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Still holding the man's head above water, she threw her body against
the sweep and guided the boat stern-foremost into the opening. A few
more strokes and it grounded at the foot of the bank. She passed the
collar of the chattering man to Dave Harney, who dragged him out and
started him off on the trail of the mail-carriers.

Frona stood up, her cheeks glowing from the quick work. Jacob Welse
hesitated. Though he stood within reach of the gunwale, a gulf of
three years was between. The womanhood of twenty, added unto the girl
of seventeen, made a sum more prodigious than he had imagined. He did
not know whether to bear-hug the radiant young creature or to take her
hand and help her ashore. But there was no apparent hitch, for she
leaped beside him and was into his arms. Those above looked away to a
man till the two came up the bank hand in hand.

"Gentlemen, my daughter." There was a great pride in his face.

Frona embraced them all with a comrade smile, and each man felt that
for an instant her eyes had looked straight into his.




CHAPTER VII

That Vance Corliss wanted to see more of the girl he had divided
blankets with, goes with the saying. He had not been wise enough to
lug a camera into the country, but none the less, by a yet subtler
process, a sun-picture had been recorded somewhere on his cerebral
tissues. In the flash of an instant it had been done. A wave message
of light and color, a molecular agitation and integration, a certain
minute though definite corrugation in a brain recess, - and there it
was, a picture complete! The blazing sunlight on the beetling black; a
slender gray form, radiant, starting forward to the vision from the
marge where light and darkness met; a fresh young morning smile
wreathed in a flame of burning gold.

It was a picture he looked at often, and the more he looked the greater
was his desire, to see Frona Welse again. This event he anticipated
with a thrill, with the exultancy over change which is common of all
life. She was something new, a fresh type, a woman unrelated to all
women he had met. Out of the fascinating unknown a pair of hazel eyes
smiled into his, and a hand, soft of touch and strong of grip, beckoned
him. And there was an allurement about it which was as the allurement
of sin.

Not that Vance Corliss was anybody's fool, nor that his had been an
anchorite's existence; but that his upbringing, rather, had given his
life a certain puritanical bent. Awakening intelligence and broader
knowledge had weakened the early influence of an austere mother, but
had not wholly eradicated it. It was there, deep down, very shadowy,
but still a part of him. He could not get away from it. It distorted,
ever so slightly, his concepts of things. It gave a squint to his
perceptions, and very often, when the sex feminine was concerned,
determined his classifications. He prided himself on his largeness
when he granted that there were three kinds of women. His mother had
only admitted two. But he had outgrown her. It was incontestable that
there were three kinds, - the good, the bad, and the partly good and
partly bad. That the last usually went bad, he believed firmly. In
its very nature such a condition could not be permanent. It was the
intermediary stage, marking the passage from high to low, from best to
worst.

All of which might have been true, even as he saw it; but with
definitions for premises, conclusions cannot fail to be dogmatic. What
was good and bad? There it was. That was where his mother whispered
with dead lips to him. Nor alone his mother, but divers conventional
generations, even back to the sturdy ancestor who first uplifted from
the soil and looked down. For Vance Corliss was many times removed
from the red earth, and, though he did not know it, there was a clamor
within him for a return lest he perish.

Not that he pigeon-holed Frona according to his inherited definitions.
He refused to classify her at all. He did not dare. He preferred to
pass judgment later, when he had gathered more data. And there was the
allurement, the gathering of the data; the great critical point where
purity reaches dreamy hands towards pitch and refuses to call it
pitch - till defiled. No; Vance Corliss was not a cad. And since
purity is merely a relative term, he was not pure. That there was no
pitch under his nails was not because he had manicured diligently, but
because it had not been his luck to run across any pitch. He was not
good because he chose to be, because evil was repellant; but because he
had not had opportunity to become evil. But from this, on the other
hand, it is not to be argued that he would have gone bad had he had a
chance.

He was a product of the sheltered life. All his days had been lived in
a sanitary dwelling; the plumbing was excellent. The air he had
breathed had been mostly ozone artificially manufactured. He had been
sun-bathed in balmy weather, and brought in out of the wet when it
rained. And when he reached the age of choice he had been too fully
occupied to deviate from the straight path, along which his mother had
taught him to creep and toddle, and along which he now proceeded to
walk upright, without thought of what lay on either side.

Vitality cannot be used over again. If it be expended on one thing,
there is none left for the other thing. And so with Vance Corliss.
Scholarly lucubrations and healthy exercises during his college days
had consumed all the energy his normal digestion extracted from a
wholesome omnivorous diet. When he did discover a bit of surplus
energy, he worked it off in the society of his mother and of the
conventional minds and prim teas she surrounded herself with. Result:
A very nice young man, of whom no maid's mother need ever be in
trepidation; a very strong young man, whose substance had not been
wasted in riotous living; a very learned young man, with a Freiberg
mining engineer's diploma and a B.A. sheepskin from Yale; and, lastly,
a very self-centred, self-possessed young man.

Now his greatest virtue lay in this: he had not become hardened in the
mould baked by his several forbears and into which he had been pressed
by his mother's hands. Some atavism had been at work in the making of
him, and he had reverted to that ancestor who sturdily uplifted. But
so far this portion of his heritage had lain dormant. He had simply
remained adjusted to a stable environment. There had been no call upon
the adaptability which was his. But whensoever the call came, being so
constituted, it was manifest that he should adapt, should adjust
himself to the unwonted pressure of new conditions. The maxim of the
rolling stone may be all true; but notwithstanding, in the scheme of
life, the inability to become fixed is an excellence par excellence.
Though he did not know it, this inability was Vance Corliss's most
splendid possession.

But to return. He looked forward with great sober glee to meeting
Frona Welse, and in the meanwhile consulted often the sun-picture he
carried of her. Though he went over the Pass and down the lakes and
river with a push of money behind him (London syndicates are never
niggardly in such matters). Frona beat him into Dawson by a fortnight.
While on his part money in the end overcame obstacles, on hers the name
of Welse was a talisman greater than treasure. After his arrival, a
couple of weeks were consumed in buying a cabin, presenting his letters
of introduction, and settling down. But all things come in the fulness
of time, and so, one night after the river closed, he pointed his
moccasins in the direction of Jacob Welse's house. Mrs. Schoville, the
Gold Commissioner's wife, gave him the honor of her company.


Corliss wanted to rub his eyes. Steam-heating apparatus in the
Klondike! But the next instant he had passed out of the hall through
the heavy portieres and stood inside the drawing-room. And it was a
drawing-room. His moose-hide moccasins sank luxuriantly into the deep
carpet, and his eyes were caught by a Turner sunrise on the opposite
wall. And there were other paintings and things in bronze. Two Dutch
fireplaces were roaring full with huge back-logs of spruce. There was
a piano; and somebody was singing. Frona sprang from the stool and
came forward, greeting him with both hands. He had thought his
sun-picture perfect, but this fire-picture, this young creature with
the flush and warmth of ringing life, quite eclipsed it. It was a
whirling moment, as he held her two hands in his, one of those moments
when an incomprehensible orgasm quickens the blood and dizzies the
brain. Though the first syllables came to him faintly, Mrs.
Schoville's voice brought him back to himself.

"Oh!" she cried. "You know him!"

And Frona answered, "Yes, we met on the Dyea Trail; and those who meet
on the Dyea Trail can never forget."

"How romantic!"

The Gold Commissioner's wife clapped her hands. Though fat and forty,
and phlegmatic of temperament, between exclamations and hand-clappings
her waking existence was mostly explosive. Her husband secretly
averred that did God Himself deign to meet her face to face, she would
smite together her chubby hands and cry out, "How romantic!"

"How did it happen?" she continued. "He didn't rescue you over a
cliff, or that sort of thing, did he? Do say that he did! And you
never said a word about it, Mr. Corliss. Do tell me. I'm just dying
to know!"

"Oh, nothing like that," he hastened to answer. "Nothing much. I,
that is we - "

He felt a sinking as Frona interrupted. There was no telling what this
remarkable girl might say.

"He gave me of his hospitality, that was all," she said. "And I can
vouch for his fried potatoes; while for his coffee, it is
excellent - when one is very hungry."

"Ingrate!" he managed to articulate, and thereby to gain a smile, ere
he was introduced to a cleanly built lieutenant of the Mounted Police,
who stood by the fireplace discussing the grub proposition with a
dapper little man very much out of place in a white shirt and stiff
collar.

Thanks to the particular niche in society into which he happened to be
born, Corliss drifted about easily from group to group, and was much
envied therefore by Del Bishop, who sat stiffly in the first chair he
had dropped into, and who was waiting patiently for the first person to
take leave that he might know how to compass the manoeuvre. In his
mind's eye he had figured most of it out, knew just how many steps
required to carry him to the door, was certain he would have to say
good-by to Frona, but did not know whether or not he was supposed to
shake hands all around. He had just dropped in to see Frona and say
"Howdee," as he expressed it, and had unwittingly found himself in
company.

Corliss, having terminated a buzz with a Miss Mortimer on the decadence
of the French symbolists, encountered Del Bishop. But the pocket-miner
remembered him at once from the one glimpse he had caught of Corliss
standing by his tent-door in Happy Camp. Was almighty obliged to him
for his night's hospitality to Miss Frona, seein' as he'd ben
side-tracked down the line; that any kindness to her was a kindness to
him; and that he'd remember it, by God, as long as he had a corner of a
blanket to pull over him. Hoped it hadn't put him out. Miss Frona'd
said that bedding was scarce, but it wasn't a cold night (more blowy
than crisp), so he reckoned there couldn't 'a' ben much shiverin'. All
of which struck Corliss as perilous, and he broke away at the first
opportunity, leaving the pocket-miner yearning for the door.

But Dave Harney, who had not come by mistake, avoided gluing himself to
the first chair. Being an Eldorado king, he had felt it incumbent to
assume the position in society to which his numerous millions entitled
him; and though unused all his days to social amenities other than the
out-hanging latch-string and the general pot, he had succeeded to his
own satisfaction as a knight of the carpet. Quick to take a cue, he
circulated with an aplomb which his striking garments and long
shambling gait only heightened, and talked choppy and disconnected
fragments with whomsoever he ran up against. The Miss Mortimer, who
spoke Parisian French, took him aback with her symbolists; but he
evened matters up with a goodly measure of the bastard lingo of the
Canadian _voyageurs_, and left her gasping and meditating over a
proposition to sell him twenty-five pounds of sugar, white or brown.
But she was not unduly favored, for with everybody he adroitly turned
the conversation to grub, and then led up to the eternal proposition.
"Sugar or bust," he would conclude gayly each time and wander on to the
next.

But he put the capstone on his social success by asking Frona to sing
the touching ditty, "I Left My Happy Home for You." This was something
beyond her, though she had him hum over the opening bars so that she
could furnish the accompaniment. His voice was more strenuous than
sweet, and Del Bishop, discovering himself at last, joined in raucously
on the choruses. This made him feel so much better that he
disconnected himself from the chair, and when he finally got home he
kicked up his sleepy tent-mate to tell him about the high time he'd had
over at the Welse's. Mrs. Schoville tittered and thought it all so
unique, and she thought it so unique several times more when the
lieutenant of Mounted Police and a couple of compatriots roared "Rule
Britannia" and "God Save the Queen," and the Americans responded with
"My Country, 'Tis of Thee" and "John Brown." Then big Alec Beaubien,
the Circle City king, demanded the "Marseillaise," and the company
broke up chanting "Die Wacht am Rhein" to the frosty night.

"Don't come on these nights," Frona whispered to Corliss at parting.
"We haven't spoken three words, and I know we shall be good friends.
Did Dave Harney succeed in getting any sugar out of you?"

They mingled their laughter, and Corliss went home under the aurora
borealis, striving to reduce his impressions to some kind of order.




CHAPTER VIII

"And why should I not be proud of my race?"

Frona's cheeks were flushed and her eyes sparkling. They had both been
harking back to childhood, and she had been telling Corliss of her
mother, whom she faintly remembered. Fair and flaxen-haired, typically
Saxon, was the likeness she had drawn, filled out largely with
knowledge gained from her father and from old Andy of the Dyea Post.
The discussion had then turned upon the race in general, and Frona had
said things in the heat of enthusiasm which affected the more
conservative mind of Corliss as dangerous and not solidly based on
fact. He deemed himself too large for race egotism and insular
prejudice, and had seen fit to laugh at her immature convictions.

"It's a common characteristic of all peoples," he proceeded, "to
consider themselves superior races, - a naive, natural egoism, very
healthy and very good, but none the less manifestly untrue. The Jews
conceived themselves to be God's chosen people, and they still so
conceive themselves - "

"And because of it they have left a deep mark down the page of
history," she interrupted.

"But time has not proved the stability of their conceptions. And you
must also view the other side. A superior people must look upon all
others as inferior peoples. This comes home to you. To be a Roman
were greater than to be a king, and when the Romans rubbed against your
savage ancestors in the German forests, they elevated their brows and
said, 'An inferior people, barbarians.'"

"But we are here, now. We are, and the Romans are not. The test is
time. So far we have stood the test; the signs are favorable that we
shall continue to stand it. We are the best fitted!"

"Egotism."

"But wait. Put it to the test."

As she spoke her hand flew out impulsively to his. At the touch his
heart pulsed upward, there was a rush Of blood and a tightening across
the temples. Ridiculous, but delightful, he thought. At this rate he
could argue with her the night through.

"The test," she repeated, withdrawing her hand without embarrassment.
"We are a race of doers and fighters, of globe-encirclers and
zone-conquerors. We toil and struggle, and stand by the toil and
struggle no matter how hopeless it may be. While we are persistent and
resistant, we are so made that we fit ourselves to the most diverse
conditions. Will the Indian, the Negro, or the Mongol ever conquer the
Teuton? Surely not! The Indian has persistence without variability;
if he does not modify he dies, if he does try to modify he dies anyway.
The Negro has adaptability, but he is servile and must be led. As for
the Chinese, they are permanent. All that the other races are not, the
Anglo-Saxon, or Teuton if you please, is. All that the other races
have not, the Teuton has. What race is to rise up and overwhelm us?"

"Ah, you forget the Slav," Corliss suggested slyly.

"The Slav!" Her face fell. "True, the Slav! The only stripling in
this world of young men and gray-beards! But he is still in the
future, and in the future the decision rests. In the mean time we
prepare. If may be we shall have such a start that we shall prevent
him growing. You know, because he was better skilled in chemistry,
knew how to manufacture gunpowder, that the Spaniard destroyed the
Aztec. May not we, who are possessing ourselves of the world and its
resources, and gathering to ourselves all its knowledge, may not we nip
the Slav ere he grows a thatch to his lip?"

Vance Corliss shook his head non-committally, and laughed.

"Oh! I know I become absurd and grow over-warm!" she exclaimed. "But
after all, one reason that we are the salt of the earth is because we
have the courage to say so."

"And I am sure your warmth spreads," he responded. "See, I'm beginning
to glow myself. We are not God's, but Nature's chosen people, we
Angles, and Saxons, and Normans, and Vikings, and the earth is our
heritage. Let us arise and go forth!"

"Now you are laughing at me, and, besides, we have already gone forth.
Why have you fared into the north, if not to lay hands on the race
legacy?"


She turned her head at the sound of approaching footsteps, and cried
for greeting, "I appeal to you, Captain Alexander! I summon you to
bear witness!"

The captain of police smiled in his sternly mirthful fashion as he
shook hands with Frona and Corliss. "Bear witness?" he questioned.
"Ah, yes!

"'Bear witness, O my comrades, what a hard-bit gang were we, -
The servants of the sweep-head, but the masters of the sea!'"

He quoted the verse with a savage solemnity exulting through his deep
voice. This, and the appositeness of it, quite carried Frona away, and
she had both his hands in hers on the instant. Corliss was aware of an
inward wince at the action. It was uncomfortable. He did not like to
see her so promiscuous with those warm, strong hands of hers. Did she
so favor all men who delighted her by word or deed? He did not mind
her fingers closing round his, but somehow it seemed wanton when shared
with the next comer. By the time he had thought thus far, Frona had
explained the topic under discussion, and Captain Alexander was
testifying.

"I don't know much about your Slav and other kin, except that they are
good workers and strong; but I do know that the white man is the
greatest and best breed in the world. Take the Indian, for instance.
The white man comes along and beats him at all his games, outworks him,
out-roughs him, out-fishes him, out-hunts him. As far back as their
myths go, the Alaskan Indians have packed on their backs. But the
gold-rushers, as soon as they had learned the tricks of the trade,
packed greater loads and packed them farther than did the Indians.
Why, last May, the Queen's birthday, we had sports on the river. In
the one, two, three, four, and five men canoe races we beat the Indians
right and left. Yet they had been born to the paddle, and most of us
had never seen a canoe until man-grown."

"But why is it?" Corliss queried.

"I do not know why. I only know that it is. I simply bear witness. I
do know that we do what they cannot do, and what they can do, we do
better."

Frona nodded her head triumphantly at Corliss. "Come, acknowledge your
defeat, so that we may go in to dinner. Defeat for the time being, at
least. The concrete facts of paddles and pack-straps quite overcome
your dogmatics. Ah, I thought so. More time? All the time in the
world. But let us go in. We'll see what my father thinks of it, - and
Mr. Kellar. A symposium on Anglo-Saxon supremacy!"


Frost and enervation are mutually repellant. The Northland gives a
keenness and zest to the blood which cannot be obtained in warmer
climes. Naturally so, then, the friendship which sprang up between
Corliss and Frona was anything but languid. They met often under her
father's roof-tree, and went many places together. Each found a
pleasurable attraction in the other, and a satisfaction which the
things they were not in accord with could not mar. Frona liked the man
because he was a man. In her wildest flights she could never imagine
linking herself with any man, no matter how exalted spiritually, who
was not a man physically. It was a delight to her and a joy to look
upon the strong males of her kind, with bodies comely in the sight of
God and muscles swelling with the promise of deeds and work. Man, to
her, was preeminently a fighter. She believed in natural selection and
in sexual selection, and was certain that if man had thereby become
possessed of faculties and functions, they were for him to use and
could but tend to his good. And likewise with instincts. If she felt
drawn to any person or thing, it was good for her to be so drawn, good
for herself. If she felt impelled to joy in a well-built frame and
well-shaped muscle, why should she restrain? Why should she not love
the body, and without shame? The history of the race, and of all
races, sealed her choice with approval. Down all time, the weak and
effeminate males had vanished from the world-stage. Only the strong
could inherit the earth. She had been born of the strong, and she
chose to cast her lot with the strong.

Yet of all creatures, she was the last to be deaf and blind to the
things of the spirit. But the things of the spirit she demanded should
be likewise strong. No halting, no stuttered utterance, tremulous
waiting, minor wailing! The mind and the soul must be as quick and
definite and certain as the body. Nor was the spirit made alone for
immortal dreaming. Like the flesh, it must strive and toil. It must
be workaday as well as idle day. She could understand a weakling
singing sweetly and even greatly, and in so far she could love him for
his sweetness and greatness; but her love would have fuller measure
were he strong of body as well. She believed she was just. She gave
the flesh its due and the spirit its due; but she had, over and above,
her own choice, her own individual ideal. She liked to see the two go
hand in hand. Prophecy and dyspepsia did not affect her as a
felicitous admixture. A splendid savage and a weak-kneed poet! She
could admire the one for his brawn and the other for his song; but she
would prefer that they had been made one in the beginning.

As to Vance Corliss. First, and most necessary of all, there was that
physiological affinity between them that made the touch of his hand a
pleasure to her. Though souls may rush together, if body cannot endure
body, happiness is reared on sand and the structure will be ever
unstable and tottery. Next, Corliss had the physical potency of the
hero without the grossness of the brute. His muscular development was
more qualitative than quantitative, and it is the qualitative
development which gives rise to beauty of form. A giant need not be
proportioned in the mould; nor a thew be symmetrical to be massive.

And finally, - none the less necessary but still finally, - Vance Corliss
was neither spiritually dead nor decadent. He affected her as fresh
and wholesome and strong, as reared above the soil but not scorning the
soil. Of course, none of this she reasoned out otherwise than by
subconscious processes. Her conclusions were feelings, not thoughts.

Though they quarrelled and disagreed on innumerable things, deep down,
underlying all, there was a permanent unity. She liked him for a
certain stern soberness that was his, and for his saving grace of
humor. Seriousness and banter were not incompatible. She liked him


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Online LibraryJack LondonA Daughter of the Snows → online text (page 5 of 20)