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When The Mail Came In
by [?]

We didn’t like Montague Prosser at first–he was too clean. He wore his virtue like a bath-robe, flapping it in our faces. It was Whitewater Kelly who undertook to mitigate him one day, but, being as the nuisance stood an even fathom high and had a double-action football motion about him, Whitewater’s endeavors kind of broke through the ice and he languished around in his bunk the next week while we sat up nights and changed his bandages.

Yes, Monty was equally active at repartee or rough-house, and he knocked Whitewater out from under his cap, slick and clean, just the way you snap a playing-card out from under a coin, which phenomenon terminated our tendencies to scoff and carp.

Personally, I didn’t care. If a man wants to wallow about in a disgusting daily debauch of cleanliness, it is his privilege. If he squanders the fleeting moments brushing teeth, cleaning fingernails, and such technicalities, it stands to reason he won’t have much time left to attend to his work and at the same time cultivate the essentials of life like smoking, drinking, and the proper valuation of a three-card draw. But, as I say, it’s up to him, and outsiders who don’t see merit in such a system shouldn’t try to bust up his game unless they’ve got good foot-work and a knockout punch.

It wasn’t so much these physical refinements that riled us as the rarefied atmosphere of his general mental and moral altitudes. To me there’s eloquence and sentiment and romance and spiritual uplift in a real, full-grown, black-whiskered cuss-word. It’s a great help in a mountainous country. Profanity is like steam in a locomotive–takes more to run you up-hill than on the level, and inasmuch as there’s only a few men on the level, a violent vocabulary is a necessity and appeals to me like a certificate of good character and general capability.

There wasn’t a thing doing with Prosser in the idiom line, however. His moral make-up was like his body, big and sound and white and manicured, and although his talk, alongside of ours, listened like it was skimmed and seminaried, still when we got to know him we found that his verbal structures had vital organs and hair on their chests just like anybody else’s, and at the same time had the advantage of being fit to send through the mails.

He had left a widowed mother and come north on the main chance, like the rest of us, only he originated farther east. What made the particular ten-strike with us was the pride he took in that same mother. He gloried in her and talked about her in that hushed and nervous way a man speaks about a real mother or a regular sweetheart. We men-folks liked him all the better for it. I say we men, for he was a “shine” with the women–all nine of them. The camp was fifteen hundred strong that winter, over and above which was the aforesaid galaxy of nine, stranded on their way up-river to a Dawson dance-hall. The Yukon froze up and they had to winter with us. Of course there were the three married ladies, too, living with their husbands back on the Birch Ridge, but we never saw them and they didn’t count. The others went to work at Eckert’s theater.

Monty would have been right popular at Eckert’s–he was a handsome lad–but he couldn’t see those people with a field-glass. They simply scandalized him to death.

“I love to dance,” said he, one night, as we looked on, “and the music sends thrills through me, but I won’t do it.”

“Why not?” I asked. “This is Alaska. Be democratic. You’re not so awfully nice that a dance-hall girl will contaminate you.”

“It’s not democracy that I lack, nor contamination that I’m afraid of,” he replied. “It’s the principle back of it all. If we encourage these girls in the lives they lead, we’re just as bad as they are.”