The Nostalgia of Goliath
The story that won the Two-Hundred-Dollar Third Prize in MacLean's Second Canadian Short Story Contest
WILL E. INGERSOLL
THERE was a yell from the pool. The water boiled and rocked to a convulsion of kicking. Late July thistledown flakes that had been daintily afloat on the previously quiet ripples, wetted and flattened in ruin in the wavelets’ agony.
“Where’s Joe? Joe—Joe Carriere! Joe, your brother’s anunder!”
Eight boys hopped in impotent panic on the poolbank.
“There he goes, down again. That’s twicet! Jo-ooe !”
Uprose a ninth figure beyond a willow clump. Though the willows were seven feet high, the great broad-cheekboned face, with its crowning brush of jet hair, surmounted them. The immense bare shoulders made a swarthy nimbus in the upper branches of the thicket.
“Wha-a-ar?” tromboned a voice blown from lungs like men had in Creation’s morning.
“Over ’ere,” twitted a wren of a boy: “Oo-oo, Joe, he’s a goner. He’s been under two times.”
The willows were pushed down as if bent by a great gust of wind. Over them vaulted an enormous shirtless apparition in home-made trousers contrived of pieces, like a patchwork quilt. Something, a fleshy avalanche, crashed down the steep creekside in a kaleidoscopic jumble of arms and legs, arriving in the pool with a splash, like a section of the bank fallen in.
Joe Carrière found his feet and stood up, an untridented Neptune clear of the six-feet-deep water to his brisket. He keened down into the roily depths— then in a second, spat, stooped, scooped, and brought up gagging and lustily kicking Jimmy Garriere onehanded.
“All right—eh, Jim?” The huge brother, after the first anxious glance, waded to the shore and deposited on the bank this brother of normal size who, though but three years younger, was thirty inches shorter and infinite inches smaller round.
Jimmy Carrière was tough. Moreover, he had really only been under the water a few seconds. He coughed the creekwater out of his air passages and presently sat up, sobbing and shaking.
The voice that said the words had the habit and the culture of joviality. The boys turned quickly from the reviving Jimmy to stare at the city man who had come upon them unnoticed. They saw the stranger had arrived in a livery buggy which, with the horse held by the Buckhorn liveryman, stood at the hither end of the corduroy culvert by which the village trail crossed the creek.
The city man, his head coming scarcely up to Joe Carriere’s armpit, stood and pumped the great boy’s hand up and down, up and down, up and down.
“Gr-reat work. Yes, sir—great work!” He voiced this ostentatious approval of the rescue again and again. “Never saw anything more plucky in m’ life. Never.” “Na-a,” Joe Carrière rumbled, as soon as he understood what the stranger meant. His honest and slowlashed brown eyes looked into the city man’s brisk, clipped, blue-barbered face. “Why, the hole’s only six foot deep.”
“You’re a hero,” asseverated the city man, “and what’s more, I know all about you. In fact, I’m just now on a still-hunt for my old sidekick Louie Carrière. I used to know my way around here, but this settlement’s changed quite a lot since I was about here last. I’m Marion.”
“Cor-rect, sir, correct. Yes, sir, your dad and I homestidded here twenty-five years ago. Then I got thinking it was too slow a way of makin’ money and I turned my quarter-section over to him for $100—Louie’s last ready money, by the way, but boy— oh boy! what an investment!
Has he got that quarter yet?”
“Had to let it go back to prairie. Too many stones.”
“Whatstones on that good land. Too bad, too bad! Well, as I was s a y i n ’ , I thought I could make money quicker in town. But your dad, he had the spunk to hang on till the railroad come, and now, I understand, he’s fixed so’s he don’t need to take backwater from nobody.”
“We ain’t got nothin’ much,’’ the great country boy rumbled;
“we can eat, but that’s about all. Light land around here—always was.”
“Well, well,” Noah Marion rubbed the tip of an ear between thumb and forefinger; then, abruptly, he shot up his arm and with ascending palm measured on it the rough differ ence between the boy’s height and his own. “You son of a gun! You’re over eight feet high. I’m six myself.”
‘ ‘I stand eight foot two and a half,” said Joe Carriere, simply. “I guess I’m the tallest man that there is here in this settlement.’
“I guess you’re the tallest man in the wide world, and solid hero from your scalp to your feet to boot,” the city man vociferated. He smote the great boy on the shoulder with his utmost might of joviality. Joe Carrière never even quivered.
“Come on, come on,” cried Marion then; “jump into the buggy and direct me to Louie’s. The liveryman yonder’s a new hand, and I thought I’d lost my way till I saw you.”
“The road’s too rough from here home; I’d bust your springs,” declined the young giant, in a matter-of-fact tone. “I’m 380 pounds, and I generally always walk except when we got the wagon along. Just keep the best-beaten trail, that’s all you got to do. There’s the house—that whitewashed place in the poplar grove on that south knoll.”
Noah Marion tipped his hat, grinned over his shoulder with incorrigible bonhomie and returned to the livery buggy. Seating himself stoutly and briskly, he signed to the liveryman with a staccato Latin gesture and eyegleam to drive on to the whitewashed bouse; then, returning to the corner of his mouth a short dead cigarbutt, Marion with a deft one-hand match-scratch and shielding, relighted it. Paying no attention to the driver’s contemptuous snuffle and hawk as the thing started fuming afresh, Noah Marion settled his thick shoulders back in the buggy-seat and, to get a cue for a pertinent greeting to Louie Garriere, pulled out and began to re-read Carriere’s letter received by him a month ago—the letter which had in fact been the occasion for this 600-mile trip made by busy and wealthy Noah Marion, hotelman and land-dealer, to a particularly poor section of the generally fertile and well-settled west.
Marion’s eyes passed lightly over the portion of the letter devoted to reminiscence. He soon settled to re-peruse, with immense satisfaction, the significant part, which ran:
“Noah, my big boy, the one I told you about, has kept on growing like a sow thistle. I stood him up against the corner of the house the other night and got on a chair and measured him.
He come pretty near up to the eaves and when I took the tapeline and fetched it up to the thumb-scratch, here he was a little over eight foot two and a half! He’s only twenty past.
“Well, sir, a baby could of shoved me over when I seen that tapeline.
I w as 1 i k e mother and the rest of us, hadn’t noticed Joe much; he’s grown up among us here and we know he’s a big lad, but we never take much notice to him, and the neighbors around are the same. In the settlement here, he’s just one of the boys and plays and laughs around and nobody notices him and he’s got a real handy goodlooking girl struck on him, she don’t think nothing of his being two foot higher than the rest of us and I’m afraid they’re going to get married.
“That brings me to the point. Noah, it’s cost me quite a bit to raise that lad. He eats like a horse, but the big expense is keeping his carcass covered. Mother makes him an occasional jumper and pair of pants with odds and ends, but buckskin’s the only thing that will wear him and you don’t get buckskin from the Indians for nothing these days; the nitchies are as keen on the dollar now as any of the rest of us.
“Noah, oldtimer, I haven’t said a word to anybody, but I don’t have no secrets from you. Before Joe goes and gets married and we have a daughter-in-law on our hands, I got an idea to work out. After I measured him, I’d pretty nearly forgotten about his height again—as I say, we’re all used to him around here, seeing him every day like we do—when I run across a newspaper item about tall men in circuses and that, Noah, would you believe me, there was only one taller than our Joe—a Chinaman nine feet high, and he’s dead.
“Now, Noah, I want Joe to see the world while he’s young, and I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t work the other way at the same time—the world seein’ him while he’s seein' the world, and paying what’s right to look at him. What do you think? I never had a chance to see the world myself, and I think this would be the making of Joe, and I know you can make a success of this thing and will do the square thing with the proceeds, Noah, in regard to whatever you think is coming to me out of it. I wouldn’t trust him out with anybody but an old friend like you.
“Come on out as soon as you have a business call out this way, and see our Joe, and have a visit with your old friend, Louis Joseph Carrière.
“P.S. There may be a little trouble with mother over this, but I can handle her, always could.—L.J.C.”
Joe Garriere walked home among the boys. They talked excitedly as they strolled along the three-rutted trail, but it was not of Noah Marion’s remark about Joe’s height. They talked chiefly of the accident to Jimmy, and of how “lucky” he was that Joe “jumped in and yanked him out.” As they gamboled and hopscotched along, some of the smaller boys played their favorite trick on great Joe—that of running in and out between his legs as he strode forward. But the great boy’s height was merely a casual thing to these playmates and schoolmates. It did not set him apart from them. They were just the same with him as if he had been five feet two instead of eight feet two. “Goodnight, Joe,” they yelled comradely, as they dispersed.
He was one of them. Nobody in the settlement set Joe Carrière apart because of his height. He was just, to all the neighbors as to his own family, “a big strapping lad.” And what had been said in the letter of Carrière, Sr., to Noah Marion about the “handy good-looking girl” who was going to marry Joe Garriere, was absolutely true.
“A nickel for your thoughts?” remarked Noah Marion, quizzically.
“I was thÿiki-n’,” said Joe Carrière, simply and without hesitation, “that it was a shame to leave Ma cryin’ like that.”
“Women are always that way,” Noah Marion rejoined; “my mother, she would have been just the same. Here—have a cigar.”
“I don’t smoke,” returned Carriere’s great reticent voice that seemed to roll along the ceiling ere it dropped to the ear. A moment later he remarked in a huge whisper: “What makes the people in the seats gawk around at me? They seem like they couldn’t take their eyes off of me—”
“Ssh!” sibilated Marion. He edged his thick shoulder close: “They don’t mean nothing. Of course they’ll look at you. Of course they’ll rubber at you. That’s what we want ’em to do. I wish I could have had a few handbills ready to pass round.”
“Maybe they’d like to make up to me,” said the giant, simply. “Say, it’s going to be great, chumming up with people as they come along. Maybe I could take a couple fellows back with me to Buckhorn and show them around.”
The two were seated in a red-upholstered and somewhat dingy day-coach, bound cityward. It was the first day of all his seven thousand simple and sunny days of babyhood, boyhood and youth that Joe Carrière had been away from the red willows and whitewashed houses and weed-grown old buffalo wallows of his Buckhorn.
The great boy was dressed in his best suit. As there were no suits in any store in Buckhorn village that came within several yards of being able to envelop Joe Carrière, and as there were no tailors in the place, Joe’s best suit was one of fringed and beaded buckskin, presented to him recently with much admiration for his heroic inches by the veteran Sioux Ben, who in the days of Custer and Walsh had been Chief Ben Sun Cloud. Ben, who made the Buckhorn boys superior cherrywood bows which would shoot arrows tipped with prairie chicken feathers clean up out of sight, had christened Joe, “Walking Tree,” and loved him as a son for his size and friendliness, and for that Joe had once brought home Sioux Ben’s favorite, but stubborn stray pony across his shoulders because the pony would not lead out of the luscious clover patch where Joe had found him richly trespassing.
Noah Marion, playing comfortably with his cigar, licking and lipping it complacently, for the thirtieth time or so passed his eyes over his charge from wet-parted jet hair to beaded moccasins.
“N’wonder they can’t keep their eyes off of you,” he said to himself in rapturous soliloquy; “you’d bring a blind man’s sight back, you—you mangelwozzel you! You pass any freak o’ Nature I ever saw before. We’ll have to hang on to that outfit, too. It pulls ’em. ‘Buckskin Joe’—that’s what we’ll have it on the handbills. We’ll charge ’em a quarter to see you, and get it too; there’s been nothin’ like you in this country since I can remember. You ought to average $200 a day and no salary to come out of that, since I have to pay Louie. And after your twenty-first birthday next month, just to be on the safe side, I’ll get your legal John-Hancock to a five-year contract.”
“Nice day this,” ventured Joe Garriere to a man across the aisle. He accompanied the words with the friendly smile that he was used to giving boys and neighbors in his Buckhorn.
The mouth of the man, who had been gaping in a very abandon of broad staring, shut nervously. He retreated as Joe leaned. Then he turned to the man sitting with him, jerked a thumb over his shoulder in Joe’s direction and—guffawed.
TT WAS very hot in the tent which had been erected on the fair ground. Sweat ran down the face of the little blackmustached man who, to work off a debt to Noah Marion, had engaged to stand between the tent and the sidewalk of the town-fair “midway” and display an enormous moccasin and conduct the ballyhoo which arrested the flowing throngs of Citizens’ Day.
Farmer fathers paused, stared at the moccasin, and finger-hooked in their breast-pockets for the elastic-bound billfold. Townsmen thrust hands down past comfortable abdomens into the trouserpocket where silver more conveniently jingled. A never-ending streamlet of sightseers trickled in and out of the tent where Joe Carrière, in his now sweatstained and dingy buckskin suit, sat hugely in an old office chair, or now and then rose and paced the two steps the tent permitted, or turned and emptied at a gulp one of the pop-bottles in a case which stood on a table.
That was his simple act—to sit a few minutes; to rise once in a while and revolve himself and pace the couple of steps back and forth; to drink from a pop-bottle as a proof that his head— some sightseers are very skeptical—was not a dummy somehow elevated on stilts; to offer a photograph of himself from the pile on the table, and to receive the dime—if it was received—with a gigantic vaudevillean “I thank-a-yoe.”
As all the money taken in by the little black-mustached showman who flourished the moccasin outside was turned over to Noah Marion—who sent the dole he himself thought was “right” to Louie Garriere, paid Joe’s board and fare and the fair-ground concessions, and added the lion’s balance to his own handsome bank account—Joe’s entire personal revenue came from the sale of the photographs. Crowds at town fairs in Wheat Land were made up of thrifty folk who, after paying twenty-five cents instead of the usual sideshow fee of fifteen cents to see “Buckskin Joe, the Giant Plainhunter,” were apt to be slow about paying another dime for his photograph. One week, in a town full of tourists, Joe had sold an average of forty photographs a day and had touched his high mark of twenty-four dollars. His usual weekly intake was from fifteen to twenty dollars. Once it had fallen to eight dollars.
He considered he was doing well. He was, as he put it, “handling” more cash than the country boy of poor and sandy and stony Buckhorn had ever expected to possess, or even dreamed of possessing. He kept a little change to jingle like a city man in the deep right-hand pocket of his buckskin pants, and sent the rest home to his mother. Maybe she would give him back some of it to get married on, in that good future when this peepshow business was over and he could get back homo.
This peep-show business—that was all the world had turned out to be, in the five weeks or so that Joe had been beyond the bourne of Buckhorn, out among strangers who stared and shrank. Like any boy, he had wanted to see the sights in town. But he had not wanted to be himself seen as a sight. He did not want to be, as he put it, gaped at. He wanted people to talk to him.
He was mortally lonely. Why did they all look at him so glassy-eyed, just as if he wasn’t a human being at all? Girls and everybody, the same—and his very soul in him starving for somebody to shove out a hand and grin naturally and say: “Good day there, boy!”
On this hot day in the fair-ground of the western town, a girl came into the tent with a tall, swaggering young countryman. Joe thought for a moment the girl looked like his sweetheart back home, but looked like her in an unnatural way. The fact was, that Joe’s girl was naturally full-blooded and ruddy, and this stranger girl only looked like her because the stranger girl’s face was at present congested with the heat that had beaten down on the windless sidewalk of the fair-ground midway.
The girl had been ready to faint when she had entered the tent; and, as she passed Joe, she actually did faint— wilted and fell right down across Joe’s moccasined foot.
Spontaneously Joe, who was at the time standing, bent from his great height to lift her. The young countryman, her escort, a plethoric type, taken by surprise at the girl’s collapse, stood staring, at a loss, until the girl, her fainting spell having only lasted a few seconds, opened her eyes—and found herself in the arms of Buckskin Joe, the Giant Plainhunter.
She cut the air with a scream. The escort ran at Joe. “Let loose o’ her!” he yelled, his eyes popping. With that, he struck wildly and hysterically at Joe; then spun and shrilled out through the tent door: “Help, here! He-e-elp!”
The little black-mustached showman ran in, followed by a policeman.
“What’s up here—what’s up?” demanded the showman, ostentatiously.
“This—this thing, this freak here, grabs her,” shouted the escort, planting himself swankingly in front of the girl, who clung wide-eyed to his sleeve, shrinking in real panic from Joe.
But the policeman, a middle-aged man who had often dropped into the tent for a drink of Joe’s pop, intervened, addressing Joe himself.
“What happened, Buckskin?”
“Why, she—she fell down,” said great Joe Carrière, haltingly.
The policeman turned to the complaining two. “I don’t know what’s been going on,” he said; “perhaps you were trying to tease him or something. But I know this much—the big giant here wouldn’t touch a flea. Just move on. You’ll be all right.”
The young countryman prepared to bluster.
“Move on, I said,” reiterated the policeman.
“Oh, come on out of this,” said the girl, her voice shrill and nervous; “why did you bring me in, anyway? I’ve told you time and time again I didn’t want to see any of these freaks of Nature. They make me sick.”
That night, at the hotel suite, Joe did not play any of his usual schoolboy tricks on the little black-mustached showman— such as blowing cyclonically across the room and putting out the match with which the little man was about to light his bedtime pipe, or jerking the rug out from under him as he stood disrobing. Instead, he flung himself hugely down on the bed and lay there with his crossed and moccasined feet projecting far over the footboard and his silk-colored black felt hat drawn low over his face.
His room-mate was at first a little relieved. He could have his smoke in peace this evening. But as the moments wore on and Joe said nothing, Marion’s showman was conscious of slight perturbation. * He took his pipe from his mouth a second.
Something like two minutes passed without answer. Then the great voice, with a new cadence, came out from under the drawn-down hat-brim.
“What’s freaks o’ Nature?”
“Why—why—” Marion’s showman was nonplussed a moment; then inspiration came, and he said: “Why, you’re one.”
The springs of the bed squalled in sudden agony. Joe Carrière had fetched his 380 pounds of thew and bone from a lying to a standing position at one heave. With a single stride he crossed the room and stood above his room-fellow’s chair—■ his great moccasined feet planted apart, his black-haired scalp grazing the ceiling. “Say that again!” he invited.
The showman’s pipe fell to the floor. His glance, as though under hypnosis, was drawn up to the giant’s face. The brown eyes smouldered, the broad cheekbones showed portentous, the hands were clenched till the great thick sinews showed under the swarthy skin.
“Tell me again that I’m a freak o’ Nature,” Carriere’s voice deepened and seemed to fill the room, “and I’ll break your neck for you.”
The showman gaped without reply. Then he moistened his lips, and took his eyes from Carrière long enough to appraise the distance from his chair to the door by which one escaped into the corridor and thence downstairs.
“I’m going home out of this,” said Joe Carrière. “I’ve had enough of this being a peep-show. Home—d’ye hear? Right to-night.”
“Y-you better let me wire the boss first,” Showman Baptiste Coutu stammered.
“Wire him then,” said Joe Carrière, “and do it now.”
Showman Coutu went downstairs and wired. He said: “He’s kicking over the traces. Instruct quick. Writing.” Then Coutu sat down and in a following letter, which he sent by special delivery mail, he described the change in his charge as well as he could. He ended by stating his belief that his life was in danger, and in a final sentence said flatly: “Mr. Marion, he’s bughouse I think. You know him, you better come yourself. I’m no lion-tamer, never was.”
In half an hour Marion’s telegraphed answer was handed to his employee, who had meanwhile sat safely in the hotel rotunda: “Hang on to him. Coming on Train Twenty-six.”
Hotfoot, Marion came an hour later. He was met by Coutu in the rotunda.
“Is he all right now?” said Marion. “Yes, oh yes,” said Coutu, squirming a little; “he’ll be all right. Sure, he’s all right.”
“Mean to say you’ve left him alone up in the room there all this time?”
“I didn’t mean to say that,” Coutu replied, courteously, “but it’s a fact.” “Bateese, you’re a fool.”
“Maybe. But I’m a little fool and I got no chance with a big one.”
“Pshaw! he wouldn’t hurt a fly, Coutu. If we find him gone now, you’re out of a job.”
“That,” said Coutu, respectfully, “will be quite all right, Mr. Marion.”
“It will, will it ! We’ll see about that.” But Joe Carrière had not gone. He was lying across the bed. A queer sound filled the room—enormous sobbing. The giant boy was crying—crying like any boy of normal size, with his black “badger cut” hair spread over the pillow and his body—the abnormally great body that had brought him to this pass of loneliness and heartbreak—half on the bed and half on the floor, as though he had been trying to discard it.
“That’s the way it always takes them first,” breathed Coutu, hooking Marion back by the sleeve. “First they start to blubber and then they cut loose. These freaks are just like the animals in the menagerie. Stay back, stand the door wide open behind you, and be ready to h’ist in coal if he makes a move. Use the banisters goin’ down—don’t bother with the steps.”
Marion jerked loose and went over to the bed. “Hello, Joe!” he hailed, in his best manner of political-campaign joviality; “what’s up?” He smote the broad shoulders with a rousing palm.
Young Carriere’s back heaved volcanically. A great hand came around to his hip pocket. Baptiste Coutu skated to the door. But all that Joe Garriere
a fetched out of the hip pocket was a red pocket-handkerchief with which to wipe his eyes before he turned to Marion.
Presently, to the shrilling of the bedsprings he sat up, his eyes red and contracted with crying, his cheek-bones polished to a wet-smeared shine. A close smell came from the draggled buckskin suit, the underwear, the feet. He was just a neglected boy, not used to taking care of himself, in sore need of a mother’s overhauling, a clean shirt dried in the Buckhorn wind, clean socks aired over wolf-willows. He was just any neglected boy gazed at as through a magnifying glass.
“Uncle Noah,” he said, using the term suggested by Marion at the outset of their connection, “am I a freak of Nature like a legless calf or something?”
“Nature’s done wonders for you, boy, plain wonders,” was Marion’s rejoinder, as his shrewd glance measured the other, “and you’re makin’ money hand over fist—”
“Am I a freak o’ Nature or not?” “That’s his bug,” sotto-voiced Coutu. But Marion was not listening.
“Sure, you’re out of the ordinary, Joe,” he said; “there ain’t another like you in the country. I guess you must be over eight foot three now, ain’t you—you’ve growed another inch anyway since you left home. Everybody’s lookin’ at you—”
“Lookin’ at me—lookin’ at me—that’s all they do, all day, is look at me. Say,” Joe Carrière, of Buckhorn, used his first bit of irony, “you better get the undertaker to fix me up like one of those mummies, so’s they can keep on lookin’ at me after I’m dead, eh?”
Noah Marion missed the irony.
“That’s a grand idea too,” and his eyes grew distant and speculative. “I got you insured, but as you say, you might be valuable if you pegged out, over and above the insurance.” Marion said this half to himself; then added aloud, for Noah Marion, old political campaigner, never forgot his etiquette: “But we’ll all hope you won’t be a mummy for a long while yet, Joe.”
The bedroom floor groaned beneath its cheap carpet as Giant Carrière swung to his feet.
“M’sieu Marion,” he said, dropping the “Uncle” for good and all, “I’m not a peep-show. I’m going back to Buckhorn where I was a human bein’. I want to talk to somebody again.”
“Ain’t you got Bateese here to talk to? He’s seen a lot o’ life. He can tell you things about this big happy world you’re out in, with all the people crowdin’ around to see you—”
“Coutu keeps company with his pipe. He don’t talk to freaks o’ Nature.”
Marion turned an eye upon Showman Coutu.
“See that you’re better company to our Buckskin Joe after this,” he said; “and, mind, I want that attended to immediately, right from now on.”
But Joe Carrière shook his head
vigorously, his mop of black hair whistling against the ceiling-paper.
“After this is past,” he said. “I’m goin’ home. Nothin’s goin’ to stop me.” Marion’s voice and eyes became suddenly metallic.
“I got one thing will stop you,” he said briskly; “This!” He drew out and
thumb-flipped a document whose fly
showed red seals. “You was of age when you signed this contract, mind. It’s good for five years unless I want to cancel it. I—not you, understand!” “Well, cancel it and let me go home.” “Not for a while anyway.”
“Then I’m goin’.”
In another ten minutes the late pedestrians on the street were aware of a mammoth figure in shabby buckskin suit and wide-brimmed, silk-corded black felt hat, proceeding with five-foot strides in the direction of the depot. The street noticed the giant with all its eyes; but it did not notice the little black-moustached man wno followed, dodging in and out of doorways and keeping the buckskinned Anak in sight.
“Watch where he goes,” Marion had directed Coutu, “till I get something started.”
Marion’s mode of starting something was to get a certain important man on the long distance phone. This took a little time, as the important man was in bed.
“A fellow I got under contract is running out on me,” Marion blurted, without preamble; “can’t something be done about it?”
“Something can always be done for Friend Noah Marion,” came the voice of the important man, cordially. “Give me the facts.”
Politician Marion gave the facts.
“I’ll get the country police on the job.”
TOE CARRIERE, young giant of BuckJ horn—comparative brother in height to the ornamental light standards he passed as he strode along; grazing the low electric signs on his way; stared at; run away from; hailed with raw comedy; trotted after by a wondering newsboy or two—reached the depot sick-hearted. He pushed himself in his great gentle way through the midnight crowd on the platform—the midnight crowd which hung about to meet the fair-week excursion trains going and arriving at all hours. His glance almost supplicated the upturning faces for friendship. All the faces were willing to stare; but when with his red sad eyes great Carrière attempted to select any gazer as brotherman or sister-girl and in this hope venture a smile, there was an instant chilling, hardening, shrinking.
It was no use! To all the people of all the world outside his Buckhorn, he was not a human being. He was a freak of Nature, like a two-headed calf or a lamb born legless.
Joe bowed his head and went, stooping, through the depot door. He bent down to the wicket where tickets were sold. The ticket agent, talking to his assistant, heard the rustle at the wicket and backed toward the aperture, still talking. He turned at last with a brisk movement, and thus came suddenly face to face with Giant Carrière.
“Hagh!” he gasped, and his glasses dropped off. He fumbled for them with one hand, keeping his eyes on the apparition at the wicket. Then his sense of humor arrived.
“Jim,” he demanded of the assistant, “do you see what I see?”
Jim Daly, who was young and cigaretted and pompadoured, came forward coolly.
“Sure I do,” he said; “that’s the giant from up on the showground, Harry. He’s putting up at the Rossin House. Ain’t he some freak, what?”
“Is it right that he should be running around loose?” said the ticket agent. “Hey, fel—jigger—joker—how do you talk to it, Jim?—hey, Goliath, what’s your worry? Don’t you know you’re blockin’ a front? Shoo!”
“I want a ticket to Buckhorn,” Joe’s vast voice boomed, diffidently.
The agent gave recognition as though a bull had bawled. He started; he stared at all of Joe, not any particular part of him. But from force of habit he responded mechanically to the demand for a ticket. He brought down the bit of pasteboard and almost had it stamped when he recollected himself.
“What am I doin’?” he checked himself; “here I pretty near gave it a ticket. Did you hear it say ‘a ticket to Buckhorn;’ or am I hearin’ things as well as seein’ ’em?”
“Those were the words that was said,” reassured Jim Daly. “Let's give it the ticket to play with, if the cash is up. What’s the odds?”
“The cash is up, all in dimes,” the station-agent reported over his shoulder, as he told off with a comic forefinger the spread of silver Joe had made on the counter.
“Pop she goes then, eh!” recommended Daly.
“Well,” reflected the agent, rubbing his scalp perplexedly, “I guess it’s the only way to clear the wicket.”
He flipped out the ticket—staring with abandon, almost a child’s abandon, at Joe’s great brown receiving hand; staring at the hand as though it were a hoof or a paw.
Joe picked up the ticket, which looked postage-stamp-small in his fingers. Then, pushed by the ticket-buyers who had been waiting behind him—impatient midgets whose shouldering, applied far down on Joe’s ribs, was as a light touch that moved him no more than a loaded wagon—the big country boy revolved himself vaguely in the noisy waitingroom. Locating the outer door presently, he moved toward it again.
On many an evening recently, when the day’s duty of facing the cold-staring streams of strangers had been done, and Showman Coutu, the day’s takings counted, had dozed in his chair, Joe had wistfully studied the railway time-table for particulars of homegoing trains on the line that passed through Buckhorn. He had done it at that time passively and dreamily and just for a kind of comfort. But he had got the trains by heart, and now he knew there was an outgoing train to Buckhorn at 1:10—that is to say, in ust fifteen minutes.
But at the waiting-room door one faced him, ostentatiously displaying an official badge.
Policeman Beardsall carried the mental memorandum, passed on to him at Marion’s suggestion: “They can bluff the big vegetable to a standstill—he wouldn’t say boo to a goose.” As this had come to him on what was usually impeccable authority, Beardsall acted accordingly; V •
“Let’s see your hands,” he said.
Joe warmed. Here was somebody actually speaking to him—not just of him. Speaking to him and smiling. He put up his hands widely.
“Together,” said Beardsall, succinctly.
Joe brought his eleven-inch wrists together. Beardsall promptly handcuffed him.
“Good work, officer,” said a city aiderman, who had been waiting for an incoming train and a friend. “Feature from the sideshow, eh? What’s the idea—at large like this? We’ll have to talk to the fair board.”
Beardsall turned, waved the people away from around the waiting-room door, turned the key that stood in the lock of the door, then removed the key temporarily from the keyhole and held it in his hand.
“You’re under arrest,” he said throatily to great Joe; “the van-driver will be here in ten minutes. You’re going with us.”
“What?” said Joe Carrière, bewildered.
“Yes, what!” brawled Beardsall; “we’ll show you whether a contract’s a contract.” Beardsall winked at the aiderman, who smiled indulgently.
“But I—I was just going home,” said Joe Garriere.
“Exactly. You was runnin’out. Well, you see, it can’t be done.”
“I am going home,” said Joe Carrière, suddenly and passionately, the great volume of his voice roaring out in the flocked and staring room. He stood a moment, revolving pillar-like as he had been used to do among crowds in the show-tent. Then he jerked his hands apart, snapping the handcuff-links with a puny “ping.” He grabbed the knob of the locked door. He pulled, using no apparent effort. The tongue of the lock broke its way through the thick castiron keeper as if the keeper had been celluloid.
“Hold on, there, hold on,” Beardsall caught at the tail of the ragged buckskin coat. He was swung out of the door like a small puppy on a trouser-leg.
Carrière strode toweringly to the Buckhorn train that had pulled in and was waiting. The train conductor, who had witnessed the arrest from the platform, stepped hastily forward and blocked the door of the railway coach.
“Keep out,” he said; “keep out!”
“I got a ticket,” said big Joe Carrière, holding out his bit of pasteboard.
“Your license to travel on this train is revoked when you’re under arrest,” countered the conductor.
“I got a ticket and I’m going to get on this train,” said the young giant, his Drown eyes aglow.
“If you get on by main stren’th and we can’t budge you by leaving time,” the conductor panted, “we’ll simply cut out this coach and leave it here. That’s how we’ll fix you.”
Giant Joe Carrière drew back from the steps of the railway coach. He towered to his eight feet three. At last, he who was kindly, who was a great gentle beggar for friendship, had been driven, chilled to the point where he had given up hope, finally given up hope, of winning these aliens of the great Outside, these glassily-staring strangers who tenanted all the big world except Buckhorn. He had been driven to the point where he had given up hope utterly and had hence suddenly ceased to care.
He stretched up to his height, his great alienating height—he even stood on his moccasined tiptoes, throwing his “freak” height defiantly in their eyes as he confronted them. He loomed in their vision like a figure from before the Flood. They stared, all mouths and eyeballs. He terrified them, and he did not care.
Joe Carrière lifted his eyes to the lights around. His huge voice boomed out in a singsong recitative—the recitative, mightily magnified, of an unwilling schoolboy elocutionist at a social. He was “paying out a verse from the Second Reader of the Buckhorn school:
“Gréât wide wonderful bee—ootiful
Korid . .
Reaching that point, he paused. He brought his eyes down from the sputtering cat-hissing lights of the row of depot lamp-posts. He looked at the crowd as he had looked at the lamp-posts, aloofly.
“This here,” he said in a cadence lonely as a wind on a mountain-top, “is that great wonderful world they talk about, is it? Well, I don’t want out in it no more. I’m through with it, and I’m not beholden to it for nothin’. If youse won’t let me ride on your blamed train, I’ll do like my folks done before the railroad was built—I’ll walk! I’m no better than they were; why should I ride? I know the way. I know the trail.
“Now I’m goin’, and I mean it. And if anybody else gets in front of me— I’m not a fightin’ man and I don’t want no trouble, but if anybody else gets in front of me”—the great wrists and hands made a motion like wringing—“I’ll twist him in two!”
He swept the crowd with his eyes. There was real menace in the brown eyes now. Then he turned his back on them, and at the huntsman’s stride, the swinging stride of the prairie-born, he passed away down the platform.
“Better shoot,” suggested the aiderman, “he might hurt somebody.”
“Can’t take a chance on any casualties, this trip,” demurred Policeman Beardsall; “there was more politics than law back of this arrest. Might’s right this once, and he’s got the might, sir. Look at that door-lock!”
So Joe Carrière, empty-pocketed, rags dangling from the skirts of his tattered buckskin coat, the knees out of his leggings, holes starting in the soles of his Indian-made moccasins, walked away down the depot platform until, like a great peregrinating shadow, he was swallowed up in the darkness, headed west . . ,