A two-page story about the cleverness of a man presumed to be more simple-minded than he was: the postmaster’s beautiful wife had just died. All assumed she had been cheating on him. He assures everyone she never had. They doubt him. He proves it, saying he maintained her fidelity by spreading rumors that she was the mistress of the chief of police, whom no one would dare cross. And so no one touched her. Et voilà.
Jack London can make it too easy to like Jack London, as in this story crunching with the pleasure of fresh snow underfoot and the certainty of good grog afterward. McFane and Bettles, camp buddies, fight, one of them insults the other’s woman, and they decide to duel. There’s never been a duel in those parts. They can’t be stopped. There’s no law to speak of. But Mamelute Kid devises a plan: whoever survives the duel will be hanged. The men think it over and demur, just as a rabid dog attacks, allowing McFane to dog-block as the dog was heading for Bettles, and Bettles to fire the shot once intended for McFane into the rabid dog. Scores settled. Would the Kid have carried out his promised hanging of the survivor? “Well, as yet, I have n’t found the answer.” But there is ingenuity in the Kid, the ingenuity of isolation, the quick-thinking of survival that’s not always one’s own: caring is survival.