Jack London.

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meat-rending carnivores, and her ethics were as crude and simple as
her blood. But long contact with the whites had given her an insight
into their way of looking at things, and though she grunted
contemptuously in her secret soul, she none the less understood their
way perfectly. Ten years previous she had cooked for Jacob Welse,
and served him in one fashion or another ever since; and when on a
dreary January morning she opened the front door in response to the
deep-tongued knocker, even her stolid presence was shaken as she
recognized the visitor. Not that the average man or woman would have
so recognized. But How-ha's faculties of observing and remembering
details had been developed in a hard school where death dealt his
blow to the lax and life saluted the vigilant.

How-ha looked up and down the woman who stood before her. Through
the heavy veil she could barely distinguish the flash of the eyes,
while the hood of the _parka_ effectually concealed the hair, and the
_parka_ proper the particular outlines of the body. But How-ha
paused and looked again. There was something familiar in the vague
general outline. She quested back to the shrouded head again, and
knew the unmistakable poise. Then How-ha's eyes went blear as she
traversed the simple windings of her own brain, inspecting the bare
shelves taciturnly stored with the impressions of a meagre life. No
disorder; no confused mingling of records; no devious and
interminable impress of complex emotions, tangled theories, and
bewildering abstractions - nothing but simple facts, neatly classified
and conveniently collated. Unerringly from the stores of the past
she picked and chose and put together in the instant present, till
obscurity dropped from the woman before her, and she knew her, word
and deed and look and history.

"Much better you go 'way quickety-quick," How-ha informed her.

"Miss Welse. I wish to see her."

The strange woman spoke in firm, even tones which betokened the will
behind, but which failed to move How-ha.

"Much better you go," she repeated, stolidly.

"Here, take this to Frona Welse, and - ah! would you!" (thrusting her
knee between the door and jamb) "and leave the door open."

How-ha scowled, but took the note; for she could not shake off the
grip of the ten years of servitude to the superior race.


May I see you?

LUCILE.


So the note ran. Frona glanced up expectantly at the Indian woman.

"Um kick toes outside," How-ha explained. "Me tell um go 'way
quickety-quick? Eh? You t'ink yes? Um no good. Um - "

"No. Take her," - Frona was thinking quickly, - "no; bring her up
here."

"Much better - "

"Go!"

How-ha grunted, and yielded up the obedience she could not withhold;
though, as she went down the stairs to the door, in a tenebrous,
glimmering way she wondered that the accident of white skin or swart
made master or servant as the case might be.

In the one sweep of vision, Lucile took in Frona smiling with
extended hand in the foreground, the dainty dressing-table, the
simple finery, the thousand girlish evidences; and with the sweet
wholesomeness of it pervading her nostrils, her own girlhood rose up
and smote her. Then she turned a bleak eye and cold ear on outward
things.

"I am glad you came," Frona was saying. "I have _so_ wanted to see
you again, and - but do get that heavy _parka_ off, please. How thick
it is, and what splendid fur and workmanship!"

"Yes, from Siberia." A present from St. Vincent, Lucile felt like
adding, but said instead, "The Siberians have not yet learned to
scamp their work, you know."

She sank down into the low-seated rocker with a native grace which
could not escape the beauty-loving eye of the girl, and with
proud-poised head and silent tongue listened to Frona as the minutes
ticked away, and observed with impersonal amusement Frona's painful
toil at making conversation.

"What has she come for?" Frona asked herself, as she talked on furs
and weather and indifferent things.

"If you do not say something, Lucile, I shall get nervous, soon," she
ventured at last in desperation. "Has anything happened?"

Lucile went over to the mirror and picked up, from among the trinkets
beneath, a tiny open-work miniature of Frona. "This is you? How old
were you?"

"Sixteen."

"A sylph, but a cold northern one."

"The blood warms late with us," Frona reproved; "but is - "

"None the less warm for that," Lucile laughed. "And how old are you
now?"

"Twenty."

"Twenty," Lucile repeated, slowly. "Twenty," and resumed her seat.
"You are twenty. And I am twenty-four."

"So little difference as that!"

"But our blood warms early." Lucile voiced her reproach across the
unfathomable gulf which four years could not plumb.

Frona could hardly hide her vexation. Lucile went over and looked at
the miniature again and returned.

"What do you think of love?" she asked abruptly, her face softening
unheralded into a smile.

"Love?" the girl quavered.

"Yes, love. What do you know about it? What do you think of it?"

A flood of definitions, glowing and rosy, sped to her tongue, but
Frona swept them aside and answered, "Love is immolation."

"Very good - sacrifice. And, now, does it pay?"

"Yes, it pays. Of course it pays. Who can doubt it?"

Lucile's eyes twinkled amusedly.

"Why do you smile?" Frona asked.

"Look at me, Frona." Lucile stood up and her face blazed. "I am
twenty-four. Not altogether a fright; not altogether a dunce. I
have a heart. I have good red blood and warm. And I have loved. I
do not remember the pay. I know only that I have paid."

"And in the paying were paid," Frona took up warmly. "The price was
the reward. If love be fallible, yet you have loved; you have done,
you have served. What more would you?"

"The whelpage love," Lucile sneered.

"Oh! You are unfair."

"I do you justice," Lucile insisted firmly. "You would tell me that
you know; that you have gone unveiled and seen clear-eyed; that
without placing more than lips to the brim you have divined the taste
of the dregs, and that the taste is good. Bah! The whelpage love!
And, oh, Frona, I know; you are full womanly and broad, and lend no
ear to little things, but" - she tapped a slender finger to
forehead - "it is all here. It is a heady brew, and you have smelled
the fumes overmuch. But drain the dregs, turn down the glass, and
say that it is good. No, God forbid!" she cried, passionately.
"There are good loves. You should find no masquerade, but one fair
and shining."

Frona was up to her old trick, - their common one, - and her hand slid
down Lucile's arm till hand clasped in hand. "You say things which I
feel are wrong, yet may not answer. I can, but how dare I? I dare
not put mere thoughts against your facts. I, who have lived so
little, cannot in theory give the lie to you who have lived so
much - "

"'For he who lives more lives than one, more lives than one must
die.'"

From out of her pain, Lucile spoke the words of her pain, and Frona,
throwing arms about her, sobbed on her breast in understanding. As
for Lucile, the slight nervous ingathering of the brows above her
eyes smoothed out, and she pressed the kiss of motherhood, lightly
and secretly, on the other's hair. For a space, - then the brows
ingathered, the lips drew firm, and she put Frona from her.

"You are going to marry Gregory St. Vincent?"

Frona was startled. It was only a fortnight old, and not a word had
been breathed. "How do you know?"

"You have answered." Lucile watched Frona's open face and the bold
running advertisement, and felt as the skilled fencer who fronts a
tyro, weak of wrist, each opening naked to his hand. "How do I
know?" She laughed harshly. "When a man leaves one's arms suddenly,
lips wet with last kisses and mouth areek with last lies!"

"And - ?"

"Forgets the way back to those arms."

"So?" The blood of the Welse pounded up, and like a hot sun dried
the mists from her eyes and left them flashing. "Then that is why
you came. I could have guessed it had I given second thought to
Dawson's gossip."

"It is not too late." Lucile's lip curled. "And it is your way."

"And I am mindful. What is it? Do you intend telling me what he has
done, what he has been to you. Let me say that it is useless. He is
a man, as you and I are women."

"No," Lucile lied, swallowing her astonishment.

"I had not thought that any action of his would affect you. I knew
you were too great for that. But - have you considered me?"

Frona caught her breath for a moment. Then she straightened out her
arms to hold the man in challenge to the arms of Lucile.

"Your father over again," Lucile exclaimed. "Oh, you impossible
Welses!"

"But he is not worthy of you, Frona Welse," she continued; "of me,
yes. He is not a nice man, a great man, nor a good. His love cannot
match with yours. Bah! He does not possess love; passion, of one
sort and another, is the best he may lay claim to. That you do not
want. It is all, at the best, he can give you. And you, pray what
may you give him? Yourself? A prodigious waste! But your father's
yellow - "

"Don't go on, or I shall refuse to listen. It is wrong of you." So
Frona made her cease, and then, with bold inconsistency, "And what
may the woman Lucile give him?"

"Some few wild moments," was the prompt response; "a burning burst of
happiness, and the regrets of hell - which latter he deserves, as do
I. So the balance is maintained, and all is well."

"But - but - "

"For there is a devil in him," she held on, "a most alluring devil,
which delights me, on my soul it does, and which, pray God, Frona,
you may never know. For you have no devil; mine matches his and
mates. I am free to confess that the whole thing is only an
attraction. There is nothing permanent about him, nor about me. And
there's the beauty, the balance is preserved."

Frona lay back in her chair and lazily regarded her visitor, Lucile
waited for her to speak. It was very quiet.

"Well?" Lucile at last demanded, in a low, curious tone, at the same
time rising to slip into her parka.

"Nothing. I was only waiting."

"I am done."

"Then let me say that I do not understand you," Frona summed up,
coldly. "I cannot somehow just catch your motive. There is a flat
ring to what you have said. However, of this I am sure: for some
unaccountable reason you have been untrue to yourself to-day. Do not
ask me, for, as I said before, I do not know where or how; yet I am
none the less convinced. This I do know, you are not the Lucile I
met by the wood trail across the river. That was the true Lucile,
little though I saw of her. The woman who is here to-day is a
strange woman. I do not know her. Sometimes it has seemed she was
Lucile, but rarely. This woman has lied, lied to me, and lied to me
about herself. As to what she said of the man, at the worst that is
merely an opinion. It may be she has lied about him likewise. The
chance is large that she has. What do you think about it?"

"That you are a very clever girl, Frona. That you speak sometimes
more truly than you know, and that at others you are blinder than you
dream."

"There is something I could love in you, but you have hidden it away
so that I cannot find it."

Lucile's lips trembled on the verge of speech. But she settled her
parka about her and turned to go.

Frona saw her to the door herself, and How-ha pondered over the white
who made the law and was greater than the law.

When the door had closed, Lucile spat into the street. "Faugh! St.
Vincent! I have defiled my mouth with your name!" And she spat
again.


"Come in."

At the summons Matt McCarthy pulled the latch-string, pushed the door
open, and closed it carefully behind him.

"Oh, it is you!" St. Vincent regarded his visitor with dark
abstraction, then, recollecting himself, held out his hand. "Why,
hello, Matt, old man. My mind was a thousand miles away when you
entered. Take a stool and make yourself comfortable. There's the
tobacco by your hand. Take a try at it and give us your verdict."

"An' well may his mind be a thousand miles away," Matt assured
himself; for in the dark he had passed a woman on the trail who
looked suspiciously like Lucile. But aloud, "Sure, an' it's
day-dramin' ye mane. An' small wondher."

"How's that?" the correspondent asked, cheerily.

"By the same token that I met Lucile down the trail a piece, an' the
heels iv her moccasins pointing to yer shack. It's a bitter tongue
the jade slings on occasion," Matt chuckled.

"That's the worst of it." St. Vincent met him frankly. "A man looks
sidewise at them for a passing moment, and they demand that the
moment be eternal."

Off with the old love's a stiff proposition, eh?"

"I should say so. And you understand. It's easy to see, Matt,
you've had some experience in your time."

"In me time? I'll have ye know I'm not too old to still enjoy a bit
iv a fling."

"Certainly, certainly. One can read it in your eyes. The warm heart
and the roving eye, Matt!" He slapped his visitor on the shoulder
with a hearty laugh.

"An' I've none the best iv ye, Vincent. 'Tis a wicked lad ye are,
with a takin' way with the ladies - as plain as the nose on yer face.
Manny's the idle kiss ye've given, an' manny's the heart ye've broke.
But, Vincent, bye, did ye iver know the rale thing?"

"How do you mean?"

"The rale thing, the rale thing - that is - well, have ye been iver a
father?"

St. Vincent shook his head.

"And niver have I. But have ye felt the love iv a father, thin?"

"I hardly know. I don't think so."

"Well, I have. An' it's the rale thing, I'll tell ye. If iver a man
suckled a child, I did, or the next door to it. A girl child at
that, an' she's woman grown, now, an' if the thing is possible, I
love her more than her own blood-father. Bad luck, exciptin' her,
there was niver but one woman I loved, an' that woman had mated
beforetime. Not a soul did I brathe a word to, trust me, nor even
herself. But she died. God's love be with her."

His chin went down upon his chest and he quested back to a
flaxen-haired Saxon woman, strayed like a bit of sunshine into the
log store by the Dyea River. He looked up suddenly, and caught St.
Vincent's stare bent blankly to the floor as he mused on other things.

"A truce to foolishness, Vincent."

The correspondent returned to himself with an effort and found the
Irishman's small blue eyes boring into him.

"Are ye a brave man, Vincent?"

For a second's space they searched each other's souls. And in that
space Matt could have sworn he saw the faintest possible flicker or
flutter in the man's eyes.

He brought his fist down on the table with a triumphant crash. "By
God, yer not!"

The correspondent pulled the tobacco jug over to him and rolled a
cigarette. He rolled it carefully, the delicate rice paper crisping
in his hand without a tremor; but all the while a red tide mounting
up from beneath the collar of his shirt, deepening in the hollows of
the cheeks and thinning against the cheekbones above, creeping,
spreading, till all his face was aflame.

"'Tis good. An' likely it saves me fingers a dirty job. Vincent,
man, the girl child which is woman grown slapes in Dawson this night.
God help us, you an' me, but we'll niver hit again the pillow as
clane an' pure as she! Vincent, a word to the wise: ye'll niver lay
holy hand or otherwise upon her."

The devil, which Lucile had proclaimed, began to quicken, - a fuming,
fretting, irrational devil.

"I do not like ye. I kape me raysons to meself. It is sufficient.
But take this to heart, an' take it well: should ye be mad enough to
make her yer wife, iv that damned day ye'll niver see the inding, nor
lay eye upon the bridal bed. Why, man, I cud bate ye to death with
me two fists if need be. But it's to be hoped I'll do a nater job.
Rest aisy. I promise ye."

"You Irish pig!"

So the devil burst forth, and all unaware, for McCarthy found himself
eye-high with the muzzle of a Colt's revolver.

"Is it loaded?" he asked. "I belave ye. But why are ye lingerin'?
Lift the hammer, will ye?"

The correspondent's trigger-finger moved and there was a warning
click.

"Now pull it. Pull it, I say. As though ye cud, with that flutter
to yer eye."

St. Vincent attempted to turn his head aside.

"Look at me, man!" McCarthy commanded. "Kape yer eyes on me when ye
do it."

Unwillingly the sideward movement was arrested, and his eyes returned
and met the Irishman's.

"Now!"

St. Vincent ground his teeth and pulled the trigger - at least he
thought he did, as men think they do things in dreams. He willed the
deed, flashed the order forth; but the flutter of his soul stopped it.

"'Tis paralyzed, is it, that shaky little finger?" Matt grinned into
the face of the tortured man. "Now turn it aside, so, an' drop it,
gently . . . gently . . . gently." His voice crooned away in
soothing diminuendo.

When the trigger was safely down, St. Vincent let the revolver fall
from his hand, and with a slight audible sigh sank nervelessly upon a
stool. He tried to straighten himself, but instead dropped down upon
the table and buried his face in his palsied hands. Matt drew on his
mittens, looking down upon him pityingly the while, and went out,
closing the door softly behind him.




CHAPTER XX

Where nature shows the rough hand, the sons of men are apt to respond
with kindred roughness. The amenities of life spring up only in mellow
lands, where the sun is warm and the earth fat. The damp and soggy
climate of Britain drives men to strong drink; the rosy Orient lures to
the dream splendors of the lotus. The big-bodied, white-skinned
northern dweller, rude and ferocious, bellows his anger uncouthly and
drives a gross fist into the face of his foe. The supple
south-sojourner, silken of smile and lazy of gesture, waits, and does
his work from behind, when no man looketh, gracefully and without
offence. Their ends are one; the difference lies in their ways, and
therein the climate, and the cumulative effect thereof, is the
determining factor. Both are sinners, as men born of women have ever
been; but the one does his sin openly, in the clear sight of God; the
other - as though God could not see - veils his iniquity with shimmering
fancies, hiding it like it were some splendid mystery.

These be the ways of men, each as the sun shines upon him and the wind
blows against him, according to his kind, and the seed of his father,
and the milk of his mother. Each is the resultant of many forces which
go to make a pressure mightier than he, and which moulds him in the
predestined shape. But, with sound legs under him, he may run away,
and meet with a new pressure. He may continue running, each new
pressure prodding him as he goes, until he dies and his final form will
be that predestined of the many pressures. An exchange of
cradle-babes, and the base-born slave may wear the purple imperially,
and the royal infant begs an alms as wheedlingly or cringe to the lash
as abjectly as his meanest subject. A Chesterfield, with an empty
belly, chancing upon good fare, will gorge as faithfully as the swine
in the next sty. And an Epicurus, in the dirt-igloo of the Eskimos,
will wax eloquent over the whale oil and walrus blubber, or die.

Thus, in the young Northland, frosty and grim and menacing, men
stripped off the sloth of the south and gave battle greatly. And they
stripped likewise much of the veneer of civilization - all of its
follies, most of its foibles, and perhaps a few of its virtues. Maybe
so; but they reserved the great traditions and at least lived frankly,
laughed honestly, and looked one another in the eyes.

And so it is not well for women, born south of fifty-three and reared
gently, to knock loosely about the Northland, unless they be great of
heart. They may be soft and tender and sensitive, possessed of eyes
which have not lost the lustre and the wonder, and of ears used only to
sweet sounds; but if their philosophy is sane and stable, large enough
to understand and to forgive, they will come to no harm and attain
comprehension. If not, they will see things and hear things which
hurt, and they will suffer greatly, and lose faith in man - which is the
greatest evil that may happen them. Such should be sedulously
cherished, and it were well to depute this to their men-folk, the
nearer of kin the better. In line, it were good policy to seek out a
cabin on the hill overlooking Dawson, or - best of all - across the Yukon
on the western bank. Let them not move abroad unheralded and
unaccompanied; and the hillside back of the cabin may be recommended as
a fit field for stretching muscles and breathing deeply, a place where
their ears may remain undefiled by the harsh words of men who strive to
the utmost.


Vance Corliss wiped the last tin dish and filed it away on the shelf,
lighted his pipe, and rolled over on his back on the bunk to
contemplate the moss-chinked roof of his French Hill cabin. This
French Hill cabin stood on the last dip of the hill into Eldorado
Creek, close to the main-travelled trail; and its one window blinked
cheerily of nights at those who journeyed late.

The door was kicked open, and Del Bishop staggered in with a load of
fire-wood. His breath had so settled on his face in a white rime that
he could not speak. Such a condition was ever a hardship with the man,
so he thrust his face forthwith into the quivering heat above the
stove. In a trice the frost was started and the thawed streamlets
dancing madly on the white-hot surface beneath. Then the ice began to
fall from is beard in chunks, rattling on the lid-tops and simmering
spitefully till spurted upward in clouds of steam.

"And so you witness an actual phenomenon, illustrative of the three
forms of matter," Vance laughed, mimicking the monotonous tones of the
demonstrator; "solid, liquid, and vapor. In another moment you will
have the gas."

"Th - th - that's all very well," Bishop spluttered, wrestling with an
obstructing piece of ice until it was wrenched from his upper lip and
slammed stoveward with a bang.

"How cold do you make it, Del? Fifty?"

"Fifty?" the pocket-miner demanded with unutterable scorn, wiping his
face. "Quicksilver's been solid for hours, and it's been gittin'
colder an' colder ever since. Fifty? I'll bet my new mittens against
your old moccasins that it ain't a notch below seventy."

"Think so?"

"D'ye want to bet?"

Vance nodded laughingly.

"Centigrade or Fahrenheit?" Bishop asked, suddenly suspicious.

"Oh, well, if you want my old moccasins so badly," Vance rejoined,
feigning to be hurt by the other's lack of faith, "why, you can have
them without betting."

Del snorted and flung himself down on the opposite bunk. "Think yer
funny, don't you?" No answer forthcoming, he deemed the retort
conclusive, rolled over, and fell to studying the moss chinks.

Fifteen minutes of this diversion sufficed. "Play you a rubber of crib
before bed," he challenged across to the other bunk.

"I'll go you." Corliss got up, stretched, and moved the kerosene lamp
from the shelf to the table, "Think it will hold out?" he asked,
surveying the oil-level through the cheap glass.

Bishop threw down the crib-board and cards, and measured the contents
of the lamp with his eye. "Forgot to fill it, didn't I? Too late now.
Do it to-morrow. It'll last the rubber out, sure."

Corliss took up the cards, but paused in the shuffling. "We've a big
trip before us, Del, about a month from now, the middle of March as
near as I can plan it, - up the Stuart River to McQuestion; up
McQuestion and back again down the Mayo; then across country to Mazy
May, winding up at Henderson Creek - "

"On the Indian River?"

"No," Corliss replied, as he dealt the hands; "just below where the
Stuart taps the Yukon. And then back to Dawson before the ice breaks."

The pocket-miner's eyes sparkled. "Keep us hustlin'; but, say, it's a
trip, isn't it! Hunch?"

"I've received word from the Parker outfit on the Mayo, and McPherson
isn't asleep on Henderson - you don't know him. They're keeping quiet,
and of course one can't tell, but . . ."

Bishop nodded his head sagely, while Corliss turned the trump he had
cut. A sure vision of a "twenty-four" hand was dazzling him, when
there was a sound of voices without and the door shook to a heavy knock.

"Come in!" he bawled. "An' don't make such a row about it! Look at
that" - to Corliss, at the same time facing his hand - "fifteen-eight,


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Online LibraryJack LondonA Daughter of the Snows → online text (page 12 of 20)