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The World is Yours

Chapter Five

page 109

Chapter Five

"I told Clauson there wasn't no harm in Mrs. Sheridan," said Miss Tinney, rapidly paying dirty dollar bills over the store counter. "Every once in a while, I says, she takes spells of thinking the Injuns are all bound for instant damnation, an' off she sets with her port'ble harmonium an' Chief Bill Boss's launch an' sings Rescue the Perishin' around the fishin'-camps…. That's seven, an' I guess I'll take another box of crackers. No; not a mite of harm in her. Mostly she just aims to be the best-dressed woman on the Kanana. I'll lay she is, too."

"Here! What about Tamsin?" asked MacDonald, with his grim smile.

"Tamsin? She can't dress. She don't need to. Folk never see Tamsin's clothes, for they're too busy seein' her. I'll lay that young Regard sees her, Mr. MacDonald, an' one of these days you'll likely find him taking her away that quick you can't see him do it."

"Likely. And likely not. Shall I send these right away?"

"Why … I'd like it. And there'll be a prospector in to outfit. Yep; I'm grub-staking him, an' I don't care who knows it. He reckons there'll be good gravels found on the Pelly yet, an' them as gets front seat …"

"I would't reckon too much on it," said MacDonald, gravely.

A gambler at heart, Miss Tinney could not 'keep it learned' that the gay inconsequent days of that sport are over. MacDonald knew to his grief that all through the North the successful prospector now silently boards an outgoing steamer with his poke and sells his rights to some Syndicate Outside which, in due time, sends in the necessary plant operated by certificated engineers, controls it by long-distance wires, and soullessly withdraws men and scraps machinery when the lode page 110is worked out. No glory of discovery left now, thought MacDonald, who never found much glory to discover in men. He glanced at Stewart, who was buying wire from Jasper, and was suddenly startled to see how old he looked. Or maybe it was that young Kirk, who had a knack of making other men look washed-out and old.

He heard Kirk and Tamsin at the piano through in the house now, but his belief—stronger than himself—remained. Tamsin must surely know a good man from a bad when she saw him. Yukon and himself had taught her that much. A lad to make play with and a man to marry. That was all there was to it, thought MacDonald, setting the store to rights soberly and giving directions to Jasper, the hump-backed little assistant. Then he tore the day's slip off the Arctic Transportation Almanac, and went in to find Tamsin arguing with Kirk about Clauson, who had yesterday conducted a service at Knife.

"It was not for Mrs. Sheridan to suggest praying in our noose because it is the biggest, feyther. Kirk says she has an unstanchable desire for bettering her neighbours that thick you can see it around her like smoke. I say that with all her bobbin' and bowin' over her prayers she's no more than an auld hen pickin' up peas."

"I could wish you had mair reverence for yere elders, Tamsin," said MacDonald, unusually austere.

Tamsin opened her mouth and eyes, glanced at Kirk rocking himself astride a chair, and began to giggle. She and Kirk were always giggling like a couple of bairns, thought MacDonald, and grunted and frowned.

"You mean yourself, maybe," said Tamsin. "And Auntie Ag. And Mr. Stewart. As a feyther I love you, but as a diplomat you're not worth shucks, my dear."

"I asked Stewart to come with us to the Sagish camp," said MacDonald, feeling in some way put on his mettle. "He says he canna get awa."

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"Now, who says he hasn't any tact!" cried Tamsin. She still seemed amused, particularly lightsome, and if Stewart had looked old she looked like glowing youth itself. MacDonald, who was not a sensitive man, yet felt an electric atmosphere in the room. She and that black a-vised birkie had been at the love-making, likely. He wished for the hundredth time that Kirk had not been coming with them to camp down at Sagish Lake. But he could not ask Mat to leave him behind, and it was Mat's only escape from Aggie in the year.

"Uncle's always cleared for action. A sound man," said Tamsin, mischievously. She thrust her hands through the belt of her trim overall and walked whistling to the window. Not so unlike the sturdy little girl of the Dawson days, MacDonald thought, and although too big for whipping now she was still over-venturesome with her tongue at times. He stood, feeling himself for the first time odd man out in his own house, and then went through to the kitchen, knowing that the dark eyes and the grey would meet again directly he had gone.

"Eh-h," he sighed, dipping a drink from the water-butt. The cry that knows not law cannot be gainsaid, but even when a man believes in the Ultimate Good—which is the Ultimate God—it is natural for him to doubt the wisdom of that law at times.

Tamsin prepared for the yearly camp at Sagish with almost worshipping hands. The Sheridans and Mat always came with them, and these four would be all day at the fishing and shooting while she and Kirk had the Yukon to themselves. She packed groceries and shook out her simple frocks, thinking: "I must make a big baking of those cookies he's so fond of. He likes me in blue. This green will look just right on the hills…."

If she had been quite sure of him there would have been less that feeling of high adventure. But he blew hot and cold, this dark-thoughted restless man; and if sometimes she felt page 112that they walked together on the top of the world, holding infinity in their hands, there were times too when he hurt her so much that she thought desperately: "My lad, I could almost wish to see you running after another girl if she'd torment you the way you're doing me."

For more than Tamsin the Yukon had a definite character; a kind of inevitableness which dislocated human plans with a fine unconscious irony. On the rivers men drifted together, talked dogs, pegamite dykes, hill-gouging and drink, slid away and drifted on to return when the current served. And for all its sameness nothing ever was the same when they came back. Tamsin, on the last night before Sagish, felt that when she came back nothing would be the same, and she had a strange fey conviction that all these men who dropped in as people always did at MacDonald's were seeing the last of the old Tamsin. Challis was there, begging a seat on the launch to-morrow…. "The Indians say there's an old chap sick at the end of Sagish Lake, and I must hunt him," he said. Challis, Stewart thought, had never been hammered into that purely executive and practical mould. He must have been cast, and if ever he went after a man he would go until he got him, for he would not know how to stop.

Stewart sat in a corner, listening to the singing, the laughter, the talk. He remembered a bitter thing he had read in a book. "Here I am, an old man in a dry month, being read to by a boy, waiting for rain."

But that bold young Pan with his flute to a warm mouth ripe for kisses would never read to him, any more than the rain of Tamsin's love could fall on him now.

To Tamsin this hot smoke-dimmed room seemed letting in great vistas. Smells of the pelts of wolf and wolverine and the deer that run and never are tired shook her spirit with their wildness. The music of Kirk's flute went with her down winding ways … shadowy ways….

She went out to give instructions to old Jasper, who looked page 113after the store so competently with MacDonald away. The day had been very hot; but here on the back porch was cool evening, its vast clear skies full of peace, and no sound between the great mountains folded into sleep but the occasional splash of a fish breaking the serene surface of the river.

"Yes, it will be all right, Jasper," she said. "We both trust you."

"I'll do my best, sure." Jasper's wizened face looked up adoringly. "I bin always remember to water your flowers and feed the chickens and the dogs. I bin always remember to do all I can, Miss Tamsin."

"Yes, Jasper. I know you will," she said absently; and when he was gone she walked over to the corral and stood looking through the unchinked logs where, the green lights of the dogs' eyes came and went. Someone came out through the kitchen verandah and over the dry grass, and her blood fled winged along her pulses. Then he spoke, and the tumult died.

"Tamsin," said Stewart, abruptly. "I ask you again. Will you marry me?"

Tamsin dragged her hands from him and wrung them together.

"It wanted only this! No! … No, Mr. Stewart. For any sake never ask me any more. I'm not marrying. Never will I be marrying at all…."

She ran from him, and Stewart walked back through the village to his shack where the forlorn neatness and silence gave an added chill.

"We've been good friends. She might have been kinder," he thought. Then: "What's that about her never marrying? What's Regard about? Or is it that he daren't marry?"

He sat long in the shadows, trying to piece together all that he knew of Kirk Regard.

Next morning came a little note from Tamsin: "I was tired page 114and surprised. Please forget it and be friends still with your awful stupid Tamsin MacDonald."

He went down next evening to see MacDonald's party off to Sagish; and to the very heads of the hills and the few clouds floating in the blue the world was steeped in that strange intensity of rose-colour which is the true Yukon sunset and makes magical the detail of everyday affairs. Rough shacks and dwellings seemed sanctuaries for immortal home-fires, shock-haired Indian children playing with empty cans had the wonder in their eyes, a fawn caribou-skin nailed to dry on the end of the landing-shed was a fiery buckler before the Lord.

Stewart saw those voyagers at the launch already moving in a magic sphere. MacDonald, capless, coatless, energetic, was some lit-eyed rover who sees his dreams upon horizon. Mrs. Sheridan was a thin dark adventurer, triumphant in the glow. Challis's tunic was fused in it as he helped MacDonald stow dunnage aboard. Mat Colom leaned on the rail, his fat hands folded there, his face expressing a peace for once untroubled by Aggie, who had refused to see him off.

The launch itself seemed a fairy barque, freighted with fantasy, floating in ether, and Tamsin, on the edge of the tall reeds like thin flames, was coaxing Bran, the big husky, aboard. But she turned and ran to Stewart, a gleaming tremulous Tamsin with that strange light on her face and no word to say when she got there.

"It was like you to write," said Stewart with an effort. "I'm grateful."

"Oh," said! Tamsin. She hung in the wind like a tall yacht, shy for once. "Goodbye," she said.

"Goodbye." Stewart gripped her hand hard. "Be careful, my darling," he wanted to tell her. "There will be fewer conventions at Sagish. Physical attraction is a meaningless term to you, but that's what he feels. It's not really love." Instead he said: "I hope you'll have a good time. There's nothing better than to be young."

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Kirk, with his hand on the string of the launch's whistle, was making the echoes ring. He stood on the roof, his white shirt drawing the radiant colour into him. Imperiously he seemed calling Tamsin to come with him to his frolic.

The launch churned a pinky froth into ripples and went away into that long blurred mystery of rose-colour, with Kirk Regard still standing up there, the wind in his black hair, the wild light on his body—a reckless Apollo playing with his whistle upon the fibres of the hills.

Through Challis the first note struck at Sagish was tragedy for the miner he had come to find was dead. Over the sinewy old body he empanelled a skeleton jury of the men and decided for Natural Causes.

"He must be as old as Tall Thing. Where can we bury him so the women won't see?" he said.

Tamsin came out of the spruces that hid the shack she was putting in order. She said calmly:

"That grey rock just above the lake would be a bonny place, and Mrs. Sheridan wants we shall make a prayer and a hymn. We've chosen the hymn.

Hypnotized, they realized that to Mrs. Sheridan it was an Occasion, but Tamsin went through it with her usual unconscious simplicity. When the earth was smoothed Mrs. Sheridan sprinkled roses and scarlet leaves, but Tamsin took her rifle and loosed over the grave.

"He lived by shooting. He has a right to that," she said, and walked away with Kirk as the echoes ceased to reverberate round the quiet lake.

It was still hot at Sagish, with wood-smoke drifting from unseen fires in the hills, and moose out on the slews among the rich grasses. But pine scent was sharp in the evening airs, and birds coming south again loitered round the shack of mornings, and the glacier heights across the bay held a chill blue light. Duck, which had come a few nights back like an page 116inspiration, flew low across the lavender of the water, their feet trailing it in long silvery lines.

"When I am dead I shall often come back here," said Tamsin, happily.

"May I come too?" said Kirk.

He took her elbow in his palm, walking on the yellow sand, and vibrations went through her, because by now she was unable to think of life or death without him. And because to both MacDonalds death was as natural as life and as sublime she demanded of MacDonald that night over the fire outside the shack:

"Feyther, when I die will you bury me away down at Carcross? The men who found the Klondyke are there, and I'd like to be. I don't want a white marble wolverine over me like Dawson Charlie, or a lump of brown toffee rock like Skookum Jim … and with the railings and all sliding away in the sand, too. Feyther, I'd prefair just a heap of sand and roses, and then maybe the gophers'd nest there and the wee squirrels come eating the buds."

"For the land's sake, Tamsin," cried Mrs. Sheridan, craning her sleek black head. "I simply hate to think of burials."

"Tits! 'Tis only the body," said MacDonald in his abrupt way. "Sure I will, Tamsin, if you go first. But give me a grave like the Father of the Yukon, auld Bill McQuesten. He's on Auld Man Rock in the Lower Yukon River. 'Leave me lyin' with the ice grindin' and the watter thunderin' agin me till the Judgment day,' he said. 'And they surely have.'"

Challis thrust his heel into a smouldering log, and night stood visible about them in the sudden glow. Kirk watched Tamsin with arms linked about her knees, and her broad white forehead taking the firelight and losing it as she swung back and forth, humming a little tune. Challis said:

"I suppose if McQuesten and his mate hadn't followed the page 117first miners round with their portable trading-post—and fed them—there would never have been mining in the North."

"Aye, but there would," said MacDonald. "You don't choke a set man off that easy. He'll never give over seeking gold."

"It's a mighty queer thing," said Sheridan in the thick voice which he used so seldom, "how Carmacks and t'others that near killed themselves for the Klondyke gold got so little good out of it."

"None of us did," said MacDonald. "And that's often the way wi' what we sweat our hearts out over, I've obsairved."

Tamsin lifted herself lightly, and slipped away into the scented silence beyond. But when Kirk followed on noiseless moccasined feet she stopped with a faint shiver as though recognizing a stronger claim, then suddenly held up her hand so that a stone on it gleamed like a spot of blood in the starlight.

"Old Kate Carmacks gave me that in Carcross, Kirk. What do you think then of the man who sent away from him the woman who laboured with him through those bitter times when Klondyke was making? Carmacks took him a white wife Outside and sent his native wife back to the Yukon, loaded up with jewellery and ither truck she'd no use for … and left her to die in a shack with no one to close her eyes. Is that how a man treats a woman?"

"Now, Tamsin: don't get het up." He took her hand, playing with it. "Old Kate was an Indian, and you know that hotels Outside wouldn't have her because she blazed her way along the corridors with a clasp-knife. He would never have made good with her. He had to send her back."

"He'd not have made good without her in the beginning. Didn't she first find the gold? But a man forgets that, it seems."

"What's bitin' you now, dear heart?"

"I … don't know."

She stood silent, as though waiting for him to interpret, But he did not speak; and then she loosed her hand gently page 118and stepped away from him, losing shape and substance among the murmuring bushes that enfolded her like lovers. And Kirk, his head bent, returned to the fire.

He sat by Challis on the tramped grass and heard MacDonald retelling an epic of the early days. Sex-attraction could never have meant much to hard-faced MacDonald, for he remembered Tamsin's mother as a plain dull soul. Surely one of those hill-gods she loved must have fathered Tamsin. Kirk thought of her off alone in the woods with a grief in his heart. And yet he would not go to tell her what he knew she longed to hear. He considered marriage, Tamsin in Dawson, long months at the Big Game Guiding, Dierdre when he came home. "No, I can't do it," he thought, and immediately felt his limbs twitching to go in search of Tamsin.

"So that's whaur we ran a tunnel through into the conglomerate," said MacDonald. "That lad Grant an' me we sunk a shaft fifty feet through sheer deposit, and windlassed all the material oop by hond. Nobody ever got tae bed-rock there, but we were stayin' with it. Then Grant got snow-blind an' I ricked my back, so we crawled down to the nearest camp wi' Grant half-carryin' me an' me leadin' him, an' no food for near a week … nor 'bacca. But I'm hangin' on to that claim yet, and one day I'll mebbe go up and try it out with a Number Five Keystone placer drill instead of shaftin'. I wouldn't wonner but there's a paystreak blanket stretchin' a thousn' mile aince ye can tap it."

"The Mother Lode?" asked Challis.

"Not a bit of it. Na. The Mother Lode's quartz … or wull be gin ever they find it. I'm talkin' of placer. Alluvial, ye ken."

All his life Kirk had heard those unconquerable dreams of the old miners. A Mother Lode from which all the gold found on Klondyke is merely the perspiration. A thousand-mile placer blanket of pure metal that men might roll up like a pack. Uranium in quantities to stagger the world; biotite, page 119silver ores, precious stones…. They were good medicine for a man, these colossal imaginings, and he tried to interest himself in the talk. But his mind went back to Tamsin and would not obey his will.

In the shadowy undergrowth where stray things touched by firelight seemed to float—separate shining fir-needles, a bunch of crumpled poplar leaves, the round startled eye of a wild rose—vast forces seemed moving, calling to him and Tamsin. His will conjured up Dierdre with her thin clinging arms, her thin red mouth, and rejected her. The eternities were with Tamsin, and to-night he knew it.

When MacDonald and Tamsin came here alone to catch big fish in their seasons in a lake clear as skies displaced except where the ouanniniche swam in the brown thickets of reeds Tamsin usually refused beds, lamps and anything else which occurred to her. Unless MacDonald caught her at it she would take her blanket and sleep under the stars; hearing the little creatures of the wild about their business; watching bright-helmeted armies such as townsfolk never see march royally across the firmament; wakened now and again by sniffs, enquiring, soliloquizing, stealthy patters near at hand, or single crashes distant and definite, and at last sleeping until the dawn wind sharp from the glaciers woke her.

This time she must keep the house with Mrs. Sheridan, but she could not keep her bed. The stir in her spirit drove her barefoot to the door when the camp was still; and there by the red end of the fire she saw Kirk lying with wide eyes looking at the stars.

Daily they hunted bear and moose and duck, and of evenings after the fish ceased rising they took the launch and went up the river; past creek-openings where lonely miners came from their shacks to listen to the faint singing and laughter, round headlands where Indian camps winked bright eyes and dogs were yelping at the prowling coyotes in the hills, to quiet beaches starred with pools and willow-thickets where the men page 120dragged great logs together and fired them and they ate supper of fresh-picked berries and fish fried over the flames, and were very merry. Mat Colom was happiest of all, and he often said so.

"Seems like at home I don't always feel like I could fight my way outer a paper bag," he said, feeding little sticks into the fire. "My brain don't function right wi' Aggie around, I guess. Sam Butler he says Melchizedec was that happy because he was an orphan. I wonder was he a bachelor, too. That feller Dant' now … him that chased a girl called Be'triss through hell … I guess he didn't know when he was well off."

MacDonald's straight trap of a mouth twisted into a smile. Old Mat enjoyed pitying himself just as much as he enjoyed repenting his sins. He had brought his books with him, and together he and Tamsin occasionally sought the Truth still, although she was usually off somewhere over the hills with Kirk. Even when she was with him MacDonald felt that the essential part of her was with Kirk; and he watched her tenderly in his new anxiety as she and Kirk sat with Mat between them and the three heads bent over the Great Blake in the firelight.

"No, boy," insisted Mat with his gentle vagueness. "I guess them three pints has sense enough for me and then some. There's Sam'el Butler he says we are all like thistledown blown by the wind, an' here the Great Blake says 'The thistle is my brother.' Then there's the Bible with 'All fleshes grass,' which in the light o' the other two surely means 'All grass is flesh.' So spuds and beans and things is surely cannibalism, an' I won't eat any more."

Tamsin put her arms round him and hugged him to hide her laughter. Kirk said gravely: "I wouldn't judge they were. You see, the only greens specified are those we don't eat. Likely they're mentioned purposely so's to make it clear we can eat the others."

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"That so?" said Mat, relieved. "Well, I never did want to eat grass nor thistles that I call to mind …"

MacDonald saw the laughter in those two pairs of eyes that were always seeking each other, and he got up and went down to look at his nets with a miserable anger boiling in him. It is by the little subtle things that women express their souls, and he knew well enough what Tamsin's soul was expressing now. He had always recognized that our ideas come to us down even more varied channels than our blood and that God alone knows from what centuries of wasted strengths, tragic opportunities, mysterious and pregnant lonelinesses Man has wrested the idea that he can stem or speed the inexorable laws that govern life. Man, MacDonald was coming to believe, cannot govern his life except according to the law. And the present law was saying youth to youth in the sweet o' the year. What was MacDonald to set his face against that?

Challis returned to Knife with a passing boatload of Indians, but Kirk and Tamsin hardly knew that he was gone. They were purely vagabond, meeting together this spring and summer, incredibly swift as it always is in the North, packing the whole new life of things into a staggering two or three months. Kirk, walking alone one day, saw butterflies, bugs and beetles in the blue grass all about this eternal yearly business of love and mating, just as the animals were fussing over the next stage of it: the feeding of their young. By his foot lay a scrap of blood-dabbled rabbit-fur where a fox had lately struck. Caught on a rose-bush was a tiny bunch of pale feathers torn from a bluebird's breast by some pouncing marten or mink. There was the remains of a dead fish dropped by an eagle. Each generation providing for the next. Each generation fooled into the same old game as he was preparing to be fooled … or was he? He did not know.

Responsibilities, claims, settling down…. The footloose spirit in him rebelled. Everywhere rose-bush and saskatoon and high-bush cranberry were prodigal with fruit, hurrying page 122to propagate their kind while the short fierce summer lasted. Everywhere birds called and fish leapt in the lakes and rivers. The full tide of creation was in the air, on the land, beating its wings around his head, across his brooding eyes….

"She's too good for me," he muttered, wondering if he believed it. "I guess my folks must have been a bad lot." He felt vaguely that the dice had been loaded against him from his cradle; took lazy aim and shot a porcupine, carrying the loutish and prehistoric creature to Tamsin sitting lower down the hill, her bare head aflame in the sunset. The evening was very still. Some Indians paddling by were small as insects down on the wide dark of the lake. Tamsin, watching the last lights fade on the hills, wondered if they too got low and discouraged like folks at the end of the day.

Now there came hourly a perfect passion of colour upon the hills. Goldenrod dazzled everywhere. Wide pink puddles of fireweed lay under willows of brassy flame; thick-leaved cotton-woods were cloth-of-gold, mosses in the slews had turned lavender and lilac and warm purples. About the fishing-shacks saskatoon was cardinal and juniper was russet, and the roses opened among polished carnation leaves. One solitary jack-pine stood sombre among dark balsams, but the lichen on their boles was amber, umber and blood-red.

The lake took all this and more as though used to it; but Tamsin, when the launch glided softly among little islands after the duck, never ceased to marvel that these could come up from their divings as they went down. With all these wells of intense colour that took them it seemed impossible that some should not stay on their sleek wings.

"Ware duck," said MacDonald sharply, and the launch, carrying its own way with the motor cut off, slid round a headland into a feeding multitude that rose among the silvery reeds in a long curving swathe. The guns were busy right and left after great gaudy-plumaged mallard trailing a ripple as they heavily lifted, butterballs bouncing into the willows, page 123jaunty black-and-white Siwash settling again with faint splashes, teal zigzagging. Presently the noise and the echoes were over, and in the silence which is always waiting to flow in again over the Yukon the men gathered the bodies which floated like tiny puffs of Chinese embroideries on a shield of red lacquer and jade. MacDonald pricked his ears.

"Fush rising'," he said. "I'll have anither try at the hyas tyee the night."

For years MacDonald had patiently angled for this Trout Chieftain of Sagish, and he was closely examining his gear as Tamsin rowed him in the dug-out to the deep hole near the shacks where the monster usually lay.

Mat and Sheridan were skinning butterballs and Kirk bringing wood when shouts and shrieks from the lake took them down at a run to see MacDonald, who, alternately trying to balance the dug-out and gaff an apparent volcano, was bellowing:

"Haud him, Tamsin. Buffalo him. Land o' Glory, ye'll have us over. Dom ye, Tamsin; I've grown auld waitin' on that fush…. Haud him …"

A blaze of language usually reserved for his dog team followed as he missed a gaff, and Tamsin, reeling wildly, shot into the lake with a lurch which sent him out the other side. He swam round to find her treading water and struggling with her fingers in the great red gills.

"I've done ye, feyther," she sputtered. "Feyther, auld dear, I've sure wiped your eye at last. Get me ashore, will ye, for I'm busy myself."

Everyone helped salvage a triumphant and breathless Tamsin flung this and that way by the flapping fish while MacDonald stood with water cascading off him and complained:

"To catch my fush an' then bid me bring her in! Did iver a body hear the like o' that!"

Prouder than if he had caught it himself he cleaned the page 124monster and hung it up. It extended to Tamsin's knees, and she was a long-built girl. But he refused to guess its weight.

"Eh, lat it grow," he said. "It'll sure be the biggest fush ever struck in Yukon afore all Tamsin's friends are dune with it."

Tamsin, her long damp hair loosely braided as when she was a girl, cooked butterballs to the semblance of crisp brown doughnut, made johnny-cake and, with Mrs. Sheridan, fed her men. She was gayer than Kirk had seen her yet, teasing MacDonald, shocking Mrs. Sheridan when she and old Mat talked the Great Blake's hell between them. The brief day of the mosquito was over, and as blackflies do not bite at night it was possible to sit round the fire in the blue gloaming and be at peace. But Tamsin would not be peaceable. She wanted to laugh, to cry, because everything was so perfect and must so soon be past.

"Eh, you know what Indians do when they've had a streak of luck," she said. "They dance. You needn't dance, feyther, seeing that your luck's not so noticeable as mine. Come, Kirk. Come, Uncle Mat, Mr. Sheridan …"

She seized a tin dish for a drum and commenced to circle the fire, chanting monotonously the Indian burden: "Um-pum-pa. Um-pum-pa. Um-lo-la"; striking the tuneless drum and shuffling with the men after her taking the chorus. Kirk had known Indians keep this up for hours, but almost at once he realized Tamsin's wicked intention to make her following giddy by narrowing the circle. Round and round they went. Then old Mat sat suddenly, looking surprised, and Sheridan stepped out.

"Gee! This makes me sick in the stomach," he said, and went down to the lake, reeling a little.

The circle was close about MacDonald now, with Kirk keeping up through sheer determination and longing to shake Tamsin. Then she stepped fleetly aside, leaving him alone page 125bawling "Um-pum-pa" into MacDonald's grizzled beard. MacDonald looked with a grim smile.

"Eh," he said, "Ulysses was the wise man when he tied himself tae the mast, but I doubt Tamsin wud hae jowkit him off it some way."

They sat closer round the fire after that. Kirk played Dixie, La Paloma, Greensleeves and other fond and foolish airs such as reveal glimpses of the wandering heart of men; and the high sweet flute-notes rose against the dark, soulless sometimes as bird-music and again, Tamsin thought, as tender and passionate as cries from those reed-maidens Pan cut and blew wild souls into. Mist turned thin and ghostly. Behind, the two little fishing-shacks made a weak bid for life and vanished into the night. Closer and closer swept up the awful sublimity of the Silent Places, laid on her their hands of warning and memory. An Arctic owl drifted by, a dim raft of foam with eyes of beryl. Mat Colom sighed, feeding the fire. MacDonald drew grass-blades through his horny hands until they protested in frightened whispers. Even Mrs. Sheridan was moved. She cried:

"Sakes, if that don't make me want to live Outside a little while an' see life! Set me in an auto dolled up fit to kill an' let me spark around Vancouver a piece and I reckon I wouldn't want to call the king my uncle."

"My!" Kirk put down his flute with a laugh. "Sheridan'll surely hate me if I go giving you those notions. Tamsin, what have you got out of it?"

In the firelight he could see her white throat and arm and the bounteous curves of her strong young body, but he could not see her face. She said at once, as though obeying him in spite of herself:

"I … I was wishing all the folks with troubles could come out here till the hills talked to them and the great rivers made them think great things … and till all the quiet of the warld came into them and stayed with them always."

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She spoke with the delicate intensity of conviction, and Kirk's laugh was forced.

"Lord; I play the flute to keep the quiet off of me," he said.

He found her when the camp was going to bed down by the lake with her arms round a gnarled little Yukon spruce about twice her height. She was talking to it as she often talked to the trees when alone.

"Like wee auld maiden ladies with skirts tucked in for fear o' mice … that's what you're like, my dearies." She put her lips to the rough bark coaxingly. "In two days I'll be gone, my bonny wee tree, but will you think of me sometimes and remember my kisses?"

"I would remember them, Tamsin. Kiss me now, and we'll never forget it."

She turned slowly, with wide eyes and parted lips as though the whole of her drank in his dearness.

"I know, I … know," she breathed. Then her hands went over her face. "Not to-night. Not just now," she said, almost inaudibly.

That sensitiveness in Kirk which often took him so much further than he could stay felt that Tamsin, having looked straight and unexpectedly at love, was driven to veil her face before its wonder. He went away, knowing that when Tamsin gave that kiss it would be on her side at least a pledge and a sacrament. And he was uneasy, knowing that although he meant to have that kiss he was not at all sure that he wanted it in this way.

Because on this last day they were all to hunt moose the camp was astir before the dawn. The air struck chill and the shallows were faintly filmed with ice. Half the end of the lake was filled with a white confusion of life, and MacDonald said briefly:

"Waveys goin' South. Our marchin' orders, fowk."

"My! It's an awfu' thing to be civilized," cried Tamsin, poignantly.

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MacDonald looked at her radiant face, loose hair and bare feet.

"Time ye were back to it, ye wild thing," he said, fondly.

"She's thinkin' of the kiss I will give her to-night," Kirk thought.

On the misty crest of the hill it was as though God, having lately commanded Let there be Light, was beginning to think the world, so that it was coming softly and experimentally into being; with mountain-tops unsure yet on their translucent bases, lakes airy shadows that seemed to move, giant shoulders and flanks of nearby granite emerging gleaming for a moment and then sinking back into that cauldron of golden mist. Woods showed as an instant's bright thought and faded, a blue vivid sky came and went, sound had not yet impinged on this vast inspiration.

Tamsin, clinging to poplar saplings for fear this flowing light would carry her off into space, knelt to drink at a thin thread of silver that slid over the edge of the world and found her face brushed by wet late water-avons, tall and slenderly white as maidens caught at their bathing. They fitted this exhalation of a world better than the voices and tramping feet now going by her unseen; but when Kirk leaned his dark warm face and the steel barrel in his armpit out of the fog she got up and went with him as though, God's world having suddenly come to fruition, it was natural that he should be the first man in it.

Last night Kirk had seen a large bull-moose heading West, and he led them at a rapid pace across the hills, sure with a sureness that baffled Tamsin that he would be found among the slews and little valleys lying out from the Tyee Glacier some sixteen miles away. It was a long trail; but the men with heavy Savage sporting rifles under their arms and the women with their little ?303 Winchesters had been bred on the hills. They passed a slope where Kirk and Sheridan had trapped and skinned a grizzly a few days before. Coyotes page 128sprang away from the body and flickered off through the coarse yellow grass like streaks of itself blown free, and over the huddled bones circled butterflies blue as forget-me-nots. They toiled up granite saddlebacks through an atmosphere as radiantly deceptive in distance as though it belonged to pantomime, with long coloured spurs lying against far-off dazzling horizons like dragons before the footlights. Once, between hills, they looked down on an uncharted lake with two dug-outs—inch-long at this height—loaded to the plimsol mark with Indians and their outfit going some mysterious otherwhere. And always, threading the naked earth, narrow through the reindeer-moss or cardinal leaves of the blueberries, went the little mysterious trails of the wild; soft-footed, soft-snouted creatures which men so rarely see.

Heat blazed out of a brilliant sky although the chill of glaciers was in the air. Mat Colom sat down to mop his head and drink from his flask. He said, reflectively:

"The Great Blake says as Eve dwells no longer in Adam's bussum. He mus' pursue her unceasin'ly. Reckon you'll find yer bull-moose is a lady after all, Kirk boy."

Further along the steep shaft of the hill they saw him, down in a green valley with brown peaty pools where slim yellow poplars watched their beauty like narcissus and patches of wild rose burned. Snowshoe rabbits flicked their white scuts in and out of the blossoming grasses; and among them the moose stood still, sun on the rough fawn of his hide and goatish tail, his great ears moving against the blackflies, pools of light in the wide shovels of his horns, prehensile nose snuffing the clean air.

Strung out to the posts Kirk assigned them they went down; Tamsin, MacDonald and Kirk up-wind and the others behind to cut him off. And still he was there, down among the puffs and squirts of carmine and pink and burnt-umber of turning foliage, tossing his horns lightly or treading with his splay feet in cool mud while snowshoe rabbits played about him like page 129pale little flames. Tamsin thought afterwards that she must have been tired or the squirrel that jumped out from a rotting trunk startled her. She lost her balance; snatched at a branch that broke in her hand, snatched at Kirk and went headlong with him down through the crashing scrub.

Kirk, on his back with the wind almost knocked out of him, saw that dun mountain of flesh heave by as the moose leapt him, and pumped his high-power Remington into it with an instinct quicker than thought. The same instinct and the same rifle which had killed Olafssen; and then he turned as he lay, momentarily dazed, blinking at Tamsin, who stared from her hands and knees, while behind her the moose blundered to the rim of a pool, sank gradually until his great head lay in it and the water bubbled with crimson froth.

"Gee!" cried Sheridan, hurrying up with MacDonald. "I never did see a man handle a gun that quick before."

"I guess mebbe you've practised some," said MacDonald, handsomely trying not to show disappointment, for he had promised that moose to his old Savage.

Kirk was nervous, thinking of Olafssen. He blundered out:

"Oh—just a fluke. I don't much care 'bout doin' what's easy to do or winnin' what's easy won."

"H'm," said MacDonald. "Well. Best get tae wark, I reckon."

It was late before the moose was skinned and the great horns packed on Kirk's shoulders, the pelt on MacDonald's, and lumps of the dark rich meat hung all around Sheridan. Even Mat Colom carried his share; and so they went towards Sagish through a world sunk in a grey delicate hush like a moth's wings and distances standing away, mysterious, remote. It was the dead moment in the North when twilight is not yet gone nor the multitude of stars come; but Tamsin felt her blood hurrying as though some most vital salt of life had been injected into it, and on the edge of a hill just above Sagish she stood, letting the others go by. A miner had once page 130been drifting in the hill, and raw little holes showed in its side like the nests of cliff-swallows. Kirk turned back to her, grotesque with the great horns rising behind his head, saying:

"Don't let's go down yet, Tamsin. It means the end o' all this. Wait an' see the moon rise from here, anyways. Shall we?"

"They'll wonder what's happened us."

"Not they. Your father'll know you're safe wi' me."

He did not know it himself, but Tamsin brightened. This adventure seemed in some way what she had been waiting for.

"Eh. That'll be fine. Kirk, I know what we will do. We'll build a wee fire here above the world and make our sacrifice to the gods of Sagish before we leave them."

She was palpitating, shining. Kirk thought: "She's gettin' ready to give me that kiss in her own wild way," and then was ashamed of his grossness. That kiss would be given, but it would not be in her mind to make it gross. Tamsin with those queer pagan thoughts of hers meant to place their pledge upon an altar of some sort, sanctify it with an offering of a sweet savour. His heart began to beat faster, his brain to reel slightly. Extravagances and daring are in the blood of all men who adventure far, who live in the distant places. He felt himself primitive man in the world alone with his primitive woman, and said quickly:

"I'll do whatever you want. What first?"

"Sticks for the fire," said Tamsin eagerly.

She seemed so alive, so glowing that he could almost believe her frequent assertion that she drew earth's life into her. He set the great horns down and went to work in the blurred pale light, with the woods dark below them and storm-wrack gathering behind the hoary heads of the white peaks to the east. His chance would come presently, but this was Tamsin's hour. Tamsin who, like Thompson's colt, must swim the river every time she wanted a drink. If she chose to page 131go this way around for a kiss, he thought, let her. It would be the sweeter when it came.

He lit the fire, noting the time by his wrist-watch as the red flames leapt between his hands. Already it was late; the descent would be slow through those close woods of rotting logs and lumber where so many fires had run; MacDonald would be wild … and what did he care? He would have her now, and the future could see to itself as it always had done before. He had never been a man to miss the present because of that.

Tamsin had forgotten time. She felt her gods about her, with this dark warm one greatest of all. She dropped twigs, flakes of granite, crumbled earth into the heart of the fire. Then she pulled a long hair from her shining head and burned that.

"You too, Kirk," she said, and drew him down beside her with the firm soft clasp of her hand. "It's our sacrifice."

Kneeling, he obeyed, watching her rapt face. Tamsin, heir to the great simplicities, was a large calm goddess of the ancients, seeing in all their majesty the gods she propitiated. But Kirk felt acutely conscious that he only saw Pan's satyrs whisking their scuts, heard down the steeps their bleating laughter.

Clouds came down like dark angels with folded wings. A spark of flame leapt among the dying twigs and showed a tear on Tamsin's cheek.

And then Kirk had his arms about her and his lips on hers.

It was such a kiss as he had never before given or taken, would never give or take again, because his heart was suddenly crying:

"You're a million million times too good for me, but I love you …"

"I love you. I love you, Tamsin, Tamsin," he said.

Presently the clouds unfolded their wings. There was a clap of fury from the sky, a rush of rain, lightning forking along page 132the raging storm. In the last flare of firelight before the flames died with a hiss Kirk saw Tamsin stand with her arms up and laughter on her streaming face.

"They're jealous," she cried. "They can't be as happy as we are. They can't. They can't!"

She cried it like a challenge. With her soaking clothes wrapped round her by the wind and the livid flicker across her face she seemed inspired, a joyous reckless part of the storm. Kirk remembered the miner's shack he had seen just below the drifts in the hill. There they could shelter from this battering downpour. He shouted it in Tamsin's ear and ran with her through the blind and whimpering woods where the stiff brush bent and whipped and the rolling thunder echoed. Jagged flashes of light showed them the shack, and as Kirk pulled wider the sagging door a tawny shadow with greenish eyes shot by with a snarl.

"A lynx," cried Tamsin, scrambling in. "Why did we let it go! All the animals of the woods should be with us here to-night."

"I guess there's never room for a man an' a lynx within the same walls," said Kirk, fastening the door. The mocking devil in him warned him that soon there might not be room for himself and Tamsin. "I'll behave," he told himself, and found that he was immediately making plans to break that promise as he kicked together rubbish blown in by the wind through the years and got a fire going.

Tamsin, who had wrung out her skirts and shaken herself as unconcernedly as a young animal, went round the shack, looking at the tattered coloured prints upon the wall. They were crudely vulgar as only stuff from the lowest-grade papers can be, and she flung them on the fire.

"Eh, the poor body," she said pitifully. "Maybe he thought them bonny. I never like coming in places where a man leaves his secret thoughts behind him this way. So ugly they're apt to be … and with such beauty outside if he'd only look page 133for it." She sat by the fire which Kirk had made big with logs, stripped off her soaked stockings and stretched her feet to the blaze. Her toes were prehensile as an Indian's from going so much in moccasins, and she crooked them delicately about the ends of twigs to push them into the fire. It gave her a primitive angle, but she had suddenly calmed into a woman who comes home to sit with her man at her own fireside. "It's a kind wee shack," she said, reflectively. "Kirk, if you had your flute now you could play us both into Paradise."

"Aren't we there now?" He sat by her, drawing her against his shoulder. "You remember my jews' harp at Klunae, Tamsin? And, you never knew, dear, but I found a shack in the woods for you at Kluane. I planned to run away with you so we could stay there alone for ever and ever."

"Did you? Did you? Had it begun with you even then, lover?" Her voice was low and awed. "Kirk, why didn't I guess it? And … why didn't you … run away with me then?"

"Uncle Mat … don't you remember my rousing you one night, Tamsin? And he caught us, and …"He held her tight, murmuring: "He pretty near lammed the soul out of me. He … he made everything ugly to me for years. That's why I behaved as I did in Dawson. That's why … since …"

She stooped her head and kissed his hand.

"Eh, my poor lad," she whispered.

She lay back in his arms while he covered her face with kisses. The steam rose from their drying clothes in a thin cloud, enveloping them in mystic union, Tamsin thought, wondering that a heart so full of joy did not break with it.

Anciently the Greeks held that character is the only Fate: that by the mass of petty indulgences, petty rejections which his years have been heaping up, a man stands or falls when his test finally comes. Kirk's heap of rejections had been small.

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They were nothing to stand on now. He was hot in pursuit of Tamsin, wanting her kisses while yet the grinning imp within his blood remembered Dierdre, remembered how easily past loves had been spilled and lost in the sand. To Tamsin, partaking here of her sacrament with dreamy, smiling eyes and tender lips he was saying:

"Never any sense in thinkin' too much of past or future, is there, sweetheart? Just take the minutes as they come …"

"Folk don't generally seem able to take their minutes here and there without paying for them with their years, lad," she said, dreamily.

"Pay! Nothin'. He laughed impatiently. "Sure they can. This minute belongs to us, Tamsin. I guess your Gods sent it. We don't need worry about the future, do we? Let's be happy now. Listen what I read some place. 'I am the Lord of Life an' Life is warm.' There! I'm the lord o' your life, Tamsin. I guess you know it. Say it, then."

She repeated it; trembling as he drew her closer, cheek to cheek, while without the shack the night was full of trumpets.

The waveys off Sagish Lake were going over, far wild voice in a wild sky when Kirk and Tamsin came down the hill through a rain-washed morning all blowing blues and gold. Sheridan, that silent hunter, stared at them stepping delicately like deer over the slash. Sun was golden-brown on their uncovered arms, necks, faces. Their eyes shone as though they had found a new world. But Sheridan, knocking out tent-pegs, understood that this was very far from being a new world and MacDonald would certainly have something to say about it.

"Well, for goodness' sake," cried Mrs. Sheridan, bouncing out of the shack. "Nice goings-on, I will say. MacDonald's looking for you with a gun, Mr. Regard. Where have you been at all?"

"You hadn't ought of kep' Tamsin out all night, boy," quavered old Mat. But Tamsin just dropped Kirk's hand and page 135walked right on into the shack. Her face had a queer look, like sleep-walking, Mat thought. And Kirk too was grave.

Kirk was wondering just what Tamsin had done to him up in the shack to give him much the same awe of her that he had of the Yukon. She had cradled his head in her young arms as she used to do as a child; she had talked and loved and mothered him; she had laughed and teased and been a gay and rapturous girl. But there had been a loveliness to it all, a crystal simplicity which had exacted from him a most unaccountable reverence. Never before had the gracious beauty of love so shone before his eyes. Some imperishable magic she had invoked, going back like other racial instincts to the days when men walked with God. In that little dark smoky shack Kirk had felt, strangely unafraid, the presence of God, and he could not forget it. Perhaps, he thought, bewildered and yet happy in a new way, Tamsin truly drew from some diviner source, was conscious of those higher powers she so firmly believed in.

He had come to the outer world again seeing a chaste, troubling beauty in it. The trembling of rain in the leaf-cups, the thin trills of birds were ethereal, of heaven. For a little he had walked with Tamsin, uplifted in this new ecstasy; but with every downward step through the tangling undergrowth to the entangling life of men he began to doubt. The standard was too high, the grade too steep. He could never make it. A miserable pride told him that he would suffer at seeing himself cheap in Tamsin's eyes and yet he would cheapen himself. The dog would return to its vomit, and not even Tamsin could prevent it.

Hesitating, he walked slowly towards the strip of yellow beach, and MacDonald climbed out of the launch where he had been tinkering with the motor and looked at him. MacDonald had not slept all night and his face showed it. He knew, as Kirk did, that the North is far more rigid in its conventions than is the big world Outside. He knew, as Kirk page 136must know, how small a thing can be blown into a scandal by idle breaths.

"I hope you weren't nervous about Tamsin," said Kirk, too nervous himself to be other than jaunty. "We couldn't tackle all that raft of wet stuff last night, so we found a shack and waited for the light."

"Ay-e," said MacDonald, slowly. "Gin onythin' had gaed wrang I kenned ye'd hae loosed aff a shot or twa tae give us the direction. But we'd no hint whaur tae find ye. I'll say no fren' o' mine'd kept her oot this way."

"Better than giving her a broken leg."

Kirk began to show defiance. He knew too well what MacDonald expected him to say and he would not say it. Unhappily he knew that he did not want to say it. Already memory of those hours up in the shack were chilling him. Love, he felt resentfully, was meant to be a physical attraction and not a communion of saints.

"H'm." MacDonald's blue eyes were pin-pricks in the hard • weathered face. "I guess she's no such a fule as that comes tae. Tamsin! Here!"

Tamsin came, so gloriously unconscious of anything resembling shame that by natural corollary she inflicted it on the men. She looked at Kirk as though they shared a miraculous and God-given secret, and MacDonald's voice softened in spite of himself.

"I'm no that pleased wi' either of ye, Tamsin. Ye're ower auld for they games the noo. There's Mrs. Sheridan wantin' ye tae redd the shack up, an' I guess ye might gie Sheridan a hond wi' the tents, Kirk."

He looked after them puzzled as they walked away. Tamsin moved as though on air, but young Kirk was hang-dog. What had they been at? "I'll git it frae them aince we're hame," he thought, climbing back into the launch.

The motor kept Kirk busy all the way home, spitting and sulking as if it resented his hands. Mrs. Sheridan was silent, page 137scenting scandal as only virtuous women can. Mat looked troubled, and MacDonald at the wheel was an implacable old Viking with no eyes for Tamsin chirruping her wordless songs. Tamsin felt that she was passing over new boundaries, setting in fresh survey-pegs. A hotter stranger consciousness was upon her now. She thought: "Life after life … Kirk and me together. Going on … Kirk …"

She watched the way with dreaming eyes. Rain had tarnished the colour on the hills. It was gone, that bright clear glory which had lit the earth like an unworn sun. Fireweed stood draggled like grey and faded women; goldenrod was a conquered warrior shorn of its flaunting plumes. The yellow poplar-pillars were smudged with brown, and everywhere leaves smitten into tawny, black and dull prune dropped in abrupt shoals through the windless air to lie on the thin films of ice close to the bank.

Tamsin thought: "We'll go down to Dawson together," and then with a shock of remorse she remembered MacDonald and went to him straightway. MacDonald had felt the evening chill and put his coat on. But that did not warm his heart. Nor was he much easier when Tamsin slipped an arm about his neck.

"I want to stay here with you, feyther dear."

"Weel … dinna talk till we're through the Trumpet."

Roaring, a bottle-neck of green waters took them between rock-walls and out again. MacDonald felt for Tamsin's hand. "Aye … Tamsin," he said, tenderly.