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The World is Yours

Chapter Nine

page 214

Chapter Nine

Now the Kanana was locked in ice tight as a drum. For Challis and other younger men the steely-white mid-winter days with their brilliant moons and frolicking lights were champagne, but for such as Stewart the cold got into their bones and their hearts. He came up the Kanana now, driving slowly, his team as tired as himself, for he had had five hard days in the hills, locating a break in the wires of his section. He had gone out in a snowstorm with his coils of wire; laboured, half-starved and half-frozen, through drifts and over the icy unevenness of slews and into woods where his snowshoes tripped him every minute. He had slept of nights in rotting shacks littered with the desolation of past occupants, and his mind felt as desolate as he came home under the sickly light of a shadowed world promising more snow.

Now that the wires were clear again he would hear the latest Dawson news of Kirk Regard, and it was likely to be uglier than the last. Running about with a newly-married woman whose husband was already branded as too complaisant, Dawson had said, and Stewart was in the mood to believe it. He was ready, eager, to believe anything against young Regard in these days which had so changed Tamsin. "She'll be around before I've been home an hour," he thought. "She won't ask a thing, but there she'll stand with her eyes hungry for a message from him. There never will be a message, and I wish I had the courage to tell her so." He thought: "I certainly ought to tell MacDonald what I've heard." But he was not at ease now with MacDonald, who had grown gaunter and grimmer since his break of the lifelong friendship with Mat Colom and the trouble that had fallen on Tamsin. And he was not at ease with Tamsin, who now seemed indifferent while she waited, like a soul under a page 215spell, for the message that would never come to set her free.

Stewart had seen no more of Ooket and her Loucheux, and Challis had evidently not marked them. A notice offering a reward for information about Olafssen had been up at the Police Barracks for some time; but it was not likely that any of the Indians could read, and in any case they were mostly gone to the woods now and the Indian village lay empty under the cold blowing of the wind as Stewart's team ran past it, unheeding the howling of a few old and starving dogs unfit to take the trail. In other years Tamsin had always gone to the village and succoured the dogs, and that she had neglected it now seemed to mark the difference in her more than anything. "It's not like her to have no pity for others," thought Stewart, wondering if he would ever be able to induce her to have pity for him as he drove up to his lonely door and set about the feeding and corralling of his weary huskies.

He was in a bitter temper when he went down to Miss Tinney's Resthouse for supper, hurrying over his work for fear that Tamsin should come. He felt that he could not bear her eyes to-night, and meant to spend the evening in Miss Tinney's private room if she asked him, as she often did. But Miss Tinney set the food before Stewart and Challis sourly and went tramping back to her room, where Aggie Colom was having tea. She knew that Aggie had come to enrich the poisonous story which was already spreading up the creeks, where a few men remained for the winter, thawing out the frozen muck raised by their summer's work, and she intended to speak her mind when occasion arose. But she had not expected that Aggie would begin by insolence to Ida.

Ida was a black bearskin which covered nearly the whole of one wall, and was modestly referred to by Miss Tinney as "a love-gift." Miss Tinney gave it her private confidences and affection, and when Mrs. Colom hinted that it had bugs page 216in it and was a loathing to all refined natures she set in motion more than she was well able to meet.

Miss Tinney, in the act of pouring coffee, stayed her hand and removed the johnny-cake to the far side of the table, following it up with the bread-and-butter and the soda-scones. Aggie's florid face turned purple.

"Well, for goodness' sake," she cried, shrilly. "Ain't I having enough trouble wi' Mat without incivilities among neighbours? Seems like there ain't one of you can stand a mite of truth."

"If we could we wouldn't be coming to you for it," retorted Miss Tinney, giving the reply courteous, and then Aggie Colom bit.

"I know the truth you're after. You're wild to know whay Kirk left that MacDonald girl the way he did. Well, you won't know it from me."

"I guess I would if you knew it yourself," returned Miss Tinney, sipping her cooling tea, and beyond the thin wall of the eating-room the two men sat up and looked at each other.

"Well, I guess I do know it, too," cried Aggie, goaded. "Everyone knows what that girl is. She carried on with him up on the Kluane when she weren't no more than a child, and Mat thrashed Kirk for it when it was Tamsin needed it. And again at Sagish … you should hear Mrs. Sheridan tell it. Never let him alone … keeping him out on the hills all night …"

"Keeping him out! Poor little Kirk! My, you do make me laugh."

"Well! Kirk's a gentleman and he don't like that sort of thing. So he just went off quiet to be shut of her and … you keep off me, Evelyn Tinney! The whole blame's Tamsin's, an' I ain't going to have my boy's character assaulted and never say a word…."

By the hurried movement of the chairs the men behind the page 217wall believed that it was Mrs. Colom who was about to be assaulted and sprang up. Miss Tinney's childish treble rose in a crow of fury.

"Get out of my house, woman. Get out this minute and never come back. You could skin me … you could tack me right up there on the wall along of Ida, and then you'd never make me believe harm of Tamsin MacDonald. That Regard …yes. You brought him up, and I'll lay there's no harm in him but you put it there. Tamsin found it out, I reckon, and sent him off. My, my! I'd be mortified to have your nature, Mrs. Colom …"

"You wouldn't be that het up if you didn't know I spoke truth, Miss Tinney …"

"Truth! Truth!" Stewart was reminded of old Mat's gentle anxious search for the Truth. It would be easier to find it even in the mystic Blake than in Aggie. "If ever this lie comes to MacDonald's ears I'll tell him you started it … though he'll likely guess that for himself. And if he don't go right after you with a gun I will. If you've finished your tea, Mrs. Colom, I'm not wanting to detain you."

"Cat!" cried Aggie Colom, evidently struggling into her furs.

"Criminal!" retorted Miss Tinney.

And then the back door slammed, and Miss Tinney found some relief to her feelings in a violent poking of the stove. Challis said in a low voice to Stewart:

"Did you ever hear anything of this before?"

"No," said Stewart, choked.

"I have. It's all up and down the Creeks. I've heard it everywhere in these last months, and I'll bet that woman started it. I wish," said Challis plaintively, "that I could find out why Regard went off that way."

"Maybe I could tell you."

Challis stared. The man was trembling and breathing unevenly. Evidently he was very much moved, and Challis page 218remembered suddenly that Stewart was supposed to be sweet on Tamsin MacDonald. He said, carelessly:

"Come along over and have a smoke." But when they sat before the red stove at the Barracks he hardly knew how to begin. Stewart sat with his bony wrists on his bony knees, looking into the fire, and he seemed to have forgotten Challis. He had even forgotten his pipe.

"You said you knew something special about Regard?" suggested Challis when he thought the silence had lasted long enough.

"It may be about him. I don't know. I do know that Olafssen's wife was here the night he left."

"Olafssen's wife? The Indian girl? Why didn't you tell me?"

"You saw her, too. She was down at Bill Boss's when we went to see the gambling."

"I don't remember. How did you know her?"

"She was wearing big brass ear-rings like those described as Olafssen's." Stewart lifted his face now, and Challis saw how dark and ravaged it showed. "I don't suggest anything. I don't say that Regard saw her. But why would she wear his ear-rings if Olafssen was still alive? And why did Regard go off like that unless he did see her?"

Challis moved suddenly. He remembered the two Indians going up to Colom's shack. Yes; it was more than likely that Regard had seen Olafssen's wife. But even then …

"How can you be sure it was the girl Ooket, Stewart?"

"I went back and spoke to her. I wanted to make certain."

"You should have told me."

"Not at all. She had already been questioned and acquitted. There was no warrant against her."

"It was not known that she had the ear-rings. They are listed in the description of Olafssen."

Stewart said nothing. Challis sucked his pipe, thinking hard. It was clear that Stewart had wanted to have some weapon page 219against Regard in case it was needed. Now he apparently thought the time was come to hand it on. Challis began to feel excited. He asked more questions, but Stewart had nothing to add, and presently he got up and went out with a brief good-night. Challis shivered a little and poked the fire. Stewart had left a feeling of chill behind him. He had been as hard and rigid as the ice, and as relentless. "He believes Regard killed Olafssen. Now, do I believe it?" thought Challis, and sat thinking for a long time. Before he went to bed he knew that he did believe it and that he was going to handle this matter without reference to Dawson. It would mean so much to him. Promotion and Dorothy if he could put it through. It would not be easy; for Heaven knew where Ooket was now, and not until the Indians brought in their fur after Christmas would there be much chance of enquiry. He considered Mat Colom again, and dismissed the idea. Better not warn him in any way.

He stood up at last, pulled Dorothy's photograph from his breast-pocket and stared for long at the well-loved face. The way to her had to lie over another woman's heart, but life was like that. "She's better off without him," he thought, and then suddenly felt that warm vital presence of Kirk Regard so near and clear that he started. "It's not like me to imagine things," he thought, uncomfortably. "Of course it's a pity … fine chap in lots of ways …" But he was whistling cheerfully as he prepared for bed. What a chance! The first real chance of his life!

The seed that Aggie Colom had sown along the rivers and through Knife came in time to Mat Colom's ears. Mat was a troubled old man in these days, but he did make one attempt to reprove Aggie and was routed in the usual way.

"Well, if you know so much more'n anyone else why don't you git up and tell it?" She glared at him with those small cruel eyes, and he knew that she would never forgive him for keeping her out of his secret. "He's my boy as much as yours. page 220an' I'm not havin' things said about him when I know he ain't to blame."

"I been a bad man," said Mat, sadly, "and I surely am reapin' the relics of it now, though I cud wish as you wan't one of 'em, Aggie." He pottered painfully out into the white icy night to see that all was right with the foxes. From tall boxes in the trees and from burrows sharp noses poked and bright eyes gleamed as he passed among the netting-yards, and usually he stopped to greet each one by name. But to-night there was one name only in his mind.

"Kirk boy, what am I to do about it? What am I to do? It don't seem right anyways I look at it, but what else cud I a-done? I cudn't give you up, Kirk boy. I surely cudn't." He raised his bleared distressed eyes to the cold imperious stars and poured his trouble out. "Lord, if I'd died twenty year ago it sartinly would ha' took my soul a right smart while to git acquainted with the angels, but I been camped on their trail for quite a time now. Lord, can't you send an angel to direct my incomin's an' outgoings, for I sure am in a hell of a fix. Lord, Thou knowest as I consider the Bible an' the Great Blake my parallel bars an' take my contortions between 'em daily, but The Truth don't seem to git no clearer, someway, an' I do' know what to do."

He waited, his trembling hands holding to the gate-top, looking up at the stars, down across the earth. That clear illimitable silence which is the North flowed coldly down the slope, through the dark shadows of houses where men dwelt, over the frozen river empty of life and lost itself endlessly among the stars above the pale hills. Dimly he felt how monstrous a thing is silence. Silence dividing the living from the dead: dividing the living from the living; dividing this stupid blundering old man who was Mat Colom from everything he loved. He stood, bent and hunched, struggling with that constant temptation to tell MacDonald and so have his old friend beside him once more. Life when complicated by page 221Aggie seemed too much to be borne alone, and for all his acquaintance with the angels they seemed woefully incompetent now. He fought that temptation down at last and went back to the house; not consciously relieved, and yet with a vague sensation that he had done right.

It was the next day when Tamsin came to call on Stewart, and he met her with strange eyes before which, unconsciously, her own fell. She knew that now she only thought of Stewart and of everyone as means by which she might hear of Kirk, and she said with an effort:

"So you've mended the wire, Mr. Stewart. Is it clear now?"

"Yes. Won't you sit down?"

She took the chair he pushed forward, and sat gasping a little as though she had been running, and he watched her closely. Of his own experience he knew the tragedies that hot wild youth may bring upon itself, and it was in sharp rebellion against that knowledge that he had said what he did to Challis. Now, seeing Tamsin with all her glad bravery beaten out of her, he would have unsaid it, but—like other of man's mad catastrophies—it was too late. She asked, nervously:

"Have you any Dawson news? Anything special, I mean?"

He had been enquiring of Dawson for young Regard when she came in, and the busy operator had promised to attend to him presently. Stewart hoped that Tamsin would be gone before then, and said lightly:

"Oh, no. Nothing at all."

"Then," said Tamsin, twisting her hands together, "I want you to ask, Mr. Stewart. I want you to ask about Kirk Regard. I must know."

Her voice had changed to a hard desperate note that frightened him. He stood still, his hand on the table, looking down at her.

"Why must you know?" he asked, gently.

"Because I can't be left like this. Because …" She hesitated. For a brown healthy girl she had grown very pale page 222in these last months., and he knew that she never went on the hills now. That great source of communion with her gods and her strength seemed closed, and to him it was unspeakably terrible that a young fly-by-night like Kirk Regard had the power to do it. "Because," she said again, and he guessed that she had been making up her mind to this for some time and now meant to go through with it, "I know that he would never have left me of his own choice. Something has come between us and I must find out what it is. Tell me what you have heard … anything … everything."

"He has been working in the Dawson Stables. He is going on the Patrol to the Mackenzie."

"I knew that. What else?"

"Oh … the usual thing. He's good with horses and popular with … with everyone. He's well."

"What else?"

It was so unlike Tamsin, this shameless greedy pushing of the question, and Stewart burned with shame and grief for her and hate of Kirk Regard. The telegraph began to clatter and he took up the key. "Dawson speaking. Dawson, Dawson, Dawson," it clattered, and he glanced at her in alarm.

"I may be some time. I'm sorry. Perhaps you would like to come back later?" But she still sat there, as if too tired to move, and it was with her hungry eyes on him that he learned what had happened in Dawson before the leaving of the Patrol. His informer was a little envious of Kirk, a little scornful and sarcastic. "Nice bit of scandal for a good young city like ours, what? Wagner's going around with both eyes bunged up and his wife trying to pull wool over them. She will, too. Regard went off chipper as a whiskey-jay. You can't worry that lad …" Stewart clicked off a brief answer, put down the key and turned to Tamsin.

"The Patrol left two days ago," he said.

Tamsin gave a low cry, and for a moment he thought she would fall. But her eyes never left his face.

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"There's more than that. I've been watching you. I must know," she said.

Stewart stood frowning and biting his lips. He was stirred and angry, and almost angry with Tamsin, too. She was forcing this on him.

"Well, if you will know I suppose you will, and you're bound to hear it soon or late. He's been carrying on with a married woman and had to fight the husband a few days before he left. There seems no doubt that he was to blame."

"Who is she?"

"Dierdre Cass—that was. Mrs. Wagner now." He walked about, not daring to look at Tamsin. In the window was a geranium that she had given him. He pinched off a leaf or two absently, then said in his harsh, dry voice: "You may rely on me not to repeat anything of this, and it will take some time for it to be known up here now the steamers are not running. I am sorry. I would not have told you if I could have helped it."

"Thank you," said Tamsin at last. She stood up, and now her face was flushed. "Thank you," she said again, vaguely, and walked out. Stewart watched her going with uncertain feet down the boardwalk, but at the corner she did not turn towards home. She raised her face towards the hills; and then he saw her go to them, and dropped on a chair feeling suddenly exhausted and broken down. Sitting with head in his hands he found unaccustomed tears slipping down through his hard fingers, and it was long before he rose and stared at himself in the small glass on the wall. He saw a grey face seamed with more than age; tired eyes and grizzled hair, and he was remembering a song that young Regard had sung.

"Where is your mandolin, Pierrot?
'I gave it to a youngster long ago.'"

Young Regard with his warm bright darkness singing that at Tamsin's knee, and Tamsin looking down on him with proud shining eyes….

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"Oh, my God!" said Stewart helplessly, and turned away.

Tamsin walked on the snowy hills among the jackpines like battered Japanese umbrellas—always battered, always as much alone as human souls, the jackpines—and there she tried to think clearly. It was not possible that she should think clearly, because her mind had been so concentrated on Kirk's return that this wrenching dislocation was at first almost a physical agony. She walked herself to a standstill, crying his name over and over, and at last came home with dragging feet to cook MacDonald's supper, MacDonald looked at her anxiously across the table.

"Are ye tired, lass?" he asked.

"I'm fine, feyther. Will you have another cup?"

There was a new sharp note in voice and manner which startled and in some way relieved him. Anything was better than the heavy dull absorption which shut him out so completely from her sorrow. "She's heard somethin' an' it's rousin' her temper," he thought, pityingly. "Eh, gin she could get in ane of her auld randies agin that birkie it'd dae her all the gude in the warld."

He tried to talk, but she was not expansive and he knew better than to force her. Sighing, he took his book and pipe and sat by the stove while Tamsin washed up and put away the things and brought her sewing. But she did not sew. She sat looking at the leaping flame through the open stove door as she had sat for many nights now. For hours she would stay like that, making herself part of her surroundings as though she drew from them some sullen power; and MacDonald, knowing well where her thoughts had gone, tried to remember that the young are always selfish and that grief is sharper then.

"She'll wear through it," he thought, and found some comfort in the knowledge that she had been to the hills again. "They may help her, though she winna let me do it," he thought with a gleam of hope, and watched her fondly, his page 225big fair strong girl of whom he had always been so proud. Somewhere he had read of "A mountain girl, beaten with winds, chaste as the hardened rocks wherein she dwells," and thought, "That's my Tamsin," but his pride was sorely troubled now. "'Tis so unlike her to lat all the warld see her trouble," he thought, never having experienced an overwhelming passion himself nor knowing that Tamsin was quite unconscious that the world saw any difference in her. She had continued faithfully to do her work both in and out of the house, and that her heart was no longer in it seemed no one's business but her own.

Something in her was always asking for that help which all souls in agony so desperately desire—and could not take if it was offered—and dimly she knew that of her own power only she must fight her way back to strength and sanity—sometime. She had refused to meet that sometime, but now she must meet it. Staring at the fire and seeing Kirk's laughing face in the flickering flame she knew that the battle was near and would have to be fought to its close. Then she felt MacDonald's eyes on her and could not bear it. "To-morrow I'll go out again. I must be alone," she thought, with that old longing for open spaces moving in her as sap moves in a tree after the long numbing of the winter.

MacDonald saw her go with her dog-team next morning, and went to the Store with a lighter step. In youth the ordinary brutalities of life seem to have a peculiar and personal cruelty, as he knew well, and each love-denied man and maid believes their world come to an end. "But they wed anither after all and train up their families the better for't," he thought, and began again to dream of Tamsin wedded to that douce man, Stewart, and bringing his grandchildren about his knees.

Tamsin took her dogs at a gallop up the frozen river, the runners humming merrily over the level ice and the keen wind stinging colour into her face while the fur of her artiki blew back. Either side the great hills were still ghostly and page 226unsubstantial under their heavy snow; but light and shade were beginning to show, and the sun was back in the sky. Again there would be life and beauty in the world, and the youth in her knew and welcomed it, although her heart cried out in rebellion because she felt so old … so old …

She stopped just below the Asulkum where she and Kirk had spent so many joyous hours a few months—years—aeons ago, anchored the sled by overturning it, and patted the dogs who lay down placidly in the traces and covered their sharp noses with their plumy tails. Then she pulled herself up the cut-bank by the tough snow-buried bushes and climbed by a paddle-wheel to the deserted deck. Rats squeaked and ran as she went below, and squirrels bounced out, scolding. She looked around while the dimness slowly took shape and form. The old Asulkum, out of its element and filled with rubbish instead of its designed occasions like so many folk in this queer world of ours, presented queer knobs and angles. Tamsin thought of pictures she had somewhere seen of idols: not idols like humans, but like human thoughts—all distorted and confused and unfulfilled.

"That's how it is with him," she thought. "He's seeing something all wrong somehow, but I don't know what it is. I don't know."

Against the curving side of the saloon ran the bench with rotting cushions where Kirk had once found a squirrel's cache. She remembered him standing there, cracking the nuts with his strong white teeth and laughing at her, and the desolating need of him swept over her like a torrent, casting her down alongside the bench with groping hands where his had searched. Suddenly tears came, the first she had wept since he left her, and she crouched there, torn and rent by them, until she could weep no more. Still she crouched in the dark and the cold.

"I think it will kill me to lose him," she thought. "Maybe I will die now."

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Numbed and broken she thought that she hoped for death, willed it. But presently the icy cold seeking her blood brought instinctive rebellion. Across wastes of negation life seemed to call imperiously and she obeyed; opened her eyes and got stiffly to her feet. They were deadened with cold, and she began to stamp them and to beat her hands; and as the numbness left her body she found that her tears had washed it also from her brain.

"My! I'm a coward," she thought, horrified. "I've fallen down on my job. Me that thought I was so strong."

She clambered painfully out and started homeward under the glittering stars. Body and soul still felt bruised all over, but a new element seemed to have come into life. Her reading with old Mat had filled her mind with unrelated ideas, but an assertion of Samuel Butler's that "We are always dying and being born again" came on her with sudden force. She felt as though she had done just that in the Asulkum, and her strong young body and spirit could not but welcome the new-birth pangs. She found herself sobbing often as the sled flew down the dark river, but they were healing tears. Already her mind was beginning its immortal task of re-creation. She thought:

"I know that I can help him yet. I know there's something behind all this that he's running from as he always did run from things that frighted him. Not physical things…. I'll go to Uncle Mat. I'll get hold of it some way and help him yet."

She was too essentially virgin to be jealous of Dierdre Cass or all the other women of the world. She knew that she had the essence of the real Kirk, just as she knew his weaknesses. He had not hid much from her during those long intimate months; and it was those months of talk and exploration of each other's secret souls that she longed for—could not do without. She was too physically weary to think clearly, but she thought: "I could even do without his kisses if page 228we could have those talks again," and believed that she meant it.

The Yukon., having got her to itself, was putting in its claims again. Around her stood the mountains like constant and reassuring friends. Above her in powerful swathes of light moved the Glories. Surely some huge brain was thinking in those meditative widths of wonder, those flashing brilliancies darting from star to star as though enquiring of them concerning heavenly things. Across these far fields of silence Tamsin's gods were afoot to-night, and once again she heard them call, although dimly and very far away. "My goodness; if it isn't crazy to be afraid of anything with all this to back me up," she thought. "I'll find some way to put it straight if only I can be brave enough. That's what it all comes back to in the end … courage."

Now that her power to think and plan had come back she turned the whole force of it down the one channel. If she died for it she would find out why Kirk had gone, and then she would know how to get near him again. "From the beginning we were meant for each other," she thought, feeling as youth so often feels, that she and Kirk were two immensely important hieroglyphics on this vast human scroll of the world, capable of interpreting the meaning of the whole human pageant it they could find the key. "We can do so much together. We have such a chance up here," she thought, for the foundations of her life with Nature had been well and truly laid, and that immensity of it which frightened Kirk was a reservoir to her deep and brimming with power.

For the first time in months she sang at her washing in the shed, and MacDonald, coming up the yard with a couple of snowshoe rabbits that he had just shot on the hill, turned in eagerly to look at her. Unmistakably some miracle had been at work. Tamsin had weathered her sour adventure and now the sun would shine again.

"Have you a message for Uncle Mat, feyther?" cried page 229Tamsin, shaking out his wet flannel shirt. "I'm going up to see him when he'll be out with the foxes in a while."

MacDonald stared and frowned. A wall had grown up between the two families which he had no wish to breach. But he had still less wish to wipe that brightness from Tamsin's face.

"I hear they're quarrellin' like the deil these days," he said at last. "Did ye think ye might get them taegither again, mebbe?"

"Eh, feyther, de-ar, don't you know it's only Samson, not Tamsin, could get those Coloms together? And then he would surely bring the house down."

MacDonald guffawed heartily. Jests from Tamsin had become as rare as roses in December. He waived the question of Mat and held the rabbits up. Tamsin made a face.

"You must skin them for me, feyther. Eh, how I hate them when they're all limp and skinned. Like dead babies, they are."

"Ye be glad of 'em whiles they're plenty, my lass. Only two mair seasons before the Disease Year, an' then Injuns an' all has to suffer as ye ken weel. Juist the Biblical Seven Years of Plenty, an' then no rabbuts, an' few fur-bearin' animals. An' when the Injuns can't mak' their grub-stake it's bad for me wi' the rest. Weel …"

He went away, and a little later Tamsin walked through the little grey town which seemed miraculously to have recovered its old beauty. Snow and frost, those white thoughts of God, had been at their work about men's dwellings, so that even the Sheridans' shack looked as though it surely housed angels. Sun spread the streets with a golden glory like the new Jerusalem, and all the hills were silver patterned in burning gold. Through the sharp bright air a flock of snow-buntings twittered and pecked, rose like a little white cloud and darted into the blue as though they knew their way straight to heaven. Tamsin walked in a new security and peace.

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Life was a strange and difficult thing, but a God who could make all this magic in a night was still God.

She was whistling softly: "Marching through the gates of the New Jerusalem," as she passed up the snowy trail between bushes to the wire pens and old Mat in his tattered lynx-paw coat and cap scraping out the last of the steaming mush for the eager foxes. Behind him she said:

"Luvah looks like having a splendid pelt this year. Uncle."

Mat turned quickly. His dim eyes grew dimmer with tears and love to see her there again after these barren months, with her voice and her smile of the old kindness.

"My, my! If it ain't Tamsin," he cried, dropping the pan. Then shadow fell like a blight on his radiant face, and Tamsin guessed his thought.

"I just came to say Howdy," she said, quickly. "And how's the Great Blake getting on?"

"Why … poorly." He still looked at her with suspicion, fearing that presently she would ask about Kirk. "I was wonderin' if mebbe I got some more books to help in elucidatin' …"

"Mercy, no! The two religions you have already are as bad as Sedlidz powders, and a third would blow you right through the roof…." She took his arm, feeling how dishonest she was. She hardly seemed to feel affection for him or anyone now with this great passion driving her. How, she thought, could she lead the talk round to Kirk. But innocently Mat himself opened the way, saying:

"I do wisht, Tamsin, that the Lord would provide in Yukon cities of refuge like he did in Chronicles and other parts. Fine notion they was, too, an' I'll lay they had a good healthy population. Mostly young men."

"Any special young men?" she asked, lightly.

"No. Oh my, no." From his haste she knew where his page 231thought lay. "Not on your life. I was allegoricalizin'. A city of refuge for the sperrit …" He looked across the hills to the pale blue of the sky, wrinkling his eyes in the crystal dazzle of light. "For the sperrit," he repeated, softly.

Tamsin felt her face burn. This gentle muddled old seeker after wisdom was further along the trail than herself who had once so confidently led him. She patted his hand as they walked down the yards where the foxes flicked in and out of the burrows, watching with furtive eyes. Mat said:

"You 'member somethin' we read oust in a Whitehorse paper, Tamsin, an' you learned it? 'Bout plaguein' the sperrit."

"I remember." She repeated it. "'And so shall our commission be accomplished which from God we had … to plague His heart until we had unfolded the capacities of His spirit.'" She shivered a little. "Uncle Mat, why are you thinking of that?"

"I dunno, dearie. I dunno. Sam Butler he says as life is one long process o' gettin' tired. I guess I'm a mite tired, mebbe."

"So am I." She spoke with sudden boldness, standing with him behind a shed where they could not be seen. "And we both know why. Uncle, what can we do to bring Kirk back? What can we do?"

"Only the Lord knows," he said, under his breath. Then, following his own thoughts as he always did his eyes searched her anxiously. She looked worn and shadowed, and he had no doubt that she knew what Aggie was saying. Only Kirk could refute those wicked things, and Kirk was far away. "I couldn't help it, dear," he said, piteously. "Chasin' ba'r or chuckin' out at the Tinky-Tink ain't a mark to consortin' wi' Aggie. Talk o' fightin' yer way outer a paper bag! I'll lay Aggie could fight her way outer a engine-biler before the best will in the world could get her cooked. Sam'el Butler he says a man can live easy wi'out his legs, but he can't live for ever wi' a pea in his shoe…."

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"Yes, yes." Tamsin was used to these excursions. She shook his arm gently. "I was asking you about Kirk, Uncle Mat."

To hear his name spoken out loud by herself turned her almost giddy. It seemed to shout against the sky. She heard Mat's voice meandering on. "…. So I do think you'd do best to hitch yerself up ter someone soon, dear. Stewart's a fine man. I guess you'd not do better than Stewart."

"Is that your notion of bringing Kirk back to me?" she said, with an impatient laugh. And then, for the sheer relief and joy of repeating his name to someone who cared, she went over and over it. "Kirk, I mean. Kirk. Oh … Kirk Regard …"

Mat blinked at her, his mouth falling open with the greatness of this new thought. Of course it would bring Kirk back, for then his dreadful vow would be at an end and he could sleep o' nights without sweating through half-conscious nightmares that he had given Kirk up to Challis. With Tamsin married Kirk would come back and read the Great Blake and the Bible with him until they had unfolded the capacity of his spirit. He began to glow, for the memory of his own amorous days had been thoroughly blurred by Blake and Samuel Butler, and he had always been convinced that men and women rarely married where they loved best, anyway.

"Why, yes," he said, decidedly. "I guess it might."

"What? What are you saying?"

"I guess Kirk'd come back if you was married," said Mat, now in full career after this new notion and seeing his boy's salvation in it. With Tamsin safe and Kirk home they would surely soon find The Truth together.

"Uncle Mat!" Tamsin caught him by the shoulders, shook him. Her face was flaming. "Did he tell you that? Did he tell you he—didn't want to marry me?"

"Why … I dunno." Mat came back from his excursion with an effort. "I guess not. No, dear; I guess he never said page 233that. But he can't marry yer, Tamsin. Don't yer ask him to, dear. It'd only bring trouble. I guess mebbe he ain't a marryin' man…." Trying to guard his secret from those blazing searching eyes he muddled on. "There's a heap men never meant for marrying, Tamsin…. They's jest built that way. He likes yer, dear. He likes yer mighty well, but he can't marry yer. He jest can't marry …"

"You needn't keep on saying that," said Tamsin with slow bitterness. "Stop saying that. You talk as if he was the only man in the world. He isn't."

Then she gave a sudden gulp and rushed off, because her heart was crying, "But he is. He is," and she feared lest she might throw herself into Mat's arms and beg him, pray him, say any shameless thing so long as he would promise to bring Kirk back. She almost ran down the street, through the house and into her room; falling on the bed and beating the pillows with her clenched fists, biting the sheet to keep her crying quiet. It seemed that all the agony of the world was sweeping over her. She burned with shame, she sobbed with desolation., and through all ran the aching conviction that she would sooner see him come back to scorn her than never see him again. Visions of him went by her in a mocking dance. Kirk kneeling a knee on the piano-stool, playing his flute to her singing, the whole of him easy, glad and lithe as a bird on a bough, Kirk with his rough black head and black brows tilted in half-mocking dismay when she scolded him. Kirk— dearest of all—squatting in the scented juniper of a summer night like a Pan of the hills and talking out to her his dark whimsical hopes and fears. Kirk holding his own among the men; in argument, in the shooting, in the cutting of water-hay, or the tales of the outer places. Always, it seemed, since her babyhood, there had been that strange wild elusive spirit leaping, coaxing, sulking in the background of her life.

"If I'm never to see him again I'll die," she said, lying like page 234a log while the red sunset crept up the plain little furnishings of her room, lingered a while on the whitewashed ceiling and then the world turned grey. Tamsin got up, washed her face and brushed her hair and went out to cook supper. MacDonald must be fed although the skies might fall.

Constructive thought was always difficult with Tamsin, who relied so firmly on feeling; but for days to come she struggled valiantly to resolve something out of her chaos. Her mind went over and over all that Mat had said, trying to read new meanings into it, to elaborate and excuse. His mind, she knew, was like that of many women: full of odds and ends of devotions, simple trusts, vague certainties, firm confusions. But he was honestly seeking the real things at the bottom of this muddle called Life, and she knew that he would never set out to deceive her.

And over and over she sifted out those days at Sagish. It had been she who had invited, she who had precipitated the crisis. Kirk had been decent to her on that night in the shack when so many men might not have been decent. He had made love just as he probably made it with any girl who was compliant, but he had never spoken of marriage. For a day or so she writhed under this knowledge; and then, because of her desperate need, she began remaking the loved one in her mind as women always have done and will do.

Kirk, she thought, had always dreaded ties and restrictions. So often he had talked of his strange dread of the unknown. He was bold to recklessness with anything he understood, but it was very possible that he saw in that mystical bond of marriage more than she did and would not accept it. Unripe, bewildered, and as yet only half-conscious of physical love she struggled towards understanding. Perhaps he felt marriage too big and yet too limiting a thing, and couldn't bring himself to tell her. That was like a man, just as it was like a man not to think what people might say. She hoped no one had seen anything or was saying anything, but it was possible. page 235Thinking herself very practical and wise, she admitted that it was possible.

Through the next weeks she fingered forlornly with her problem. It was not in her to turn love to hate, and so, piteous and distressed, she had to find excuses. "He's not the marrying kind. Uncle Mat said so, and he would have done it long ago if he'd liked. Then he never wanted that of me. Only the big things we so often talked of. And friendship. And memories. And he said I could help him … and then I drove him away by thinking he meant … other things…."

She burned with shame before the image of a Kirk too delicate-minded to consider love, and went on building up out of her innocence and mysticism and protecting tenderness a totally impossible lover who would shatter at the first touch of reality. Here her dreaming on the hills harmed her. They had lost for her the contact of real life, and so it was that she presently began tremulously to consider the rest of Mat's suggestion. Mat had said that if she was married Kirk might come back, and she was sufficiently famished by now to believe that it would be infinitely easier to see him as a friend only than never to see him at all. Like any other woman blinded by love she twisted every thought, every word to the one end; and, returning at night from long tramps in the snowbound woods or up the icy river where the austerity of Nature stood up before her like a white-faced nun, something of that virgin chill returned to her blood. She was ready to prove to Kirk that she would accept friendship only, and to do that she would marry Stewart, the old grey man who would, of course, be so much less like a husband than a father.