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The World is Yours

Chapter Sixteen

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Chapter Sixteen

"You smell of the wind," said Kirk, smiling up at Tamsin from where he squatted on the floor by the open fireplace. "Bruised leaves too—and the earth, just as if they were all part of you."

"So they are," retorted Tamsin, coming in and shutting the door. "Just as you are."

"Don't fool," he said, with sudden roughness. "You keep me farther off than you do that old beast O'Kane."

"He's never been a beast to me. And he's our chaperon," said Tamsin, lightly. She sat on the floor beside him, stretching her moccasined feet to the blaze, for winds still blew cold up at Aroya.

Kirk turned on his stomach and watched her moodily with chin in his palms. During the three days she had been at Aroya they had squabbled almost incessantly, and it was because she had sent him away that he was here alone. And so she had come after him. A usual woman's way, this, but one never could tell with Tamsin. She was rock. She was the Yukon with its strengths and mysteries and terrors. He believed that in the end she would make him do what she wanted and probably give him no reward. But he meant to fight her for it, even if it had to be done with that damned cynical old O'Kane looking on.

Tamsin battered the logs with a stick until the sparks flew up.

"Play for me since you can't talk," she said, but even as he reached for his flute she regretted the suggestion. Kirk the man she could brace herself against; but not Kirk the wizard, wooing and coaxing with music until it seemed that the very stars of the sky must long to be human and come down to sit at his feet in shining rows.

By the shadowy wall Kirk sat cross-legged as he had been page 354used to do on Kluane, on Sagish Hill, up the juniper-slopes of Tall Thing, and in the dancing firelight he looked young and irresponsible as he had done then. It was this irresponsibility which was so lovable, so terrible, so difficult to meet. Now he was letting himself go drunken on melody, passing by gradations into the seductively-hesitant yet passionate La Paloma, with which the Spanish-American gallants woo their ladies at latticed moonlit windows. He fancied himself before that moonlit window which was Tamsin's spirit, suing for entrance, and he watched her still face with bright eyes, ready to turn to account any weakness he saw there.

But he saw none, and in irritated defiance he struck with his whole force into the sombre majesty of The Dead March in Saul.

"Don't!" she cried then, sharply, and he put the flute down, laughing a little.

"Why not? Haven't you been hammering into me every day that death is only another phase of life?"

"It isn't death matters. It's the way we die. I don't fear death."

"I guess I don't, either. Saw too much of it in France. Pop. Wop. Another good man gone. Likely me next time. No. I'd hate to die, of course, like any other chap who loves life, but I promise you I'll make a good end—if I have to."

"You can't make an end. You have to go on for ever."

"That's as may be."

"Your not believing doesn't alter the fact."

"I don't see where your belief is likely to be truer than mine."

"Yes, you do. You're afraid of the things you can't see. I'm not, because I know they'll help us later on just as things do here."

"Help! Shucks!"

There was a silence, with wind beating pine branches on page 355the roof. They scratched like creatures with claws trying to get in. Tamsin said, softly:

"Kirk, do you really mean to let Ooket stand this alone?"

Kirk drew a long breath. Now it was up again, this damnable ghost that she would not let rest.

"How the devil can I say till I know what's going to come of it all? She's lied up and down and around, an' I guess no one can believe a word she says, anyways. A few years of confinement would do that girl a lot of good, and that's all she'd get, especially with her baby around. If I was convicted I'd swing. You know that, or if you don't you ought to. I've told you often enough."

"Not if you went to Dawson right away and gave yourself up and told the whole truth… "

"Who'd believe it now… after all these years? If I'd told at the time, yes… maybe. And I've lied, too. Don't forget that."

She sat unmoving, her arms about her knees, her bright head bent. Kirk looked at her resentfully. When he had seen her walking up the dead street of Aroya on that first night he had believed that she had come to bring him all the joy that might be left him. And she had come only to torture. After the excesses of Outside physical desires were still strong in him, and he knew that they were strong in Tamsin. But there was something stronger. Something that he was trying with all his forces to break down.

"I believe you'd rather have me swing than not," he said.

"I would… if losing your soul is the price of your safety," she answered almost inaudibly.

He came over, sitting close with his arm about her shoulders. "See here, honey. I want you to get this straight. Of course, if Ooket is sentenced I'll speak out right away. I'm not quite the skunk you seem to fancy. But it's not a case of a life for a life, Tamsin. She'll get it light, anyways. But I would get it so heavy."

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"I know. But… oh, Kirk… somehow to me that isn't the question. Just living and dying's not much. Any fool body can do that—and has to. It's what we are going to get out of it all…. Kirk, you do understand that if I could die for you I'd do it gladly? You do believe that?"

"I believe it, Tamsin."

"But if I could it would hurt you more than help. That's what I want to get at. Oh!" she cried, beating her hands together. "If I could only say what I know. It seems to me that maybe we're not born immortal or we wouldn't have to struggle so. I reckon we've got to fight and fight to make ourselves immortal souls… and that would account for all the waste… people wasting themselves, snuffing themselves out through sheer laziness. This is such a much bigger thing than the other that I think it must be true; for God always thinks of the big things, and there is nothing we can't make ourselves big enough to do, really. Don't you in your own heart want to do the biggest thing?"

"Give myself up, you mean?"

"Just that, lover."

He drew her closer, and his voice had a sudden warmth.

"That's what you won't let me be, Tamsin."

"But you are! You will be through thousands of worlds yet. If… "

"If I go and chuck my life away now?"

She leaned against him with closed eyes. But he felt her shudder and saw her tears run down. All of human passion and woe was in her, but she was accepting what was a grief much worse than death because she saw as he could not the Vision beyond.

"So many have died gloriously for the best that it is in them," she said at last. "And so many have died meanly for the worst. It isn't dying that matters. That's a necessary part of life. It's the… non-insulating of ourselves, so that we're out of touch with what does matter. There's the awful part.

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I did it, and so I know. But I'm trying to get back. There is a way if we choose to take it. Courage… that's it, I think. It's only want of courage that keeps us from going right ahead… spiritually, I mean."

"You're always full of theories! Maybe you're right. I dunno. Why do we do such fool things all our lives, I wonder. Things just seem to happen, someways. Little lies grow into big ones before you know where you are… reproduce their own beastly brood in a night. Before a man guesses it he has set in motion forces he can't stop…."

His voice died away. They sat silent, while the wind whistled and branches clawed on the roof. Kirk tried to think where her thoughts surely were, but he could only think of roses. Roses pink on the hillside; forget-me-nots and columbines, and Tamsin laughing among them with both arms full. He held her tight in a sudden passion.

"Tamsin, Tamsin, don't leave me now. We've lost enough. Stay with me now. Tamsin… I'll do what you want if you'll stay with me now…."

"Oh! Oh!" she cried with the anguish that gave her; an anguish that he did not understand. And then her tears fell again, wrung from her drop by drop, slow and bitter as blood. He was almost glad to see them, for they proved her weak at last, and in their encounters along the years it had always been Tamsin who was stronger than he. He held her, stroking her hair, murmuring love-words, and presently she looked at him with her stricken face, but her eyes were faintly smiling.

"Poor Kirk… and poor Tamsin. Eh, lad, we've a lang, lang road to travel yet afore we're fit to company with the gods."

"I don't want the gods, blast 'em. I want you. And here I've got you… and here you'll stay."

For a moment she was silent. Then suddenly, violently, almost as though she spoke not to him but to a greater Tempter, she cried:

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"Let me go!" and freed herself with one swift twist of her body and stood up.

Kirk sprang to the door and set his back to it.

"Here you'll stay," he said, savagely, and for the first time she saw evil in his face and turned her own from it, standing still.

"Well?" he jeered. "Goin' to call on your gods to strike me dead as you used to do when we were kids? "

Except for that dark hot man's face he seemed equally a child now in his fury against what he instinctively felt to be too strong for him, and the woman knew that the real danger lay not with him but with herself. It seemed that she had never fully known what life and love meant until she was called upon to recognize and renounce them both in a breath. She stared through the broken window-space on the windy night which held those old gods he spoke of. The river shrunken and patient between its limiting walls; the dark ranges lifting their aching and frozen brows, their deep-scarred sides for ever to the cruelty of the elements; the torn and cloudy sky where a thin slip of moon trod uncertainly among faint stars. They fulfilled their duty, kept their ancient places. Where was the soul in her if it could not do the same?

She stood a moment with fingers pressed against her temples, and then she turned, looking at him.

"I'm trying to remember… there's that old Hindoo story… or is it Mahommedan? There's a battle. All the hurry and red chaos of battle and men fighting blind and not understanding why. Then… a hush and the chariot of the god driven up between the lines, slowly so that every man may see. Just one breathless instant to realize the meaning of the struggle… the high vision beyond. Then back to the blood and torment again… but not the same. I can't tell it, but I've seen…" She flung out her hands, and walked back to the fire. "Of course one can't tell it. But afterwards … one knows. It is there, that Immortal Thing…."

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Almost more than her words the broken cadences of her voice moved him. He said, slowly:

"Maybe I could feel like that once… long ago. Now I'm different. I just want what I can get now, Tamsin. And you know I mightn't be able to have it for many days."

"You will … so long as you don't get it now."

"For Heaven's sake! If you're not the damnedest preacher! Why don't you turn missionary?"

"Seemingly I have. I'm going now. Good-night, Kirk."


He watched her out of the door sullenly; then ran after her.

"Tamsin, why do I have to be a brute to you when you're the only thing I really love? I'm sorry… sorry… "

"Oh, my dear… my dearie, what need of that between you and me? Do you think I don't understand? Life is hitting us both so hard that we can only hold on."

"I'll see you back. Will O'Kane be there?"

"Yes. With a fire and hot drink ready. He looks after me well."

They walked together through a dark and windy world that clattered with dried sticks and flapping window-frames and smelled of water and pine-trees. A wild and ghostly world Kirk felt it; full of unexplainable mysteries and fleshless threats and lonelinesses and fears. Fear itself seemed to row past him on black wings, and he stopped, startled and sweating in the presence of a terror that seemed flowing from those endless immovable chains of mountains, those secret lakes and rivers.

Tamsin stopped too; but in the dim light he saw that she had her head up, her lips parted as though she drank in sustenance from these things which frightened him. Unconsciously his hand sought hers as it had so often done when he was a little boy; and after a moment her grasp tightened on it, and they went on silently together up the broken and weedy streets that men had once trodden so hopefully.

Kirk left her at the door of the long yellow-painted house page 360where O'Kane had fitted up the whole top storey for her with a lavishness that had made her smile. She called up a smile now as he rose from a big chair by the fire and pushed her into it.

"You're cold, my dear. Well, creature comforts appeal to the young more than their dignity will let them allow. Which'll you have? Tea or coffee?"

"Coffee, please."

She leaned back with closed eyes and let him wait on her. And this man who had so rarely waited on anyone in his long and selfish life did it with deftness and delight. He talked on at random as she drank the coffee, and a little colour returned to her white face.

"May Regard get his deservings for what he's giving her," he thought. "Well, Tamsin, are you still enamoured of Nature up here? I consider that the outrageous force of her has shouldered the spirit of fastidious perception clean off the map. She puts all her goods in the window and advertises them with a dictaphone. Hear her blaring now."

"There's no wind in Fall," said Tamsin.

"The Fall fills me with repugnance. Then you see her wallowing in colour without the slightest modesty… her vacant face smeared with great daubs of orange and apricot and raspberry-red as a child's is smeared with jam. No selection, no grouping, no composition. An effort disgracing the art of the Cave-dwellers of Cro-Magnon…."

He went on in his thin brittle old voice while she finished the coffee and ate a cracker. She knew that she need not answer him and wondered as so often before why this man who had been so cruel to Miss Tinney should treat her with such delicacy and kindness. That matter had never been spoken between them, and never would be, any more than they would speak of herself and Kirk. But she guessed that he knew more than a little concerning that. Over his pipe he said presently:

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"I am used to Aroya now. Like the shellfish we secrete a habitation for ourselves and take its shape. But this is too small a shell for you, Tamsin. You must not stay here long, although it is extremely altruistic of me to say so. I shall miss you exceedingly."

"It depends on Kirk," she said, with sudden frankness.

"Pardon me. It depends on you. On when you allow him to break down whatever barrier you may have set between you. He's a strong man."

"He will never break it down. I'm a strong woman." She sat up, pushing the heavy waves of hair back from her forehead and looking at him with burning eyes. "I'm strong… strong."

"That is not the same thing." He watched her with his red-rimmed eyes, thinking: If she fails I'll say there's no such thing as a moral woman. I don't believe there is…. "No, no, my dear. A strong man correlates mind and body, but the stronger a woman is the more she has to divide them. Don't you yet realize that? The best a woman can do is to accept the fact that she must make her choice and in choosing lose the rest. She must limit her ministrations… or her administrations. A woman can't have it both ways. Usually a man can… and does."

"I have chosen," said Tamsin, very low. She got up. "Good-night, Doc. I'm going to bed. And—thank you for being so good to me."

O'Kane rose and bowed in his old-time courtly manner.

"The pleasure is mine, my dear."

He opened the door and watched her up the naked stair. Then returned with a sigh to the empty room.

"'I have sat by Thebes below the wall, and walked among the lowest of the dead,'" he thought. "But I thank God I never had a daughter… so far as I know."

Two days later there was a storm. Tamsin had gone down the lake on a bright and breezy morning to visit some Indian page 362camp, but before noon the water was a grey smother of leaping waves and the sky a wrack of cloud. Kirk haunted the shore telling himself that she would have sense and stay at the camp., and yet knowing her too well to believe it. When at last he saw her canoe like a bobbing cork on the tumbling waters he stripped and swam out to her. She was too busy with the paddle to scold him until they reached the shore, but then she cried:

"I thought I was crazy. Now I know I'm sensible compared with you."

"Tamsin," he said, standing before her, his soul as naked to her as his body. "I thought I'd lost you once. I can't risk losing you for a thousand lives yet. I'll go to Dawson whenever you say."

"Kirk… not for that reason."

"You just got to be glad I'll go for any, I guess. I'm not a saint. An' I'm not asking any reward here, for I know I won't get it. But if you don't make it up to me later on… my, I'll be peeved."

It was the old Kirk, hiding his emotions behind jests. Tamsin said, quietly: "I'm coming to Dawson with you. We will be together as long as we can," and went on up into the town.

O'Kane, wandering uneasily in the streets and listening to the roar of the wind, saw her at last, walking unsteadily. He spoke, but she did not notice him. She passed into the house, and he thought: "She's got what she wants, and now she's afraid of it. How like a woman."

Kirk came up later. He, too, was a little strange, excited, defiant.

"You're losing me, Doc," he said. "Me an' Tamsin. We're goin' right away."

"Not in this storm?"

"Why, a row-boat's all right, I guess. We'll get Tommy Tom's launch at Knife and send your boat back by somebody."

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O'Kane asked no more questions. He did not need to. The confused radiance and distress of Tamsin's soul had found expression in her face, telling the old man that she was making Kirk measure up to her standard and not submitting her high beliefs to his.

"Wherever they go or whatever they do she's all right" he thought. "A justification of moral conflict—supposing that there is such a thing." He felt a prick of pride at his own perspicacity, a weary feeling of age. Whatever might come to these two young things they had achieved a triumph over self before they were old such as all his years had never attained to. "What would it feel like," he thought, "to suffer for one's beliefs? It must be a fine thing. 'Sweet it is to have done the thing one ought'… or so says some poet who probably never did it even once."

When they met at the next meal it was Kirk showed all the gaiety. He had been packing his kit, and the sense of movement and change stimulated him as it always did. He was feeling it very true that there is no devil but fear, and so long as he had heard the feet of Fear behind he had run from it. But now he was turned to face it and the grisly dread was gone. Although he knew better than Tamsin what probably awaited him in Dawson he felt steadied, even eager now. His streak of fantastic superstition served him well. He had none of Tamsin's assurance of immortality, but he felt vaguely that she would arrange it somehow with her gods. It was up to them to do something, he thought, seeing that Tarnsin was requiring so many sacrifices of him. He thought of Dierdre's black thin body shadowed on the wall; of Ooket's fat little greedy fingers, of Gladys… and then he looked across the table at Tamsin and was startled. She looked as though she had passed through fires. She looked a thousand miles away. And then she met his eyes and smiled, and the poignancy of acceptance and grief in her smile filled his eyes up suddenly.

"I'm not worth it," he thought. "I've never been worth it."

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He said as much when—their few bundles in the bottom of the boat and O'Kane standing on the broken pier to wave good-bye—they pushed off at last into a wind that was moderating rapidly. She glanced round, fitting her oar to the rowlock.

"Always you were the one to shift responsibility, my lad, but ye canna do it now. It's your own self will be facing the music… and you're glad to be doing it at last, too."

"Why… maybe I am," he admitted, staring at her.

This was not the Tamsin who had so lately sat with them at meat. She had had her dark hour and come through it to her heights again, and what she saw from there had put a still and shining glory on her face. Kirk felt a sudden warming content throughout his whole body. He felt safer with Tamsin than he had ever done with himself. She would see him through, keep him a stiff upper lip, go on with him… somewhere. Anywhere would be a good place so that he had Tamsin. And she would not fail him.

He bent to the oars, beginning to sing in his strong voice:

"There's one more river,
And that's the river of Jordan…."

Tamsin joined him as they pulled out, the boat leaping like a mettlesome pony to their powerful strokes:

"There's one more river.
One more river to cross."

From the beach of lonely Aroya O'Kane stood watching them until the singing was lost in the beat of the waves on the rocks.

"Good-bye, young blood," he said aloud. And then repeated it. Young blood? Yes, that was it. Young blood, challenging, conquering, expectant, undismayed. It was only weak and chilly blood like his that dreaded the time when that thin trickle should cease. Youth is nearer the eternities from which it comes; hears yet faint echoes of its magic.

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"Good-bye," said O'Kane again, and trod his slow way back into the town.

Although the wind had dropped the lake was rough yet, trying even Tamsin's practised arms. An hour later, when the lake had narrowed to the river scarlet under a wild sky, she saw the battered hulk of the old Asulkum brown above the green scrub and called to Kirk:

"Let's stop there a few minutes. Just to stretch our legs."


There was relief from the fitful wind close under the cut-bank, but the heave of the water drove the boat in and out interminably. Kirk waited, whistling between his teeth and managing the oars while Tamsin stood up, the long looped mooring-rope in her hand, ready to jump ashore. She jumped when next the boat swung in; but it leapt back before Kirk could control it, jerking her by the rope into the water. It ran very deep under the bank, and she went right down.

Kirk watched to see her rise laughing and tossing her wet hair from her face as he had seen her so many times. But she did not rise. She stayed down and the rope-end with her. A moment more and he was tearing off his coat, crying: "Tamsin! Tamsin!" And then he dived after her.

An Indian up the river heard that cry blow by him on the wind and saw Kirk dive. But by the time he had paddled his leaky dug-out to the place there was nothing but that tossing boat anchored fast to something unseen below, and so he went on down to Knife and there gave the alarm.

As many as Sheridan would allow came with him in Tommy Tom's launch, and they did not talk at all. Nor was there more speech than was necessary when, stripping and going down in relays, they chopped and sawed away the fallen tree whose roots and branches had entangled Tamsin. The rope which had slipped round her wrist and caught in a root had done the rest. Kirk's arms were about her waist and his face showed the strain of his efforts to free her. They had loosed page 366her from the branches, but nothing short of using that saw on his desperate arms would take her from Kirk now.

"Let her be," said Stewart when they were laid at last on the table in the living-room, with Tamsin's piano pushed aside and the familiar little Psyche watching them, poised and white, from its top. "Let her be. She belongs to him. Not to me."

Old Mat came crying, and Aggie Colom vociferous, and Mrs. Sheridan set all the Indian children to gathering wild roses.

"The Lord have mercy," she said, her genuine sorrow tempered comfortably with triumph. "I always said she'd leave Stewart, but I was never one to cast stones. I'll give them roses."

The scent of the roses came out to Stewart all night where he sat grey and bleak on the back porch, but not once did he rise and go into the living-room. At dawn he saw a launch come up the river bringing MacDonald, who had been on his way back ever since he heard that Tamsin had gone to Aroya. There were many to meet MacDonald at the landing, but Stewart was not there. He sat where he was until MacDonald, having stayed only a few minutes in the living-room, came out to him. Then he stood up.

"This is your house, MacDonald. I'll go…."

The two gaunt and stricken men looked at each other.

"It's true, Stewart? She left ye for him., did she?"


"She sinned, then, and the Lord hae been swift tae punish…. What wull ye hae dune noo, Stewart? It is your richt tae say."

"I say nothing," said Stewart. "And I have no rights."

"Then I'll tak them doon tae Carcross. I mind Tamsin said aince that she'd like michty weel tae be buried there."

He went off with his head up. The corner of the washing-tent caught his eye, with a bird singing on the ridge-pole, and page 367he staggered a moment as though hit by an unseen bullet. "Eh… Tamsin…" he said, and presently straightened up and marched on.

The old Carcross cemetery is a windy place. Skookum Jim's white marble monument is well-nigh buried in sand, and the unpainted wood railing round the other graves is all down. But the rabbits still hop and burrow there as Tamsin remembered them, and go at twilight, twitching their long ears, to nibble the pink buds of spring. MacDonald came yearly there while he lived, to clear away the sand and briars from the plain slab of granite with the two names:

Macdonald's Tamsin.
Kirk Regard.

Once old Mat Colom went with him, and got down on his stiff knees and prayed.

"Lord," he said, "he was a good boy. I made him. I sure did do the best I could for 'em both. Forgive ter them their trespasses, Lord."

But MacDonald's rigid Puritan creed had no Amen for that.

"As they sowed so wull they reap," he said. "The Lord is just."

It was only Miss Tinney who protested against the kind of reaping which all those who had so loved Tamsin naturally assigned to her. And Knife, going about its business as before, smiled wisely.

"An old maid," they said. "What can she know!"

O'Kane, who came down later to give evidence to a dismayed and sulky Challis cheated of his great coup, had a bland suggestion to make.

"My dear good people! Supposing you abstract the beam from your own eyes before looking for the mote which was page 368not in theirs," he said, and turned about to hear Miss Tinney saying with a new warmth in her voice:

"I guess you can come along to the road-house an' get a meal, Doctor O'Kane."

O'Kane never left the road-house any more. With his lean limbs wrapped in bearskins he sits by the window, winter and summer, looking out on Tall Thing crowned with snow or burnt by sun. Sometimes he thinks he sees two figures walking on the crest of it, big and shining. But it is only the mist. Sometimes he thinks he hears Tamsin call as he heard her once at Aroya. "I am coming, lover," she says.

But it is only Miss Tinney with his evening basin of gruel. And then they sit and talk of Tamsin.

"I'm a sinful old man, Evelyn, and you're a woman with every right to think the world rather worse than it really is. And yet it appears that we are the only two who understood her. I'll lay she's pulled Regard into heaven by the hair. And got leave for him to play his flute there, too."

"It's always folks as never was tempted is the hardest," remarked Miss Tinney, with the air of one who discovers a new principle in life. "I guess Ida must have been tempted a whole heap, she's that sympathisin', you don't know…."