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for his gallantry, made to work with and not for display. She liked
the spirit of his offer at Happy Camp, when he proposed giving her an
Indian guide and passage-money back to the United States. He could
_do_ as well as talk. She liked him for his outlook, for his innate
liberality, which she felt to be there, somehow, no matter that often
he was narrow of expression. She liked him for his mind. Though
somewhat academic, somewhat tainted with latter-day scholasticism, it
was still a mind which permitted him to be classed with the
"Intellectuals." He was capable of divorcing sentiment and emotion
from reason. Granted that he included all the factors, he could not go
wrong. And here was where she found chief fault with him, - his
narrowness which precluded all the factors; his narrowness which gave
the lie to the breadth she knew was really his. But she was aware that
it was not an irremediable defect, and that the new life he was leading
was very apt to rectify it. He was filled with culture; what he needed
was a few more of life's facts.

And she liked him for himself, which is quite different from liking the
parts which went to compose him. For it is no miracle for two things,
added together, to produce not only the sum of themselves, but a third
thing which is not to be found in either of them. So with him. She
liked him for himself, for that something which refused to stand out as
a part, or a sum of parts; for that something which is the corner-stone
of Faith and which has ever baffled Philosophy and Science. And
further, to like, with Frona Welse, did not mean to love.

First, and above all, Vance Corliss was drawn to Frona Welse because of
the clamor within him for a return to the soil. In him the elements
were so mixed that it was impossible for women many times removed to
find favor in his eyes. Such he had met constantly, but not one had
ever drawn from him a superfluous heart-beat. Though there had been in
him a growing instinctive knowledge of lack of unity, - the lack of
unity which must precede, always, the love of man and woman, - not one
of the daughters of Eve he had met had flashed irresistibly in to fill
the void. Elective affinity, sexual affinity, or whatsoever the
intangible essence known as love is, had never been manifest. When he
met Frona it had at once sprung, full-fledged, into existence. But he
quite misunderstood it, took it for a mere attraction towards the new
and unaccustomed.

Many men, possessed of birth and breeding, have yielded to this clamor
for return. And giving the apparent lie to their own sanity and moral
stability, many such men have married peasant girls or barmaids, And
those to whom evil apportioned itself have been prone to distrust the
impulse they obeyed, forgetting that nature makes or mars the
individual for the sake, always, of the type. For in every such case
of return, the impulse was sound, - only that time and space interfered,
and propinquity determined whether the object of choice should be
bar-maid or peasant girl.


Happily for Vance Corliss, time and space were propitious, and in Frona
he found the culture he could not do without, and the clean sharp tang
of the earth he needed. In so far as her education and culture went,
she was an astonishment. He had met the scientifically smattered young
woman before, but Frona had something more than smattering. Further,
she gave new life to old facts, and her interpretations of common
things were coherent and vigorous and new. Though his acquired
conservatism was alarmed and cried danger, he could not remain cold to
the charm of her philosophizing, while her scholarly attainments were
fully redeemed by her enthusiasm. Though he could not agree with much
that she passionately held, he yet recognized that the passion of
sincerity and enthusiasm was good.

But her chief fault, in his eyes, was her unconventionality. Woman was
something so inexpressibly sacred to him, that he could not bear to see
any good woman venturing where the footing was precarious. Whatever
good woman thus ventured, overstepping the metes and bounds of sex and
status, he deemed did so of wantonness. And wantonness of such order
was akin to - well, he could not say it when thinking of Frona, though
she hurt him often by her unwise acts. However, he only felt such
hurts when away from her. When with her, looking into her eyes which
always looked back, or at greeting and parting pressing her hand which
always pressed honestly, it seemed certain that there was in her
nothing but goodness and truth.

And then he liked her in many different ways for many different things.
For her impulses, and for her passions which were always elevated. And
already, from breathing the Northland air, he had come to like her for
that comradeship which at first had shocked him. There were other
acquired likings, her lack of prudishness, for instance, which he awoke
one day to find that he had previously confounded with lack of modesty.
And it was only the day before that day that he drifted, before he
thought, into a discussion with her of "Camille." She had seen
Bernhardt, and dwelt lovingly on the recollection. He went home
afterwards, a dull pain gnawing at his heart, striving to reconcile
Frona with the ideal impressed upon him by his mother that innocence
was another term for ignorance. Notwithstanding, by the following day
he had worked it out and loosened another finger of the maternal grip.

He liked the flame of her hair in the sunshine, the glint of its gold
by the firelight, and the waywardness of it and the glory. He liked
her neat-shod feet and the gray-gaitered calves, - alas, now hidden in
long-skirted Dawson. He liked her for the strength of her slenderness;
and to walk with her, swinging her step and stride to his, or to merely
watch her come across a room or down the street, was a delight. Life
and the joy of life romped through her blood, abstemiously filling out
and rounding off each shapely muscle and soft curve. And he liked it
all. Especially he liked the swell of her forearm, which rose firm and
strong and tantalizing and sought shelter all too quickly under the
loose-flowing sleeve.

The co-ordination of physical with spiritual beauty is very strong in
normal men, and so it was with Vance Corliss. That he liked the one
was no reason that he failed to appreciate the other. He liked Frona
for both, and for herself as well. And to like, with him, though he
did not know it, was to love.




CHAPTER IX

Vance Corliss proceeded at a fair rate to adapt himself to the
Northland life, and he found that many adjustments came easy. While
his own tongue was alien to the brimstone of the Lord, he became quite
used to strong language on the part of other men, even in the most
genial conversation. Carthey, a little Texan who went to work for him
for a while, opened or closed every second sentence, on an average,
with the mild expletive, "By damn!" It was also his invariable way of
expressing surprise, disappointment, consternation, or all the rest of
the tribe of sudden emotions. By pitch and stress and intonation, the
protean oath was made to perform every function of ordinary speech. At
first it was a constant source of irritation and disgust to Corliss,
but erelong he grew not only to tolerate it, but to like it, and to
wait for it eagerly. Once, Carthey's wheel-dog lost an ear in a hasty
contention with a dog of the Hudson Bay, and when the young fellow bent
over the animal and discovered the loss, the blended endearment and
pathos of the "by damn" which fell from his lips was a relation to
Corliss. All was not evil out of Nazareth, he concluded sagely, and,
like Jacob Welse of old, revised his philosophy of life accordingly.

Again, there were two sides to the social life of Dawson. Up at the
Barracks, at the Welse's, and a few other places, all men of standing
were welcomed and made comfortable by the womenkind of like standing.
There were teas, and dinners, and dances, and socials for charity, and
the usual run of things; all of which, however, failed to wholly
satisfy the men. Down in the town there was a totally different though
equally popular other side. As the country was too young for
club-life, the masculine portion of the community expressed its
masculinity by herding together in the saloons, - the ministers and
missionaries being the only exceptions to this mode of expression.
Business appointments and deals were made and consummated in the
saloons, enterprises projected, shop talked, the latest news discussed,
and a general good fellowship maintained. There all life rubbed
shoulders, and kings and dog-drivers, old-timers and chechaquos, met on
a common level. And it so happened, probably because saw-mills and
house-space were scarce, that the saloons accommodated the gambling
tables and the polished dance-house floors. And here, because he needs
must bend to custom, Corliss's adaptation went on rapidly. And as
Carthey, who appreciated him, soliloquized, "The best of it is he likes
it damn well, by damn!"

But any adjustment must have its painful periods, and while Corliss's
general change went on smoothly, in the particular case of Frona it was
different. She had a code of her own, quite unlike that of the
community, and perhaps believed woman might do things at which even the
saloon-inhabiting males would be shocked. And because of this, she and
Corliss had their first disagreeable disagreement.

Frona loved to run with the dogs through the biting frost, cheeks
tingling, blood bounding, body thrust forward, and limbs rising and
falling ceaselessly to the pace. And one November day, with the first
cold snap on and the spirit thermometer frigidly marking sixty-five
below, she got out the sled, harnessed her team of huskies, and flew
down the river trail. As soon as she cleared the town she was off and
running. And in such manner, running and riding by turns, she swept
through the Indian village below the bluff's, made an eight-mile circle
up Moosehide Creek and back, crossed the river on the ice, and several
hours later came flying up the west bank of the Yukon opposite the
town. She was aiming to tap and return by the trail for the wood-sleds
which crossed thereabout, but a mile away from it she ran into the soft
snow and brought the winded dogs to a walk.

Along the rim of the river and under the frown of the overhanging
cliffs, she directed the path she was breaking. Here and there she
made detours to avoid the out-jutting talus, and at other times
followed the ice in against the precipitous walls and hugged them
closely around the abrupt bends. And so, at the head of her huskies,
she came suddenly upon a woman sitting in the snow and gazing across
the river at smoke-canopied Dawson. She had been crying, and this was
sufficient to prevent Frona's scrutiny from wandering farther. A tear,
turned to a globule of ice, rested on her cheek, and her eyes were dim
and moist; there was an-expression of hopeless, fathomless woe.

"Oh!" Frona cried, stopping the dogs and coming up to her. "You are
hurt? Can I help you?" she queried, though the stranger shook her
head. "But you mustn't sit there. It is nearly seventy below, and
you'll freeze in a few minutes. Your cheeks are bitten already." She
rubbed the afflicted parts vigorously with a mitten of snow, and then
looked down on the warm returning glow.

"I beg pardon." The woman rose somewhat stiffly to her feet. "And I
thank you, but I am perfectly warm, you see" (settling the fur cape
more closely about her with a snuggling movement), "and I had just sat
down for the moment."

Frona noted that she was very beautiful, and her woman's eye roved over
and took in the splendid furs, the make of the gown, and the bead-work
of the moccasins which peeped from beneath. And in view of all this,
and of the fact that the face was unfamiliar, she felt an instinctive
desire to shrink back.

"And I haven't hurt myself," the woman went on. "Just a mood, that was
all, looking out over the dreary endless white."

"Yes," Frona replied, mastering herself; "I can understand. There must
be much of sadness in such a landscape, only it never comes that way to
me. The sombreness and the sternness of it appeal to me, but not the
sadness."

"And that is because the lines of our lives have been laid in different
places," the other ventured, reflectively. "It is not what the
landscape is, but what we are. If we were not, the landscape would
remain, but without human significance. That is what we invest it with.

"'Truth is within ourselves; it takes no rise
From outward things, whate'er you may believe.'"

Frona's eyes brightened, and she went on to complete the passage:

"'There is an inmost centre in us all,
Where truth abides in fulness; and around.'

"And - and - how does it go? I have forgotten."

"'Wall upon wall, the gross flesh hems it in - '"

The woman ceased abruptly, her voice trilling off into silvery laughter
with a certain bitter reckless ring to it which made Frona inwardly
shiver. She moved as though to go back to her dogs, but the woman's
hand went out in a familiar gesture, - twin to Frona's own, - which went
at once to Frona's heart.

"Stay a moment," she said, with an undertone of pleading in the words,
"and talk with me. It is long since I have met a woman" - she paused
while her tongue wandered for the word - "who could quote 'Paracelsus.'
You are, - I know you, you see, - you are Jacob Welse's daughter, Frona
Welse, I believe."

Frona nodded her identity, hesitated, and looked at the woman with
secret intentness. She was conscious of a great and pardonable
curiosity, of a frank out-reaching for fuller knowledge. This
creature, so like, so different; old as the oldest race, and young as
the last rose-tinted babe; flung far as the farthermost fires of men,
and eternal as humanity itself - where were they unlike, this woman and
she? Her five senses told her not; by every law of life they were no;
only, only by the fast-drawn lines of social caste and social wisdom
were they not the same. So she thought, even as for one searching
moment she studied the other's face. And in the situation she found an
uplifting awfulness, such as comes when the veil is thrust aside and
one gazes on the mysteriousness of Deity. She remembered: "Her feet
take hold of hell; her house is the way to the grave, going down to the
chamber of death," and in the same instant strong upon her was the
vision of the familiar gesture with which the woman's hand had gone out
in mute appeal, and she looked aside, out over the dreary endless
white, and for her, too, the day became filled with sadness.

She gave an involuntary, half-nervous shiver, though she said,
naturally enough, "Come, let us walk on and get the blood moving again.
I had no idea it was so cold till I stood still." She turned to the
dogs: "Mush-on! King! You Sandy! Mush!" And back again to the
woman, "I am quite chilled, and as for you, you must be - "

"Quite warm, of course. You have been running and your clothes are wet
against you, while I have kept up the needful circulation and no more.
I saw you when you leaped off the sled below the hospital and vanished
down the river like a Diana of the snows. How I envied you! You must
enjoy it."

"Oh, I do," Frona answered, simply. "I was raised with the dogs."

"It savors of the Greek."

Frona did not reply, and they walked on in silence. Yet Frona wished,
though she dared not dare, that she could give her tongue free rein,
and from out of the other's bitter knowledge, for her own soul's sake
and sanity, draw the pregnant human generalizations which she must
possess. And over her welled a wave of pity and distress; and she felt
a discomfort, for she knew not what to say or how to voice her heart.
And when the other's speech broke forth, she hailed it with a great
relief.

"Tell me," the woman demanded, half-eagerly, half-masterly, "tell me
about yourself. You are new to the Inside. Where were you before you
came in? Tell me."

So the difficulty was solved, in a way, and Frona talked on about
herself, with a successfully feigned girlhood innocence, as though she
did not appreciate the other or understand her ill-concealed yearning
for that which she might not have, but which was Frona's.

"There is the trail you are trying to connect with." They had rounded
the last of the cliffs, and Frona's companion pointed ahead to where
the walls receded and wrinkled to a gorge, out of which the sleds drew
the firewood across the river to town. "I shall leave you there," she
concluded.

"But are you not going back to Dawson?" Frona queried. "It is growing
late, and you had better not linger."

"No . . . I . . ."

Her painful hesitancy brought Frona to a realization of her own
thoughtlessness. But she had made the step, and she knew she could not
retrace it.

"We will go back together," she said, bravely. And in candid
all-knowledge of the other, "I do not mind."

Then it was that the blood surged into the woman's cold face, and her
hand went out to the girl in the old, old way.

"No, no, I beg of you," she stammered. "I beg of you . . . I . . . I
prefer to continue my walk a little farther. See! Some one is coming
now!"

By this time they had reached the wood-trail, and Frona's face was
flaming as the other's had flamed. A light sled, dogs a-lope and
swinging down out of the gorge, was just upon them. A man was running
with the team, and he waved his hand to the two women.

"Vance!" Frona exclaimed, as he threw his lead-dogs in the snow and
brought the sled to a halt. "What are you doing over here? Is the
syndicate bent upon cornering the firewood also?"

"No. We're not so bad as that." His face was full of smiling
happiness at the meeting as he shook hands with her. "But Carthey is
leaving me, - going prospecting somewhere around the North Pole, I
believe, - and I came across to look up Del Bishop, if he'll serve."

He turned his head to glance expectantly at her companion, and she saw
the smile go out of his face and anger come in. Frona was helplessly
aware that she had no grip over the situation, and, though a rebellion
at the cruelty and injustice of it was smouldering somewhere deep down,
she could only watch the swift culmination of the little tragedy. The
woman met his gaze with a half-shrinking, as from an impending blow,
and with a softness of expression which entreated pity. But he
regarded her long and coldly, then deliberately turned his back. As he
did this, Frona noted her face go tired and gray, and the hardness and
recklessness of her laughter were there painted in harsh tones, and a
bitter devil rose up and lurked in her eyes. It was evident that the
same bitter devil rushed hotly to her tongue. But it chanced just then
that she glanced at Frona, and all expression was brushed from her face
save the infinite tiredness. She smiled wistfully at the girl, and
without a word turned and went down the trail.

And without a word Frona sprang upon her sled and was off. The way was
wide, and Corliss swung in his dogs abreast of hers. The smouldering
rebellion flared up, and she seemed to gather to herself some of the
woman's recklessness.

"You brute!"

The words left her mouth, sharp, clear-cut, breaking the silence like
the lash of a whip. The unexpectedness of it, and the savagery, took
Corliss aback. He did not know what to do or say.

"Oh, you coward! You coward!"

"Frona! Listen to me - "

But she cut him off. "No. Do not speak. You can have nothing to say.
You have behaved abominably. I am disappointed in you. It is
horrible! horrible!"

"Yes, it was horrible, - horrible that she should walk with you, have
speech with you, be seen with you."

"'Not until the sun excludes you, do I exclude you,'" she flung back at
him.

"But there is a fitness of things - "

"Fitness!" She turned upon him and loosed her wrath. "If she is unfit,
are you fit? May you cast the first stone with that smugly
sanctimonious air of yours?"

"You shall not talk to me in this fashion. I'll not have it."

He clutched at her sled, and even in the midst of her anger she noticed
it with a little thrill of pleasure.

"Shall not? You coward!"

He reached out as though to lay hands upon her, and she raised her
coiled whip to strike. But to his credit he never flinched; his white
face calmly waited to receive the blow. Then she deflected the stroke,
and the long lash hissed out and fell among the dogs. Swinging the
whip briskly, she rose to her knees on the sled and called frantically
to the animals. Hers was the better team, and she shot rapidly away
from Corliss. She wished to get away, not so much from him as from
herself, and she encouraged the huskies into wilder and wilder speed.
She took the steep river-bank in full career and dashed like a
whirlwind through the town and home. Never in her life had she been in
such a condition; never had she experienced such terrible anger. And
not only was she already ashamed, but she was frightened and afraid of
herself.




CHAPTER X

The next morning Corliss was knocked out of a late bed by Bash, one of
Jacob Welse's Indians. He was the bearer of a brief little note from
Frona, which contained a request for the mining engineer to come and
see her at his first opportunity. That was all that was said, and he
pondered over it deeply. What did she wish to say to him? She was
still such an unknown quantity, - and never so much as now in the light
of the day before, - that he could not guess. Did she desire to give
him his dismissal on a definite, well-understood basis? To take
advantage of her sex and further humiliate him? To tell him what she
thought of him in coolly considered, cold-measured terms? Or was she
penitently striving to make amends for the unmerited harshness she had
dealt him? There was neither contrition nor anger in the note, no
clew, nothing save a formally worded desire to see him.

So it was in a rather unsettled and curious frame of mind that he
walked in upon her as the last hour of the morning drew to a close. He
was neither on his dignity nor off, his attitude being strictly
non-committal against the moment she should disclose hers. But without
beating about the bush, in that way of hers which he had come already
to admire, she at once showed her colors and came frankly forward to
him. The first glimpse of her face told him, the first feel of her
hand, before she had said a word, told him that all was well.

"I am glad you have come," she began. "I could not be at peace with
myself until I had seen you and told you how sorry I am for yesterday,
and how deeply ashamed I - "

"There, there. It's not so bad as all that." They were still
standing, and he took a step nearer to her. "I assure you I can
appreciate your side of it; and though, looking at it theoretically, it
was the highest conduct, demanding the fullest meed of praise, still,
in all frankness, there is much to - to - "

"Yes."

"Much to deplore in it from the social stand-point. And unhappily, we
cannot leave the social stand-point out of our reckoning. But so far
as I may speak for myself, you have done nothing to feel sorry for or
be ashamed of."

"It is kind of you," she cried, graciously. "Only it is not true, and
you know it is not true. You know that you acted for the best; you
know that I hurt you, insulted you; you know that I behaved like a
fish-wife, and you do know that I disgusted you - "

"No, no!" He raised his hand as though to ward from her the blows she
dealt herself.

"But yes, yes. And I have all reason in the world to be ashamed. I
can only say this in defence: the woman had affected me deeply - so
deeply that I was close to weeping. Then you came on the scene, - you
know what you did, - and the sorrow for her bred an indignation against
you, and - well, I worked myself into a nervous condition such as I had
never experienced in my life. It was hysteria, I suppose. Anyway, I
was not myself."

"We were neither of us ourselves."

"Now you are untrue. I did wrong, but you were yourself, as much so
then as now. But do be seated. Here we stand as though you were ready
to run away at first sign of another outbreak."

"Surely you are not so terrible!" he laughed, adroitly pulling his
chair into position so that the light fell upon her face.

"Rather, you are not such a coward. I must have been terrible
yesterday. I - I almost struck you. And you were certainly brave when


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Online LibraryJack LondonA Daughter of the Snows → online text (page 6 of 20)