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The World is Yours

Chapter Three

page 62

Chapter Three

Along the Yukon rivers civilization usually begins with the gaunt brown wood-piles that feed the steamers. Around them accretions form gradually in the scrub: a small store, gaudy with tin advertisements, where the Northerner will find a full outfit for his sled and rare tourists buy Indian 'souvenirs' occasionally made by the Indians. There will be a Telegraph shack, too, very neat with whitewash, a handful of white-man huts and possibly a Mounted Policeman and a missionary. But these last are luxuries and nowhere to be lightly considered.

Yukon River steamers are glorious with three tiers and brass and paint, and they tow their freight in long brown barges by pushing it ahead up the winding ways. 'Luxurious accommodation, assert the prospectuses, putting the stewards into buttons and supplying the best hotel food along with the toothpicks. And the stewards, pursers and stokers—who may be the sons of prominent citizens getting themselves through the winter University courses by their summer efforts—see to it that all goes well. This is the way to Dawson and the Midnight Sun. This, to many people, is the only Yukon.

But the Yukon where Tamsin lived now was the real Yukon and no other. Men sought it up the kanana which, like most of the side-streams, is deeper, fiercer and wider than the Yukon River which it supplies. Or up the lonely Pelly or the Stewart or many more, travelling on those small abandoned sisters of the big steamers which are transport reduced to the last simplicities. The Tahkina, which served the Kanana, was no more than a rickety oblong box with a lesser box above where the stove-pipe funnel ran through, and a tar-paper roof where passengers sat until the sun stuck them to it while the wood-fuel covered them with smuts if it did not set them afire.

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On a hot June day Kirk Regard was sitting among the men on the roof of the Tahkina as she came gasping up the Kanana into the little town of Knife strung between the river and the mountains, but Tamsin was not in the eager crowd of whites and Indians who waited on the landing to welcome the mail-bags, the freight, the passengers—all those precious links with the outer world that seemed so far away. Even had she known that Kirk was coming she might not have been there, for to-day she was a rebel against all men since they seemed to think that a woman had nothing to do with her life except marry them. She sat high on the flanks of Tall Thing, that sturdy ironstone mountain which threw its warm shadow sheer across the river at sunset and told herself with her natural honesty that it could be for three things only that she was considered so valuable.

First, she was the one white girl in a hundred miles, and that, to the ordinary male meant much. Her father was a rich man. Jerry Hales and Shock Thompson would want her for that. And she could cook, which to lonely men who live out of tins perhaps meant most of all. "But I will be damned," she said with as much bitterness as she ever came by, "if I mean to be married for those reasons."

She sat with chin in hands, gradually discarding her troubles and letting the peace of this, her chosen world, absorb her. MacDonald had always called her a pagan, and assuredly to her this great splendour of lakes and rivers and mountains where man could make no mark had for her a half life of its own. She felt it when a sudden stir of wind ran in the grasses like a throbbing heart, when a sudden burst of sunlight through a cloud seemed bringing a definite message from heaven to the earth and to herself. And when the dark hills shook with thunder, and the lakes whipped into foam, and storm came roaring over the torn trees on the rims of the draws she knew that some reckless miner had driven a pick into the Yukon's secret Guidman's Croft and let the Elementals free.

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The gods, thought Tamsin—be they few, many or only one is a matter for each man's liking and for herself she preferred a lot—must be nearer to the humans who stray by twos and threes into their abode than to the humans who throw up around them the dead breastworks of cities and therein clamour and struggle and fight until they could not hear the trumpets of a thousand gods. Sometimes, she knew, when she lay very still with earth's beating heart against her own, she heard inner whispers, felt inner pulses that were not her own. And then it seemed for an instant that she was near the vital Mystery at the root of all; that she and God and earth were one as they had been in the beginning and might be again if man could ever again become sinless. But there was little chance of that, as she knew from her own tempers.

"I called Stewart a fool," she thought, regretfully. "Now, why need I have done that, for he must have known it anyway."

For two years now she had been keeping off Stewart, that repressed long grey man of the Telegraph whom MacDonald so much admired, and though Stewart had taken her refusal hard MacDonald would take it harder. "Why," cried Tamsin, "can't they let me alone? I'm not beautiful, but I might at least be allowed to go by myself and think beautiful things."

She looked a big girl, sitting in the sunlight on the broad hill like Gudrun or some other Norseman goddess, and the great knot of her rich bronze hair was untidy and her blue overall and large kindly mouth berry-stained. Her grey eyes, half-veiled by their full white lids and often fiery, were dreaming now while silence builded above her its quiet roof of peace. Far down the river seemed of a quality more buoyant than air. Great skies of tinted cloud swam in it, and bare ruddy hills patched with flowers. There were flowers about her, under her strong, quiescent hands: little grey anemone-ghosts, golden cups of the rock cistus, pale bluebells in the red-top grass, water-avons like slim maids caught at bathing where a narrow creek ran among mossy logs, and three tall amber columbines page 65standing together, trembling a little like winged fairies under a spell.

Tamsin cast herself flat to kiss the feet of the columbines., and far above her sounded faintly the half-triumphant, half-frightened twitter of small birds flying North to their mating on the flowery tundras near the Pole. Swan and wavey flew before the dawn, but these tired little travellers would be whitethroat sparrows, waxwings, the lesser swallows … Tamsin's heart began to fly suddenly with their tiny wings. High on their airy ways she felt herself go with them into the Great Silence, and lay awhile, losing the cares of earth, knowing the glory of the eternal for one transcendent moment. Then she got up with a long sigh as though dragged back by the hair from where she would be, took up her lard-pail of blueberries and came leaping down through the tough juniper-roots secure as a wild goat.

Stewart, the grey lonely man, saw her come as he trudged back to his Telegraph shack, and thought of some bright fleet ship getting out on adventurous seas, of laughter and glad wild shouts. But she had said that all this was not to be for him, so he took from the shelf in the shack a telegram that had been waiting for Kirk Regard and gave it to the young man as he came up the boardwalk between Aggie and Mat Colom.

The old folk clung to Kirk with a pathetic joy which shamed him. He forgot how many years since he had seen them, but it was not since he returned from the war. Aggie was fatter, redder and more quarrelsome than ever, but Mat had faded from his high colour and big bullying ways into a grey soft acquiescence and a gentle wistful voice.

"You sure have growed a fine man, Kirk," he was saying. "It was me made a man o' you, you know. You was headed all wrong till I took holt. I sure leathered the devil outer you, boy, I guess."

"For the land's sake!" screamed Aggie. "Picking on the page 66child the minute he's got his feet ashore…. Here's Mr. Stewart, Kirk."

By now Kirk had met all Knife—except Tamsin and already he was wondering why he had obeyed the sudden impulse which brought him here. During the long journey by the Yukon steamer and the small snuffling Tahkina he had had much time to think and his thoughts had been uneasy.

When Ooket came into Dawson without Olafssen the Police, whose duty it was, asked questions, and Ooket's dull wits trapped her into admissions that they had parted on the secret Indian trail. Why then, demanded the Police, had Regard not seen them? But Kirk, having denied all knowledge of them, could not retreat now. "Likely there's a shorter way yet. Make Olafssen take you next year," he said, and so silenced them for the time. But a ricked knee kept him in Dawson, where he grew further entangled with Dierdre and had to let another man take over his Guiding contracts. And so, when the rivers opened, he fulfilled a foolish and but half-confessed desire to have Tamsin rock his head in her arms again, and came up the grey turbulent river through the wild passes to Knife.

He read the Dawson telegram with Aggie clucking at his ear. It said: "If Olafssen doesn't come in expect you to lead us this winter," and was signed from the Barracks. He crashed it up, saying violently:

"No. I said No before. Tell 'em again."

"You must write out the message, Mr. Regard."

"Oh!" Kirk felt himself redden under the surprised eyes. "Oh! Sure. I'll bring it along presently. That'll be time enodgh?"

"Certainly. No hurry, I imagine."

Kirk silently damned the fellow and his stare, going on between the chorusing Coloms to the jumble of poles, netting and outhouses of the fox-farm. The Indian village was just beyond, among the ragged poplars and saskatoons, and the page 67place smelt badly. Kirk, made nervous by the whole atmosphere, became very jocular.

But Stewart, walking up to Miss Tinney's Rest-house for supper, was pondering over the young man's manner while he sat down by Challis, the Mounted policeman, and waited for the burly Indian girl to surround his plate with little dishes. Regard had looked so startled, lost his geniality so quickly that one might almost suspect fear. He asked Challis:

"Know anything of the Dawson Patrol Route, Challis?"

"Why … there was a man lost on or near it last winter, I believe. His squaw came into Dawson saying he'd left her. Probably she murdered him. Lord," cried Challis, enviously, "some fellows have all the luck. If there is anything to discover it's not yours truly will get a look-in, and I would give my soul for a thumping good murder-case."

Challis wanted promotion so as to go Outside and marry the girl he was engaged to. Steward said dryly, working his lean jaw, s over tough caribou-meat:

"First one I hear of I'll let you in velvet."

Had that been fear in Regard's eyes? He would not confess to himself that he was already jealous of this bronzed handsome fellow with the military crispness still lingering about the natural ease of the mountaineer: but warm splendid youth was so likely to succeed where his own stiff age had failed, and he was sore and dizzy yet with the refusal he had been hoping against for years. He loved Tamsin, he felt, as no younger man could love her; and when in his shack he got out his books on Free Thought and settled down to study he could not do it. Every lonely man in the North must attach himself mentally to something—Economics, chess, religions— or go mad. Stewart, who had wasted his powers in his time, was trying to make up now, but to-night he was only thinking:

"Why did that fellow look like that? He was badly rattled. Was he on that new trail last winter when the man was lost?"

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Going round the fox-farm with Mat Colom, Kirk soon recovered his courage and was amazed that he had ever lost it. Of coursef; since they made such a point of it, he must lead the patrol. It would be easy to avoid the-bluff, and once he had gone through with it the spectre would be laid. His natural boldness rose again above his imaginings, and he could listen to old Mat and feel the comfort of home and love sink into him.

Kirk never knew that it was the episode on the Kluane which had driven Mat to religion. By stripes he had tried to drive Kirk the same way until Kirk ran off with the Game Guides, and then he had sent out to Vancouver for "religious books." The bookseller, from a sense of humour or a desire to rid himself of old stock, had given him Samuel Butler and the mystic William Blake, and even with the Bible which Tamsih had added to save him from dementia Mat found it hard going. Among the tall nesting-boxes and the drifts of yellow sand masking the burrows he was wistfully voluble.

"Not all I'd like 'em to be, they ain't. You're a good boy, Kirk, an' I learned you, but it don't seem like I cud learn them foxes. The Great Blake say one law for the ox an' the lion is oppression, so I ain't goin' by any law in their feedin' since. Mebbe cross-feedin' will breed cross-foxes. I don't reckon anyone ever thought o' that."

Kirk looked at the graceful creatures flicking in and out of their burrows. Disfigured as they were naturally by the bare patches and brown felt lumps of their summer moult he could not tell their value, but with something of his affection for the old man he tried to console him. Mat shook his head.

"You 'member Jacob's precept of the peeled wands and the ring-straked, boy? But he weren't out for silvers, mebbe, an' I didn't get one, and Aggie took the wands for staking her peas. … I wouldn't go in that yard. The vixen's a terror. I calls her Ololon arter Blake's Daughter of Inspirations, page 69for I never knows what she will do next. Killed all her pups las' year, she did …"

"Yes," said Kirk, absently. He thought of Tamsin, but supper was half over before Aggie in the midst of her scandals came on Tamsin's name, saying in her noisy clattering way:

"My! I jest hope MacDonald's going to have luck with her, but 'tain't likely. I guess she'll come to trouble the way she's heading now."

"Tamsin's a good girl," said Mat, raising mild eyes from his beans and bacon. "You'll like her, Kirk. She's gen'rous-minded."

"Yep. You're as bad as the rest," snapped Aggie. "No man has any sense when she's around making eyes. They's jest six white women in Knife an' all married but her. That's what's wrong with Tamsin. Well; the foxes are a poor lot, ain't they, Kirk? Mat'll never git anywheres wi' anything. Always lost more'n he made."

"I ain't lost you, Aggie," murmured Mat. "An' I have often been permitted ter see the atmosphere o' falsehood which exhales from hell."

"What's that you're saying, you old heathen?"

"Jest quotin' the Great Blake. Hell's all right. It's in the Bible."

"An' it's meant to stay there, I guess," retorted Aggie, but she was silenced. Her husbandVexcursions into metaphysics always daunted her a little, and the quiver of Mat's left eyelid gave Kirk a new idea of him. The old fellow had not become such a fool as he looked.

"Tamsin an' me," said Mat proudly, "we're huntin' the Truth together. I guess that's nothin' never goin' to be a mite of use to a man without he's hunted it and found it hisself. It don't stay with him else. Me and Tamsin …"

"For the land's sake.'" cried Aggie, flouncing off to the kitchen: "I do get my ears full of your Tamsin and then some."

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Mat rolled to his feet and got his pipe out. He said gently: "Now, boy, we'll go around to the store an' see her." MacDonald was very busy with the new freight which came by the Tahkina. He had a light plough and some farm implements to bring up as well, and there was a crate of chickens for Mrs. Sheridan, who followed Sheridan with the loaded barrow, crying triumphantly:

"Fresh eggs at four dollars each this winter. You'll see." "I'll buy Tamsin one for Christmas," shouted MacDonald: but he was half through his unpacking in the dusky store before she came in very quietly, and by then he was a little anxious.

"Whaur hae ye been, lassie?" he asked with unusual tenderness. Tamsin said sternly:

"What this town wants is a Young Ladies' Seminary." "For the love of Mike!" cried MacDonald, nearly dropping his pipe.

"Then perhaps I'd have some peace. Feyther … look." She stood before him with head bowed and both her thumbs turned down. It was her general way of announcing her rejection of someone, but to-night she was so meek that MacDonald sat back on his heels and stared. Twigs and mosses clung to her hair and her blue overall. There were faint smudges suggesting tears on her fair-skinned face. Those thumbs were berry-stained. Tamsin had been on the hills expiating some secret guilt. He cleared his throat nervously. "Tamsin, it … it wouldn't by any chance happen to be Stewart this time, would it?"

"Well, that's what I thought," said Tamsin, rueful and apologetic. "But it just went and was."

MacDonald turned back to the apple-barrels in silence. Not until now did he realize how strongly he had built on that douce wise-like callant for Tamsin instead of one of these lightsome rootless young springs who would drag her so carelessly through the usual morasses of life. He ventured: page 71"Ye're sure? Mebbe … wi' anything sudden like that a maid …"

"He's been equally sudden for two years now. All but the words, and they were few enough." She hastily repressed a giggle. This, she could see, was serious. She knelt by Mac- Donald among the straw, bringing her fresh warm lips close. "Feyther dear," she coaxed. "Kiss your Tamsin, feyther de-ar."

"Kirk's come," said MacDonald, his words expressing more than he knew.

Tamsin turned scarlet and rose hastily. Upset already, she felt indignantly that this was just too bad. For Kirk, her unforgotten boy-lover of the Kluane, she had always felt that she would need especial preparation. A great lonely glorious day on the hills, perhaps, with the scent of pines, the majesty of clouds, the sweep of immortal distances impregnating her with their divine and serene vagrancy. Ugly stories of Kirk had drifted up the Kanana, humiliating that delicate instinct which had kept him so long among the true loves of her childhood, and with youth's insatiable desire to reform the world she had seen herself reforming Kirk. Now sudden reaction made her feel vicious; and when Mat Colom brought Kirk in with the air of one ushering the Prince of Wales, Tamsin, her back to the wall in more senses than one, was prepared to be difficult.

"So you're back from the war at last," she greeted him civilly.

His bright dark eyes were on her steadily. Weighing her, Tamsin knew. Finding her wanting, she bitterly hoped. He capitulated, easily.

"Oh, I knew I should have come three years ago. I've no excuse."

"They expected you."

"Dear old souls." He was smiling now, prepared to be friendly, leaning an elbow on the counter. "Never mind them.

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You've not changed so much, Tamsin. You always-had a pretty voice."

"Oh, hell," exploded Tamsin, with an intensity that alarmed herself. "I've had all I want of that talk for one day."

His eyes opened. They seemed a bright flame, enquiring, searching—especially searching.

"Sorry," he said, deferentially. Too deferentially, she felt. He was putting it on, both manner and words. This was not the natural Kirk. He made a slight salute with his hand and went back to Mat Colom, and Tamsin, serving an old Indian woman with a packet of cereal, tried to keep her eyes from him and could not.

He, too, had not changed so much. The same narrow hips and springy walk and bare brown throat and high-held bare black head. He had not dressed the part, like the Tahkina's spruce engineer. He was the Kirk of the woods still, in his loose brown shirt and belted trousers and gay mackinaw. No. That was wrong. He had changed. On him were marks of indelible change. "He's experienced. He knows it all," thought Tamsin in rebellious dismay at her own ignorance. Silently beginning to put up her defences she made out a long list for horse-faced old Miss Tinney who kept her 'Rest-house for Travellers' from becoming a rough-house by means of hands like flat-irons and a heart as big as all Knife.

In the dim light of the oil-lamps the old log store hummed with life. Miners moved about, chewing, jesting. Indian-children came with noiseless feet below many layers of dingy petticoats. Sheridan, the hawk-nosed American hunter who killed for the district, came, buying a thin-bladed sheath-knife. Chain's came, a sudden scarlet tanager in the gloom. Prospectors came for groceries out of the pork-barrels and sacks camped like red-brown cinnamon bears in the corners. Kirk sat on a distant barrel, watching Tamsin, amused to know that she was acutely conscious of his eyes. He forgot page 73that something humble and young and frightened in him had so lately wanted the help of her strong spirit. He remembered that he was a man and wanted her kisses and meant to have them. For so long he had deliberately lowered his values that he saw nothing but a physically desirable Tamsin, firm, fair, pliant, a little untidy, a great deal challenging.

Mat Colom ambled over to speak to Tamsin of Kirk. His literature had soaked through him so completely that the least squeeze dripped something of it as a sponge drips water. The present squeeze was bringing out the Prodigal Son.

"But he niver prodigaled over much, Tamsin. He's a good boy. I orter know. I raised him. It took doin', but I sure did it."

"I haven't noticed him stealing anything," admitted Tamsin, feeling that Kirk would know how well her figure looked as she lifted her arms to set up a row of Royal Dominion Ammunition cartons on the shelf, and glad that he should know. With every ounce of herself she was being defiant, and he would know that, too. Then, suddenly ashamed, suddenly unhappy, she pleaded headache when asked to spend the evening with the Coloms 'and talk to Kirk,' and went through into her own house, slamming the heavy door between.

MacDonald, too, was undesirous of talking to Kirk whom he already saw as a danger. Kirk's reputation was not good and Tamsin was strong-willed. He sat smoking while Tamsin virtuously darned his socks, and more than once he sighed. An engagement to that douce body, Rab Stewart, would have set everything right.

In the middle of the night he heard sounds and went paddling out to the living-room to find Tamsin and a water-pail. She moved about, a tall strong white girl in her nightgown, with a shining rope of hair falling far below her waist and a green pot that dribbled on her stand of flowers in the window. MacDonald growled:

"Are ye daft, lass?" following up as she turned a flushed page 74face and the light of grey eyes on him with an anxious: "Are ye sick?"

"I was thirsty," said Tamsin. She looked confused. "Then I remembered that the flowers were. It's too hot to sleep., anyway."

"Tits! But ye must sleep. Ye're washin' the morn, ain't ye?"

"Yes. Perhaps it was thinking of that made me thirsty. Oh, feyther, dear, go back to bed. You need new pyjamas so badly."

Although routed MacDonald momentarily stood his ground.

"I'm not that vexed wi' ye aboot Stewart, lassie."

"De-ar feyther," said Tamsin, non-committally. Her smile was faint. She turned and trickled more water over the dim upturned faces against the glass.

MacDonald returned to his room, dipping himself a drink from the water-butt as he passed through the kitchen. But he could not detach his mind from the feeling that he had somehow interrupted a conference in the living-room. Inexplicably he had the notion that Tamsin sought those warm damp leafy odours of geranium, stocks and balsams for the same stimulation and consolation that she appeared to find in the hills. A wee thing uncanny, his Tamsin, he thought, troubled., Time she was wed … if it could only be Stewart.

Although long since worn down to tireless bone and gristle MacDonald could not feel himself old. He had worked stealthily for years to make Tamsin a rich woman, although he did not intend that the young fellows should know it. Dead as the Yukon was just now, with Klondyke petered out and Mayo and the rest hanging on by their eyelids, he was 'grub-stake angel' to a dozen prospectors in the hope that they might 'strike it rich' somewhere. He bred sled-dogs, too, and in the corral behind the house they sometimes barked half the night against the wild coyote-cries in the hills, or May Colom's foxes. He had built his own motor-launch, page 75and several wood-camps along the Yukon and White Rivers had licences out in his name. Mat Colom he had helped more than once. He had a tenderness for Mat which did not extend to Kirk.

"Domed if I'll have that birkie tak' my Tamsin," he muttered, uneasily conscious that he would surely give her into Kirk's arms himself if Tamsin so desired. He dozed at last, to awake to a flood of bright yellow sunshine and a mocking chorus of whiskey-jacks encouraged, one might almost say led, by Tamsin singing out in the washing-tent.

Tamsin washed that morning as though she punished something which natural pride prevented her from acknowledging to be herself.

"What is it to me?" she said bitterly, out of the steam that cloaked her like a Delphic oracle: "What is it to me if he has come here? He'll be off by the next boat to his pleasures." She wrung out a sheet in firm brown hands, looked darkly on the twisted neck of it and pitched it superbly into the blueing water. Beyond the ragged rose bushes Tall Thing and Barbary Top lifted their stony shoulders against dazzling sky, but this morning Tamsin forewent her morning rite of blowing them kisses. Something in her was repelled at the very thought of kisses. She pegged the clothes out, singing loudly to delude herself; then went to lie, pink and steaming, in the roofless back-verandah where a smoking pail of leaves and grass protected her from the mosquitoes and a few niggardly cottonwoods from the sun.

And here Kirk found her, eating cookies and showing a good deal of the backs of firm white stockings as she lay.

"Howdy," she greeted him carelessly, and pushed over the cookie-plate. Kirk lit a cigarette and sat back against the wall. He was wondering if after all Tamsin was merely a greedy big girl with no style as once she had been a greedy little one. He was wondering if Dierdre wouldn't have been better fun. Maybe he'd marry Dierdre after all. And then he remembered page 76that fun had never contented him for very long. Nothing contented this mind of his that was apt to get itself into such sweats over imagining things; swarming after-lives, clammy ghost-breathings, soundless whispers, mysterious hauntings by half-forgotten sins and heroisms. There had once been a quality in Tamsin which could turn horrors into glories. He began to talk casually, feeling for it in her rather stiff answers.

"Old Sophia's breed son was killed in the war," said Tamsin. "She has one of those Flander's Poppies broadsheets up in her shack with his photograph pinned on to it. You'd be in Uncle Mat's house just like that if you hadn't come back." She looked at him as though considering whether he wouldn't, on the whole, be better there. "Going to be a rough time for the next generation, isn't it? Too many derelicts left."

"We'll surely do the best we can, I guess," said Kirk, repressing fury.

"Nice kitty," remarked Tamsin, amiably, gazing over the river.

Hot and untidy, she was exhibiting no sex-appeal whatever. Kirk, who had always found all he wanted of that put in his way, was justifiably resentful; began to protest, began to choke. Then he saw that Tamsin had moved the smudge so that the smoke should make him do just that, and began suddenly to laugh.

"Aw right, I give in. You're one up on me now, Tamsin."

"Well," said Tamsin, a little shamed. "I suppose we had to get introduced all over again."

"Fine! Let's shake hands on it." He held hers firmly, slipping down on the verandah beside her. Yes, he thought, a little excited, there was certainly something electric, vital, in the clasp of those strong fingers. Bodily and mentally Tamsin had always been good to hold on to. Casting about for something to seal their friendship he pulled the telegram from his pocket.

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"I got to go along an' send an answer d'rectly. What shall I say?"

He watched anxiously while she read. Wandering superstitions in his blood suggested that to make her arbiter might bring him luck, do something…. She knit her fair straight brows. Because already she wanted him to stay she knew that she would die rather than let him know it.

"Seem to be quite a pet of theirs, don't you? 'Tisn't everyone would pay for your company, I should guess. Well … any reason why you shouldn't go?"

"Oh, lord, no." He laughed jerkily. "Two-three reasons why I should, likely. Seem to be hoodooed onter me, anyways. Well … I'll take it along."

It was a full hour before he took it, and then he met Mat Colom ambling along the board-walk in search of him.

"Seems like I can't feel sartin you're here, boy, if I don't see yer some place," he said, disconsolately. "Sam Butler he says as in high philosophy one should niver look at a knife without consid'rin' it also a piece o' string an' vice versa; but I find that blamed hard someways. I can't niver look at no one an' consider it's you, an' do my best I can't niver look at Aggie an' consider she's Tamsin, though I don't deny as life'd be livelier ef I could."

"You think a lot of Tamsin, don't you?" said Kirk, walking beside him. He believed that he would soon think a lot of her himself.

"You bet I do. Tamsin helps me pursue the Truth, boy. It sure is a rough hunt, too. Gits us both down, sometimes."

"The Truth?" said Kirk, absently. Yes, that girl was full of it.

"Pontius Pilate was arter it too. Same old Truth. Dunno ef he ever found it, though I guess it's lyin' around some-wheres."

"Why d'you want it? A pretty thorny bed-fellow, I should guess."

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"Aggie's that. But she ain't the Truth. No, sir. Well, it makes a man yearn to confess his sins, an' I'm confessin' right along. Tamsin says I make 'em up, an' I do allow that after soakin' in a bit of the Old Testament I'm apt to git goin' some." He looked at Kirk shrewdly. "Ef iver you wanter confess, boy, don't you do it to Tamsin. The Great Blake says as the Spectre is in every man … a ravening lust continually. Insane … brutish …"

"I guess he's about right. Where's the Telegraph? I must send a wire and then I'll be right along to dinner."

Mat described a circle round the horizon with a wave of his fat arm, and Kirk went off quickly over the flapping boardwalks. Curious how Tamsin had already given him back something of his old security. In uncritical boyhood he had felt that she was fastened firm to a reality at the back of chance and time, and although her old reserves were stronger now she could make him feel it still. He drew a breath of something nearer content than he had known for years. The hot still day about him had a new strange beauty. It smelt of roses, and that was natural, with roses everywhere and the songs of birds. The clear river reflected the great' ironstone heights, the blue sky, and it had a song, too. His lips took up the song, putting words to it:

"The Bells of St. Mary's, Oh, list, they are calling The young loves, the true loves that come from the sea…."

And that brought him to the door of Stewart's house where Stewart was sweeping out his room. Stewart felt himself stiffen before this young man's easy grace and good looks. Kirk asked for a telegraph-form, and Stewart stood, still stiffly, watching him scribble. The sun showered through the door on his black tilted brows and clear brown skin. If Tamsin saw him fresh like that how would she look again at Stewart's grey-wolf age?

By an effort he kept from comment on reading that wire of page 79acceptance. But he puzzled over it for an hour. First a violent refusal amounting almost to scare. Now an acceptance leaving no proviso for the return of Olafssen. Kirk had merely wired that he would be in Dawson by the last boat, which almost suggested that he did not expect Olafssen to return. And would he stay here all summer? And what of Tamsin if he did? Desolate loneliness and disappointment had enlarged the attractions of Tamsin in Stewart's eyes, but there is no doubt that she had at that time a queer way of haunting men, coming back to the mind again and again, like memory of a sweet spring evening, a frosty winter's night. There were lights and darks in her, they said. Not easy to get to the bottom of Tamsin MacDonald with her pagan love of great mountains and her soft domestic ways with sick animals and little children and old people.

MacDonald's efforts to get to the bottom of her never came to much. He knew that Kirk had been with her on the verandah; but when he came from the store to the mid-day smell of coffee and fried fish that mixed so deliciously with odours of warm grass and young leaves through the window, Tamsin, although buoyant, did not speak of him.

"Heaps of swan and wavey going over when I began washing," she said, spreading a checked cloth on the kitchen table. "That's when I love them best … just wild voices dropping out of a grey dawn sky."

"Ye wild lass! I'll warrent ye'd like to be one of 'em."

"Oh, my, no." Tamsin poured smoking potatoes from the top of the double boiler. "Too much fun down here."

She looked superbly innocent, serene, with her green sleeves rolled down over the round white arms and that great coil of shining hair newly braided. MacDonald thought:

"'Twas nae fun kep' ye awake the night, I reckon." He said: "Wull we have the Coloms around for supper, Tamsin?"

"That's a good idea. And well ask the Sheridans and a few more in after. I'll iron you out a clean shirt. Yes.

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Kirk ought to meet people, and they won't go to Aunt Aggie's."

"Show's their sense. That wumman's pisen. Poor dear auld Mat. I'm glad ye're gude tae him, lassie, an' I hope as Kirk wull be, now."

He watched the effect of that fly, but Tamsin did not bite. When he had gone she stood in the living-room, looking critically round, trying to see it with Kirk's eyes. Kirk, accustomed from youth to such grandeur as the Tinky-Tink and hotels Outside, would, Tamsin feared, think it a poor place, for over the furnishing of it she and MacDonald had had their only battle, and it still raged at times. It was MacDonald who insisted on the duck-gun and the Savage sporting-rifle over the door, the bear-skins on the floor, the gaudy Indian fire-bags, hunting-belts and carved hatchets on the walls: and Tamsin had retaliated with heaps of gay cushions, a muslin drape for the cottage piano, a plaster cast of Psyche, chintz curtains, and a yellow silk lampshade. A clash somewhere, she felt forlornly, but she could not give up the Psyche, and MacDonald would not give up the duck-gun.

"Eh! He'll have to take it or leave it," she said, decisively, and forgot them both before the room was filled that night. It was the kind of gay evening Kirk had never known except in the North. They played Spin-the-Plate, with Tamsin telling the ridiculous story of the Caravan Party and every man trying to catch the plate before it fell when his name was said. Kirk was the Dog's Tail, and Tamsin had him on the floor so often that presently everyone was laughing at him, and even the old prospector in blue dungarees who had 'happened in' and sat stiffly with moccasined feet planted on a bearskin, too shy to go or stay, exploded into a shrill He, he. Tamsin sat on the long piano-stool with Mrs. Sheridan, a brisk little woman with bird-eyes and nose. Men called Mrs. Sheridan the Whiskey-Jack, and she was not unlike that quarrelsome bird, but because she was the only person page 81in Knife who could stand up to Aggie Colom she was usually welcome at parties.

To the warm approval of everyone she had routed Aggie in the first five minutes when Aggie was scolding Tamsin for her frequent visits up to the deserted mining-town of Aroya to see the old doctor who lived there alone.

"First-Aid he teaches you, does he?" cried Aggie. "A girl's First-Aid is to keep herself decent, I guess, and not go around with an arsenic-stick cauterizing Injun warts. And as to the morals of that man …"

"Well, I reckon you ought to be pleased," chirped Mrs. Sheridan. "Next time doc is going to teach her to cauterize tongues, and then there'll be no more of those scandals that worry you so good and plenty, Mrs. Colom."

Aggie, resplendent in purple silk and raw-nugget chain, turned crimson, but she was a little afraid of Mrs. Sheridan, who, she said witheringly, had a man to protect her. Tamsin gathered them all into Spin-the-Plate rather hastily, and MacDonald smoked and considered again the wisdom of letting Tamsin see so much of that queer shifty-eyed old hermit-doctor with the manners and hands of a gentleman. But Tamsin would always do as she thought right, and if she thought it right to learn how to dose sick Indians it was not MacDonald could stop her.

He watched her when Kirk took the flute which had replaced the jews' harp of Kluane days, and played with Tamsin soft simple old melodies. Tamsin's green frock left her firm white arms and neck a little bare; and Kirk, for the first time in store clothes, had a dark slim springy grace that suited well with the warm young lips against the flute and the fire in his dark eyes. Reluctantly he listened to Mat's stertorous whisper at his ear.

"A fine pair, ain't they, Mac? I sure do think they're pretty near as well-matched as ever I see. I have conversed about this wi' the angels, like the Great Blake, an' page 82I sartinly do like to see them two so understandin' together. Yes, sir."

MacDonald did not. He granted into his beard, drawing deep breaths on his pipe. He had heard a good deal of Dierdre Cass from the Tahkina's captain, but he would not hurt old Mat until the time came. And if the time ever came when he and Mat should quarrel he would lay that to Kirk's account, too. As the evening went on he watched Tamsin's changing face and began to fear that there might be much to lay to the account of that young Kirk.

Tamsin, feeling Kirk so near her shoulder, the warmth of his body close to her own, found herself beginning to battle against some strange possession; losing ground, floating out, enchanted yet terrified, on some new stream. In the old classics of the North she heard his voice clear through the rough choruses. They sang Red-Wing:

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

And now it was:

"The Bells of St. Mary's, Oh, list, they are calling
The young loves, the true loves that come from the sea.
And oh, my beloved, when red leaves are falling
The joy-bells shall ring out, ring out
For you and me."

"Pretty nice, that," cried Mat Colom, clapping his fat hands, and Kirk stooped, smiling into Tamsin's eyes under his thick black brows.

"I'll say it is," he murmured. "Now … this one," and they sang:

"With a mate like you, So good and true,
I'd like to leave it all behind. And find
A little grey home in the West…."

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Tamsin could bear it no longer. She struck suddenly into nonsense:

"At the Battle of the Nile
We were singing all the while
At the battle of the Nile…."

The laughing chorus came in with:

"We were singing all the while
At the Battle of the Nile
We were singing all the while…."

And leaving them all shouting it against each other she escaped to the kitchen to get supper, finding her heart throbbing as though she had run a race.

Supper-rites were always very much the same. Brown cookies on red plates; bread-and-butter on blue. Biscuits and angel-cake and crullers on any she could rind. A tall yellow pitcher for the cocoa which would presently boil up richly with the milk; egg-sandwiches …

Waiting for the water to boil she opened the netting-door and stepped outside, thankful that Kirk had not followed her, trying to cool her burning cheeks. The tremendous sensation of excitement still held her, and the impact of her tingling live self into this tideless sea of silence that stretched away into eternity gave her a sudden check. She quivered, looking about her. Beyond the rail fence, the vague rusty scrub, the indigo belt of lower woods, Tall Thing was inchoate against dead daffodil sky. His brothers were equally indefinite, lifeless; curve of the zenith was empty lilac scattered with a few pale stars, the draw where she went berrying a black bottomless gash. There was a burnt dry aridity in the air; a smell of lone-someness.

Her world that she loved was dully denying Tamsin, so that even the tall cache and the tent-rigged wash-house and the familiar pails and pans set upright along the wall seemed overtaken by a numb change, indifferent, obscure. For the page 84first time she saw the earth as so many people always see it: no triumphant stimulating part of humanity and the certain whole, but an insensate heavy mass of soil and stone with no message for her, no help.

"For mercy's sake, Tamsin," cried Mrs. Sheridan from within. "The kettle's boiling over."

A hand came on her arm, and the man who had so subtly despoiled her of her sanctuary drew her back into the heat of complex life again.