Jack London.

A Daughter of the Snows online

. (page 11 of 20)
Online LibraryJack LondonA Daughter of the Snows → online text (page 11 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


bitterness, "There have been others who - "

"Name me the man!" he cried hotly.

"There, there, go on. You were saying?"

"That it's a crying shame for a man to kape company with - with you, an'
at the same time be chake by jowl with a woman iv her stamp."

"And why?"

"To come drippin' from the muck to dirty yer claneness! An' ye can ask
why?"

"But wait, Matt, wait a moment. Granting your premises - "

"Little I know iv primises," he growled. "'Tis facts I'm dalin' with."

Frona bit her lip. "Never mind. Have it as you will; but let me go on
and I will deal with facts, too. When did you last see Lucile?"

"An' why are ye askin'?" he demanded, suspiciously.

"Never mind why. The fact."

"Well, thin, the fore part iv last night, an' much good may it do ye."

"And danced with her?"

"A rollickin' Virginia reel, an' not sayin' a word iv a quadrille or
so. Tis at square dances I excel meself."

Frona walked on in a simulated brown study, no sound going up from the
twain save the complaint of the snow from under their moccasins.

"Well, thin?" he questioned, uneasily.

"An' what iv it?" he insisted after another silence.

"Oh, nothing," she answered. "I was just wondering which was the
muckiest, Mr. St. Vincent or you - or myself, with whom you have both
been cheek by jowl."

Now, McCarthy was unversed in the virtues of social wisdom, and, though
he felt somehow the error of her position, he could not put it into
definite thought; so he steered wisely, if weakly, out of danger.

"It's gettin' mad ye are with yer old Matt," he insinuated, "who has
yer own good at heart, an' because iv it makes a fool iv himself."

"No, I'm not."

"But ye are."

"There!" leaning swiftly to him and kissing him. "How could I remember
the Dyea days and be angry?"

"Ah, Frona darlin', well may ye say it. I'm the dust iv the dirt under
yer feet, an' ye may walk on me - anything save get mad. I cud die for
ye, swing for ye, to make ye happy. I cud kill the man that gave ye
sorrow, were it but a thimbleful, an' go plump into hell with a smile
on me face an' joy in me heart."

They had halted before her door, and she pressed his arm gratefully.
"I am not angry, Matt. But with the exception of my father you are the
only person I would have permitted to talk to me about this - this
affair in the way you have. And though I like you, Matt, love you
better than ever, I shall nevertheless be very angry if you mention it
again. You have no right. It is something that concerns me alone.
And it is wrong of you - "

"To prevint ye walkin' blind into danger?"

"If you wish to put it that way, yes."

He growled deep down in his throat.

"What is it you are saying?" she asked.

"That ye may shut me mouth, but that ye can't bind me arm."

"But you mustn't, Matt, dear, you mustn't."

Again he answered with a subterranean murmur.

"And I want you to promise me, now, that you will not interfere in my
life that way, by word or deed."

"I'll not promise."

"But you must."

"I'll not. Further, it's gettin' cold on the stoop, an' ye'll be
frostin' yer toes, the pink little toes I fished splinters out iv at
Dyea. So it's in with ye, Frona girl, an' good-night."

He thrust her inside and departed. When he reached the corner he
stopped suddenly and regarded his shadow on the snow. "Matt McCarthy,
yer a damned fool! Who iver heard iv a Welse not knowin' their own
mind? As though ye'd niver had dalin's with the stiff-necked breed, ye
calamitous son iv misfortune!"

Then he went his way, still growling deeply, and at every growl the
curious wolf-dog at his heels bristled and bared its fangs.




CHAPTER XVII

"Tired?"

Jacob Welse put both hands on Frona's shoulders, and his eyes spoke the
love his stiff tongue could not compass. The tree and the excitement
and the pleasure were over with, a score or so of children had gone
home frostily happy across the snow, the last guest had departed, and
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were blending into one.

She returned his fondness with glad-eyed interest, and they dropped
into huge comfortable chairs on either side the fireplace, in which the
back-log was falling to ruddy ruin.

"And this time next year?" He put the question seemingly to the
glowing log, and, as if in ominous foreshadow, it flared brightly and
crumbled away in a burst of sparks.

"It is marvellous," he went on, dismissing the future in an effort to
shake himself into a wholesomer frame of mind. "It has been one long
continuous miracle, the last few months, since you have been with me.
We have seen very little of each other, you know, since your childhood,
and when I think upon it soberly it is hard to realize that you are
really mine, sprung from me, bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. As
the tangle-haired wild young creature of Dyea, - a healthy, little,
natural animal and nothing more, - it required no imagination to accept
you as one of the breed of Welse. But as Frona, the woman, as you were
to-night, as you are now as I look at you, as you have been since you
came down the Yukon, it is hard . . . I cannot realize . . . I . . ."
He faltered and threw up his hands helplessly. "I almost wish that I
had given you no education, that I had kept you with me, faring with
me, adventuring with me, achieving with me, and failing with me. I
would have known you, now, as we sit by the fire. As it is, I do not.
To that which I did know there has been added, somehow (what shall I
call it?), a subtlety; complexity, - favorite words of yours, - which is
beyond me.

"No." He waved the speech abruptly from her lips. She came over and
knelt at his feet, resting her head on his knee and clasping his hand
in firm sympathy. "No, that is not true. Those are not the words. I
cannot find them. I fail to say what I feel. Let me try again.
Underneath all you do carry the stamp of the breed. I knew I risked
the loss of that when I sent you away, but I had faith in the
persistence of the blood and I took the chance; doubted and feared when
you were gone; waited and prayed dumbly, and hoped oftentimes
hopelessly; and then the day dawned, the day of days! When they said
your boat was coming, death rose and walked on the one hand of me, and
on the other life everlasting. _Made or marred; made or marred_, - the
words rang through my brain till they maddened me. Would the Welse
remain the Welse? Would the blood persist? Would the young shoot rise
straight and tall and strong, green with sap and fresh and vigorous?
Or would it droop limp and lifeless, withered by the heats of the world
other than the little simple, natural Dyea world?

"It was the day of days, and yet it was a lingering, watching, waiting
tragedy. You know I had lived the years lonely, fought the lone fight,
and you, away, the only kin. If it had failed . . . But your boat
shot from the bluffs into the open, and I was half-afraid to look. Men
have never called me coward, but I was nearer the coward then than ever
and all before. Ay, that moment I had faced death easier. And it was
foolish, absurd. How could I know whether it was for good or ill when
you drifted a distant speck on the river? Still, I looked, and the
miracle began, for I did know. You stood at the steering-sweep. You
were a Welse. It seems so little; in truth it meant so much. It was
not to be expected of a mere woman, but of a Welse, yes. And when
Bishop went over the side, and you gripped the situation as
imperatively as the sweep, and your voice rang out, and the Siwashes
bent their backs to your will, - then was it the day of days."

"I tried always, and remembered," Frona whispered. She crept up softly
till her arm was about his neck and her head against his breast. He
rested one arm lightly on her body, and poured her bright hair again
and again from his hand in glistening waves.

"As I said, the stamp of the breed was unmarred, but there was yet a
difference. There is a difference. I have watched it, studied it,
tried to make it out. I have sat at table, proud by the side of you,
but dwarfed. When you talked of little things I was large enough to
follow; when of big things, too small. I knew you, had my hand on you,
when _presto_! and you were away, gone - I was lost. He is a fool who
knows not his own ignorance; I was wise enough to know mine. Art,
poetry, music, - what do I know of them? And they were the great
things, are the great things to you, mean more to you than the little
things I may comprehend. And I had hoped, blindly, foolishly, that we
might be one in the spirit as well as the one flesh. It has been
bitter, but I have faced it, and understand. But to see my own red
blood get away from me, elude me, rise above me! It stuns. God! I
have heard you read from your Browning - no, no; do not speak - and
watched the play of your face, the uplift and the passion of it, and
all the while the words droning in upon me, meaningless, musical,
maddening. And Mrs. Schoville sitting there, nursing an expression of
idiotic ecstasy, and understanding no more than I. I could have
strangled her.

"Why, I have stolen away, at night, with your Browning, and locked
myself in like a thief in fear. The text was senseless, I have beaten
my head with my fist like a wild man, to try and knock some
comprehension into it. For my life had worked itself out along one set
groove, deep and narrow. I was in the rut. I had done those things
which came to my hand and done them well; but the time was past; I
could not turn my hand anew. I, who am strong and dominant, who have
played large with destiny, who could buy body and soul a thousand
painters and versifiers, was baffled by a few paltry cents' worth of
printed paper!"

He spilled her hair for a moment's silence.

"To come back. I had attempted the impossible, gambled against the
inevitable. I had sent you from me to get that which I had not,
dreaming that we would still be one. As though two could be added to
two and still remain two. So, to sum up, the breed still holds, but
you have learned an alien tongue. When you speak it I am deaf. And
bitterest of all, I know that the new tongue is the greater. I do not
know why I have said all this, made my confession of weakness - "

"Oh, father mine, greatest of men!" She raised her head and laughed
into his eyes, the while brushing back the thick iron-gray hair which
thatched the dome of his forehead. "You, who have wrestled more
mightily, done greater things than these painters and versifiers. You
who know so well the law of change. Might not the same plaint fall
from your father's lips were he to sit now beside you and look upon
your work and you?"

"Yes, yes. I have said that I understand. Do not let us discuss
it . . . a moment's weakness. My father was a great man."

"And so mine."

"A struggler to the end of his days. He fought the great lone
fight - "

"And so mine."

"And died fighting."

"And so shall mine. So shall we all, we Welses."

He shook her playfully, in token of returning spirits. "But I intend
to sell out, - mines, Company, everything, - and study Browning."

"Still the fight. You can't discount the blood, father."

"Why were you not a boy?" he demanded, abruptly. "You would have been
a splendid one. As it is, a woman, made to be the delight of some man,
you must pass from me - to-morrow, next day, this time next year, who
knows how soon? Ah? now I know the direction my thought has been
trending. Just as I know you do, so do I recognize the inevitableness
of it and the justness. But the man, Frona, the man?"

"Don't," she demurred. "Tell me of your father's fight, the last
fight, the great lone fight at Treasure City. Ten to one it was, and
well fought. Tell me."

"No, Frona. Do you realize that for the first time in our lives we
talk together seriously, as father and daughter, - for the first time?
You have had no mother to advise; no father, for I trusted the blood,
and wisely, and let you go. But there comes a time when the mother's
counsel is needed, and you, you who never knew one?"

Frona yielded, in instant recognition, and waiting, snuggled more
closely to him.

"This man, St. Vincent - how is it between you?"

"I . . . I do not know. How do you mean?"

"Remember always, Frona, that you have free choice, yours is the last
word. Still, I would like to understand. I could . . . perhaps . . .
I might be able to suggest. But nothing more. Still, a suggestion . . ."

There was something inexpressibly sacred about it, yet she found
herself tongue-tied. Instead of the one definite thing to say, a
muddle of ideas fluttered in her brain. After all, could he
understand? Was there not a difference which prevented him from
comprehending the motives which, for her, were impelling? For all her
harking back to the primitive and stout defence of its sanity and
truth, did his native philosophy give him the same code which she drew
from her acquired philosophy? Then she stood aside and regarded
herself and the queries she put, and drew apart from them, for they
breathed of treason.

"There is nothing between us, father," she spoke up resolutely. "Mr.
St. Vincent has said nothing, nothing. We are good friends, we like
each other, we are very good friends. I think that is all."

"But you like each other; you like him. Is it in the way a woman must
like a man before she can honestly share her life with him, lose
herself in him? Do you feel with Ruth, so that when the time comes you
can say, 'Thy people are my people, and thy God my God'?"

"N - -o. It may be; but I cannot, dare not face it, say it or not say
it, think it or not think it - now. It is the great affirmation. When
it comes it must come, no one may know how or why, in a great white
flash, like a revelation, hiding nothing, revealing everything in
dazzling, blinding truth. At least I so imagine."

Jacob Welse nodded his head with the slow meditation of one who
understands, yet stops to ponder and weigh again.

"But why have you asked, father? Why has Mr. St. Vincent been raised?
I have been friends with other men."

"But I have not felt about other men as I do of St. Vincent. We may be
truthful, you and I, and forgive the pain we give each other. My
opinion counts for no more than another's. Fallibility is the
commonest of curses. Nor can I explain why I feel as I do - I oppose
much in the way you expect to when your great white flash sears your
eyes. But, in a word, I do not like St. Vincent."

"A very common judgment of him among the men," Frona interposed, driven
irresistibly to the defensive.

"Such consensus of opinion only makes my position stronger," he
returned, but not disputatively. "Yet I must remember that I look upon
him as men look. His popularity with women must proceed from the fact
that women look differently than men, just as women do differ
physically and spiritually from men. It is deep, too deep for me to
explain. I but follow my nature and try to be just."

"But have you nothing more definite?" she asked, groping for better
comprehension of his attitude. "Can you not put into some sort of
coherence some one certain thing of the things you feel?"

"I hardly dare. Intuitions can rarely be expressed in terms of
thought. But let me try. We Welses have never known a coward. And
where cowardice is, nothing can endure. It is like building on sand,
or like a vile disease which rots and rots and we know not when it may
break forth."

"But it seems to me that Mr. St. Vincent is the last man in the world
with whom cowardice may be associated. I cannot conceive of him in
that light."

The distress in her face hurt him. "I know nothing against St.
Vincent. There is no evidence to show that he is anything but what he
appears. Still, I cannot help feeling it, in my fallible human way.
Yet there is one thing I have heard, a sordid pot-house brawl in the
Opera House. Mind you, Frona, I say nothing against the brawl or the
place, - men are men, but it is said that he did not act as a man ought
that night."

"But as you say, father, men are men. We would like to have them other
than they are, for the world surely would be better; but we must take
them as they are. Lucile - "

"No, no; you misunderstand. I did not refer to her, but to the fight.
He did not . . . he was cowardly."

"But as you say, it is _said_. He told me about it, not long
afterwards, and I do not think he would have dared had there been
anything - "

"But I do not make it as a charge," Jacob Welse hastily broke in.
"Merely hearsay, and the prejudice of the men would be sufficient to
account for the tale. And it has no bearing, anyway. I should not
have brought it up, for I have known good men funk in my time - buck
fever, as it were. And now let us dismiss it all from our minds. I
merely wished to suggest, and I suppose I have bungled. But understand
this, Frona," turning her face up to his, "understand above all things
and in spite of them, first, last, and always, that you are my
daughter, and that I believe your life is sacredly yours, not mine,
yours to deal with and to make or mar. Your life is yours to live, and
in so far that I influence it you will not have lived your life, nor
would your life have been yours. Nor would you have been a Welse, for
there was never a Welse yet who suffered dictation. They died first,
or went away to pioneer on the edge of things.

"Why, if you thought the dance house the proper or natural medium for
self-expression, I might be sad, but to-morrow I would sanction your
going down to the Opera House. It would be unwise to stop you, and,
further, it is not our way. The Welses have ever stood by, in many a
lost cause and forlorn hope, knee to knee and shoulder to shoulder.
Conventions are worthless for such as we. They are for the swine who
without them would wallow deeper. The weak must obey or be crushed;
not so with the strong. The mass is nothing; the individual
everything; and it is the individual, always, that rules the mass and
gives the law. A fig for what the world says! If the Welse should
procreate a bastard line this day, it would be the way of the Welse,
and you would be a daughter of the Welse, and in the face of hell and
heaven, of God himself, we would stand together, we of the one blood,
Frona, you and I."

"You are larger than I," she whispered, kissing his forehead, and the
caress of her lips seemed to him the soft impact of a leaf falling
through the still autumn air.

And as the heat of the room ebbed away, he told of her foremother and
of his, and of the sturdy Welse who fought the great lone fight, and
died, fighting, at Treasure City.




CHAPTER XVIII

The "Doll's House" was a success. Mrs. Schoville ecstasized over it in
terms so immeasurable, so unqualifiable, that Jacob Welse, standing
near, bent a glittering gaze upon her plump white throat and
unconsciously clutched and closed his hand on an invisible windpipe.
Dave Harney proclaimed its excellence effusively, though he questioned
the soundness of Nora's philosophy and swore by his Puritan gods that
Torvald was the longest-eared Jack in two hemispheres. Even Miss
Mortimer, antagonistic as she was to the whole school, conceded that
the players had redeemed it; while Matt McCarthy announced that he
didn't blame Nora darlin' the least bit, though he told the Gold
Commissioner privately that a song or so and a skirt dance wouldn't
have hurt the performance.

"Iv course the Nora girl was right," he insisted to Harney, both of
whom were walking on the heels of Frona and St. Vincent. "I'd be
seein' - "

"Rubber - "

"Rubber yer gran'mother!" Matt wrathfully exclaimed.

"Ez I was sayin'," Harney continued, imperturbably, "rubber boots is
goin' to go sky-high 'bout the time of wash-up. Three ounces the pair,
an' you kin put your chips on that for a high card. You kin gather 'em
in now for an ounce a pair and clear two on the deal. A cinch, Matt, a
dead open an' shut."

"The devil take you an' yer cinches! It's Nora darlin' I have in me
mind the while."

They bade good-by to Frona and St. Vincent and went off disputing under
the stars in the direction of the Opera House.

Gregory St. Vincent heaved an audible sigh. "At last."

"At last what?" Frona asked, incuriously.

"At last the first opportunity for me to tell you how well you did.
You carried off the final scene wonderfully; so well that it seemed you
were really passing out of my life forever."

"What a misfortune!"

"It was terrible."

"No."

"But, yes. I took the whole condition upon myself. You were not Nora,
you were Frona; nor I Torvald, but Gregory. When you made your exit,
capped and jacketed and travelling-bag in hand, it seemed I could not
possibly stay and finish my lines. And when the door slammed and you
were gone, the only thing that saved me was the curtain. It brought me
to myself, or else I would have rushed after you in the face of the
audience."

"It is strange how a simulated part may react upon one," Frona
speculated.

"Or rather?" St. Vincent suggested.

Frona made no answer, and they walked on without speech. She was still
under the spell of the evening, and the exaltation which had come to
her as Nora had not yet departed. Besides, she read between the lines
of St. Vincent's conversation, and was oppressed by the timidity which
comes over woman when she faces man on the verge of the greater
intimacy.

It was a clear, cold night, not over-cold, - not more than forty
below, - and the land was bathed in a soft, diffused flood of light
which found its source not in the stars, nor yet in the moon, which was
somewhere over on the other side of the world. From the south-east to
the northwest a pale-greenish glow fringed the rim of the heavens, and
it was from this the dim radiance was exhaled.

Suddenly, like the ray of a search-light, a band of white light
ploughed overhead. Night turned to ghostly day on the instant, then
blacker night descended. But to the southeast a noiseless commotion
was apparent. The glowing greenish gauze was in a ferment, bubbling,
uprearing, downfalling, and tentatively thrusting huge bodiless hands
into the upper ether. Once more a cyclopean rocket twisted its fiery
way across the sky, from horizon to zenith, and on, and on, in
tremendous flight, to horizon again. But the span could not hold, and
in its wake the black night brooded. And yet again, broader, stronger,
deeper, lavishly spilling streamers to right and left, it flaunted the
midmost zenith with its gorgeous flare, and passed on and down to the
further edge of the world. Heaven was bridged at last, and the bridge
endured!

At this flaming triumph the silence of earth was broken, and ten
thousand wolf-dogs, in long-drawn unisoned howls, sobbed their dismay
and grief. Frona shivered, and St. Vincent passed his arm about her
waist. The woman in her was aware of the touch of man, and of a slight
tingling thrill of vague delight; but she made no resistance. And as
the wolf-dogs mourned at her feet and the aurora wantoned overhead, she
felt herself drawn against him closely.

"Need I tell my story?" he whispered.

She drooped her head in tired content on his shoulder, and together
they watched the burning vault wherein the stars dimmed and vanished.
Ebbing, flowing, pulsing to some tremendous rhythm, the prism colors
hurled themselves in luminous deluge across the firmament. Then the
canopy of heaven became a mighty loom, wherein imperial purple and deep
sea-green blended, wove, and interwove, with blazing woof and flashing
warp, till the most delicate of tulles, fluorescent and bewildering,
was daintily and airily shaken in the face of the astonished night.

Without warning the span was sundered by an arrogant arm of black. The
arch dissolved in blushing confusion. Chasms of blackness yawned,
grew, and rushed together. Broken masses of strayed color and fading
fire stole timidly towards the sky-line. Then the dome of night
towered imponderable, immense, and the stars came back one by one, and
the wolf-dogs mourned anew.

"I can offer you so little, dear," the man said with a slightly
perceptible bitterness. "The precarious fortunes of a gypsy wanderer."

And the woman, placing his hand and pressing it against her heart,
said, as a great woman had said before her, "A tent and a crust of
bread with you, Richard."




CHAPTER XIX

How-ha was only an Indian woman, bred of a long line of fish-eating,


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Online LibraryJack LondonA Daughter of the Snows → online text (page 11 of 20)