Romany Of The Snows by Gilbert Parker
A Lovely Bully
He was seven feet and fat. He came to Fort O'Angel at Hudson's Bay, an immense slip of a lad, very much in the way, fond of horses, a wonderful hand at wrestling, pretending a horrible temper, threatening tragedies for all who differed from him, making the Fort quake with his rich roar, and playing the game of bully with a fine simplicity. In winter he fattened, in summer he sweated, at all times he ate eloquently.
It was a picture to see him with the undercut of a haunch of deer or buffalo, or with a whole prairie-fowl on his plate, his eyes measuring it shrewdly, his coat and waistcoat open, and a clear space about him--for he needed room to stretch his mighty limbs, and his necessity was recognised by all.
Occasionally he pretended to great ferocity, but scowl he ever so much, a laugh kept idling in his irregular bushy beard, which lifted about his face in the wind like a mane, or made a kind of underbrush through which his blunt fingers ran at hide-and-seek.
He was Irish, and his name was Macavoy. In later days, when Fort O'Angel was invaded by settlers, he had his time of greatest importance.
He had been useful to the Chief Trader at the Fort in the early days, and having the run of the Fort and the reach of his knife, was little likely to discontinue his adherence. But he ate and drank with all the dwellers at the Post, and abused all impartially. "Malcolm," said he to the Trader, "Malcolm, me glutton o' the H.B.C., that wants the Far North for your footstool--Malcolm, you villain, it's me grief that I know you, and me thumb to me nose in token. "Wiley and Hatchett, the principal settlers, he abused right and left, and said, "Wasn't there land in the East and West, that you steal the country God made for honest men--you robbers o' the wide world! Me tooth on the Book, and I tell you what, it's only me charity that kapes me from spoilin' ye. For a wink of me eye, an' away you'd go, leaving your tails behind you--and pass that shoulder of bear, you pirates, till I come to it sideways, like a hog to war."
He was even less sympathetic with Bareback the chief and his braves. "Sons o' Anak y'are; here today and away to-morrow, like the clods of the valley--and that's your portion, Bareback. It's the word o' the Pentytook--in pieces you go, like a potter's vessel. Don't shrug your shoulders at me, Bareback, you pig, or you'll think that Ballzeboob's loose on the mat. But take a sup o' this whisky, while you swear wid your hand on your chest, 'Amin' to the words o' Tim Macavoy."
Beside Macavoy, Pierre, the notorious, was a child in height. Up to the time of the half-breed's coming the Irishman had been the most outstanding man at Fort O'Angel, and was sure of a good-natured homage, acknowledged by him with a jovial tyranny.
Pierre put a flea in his ear. He was pensively indifferent to him even in his most royal moments. He guessed the way to bring down the gusto and pride of this Goliath, but, for a purpose, he took his own time, nodding indolently to Macavoy when he met him, but avoiding talk with him.
Among the Indian maidens Macavoy was like a king or khan; for they count much on bulk and beauty, and he answered to their standards--especially to Wonta's. It was a sight to see him of a summer day, sitting in the shade of a pine, his shirt open, showing his firm brawny chest, his arms bare, his face shining with perspiration, his big voice gurgling in his beard, his eyes rolling amiably upon the maidens as they passed or gathered near demurely, while he declaimed of mighty deeds in patois or Chinook to the braves.
Pierre's humour was of the quietest, most subterranean kind. He knew that Macavoy had not an evil hair in his head; that vanity was his greatest weakness, and that through him there never would have been more half-breed population. There was a tradition that he had a wife somewhere--based upon wild words he had once said when under the influence of bad liquor; but he had roared his accuser the lie when the thing was imputed to him.
At Fort Ste. Anne Pierre had known an old woman, by name of Kitty Whelan, whose character was all tatters. She had told him that many years agone she had had a broth of a lad for a husband; but because of a sharp word or two across the fire, and the toss of a handful of furniture, he had left her, and she had seen no more of him. "Tall, like a chimney he was," said she, "and a chest like a wall, so broad, and a voice like a huntsman's horn, though only a b'y, an' no hair an his face; an' little I know whether he is dead or alive; but dead belike, for he's sure to come rap agin' somethin' that'd kill him; for he, the darlin', was that aisy and gentle, he wouldn't pull his fightin' iron till he had death in his ribs."
Pierre had drawn from her that the name of this man whom she had cajoled into a marriage (being herself twenty years older), and driven to deserting her afterwards, was Tim Macavoy. She had married Mr. Whelan on the assumption that Macavoy was dead. But Mr. Whelan had not the nerve to desert her, and so he departed this life, very loudly lamented by Mrs. Whelan, who had changed her name with no right to do so. With his going her mind dwelt greatly upon the virtues of her mighty vanished Tim: and ill would it be for Tim if she found him.
Pierre had travelled to Fort O'Angel almost wholly because he had Tim Macavoy in his mind: in it Mrs. Whelan had only an incidental part; his plans journeyed beyond her and her lost consort. He was determined on an expedition to capture Fort Comfort, which had been abandoned by the great Company, and was now held by a great band of the Shunup Indians.
Pierre had a taste for conquest for its own sake, though he had no personal ambition. The love of adventure was deep in him; he adored sport for its own sake; he had had a long range of experiences--some discreditable--and now he had determined on a new field for his talent.
He would establish a kingdom, and resign it. In that case he must have a man to take his place. He chose Macavoy.
First he must humble the giant to the earth, then make him into a great man again, with a new kind of courage. The undoing of Macavoy seemed a civic virtue. He had a long talk with Wonta, the Indian maiden most admired by Macavoy. Many a time the Irishman had cast an ogling, rolling eye on her, and had talked his loudest within her ear-shot, telling of splendid things he had done: making himself like another Samson as to the destruction of men, and a Hercules as to the slaying of cattle.
Wonta had a sense of humour also, and when Pierre told her what was required of her, she laughed with a quick little gurgle, and showed as handsome a set of teeth as the half-breed's; which said much for her. She promised to do as he wished. So it chanced when Macavoy was at his favourite seat beneath the pine, talking to a gaping audience, Wonta and a number of Indian girls passed by. Pierre was leaning against a door smoking, not far away. Macavoy's voice became louder.
"'Stand them up wan by wan,' says I, 'and give me a leg loose, and a fist free; and at that--'"
"At that there was thunder and fire in the sky, and because the great Macavoy blew his breath over them they withered like the leaves," cried Wonta, laughing; but her laugh had an edge.
Macavoy stopped short, open-mouthed, breathing hard in his great beard. He was astonished at Wonta's raillery; the more so when she presently snapped her fingers, and the other maidens, laughing, did the same. Some of the half-breeds snapped their fingers also in sympathy, and shrugged their shoulders. Wonta came up to him softly, patted him on the head, and said: "Like Macavoy there is nobody. He is a great brave. He is not afraid of a coyote, he has killed prairie-hens in numbers as pebbles by the lakes. He has a breast like a fat ox,"--here she touched the skin of his broad chest,--"and he will die if you do not fight him."
Then she drew back, as though in humble dread, and glided away with the other maidens, Macavoy staring after her, with a blustering kind of shame in his face. The half-breeds laughed, and, one by one, they got up, and walked away also. Macavoy looked round: there was no one near save Pierre, whose eye rested on him lazily. Macavoy got to his feet, muttering. This was the first time in his experience at Fort O'Angel that he had been bluffed--and by a girl; one for whom he had a very soft place in his big heart. Pierre came slowly over to him.
"I'd have it out with her," said he. "She called you a bully and a brag."
"Out with her?" cried Macavoy. "How can ye have it out wid a woman?"
"Fight her," said Pierre pensively.
"Fight her? fight her? Holy smoke! How can you fight a woman?"
"Why, what--do you--fight?" asked Pierre innocently.
Macavoy grinned in a wild kind of fashion. "Faith, then, y'are a fool. Bring on the divil an' all his angels, say I, and I'll fight thim where I stand."
Pierre ran his fingers down Macavoy's arm, and said "There's time enough for that. I'd begin with the five."
"What five, then?"
"Her half-breed lovers: Big Eye, One Toe, Jo-John, Saucy Boy, and Limber Legs."
"Her lovers? Her lovers, is it? Is there truth on y'r tongue?"
"Go to her father's tent at sunset, and you'll find one or all of them there."
"Oh, is that it?" said the Irishman, opening and shutting his fists. "Then I'll carve their hearts out, an' ate thim wan by wan this night."
"Come down to Wiley's," said Pierre; "there's better company there than here."
Pierre had arranged many things, and had secured partners in his little scheme for humbling the braggart. He so worked on the other's good nature that by the time they reached the settler's place, Macavoy was stretching himself with a big pride. Seated at Wiley's table, with Hatchett and others near, and drink going about, someone drew the giant on to talk, and so deftly and with such apparent innocence did Pierre, by a word here and a nod there, encourage him, that presently he roared at Wiley and Hatchett:
"Ye shameless buccaneers that push your way into the tracks of honest men, where the Company's been three hundred years by the will o' God-- if it wasn't for me, ye Jack Sheppards--"
Wiley and Hatchett both got to their feet with pretended rage, saying he'd insulted them both, that he was all froth and brawn, and giving him the lie.
Utterly taken aback, Macavoy could only stare, puffing in his beard, and drawing in his legs, which had been spread out at angles. He looked from Wiley to the impassive Pierre. "Buccaneers, you callus," Wiley went on; "well, we'll have no more of that, or there'll be trouble at Fort O'Angel."
"Ah, sure y'are only jokin'," said Macavoy, "for I love ye, ye scoundrels. It's only me fun."
"For fun like that you'll pay, ruffian!" said Hatchett, bringing down his fist on the table with a bang.
Macavoy stood up. He looked confounded, but there was nothing of the coward in his face. "Oh, well," said he, "I'll be goin', for ye've got y'r teeth all raspin'."
As he went the two men laughed after him mockingly. "Wind like a bag," said Hatchett. "Bone like a marrow-fat pea," added Wiley.
Macavoy was at the door, but at that he turned. "If ye care to sail agin' that wind, an' gnaw on that bone, I'd not be sayin' you no."
"Will to-night do--at sunset?" said Wiley.
"Bedad, then, me b'ys, sunset'll do--an' not more than two at a time," he added softly, all the roar gone from his throat. Then he went out, followed by Pierre.
Hatchett and Wiley looked at each other and laughed a little confusedly. "What's that he said?" muttered Wiley. "Not more than two at a time, was it?"
"That was it. I don't know that it's what we bargained for, after all." He looked round on the other settlers present, who had been awed by the childlike, earnest note in Macavoy's last words. They shook their heads now a little sagely; they weren't so sure that Pierre's little game was so jovial as it had promised.
Even Pierre had hardly looked for so much from his giant as yet. In a little while he had got Macavoy back to his old humour.
"What was I made for but war!" said the Irishman, "an' by war to kape thim at peace, wherever I am." Soon he was sufficiently restored in spirits to go with Pierre to Bareback's lodge, where, sitting at the tent door, with idlers about, he smoked with the chief and his braves. Again Pierre worked upon him adroitly, and again he became loud in speech, and grandly patronising.
"I've stood by ye like a father, ye loafers," he said, "an' I give you my word, ye howlin' rogues--"
Here Bareback and a half-dozen braves came up suddenly from the ground, and the chief said fiercely: "You speak crooked things. We are no rogues. We will fight."
Macavoy's face ran red to his hair. He scratched his head a little foolishly, and gathered himself up. "Sure, 'twas only me tasin', darlins," he said, "but I'll be comin' again, when y'are not so narvis." He turned to go away.
Pierre made a sign to Bareback, and the Indian touched the giant on the arm. "Will you fight?" said he.
"Not all o' ye at once," said Macavoy slowly, running his eye carefully along the half-dozen; "not more than three at a toime," he added with a simple sincerity, his voice again gone like the dove's. "At what time will it be convaynyint for ye?" he asked.
"At sunset," said the chief, "before the Fort." Macavoy nodded and walked away with Pierre, whose glance of approval at the Indians did not make them thoroughly happy.
To rouse the giant was not now so easy. He had already three engagements of violence for sunset. Pierre directed their steps by a roundabout to the Company's stores, and again there was a distinct improvement in the giant's spirits. Here at least he could be himself, he thought, here no one should say him nay. As if nerved by the idea, he plunged at once into boisterous raillery of the Chief Trader. "Oh, ho," he began, "me freebooter, me captain av the looters av the North!" The Trader snarled at him. "What d'ye mean, by such talk to me, sir? I've had enough-- we've all had enough--of your brag and bounce; for you're all sweat and swill-pipe, and I give you this for your chewing, that though by the Company's rules I can't go out and fight you, you may have your pick of my men for it. I'll take my pay for your insults in pounded flesh--Irish pemmican!"
Macavoy's face became mottled with sudden rage. He roared, as, perhaps, he had never roared before: "Are ye all gone mad-mad-mad? I was jokin' wid ye, whin I called ye this or that. But by the swill o' me pipe, and the sweat o' me skin, I'll drink the blood o' yees, Trader, me darlin'. An' all I'll ask is, that ye mate me to-night whin the rest o' the pack is in front o' the Fort--but not more than four o' yees at a time--for little scrawney rats as y'are, too many o' yees wad be in me way." He wheeled and strode fiercely out. Pierre smiled gently.
"He's a great bully that, isn't he, Trader? There'll be fun in front of the Fort to-night. For he's only bragging, of course--eh?"
The Trader nodded with no great assurance, and then Pierre said as a parting word: "You'll be there, of course--only four av ye!" and hurried out after Macavoy, humming to himself--
"For the King said this, and the Queen said that, But he walked away with their army, O!"
So far Pierre's plan had worked even better than he expected, though Macavoy's moods had not been altogether after his imaginings. He drew alongside the giant, who had suddenly grown quiet again. Macavoy turned and looked down at Pierre with the candour of a schoolboy, and his voice was very low:
"It's a long time ago, I'm thinkin'," he said, "since I lost me frinds-- ages an' ages ago. For me frinds are me inimies now, an' that makes a man old. But I'll not say that it cripples his arm or humbles his back." He drew his arm up once or twice and shot it out straight into the air like a catapult. "It's all right," he added, very softly, "an', Half- breed, me b'y, if me frinds have turned inimies, why, I'm thinkin' me inimy has turned frind, for that I'm sure you were, an' this I'm certain y 'are. So here's the grip av me fist, an' y'll have it." Pierre remembered that disconcerting, iron grip of friendship for many a day. He laughed to himself to think how he was turning the braggart into a warrior. "Well," said Pierre, "what about those five at Wonta's tent?"
"I'll be there whin the sun dips below the Little Red Hill," he said, as though his thoughts were far away, and he turned his face towards Wonta's tent. Presently he laughed out loud. "It's manny along day," he said, "since--"
Then he changed his thoughts. "They've spoke sharp words in me teeth," he continued, "and they'll pay for it. Bounce! sweat! brag! wind! is it? There's dancin' beyant this night, me darlins!"
"Are you sure you'll not run away when they come on?" said Pierre, a little ironically.
"Is that the word av a frind?" replied Macavoy, a hand fumbling in his hair.
"Did you never run away when faced?" Pierre asked pitilessly.
"I never turned tail from a man, though, to be sure, it's been more talk than fight up here: Fort Ste. Anne's been but a graveyard for fun these years."
"Eh, well," persisted Pierre, "but did you never turn tail from a slip of a woman?"
The thing was said idly. Macavoy gathered his beard in his mouth, chewing it confusedly. "You've a keen tongue for a question," was his reply. "What for should anny man run from a woman?"
"When the furniture flies, an' the woman knows more of the world in a day than the man does in a year; and the man's a hulking bit of an Irishman-- bien, then things are so and so!"
Macavoy drew back dazed, his big legs trembling. "Come into the shade of these maples," said Pierre, "for the sun has set you quaking a little," and he put out his hand to take Macavoy's arm.
The giant drew away from the hand, but walked on to the trees. His face seemed to have grown older by years on the moment. "What's this y'are sayin' to me?" he asked hoarsely. "What do you know av--av that woman?"
"Malahide is a long way off," said Pierre, "but when one travels why shouldn't the other?"
Macavoy made a helpless motion with his lumbering hand. "Mother o' saints," he said, "has it come to that, after all these years? Is she-- tell me where she is, me frind, and you'll niver want an arm to fight for ye, an' the half av a blanket, while I have wan!"
"But you'll run as you did before, if I tell you, an' there'll be no fighting to-night, accordin' to the word you've given."
"No fightin', did ye say? an' run away, is it? Then this in your eye, that if ye'll bring an army, I'll fight till the skin is in rags on me bones, whin it's only men that's before me; but woman--and that wan! Faith, I'd run, I'm thinkin', as I did, you know when--Don't tell me that she's here, man; arrah, don't say that!"
There was something pitiful and childlike in the big man's voice, so much so that Pierre, calculating gamester as he was, and working upon him as he had been for many weeks, felt a sudden pity, and dropping his fingers on the other's arm, said: "No, Macavoy, my friend, she is not here; but she is at Fort Ste. Anne--or was when I left there."
Macavoy groaned. "Does she know that I'm here?" he asked.
"I think not. Fort Ste. Anne is far away, and she may not hear."
"What--what is she doing?"
"Keeping your memory and Mr. Whelan's green." Then Pierre told him somewhat bluntly what he knew of Mrs. Macavoy.
"I'd rather face Ballzeboob himself than her," said Macavoy. "An' she's sure to find me."
"Not if you do as I say."
"An' what is it ye say, little man?"
"Come away with me where she'll not find you."
"An' where's that, Pierre darlin'?"
"I'll tell you that when to-night's fighting's over. Have you a mind for Wonta?" he continued.
"I've a mind for Wonta an' many another as fine, but I'm a married man," he said, "by priest an' by book; an' I can't forget that, though the woman's to me as the pit below."
Pierre looked curiously at him. "You're a wonderful fool," he said, "but I'm not sure that I like you less for that. There was Shon M'Gann--but it is no matter." He sighed and continued: "When to-night is over, you shall have work and fun that you've been fattening for this many a year, and the woman'll not find you, be sure of that. Besides--" he whispered in Macavoy's ear.
"Poor divil, poor divil, she'd always a throat for that; but it's a horrible death to die, I'm thinkin'." Macavoy's chin dropped on his breast.
When the sun was falling below Little Red Hill, Macavoy came to Wonta's tent. Pierre was not far away. What occurred in the tent Pierre never quite knew, but presently he saw Wonta run out in a frightened way, followed by the five half-breeds, who carried themselves awkwardly. Behind them again, with head shaking from one side to the other, travelled Macavoy; and they all marched away towards the Fort. "Well," said Pierre to Wonta, "he is amusing, eh?--so big a coward, eh?"
"No, no," she said, "you are wrong. He is no coward. He is a great brave. He spoke like a little child, but he said he would fight them all when--"
"When their turn came," interposed Pierre, with a fine "bead" of humour in his voice; "well, you see he has much to do." He pointed towards the Fort, where people were gathering fast. The strange news had gone abroad, and the settlement, laughing joyously, came to see Macavoy swagger; they did not think there would be fighting.
Those whom Macavoy had challenged were not so sure. When the giant reached the open space in front of the Fort, he looked slowly round him. A great change had come over him. His skin seemed drawn together more firmly, and running himself up finely to his full height, he looked no longer the lounging braggart. Pierre measured him with his eye, and chuckled to himself. Macavoy stripped himself of his coat and waistcoat, and rolled up his sleeves. His shirt was flying at the chest.
He beckoned to Pierre.
"Are you standin' me frind in this?" he said. "Now and after," said Pierre.
His voice was very simple. "I never felt as I do since the day the coast-guardsmin dropped on me in Ireland far away, an' I drew blood an every wan o' them--fine beautiful b'ys they looked--stretchen' out on the ground wan by wan. D'ye know the double-an'-twist?" he suddenly added, "for it's a honey trick whin they gather in an you, an' you can't be layin' out wid yer fists. It plays the divil wid the spines av thim. Will ye have a drop av drink--cold water, man--near, an' a sponge betune whiles? For there's manny in the play--makin' up for lost time. Come on," he added to the two settlers, who stood not far away, "for ye began the trouble, an' we'll settle accordin' to a, b, c."
Wiley and Hatchett were there. Responding to his call, they stepped forward, though they had now little relish for the matter. They were pale, but they stripped their coats and waistcoats, and Wiley stepped bravely in front of Macavoy. The giant looked down on him, arms folded. "I said two of you," he crooned, as if speaking to a woman. Hatchett stepped forward also. An instant after the settlers were lying on the ground at different angles, bruised and dismayed, and little likely to carry on the war. Macavoy took a pail of water from the ground, drank from it lightly, and waited. None other of his opponents stirred. "There's three Injins," he said, "three rid divils, that wants showin' the way to their happy huntin' grounds. . . . Sure, y'are comin', ain't you, me darlins?" he added coaxingly, and he stretched himself, as if to make ready.
Bareback, the chief, now harangued the three Indians, and they stepped forth warily. They had determined on strategic wrestling, and not on the instant activity of fists. But their wiliness was useless, for Macavoy's double-and-twist came near to lessening the Indian population of Fort O'Angel. It only broke a leg and an arm, however. The Irishman came out of the tangle of battle with a wild kind of light in his eye, his beard all torn, and face battered. A shout of laughter, admiration and wonder went up from the crowd. There was a moment's pause, and then Macavoy, whose blood ran high, stood forth again. The Trader came to him.
"Must this go on?" he said; "haven't you had your fill of it?"
Had he touched Macavoy with a word of humour the matter might have ended there; but now the giant spoke loud, so all could hear.
"Had me fill av it, Trader, me angel? I'm only gittin' the taste av it. An' ye'll plaze bring on yer men--four it was--for the feed av Irish pemmican."
The Trader turned and swore at Pierre, who smiled enigmatically. Soon after, two of the best fighters of the Company's men stood forth. Macavoy shook his head. "Four, I said, an' four I'll have, or I'll ate the heads aff these."
Shamed, the Trader sent forth two more. All on an instant the four made a rush on the giant; and there was a stiff minute after, in which it was not clear that he was happy. Blows rattled on him, and one or two he got on the head, just as he tossed a man spinning senseless across the grass, which sent him staggering backwards for a moment, sick and stunned.
Pierre called over to him swiftly: "Remember Malahide!"
This acted on him like a charm. There never was seen such a shattered bundle of men as came out from his hands a few minutes later. As for himself, he had but a rag or two on him, but stood unmindful of his state, and the fever of battle untameable on him. The women drew away.
"Now, me babes o' the wood," he shouted, "that sit at the feet av the finest Injin woman in the North,--though she's no frind o' mine--and aren't fit to kiss her moccasin, come an wid you, till I have me fun wid your spines."
But a shout went up, and the crowd pointed. There were the five half- breeds running away across the plains.
The game was over.
"Here's some clothes, man; for Heaven's sake put them on," said the Trader.
Then the giant became conscious of his condition, and like a timid girl he hurried into the clothing.
The crowd would have carried him on their shoulders, but he would have none of it.
"I've only wan frind here," he said, "an' it's Pierre, an' to his shanty I go an' no other."
"Come, mon ami," said Pierre, "for to-morrow we travel far."
"And what for that?" said Macavoy.
Pierre whispered in his ear: "To make you a king, my lovely bully."