The Little Men
The wildest windstorm that ever lashed Temiskaming had a reason behind it
SOME FOLK, the kind who don’t believe in the pik-gee-gees, say Randy Corrigan left the woods and turned fanner for love of a yellow-haired girl, but that’s not right. The yellow-haired girl had her part in it, of course, but Randy Corrigan himself told me the little men drove him from the woods. The little men, the pik-gee-gees—and they weren’t human.
Nothing human could have made Randy Corrigan do anything he didn’t want to do in those days. This Randy Corrigan had a great name among the lumberjacks of the Upper Ottawa in the eighties, a wild, strong hellion who was best man on the river in his day. A hard worker, a hard drinker and a hard fighter, but I knew no harm in him except the once. He was afraid of nobody. But a banshee, now, or one of the little people—well, he didn’t fear them but he respected them.
He believed in the little men, you see. It was O’Dare’s laughing at his belief that stirred up the bad bl;x>d between them that winter night in Camp Four, with the fight and all.
The fight began everything and the fight itself began over nothing. One of the rivermen, lying on his bunk as we loafed in the shanty that night, happened to say that Temiskaming was the most treacherous lake he knew. That’s how it began.
“Why of course.” said Randy Corrigan. “And ’tis well known why. The little men have their meeting place on Wabi Point, that headland on the northwest arm.”
“The little men?” said the cook.
“Aye. the pik-gee-gees. I laven’t you heard of them? '1’he little rascals who send those quick storms that blow out of a clear sky, gusts of wind that come up from water like glass. They’ll dump a canoe before you can cross yourself.”
I can see Randy Corrigan as he stood by the fire in the shanty that night, towering tall as he was then, with the lantern light shining on his curly black hair and his lean brown face with the mouth that always seemed to be quirking at the corners. Maybe it was his height, maybe the proud easy way he held himself, maybe the quick flash of his eyes, but when you saw Randy Corrigan in a group of men he was the one who gripped your gaze first and held it so that the others were of no account.
“Fairies, then?” said the cook.
“Of a kind,” answered Randy Corrigan.
“I passed Wabi Point once when the lake was a lookin’ glass,” said one of us. “Come a gust of wind one way, another gust from another way, and my canoe dumped like that.” He snapped his fingers.
“The pik-gee-gees were having fun with you,” said Randy Corrigan.
It was then that O’Dare, the teamster, laughed. It was not a friendly laugh. There was scorn in it.
We all looked at him. The teamster, Tim O’Dare, was sitting on his bunk whittling at a piece of pine. Randy Corrigan scowled, for there had been bad blood between the two.
“ ’Tis a joke, then, that a man should nearly drown?” O’Dare wasn’t a lumberjack. He was a settler who had taken up land on Temiskaming and he hired out with his team in the shanties for the winter. He was the sort Randy Corrigan despised. A farmer. A big, slow-spoken man with a yellow beard. Randy Corrigan, best man on the river, had been itching to whip him from the day the teamster set fixA in camp, but until now there had never been excuse for a fight.
“I was laughing,” said O’Dare, “at your pik-gee-gees. I have a farm on Wabi Point and never yet have I seen any of your little men or pik-gee-gees or whatever you call them. It is all superstition.”
And so it flared up like a fire in dry slash.
“Maybe I’m a fool,” said Randy Corrigan softly, “to believe in the little men.”
“Yes,” said O’Dare and he got up from the bunk and put away his whittling knife. “You’re a fool.”
“No man living,” said Randy Corrigan, “can call me a fool without getting his chance to prove he’s the better man. And I’m a better man, O'Dare, than any damned farmer that ever set foot in cow-dung !”
O’DARE walked down to the end of the camboose where the floor was smoothed for dancing and fighting. He hunched his great shoulders. The firelight shone on his golden beard.
“There’ll be no peace in this camp, Randy Corrigan,” he
said, “until you learn the taste of a beating. And I’m the farmer who’ll give it to you.”
I can see it yet, although all this was nearly half a century ago.
Randy Corrigan, six feet two in his socks, with that lean swift body and those great shoulders that could pack 350 pounds on the portages, with those iron fasts that had smashed good fighting men from Isle Perrot to Grand Lake Victoria -Corrigan charging in there, as quick and vicious as a lynx. And the teamster O’Dare, a big man too, with his great deep chest and his crown of yellow hair and the beard like gold, planting himself solid there with his big arms out and his body swaying a little just before he met the rush with a left fist that hit Corrigan in the face like a club—aye, they were both good men and strong as oxen.
We looked to see a quick finish of the teamster, for he had no name as a fighter, while Randy Corrigan, we knew, was best man on the Ottawa. But in fight this O’Dare was like a lion.
Woods fighting is not pretty, as you may have heard tell. There are no rules. The better man is the man who can crawl away when the fight is over. Those two clawed and throttled and smashed. When they went down they gouged and bit and kicked. They rolled the width of the cabin and back again. They drove each other crashing against the log walls. And in ten minutes the teamster had taken the best Corrigan had to give of those terrible blows that had cut so many rivermen to pieces, and he was still able to stagger to his feet, with the golden beard all smeared with blood and shaking the yellow hair out of his puffy eyes as he smashed his bruised red fists again and again at the snarling Corrigan.
They were blinded with blood and sweat and weariness when Corrigan yanked open the door and they reeled out into the howling darkness, fought staggering in the snow. We tumbled out to watch them, those two great lunging figures that charged at each other again and again, went down mauling like wildcats, struggled to their feet and lurched forward swinging once more.
And after a while we saw that Randy Corrigan had met bis match at last. Mountain Joe, Ledoux from Ivippawa, Glengarry Mac, the Temagami Terror—-all those great fighting men who had been beaten by Randy Corrigan were being revenged. A teamster, a settler, a common farmer, was doing what none of all those bush bullies had been able to do.
There was something unhuman about the teamster. He was like a rock against which Corrigan was breaking himself to pieces.
We could hear the great gasping sobs of breath as Corrigan lunged in again and again. The wind howled, the pines threshed high in the stormy darkness, the snow swirled around the two men swinging and smashing at each other in the yellow light streaming from the camboose door. Corrigan’s arms had turned to lead and the iron had gone from his fists; he flung himself, panting and with his face a black smear, against the bearded man who crouched, braced and waiting for him, as if rooted in ice. The great arm swung, the huge fist smashed and Corrigan went reeling, slipping to his knees, stumbled to his feet again like a drunken man.
We watched in silence, dumbstruck, for this was something no man had ever seen before and it was hard to believe—Randy Corrigan beaten down.
Then Corrigan himself seemed to realize that he was at the end of his strength, that he was about to drink the poison he had never thought to taste. He gave a great, sad, savage cry and hurled himself on O’Dare again so furiously that we thought he might win yet in spite of all. For a moment, too, the teamster sagged and wilted as the fists slashed his torn face again; he stumbled back, but then he gathered himself together and swung his great left arm.
We all heard the crack of the blow. We saw Randy Corrigan pitch forward, we saw him fall. We saw him twitching, groping at the snow, trying to crawl to his feet again. Then the strength went out of him and he sprawled all limp and still with his arms and legs outfiung, so we knew Randy Corrigan wasn’t the best man on the river any more.
HE TOOK it hard. If the man who had beaten him had been one of his own breed of cats—Mountain Joe or the Mattawa Kid, for instance—he wouldn’t have felt disgraced, but it was bitter to know he’d been humbled by one who didn’t run with his own pack. A settler. A landgrubber. For, like most woodsmen of his stripe, Corrigan despised farmers.
He left camp next morning, which was only the right and proper thing for a beaten man to do, and went to Bilodeau’s shanties up river. They tell me he brooded, became surly. I didn’t see him again until after the drive, in June when we met at the banding ground in Paulson Bay where the square timber was cribbed and banded into the great rafts that were a common sight on the Temiskaming and the Ottawa in those days.
The beating had left its mark. Randy Corrigan had the eyes of one who is not at peace with himself or with any man. His lean cheeks were hollow, his face was thin and
wolfish, his eyes had lost the old fire. But it wasn’t until I found myself sharing oiae of the little crib cabins with him after the raft left the Head on its journey down Temiskaming, that I saw into the darkness of his mind.
A trader had brought liquor to Paulson Bay and Randy Corrigan had been drinking steadily, but the whisky didn’t seem to take hold, which is a bad sign. For a long time he had no word for me at all. just crouching there on the crib, taking an odd swallow of whisky atad staring at the green slopes of the western shore with dull dead eyes.
It was fine there on the great raft, with smoke drifting from the cookery in the middle and the tiny cabins here atad there on the cribs, and the fresh smell of the lapping water mingling with the sweet staaell of pitae timber, as we lounged in the sunlight under the lazy plu ne of smoke from the Meteor, far ahead and towing us down Temiskaming. To lie there in the sun, so close to the smooth blue floor of water that lay so broad and calm between Ontario and Quebec, sniffing the piney air and letting the warmth seep into your bones—-it was like a reward for all the hard work and the danger and the weariness in the bitter cold of winter and the chilling rains of spring. A man could want nothing more, I thought as I sprawled there and puffed my pipe—nothing more if only Randy Corrigan was his laughing self again for company.
And then he spoke.
“A fanner beat me,” said Randy Corrigan in a low voice, crouching there on the crib with his hands locked around his knees and gazing out over the water. “You saw it. last winter. You saw me beaten. In fair fight. By a farmer.”
“You weren’t at your best that night, Randy,” 1 said. But I don’t think he heard me. He was gazing out over the water, down south and west to the blue-green shore. Over there, I knew, the man O’Dare had his home.
“He can’t beat me again,” muttered Randy Corrigan. And then he sprang to his feet and his face looked like the face of a man in pain and he shook his fist at the sky. “No !” he shouted. “He can’t beat me again. It ain’t in the cards. I'm a better man than any damned farmer that ever lived.”
“Sure.” I said. “ Tis the truth. You weren’t at your best that night. I’ve seen you whip men that could break O’Dare in two.”
Which was a lie and he must have known it.
T-TE TOOK another pull at the whisky jug and sat down again. Then he took his knife from his belt and began whetting the blade on his boot.
“I’m going over there tonight.” he said, with a wave of his arm toward the western shore.
“Where?” I said.
“To O’Dare’s, you fool. Where else?”
“Because I’m a better man than the farmer,” he told me, “and it's got to be proved. If I don't come back,” said Randy Corrigan, his voice very quiet, “then I'm not the man I think I am, and better dead.”
"Have you gone crazy, Randy?” I said. “You wouldn’t kill?”
“Camp Four was fix) small for the both of us once.” muttered Randy Corrigan, “but now I tell you the world is too small for O’Dare and me both. While there’s breath in nay body I’ll never admit lie’s best. No sir,” said Randy Corrigan, “I’m a better man than O’Dare.”
Then he smiled for the first time since I had met him at Paulson Bay, but it was a thin smile aiad cruel. When I looked at him whetting his blade on his boot and gazing out across the water, I was afraid, for there was death in that smile.
It was dark when we crept abreast of the headland under a sky without stars. A stiffish wind had blown up from the northwest, and the night was fuE of the splash and slap of the choppy waves. Randy Corrigan had made a supper of whisky and nothing else. At last we caught the tiny glimmer of yellow light, away out there on the point—the light from O’Dare’s cabin. Then Randy Corrigan got up and went to one of the boats that lay bottom up on the crib.
“Give me a hand,” he muttered.
"Randy.” I said, “it's a mad thing you’re doing,” but he turned on me and snarled low in his throat: “Give me a hand !”
So I said no more, for I knew there was no stopping him. We put the boat in the water. For all that he had drunk so much whisky, he was very steady on his feet. He got into the boat, set down the jug, put the oars in the rowlocks and then without a word of good-by he pulled away from the raft. For a long time after the dark shadow of the boat was swallowed up by the black night, I sat there on the crib listening to the steady creek-creek of the oars in the locks as the wind carried the sounds over the lapping water.
That night one of those swift, fierce storms that give the lake its bad name as treacherous water lashed Temiskaming. It was the worst storm I’ve ever known on the lake. When the grey morning came, Randy Corrigan did not return to the raft, nor did he overtake us in the boat that day. It was a long time before I saw Randy Corrigan again and the rest is as he told me—a strange, queer yam, but gospel he swore.
THERE WAS a storm that night, as I’ve said, and Temiskaming in stoma is an evil place for any lone boatman but a deathtrap if the man is the worse for liquor. Randy Corrigan was still a good half mile from shore when the great waves swamped his boat. He has little remembrance of his fight to the land, and him a poor swimmer like most rivermen. By rights he should have drowned.
But reach shore he did, crawling onto a flat sand beach in the roaring darkness. Any other man would have sprawled there to sleep in drunken weariness until sunrise, but when a purpose takes hold of one like Corrigan there is no stopping him. There was only one thought in his head and it drove him stumbling down the shore. He had set out to find O’Dare and fitad him he would, so that for once and all the Upper Ottawa would know which was the better man.
The sand beach came to an end on a point strewn with great boulders, so he was forced up into the bush, where the branches slashed at his face, he blundered against deadfalls, and the undergrowth caught at his legs. But he knew that O’Dare’s farm was not far beyond the point and he had the woodsman’s sense of direction, so he floundered on with the one thought burning in his brain. He had lost the whisky jug in the lake and his throat was hot and dry for want of the liquor. But he still had his knife, and his hand felt the leather sheath of it once in a while as he crashed through the tangle of bush.
Finally a deadfall tripped him up. He pitched over it and went tumbling head-over-heels down a steep slope until he ended up in a grassy hollow. There he lay with the breath knocked out of him. so tired and spent he could hardly stir.
After a while, Randy Corrigan saw there was something queer about that hollow. It was filled with a strange silvery glow, a bit like moonlight but so clear that he could see every bush, every twig, every leaf, every blade of grass in the glen. And as he lay blinking, wondering at moonshine on such a night, his eyes were fixed on one particular leaf not six inches from his face.
Continued on page 50
The Little Men
Continued from page 13—Starts on page 12
It was an odd leaf, a peculiar leaf. He knew that, but for a while he couldn’t imagine why. Then all of a sudden he saw why the leaf struck him as being strange, for it wasn’t a leaf at all, but a man.
A man, a little man, a wee scrap of a fellow no bigger than the ear of a rabbit. Ile was all in green, which was why Randy Corrigan mistook him for a leaf at first, and he had eyes like pinpoints in a shrewd old red face as wrinkled as a pepper.
They stared at each other without a word. Then Randy noticed that there was a great rustling and whispering going on all around him, and when he looked he blinked again, most mightily surprised to find that the whole hollow was filled with these little men, like green leaves come to life.
“Randy Corrigan,” said the old man he had first seen in a voice that was very sharp and clear for all that it came from a body so small, “it’s windy off Wabi Point tonight, you’ve noticed.”
Then up sat Randy Corrigan, the weariness and soreness leaving him like magic, and he looked around at all the little men, some sitting cross-legged in the grass, some peeping out from the weeds and undergrowth, some sitting on the branches of the trees-scores and scores of little men wherever he looked in that milky glow.
“I thought as much,” he said. “So you sent that wind? By gorry, and it’s a great pity O’Dare isn’t here now—him and his laughin’ at the pik-gee-gees.”
“Randy Corrigan,” said the little man, “you’ll do us the kindness to hold your tongue.”
“Well now,” grinned Randy, “as to that, I’ll talk if I please, you funny little fellow, for I’m a man who’s afraid of neither God, man nor the devil, and I’m not to be scared of any pik-gee-gee no bigger than my ear. If you were a banshee, now—”
DUT HE didn’t finish what he was saying for the whispering and rustling suddenly became louder and louder. It became a breeze and then a wind, then a gale, then a regular hurricane so furious and strong it roared in his ears and knocked him fiat on his back, gasping for breath. There was no talking against it, and when the wind died down Randy Corrigan sat up in a humbler frame of mind, with a great respect for the little men who could create such a hurricane quicker than you could wink your eye.
“You’ll speak when you’re asked,” said the little man, and Randy Corrigan held his tongue for he had no wish to be knocked fiat again by another windstorm.
“Blow him away !” squeaked a little man who was sitting on a branch of a raspberry bush, bouncing up and down. “Blow him into the middle of next week. He?s got murder in his heart.” Then all the little men puffed out their cheeks, and such a moaning and rustling and sighing went up that Randy Corrigan’s scalp began to prickle for he knew now that if the pikgee-gees ever let go and began to puff in earnest he’d be blown clear out over Temiskaming like a dead leaf and never be heard of again. But the head pik-gee-gee junqxd up onto a small stump in the middle of the hollow and held up his hand, so the rustling and whistling died away.
“Randy Corrigan,” he said, “ ’twould serve you right if I let my men have their way with you, for you come here with murder in your heart, bound on doing wrong to a man who’s never done you harm.”
“What?” shouted Randy. ‘Never done me harm? If you’d seen what the yellowbearded manure-spreader did to me at Camp Four—”
But he didn’t finish, for a wild gust of wind whisked the words right out of his mouth. So he shut up, realizing there’s nothing to be gained by arguing with
people who turn a cyclone loose around your head every time you try to get a word in edgewise.
“O’Dare beat you in fair fight, by your own rules, and proved himself a better man.” said the little man on the stump.
Randy Corrigan would have disputed the point but he saw all the little men puffing out their cheeks, getting a whirlwind ready for him the moment he opened his head, so he merely gulped and looked scornful.
“And now you come here with a knife in your belt, aiming to beat him by fair means or foul, as if that would prove anything,” snorted the little man, and his very snort ruffled Randy’s hair. “Why, any farmer’s a better man than you are.”
“ ’Tisa lie!” howled Randy and jumped to his feet, but a blast of wind knocked him down again quicker than you could say “Scat!”
“ Tis no lie!” shouted the little man. “We have no use for you and your like, Randy Corrigan. Coming into the woods every winter, chopping and sawing right and left, wasting ten times the timber you take, never cleaning up after you and leaving the bush full of slash and tops so that in summer the fires come and turn the green forest into a black dead waste.”
“Destroyer!” shrieked the little man on the raspberry bush. “Blow him into the middle of next week.”
“Destroyers and fools!” declared the little man on the stump. “In fifty years there won’t be a pine raft on Temiskaming. There won’t be a stick of big timber left north of Mattawa, not because of what you cut but because of the waste and the fires. And you’re fools, Randy Corrigan, you and your like, because you do this just to make a few rich men richer while they feed you moldy beans and rotten pork and salt herring so bad you have to hold your nose to gulp it down. You freeze and you starve, you are crushed by falling trees and you drown in the rapids, you risk your lives and lose them. A pack of brave fools, Randy Corrigan, fancying yourselves great men.”
“Blow them all into the middle of next week!” screeched the little man on the raspberry bush, bouncing up and down in such a fury that he lost his balance and toppled to the ground with a thud.
“Why the man O’Dare is worth ten of you ! Next fall there’ll be grain in his barn and hay in his stable, potatoes and carrots in his cellar, while up at Camp Four there’ll be nothing but black stumps and charred timber where the fires have gone through. In fifty years there’ll be fine rich farms for miles north of Wabi Point, but there’ll be no white pine at Camp Four and only sawlogs on Temiskaming. O’Dare will be dead maybe but his children will be grown men and women to take his place and make better the farm he cleared. You’ll be dead, too, leaving nothing behind you but a handful of lies about the great drinker and fighter you were. Aye! Ten of you, he’s worth. A hundred of you. He grows. You destroy. And now you come here with a knife in your belt, to destroy O'Dare and break the hearts of his children for the sake of the ignorant pride that says you’re a better man. Your pride lies, Randy Corrigan, and I hope you see it now. You’ll go to O’Dare but you’ll shake his hand and make friends with him, that’s what you’ll do! How does that suit you, Randy Corrigan?”
Randy Corrigan got to his feet, and this time there was no blast of wind to blow him down again.
“It doesn’t suit me at all,” he shouted, stubborn and scornful. “I set out to prove to O’Dare that I’m the better man and I’ll prove it yet.”
The little man looked around at his comrades and sighed.
“There’s no reasoning with a fool.” He
turned to Randy. “Then go!” he said. “And if it so happens that you change your mind you’ll lind us here when you come back.”
Randy Corrigan laughed.
“I won’t be back!” he said. “The hell with you!”
And with that defiance he strode across the hollow, plunged down a dim green trail into the woods on the other side.
HPHERE WASN’T so much as a rustle of -L wind as he left the little men. They made no move to stop him.
Randy Corrigan thought himself a very fine fellow indeed.
“Boldness!” he chuckled. “ ’Tis all that’s needed with big men or little men, wherever you go.” And he swaggered down the trail thinking what a grand story it would be to tell in the shanties next winter, if anyone would believe him— how he had defied the little men to their faces and they hadn’t dared lay a finger on him.
Then, as he plunged deeper into the woods under the big trees, the whole forest was filled with a rustling and sighing of wind.
“So!” he laughed. “Gettin’ mad, are you? Blow away, little men! It’ll take more than a few puffs of wind to frighten Randy Corrigan, as you should know by now.”
The breeze became stronger, the branches creaked like a thousand rusty hinges, the black sky above the trees became filled with a great hollow roaring.
Randy Corrigan laughed again. “You’ll have to do better than that, you wee rapscallions!” he shouted as he stumbled along in the darkness.
But quickly the moan of the wind became a whine. There was a thrashing j and roaring among the trees. The wind blew stiffen Randy Corrigan had to bow his head and bend his body to fight his way against the wind that came whooping up the trail.
He could hear the crashing and booming of the waves on Wabi Point. The wind blew higher and higher. The roar of the forest became deafening. The whine of the wind became a whistle, the whistle became a scream without beginning or end. for the wind did not come in gusts but swept down in one great, long, powerful rising blast. First it shook Randy Corrigan, cuffed him about and sent him reeling on the trail, but then it became like a wall holding him back. He snarled and fought against it, tried to struggle forward, but now the wind was so strong that no man could master it and it knocked him staggering back so that he had to grab hold of a tree trunk to keep from being blown off his feet.
The wind blew higher still. It was an unholy wind, an unbelievable wind; he had never known a wind like it in all his years in the North. It screeched like an army of banshees, howled like all the lost souls in hell; it shook him, pounded him, tore at him; it tried to blow the hair off his head, the shirt off his back, the boots off his feet.
In the wild darkness he could hear branches and treetops snapping and crackling like matchwood. Twigs and leaves and bits of branches rained about his head; a broken bough hit him a slap that nearly stunned him. The wind blew higher. Its scream became a shriek. Randy Corrigan hung onto that tree trunk in a din like the end of all creation, cursing the little men through clenched teeth. He cursed them with every word he could lay tongue to--and in those days Randy Corrigan could outcurse any man on the Upper Ottawa. But the more he cursed the wickeder blew the wind, until it was one great crashing, smashing, yowling, screeching bedlam and the curses were whipped out of his mouth before he could say them.
Far off in the woods he heard a sound that prickled his scalp. It was a crackling sound, followed by a distant thudding smash that shook the earth. A tree had
fallen before the wind. An instant later came another great bumbling, banging, rattling crash, and for the first time in his life Randy Corrigan knew fear.
NO WOODSMAN knew better the peril of falling timber. All through the forest now he could hear the terrible sweeping crashes of trees toppling before that abominable wind. A blow from one of those boughs would club a man into Gehenna in the flicker of an eyelash, and if he got caught by a crown or a trunk, why there wouldn’t be enough left of him for a funeral.
The sound was fifty feet away hut it was like a gun fired at his ear. Down came a tree, with the same awful crash and booming thud, the top ripping and tearing through the small timber so close that Randy Corrigan felt the breath of it even above the furious rush of the wind. He had hardly swallowed his heart back into his throat again when there came a boom and a splintering clatter like a thunderbolt, then the awful swish and rumbling roar as another great tree began to fall. He hung on for dear life and trembled in his boots. Down came the tree with a roar like the Quinze Rapids in flood, down like the flail of a giant, smashing through the hush, sending leaves and broken branches flying, slamming to the ground with a thud that shook the forest like an earthquake. The very tip of one of the upper branches lashed Randy Corrigan across the shoulders, but even that one stroke was enough to knock him from the tree trunk and send him sprawling with the shirt torn half from his back.
It was as close as Randy Corrigan had ever come to death, and it finished him. He admits it himself. It finished him. For his soul melted inside him like butter as he scrambled back to the tree trunk and clung there with all the winds of the world roaring in his ears and the forest being smashed into smithereens all around him. The fear bubbled out of his very pores. He howled with terror. Yes, he admits it—he opened his mouth and nowled. He wasn’t the great Randy Corrigan, best man on the Upper Ottawa, any more but just a poor frightened lumberjack, scared out of his wits, hanging onto a tree trunk and bawling for mercy.
“Little men ! Little men !” he yelled, and his shout was a mere whisper in all that din. “I’m beat. And O’Dare—damn him —O’Dare’s the better man.”
And with thatRandy Corrigan swears it—the wind began to fall. The howling screech of the gale became a hollow roar and then a whistle, then a whine and then a moan, until even the moan died away and became a whisper, the merest rustling in the leaves.
The rustling stopped, and Randy Corrigan went scrambling back up the trail, stumbling over broken boughs and clambering over fallen trees, back toward the hollow where he had left the little men, in a forest so calm and still he could hear the pounding of his heart.
THEY WERE waiting for him, the little men, just as he had left them, and when Randy Corrigan crept shamefaced before them the leader said:
“You defied us, Randy Corrigan.”
“I—I’m sorry,” muttered Randy Corrigan humbly.
“You’re sorry now. But sorry men have a way of forgetting. We’ll not let you forget. If you go to the shanties again, Randy Corrigan, we’ll send winds that will make the big timber come toppling about your ears like cornstalks. On the drive we’ll send gales that will blow the logs ashore and make life a hell for you in white water or black. On the lake and the river we’ll send hurricanes to hold back the rafts and break up the booms. Wherever you go there’ll be winds.”
“ Tis a curse!” muttered Randy Corrigan, turning pale. “ 'Tis an awful
curse. No foreman will have me in his gang. I’ll starve.”
“You’ll not starve,” said the little man. “You'll go back to sleep, Randy Corrigan, and in the morning you’ll go to the settler O’Dare and shake his hand. If you don’t.” said the little man, puffing out his cheeks, “if you don’t—mark my words, Randy Corrigan—there'll be wind!”
And with that he cut loose with a blast that knocked Randy Corrigan flat on his back, and when Randy blinked and looked about him a moment later he could see no little men at all, only green leaves in the hollow.
Y\ 7T1EN HE awakened it was morning, YV with sunlight streaming through the branches, and dew on the grass and birds twittering. At first Randy Corrigan thought perhaps he had dreamed it all. but when he walked down the trail, his bones sore, his throat dry and his head aching, he saw the great litter of broken boughs and the fallen trees, so he knew better. No dream it was, for there were the splintered timbers to prove it, and he shuddered as he remembered that awful wind.
There was a yellow-haired girl picking berries by the fence when he came to O’Dare’s little farm on the edge of the bush. A young thing, she was, still in her teens, with clear blue eyes, a dusting of freckles on her nose, and a sweet mouth the redder for berry stains. She straightened up in her ragged dress and her teeth were small and white as she smiled, for as I’ve already told you, this Randy Corrigan was a good-looking lad. There was a day when, with such a pretty girl before him and such a smile to welcome him, he’d have lost no time in proving what a fine fellow he was, but now he merely said humbly:
“Can you tell me, please, where I’ll find the settler, O’Dare?”
“He is my brother,” said the yellowhaired girl. “I’ll show you to the house. And have you had breakfast?”
O’Dare was just coming out the door of the log house when Randy Corrigan and the girl came up the path. The big man with the golden beard stiffened when he saw Randy Corrigan; his eyes flashed toward the knife in Randy’s belt; his great fists clenched. His wife, who had come to the doorway behind him, he thrust back with one gentle sweep of his arm.
“Keep the children inside,” he muttered to her.
Then O’Dare’s mouth fell agape and he was the most astonished man north of Mattawa when he saw Randy Corrigan’s outstretched hand and heard Randy saying, “You’re a better man than I am, O’Dare, even if you don’t believe in the pik-gee-gees. I’m thinkin’ of taking up a farm, so I’ve come to ask you how to go about it.”
'T'HERE ARE those who will tell you Randy Corrigan never talked with the little men at all, that he made up the whole .strange tale so the lumberjacks wouldn’t laugh at him and despise him for turning farmer. They will tell you he was ashamed to admit the truth, that he became a settler just for love of a yellow-haired girl who told him straight she’d never marry him as long as he followed the woods. They will tell you that every word of his story of the little men and the great wind was a staggering great lie he invented to save his face with the shantymen, who would jeer at anyone weak enough to let any woman take him from the woods and the river.
But I heard it from Randy Corrigan’s own lips, cold sober and solemn as an owl when he told me, with his wife beside him to tell me there had never been such a night of wind on Wabi Point—as if I needed proof. For I was out on the raft in that wind and I know. If any man living tries to tell me that wasn’t the wildest wind that ever raked Temiskaming, I’ll make him eat his words. The pik-gee-gees must have been mighty tired little men next day.