The Gift of the Simple King
The Gift of the Simple King
By Gilbert Parker
Illustrated by Stanley L. Wood
ONCE Macavoy the giant ruled a tribe of Northern people, achieving the dignity by the hands of Pierre, who called him King Macavoy. Then came a time when, tiring of his kingship, he journeyed south, leaving all behind, even his queen, Wonta, who, in her bed of cypresses and yarrow, came forth no more into the morning. About Fort Guidon they still gave him his title, and because of his guilelessness, sincerity, and generosity, Pierre called him "The Simple King." His seven feet and over shambled about, suggesting unjointed power, unshackled force. No one hated Macavoy, many loved him, he was welcome at the fire and the cooking-pot; yet it seemed shameful to have so much man useless—such an engine of life, which might do great things, wasting fuel. Nobody thought much of that at Fort Guidon, except, perhaps, Pierre, who sometimes said, "My simple King, some day you shall have your great chance again; but not as a king—as a giant, a man—voila!"
The day did not come immediately, but it came.
When Ida, the deaf and dumb girl, married Hilton, of the H. B. C., every man at Fort Guidon, and some from posts beyond, sent her or brought her presents of one kind or another. Pierre's gift was a Mexican saddle. He was branding Ida's name on it with the broken blade of a case-knife when Macavoy entered on him, having just returned from a vagabond visit to Fort Ste. Anne.
"Is it digging out or carvin' in y'are?" he asked, puffing into his beard.
Pierre looked up contemptuously, but did not reply to the insinuation, for he never saw an insult unless he intended to avenge it; and quarrel with Macavoy—not he.
"What are you going to give?" he asked.
"Aw, give what to who, hop-o'-me-thumb?" Macavoy said, stretching himself out in the doorway, his legs in the sun, head in the shade.
"You've been taking a walk in the country, then?" Pierre asked, though he knew.
"To Fort Ste. Anne: a buryin', two christ'nin's, an' a weddin'; an' lashin's uv grog an' swill—aw that, me button o' the North!"
"Hey! hey! What a fool you are, my simple King! You've got the things end foremost. Turn your head to the open air, for I go to light a cigarette, and if you breathe this way, there will be a grand explode!"
"Aw, yer thumb in yer eye, Pierre! It's like a baby's, me breath is, milk and honey it is—aw yis; an' Father Corraine, that was doin' the trick for the love o' God, says he to me, 'Little Tim Macavoy,'—aw yis, ""little"" Tim Macavoy,—says he, 'when are you goin' to buckle to, for the love o' God?' says he. Ashamed I was, Pierre, that Father Corraine should spake to me like that, for I'd only a twig twisted at me hips to kape me trousies up, an' I thought 'twas that he had in his eye! 'Buckle to,' says I, 'Father Corraine? Buckle to, yer riv'rince!'—feelin' I was at the twigs the while. 'Ay, little Tim Macavoy,' he says, says he, 'you've bin atin' the husks av idleness long enough; when are you goin' to buckle to? You had a kingdom and ye guv it up,' says he; 'take a field, get a plough, and buckle to,' says he, 'an' turn back no more!'—like that, says Father Corraine; and I thinkin' all the time 'twas the want o' me belt he was drivin' at."
Pierre looked at him a moment idly, then said: "Such a tom-fool! And where's that grand leather belt of yours, eh, my monarch?"
A laugh shook through Macavoy's beard. "For the weddin' it wint, buckled the two up wid it for better or worse—an' purty they looked, they did, standin' there in me cinch, an' one hole left—aw yis, Pierre!"
"And what do you give to Ida?" Pierre asked, with a little emphasis of the branding-iron.
Macavoy got to his feet. "Ida! Ida!" said he. "Is that saddle for Ida? Is it her and Hilton that's to ate aff one dish togither? That rose o' the valley, that bird wid a song in her face and none an her tongue! That daisy dot av a thing, steppin' through the world like a sprig o' glory! Aw, Pierre, thim two! an' I've divil a scrap to give, good or bad. I've nothin' at all in the wide wurruld but the clothes an me back, an' thim hangin' on the underbrush!"—giving a little twist to the twigs. "An' many a meal an' many a dipper o' drink she's guv me, little smiles dancin' at her lips."
He sat down in the doorway again, with his face turned towards Pierre, and the back of his head in the sun. He was a picture of perfect health, sumptuous, huge, a bull in beauty, the heart of a child looking out of his eyes, but a sort of despair, too, in his bearing. Pierre watched him with a furtive humour for a time, then he said languidly: "Never mind your clothes, give yourself."
"Yer tongue in yer cheek, me spot o' vinegar. Give meself! What's that for? A purty weddin' gift, say I? Handy thing to have in the house! Use me for a clothes-horse, or shtand me in the garden for a fairy bower!-aw yis, wid a hole in me face that'd ate thim out o' house and home!"
Pierre drew a piece of brown paper towards him, and wrote on it with a burnt match. Presently he held it up. """Voilà"", my simple king, the thing for you to do: a grand gift, and to cost you nothing now. Come, read it out, and tell me what you think."
Macavoy took the paper, and in a large, judicial way, read slowly:
"""On demand, for value received, I promise to pay to ... IDA HILTON ... or order, meself, Tim Macavoy, standin' seven foot three on me bare fut, wid interest at nothin' at all."""
Macavoy ended with a loud smack of the lips. "McGuire!" he said, and nothing more. ""McGuire"" was his strongest expression. In the most important moments of his career he had said it, and it sounded deep, strange, and more powerful than many usual oaths. A moment later he said again "McGuire!" Then he read the paper once more out loud. "What's that, me Frinchman?" he asked. "What Ballzeboob's tricks are y'at now?"
Pierre was complacently eyeing his handiwork on the saddle. He now settled back with his shoulders to the wall, and said: """Dis donc"", it's a little promissory note for a wedding-gift to Ida. When she says some day, 'Tim Macavoy, I want you to do this or that, or to go here or there, or to sell you or trade you, or use you for a clothes-horse, or a bridge over a canyon, or to hold up a house, or blow out a prairie-fire, or be my second husband,' you shall say, 'Here I am'; and you shall travel from Heaven to Halifax, but you shall come at the call of this promissory."
Pierre's teeth glistened behind a smile as he spoke, and Macavoy broke into a roar of laughter. "Black's the white o' yer eye," he said at last, "an' a joke's a joke. Seven fut three I am, an' sound av wind an' limb—an' a weddin'-gift to that swate rose o' the valley! Aisy, aisy, Pierre. A bit o' foolin' 'twas ye put on the paper, but truth I'll make it, me cock o' the walk. That's me gift to her an' Hilton, an' no other. An' a dab wid red wax it shall have, an' what more be the word o' Freddy Tarlton the lawyer?"
"You're a great man, ""beau gentilhomme""," said Pierre with a touch of gentle irony, for his natural malice had no play against the huge ex-king of his own making. With these big creatures—he had connived with several in his time—he had ever been superior, protective, making them to feel that they were as children beside him. He looked at Macavoy musingly, and said to himself: "Well, why not? If it is a joke, then it is a joke; if it is a thing to make the world stand still for a minute sometime, so much the better. He is all waste now. By the holy, he shall do it. It is amusing, and it may be great by-and-by."
Presently Pierre said aloud: "Well, my Macavoy, what will you do? Send this good gift?"
"Aw yis, Pierre; I shtand by that from the crown av me head to the sole av me fut, sure. Face like a mornin' in May, and hands like the tunes of an organ, she has. Spakes wid a look av her eye and a twist av her purty lips an' swaying body, an' talkin' to you widout a word. Aw motion—motion—motion; yis, that's it! An' I've seen her an tap av a hill wid the wind blowin' her hair free, and the yellow buds on the tree, and the grass green beneath her feet, the world smilin' betune her and the sun: pictures—pictures, aw yis! Promissory notice on demand is it any toime? Seven fut three on me bare fut. But, Holy Mother! when she calls I come, yis."
"On your oath, Macavoy?" asked Pierre, "by the book av the Mass?"
Macavoy stood up straight till his head scraped the cobwebs between the rafters, the wild indignation of a child in his eye. "D'ye think I'm a thafe to stale me own word? Hut, I'll break ye in two, ye wisp o' straw, if ye doubt me word to a lady. There's me note av hand, and ye shall have me fist on it, in writin', at Freddy Tarlton's office, wid a blotch av red an' the Queen's head at the bottom. ""McGuire!""" he said again, and paused, puffing his lips through his beard.
Pierre looked at him a moment, then waving his fingers idly, said, "So, my straw-breaker! Then to-morrow morning at ten you will fetch your wedding gift. But come so soon now to Monsieur Tarlton's office, and we will have it all as you say, with the red seal and the turn of your fist—yes. Well, well, we travel far in the world, and sometimes we see strange things, and no two strange things are alike—no; there is only one Macavoy in the world, there was only one Shon McGann. Shon McGann was a fine fool, but he did something at last, truly yes: Tim Macavoy, perhaps, will do something at last on his own hook. Hey, I wonder!"
He felt the muscles of Macavoy's arm musingly, and then laughed up in the giant's face. "Once I made you a king, ""mon enfant"", and you threw it all away; now I make you a slave, and we shall see what you will do. ""Allons, allons"", for Monsieur Tarlton."
Macavoy dropped a heavy hand on Pierre's shoulder.
"'Tis hard to be a king, Pierre, but 'tis aisy to be a slave for the likes o' her. I'd kiss her dirty shoe sure!"
As they passed through the door, Pierre said, "Dis donc, perhaps, when all is done, she will sell you for old bones and rags. Then I will buy you, and I will burn your bones and the rags, and I will scatter to the four winds of the earth the ashes of a king, a slave, a fool, and an Irishman—truly!"
"Bedad, ye'll have more earth in yer hands then, Pierre, than ye'll ever earn, and more heaven than ye'll ever shtand in."
Half an hour later they were in Freddy Tarlton's office on the banks of the Little Big Swan, which tumbled past, swelled by the first rain of the early autumn. Freddy Tarlton, who had a gift of humour, entered into the spirit of the thing, and treated it seriously; but in vain did he protest that the large red seal with Her Majesty's head on it was unnecessary; Macavoy insisted, and wrote his name across it with a large indistinctness worthy of a king. Before the night was over everybody at Guidon Hill, save Hilton and Ida, knew what gift would come from Macavoy to the wedded pair.
The next morning was almost painfully beautiful, so delicate in its clearness, so exalted by the glory of the hills, so grand in the limitless stretch of the green-brown prairie north and south. It was a day for God's creatures to meet in, and speed away, and having flown round the boundaries of that spacious domain, to return again to the nest of home on the large plateau between the sea and the stars.
Gathered about Ida's home was everybody who lived within a radius of a hundred miles. In the large front room all the presents were set:—rich furs from the far north, cunningly carved bowls, rocking-chairs made by hand, knives, cooking utensils, a copy of Shakespeare in six volumes from the Protestant missionary who performed the ceremony, a nugget of gold from the Long Light River; and outside the door, a horse, Hilton's own present to his wife, on which was put Pierre's saddle, with its silver mounting and Ida's name branded deep on pommel and flap. When Macavoy arrived, a cheer went up, which was carried on waves of laughter into the house to Hilton and Ida, who even then were listening to the first words of the brief service which begins, "I charge you both if you do know any just cause or impediment," and so on. But if they did not turn to see what it was, for just at that moment they themselves were the very centre of the universe. Ida being deaf and dumb, it was necessary to interpret to her the words of the service by signs, as the missionary read it, and this was done by Pierre himself, the half-breed Catholic, the man who had brought Hilton and Ida together, for he and Ida had been old friends. After Father Corraine had taught her the language of signs, Pierre had learned them from her, until at last his gestures had become as vital as her own. The delicate precision of his every movement, the suggestiveness of look and motion, were suited to a language which was nearer to the instincts of his own nature than word of mouth. All men did not trust Pierre, but all women did; with those he had a touch of Machiavelli, with these he had no sign of Mephistopheles, and few were the occasions in his life when he showed outward tenderness to either: which was equally effective. He had learnt, or knew by instinct, that exclusiveness as to men and indifference as to women are the greatest influences on both. As he stood there, slowly interpreting to Ida, by graceful allusive signs, the words of the service, one could not think that behind his impassive face there was any feeling for the man or for the woman; indeed he had that disdainful smile which men acquire who are all their lives aloof from the hopes of the hearth-stone and acknowledge no laws but their own. More than once the eyes of the girl filled with tears, as the pregnancy of some phrase in the service came home to her, her face responded to Pierre's gestures, as do one's nerves to the delights of good music, and there was something so unique, so impressive in the ceremony, that the laughter which had greeted Macavoy passed away, and a dead silence; beginning from where the two stood, crept out until it covered all the prairie. Nothing was heard except Hilton's voice in strong tones saying, "I take thee to be my wedded wife," &c.; but when the last words of the service were said, and the new-made bride turned to her husband's embrace, and a little moan of joy broke from her lips, there was plenty of noise and laughter again, for Macavoy stood in the doorway, or rather outside it, stooping to look in upon the scene. Someone had lent him the cinch of a broncho and he had belted himself with it, no longer carrying his clothes about "on the underbrush." Hilton laughed and stretched out his hand. "Come in, King," he said, "come and wish us joy."
Macavoy parted the crowd easily, forcing his way, and instantly was stooping before the pair—for he could not stand upright in the room.
"Aw, now, Hilton, is it you, is it you, that's pluckin' the roses av the valley, snatchin' the stars out av the sky! aw, Hilton, the like o' that! Travel down I did yesterday from Fort Ste. Anne, and divil a word I knew till Pierre hit me in the eye wid it last night—and no time for a present, for a wedding-gift—no, aw no!"
Just here Ida reached up and touched him on the shoulder. He smiled down on her, puffing and blowing in his beard, bursting to speak to her, yet knowing no word by signs to say; but he nodded his head at her, and he patted Hilton's shoulder, and he took their hands and joined them together, hers on top of Hilton's, and shook them in one of his own till she almost winced. Presently, with a look at Hilton, who nodded in reply, Ida lifted her cheek to Macavoy to kiss—Macavoy, the idle, ill-cared-for, boisterous giant. His face became red like that of a child caught in an awkward act, and with an absurd shyness he stooped and touched her cheek. Then he turned to Hilton, and blurted out, "Aw, the rose o' the valley, the pride o' the wide wurruld, aw, the bloom o' the hills! I'd have kissed her dirty shoe. McGuire!"
A burst of laughter rolled out on the clear air of the prairie, and the hills seemed to stir with the pleasure of life. Then it was that Macavoy, following Hilton and Ida outside, suddenly stopped beside the horse, drew from his pocket the promissory note that Pierre had written, and said, "Yis, but all the weddin'-gifts aren't in. 'Tis nothin' I had to give, divil a cent in the wurruld, divil a pound av baccy, or a pot for the fire, or a bit av linin for the table; nothin' but meself and me dirty clothes, standin' seven fut three an me bare fut. What was I to do? There was only meself to give, so I give it free and hearty, and here it is wid the Queen's head an it, done in Mr. Tarlton's office. Ye'd better had had a dog, or a gun, or a ladder, or a horse, or a saddle, or a quart o' brown brandy; but such as it is I give it ye—I give it to the rose o' the valley and the star o' the wide world."
In a loud voice he read the promissory note, and handed it to Ida. Men laughed till there were tears in their eyes, and a keg of whisky was opened, but somehow Ida did not laugh. She and Pierre had seen a serious side to Macavoy's gift: the childlike manliness in it. It went home to her woman's heart without a touch of ludicrousness, without a sound of laughter.
After a time the interest in this wedding-gift declined at Fort Guidon, and but three people remembered it with any singular distinctness—Ida, Pierre, and Macavoy. Pierre was interested, for in his primitive mind he knew that, however wild a promise, life is so wild in its events, there comes the hour for redemption of all I.O.U.'s.
Meanwhile, weeks, months, and even a couple of years passed, Macavoy and Pierre coming and going, sometimes together, sometimes not, in all manner of words at war, in all manner of fact at peace. And Ida, out of the bounty of her nature, gave the two vagabonds a place at her fireside whenever they chose to come. Perhaps, where speech was not given, a gift of divination entered into her instead, and she valued what others found useless, and held aloof from what others found good. She had powers which had ever been the admiration of Guidon Hill. Birds and animals were her friends—she called them her kinsmen. A peculiar sympathy joined them; so that when, at last, she tamed a white wild duck, and made it do the duties of a carrier-pigeon, no one thought it strange. Up in the hills, beside the White Sun River, lived her sister and her sister's children; and, by-and-by, the duck carried messages back and forth, so that when, in the winter, Ida's health became delicate, she had comfort in the solicitude and cheerfulness of her sister, and the gaiety of the young birds of her nest, who sent Ida many a sprightly message and tales of their good vagrancy in the hills. In these days Pierre and Macavoy were little at the Post, save now and then to sit with Hilton beside the fire, waiting for spring and telling tales. Upon Hilton had settled that peaceful, abstracted expectancy which shows man at his best, as he waits for the time when, through the half-lights of his fatherhood, he shall see the broad fine dawn of motherhood spreading up the world—which, all being said and done, is that place called Home. Something gentle came over him while he grew stouter in body and in all other ways made a larger figure among the people of the West.
As Pierre said, whose wisdom was more to be trusted than his general morality, "It is strange that most men think not enough of themselves till a woman shows them how. But it is the great wonder that the woman does not despise him for it. Quel caractére! She has so often to show him his way like a babe, and yet she says to him, Mon grand homme! my master! my lord! Pshaw! I have often thought that women are half saints, half fools, and men half fools, half rogues. But, quelle vie!—what life! without a woman you are half a man; with one you are bound to a single spot in the world, you are tied by the leg, your wing is clipped—you cannot have all. Quelle vie!"
To this Macavoy said: "Spit-spat! But what the divil good does all yer thinkin' do ye, Pierre? It's argufy here and argufy there, an' while yer at that, me an' the rest uv us is squeezin' the fun out o' life. Aw, go 'long wid ye. Y'are only a bit o' hell and grammar, anyway. Wid all yer cuttin' and carvin' things to see the internals uv them, I'd do more to the call av a woman's finger than for all the logic and knowalogy y' ever chewed—an' there y'are, me little tailor o' jur'sprudence!"
"To the finger-call of Hilton's wife, eh?"
Macavoy was not quite sure what Pierre's enigmatical tone meant. A wild light showed in his eyes, and his tongue blundered out: "Yis, Hilton's wife's finger, or a look uv her eye, or nothin' at all. Aisy, aisy, ye wasp! Ye'd go stalkin' divils in hell for her yerself, so ye would. But the tongue uv ye—hut, it's gall to the tip."
"Maybe, my king. But I'd go hunting because I wanted; you because you must. You're a slave to come and to go, with a Queen's seal on the promissory."
Macavoy leaned back and roared. "Aw, that! The rose o' the valley! the joy o' the world! S't, Pierre—" his voice grew softer on a sudden, as a fresh thought came to him—"did y' ever think that the child might be dumb like the mother?"
This was a day in the early spring, when the snows were melting in the hills, and freshets were sweeping down the valleys far and near. That night a warm heavy rain came on, and in the morning every stream and river was swollen to twice its size. The mountains seemed to have stripped themselves of snow, and the vivid sun began at once to colour the foothills with green. As Pierre and Macavoy stood at their door, looking out upon the earth cleansing itself, Macavoy suddenly said: "Aw, look, look, Pierre; her white duck off to the nest on Champak Hill!"
They both shaded their eyes with their hands. Circling round two or three times above the Post, the duck then stretched out its neck to the west, and floated away beyond Guidon Hill, and was hid from view. Pierre, without a word, began cleaning his rifle, while Macavoy smoked, and sat looking into the distance, surveying the sweet warmth and light. His face blossomed with colour, and the look of his eyes was that of an irresponsible child. Once or twice he smiled and puffed in his beard, but perhaps that was involuntary, or was, maybe, a vague reflection of his dreams, themselves most vague, for he was only soaking in sun and air and life.
Within an hour they saw the wild duck-again passing the crest of Guidon, and they watched it sailing down to the Post, Pierre idly fondling the gun, Macavoy half roused from his dreams. But presently they were altogether roused, the gun was put away, and both were on their feet; for after the pigeon arrived there was a stir at the Post, and Hilton could be seen running from the store to his house, not far away.
"Something's wrong there," said Pierre.
"D'ye think 'twas the duck brought it?" asked Macavoy.
Without a word Pierre started away towards the Post, Macavoy following. As they did so, a half-breed boy came from the house, hurrying towards them.
Inside the house Hilton's wife lay in her bed, her great hour coming on before the time, because of ill news from beyond the Guidon. There was with her an old Frenchwoman, who herself, in her time, had brought many children into the world, whose heart brooded tenderly, if uncouthly, over the dumb girl. She it was who had handed to Hilton the paper the wild duck had brought, after Ida had read it and fallen in a faint on the floor.
The message that had felled the young wife was brief and awful. A cloud-burst had fallen on Champak Hill, had torn part of it away, and a part of this part had swept down into the path that led to the little house, having been stopped by some falling trees and a great boulder. It blocked the only way to escape above, and beneath the river was creeping up to sweep away the little house. So, there the mother and her children waited (the father was in the farthest north), facing death below and above. The wild duck had carried the tale in its terrible simplicity. The last words were, "There mayn't be any help for me and my sweet chicks, but I am asking God, dear Ida, and you will send a man or many. But send soon, for we are cut off, and the end may come any hour."
Macavoy and Pierre were soon at the Post, and knew from Hilton all there was to know. At once Pierre began to gather men, though what one or many could do none could say. Eight white men and three Indians watched the wild duck sailing away again from the bedroom window where Ida lay, to carry a word of comfort to Champak Hill. Before it went, Ida asked for Macavoy, and he was brought to her bedroom by Hilton. He saw a pale, almost unearthly, yet beautiful face, flushing and paling with a coming agony, looking up at him; and presently two trembling hands made those mystic signs which are the primal language of the soul, learned before man knew speech, the first vocabulary. Hilton interpreted to him this: "I have sent for you. There is no man so big or strong as you in the north. I did not know that I should ever ask you to redeem the note. I want my gift, and I will give you your paper with the Queen's head on it. Those little lives, those pretty little dears, you will not see them die. If there is a way, any way, you will save them. Sometimes one man can do what twenty cannot. You were my wedding-gift: I claim you now."
She paused, and then motioned to the nurse, who laid the piece of brown paper in Macavoy's hand. He held it for a moment as delicately as if it were a fragile bit of glass, something that his huge fingers might crush by touching. Then he reached over and laid it on the bed beside her and said, looking Hilton in the eyes, "Tell her, the slip uv a saint she is! if the breakin' uv me bones, or the lettin' uv me blood's what'll set all right at Champak Hill, let her mind be aisy—aw yis!"
Soon afterwards they were all on their way—all save Hilton, whose duty was beside this other danger, for the old nurse said that, "like as not," her life would hang upon the news from Champak Hill; and if ill came, his place was beside the speechless traveller on the Brink.
In a few hours the rescuers stood on the top of Champak Hill, looking down. There stood the little house, as it were, between two dooms. Even Pierre's face became drawn and pale as he saw what a very few hours or minutes might do. Macavoy had spoken no word, had answered no question since they had left the Post. There was in his eye the large seriousness, the intentness which might be found in the face of a brave boy, who had not learned fear, and yet saw a vast ditch of danger at which he must leap. There was ever before him the face of the dumb wife; there was in his ears the sound of pain that had followed him from Hilton's house out into the brilliant day.
The men stood helpless, and looked at each other. They could not say to the river that it must rise no farther, and they could not go to the house, nor let a rope down, and there was the crumbled moiety of the hill which blocked the way to the house: elsewhere it was sheer precipice without trees.
There was no corner in these hills that Macavoy and Pierre did not know, and at last, when despair seemed to settle on the group, Macavoy, having spoken a low word to Pierre, said: "There's wan way, an' maybe I can an' maybe I can't, but I'm fit to try. I'll go up the river to an aisy p'int a mile above, get in, and drift down to a p'int below there, thin climb up and loose the stuff."
Every man present knew the double danger: the swift headlong river, and the sudden rush of rocks and stones, which must be loosed on the side of the narrow ravine opposite the little house. Macavoy had nothing to say to the head-shakes of the others, and they did not try to dissuade him; for women and children were in the question, and there they were below beside the house, the children gathered round the mother, she waiting—waiting.
Macavoy, stripped to the waist, and carrying only a hatchet and a coil of rope tied round him, started away alone up the river. The others waited, now and again calling comfort to the woman below, though their words could not be heard. About half an hour passed, and then someone called out: "Here he comes!" Presently they could see the rough head and the bare shoulders of the giant in the wild churning stream. There was only one point where he could get a hold on the hillside—the jutting bole of a tree just beneath them, and beneath the dyke of rock and trees.
It was a great moment. The current swayed him out, but he plunged forward, catching at the bole. His hand seized a small branch. It held him an instant, as he was swung round, then it snapt. But the other hand clenched the bole, and to a loud cheer, which Pierre prompted, Macavoy drew himself up. After that they could not see him. He alone was studying the situation. He found the key-rock to the dyked slide of earth. To loosen it was to divert the slide away, or partly away, from the little house. But it could not be loosened from above, if at all, and he himself would be in the path of the destroying hill.
"Aisy, aisy, Tim Macavoy," he said to himself. "It's the woman and the darlins uv her, an' the rose o' the valley down there at the post!"
A minute afterwards, having chopped down a hickory sapling, he began to pry at the boulder which held the mass. Presently a tree came crashing down, and a small rush of earth followed it, and the hearts of the men above and the woman and children below stood still for an instant. But a half-hour passed as Macavoy toiled with a strange careful skill and a superhuman concentration. His body was all shining with sweat, and sweat dripped like water from his forehead. His eyes were on the keyrock and the pile, alert, measuring, intent. At last he paused. He looked round at the hills-down at the river, up at the sky-humanity was shut away from his sight. He was alone. A long hot breath broke from his pressed lips, stirring his big red beard. Then he gave a call, a long call that echoed through the hills weirdly and solemnly. Unconsciously there had come into it something of the wildness of those ancient clan-cries of Irish caves and hills.
It reached the ears of those above like a greeting from an outside world. They answered, "Right, Macavoy!"
Years afterwards these men told how then there came in reply one word, ringing roundly through the hills—the note and symbol of a crisis, the fantastic cipher of a soul—
There was a loud booming sound, the dyke was loosed, the ravine split into the swollen stream its choking mouthful of earth and rock; and a minute afterwards the path was clear to the top of Champak Hill. To it came the unharmed children and their mother, who, from the warm peak sent the wild duck "to the rose o' the valley," which, till the message came, was trembling on the stem of life. But Joy, that marvellous healer, kept it blooming with a little Eden bird nestling near, whose happy tongue was taught in after years to tell of the gift of the Simple King: who had redeemed, on demand, the promissory note forever.