined you in the between stage, but perhaps I was wrong. You play a very clever game, Regard."

Kirk went out early next morning, intent on buying Tamsin a wedding-present which he would send with a graceful note. A very graceful and charming note which should yet be compact of all the contempt and irony merited by her conduct. He found this note not so easy of composition, and finally left it while he searched the town, choosing at last a small fish of the brown walrus-ivory set into a gold brooch. Tamsin would not forget Sagish when she saw that, and she would know that he did not, either. Strangely enough those Sagish days had stepped forward in his brain now with a burning clearness, an indescribable longing…

With each attempt the note became more impossible. He finally produced:

"With glad good wishes for your wedded happiness. From your old friend, Kirk Regard."

This, in his distorted condition, seemed to convey a something of dignified sarcasm, even if it missed the apex aimed page 279at. He sneered while writing it, mailed it with a strut of defiance, and returned to O'Kane in the same exalted atmosphere, determined to extract what excitement he could out of his days.

"If I can keep movin'," he thought, feverishly. "That's it. Keep movin' an' don't think… "

He was lonely as he had never before been lonely. Like many of us he preferred to dodge memories or to hand them over to a friend for dispersion. But here was no friend and no way of dodging except by depraved means which revolted him even while he savagely used them. Through dreary days and nights he tried to destroy in himself those dim imaginings which had always troubled him—fond and furtive ghosts ever ready to spring a gin before his escaping feet. Fate, he told himself, was waiting for him. She would get him in time. Old Mat had known it when he sent him away. Tamsin had guessed it when she married Stewart. Orange and Plume were expecting it. They were only biding their time. He saw himself pitted against a gigantic Juggernaut, with Tamsin far on her hills with her face turned from him; and alternately he cursed and defied and fled his fears while daily helping O'Kane to fleece his fellows.

O'Kane was pleased with him. His own enfeebled body often clouded his own powers; but Kirk was strong as a young lion and ruthless as a coyote. O'Kane said, stretching his yellow claws:

"The froth and dregs of the whole Coast pass continually through this town. Why not through our hands? Here, as you may have already observed, Regard, we have bastard Spanish from New Mexico, Chinese, Japanese, polyglot from the Bermudas, negroes… and all the other races. Do they not owe us a living? I think so."

"Let 'em all come… and go," said Kirk, shrugging. "What do I care what happens 'em."

He had no return of the pity which had saved the English page 280boy. It began to seem no more than just and logical that those who could not stand up to life should be flung aside like all other worn-out things in this country. Mining-towns, steamers, power-houses, log-cabins, machinery, men… any and everything she had done with the North scrapped and cast away. Used, tested, found wanting, abandoned. That was the ordinary trafficking of life. Nature did it. And according to Tamsin, Nature was God.

"Well, then," thought Kirk, pulling his chair in to the table opposite the feverish faces. "What can Tamsin expect!"

On the Kanana Tamsin was expecting only what she feared, after the way of women whose life has been shaken to its foundations. And what she feared now was the return of Kirk. Except that the pain was too great she could have laughed at her belief that marriage would settle her problems. It had made them insolvable, and the only fact that she salvaged out of her first few wedded months was the certainty that she did not want to see Kirk again. Stewart had a wistful, a delicate tenderness with her, but he was the triumphant husband of a young wife and could not forget it.

"Bless you, darling. You've made me young again," he said, gratefully. And Tamsin smiled with that woman-cunning so quickly learned at need, and buried Auld Robin Gray at the bottom of the music-box, and found the words singing drearily through her heart all the day.

"It's not Rab's fault," she thought with the stout justice that so rarely failed her. "Because I was crazy is not reason why he should suffer."

Going about the old familiar tasks she had performed for MacDonald, hanging Stewart's blue shirts on the line where she had been used to hang MacDonald's checked ones, she tried in vain to listen to the birds making their small meditative chorals among the roses, to the brown bees humming top-heavy in the clover, to the diapason of the wind down the furry shoulders of Tall Thing. But she was dumb and blind.

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She could only feel with the anguish of youth: "I said I was prepared to pay for what I bought, and I've bought nothing, for all my payment. What a joke!"

Kirk's brooch gave her a new shock of terror. It seemed a forerunner of himself; something gay and friendly and sentient of the old days breaking into the new habitation she was trying to build about her spirit. She sat with it in her lap, thinking desperately: "He mustn't come. Not till I'm stronger. Strong and old and more used to Rab." She rocked herself with folded arms on her bosom for the ache there seemed like a physical one. "I didn't know I loved him that much. I didn't know. I'll, get over it. One gets over anything. Only… he mustn't come."

Kirk did not come, and life flowed on. The ice went out and birds passed at dawn, gentle wild voices far on the morning sky. Up in the blue small white clouds went like wandering sheep, folded at night into the comforting sunset glow. Canoes and dug-outs brought their bright painted sides upon the river; Indians appeared, thick as the birds, and set up their fish scaffoldings below the village; Tall Thing and his lesser brothers burst into an ecstasy of flowers, frail as gossamer, short-lived as a dream. All these, thought Tamsin, were part of that far fantastic lovely life wherein a girl had lightly dreamed and planned and believed that she could turn the world to her liking.

"And now… what am I to do now?" she was asking herself the long days through.

She had ceased to ask her gods. For her they were immortal jesters now and her hills no more than waste land set apart for evil things like the temens of a pagan temple. Upon those hills she had dreamed the evil thing that would destroy her, and the gods had not prevented. She felt that she would go to them no more.

She thought of the long, long line of gods, from red Baal up to the sad Christ. God after god lifted by man's fancy and page 282falling at last from his defeated arms. "Not one can stand if we don't hold it up," she thought, drearily, going down to the Indian village to tend an ailing child.

Dogs were in the Indian village; dozens of them, tied so close under the budding roses that they could scarcely scratch. Tamsin did not loose them as once she used to do. "They aren't tied any tighter than I am," she thought. Canoes lay doubled on the water with small white clouds moving about them like fishes, and everywhere the long scaffoldings reflected themselves in a queer bright cubism. The rose-pink sunset of the, Yukon steeped even the sagging huts and the black nets laid over the bushes in strange glory, and old women and children were warm Rembrandts and Murillos. On the high and shaky platform where Tommy Tom played nightly at Little Sticks Mrs. Sheridan had set up her portable harmonium and was leading a prayer-meeting.

"Oh, give me the old-time religion.
Oh, give me the faith that I know,"

she sang, lustily, with a handful of stolid women grunting behind her.

Tamsin turned into Sophia's musty shack resentfully. What had the white man ever given the Indian but drink, disease and immorality? They had taken from his own faith, his own religion and now tried to offset their stupendous obligations by this petty tinkering. She was not surprised to find herself thinking like this. A few weeks … a month or so … had made her feel so old, so coldly wise, so changed.

The weathered expressionless whole of Sophia was much more like an oil-painting than anything so mobile as a woman, but over the dosing of her child she spoke unemotionally of her eldest daughter who had run off with a white miner.

"Aha. Kenias him mighty mad wit' me."

"With you? Why? She's his daughter, too."

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"Aha. Him say Alice no good. Me no good. Oll woman no good. Seeck of 'em oll, he say."

She hunched on the floor by her sick child, the stolid Indian personification of acquiescence. Tamsin looked at her rebelliously.

"If we didn't always take it for granted that the woman is to blame… I…" Then she shut up her lips and went out abruptly to meet Mrs. Sheridan, climbing triumphantly down from the platform and mopping her face heartily.

"My, Tamsin. It was surely a good meeting," she cried, hurrying forward over the rubbish and the tumbling children. "I had six of 'em singing. If only you'd give me a hand I'd do it every day. It's fierce that we don't get a regular preacher oftener."

"Tommy Tom gambled his newest wife away to Skookum Pete last week," said Tamsin, perversely. "Maybe he'll win her back when you've taken your harmonium off his platform."

Mrs. Sheridan mopped her face delicately. She looked uncertain. Tamsin was young enough to leave her moods lying about on the surface and of course all Knife saw that things were going there just as might have been expected. "But they'll shake down," thought Mrs. Sheridan, always optimistic. "The first year is the worst. A baby or two'll settle her all right. I'd have settled quicker if I'd had some." Her unstanchable desire to better the world worked in her, but she was a little afraid of Tamsin.

"I got up a new set of Biblical pictures by the Tahkina" she said, tentatively. "Maybe you'd help me distribute them. There's a family of white folks come into Beaver Creek… "

Tamsin moved off. "No, thank you. I don't think they'd do any good," she said over her shoulder.

"Why, Tamsin MacDonald," screamed Mrs. Sheridan. "What's come to you" Then, reflecting, she nodded her head. Sure, she thought. That's what's come. She's not Tamsin MacDonald any more. She's Tamsin Stewart when she ought page 284a-been Tamsin Regard. Well! I guess I always knew there was something in that story.

Hurrying home—she always hurried on principle—to cook her man's supper she considered the probable return of Kirk Regard. "But I'd save her," she thought. "I'd snatch her right out of his arms. A branch snatched from the burning." Cheerfully seeing her own part in this she gave Sheridan an extra good supper.

The air was dampish, sickish, tasteless as though it needed salt. The whole day had needed salt, thought Tamsin, turning up through the tall scrub to the fox-farm. From the enormous darkening canopy of the sky silence fell to brim the hollows and slip stealthily away over the river, so that the sharpness of light and sound in the netting yards presently struck on her tired senses like blows. But she never forewent her nightly visit to old Mat, although, through that instinctive sympathy he always had with her, he did not speak of Kirk's return now. From the shed where he was boiling cabbage-stalks and mush he peered through the red glare.

"Why, if I wasn't just wantin' you, Tamsin. Thar's that thar Mendel… I surely can't make out from him whether the red ought always to be recessive to the silver or not…" He came to greet her, thrusting his battered hat off his grey wisp of hair above the soft old withered face. "I wish Kirk'd come. He'd understand. He's a good boy. I taught him. He… "

Stopping abruptly he fetched a long sigh. Kirk, too, had gone astray, as every man certainly did. He looked at Tamsin. That was a good marriage. He made it. But Tamsin did not look to-night as though she found it good.

"Thar's Los an' Entharmon," he said, reminiscently. "Prompters o' human desires an' passions an' always putting in their oar someplace. It's necessary to watch out for 'em, I guess." Maybe, he thought, Tamsin had not quite gotten over her love for Kirk. She was not so old as himself, and there page 285had once been a Lily Maud whom he had found it hard to forget. He put his hand lovingly on her arm. "I reckon you're missin' your dad, dear," he said.

"I get letters." Tamsin roused herself. "If I'm dull. Uncle Mat, it's just because there's so much of the Yukon in me. I have to lie dormant in the winter just as it does, but when spring comes… "

"Aye," said Mat, gravely; "but it's come, my dear."

"Why, of course." Tamsin forced a laugh. "I forgot."

A heavy step sounded on the path and Stewart's tall gaunt body showed through the shadows. He had come to look for her. Always, it seemed to Tamsin, he was looking for her, uneasy if she was out of his sight as though he suspected her of hearing something, telling something.

"Any news?" he asked, speaking lightly, but Tamsin's nerves read suspicion in his voice.

"Mendel's Law doesn't work with the foxes," she retorted. "I don't know of anything else." Then for very fear she shook herself into action and chattered and laughed as they walked home.

"Rab, do you remember that winter we had bonfires on the lake and did an Indian dance? And that time when Mrs. Sheridan and I dressed as Indians and mushed down to Sheridan's wood-camp and begged for skirts and trousers till he took his gun to us. Do you remember…? "

Stewart was always willing to remember, always ready to smile at the young gay wife who, for all her docility, was not easy to understand. Yet he liked her better so. She stimulated, entranced him. A half-discovered country with endless glorious vistas. A man would never get to the end of Tamsin, he thought, pressing her arm gratefully.

"This summer I plan to roof in the back verandah, darling," he told her. "And if you'd like a new wash-house… "

"Oh, my, no. I've always washed in a tent. Don't change things." Kirk had lain by her on that back verandah, drowsy in page 286the strong sun. He had often helped her wring out clothes in the steamy tent. Then she remembered. Rab would feel hurt, and so she thanked him and protested that there was nothing she would like better than a roof to the back verandah. Rab was so kind. He was always thinking of things.…

"Who would I think of but my wife?" he said, opening the door for her.

It still stirred him to say 'my wife'; to pay her little attentions, hear her moving about the house. It stirred him to see her sit later, some domestic sewing in her hands, talking to two prospectors who had 'happened in' from the Store as people always had done in MacDonald's house. One was an old-timer from Dawson who had known Tamsin as a child, and he talked eagerly, his gnarled hands on his spread knees.

"You remember your dad always said there was nothin' couldn't come out of Yukon, Tamsin, and I reckon he was dead right. Why, jest the other day I was doin' a bit of hillside gauging an' I struck a biotite vein croppin' out right at the head of Appoller Crik. An' I took some prospects down to a man I know that had a scintillascope an' 'There's uranium in that, or I miss my guess,' I said. There was, too."

"Yep," said the other, sourly. "Mebbe there's nothing couldn't come out o' Yukon… if we could get it out. But when England let the Yanks get a stranglehold on us both ways so we can't get out over White Pass without using their trains an' we can't get out through the Alaska end 'thout using their steamers… "

Stewart ceased to listen. It was his way to sit silent, but never until now had he had such content with which to fill his mind. Even the bugbear of Ooket seemed to have vanished —as she had done. The Store, with Jasper's help, was doing well; and day and night there was Tamsin with her rare waywardnesses, her swift submissions, her reserves and shyness which he did not want to penetrate. Women had not before page 287given him the opportunity to reverence them. He rejoiced to reverence Tamsin; to feel in all he did not understand of her some sweet and gallant instinct to which he might find the clue some day; to realize how the harsh sourness of his years was melting in gratitude for all she was and did to him.

He sat, cradling his pipe in a long lean hand, his lean jaw sunk on his chest, and thought how strangely and swiftly he was discarding his cold disbeliefs in the Ultimate Good—which after all might be the Ultimate God. Very truly our ideas come to us down even more varied channels than our blood, and no man knows from what centuries of wasted strength, tragic opportunities, mysterious and pregnant lonelinesses Man has wrested the idea that he can stem or speed the inexorable laws that govern life. For he can't do it… never could have done it. He cannot govern his own life except according to the Law. He cannot govern anyone else's even by that, for it is the acid test of the thinking soul that it only knows just what laws it must obey.

Yes. Law was omnipotent… and good… and God. And it was Tamsin who had taught him so—God bless her.

He said something of the kind later when the men were gone and she was moving about in the swift competent way she had, straightening things for the night. She stopped, a yellow cushion held against her breast and looked at him under her level brows.

"I think one of the laws is that we must stand alone. Don't depend on me too much, Rab."

"You mean… if you were to die?"

"No." She hesitated, and he saw her face turn white. "I mean that though we may let others choose our outer life in a way I believe that we absolutely must choose our own judgments and beliefs and… decisions. If some day I felt that I must obey some law that you… you didn't want me to… what then?"

"I don't know." He frowned, startled a little. "I hope page 288that I would not attempt to put pressure on you. I hope so. I don't know. But, my darling girl, any law that you might choose to obey would only make me worship you the more. You don't begin to know yet what an opinion I have of my wife."

He fancied he saw her shiver. But she was laughing, fitting the cushion into its place.

"My, my! Some day I'll put Auntie Ag behind the door to listen to you. Maybe she'd get a better opinion of me then."

"Tamsin," he said, suddenly. "I have so often dreaded… wondered… it was not anything she said about… about you and Regard that… decided you, was it? You… didn't hear anything?"

He stared at her, his face grey and blank, his body stiff. Through all these months he had tried not to say it, but it was said now. And behind his anguish was a kind of relief. He knew that he could never feel her quite close, quite his own until this was said and answered.

She was looking at him, very white, but honestly bewildered.

"What she said? How do you mean? Did she say anything in particular?"

"Then you never heard…. She says so many things I was afraid…. That's all right. That's all right." He was incoherent in his thankfulness, gathering her in his arms. But this insatiable jealousy would not be quite laid yet. "You're sure, darling? Quite, quite sure?"

Tamsin steadied her lips.

"I am quite sure, Rab."

He seemed to throw off a weight. She saw him completely happy, trusting her, and thought that it was extraordinary how much untruth could be implied by absolutely truthful words.