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Romany Of The Snows
by [?]

I

When old Throng the trader, trembling with sickness and misery, got on his knees to Captain Halby and groaned, “She didn’t want to go; they dragged her off; you’ll fetch her back, won’t ye?–she always had a fancy for you, cap’n,” Pierre shrugged a shoulder and said:

“But you stole her when she was in her rock-a-by, my Throng–you and your Manette.”

“Like a match she was–no bigger,” continued the old man. “Lord, how that stepmother bully-ragged her, and her father didn’t care a darn. He’d half a dozen others–Manette and me hadn’t none. We took her and used her like as if she was an angel, and we brought her off up here. Haven’t we set store by her? Wasn’t it ’cause we was lonely an’ loved her we took her? Hasn’t everybody stood up and said there wasn’t anyone like her in the North? Ain’t I done fair by her always–ain’t I? An’ now, when this cough ‘s eatin’ my life out, and Manette ‘s gone, and there ain’t a soul but Duc the trapper to put a blister on to me, them brutes ride up from over the border, call theirselves her brothers, an’ drag her off!”

He was still on his knees. Pierre reached over and lightly kicked a moccasined foot.

“Get up, Jim Throng,” he said. “Holy! do you think the law moves because an old man cries? Is it in the statutes?–that’s what the law says. Does it come within the act? Is it a trespass–an assault and battery?–a breach of the peace?–a misdemeanour? Victoria–So and So: that’s how the law talks. Get on your knees to Father Corraine, not to Captain Halby, Jimmy Throng.”

Pierre spoke in a half-sinister, ironical way, for between him and Captain Halby’s Riders of the Plains there was no good feeling. More than once he had come into conflict with them, more than once had they laid their hands on him–and taken them off again in due time. He had foiled them as to men they wanted; he had defied them–but he had helped them too, when it seemed right to him; he had sided with them once or twice when to do so was perilous to himself. He had sneered at them, he did not like them, nor they him. The sum of it was, he thought them brave–and stupid; and he knew that the law erred as often as it set things right.

The Trader got up and stood between the two men, coughing much, his face straining, his eyes bloodshot, as he looked anxiously from Pierre to Halby. He was the sad wreck of a strong man. Nothing looked strong about him now save his head, which, with its long grey hair, seemed badly balanced by the thin neck, through which the terrible cough was hacking.

“Only half a lung left,” he stammered, as soon as he could speak, “an’ Duc can’t fix the boneset, camomile, and whisky, as she could. An’ he waters the whisky–curse-his-soul!” The last three words were spoken through another spasm of coughing. “An’ the blister–how he mucks the blister!”

Pierre sat back on the table, laughing noiselessly, his white teeth shining. Halby, with one foot on a bench, was picking at the fur on his sleeve thoughtfully. His face was a little drawn, his lips were tight-pressed, and his eyes had a light of excitement. Presently he straightened himself, and, after a half-malicious look at Pierre, he said to Throng:

“Where are they, do you say?”

“They’re at”–the old man coughed hard–“at Fort O’Battle.”

“What are they doing there?”

“Waitin’ till spring, when they’ll fetch their cattle up an’ settle there.”

“They want–Lydia–to keep house for them?” The old man writhed.

“Yes, God’s sake, that’s it! An’ they want Liddy to marry a devil called Borotte, with a thousand cattle or so–Pito the courier told me yesterday. Pito saw her, an’ he said she was white like a sheet, an’ called out to him as he went by. Only half a lung I got, an’ her boneset and camomile ‘d save it for a bit, mebbe–mebbe!”