Bitter and hard are the lives of our Canadian Banks fishermen, and crude their ideas of vengeance — but even that great driving force may give way for other things, as is shown in this thrilling story of Wild Archie MacEacheren and the fishermen of Judique.
ARTHUR HUNT CHUTE
IT WAS a home on a hard frontier, bare floor, bare walls, naked rafters.
Upon the chimney place, a rifle and a crucifix suspended in strange union; beneath, a text popular in Highland homes, proclaiming in ancient script, “A Stranger is a Sacred Name.”
In that room Alexander MacEacheren was dying. With the stubbornness of the salt sea beating in his veins, the end had been protracted.
The Old Highlander refused to pass away decently in bed. He sat huddled in a chair, wrapped in blankets, his powerful frame wasted, sunken.
An anxious pause had fallen among the watchers. Some thought that he had gone, when a heavy footstep caused him to open his glazed eyes, at which Wild Archie entered.
For a space the room was hushed, silent as the ocean when the tide is full. It was the full tide of hate. With startling suddenness there came a volley of oaths from the dying man. The watchers shuddered.
Father Donald raised his hand in protest. But white hot, irrepressible, the oaths poured forth.
“My God, if I could only bide to git my hands upon him once again. Just one more fight and I would die content.
“Before I left the auld land our pretty Chief
told me to remember every score. Since then I’ve never turned file face on a friend, nor me back on a foe. Every grudge that came to me or to me clan I’ve settled, and now, Ochan, it’s all bye, and I must gang awa and leave this sairest stain upon our Hielan honor.” Father Donald, himself a fighter, albeit in Holy Orders, withdrew discreetly to the window.
Like a hard squall, quickly spent, the burst of rage ended in panting gasps. Tears trickled down Wild Archie’s rocky countenance, as he saw that proud head fall again into pathetic sagging.
The sign of weakness was the call for Father Donald. Taking the dying man by the hand, he said: “I know how you feel, Master MacEacheren, but it’s other things your mind should rest upon in these last moments. The world’s affairs you must leave behind. Its hates must be forgotten. ‘Vengeance is mine. I will repay, saith the Lord.’ ”
“Aye, aye, sic’ a morsel as vengeance is tae sweet for ony mortal. God keeps they best things for himself.” “Well, you must forgive your enemies.”
“Yea, I’ll forgive em, all but one, there’s one I canna forgive.”
“But even that one must be forgiven, before it is too late; you are at your end.”
A fit of coughing, after which he gasped: “Yea, I’m at the end. I can do na more.
“Yea, I’ll forgive him.”
A moment of silence, then seeming to gather strength he leaned toward his son with a parting burst of passion. “But the devil take ye, Archie, if ye forgive him.” “I’ll steal the vengeance out o’ God’s ain hand,” growled the son.
“Good lad,” muttered the expiring sire, and the silence of the death watch returned.
Soon after, neighbors saw the yellow candles where Alexander MacEacheren had been a prisoner, and they knew that he was imprisoned there no longer.
“God rest his soul,” they muttered, and crossed themselves in awe.
As a parting respect, the kindred sat through the night with the flickering candles, in a hush broken only by women’s sobs.
THE stifled air of the house of mourning became unbearable to the pent up feelings of Wild Archie. Putting on his homespun reefer, he strode out into the night.
A loud, high gale was roaring down the Gulf with lashing sleet. It was a night in which the ruthless north searched the hearts of men. Wild Archie bent against the blast with a grunt of satisfaction. In the onset of the elements was a voice of overmastering rage, which voice
this night was his very own. He passed along the High Street with the stealthy swiftness of a panther.
In Black Danny’s rum shop was a cheery group. As the giant MacEacheren peremptorily burst upon them, there fell a sharp, uneasy stillness. Black Danny blinked and shuffled uncomfortably. His patrons fervently wished themselves without.
Coming up to the bar, Wild Archie gave a nod to the publican who placed before him a drink of “white eye.” One gulp, and it vanished, neat. Three times it was repeated, after which without warning, his glass was smashed to atoms. Swinging round, he glared across the tables, scrutinizing every face.
The tavern loafers anticipated bloody happenings. But after that one flash of frenzy, the giant stood aloof. Then, as suddenly as he had come, with cat-like tread, he passed out into the night.
There was no telling how soon he might return, and one by one, with affected nonchalance, the crowd slunk out of the back door and vanished.
Black Danny with haste put up the strong front shutters, and doubly bolted his store. When all the others had gone, Black Danny and a hardy traveler remained behind the barred shutters and spoke with bated tones.
"\A/HO was that?” inquired the traveler.
VV “Wild Archie MacEacheren, worst fighter on the North Shore.”
“I’ve heard the name. But is he really as bad as they say?”
“A hundred times worse, if ye ask me. He’s put this place on the blink more’n once. When he’s out fer rough-housing, he’ll make kindlin’ wood of all the breakables what’s handy.
“Last tjme he got running amuck in here he smashed the iron stove like egg-shell, an’ kicked the plaster out o’ that there ceiling, as if it weren’t no higher’n a henhouse.”
“Well, what did you do?”
“What did I do? Say, if ye ain’t acquainted down North, let me give ye a tip. When that feller starts actin’ fer the love o’ Mary make yerself scarce. They’re all crazy Highlanders down this way. But that feller who’s just gone is the craziest of ’em all. He’d sooner fight than eat. I’ve knowed him walk ten and twenty mile to a funeral or a dance just to pick a fight. Most of his scrapping is only fer the love of it. But this time he’s got one real honest grudge to fight for.”
“Ye’ve heard of them Hairleggers, murderin’ men, an’ rapin’ women up and down this coast?”
“Well, the king of that gang has been rollin’ up a long score with Judique. The trouble started a couple o’ years ago in McGlorj^s dance hall, where the MacEacherens and the Hairleggers first fell foul o’ one another. They said it was a case o’ hate at first sight. Later, in a brawl at Bay of Bulls, in Newfoundland,
Ace Bolee killed Allan MacEacheren with a black-jack. The thing could not be proved, but the MacEacherens ain’t the kind to pass up the chance fer a feud. They swore they’d get the guy that done in their brother. Ace is a slippery cuss, but the MacEacherens finally fell in with him, and licked him to a frazzle in an ocean race off Saint Pierre. i “After that, Ace did a lot o’ blowing as to how he’d fix ’em even yet. O’ course he couldn’t put up his dukes against WTld Archie, but he knowed his weak spot was wimmen, an’ that’s how he got him; had the'big feller lured into a joint on !the Tracadie Road, where French Kate put laudanum in his coffee. Then, when Wild Archie was dead to the world, Ace Bolee beat him up, and finally kicked him out into the gutter.
“With their champion laid out cold, the rest of the MacEacherns were not able to hold their own, and Ace and his gang wound up by beating ’em up something shameful.
“When Alexander heard of the disgrace that had come on WTld Archie, he was all bust up. Didn’t cut no ice to the old man whether it was done fair or foul. The fact that WTld Archie could be sold out by a woman nearly broke his heart.
“The Hairleggers blowed all up and down the coast how they’d trimmed the best o’ the MacEacherens. That was too much fer Alexander, so what’s the old fire-eater do but go down to Arichat himself to square the quarrel. In spite o’ his age, he’d a done it, too. The only thing that saved Ace Bolee was his brass knuckles.
“They brought Alexander home to die. He’s bin a long time slippin’ his moorin’s. But Dy the look o’ his son as he come in here, I know at last that he’s gone, and WTld Archie is now out lookin’ fer the guy that done the old man in.
“God sain us, that same Ace Bolee was in this very rum shop not more ’n an hour back! It’s me ain good luck he didn’t stay. If WTld Archie’d found him here ye’d never bin able to tell in the wreck, what was his carcass, and what was my shop.”
“You seèm to have a frightful opinion of this wild ass they call WTld Archie,” said the traveler with a jaunty note.
“Look at here, Mister, don’t never make the mistake o’ tryin’ to crack a joke about that name. There ain’t no sense of humor wi’ this breed. Ye can joke wi’ an Irishman, but not wi’ a Hielanman. As I told you already, WTld Archie is the fightingest one o’ this bunch. It ud be better fer ye to get a kick from a nag’s hind hoof than a blow from him.
“Last spring, someone started a riot at Bay of Bulls by just makin’ a joke like yours. ’Twas a whole crew against one man. But single-handed WTld Archie walloped the lot. Some o' that crew ain't got their health back yet.”
The traveler had heard enough. Soon he, too. made tracks for the back door.
After leaving Black Danny’s, WTld Archie on his quest
instinctively had turned toward the waterfront. A number of coasters and fishermen were in port. Most of them were made fast alongside. He proceeded to visit forecastle and cabin of each. Here and there a deckhand or night watchman put a lantern to his face as he came aboard. But with recognition there was respectful standing back. By the right of the strong the Judique champion had long since purchased the freedom of the waterfront.
To-night, his frenzy was not the boisterous sort of which Black Danny had spoken. It was rather a silent rage that moved with calculating swiftness. No sheriff with his badge of office ever carried out a more exacting search.
Now and again the giant reached into a bunk and rolled into the light this or that figure to see who might be hidden there. Some objected, but at sight of their awakener, threatenings gave way to lamb-like submission.
The search of the schooners alongside failed to reveal any trace of Ace Bolee.
On the end of the Market Wharf Wild Archie stood gazing through the driving sleet at the riding lights of the fleet moored in the stream. It was a perilous night to brave the dark of the Outer Harbor. But he was in no mood to tarry. Appropriating a dory, he pushed off, and soon was battling in broken water against the winds that tore down unhindered from the northern opening of the harbor. After a long hard pull he arrived in the lee of the Inner Island where the riding fleet was moored.
The first light hailed turned out to be the Ferarra. The familiar voice of Little Rory answered a challenge from the dory.
“That ye, Archie MacEacheren?”
“Yea, that’s me, Little Rory.”
“Will ye throw me yer painter?”
“No, no, not now. I’m looking fer someone else.” “Who’s that?”
“Well, ye’re in luck then. His vessel, the Wasp, is lying
off there to southard, next the sand spits. D’ye see her wi’ the two lights aloft?”
“Yea, I see her.”
LITTLE RORY proceeded to shout further directions, J but a blast drowned his words, while Wild Archie was already pulling toward the Wasp. Coming around to leeward, by the stern, he gave his painter a sling across the taffrail and with a rising wave vaulted onto the deck.
“Hey! Wot d’ hell d’yez want ’ere,” growled out a threatening voice. At the same time there came the metallic gleam of a gun.
Just as quick with his feet as with his hands, Wild Archie aimed a lashing kick at the gleam of metal and sent the weapon hurtling over the rail. The deckhand screamed from the frightful lash, while his broken hand fell limp and helpless.
Indifferent to past treachery of these ocean gangsters, Wild Archie strode forward, smashed open the fore-hatch, and jumped down into their midst.
With less ceremony than formerly, he went through the various bunks. More than one came out of sleep with a yell of pain.
The remembrance of how this gang had shamed his own dead father filled him with a vicious exultation. Each time he reached forth to awaken a sleeper it was with a ruthless grunt. Before the search of the Wasp ended every man aboard bore the MacEacheren’s brand.
High and low he searched the vessel, while the crew stoutly protested that their skipper had gone ashore.
At last, persuaded that Ace Bolee was not there, he was starting for the ladder, when someone from safe distance hurled an iron cover from the galley stove, yelling:
“Take that, ye great big Judique stiff.”
Wild Archie ducked, and the shot went wide.
“I’ll take ye, I’ll gie ye—•”
“Down wid ’im! Down wid ’im,” cried the whole gang at once, springing up in a body and attempting to surround the retreating MacEacheren. But in this they resembled a set of fox terriers attacking a mad bull.
In an instant Wild Archie had seized by the collar and thigh the first of the Hairleggers and according to his familiar tactics used him against the others as a weapon of offense. With such fury and effect was the helpless gangster hurled and banged that the others stampeded forthwith.
The unhappy wretch who was trussed up and dashed against this and that received the heaviest punishment of all.
His cries for mercy were totally unheeded by the MacEacheren until his opponents were swept clear; then, tossing his discarded sledge into a heap, he stood glaring about.
“So ye are the brave ones what blowed all up and down the coast how ye knocked the devil out o’ Wild Archie, eh?
“Well, come on, and do it again!
“Come and do it again!”
No one showed a peep.
“All right, stay in yer holes,” was the parting fling.
“I ain’t after sich measley lice as ye. I’m after Ace Bolee, and if I get my hands on him, the devils ’ll be playin’ hurley wi’ his head to-night.”
Despite an extended search among the remaining vessels, and back again on the mainland, no trace of the Hairlegger’s skipper could be found.
On shore, Wild Archie visited the two rum shops and several longshore dives likely to be frequented by Ace Bolee. These places, warned that the Judique giant was on a rampage, had long since been closed.
At last, thoroughly weary, he was forced to give up the futile search, and with languid step set out for home.
After he had turned in, he still tossed fitfully, listening again and again to that dying admonition: “The devil take ye, Archie, if ye forgive him.”
No stone had been left unturned in the search for the gorilla; yet his vessel was handy, and the fear kept recurring that somewhere lurking in the environs of Judique
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was his father’s slayer. It was this fear that kept him tensed, until from sheer exhaustion he fell into a feverish slumber.
IN THE ben room below, Kertsey MacEacheren was saying prayers for the soul of the departed.
Wild Archie should have been there beside his spouse, but the fighting MacEacherens were not prayerfully inclined. So the good-wife, a fine little body, in strange contrast to her giant husband, knelt alone in her all-night vigil.
An untoward storm raged without. The house shook and creaked. Winds whistled down the chimney. Driving sleet rattled on the pane.
Now and again Kertsey was drawn from her missal by the unregenerate elements that kept intruding upon her Gaelic prayers. One of her moments of calm oblation was rudely broken by a squall of unexpected violence.
“Mary, pity the sailors in a storm like this,” she exclaimed, with the fervor of one who knew the sea.
While she was still intent, listening, there came a footstep on the snow, then a faint tapping.
“What a night to be abroad,” she shuddered, hastening to lift the latch.
The door opened, with a burst of driving snow, and a stranger entered. He was a man of the sea. On the way down to join his vessel he had lost himself in the howling night. Would the woman of the house give him shelter from the storm?
“To be sure. We’re always glad to be good to a stranger.”
Bustling about, she soon had a bright blaze in the open hearth, and handed him a pot of steaming milk.
“This will warm ye up before ye go to sleep.”
He took the milk without a word. Between the sippings, under his black, unkempt beard, she noticed the mouth of a beast.
When the stranger had finished his milk and warmed himself before the fire,
the good-wife led him up the stairway with a lighted candle.
On the landing, he muttered: “I gotta git me vessel before daylight, so wake me early.”
“Aye, that I will. Good night to ye, and a pleasant rest.”
His reply was a muttered grunt, after which Kertsey returned to her vigil in the ben room.
The stranger having drawn off his brogues, snuffed the candle, and started for the bed. In the dark he stubbed his toe painfully, at which a loud and hideous oath escaped him.
The oath startled the good-wife below, but she was not the only one that heard. At that loud exclamation, Wild Archie, half awake and half asleep, leaped into consciousness. That was the voice for which he had been searching, the voice which his father’s death had commanded him to find.
It seemed too good to be true. Was he dreaming? Or was this some fancy of a feverish brain?
An unmistakable creak, as the stranger turned upon his bed, told that it was no fancy. Wild Archie’s first impulse was to dash upon his enemy. But, on second thought, he waited, in order that he might not alarm his wife.
He did not have to wait long. A stertorous breathing soon told him that his time had come. Trembling in anticipation, he stole silently into the adjoining room. Holding aloft a lighted candle, he gazed upon the figure stretched upon the bed, still fearful lest it might prove to be another. But, no, there beyond all doubt, in flesh and blood, lay the Gorilla, stamped with that villainous soul that no sleep nor shades of night could hide.
WITH catlike tread, Wild Archie moved across the room and closed the door. The window, partly open, was flung wide. Then he snatched a towel and rolled it into convenient shape for stuffing the other’s mouth.
“Now, then,” Wild Archie muttered, addressing the sleeper, “I’ll just be after pitching ye through the window, so’s ye won’t disturb the missus. That’ll wake ye up, I reckon. Outside in the snow between ye and me it’s goin’ to be a naked fight to the bloody finish. Kill me brother Allen, would ye! Kick me around when I’m senseless, would ye? Smash me father’s head open wi’ a brass knuckle, would ye? Blow all up and down the coast how ye trimmed us, eh? Well, I’m going to beat ye up now till there’s nothing left o’ ye but the piece of an ear and a shin bone.”
As he bent over to gag his foe, the light on Wild Archie’s face was of one who had come to his supreme hour. He was about to force the towel into the other’s mouth, when something in the appearance of the pattern quilt caused him to pause. Long winter evenings the good-wife had toiled upon that quilt, for the best was none too good for a stranger.
“It’s the guest room! It’s the guestroom! God sain us, I’d forgotten where I was.”
Upon Wild Archie’s mind there flashed that text, the one adornment of his boyhood home. Like a litany, half aloud, half to himself, he muttered: “A Stranger is a Sacred Name.”
At the remembrance of this text, which had been seared into his very soul, his hesitation was instinctive. But in an instant vengeance again was rampant. While out of the awful silence came again that dying charge: “The devil take ye, Archie, if ye forgive him.”
“Nay, nay, nay! I canna forgive him! Not even while he’s still a stranger. There are things a dog canna do and git away with. Nay, he canna cheat me, even in me ain hame.”
Bending over, he seized the gag with renewed purpose, but that ingrained text refused to fade. It was there again.
The Law of Vengeance urged him on, while just as strongly the Law of the Stranger prevented. Every instinct of his fighting nature commanded him to tear the loathed gorilla limb from limb. Such primal instinct set him crouched readyforthe spring. Then, that Highland honor, as strong upon him as a second conscience, reached forth and held him back.
DROPPING the towel intended to drown his victim’s cries, he seized the candle and peered again at the form upon the bed.
The sight of that villainous face set the
giant into a paroxysm. As he stood there his muscles tensed like whip-cords; his face purpled from the pounding of the blood against his temples.
“Let me at him. Let me at him,” he panted.
The candle fell from his hand and gutted out. He swayed and dropped upon his knees, writhing in agony at this undreamed of restraint.
There, just beside him, in the darkness, was the man whose treachery had humbled him, and shamed the name of Judique. As if that were not enough, this same Ace Bolee had brought his father to a violent end.
While the gorilla snored away in peace, Alexander MacEacheren lay in his untimely winding sheet. This thought almost caused the son to cry aloud. That grief could not be soothed. The departed one could not return.
He clenched his fists, and the fierceness of his breathing blotted out the heavy snoring.
“One voice tells me to be at him. Another tells me hold. But I canna hold! I canna let him gang awa’ wi’ me father’s dying words still in me ears.
“What ’ud the auld man do himself? Aye, what ’ud he do if he was here? He never forgave a grudge. Yet fer a’ that he never laid a hand upon a stranger. He always said Hielan’ hospitality was the best thing we brought frae the auld land.
“I remember when MacTavish was throwed upon our beach by a dory-killin’ ocean. The auld man never hated onyone so bad, and yet he gave MacTavish his best, because he come upon us as a stranger.”
Instances innumerable told beyond peradventure what t! e father would have done, until, amid pe. plexity, one thing at least was clear.
Haltingly, and unwillingly, Wild Archie retreated from that vengeance for which his every breath was panting.
Back in his own room there was neither peace nor rest. All through the night he tossed in feverish indecision.
Now, the death chamber, and those burning words : “The devil take ye, Archie, if ye forgive him.”
Now, that voice of Highland honor: “A Stranger is a Sacred Name.”
With sudden gusts of passion, he started to burst away from all restraint, only to fall back again like a tiger in the leash.
“I ken what me father would’ve done, I ken that fairly. But wi’ the wrath that’s in me I canna trust meself.
“God only knows what’ll happen on the morrow! If I see that Hairlegger once again, I’ll haveto smash ’im, I canna hold me hand; I should have finished the job outside alone in the dark, instead o’ waitin fer the morrow wi’ the missus looking on.
“That fool stuff o’ the Stranger makes the fightin’ man a coward. But he will na cheat me; nay, nay, nay!”
IN THE dark of the bitter winter’s morning, long before the dawn, the good-wife roused the stranger.
He was seated at the table leering about with exasperating offensiveness, when Wild Archie loomed up in the doorway. As he stood there in silence the giant’s size was accentuated, while the dangerous light of his eye made his strength awful in its threatening menace.
At this unexpected appearance Ace Bolee was like a cornered rat. His terrified aspect filled Wild Archie with a sudden sickening revulsion.
“Thinks I’d beat him up in me ain hame, eh? That kind o’ dirty stuff ’ud be all right fer a Hairlegger, but not fer a Hielan’man; and yet, my God; that’s just what I was after doin’! If I’d a taken vengeance on a stranger in me ain hoose, me father never could’ve rested in his grave. The auld man was right; we’ve got something more than they; yea, ’twas me that was the great, grand fool.” Without a word Wild Archie went about his morning chores. The ordinary meal of scones, oatmeal and hot milk was being prepared. Drawing his wife aside, he chided her for neglect.
“Put on your best furag, whipped cream and oatmeal. Dinna ye ken we’ve got a stranger wi’ us?”
The breakfast passed in silence; at the conclusion of the meal, as a compliment to the guest, Wild Archie brought forth a bottle of port, product of Red Campbell’s smuggling cruises.
Ace Bolee had been studying his host closely. Such conduct at first was inexplicable. Gradually, the idea began to
dawn upon his abyssmal brain that this hospitality was prompted by fear, to buy the good-will of the Hairleggers. The mental process of the gangster would admit no other explanation. He drank the wine of his host with the swelling pride of a conqueror, assuming a lofty attitude to all within the house.
Six bells sounded from the tiny ship’s clock that hung above the fire-place. The gorilla stretched himself and yawned.
“Time fer me to shift me mud hook, an’ ye’ll be glad t’ see me haulin’ out.”
“Ye’re welcome to the best we got as long as ye wish to stay,” answered Wild Archie.
“Ah, hell, I’ve had enough o’ yez. Git me hat.”
Mistress MacEacheren brought the stranger his hat, while her husband lit a lantern and pulled down his own souwester from the peg.
“I’ll be after seein’ ye down ta the beach.”
Ace Bolee drew back; a sudden fear of reprisals, without, causing unthought of alarm.
“Come along. Ye needn’t worry about any dirty work frae us; we don’t allow them kind o’ tricks up here in Judique.”
Reassured, he advanced to the door, the opening of which was greeted with a howlingof the storm which still continued.
“ ’Ave yez got a pair o’ sea-boots ye
could loan us, Mate?” he asked in his first conciliatory tone.
“Just step back a minute.”
The big Highlander took off his own sea-boots and bending down helped adjust them upon the feet of his bitter foe. Putting on a pair of ordinary brogues, he advanced again toward the door, inquiring:
“Are ye all set now?”
“Ya,” grunted the other.
Holding the lantern to light the way, Wild Archie led his father’s slayer out into the gloom.
ON THE way to the beach not a word passed. Arrived at the landing Ace Bolee sent out an obscene, cursing challenge. This was quickly answered, and guided by the sound, they moved along !to where a dory waited with two of the Wasp’s crew. Sitting on the bow of the dory Ace Bolee hauled off the sea boots of his host, and handed them back.
As he did so, the tardy winter’s dawn was breaking. In the gray light Ace Bolee looked into the eye of Wild Archie MacEacheren, and beheld that eye steady, and unafraid.
“Ye hae met us and done us foul,” said the Highlander, “and in return we hae done ye nae ill, fer a Stranger is a Sacred Name. But in the outports we shall meet agen.”