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The Great Interrogation. Jack London

To say the least, Mrs. Sayther′s career in Dawson was meteoric. She arrived in the spring, with dog sleds and French-Canadian voyageurs, blazed gloriously for a brief month, and departed up the river as soon as it was free of ice. Now womanless Dawson never quite understood this hurried departure, and the local Four Hundred felt aggrieved and lonely till the Nome strike was made and old sensations gave way to new. For it had delighted in Mrs. Sayther, and received her wide-armed. She was pretty, charming, and, moreover, a widow. And because of this she at once had at heel any number of Eldorado Kings, officials, and adventuring younger sons, whose ears were yearning for the frou-frou of a woman′s skirts.

The mining engineers revered the memory of her husband, the late Colonel Sayther, while the syndicate and promoter representatives spoke awesomely of his deals and manipulations; for he was known down in the States as a great mining man, and as even a greater one in London. Why his widow, of all women, should have come into the country, was the great interrogation. But they were a practical breed, the men of the Northland, with a wholesome disregard for theories and a firm grip on facts. And to not a few of them Karen Sayther was a most essential fact. That she did not regard the matter in this light, is evidenced by the neatness and celerity with which refusal and proposal tallied off during her four weeks′ stay. And with her vanished the fact, and only the interrogation remained.

To the solution, Chance vouchsafed one clew. Her last victim, Jack Coughran, having fruitlessly laid at her feet both his heart and a five-hundred-foot creek claim on Bonanza, celebrated the misfortune by walking all of a night with the gods. In the midwatch of this night he happened to rub shoulders with Pierre Fontaine, none other than head man of Karen Sayther′s voyageurs. This rubbing of shoulders led to recognition and drinks, and ultimately involved both men in a common muddle of inebriety.

"Heh?" Pierre Fontaine later on gurgled thickly. "Vot for Madame Sayther mak visitation to thees country? More better you spik wit her. I know no t′ing ′tall, only all de tam her ask one man′s name. ′Pierre,′ her spik wit me; ′Pierre, you moos′ find thees mans, and I gif you mooch—one thousand dollar you find thees mans.′ Thees mans? Ah, oui. Thees man′s name—vot you call— Daveed Payne. Oui, m′sieu, Daveed Payne. All de tam her spik das name. And all de tam I look rount vaire mooch, work lak hell, but no can find das dam mans, and no get one thousand dollar ′tall. By dam!

"Heh? Ah, oui. One tam dose mens vot come from Circle City, dose mens know thees mans. Him Birch Creek, dey spik. And madame? Her say ′Bon!′ and look happy lak anyt′ing. And her spik wit me. ′Pierre,′ her spik, ′harness de dogs. We go queek. We find thees mans I gif you one thousand dollar more.′ And I say, ′Oui, queek! Allons, madame!′

"For sure, I t′ink, das two thousand dollar mine. Bully boy! Den more mens come from Circle City, and dey say no, das thees mans, Daveed Payne, come Dawson leel tam back. So madame and I go not ′tall.

"Oui, m′sieu. Thees day madame spik. ′Pierre,′ her spik, and gif me five hundred dollar, ′go buy poling-boat. To-morrow we go up de river.′ Ah, oui, to-morrow, up de river, and das dam Sitka Charley mak me pay for de poling-boat five hundred dollar. Dam!"

Thus it was, when Jack Coughran unburdened himself next day, that Dawson fell to wondering who was this David Payne, and in what way his existence bore upon Karen Sayther′s. But that very day, as Pierre Fontaine had said, Mrs. Sayther and her barbaric crew of voyageurs towed up the east bank to Klondike City, shot across to the west bank to escape the bluffs, and disappeared amid the maze of islands to the south.

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