Romany Of The Snows by Gilbert Parker
The Finding of Fingall
"Fingall! Fingall!--Oh, Fingall!"
A grey mist was rising from the river, the sun was drinking it delightedly, the swift blue water showed underneath it, and the top of Whitefaced Mountain peaked the mist by a hand-length. The river brushed the banks like rustling silk, and the only other sound, very sharp and clear in the liquid monotone, was the crack of a woodpecker's beak on a hickory tree.
It was a sweet, fresh autumn morning in Lonesome Valley. Before night the deer would bellow reply to the hunters' rifles, and the mountain-goat call to its unknown gods; but now there was only the wild duck skimming the river, and the high hilltop rising and fading into the mist, the ardent sun, and again that strange cry--
"Fingall!--Oh, Fingall! Fingall!"
Two men, lounging at a fire on a ledge of the hills, raised their eyes to the mountain-side beyond and above them, and one said presently:
"The second time. It's a woman's voice, Pierre." Pierre nodded, and abstractedly stirred the coals about with a twig.
"Well, it is a pity--the poor Cynthie," he said at last.
"It is a woman, then. You know her, Pierre--her story?"
"Fingall! Fingall!--Oh, Fingall!"
Pierre raised his head towards the sound; then after a moment, said:
"I know Fingall."
"And the woman? Tell me."
"And the girl. Fingall was all fire and heart, and devil-may-care. She--she was not beautiful except in the eye, but that was like a flame of red and blue. Her hair, too--then--would trip her up, if it hung loose. That was all, except that she loved him too much. But women-- et puis, when a woman gets a man between her and the heaven above and the earth beneath, and there comes the great hunger, what is the good! A man cannot understand, but he can see, and he can fear. What is the good! To play with life, that is not much; but to play with a soul is more than a thousand lives. Look at Cynthie."
He paused, and Lawless waited patiently. Presently Pierre continued:
Fingall was gentil; he would take off his hat to a squaw. It made no difference what others did; he didn't think--it was like breathing to him. How can you tell the way things happen? Cynthie's father kept the tavern at St. Gabriel's Fork, over against the great saw-mill. Fingall was foreman of a gang in the lumberyard. Cynthie had a brother--Fenn. Fenn was as bad as they make, but she loved him, and Fingall knew it well, though he hated the young skunk. The girl's eyes were like two little fire-flies when Fingall was about.
"He was a gentleman, though he had only half a name--Fingall--like that. I think he did not expect to stay; he seemed to be waiting for something --always when the mail come in he would be there; and afterwards you wouldn't see him for a time. So it seemed to me that he made up his mind to think nothing of Cynthie, and to say nothing."
"Fingall! Fingall!--Oh, Fingall!"
The strange, sweet, singing voice sounded nearer. "She's coming this way, Pierre," said Lawless.
"I hope not to see her. What is the good!"
"Well, let us have the rest of the story."
"Her brother Fenn was in Fingall's gang. One day there was trouble. Fenn called Fingall a liar. The gang stopped piling; the usual thing did not come. Fingall told him to leave the yard, and they would settle some other time. That night a wicked thing happened. We were sitting in the bar-room when we heard two shots and then a fall. We ran into the other room; there was Fenn on the floor, dying. He lifted himself on his elbow, pointed at Fingall--and fell back. The father of the boy stood white and still a few feet away. There was no pistol showing--none at all.
"The men closed in on Fingall. He did not stir--he seemed to be thinking of something else. He had a puzzled, sorrowful look. The men roared round him, but he waved them back for a moment, and looked first at the father, then at the son. I could not understand at first. Someone pulled a pistol out of Fingall's pocket and showed it. At that moment Cynthie came in. She gave a cry. By the holy! I do not want to hear a cry like that often. She fell on her knees beside the boy, and caught his head to her breast. Then with a wild look she asked who did it. They had just taken Fingall out into the bar-room. They did not tell her his name, for they knew that she loved him.
"'Father,' she said all at once, 'have you killed the man that killed Fenn?'
"The old man shook his head. There was a sick colour in his face.
"'Then I will kill him,' she said.
"She laid her brother's head down, and stood up. Someone put in her hand the pistol, and told her it was the same that had killed Fenn. She took it, and came with us. The old man stood still where he was; he was like stone. I looked at him for a minute and thought; then I turned round and went to the bar-room; and he followed. Just as I got inside the door, I saw the girl start back, and her hand drop, for she saw that it was Fingall; he was looking at her very strange. It was the rule to empty the gun into a man who had been sentenced; and already Fingall had heard his, 'God-have-mercy!' The girl was to do it.
"Fingall said to her in a muffled voice, 'Fire--Cynthie!'
"I guessed what she would do. In a kind of a dream she raised the pistol up--up--up, till I could see it was just out of range of his head, and she fired. One! two! three! four! five! Fingall never moved a muscle; but the bullets spotted the wall at the side of his head. She stopped after the five; but the arm was still held out, and her finger was on the trigger; she seemed to be all dazed. Only six chambers were in the gun, and of course one chamber was empty. Fenn had its bullet in his lungs, as we thought. So someone beside Cynthie touched her arm, pushing it down. But there was another shot, and this time, because of the push, the bullet lodged in Fingall's skull."
Pierre paused now, and waved with his hand towards the mist which hung high up like a canopy between the hills.
"But," said Lawless, not heeding the scene, "what about that sixth bullet?"
"Holy, it is plain! Fingall did not fire the shot. His revolver was full, every chamber, when Cynthie first took it."
"Who killed the lad?"
"Can you not guess? There had been words between the father and the boy: both had fierce blood. The father, in a mad minute, fired; the boy wanted revenge on Fingall, and, to save his father, laid it on the other. The old man? Well, I do not know whether he was a coward, or stupid, or ashamed--he let Fingall take it."
"Fingall took it to spare the girl, eh?"
"For the girl. It wasn't good for her to know her father killed his own son."
"What came after?"
"The worst. That night the girl's father killed himself, and the two were buried in the same grave. Cynthie--"
"Fingall! Fingall!--Oh, Fingall!"
"You hear? Yes, like that all the time as she sat on the floor, her hair about her like a cloud, and the dead bodies in the next room. She thought she had killed Fingall, and she knew now that he was innocent. The two were buried. Then we told her that Fingall was not dead. She used to come and sit outside the door, and listen to his breathing, and ask if he ever spoke of her. What was the good of lying? If we said he did, she'd have come in to him, and that would do no good, for he wasn't right in his mind. By and by we told her he was getting well, and then she didn't come, but stayed at home, just saying his name over to herself. Alors, things take hold of a woman--it is strange! When Fingall was strong enough to go out, I went with him the first time. He was all thin and handsome as you can think, but he had no memory, and his eyes were like a child's. She saw him, and came out to meet him. What does a woman care for the world when she loves a man? Well, he just looked at her as if he'd never seen her before, and passed by without a sign, though afterwards a trouble came in his face. Three days later he was gone, no one knew where. That is two years ago. Ever since she has been looking for him."
"Is she mad?"
"Mad? Holy Mother! it is not good to have one thing in the head all the time! What do you think? So much all at once! And then--"
"Hush, Pierre! There she is!" said Lawless, pointing to a ledge of rock not far away.
The girl stood looking out across the valley, a weird, rapt look in her face, her hair falling loose, a staff like a shepherd's crook in one hand, the other hand over her eyes as she slowly looked from point to point of the horizon.
The two watched her without speaking. Presently she saw them. She gazed at them for a minute, then descended to them. Lawless and Pierre rose, doffing their hats. She looked at both a moment, and her eyes settled on Pierre. Presently she held out her hand to him. "I knew you--yesterday," she said.
Pierre returned the intensity of her gaze with one kind and strong.
"So--so, Cynthie," he said; "sit down and eat."
He dropped on a knee and drew a scone and some fish from the ashes. She sat facing them, and, taking from a bag at her side some wild fruits, ate slowly, saying nothing. Lawless noticed that her hair had become grey at her temples, though she was but one-and-twenty years old. Her face, brown as it was, shone with a white kind of light, which may, or may not, have come from the crucible of her eyes, where the tragedy of her life was fusing. Lawless could not bear to look long, for the fire that consumes a body and sets free a soul is not for the sight of the quick. At last she rose, her body steady, but her hands having that tremulous activity of her eyes.
"Will you not stay, Cynthie?" asked Lawless very kindly.
She came close to him, and, after searching his eyes, said with a smile that almost hurt him, "When I have found him, I will bring him to your camp-fire. Last night the Voice said that he waits for me where the mist rises from the river at daybreak, close to the home of the White Swan. Do you know where is the home of the White Swan? Before the frost comes and the red wolf cries, I must find him. Winter is the time of sleep.
"I will give him honey and dried meat. I know where we shall live together. You never saw such roses! Hush! I have a place where we can hide."
Suddenly her gaze became fixed and dream-like, and she said slowly: "In all time of our tribulation, in all time of our wealth, in the hour of death, and in the Day of Judgment, Good Lord, deliver us!"
"Good Lord, deliver us!" repeated Lawless in a low voice. Without looking at them, she slowly turned away and passed up the hill-side, her eyes scanning the valley as before.
"Good Lord, deliver us!" again said Lawless. "Where did she get it?"
"From a book which Fingall left behind."
They watched her till she rounded a cliff, and was gone; then they shouldered their kits and passed up the river on the trail of the wapiti.
One month later, when a fine white surf of frost lay on the ground, and the sky was darkened often by the flight of the wild geese southward, they came upon a hut perched on a bluff, at the edge of a clump of pines. It was morning, and Whitefaced Mountain shone clear and high, without a touch of cloud or mist from its haunches to its crown.
They knocked at the hut door, and, in answer to a voice, entered. The sunlight streamed in over a woman, lying upon a heap of dried flowers in a corner. A man was kneeling beside her. They came near, and saw that the woman was Cynthie.
"Fingall!" broke out Pierre, and caught the kneeling man by the shoulder. At the sound of his voice the woman's eyes opened.
"Fingall!--Oh, Fingall!" she said, and reached up a hand.
Fingall stooped and caught her to his breast: "Cynthie! poor girl! Oh, my poor Cynthie!" he said. In his eyes, as in hers, was a sane light, and his voice, as hers, said indescribable things.
Her head sank upon his shoulder, her eyes closed; she slept. Fingall laid her down with a sob in his throat; then he sat up and clutched Pierre's hand.
"In the East, where the doctors cured me, I heard all," he said, pointing to her, "and I came to find her. I was just in time; I found her yesterday."
"She knew you?" whispered Pierre.
"Yes, but this fever came on." He turned and looked at her, and, kneeling, smoothed away the hair from the quiet face. "Poor girl!" he said; "poor girl!"
"She will get well?" asked Pierre.
"God grant it!" Fingall replied. "She is better--better."
Lawless and Pierre softly turned and stole away, leaving the man alone with the woman he loved.
The two stood in silence, looking upon the river beneath. Presently a voice crept through the stillness. "Fingall! Oh, Fingall!--Fingall!"
It was the voice of a woman returning from the dead.