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The World is Yours

Chapter Fourteen

page 308

Chapter Fourteen

"For Noah he often said to his wife when they went out to dine:
'I don't care where the water goes if it doesn't get into the wine.'"

Singing, whistling, playing a few notes on his flute Kirk moved about the room where O'Kane sat thinking over Miss Tinney's letter. Three lines and a half only, but they were enough. Evelyn rarely commanded, and never did it twice; but O'Kane knew that he must return at once to Aroya, bringing Kirk with him or he would very soon wish that he had.

He was annoyed and yet partly relieved. He and Kirk were doing well; but the young man was erratic and would possibly dissolve the partnership any day, whilst if O'Kane returned at Evelyn's desire he might be able to screw something more out of her for that reason.

"A love-letter?" asked Kirk, sitting on the arm of a chair. He did not wait for an answer, but began blowing Pretty Red-Wing meditatively into the flute.

"The moon shines to-night on Pretty Red-Wing.
The breeze is sighing, the night-birds crying.
But afar 'neath his star her brave is sleeping
While Red-Wing's we-eping her heart away…."

The joke was, he thought, that Red-Wing was doing nothing of the kind. She had married Stewart and forgotten her brave who—he told himself so daily—had also forgotten her. He strayed into La Paloma, taking the tricky tripping love-song through all its coaxing measure until O'Kane said sharply:

"For God's sake stop that!"

Kirk's tilted brows went up. "Certainly," he said with exaggerated politeness. He thrust the flute into his pocket and page 309took out a deck of cards, making them idly with practised hands. O'Kane thought:

"He's restless for something. Possibly he'd go if I told him Tamsin wanted him." He said: "Someone says that a man's place in civilization is shown by his attitude to women. He considers her either as something to live with or something to live for. What is your particular attitude, Kirk?"

Kirk laughed. "So it was a love-letter," he said.

O'Kane looked at him, pulling at his moustache. Kirk had a faunish irresponsible look perched up there with the blue shirt-collar open at the brown throat and a sudden flush on the warm skin making his dark eyes brighter. He was a man of moods, but they were the moods of a strong man. Kirk would drink and make love and fool around, but he could be as hard as nails, too. O'Kane thought for a moment, then said:

"I have decided to return to Aroya. Do you feel like accompanying me? It seems probable that Tamsin Stewart would be glad to see you."

"Who says that?" demanded Kirk. He had not heard Tamsin called so before, and it startled him more than he had expected.

"My correspondent," said O'Kane, dryly.

Kirk stood up, stretching and yawning in an effort to seem unconcerned. They kept strange reticences between them, these men, and he could not ask if O'Kane's correspondent was Tamsin. It was not unlikely. There had always been a queer friendship between them, and the old man spoke of her with an affection and respect that he gave to no other woman. And Kirk had known that the marriage could not turn out well. He told himself with a sudden inner trembling that he had always known it.

"Well, if you're set on deserting me I guess I must think up something," he said, carelessly, caught up his hat and went out.

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They had come for a few days to a little village outside Vancouver, and here the world was all sea and silence and madroña trees in bloom.

Kirk walked along the shore, smoking, thinking. He had never had any desire for platonic intrigues, although he had known men who gather them as one gathers first fruit or the last flowering of roses. He could not go back to the Kanana and be that kind of friend to Tamsin. And if life had brought him to the point of feeling no particular shame in anything deeper he knew that Tamsin would never be brought to it. Tamsin, like O'Kane, carried a kind of moral atmosphere; but whereas O'Kane created a miasma of evil such as Kirk had been living in for months Tamsin would soon have Kirk out of that. He knew quite well that any underhand connections which down here he might lightly think of would take on a very different complexion face to face with Tamsin.

It was possible, he thought, that he might win her away from Stewart. She must be tired of that stiff old stick by now. But it would not be done without pain to them both. It would be a stupendous and agonizing thing to Tamsin, dragging her very roots out, and he did not feel that he wanted to do that to her. She had always been the stable force in his life and in some way he felt her behind him yet, secure as the hills. If he brought her down they would both tumble into ruin, and yet, if he went back to the Kanana he knew that he would try to do that very thing.

He sat on a rock, poking with bits of stick at the pink and yellow sea-anemones down in the clear pools and found an outlet to his mood in watching the lovely sensitive things shiver and curl up in their efforts to escape the stick. He would not want to torment Tamsin as he was tormenting the sea-anemones, but already he was coming to believe that he would do it. Some sea-gulls were flying over the beach, their shadows driven before them by the low sun. They brought little shellfish from the river and beat them on the rocks page 311until they cracked. Then, their gluttony satisfied, they veered and mewed and screamed again, flying over the still sea.

Kirk got up with a sigh. The killing of Olafssen never troubled him, for that had been done in self-defence and he had no fear of capture now. But what he might do yet to the girl who had been his playfellow troubled him a great deal. "I know what I am," he said, half-aloud. "I could never be content with a little. I always want the whole thing."

Women, he thought, were extraordinarily different, yet many men still spoke of 'the sex' as though they were all one. Of those who had come into his life lately Gladys, that loyal little privateer, would give him every cent she had if he needed it. Ooket and Dierdre would take all he possessed and then leave him. Tamsin would do neither. She would bid him work for his living like a man, force him up on his feet with her love and her scorn. How she would hate the life he was living now, picking money from men's pockets by the sheer cold light of his brain. There were many times when he hated it himself.

He went slowly along the beach, thinking of the child Tamsin, of the strange boy who had been himself. Curiously he turned the searchlight of experience on that boy, trying to fathom what he must have been like. But all connected with that time was now a dim greyness, although he knew that then it had seemed the very heart of the rainbow himself. How he had loved Tamsin up there on the Kluane. Groping here and there with memories he saw a fantastic immature boy obscurely stirred by the same emotions that so often moved him now. But to that boy they had been strange and beautiful; steeped in a lovely significance so that the simplest acts of life, even the movement of his young body, had been a holy joy.

Well, all that had gone long ago…

But he loved Tamsin yet. She was too closely mixed with all the searching longing part of him to be forgotten or despised. Why she had married Stewart he could not guess, but he was page 312going to find out. His blood began to hurry and his breath to quicken now that he knew certainly that he would go. Walking fast he knew that he must go soon.

Again this season he had handed over his Big Game contracts with that recklessness of the future common to him. He had felt that he could not bear weeks and months out on those silent condemning hills of Yukon that Tamsin loved so much. They were far too alive for that.

Coming home he saw the Lions stand up, still white above Vancouver. Night was marching on them with trumpets of pulsing colour. Iris-tinted and ivory her banners blew on the dark turquoise of the sky. On dreaming sea and land the splendour was so intense that almost it was sound. For a little it was there, filling the round world with exultant glory. Then it passed, swift and complete as though those heavenly musicians had put up their instruments and gone, and it was through a peaceful grey twilight that Kirk walked back into the village. Six days later the Tahkina was taking him with O'Kane up the Kanana again.

Miss Tinney had received a night-letter from O'Kane. It said: "Arriving about tenth with goods as per requirement," and she went straight up to tell Tamsin, feeling how like Julian it was to make that covert sneer at the young man and wondering much in what shape the goods might be. Tamsin, whom she found hanging a basket of clothes on the lines strung between the cottonwoods along the river and the back porch, immediately showed the same fear. She said, low and hastily, as she spread a white sheet against the dazzling sun:

"If he's sick … or needing money… you'll see to it and let me settle with you?"

"Money nothin'! My! no, Tamsin. Don't you go hornin' into that business for your life. No, sir. An' you kip quiet over me tellin' you. I'd hate like pisen to have that Aggie Colom guessin' one thing about this. And I guess I'd not tell Stewart, neither. He'll find out soon enough."

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Tamsin shook out a blue shirt of Stewart's and pegged it up soberly.

"I see. Yes. You are quite right," she said. But the elder woman went away, shocked to the point of dismay at the sudden radiance of the girl's face and eyes. It was Youth stood there in the bright sunlight and the blowing wind, and she was bringing Youth back to it in the glowing dangerous form of Kirk Regard.

"My! I guess I done wrong sure enough, but it's too late now," she thought, disconsolately, and then was stopped by old Mat Colom hurrying along the boardwalk to the Store. Mat, too, was radiant.

"Kirk's comin'," he cried. "My boy's comin'. Los, the Sperrit o' Prophecy, told me an' confirmed it wi' a wire from him las' night. He's a good boy, Kirk is, Miss Tinney. I ought to know. I made him. Aggie's goin' to get him up some real swell meals. I got to buy… "

He disappeared into the Store, trembling with excitement, and Miss Tinney rubbed her nose in vexation and went home. "If I could get Julian to keep Regard up at Aroya," she thought. "But I don't see how. Well, I guess this is goin' to be a mess an' maybe you'll think you didn't make it, Evelyn Tinney."

True to her determination never to have O'Kane at the Roadhouse she arranged with Tommy Tom to take him straight on in the launch to Aroya. But by the time the Tahkina arrived—having grounded in the drying river and been tracked off by all the crew and passengers excepting O'Kane—Tommy Tom had tired of waiting and had gone off for a night's fishing. So Kirk went up to the fox-farm with the rejoicing Coloms, and O'Kane sat in Miss Tinney's back-parlour for the first time in many years. The years had thinned and chiselled O'Kane down to a mere skeleton; but it was a suave and polished skeleton in well-cut clothes who leaned back in the rocking-chair with a narrow leg over one knee and regarded her humorously with red-rimmed eyes.

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"Why this sudden passion for young Regard, Evelyn?" he asked. "Do I see a rival there?"

"You kin see anythin' you like so long's you don't see it in my house," retorted his wife, sitting stiff on the edge of her chair.

" 'Let us be flexible, my dear Grace. Let us be flexible,' as Henry James says. I wonder which of the Graces you are— or which I thought you when I married you."

"If you'd thought me a moron you'd not have been far out, I guess."

"Still implacable? Well, well! What does the poet say? 'She is a woman therefore to be won.' You had better let me win you over again, Evelyn. I assure you that a woman holds a much solider social position if there is a husband attached. Of course I am ready to agree with you that any man born of woman is—in your own charming language—not worth shucks, and every time I save a life I see the joke of doing so. But until we evolve something else I really don't see what more can be done about husbands."

"Do you call yourself a husband? A sufferin' calamity, that's what I call you."

"Exactly. I am. I suffer quite a good deal. As a young man I'll own I preferred a more violent method of going to pieces … a less elegant dissipation of my powers than—for purely physical reasons—I now desire. You would find me a delightful husband, Evelyn, if you will keep me here."

"I'll keep you here," said Miss Tinney, looking at the clock, "for jest so long as it takes Tommy Tom to git back from his fishing. I guess that'll be most any time now."

"You're a hard woman, Evelyn." He smiled, tugging his moustaches with both thin hands. "Now please don't retort that it was I made you hard. That is the retort obvious, and I always hated the obvious. And character goes deeper than that."

"Yes." She was suddenly rather terrible, staring at him page 315gauntly under the shadeless light. "I guess it do go deeper. I guess it goes so deep I'd rather not talk about it. We're through, you an' me."

"Come, now. Don't I deserve something for bringing young Regard back to you?"

"It ain't for me. It's…" She stopped with blunt awkwardness. O'Kane watched her, pulling on his moustaches. He seemed visited by a new idea. At last he said, reflectively: "I must go around presently and pay my respects to young Mrs. Stewart. Of course, she is still blindly happy? But— as we know from experience, don't we?—after two people have explored each other's minds in the faithful deadly fashion of happily-married folk what is there left, in God's name? I also admit that, in consequence of the closeness of their union, the distance between man and wife naturally grows so great with time that it is not necessary for even their best friends to speed up that separation. They need only to wait. Why are you trying to separate Stewart and his wife, Evelyn?"

"Julian! I jest wonder the Lord don't strike you dead."

"Still the same Evelyn. Age cannot wither her nor custom stale her infinite impiety. But you'll do it, you know, whether you try or not."

"You mean you'll do it?" She was thoroughly alarmed now and he saw his advantage.

"I might. If it was to my advantage."

"You mean—unless I made it worth your while not to?"

"Intercourse with trappers and hunters has improved your wits if not your subtlety, my dear."

The thin ironic voice seemed something that she could not bear another moment. She sprang up, clenching her bony hands.

"My! Julian if you don't make me tired! You're not goin' to get a cent out of me that way an' you better believe it. I know Tamsin. She's good. An' I know you. You're nothin' but a permanent dry-rot an' I jest wonder I keep on listenin' page 316to you. But you listen here for once. If young Regard gets up to his tricks an' I find you backin' him you can starve up at Aroya for me. I've had enough… and then some."

"I think," said O'Kane, rising and dusting his clothes with delicate fingers as though dusting Miss Tinney off, "that I shall go up and see Tamsin."

"I'll send Tommy Tom right along there when he comes," said his wife, unmoving.

"Always considerate," he said, going out with a little bow.

Miss Tinney drew a deep breath and rubbed her hands hard over her face. "I been a fool again, Ida," she said. "I'm always bein' a fool, I guess. But after all, what can he do?" She pushed her hair back with the same hard blows and went briskly out to the kitchen.

Walking up the one street of Knife under the long pink twilight of the summer night O'Kane cackled with laughter now and then. It was so easy to agitate Evelyn, and she would never cast him off. He knew that type of woman whose bark is always worse than her bite. It's those who don't bark that a man has cause to fear, he thought. Tamsin never barked, and he was not sure of Tamsin. She had deep-rooted passions which might make her capable of huge sacrifices or huge sins and Regard was just the man to provoke them. Forty years earlier, he thought, and I would have been the man. But he knew that the little grace left in life would be blotted out if Tamsin failed. She stood for something that he liked to think of now and then: liked, in his ironic sophisticated way, to look up to.

And this crude harsh eternal North with its mysterious beauty stood for something too. As he limped along the uneven boards he looked on the sunken sleeping river, on the sunburned silent hills. The North had an inevitableness good for man to contemplate. Its character never changed. For each season it had its schedule mapped and it did not depart from it. Few humans could measure up to such a magnificent page 317standard. Humans? What were they? Sticks drifting together in a current, rubbing sides for a while and drifting on, often never to meet again. Men with their strange heats of bodies and brains going through the endless round of love and labour, lust and sleep. Women, over-or under-sexed, demanding too much of their mates or trying to lead the same lives … running a business, using a gun, mushing a team. Strange, purposeless and desolate the scheme of human life…. But always the hills stood firm.

O'Kane found Tamsin with Challis and Stewart in the Store. Kirk was not there, nor had she seen him yet. O'Kane had encountered that suppressed waiting look on women before and although she greeted him warmly it did not leave her. She stood in the green cotton gown that left bare her fresh young arms and neck and talked with O'Kane and Challis, but she was listening all the time; listening for a light step, a careless whistle coming through the summer night.

O'Kane considered her closely. Yes, she had changed with more than the ordinary changes marriage brings. She had no matronly look. Rather something wilder, something fundamentally disturbed, for all her quiet.

"Hell," he thought, dismayed and yet amused, "she doesn't love the fellow. Here's a nice ploy preparing."

Stewart, gaunt as ever, yet giving a queer suggestion of added trimmings like a cock-bird new-feathered for his mate, was arguing with a dirty and tattered white hunter.

"No, Crichton; I'm through with you and so I told you yesterday. You're owing me too much already and you make no effort to pay off."

"If you'd be good enough to extend my account a little, Mr. Stewart—"

"He would sooner be rich than good," explained O'Kane, suavely. Stewart did not smile.

"He's known all over the Kanana and no one can make anything of him. You belong on the brush-pile, Crichton, page 318and the quicker you reach it the better for a whole heap of us who are spending good money keeping you off it."

"But I sure am up against it, Mr. Stewart."

"Did you ever try work for it? But I know you haven't… nor ever will so long as we're fools enough to let you suck us dry. Good-night."

"Little Mary has spoken," said Challis. "She doesn't often, but when she does … my land!"

He was interested and a little amused; for Stewart's voice had been cold with a venom directed, one might almost think, against someone more formidable than the shiftless Crichton. He was not pleased, Challis knew, at the return of Kirk Regard, and now a flush went up his hard face.

"With some people one has to make a stand. Are you coming, Tamsin? Jasper can finish here."

"In a minute. Just go and put the kettle on, will you?" said Tamsin. She seemed to have become suddenly alive, lips parted, eyes shining.

"She hears him," thought O'Kane, but it was another half-minute before Kirk came from the shadows beyond the open door and during that time she had quite forgotten the two men watching her.

Kirk had eaten supper gaily with the Coloms, and then old Mat took him out into the yard.

"It's all right now, boy," he said, earnestly. "Tamsin she's married to Stewart now, you know, an' so I cancel my oath an' I sure am glad to do it. Nor I don't guess thar'll ever be anythin' found out now. I guess as your Spectre around you night an' day like a wild beast guards your way, as the Great Blake says."

"Sure, it's all right," said Kirk, heartily. But he meant more than Mat did. Those long slow hours of passing through the hushed eternal heights of Yukon had exorcised much of the cardsharper of cities and reinstated the man conscious of the hills and the power thereof. The old lurking threat was there page 319and always had been, and where would he find strength to defy it except through Tamsin? He had a vague superstitious feeling that if he dragged her down her colossal gods of the hills would fall on them both and bear them lower into hell.

"I mean to act right to her. I surely do," he said half-aloud when going up to the Store later. And in the strength of that recent propitiation to the gods he managed to greet her with a friendly frankness.

The moment was harder for Tamsin, but she met it well, moving forward so that the watching men should not see her face in the lamplight.

"Tamsin!" called Stewart from the house, and Tamsin cried a little breathlessly:

"Come in, all of you. Come, Kirk. Come, Doctor O'Kane."

Now, she thought, the worst is over and Rab didn't see. It's all right.

She felt a little dizzy through the forced talk and laughter that followed. Neither Kirk nor O'Kane were welcome now in this house where the MacDonalds had made everyone welcome, and Stewart did not try very much to hide his feelings. When they were gone and he sat with his pipe in the window while Tamsin got her sewing there was a silence which neither cared to break. Long ago Tamsin had discovered that there are many kinds of silence. Her own and MacDonald's were usually fructifying, Rab's resentful, and Aggie Colom's dour. But Kirk's had always been dynamic; and when just now he had sat there on the piano-box, his yellow shirt-sleeves rolled high on the brown arms, his black hair a little unruly and his bright dark eyes watching, she had felt that dynamic power in him pumping along her veins, unsteadying her heart-beats.

And yet there had been nothing in look or manner to suggest that he was not ready to pick up the old friendship again where he had left it. No; not that. There could never be again the long bright days of holiday, the music of mysterious nights, page 320the intimacy and laughter and that strange fantastic flicker, like heat lightning, to illumine all they did. There could only be that rather solemn and improving way of the spirit which she had so much relied on. Stooped over her sewing with her colour flushing and fading, Tamsin felt that the way of the spirit, noble though it was, lacked something.

Stewart stood up stiffly, knocking out his pipe.

"Time to turn in. Come, dear," he said.

His voice was cold, but long since it had lost what ardency it had. He had settled down into a comfortable married complacency befitting his years, and usually dozed in the evenings. Tamsin followed him, consciously keeping her eyes from the piano-box as though a laughing ghost still sat there.

Going along the moonlit boardwalk with Challis and O'Kane, Kirk was very silent. Tamsin had done well for herself. MacDonald had evidently settled everything on the new-married couple, and a comfortable future was assured her with probable widowhood before she grew too old. "Maybe she'd like me to wait for that," thought Kirk with a short cracking laugh that brought the eyes of the others on him sharply. Challis was feeling sharp to-night. Eager. He was definitely puzzled by what he considered the impudence of young Regard's return, but he meant to turn it to account just the same.

"If I go cautiously I'll get something incriminating out of him presently," he thought. "Staying with the Coloms, of course, aren't you, Regard?"

"I suppose," said Kirk, absently.

"See you to-morrow, then. Good-night."

He turned off over the sandy way to the Police shack, and O'Kane stood still. He too had done some thinking since he watched Tamsin's face while she listened for Kirk Regard, and now he said:

"I'm inclined to ask you to extend your friendship to me for a few days further, Kirk, and help me to settle down at page 321Aroya again. It will feel very lonely at first, and I'm an old man now."

Such pleas rarely failed with Kirk; but he hesitated now, staring at the shrunken river that ran silver among the great reed-patches under the moon. It had angered and distressed him immensely to see Tamsin with Stewart, and he knew enough of his own temper to realize that it would take him a few days to get his bearings here. "I don't just know what I'm feeling or what I'd do," he thought. Then: "Why, sure, Doc. I'll come for a couple of days, anyway."

O'Kane was grateful, and said so. This would prove to Evelyn that he did not wish Kirk to unsettle Tamsin and would probably open the gate to easier terms from her.

"All right," said Kirk, already half-regretting his promise. "There's Tommy Tom's launch at the wharf now. You go right on down while I get my kit."

At the fox-farm Aggie, like cosmos rising on inadequate wings, buzzed about him with loud protests.

"It's all that Tamsin's doin', you goin' off like this. She as ugly a girl as ever I knew. Been makin' love to you again, I'll swear… "

"You shut up," shouted Kirk, turning on her for the first time in his grown life. "It's nothing to do with Tamsin an' never was."

"Now, now, now," cried Aggie, frightened. "I'll lay goin' Outside ain't done you no good. You're lookin' sick too. Yep, you are… around the eyes. And your mouth… now, you stay right here, Kirk boy, an' let me look after you good."

"I don't want lookin' after. I'm all right, I tell you."

Already he was wondering if he might not stay on at Aroya. He would escape this daily nagging and have more chance of seeing Tamsin without the gaunt shadow of Stewart behind her. She might come up to consult O'Kane about her medicines. She would go along the river to the various Indian camps….

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Hardly knowing what he wanted, what he hoped, he was silent among his emotions as he walked down with old Mat to the launch. Mat said, timidly:

"Tamsin didn't say nothin' to you, boy, did she?"

"Say! What should she say? Strikes me you're all loony about Tamsin."

"Well, well, that's all right," said Mat, vaguely. "I jest wanted to know. You'll be back in two-three days, boy?"


Mat went home to open Blake and read without interest of Los and Enitharmon, prompters of human passions and desires. Still his old body could tell them that poor humanity has no need of their vicarious promptings. "Plenty in us by natur', I guess," he thought, aware how that unconscious tempestuous charm of Tamsin's could move him yet in some ways and how likely it was to move the hot youth in Kirk. Rab Stewart was old bones, and youth must to youth. Tangled among his philosophies Mat had lost a good deal of his grasp on human nature, but some vibration in Kirk's voice to-night, a look in his eyes had warned the old man.

"I guess I got to take a hand in things again," he thought. "I put 'em straight that time on the Kluane and again when I sent Kirk away. I reckon it's up to me to kip right on workin' at him. If he don't come down in couple o' days I'll go right up to Aroya."

He sat, his white head between his withered hands, thinking. Tamsin and Kirk … he scarcely knew by now which was dearest. And he had had a power over their lives from the very beginning. But for me, he thought, his humbleness shot through with a little quiver of pride, they might have died the deaths of ten thousand year built round with desolation. But I guess they got to tread in the winepress the vintage o' human passions, an' I better go up to Aroya and explain that to Kirk proper… leastways, if he don't come back in couple o' days.

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Kirk did not come, and Tamsin told herself that she did not expect it.

"So that's over," she thought with an anguish that she had not believed would come again. "He doesn't want anything of me, not even friendship. I spoiled my life for nothing."

And then she was ashamed. For whatever motive she had married him she was certainly making Rab happy. She began telling herself a dozen times a day what a good husband he was; so kind, so considerate; and if he was a little exacting he certainly required no more of her than of himself. Rigorously overcoming temptations Rab had made himself into a good man… and what had happened to her with her high dreams and aspirations that she was falling so far below him? "I've failed badly in some way with Kirk," she thought, bewildered. "I mustn't fail with Rab. I've been too sure of myself… thinking that I could help people…."

And now again she dared not go upon the hills. She scrubbed and washed and swept herself into a weariness that made her limbs twitch through the nights while Stewart slept soundly at her side and shadows on the moonlit wall had Kirk's black brows, Kirk's head stooping to hers. Sometimes she thought she heard his voice, but it was only the long murmur from the river.

For three days Kirk did not go out of Aroya. To him there was something ghoulish in O'Kane's calm appropriation of the houses and belongings of those men who would never return, but he had to own that the old sybarite knew how to make himself comfortable. He fixed at last on a large frame-house rising yellow-painted and long-fronted from the froth of rose-bushes and goldenrod and having a great clump of pines to shade its wide porch. And then he went up and down the town, from cellars to attics, taking what he required. From a cache somewhere he produced a box of good china and silver which he had used before, and winked a red eye at Kirk.

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"The niceties of life are a distinct aid to high thinking," he observed, "and as I shall probably spend the rest of my days here I intend to do the requisite amount of high thinking daily."

"'Bout time," retorted Kirk. He was hating O'Kane as much as he hated himself just now. O'Kane pulled his moustache until the roots turned bloodless.

"Just so. I have read that we also need the attrition of vulgar minds to keep our edges sharp. Stay with me, Kirk."

Kirk laughed shortly. This independent old villain attracted him in spite of everything; but like all young people he was almost completely occupied with his own thoughts and found these becoming more complex the more he tried to classify them.

What had Tamsin been about? What was she about still? That she did not love Stewart he knew as a man does know these things. Then had she married him because of those lies of Aggie Colom's? It did not sound like Tasmin to let herself be stampeded in that way, but one never could tell with a girl. And if she had been what could Kirk do to make amends? "Let her alone," said Reason, but he knew that he would not listen long to that. He knew that any fine and unreal notions of platonic friendship were already slipping away. "I want to take her from Stewart right now. That's what I want," he thought, smoking his pipe along the beach while an Indian dug-out rowed slowly up the river, the oars dragging long lines of delicate lavender on the soft mouse-grey. Across the river, up and down the length of it, rising to all the edges of the sky stood the mountains that were the bones of Yukon; beaten and burned by rain and sun, scarified by wind, numbed by frost and still invincible. They looked at him down their naked ironstone heights as though reminding him that they were there. Kirk felt that half-human life in them which Tamsin loved and he had always dreaded. The flicker of wind and cloud-shadow along their faces was more than half-page 325human. A big fellow lying on the south horizon was like a man asleep, and in the red light still quivering on the tops he seemed about to sit up and laugh at Kirk., snapping stony fingers. Kirk thought: "I wonder if Tamsin dare go on the hills and talk to 'em now."

A launch came noisily up river and presently veered in to the broken wharf with old Mat and Challis aboard. Ostensibly Challis had come to speak to the Indians at the lower fishing-village about forest-fires, but as he landed Mat and chugged off again he shouted: "I'll be back in a few minutes, Regard."

He had very carefully worked out what he meant to say to Kirk and fully expected to trick him into some kind of confession, for he had always great confidence in his own powers … and this is a chance I can't miss, he thought, comfortably.

Mat also had come to see Kirk; and they sat together on an old driftlog with their backs to the dead town and talked in casual sentences, for Kirk would not ask about Tamsin, and Mat did not know how to begin. He looked at this strong hot-blooded boy of his sitting with supple brown hands between his knees and breaking dead sticks into inch-long pieces as though nothing else concerned him and burst out suddenly:

"What is the price of experyence? Do men buy it fer a song, or wisdom fer a dance in the street? No, it is bought with the price of all that a man hath. You look like you been buyin' that way, Kirk. An' with a dance in the street, too."

"You're right, I have." Kirk shot a dark glance at him. "But what's life without experience, Uncle Mat?"

"Weell, pretty soft mush, I guess. But you sure been doin' some piratin' around Outside, an' that's what Tamsin was afeared of."

"What's she got to do with it?"

He heard the jar in his voice and did not look up. Mat rambled on:

"Why… she thinks a whole heap of you, boy. She do page 326so. You been friends so long, an' she's not one to change… never was. She's a good wife, too. The things fellers bring her to the Store—furs an' nuggets an' fiddledaddles—you'd never believe. An' she don't take a one of 'em, for all your Auntie Ag says. No; she don't give Stewart no cause to be jealous, an' I'll say I hope as you won't, neither, boy."

"Why should I? She's shown me where I get off plain enough."

"Now," said Mat eagerly, "that's jest what I come up to explain, for I was feared you wasn't gettin' in right someway. Truth has bounds an' error none, as the Great Blake says, an' I been boundin' along the road to Truth this long time now. You see, boy, it's this way. I told her as you'd not come back till she was married… that was 'cause of Olafssen, o' course, but I didn't tell her that. I have spoke wi' many sperrits an' they all warned me not to tell her one word o' that. So I didn't."

Kirk had dropped the bits of stick. His hands were still now. His voice sounded strange to himself in this wild place of shadows. He asked:

"Why did you tell her I couldn't come back unless she married?"

"Cause you couldn't, boy. Don't you remember? I told you I wouldn't let you marry Tamsin, an' con-firmed it wi' a soundin' oath. I did so." The soft old wondering face turned to him, pale in the dim light. "You couldn't marry her, boy, wi' that hangin' over you, an' I sure do dream about it sometimes in the night. So I jest told her you couldn't marry her, but you'd like to keep her friendship an' mebbe you'd come back if she took Stewart. It was makin' things sure all round, you see, boy. So appairently she thought it over and took him. So now you can be friends wi' her all right, boy. She expects it. She come to me one night when I was boilin' mush in the shed and said so. Now he can come back, she said. And you've come, sure enough."

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Still Kirk did not move. It was all curiously real to him, that night in the shed. The old soft familiar voice and pottering movements. The rank smell of foxes and of boiling mush, the general sense of contrivance and common-place… and Tamsin there in the dark little place, defying him with all the power and pride at her command. Old Mat had told her that Kirk would not marry her, and so she had thrown her glove in his face by marrying Stewart. That was clear, and what was also clearer was the passion and grief that must have been tearing Tamsin when she did it.

He thought: "She'd not have done a crazy thing like that unless she cared like hell. And she cares like hell still."

He sat, gripping his hands for they wanted to take old Mat by his soft wrinkled throat. Again and again and again had he broken the lives of Kirk and Tamsin, this old man who loved him, who would have died for him.

"Aw," said Kirk with sudden incoherence, "what's the use!"

"Why," said Mat, innocently, "it sure was the right thing, I guess. Tamsin's a good girl. She an' me read the Great Blake and the Bible a whole heap…."

"The devil you do," cried Kirk with sudden laughter. He got up, feeling himself rocking on his feet. "Well, all right. All right. All right. Now let's go up and find O'Kane." But after a few steps he stopped. He could not face O'Kane's ferreting little red eyes yet. Not while seeing those dark ghosts which—he had read somewhere—dwell in the souls of passionate men like bats in the dead trees. He could feel them fluttering and banging in his brain until nothing else seemed real.

"You go on. I guess I'll wait for Challis," he said, and dropped down on the log again and forgot Challis until that young man came with two cigars and proffered one as he sat down beside Kirk. It was a better opportunity for private conference than Challis had hoped for and he did not mean page 328to miss it. His man was taciturn, even sulky, but Challis put that down to fear and began at once:

"There were several Loucheux down at that camp. I wonder where they hail from."

Kirk smoked in silence.

"That girl Ooket—the girl we're all trying to find—she was going with a Loucheux, you know."

"She'll always be going with somebody while she's above ground."

"Likely. Well, I wondered if you'd seen him again … the big Loucheux who came with her to old Colom's the night you left Knife."

He rapped it out sharply, watching Kirk's face in the moonlight. But at this late day Kirk knew better than to betray himself by looks or voice, although he was startled. He said, grudgingly:

"I may have. Guess I wouldn't know him again."

"Then Ooket did come to Colom's that night?"

"Haven't you just said so?"

"Oh, yes. But I … I thought… perhaps…" He floundered and was silent, trying to see how to go on. Interviews so rarely proceeded as he expected.

Smoking quietly Kirk looked at the shore. The pebble beach and the tall pines and the old forgotten buildings stood quietly back into the gloom like the past years. Further down was a new Indian camp, mysterious with its odours of burning wood and half-lights and moving shadows. A girl in a light dress stood on the beach, rapt in that immobility which is so curiously Indian. A symbol, was she? A defiance? An appeal? Alone there, facing those eternal mountains, she suggested Tamsin, and Kirk again forgot Challis. Olafssen and all he stood for had lived with Kirk so long that now, like a lame foot, he was accepted as part of the nature of things. Challis knew nothing about the business or he would have acted long ago.

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"Do you know why Ooket went to Colom's that night, Regard?"

"Sure. To show me her new man."

"Then she knew Olafssen was dead?" cried Challis, triumphantly.

"Likely. But if she didn't I guess morals wouldn't trouble Ooket any. You don't reckon she's still toting that same Loucheux around, do you?"

"How would she be likely to know that he was dead?"

"Oh." Kirk sat up and looked round, his black brows cocked. "I hadn't realized this was an interrogation. Are you expectin' to get out o' me somethin' that Dawson don't know, Challis?"

"I was just wondering."

"So's Dawson. So'm I. So's everybody who's interested, I guess. But as Dawson didn't get any satisfaction out of her I don't reckon you or I will. You know Injuns."

Challis wanted to say: "Dawson didn't discover that Ooket had the ear-rings," but he was afraid of ruining the slight structure that he had built with such labour. He must first catch the girl and make her produce those earrings and then he could confront Regard who seemed as slippery as any Indian himself. He had not been prepared for the ready admissions which had taken all the wind out of his sails, but he tried again.

"It seemed queer to me-your clearing out so soon after you saw the girl."

"Well, I imagine a Mountie gets so he feels he ought to see things queer," said Kirk, tolerantly. As a hunter who has stalked grizzly and the shy Mountain Sheep he was amused at this clumsy stalking.

"There was no connection then, Regard?"

"You got to show me your right to ask a private question like that, I guess."

Challis hesitated. Short of arresting Regard on suspicion page 330he could do nothing more, and he was not prepared to do that. It all hung on Ooket. "My sakes! if I could only find that damned girl," he thought. Aloud he said, lamely:

"Oh, I was just wondering… thought I might happen on something Dawson had overlooked. One sometimes does."

"Sure. Well, I guess I can't add any more to what I told Dawson. Sorry."

He continued to sit still, feeling that Challis misght interpret any movement as flight. In any case he was not much troubled about Challis. The information left him by old Colom was boiling in him and he only wanted the Policeman to go away and leave him to fight it out.

The Indian girl was walking slowly along the beach, lifting her feet in a light way unusual to the race. Kirk felt vaguely that he ought to know that step, and then, as she came nearer, he saw that it was Ooket. For a moment his brain dizzied and then became very clear. Challis would take her, now. He would have the warrant for that; and Ooket, at first coaxing and then dismayed, would almost certainly accuse Kirk.

"Well, I guess I'm in for it," he thought.

Ooket came up slowly, regarding them with the indolent insolent stare common to all Indian girls who have been much in contact with white men. She almost halted, but not quite. Challis took no notice, and she passed on. Kirk felt the blood begin to run again in his veins. Challis did not know her. Such information as he had was second or perhaps third-hand. Ooket, now dragging her feet, began to turn over wood and flotsam along the beach. Challis got up abruptly.

"Well. Guess I must go and hunt old Colom," he said.

Kirk rose with him. Behind them Ooket turned slowly and walked back to the camp. The two young men went whistling and talking up into dark Aroya.