Verse > Anthologies > Harriet Monroe, ed. > Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, 1912–22
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Harriet Monroe, ed. (1860–1936).  Poetry: A Magazine of Verse.  1912–22.
 
At Fairbanks
By Edgar Lee Masters
 
From “Domesday Book”

BILL, look here! Here’s the Times—you see this picture?
Read if you like a little later. You never
Heard how I came to Fairbanks, chanced to stay.
It’s eight years now. You see in nineteen-eleven
I lived in Hammond, Indiana, thought        5
I’d take a trip, see mountains, see Alaska,
Perhaps find fortune or a woman—well,
You know from your experience how it is.
It was July and from the train I saw
The Canadian Rockies, stopped at Banff a day,        10
At Lake Louise, and so forth. At Vancouver
Found travelers feasting, Englishmen in drink,
Flirtations budding, coming into flower,
And eager spirits waiting for the boat.
Up to this time I hadn’t made a friend,        15
Stalked silently about along the streets,
Drank Scotch like all the rest, and much besides.
Well, then we took the steamship Princess Alice
And started up the Inland Channel—great!
Got on our cheeks the breezes from the crystal        20
Cradles of the North, and so began at once
To find the mystery, silence, see clear stars,
The whites and blacks and greens along the shore.
And still I had no friend, was quite alone.
Just as I came on deck I saw a face—        25
Looked, stared perhaps. Her eyes went over me,
Would not look at me. At the dinner-table
She sat far down from me. I could not see her,
But made a point to rise when she arose,
Did all I could to catch her eye—no use.        30
So things went and I gave up—still I wondered
Why she had no companion. Was she married?—
Was husband waiting her at Skagway maybe?
I fancied something of the sort at last,
And, as I said, gave up.
                  But on a morning
        35
I rose to see the sun rise, all the sky
First as a giant pansy, petals flung
In violet toward the zenith streaked with fire;
The silver of the snows changed under light
Mottled with shadows of the mountain tops—        40
Like leaves that shadow, flutter on a lawn.
At last the topaz splendors shoot to heaven,
The sun just peeks, and gilds the porcelain
Of snow with purest gold; and in the valleys
Darkness remains—Orician ebony        45
Is not more black. You’ve seen this too, I know,
And recognize my picture. There I stood,
Believed I was alone; then heard a voice,
“Is it not beautiful!” and looked around,
And saw my girl, who had avoided me,        50
Would not make friends before. This is her picture,
Name, Eleanor Murray. So the matter started.
I had my seat at table changed, and sat
Next to my girl to talk with her. We walked
The deck together. Then she said to me        55
Her home was in Chicago—so it is
Travelers abroad discover they are neighbors
When they’re at home. She had been teaching school
And saved her money for this trip—had planned
To go as far as Fairbanks. As for me,        60
I thought I’d stop with Skagway. Oh, this life!
Your hat blows off, you chase it, bump a woman;
Then beg her pardon, laugh and get acquainted,
And marry later.
              As we steamed along
She was the happiest spirit on the deck.        65
The Wrangel Narrows almost drove her wild,
There where the mountains are like circus-tents—
Big show, menagerie, and all the rest—
But white as cotton with perennial snow.
We swam past aisles of pine-trees, where a stream        70
Rushed down in terraces of hoary foam.
The nights were glorious—we drank and ate,
And danced when there was dancing.
                          Well, at first
She seemed a little school-ma’am—quaint, demure,
Meticulous and puritanical.        75
And then she seemed a school-ma’am out to have
A time—so far away, where none would know;
And like a woman who had heard of life,
And had a teasing interest in its wonder,
Too long caged up. At last my vision blurred—        80
I did not know her, lost my first impressions
Amid succeeding phases which she showed.
 
But when we came to Skagway, then I saw
Another Eleanor Murray. How she danced
And tripped from place to place—such energy!        85
She almost wore me out with seeing sights.
And now, behold, the White Pass she must see
Upon the principle of missing nothing!
But oh, the grave of Soapy Smith, the outlaw,
The gambler and the heeler—that for her!        90
We went four miles and found the cemetery,
The grave of Soapy Smith; came back to town
Where she would see the buildings where they played
Stud poker, keno, in the riotous days.
 
Time came for her to go. She looked at me        95
And said, “Come on to Fairbanks.” As for that,
I’d had enough, was ready to return,
But sensed an honorarium; so I said,
“You might induce me,” with a pregnant tone.
That moment we were walking ’cross the street:        100
She stopped a moment, shook from head to heels,
And said, “No man has talked to me that way.”
I dropped the matter. She renewed it—said,
“Why do you hurry back?—what calls you back?
Come on to Fairbanks, see the gardens there,        105
That tag the blizzards with their rosy hands
And romp amid the snows.” She smiled at me.
Well then, I thought—why not? And smiled her back,
And on we went to Fairbanks, where my hat
Blows off, as I shall tell you.
                  For a day
        110
We did the town together, and that night
I thought to win her. First we dined together,
Had many drinks, my little school-ma’am drank
Of everything I ordered, had a place
For more than I could drink. And truth to tell        115
At bed-time I was woozy—ten o’clock.
We had not registered; and so I said,
“I’m Mr. Kelly and you’re Mrs. Kelly.”
She shook her head. And so, to make an end,
I could not win her, signed my name in full,        120
She did the same, we said good-night and parted.
 
Next morning when I woke, felt none too good;
Got up at last and met her down at breakfast;
Tried eggs and toast, could only drink some coffee;
Got worse; in short, she saw it, put her hand        125
Upon my head and said, “Your head is hot,
You have a fever.” Well, I lolled around
And tried to fight it off till noon—no good.
By this time I was sick, lay down to rest;
By night I could not lift my head—in short,        130
I lay there for a month, and all the time
She cared for me just like a mother would.
They moved me to a suite, she took the room
That opened into mine, by night and day
She nursed me, cheered me, read to me. At last        135
When I sat up, was soon to be about,
She said to me: “I’m going on to Nome,
St. Michael first. They tell me that you cross
The Arctic Circle going to St. Michael,
And I must cross the Arctic Circle—think        140
To come this far and miss it!—I must see
The Indian villages.” And there again
I saw, but clearer than before, the spirit
Adventurous and restless, what you call
The heart American. I said to her,        145
“I’m not too well, I’m lonely—yes, and more—
I’m fond of you, you have been good to me,
Stay with me here!” She darted in and out
The room where I was lying, doing things;
And broke my pleadings just like icicles        150
You shoot against a wall.
                  But here she was
A month in Fairbanks, living at expense;
Said, “I’m short of money—lend me some;
I’ll go to Nome, return to you and then
We’ll ship together for the States.”
                          You see
        155
I really owed her money for her care,
Her loss in staying; then I loved the girl,
Had played all cards but one—I played it now:
“Come back and marry me.” Her eyes looked down,
“I will be fair with you,” she said; “I think        160
Away from you I can make up my mind
If I have love enough to marry you.”
I gave her money and she went away;
And for some weeks I had a splendid hell
Of loneliness and longing—you might know,        165
A stranger in Alaska, here in Fairbanks,
In love besides, and mulling in my mind
Our days and nights upon the Steamer Alice,
Our ramblings in the Northland.
                          Weeks went by—
No letter and no girl, I found my health        170
Was vigorous again. One morning, walking,
I kicked a twenty-dollar gold-piece up
Right on the side-walk. Picked it up and said:
“An omen of good luck—a letter soon!
Perhaps this town has something for me!” Well,        175
I thought I’d get a job to pass the time
While waiting for my girl. I got the job,
And here I am today. I’ve flourished here,
Worked to the top in Fairbanks in eight years,
And thus my hat blew off.
                  What of the girl?
        180
Six weeks or more a letter came from her—
She crossed the Arctic Circle, went to Nome,
Sailed back to ’Frisco where she wrote to me.
Sent all the money back I loaned to her,
And thanked me for the honor I had done her        185
In asking her in marriage; but had thought
The matter over, could not marry me,
Thought in the circumstance it were not best
To come to Fairbanks, see me, tell me so.
 
Now, Bill, I’m egotist enough to think        190
This girl could do no better. Now, it seems,
She’s dead, and never married. Why not me?—
Why did she ditch me? So I thought about it,
Was piqued of course, concluded in the end
There was another man. A woman’s No        195
Means she has someone else, or hopes to have,
More suited to her fancy. Then one morning,
As I awoke with thoughts of her as usual,
Right in my mind there plumped an incident
On shipboard, when she asked me if I knew        200
A certain man in Chicago. At the time
The question passed amid our running talk
And made no memory. But you watch and see
A woman when she asks you if you know
A certain man, the chances are the man        205
Is something in her life. So now I lay
And thought: there is a man, and that’s the man—
His name is stored away, I’ll dig it up
Out of the cells subliminal. So I thought,
But could not bring it back.
                  I found at last
        210
The telephone directory of Chicago,
And searched and searched the names from A to Z.
Some mornings I’d pronounce a name and think,
“That is the name,” then throw the name away—
It did not fit the echo in my brain.        215
 
But now at last—look here! Eight years are gone,
I’m healed of Eleanor Murray, married too;
I read about her death here in the Times,
And turn the pages over—column five:
“Chicago startled by a suicide—        220
Gregory Wenner kills himself!” Behold
At last the name she spoke!
 
 
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