Gordon Elliot had taken the boat at Pierre's Portage, fifty miles farther down the river. He had come direct from the creeks, and his impressions of the motley pioneer life at the gold-diggings were so vivid that he had found an isolated corner of the deck where he could scribble them in a notebook while still fresh. But he had not been too busy to see that the girl in the wicker chair was as much of an outsider as he was. Plainly this was her first trip in. Gordon was a ...
Gordon Elliot had taken the boat at Pierre's Portage, fifty miles farther down the river. He had come direct from the creeks, and his impressions of the motley pioneer life at the gold-diggings were so vivid that he had found an isolated corner of the deck where he could scribble them in a notebook while still fresh.
But he had not been too busy to see that the girl in the wicker chair was as much of an outsider as he was. Plainly this was her first trip in. Gordon was a stranger in the Yukon country, one not likely to be over-welcome when it became known what his mission was. It may have been because he was out of the picture himself that he resented a little the exclusion of the young woman with the magazine. Certainly she herself gave no evidence of feeling about it. Her long-lashed eyes looked dreamily across the river to the glowing hills beyond. Not once did they turn with any show of interest to the lively party under the awning.
From where he was leaning against the deckhouse Elliot could see only a fine, chiseled profile shading into a mass of crisp, black hair, but some quality in the detachment of her personality stimulated gently his imagination. He wondered who she could be. His work had taken him to frontier camps before, but he could not place her as a type. The best he could do was to guess that she might be the daughter of some territorial official on her way in to join him.
A short, thick-set man who had ridden down on the stage with Elliot to Pierre's Portage drifted along the deck toward him. He wore the careless garb of a mining man in a country which looks first to comfort.
"Bound for Kusiak?" he asked, by way of opening conversation.
"Yes," answered Gordon.
The miner nodded toward the group under the awning. "That bunch lives at Kusiak. They've got on at different places the last two or three days-except Selfridge and his wife, they've been out. Guess you can tell that from hearing her talk-the little woman in red with the snappy black eyes. She's spillin' over with talk about the styles in New York and the cabarets and the new shows. That pot-bellied little fellow in the checked suit is Selfridge. He is Colby Macdonald's man Friday."
Elliot took in with a quickened interest the group bound for Kusiak. He had noticed that they monopolized as a matter of course the best places on the deck and in the dining-room. They were civil enough to outsiders, but their manner had the unconscious selfishness that often regulates social activities. It excluded from their gayety everybody that did not belong to the proper set.
"That sort of thing gets my goat," the miner went on sourly. "Those women over there have elected themselves Society with a capital S. They put on all the airs the Four Hundred do in New York. And who the hell are they anyhow?-wives to a bunch of grafting politicians mostly."
From the casual talk that had floated to him, with its many little allusions punctuating the jolly give-and-take of their repartee, Elliot guessed that their lives had the same background of tennis, dinners, hops, official gossip, and business. They evidently knew one another with the intimacy that comes only to the segment of a small community shut off largely from the world and forced into close social relations. No doubt they had loaned each other money occasionally, stood by in trouble, and gossiped back and forth about their shortcomings and family skeletons even as society on the outside does.
"That's the way of the world, isn't it? Our civilization is built on the group system," suggested Elliot.
"Maybeso," grumbled the miner. "But I hate to see Alaska come to it. Me, I saw this country first in '97-packed an outfit in over the Pass. Every man stood on his own hind legs then. He got there if he was strong-mebbe; he bogged down on the trail good and plenty if he was weak. We didn't have any of the artificial stuff then. A man had to have the guts to stand the gaff."