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Gallegher of Beaver

BY H. BEDFORD-JONES

EDDIE "BOWERY" GALLEGHER had come home from his summer's steamboating. A big, overgrown boy he was, for all his mate's ticket, with a wide grin and a hearty laugh that would charm response from the sphinx. No one had told him yet about Gisli Gislison—not even his brother, Big Joe, had dared to tell him.

Bowery was in high spirits, and no wonder, having come home to the loneliest yet most cheerful place on the lakes—Beaver Island. We all sat around the stove—the McCann boys, old man Dunlevy, Salty Gallegher and Hughie Big Biddy Gallegher, Tight Gallagher and Willie Boyle, and a few more. There was a drop to drink and the dance to follow, and the perch had begun to run.

"Ye know how scarce jobs were and men laid up?" Bowery leaned forward with his hearty laugh. "I was on the dock when the Menominee come in, and I went aboard her and struck the old man. 'Give me anything from mate to wheelin', but no lookout,' I tells him. He looks me over, sour and hard, and says: 'Gallegher, hey? I’ll bet you’re one o’ them condemned Beaver Island Galleghers that’s holdln’ down berths on half the lake boats this minute!' Delany, who was second mate on the Manitou last year, he was standin' by, and he begun to grin. 'I got two Beaver Galleghers aboard here now,’ says the old man. ‘and I reckon I can stand one more, so git aboard and go to wheelin’.’"

Bowery ceased speaking. A queer tension had fallen upon the group of us, and he was quick to sense it. He saw the stranger standing to one side, arms folded—a long, gaunt, flaxen-haired man with a face like molded iron he was. He looked once at Bowery Galleger, then he turned and went out, with a lithe and silent step.

"Where did that blow in from?" ejaculated Bowery.

Hughie Big Biddy leaned forward and spat into the stove. "Wash’n’ton Island—one o’ them Icelanders from the Wisconsin side," he said awkwardly. Bowery glanced from face to face, then spoke: "Well, what is it? You fellers ain’t lettin’ them squareheads run over here?"

Willie Boyle smiled in that queer, knowing way of his.

"Goin’ to fish this fall, Bowery?" he asked gently. "With your brother Joe, maybe?"

"Uh-huh. Dad’s goin’ to give us the Eleanor. Joe and I go half on the nets, and we’ll get in on the perch in a couple o' weeks. What’s that feller doing over here? Layin’ over?"

"Something like that," said Willie Boyle. "He’s got our trap nets here and there—nobody knows just where. He don’t flag ’em. He just seems to feel where they are."

"Huh?" Bowery stared, frowned perplexedly. "You don’t mean he’s fishin’ over here? Who’s with him?"

"Nobody," grunted Emmet McCann Island; "he’s runnin’ his own nets."

"I'll be blowed!" ejaculated Bowery, staring around. "The Steelhead is campin’ on Pismire. Everybody got paralysis or something? Does Joe let this feller alone, too?"

A grin flitted about the circle of faces.

"Joe interfered," said Willie Boyle dryly. "He got laid up for a week and lost a s!x-hundred-dollar pound net. The two McCafferty boys interfered. and so did them Danes over to Garden Island. They landed on Pismire one night and warned Gislison off. He come over to the dance the next night and cleaned the whole of them—proper! He’s come over for the dance tonight, I guess."

*****

“HE ain’t a bad sort," spoke up old Dunlevy quaveringly. "When this lad come over first, in a west gale it was, his engine gone dead on him, and he wid a tarp rigged for’ard for a sail!"

"He's clever on his feet too," added Tight Gallegher. "D’ye mind when he stepped out wid Danny McCafferty an’ stepped him down and niver the same step twicet? Awe, clever he is! Gisli Gislison is the name of him. On the ocean in the war he was, so Mary Boyle was tellin’ me."

Bowery started at that. "And how does Mary know about it?"

"He’ll be takin’ her to the dance to-night, I guess," said Willie Boyle, who was Mary’s uncle. "It's a free country, ye know, Eddie."

Bowery came to his feet, all the laughing good-humor gone from the face of him. "Any man," said he, "who camps on Pismire, and fishes lonely, and don’t flag his nets, is crazy! I s'pose you buy his fish, James?"

His cousin James nodded. "Being the company’s agent, I play square. He gets fish too! Eight hundred pound today, a hundred an' forty bucks. Uses a net some, but mostly hooks. He has miles an’ miles of the hooks, they tell me——"

"See you later," said Eddie Bowery, and went stamping out of the store.

There was a space of silence. All were regretting that Bowery had not waited. They had first dwelt upon the good qualities of Gisli Gislison; there were other things to be said.

"Bowery's nobody’s fool," said Salty Gallegher. "He’s warned."

Willie Boyle rose. "I’m not missin' the dance this night," said he, smiling. "I've got ten dollars that says Bowery cleans the Icelander"

"Which way?" quavered old Dunlevy. "Wid his fists—or wid Mary?"

"Both ways," said Willie Boyle. "Ten each way."

Willie Boyle was ten dollars poorer within the next two hours.

*****

MARY BOYLE lived out on her father's farm, four miles out of St. James on the Barney Lake road. Tall and straight was Mary Boyle, deep-eyed, with a laugh in her glance and a sob in her throat when she sang the Irish songs beside her mother's melodeon, and gray witchery under her black brows that had stirred the heart of mere than one man.

Back from school had come Mary Boyle to help the sisters teach the youngsters their reading and writing, and she could handle a boat with any man, or gaff and pull as the motor roared and the lifter brought in the lacy Nets and the big whitefish went hurtling into the tub below.

On the white gravel road came striding Gisli Gislison, and turned in at the gate. Mary came running from the kitchen. When she saw who it was, she paused in the doorway and the sparkle died out of her eyes.

"Good morning," said Gisli Gislison. He came forward to the veranda and halted by the step.

"Is it my father you’d like to see?" asked Mary with a lift to her brows.

Gisli Gislison smiled at her. "You know well enough, my dear, that it's not," said he. Have you time to talk a little?"

Mary bade him to a chair. He refused that, but stood by the veranda post and looked at her.

"Mary. I’ve no man helping me." His voice was smooth and inflexible, "I’ve a few trap nets and a tub of gill nets in the boat, and miles of hooks, which is the only way I can fish alone. But I can feel the fish. That’s a living and more, my dear. I can buy a farm on Garden Island from the Injuns——"

"Please!" broke in the girl, pleadingly. "No, no, Gisli—please don’t! You must not."

"And why not?" be asked, ice gleaming in his eyes.

"I—I don’t love you," she returned.

"Love makes love, my dear," he said.

The girl shook her head. "No."

"You will not?"

"It’s impossible. Don’t ask me."

"Then I’ll not. I’ll come and take you."

For a moment she was in shaking dread of him. Then the blood came to her cheeks, and anger.

"How dare you!" she flashed out. "If my father heard you he’d take the whip to you——"

"And I’d break his neck," said Gisli Gislison. calmly. "Listen, my dear! All these weeks you’ve walked and and danced with me, and now that your man is home again you think you can forget it. But you can’t. I’ll come and take you—like this."

He put out a hand to her arm, and his fingers were like a steel band encircling it. And at that she gave him a man’s blow, drawing blood from his lips and cutting her knuckles on his strong while teeth. Gisli Gislison smiled at the blow and nodded. She shrank.

*****

A FLIVVER rattled to a halt before the farm and Bowery Gallegher jumped out. The car drove on. Gisli Gislison loosed the girl’s arm as Bowery came up to them.

"What’s goin’ on here?" snapped Bowery, seeing the look in Mary’s face and the blood on the Icelander’s lip. "Is he botherin’ you, Mary?"

"It’s my affair, Eddie," she said, quietly. "Gisli, get away from here. I never want to see you again, understand?"

Gisli Gislison smiled and turned to Bowery, who met his gaze with a black scowl. "You heard her," he said. "Get out o’ here!"

"You’re a nice boy," said Gisli, imperturbably. "But you get mad too easy. Next time you get mad—look out! I’m a better man than you are, and I take what I want. Good-by."

"Better man than I am, is it?" said Bowery, "Off with your coat, then——"

"Enough o’ that!" Old Tom Boyle had come out to the door, and a dour man he was. "You, Bowery! I heard how ye did be fightin’ this felly for an hour until he put ye out wid a kick—and I’ll have none of it. You, what’s-yer-name! Git off’n this place and stay off'n it, and keep yer eyes off'n my girl or I’ll be puttin’ a load o’ duck shot into yer carcass. Git!"

Gisli Gislison smiled a little and walked, away.

growled Tom Boyle.

"Come up to tell Mary that we got 800 pound yesterday, first trip," said Bowery, and laughed.

"Come in and eat dinner!" said Tom Boyle.

*****

FOR three weeks Gisli Gislison held his lonely camp on Pismire Island.

He was not a good man to bother or disturb. One day a fish tug from Cheboygan came drifting past the harbor and Emmet McCann went out to her and brought her in with two battered men abroad, one of them with four ribs broken. Gisli Gislison had found them at one of his trap nets, robbing it of perch. There was some talk of getting the sheriff from the mainland, but nothing came of it.

Bowery and Big Joe made luck with their fishing, and the second September gale was well due to arrive, when Big Joe caught his foot between boat and wharf. On Sunday Big Joe sat with hie foot in a chair and a week's rest ahead.

In the afternoon Bowery was visiting at Tom Boyle’s farm, and told of the bad luck.

"It's not the week's layoff that I mind but the loss of [gear? game?] and a big haul we’d counted on Monday. We’ve had two traps out for a week up the Garden Island shore, and we left a new gill net out over Sunday, and if a storm comes up we’ll never see that net again. Besides which, some o’ them blasted Charlevoix men set a trap for bass near the wreck on Hog Island, and two boxes of fish from that trap would mean a hundred clear. Not a man to he got to help me, neither."

"You mind yer eye, Bowery," growled Tom Boyle. "Fishin’ bass is agin the law and robbin’ other men’s net——"

"They’ve no right in our waters," said Bowery, "and as for the law, ain’t this Beaver Island? How about you slaughterin’ them mallard two weeks ago?"

Tom Boyle grinned at that and said no more. But after a little Mary spoke up, a flash in her gray eye. "Eddie, what about taking me to help you? I’ve not been on the lake all summer, and I can handle the boat or haul nets while you gaff! I’ll go tomorrow if you’ll say the word!"

To the cheeks of Bowery crept a rich glow. For well he knew that he had only to speak his heart on the morrow to come home with finer fish than any lying in the tub.

"Done with ye!" he exclaimed. "We’ll get off at 6, and by noon we’ll be done and go ashore on Garden to have dinner with the Danes."

That afternoon Bowery Gallegher walked back to town singing at the top of his voice. At the cross roads he met the priest, who gave Bowery a hard look. "Eddie Bowery," he said, "is it drunk you are"?

"Mighty nigh it, father," and Bowery laughed with all his heart.

"When will you give over these wild ways?" said the priest sternly.

"Tomorrow night, praise be!" said Bowery.

That night Bowery told his brother, Big Joe, about taking the boat in the morning. "It’s two men’s work," said Joe.

Bowery came to his feet. "And it’s two men’s work to carry the likes of you, ye big elephant!" says he, and stoops over with his two hands to the seat of Big Joe’s chair. Then he came up, and Big Joe with him, and a laugh on his lips.

"If we had Tight Gallegher here to fiddle, I’d do a step with ye," said Bowery, and set Big Joe on the floor again, and never a puff from him.

At 6 in the morning Bowery had the Eleanor clean as a whistle when Mary Boyle came down to the wharf. Bowery stood in the boat below.

"Jump for it!" said he, and Mary jumped. He caught her and swung her down, and seated her in the stern.

"Take her out, while I mind the engine," and he shoved out. and in two seconds the open boat was heading down the harbor.

*****

A GRAY morning it was, the wind switching from west to southwest and kicking a bad sea up the channel.

"Head for Pismire," said Joe, when they had cleared the light and were reaching for the Garden Island channel. "We’ll get right over to Hog Island and attend to them bass, then work back under the lee of Garden where our own nets are."

"It'll be blowing before noon," said Mary.

"Let her blow." and Bowery grinned as he primed the pump. "I’ll give ye some oilskins in a minute—hello! Look who’s yonder!"

The girl glanced off to port, where a gray speck was creeping in through the channel toward them. At her question. Bowery chuckled. "It's the Icelander—he’s been over to High Island, gettin’ nets in from the blow." His pumping done, Bowery brought oilskins for the girl, and took the helm himself. Mary Boyle marveled, for Bowery was sitting beside her, talking and laughing, and hardly taking his blue eyes from her face; yet the boat was like a horse that feels the hand of a master on the reins.

Bowery held well out beyond Pismire, which was a mere tree-studded dot of sand, and at the spar buoy came about for the end of Hog Island reef. Two miles north of Beaver was Garden Island, and due east of that was Hog, with Pismire down below and between them. All inside this triangle, and outside it here and there was shoal water, studded with bowlders and long reefs, so that a man would have heavy sorrow on his hands if he took a boat hereabout, and he all ignorant of the channels.

The Eleanor was soon past the Hog reef and rounding up for Hog Island, while behind them the Icelander drew in and vanished behind Pismire.

They came Into Belmore bay, and Bowery shut off the engine and stood up with the hook, as she drifted before the waves. A heavy sea it was, too, so that the boat pitched high and rolled wide. Down came the hook and pulled up the slimy black net and over the side leaned Bowery, arms under water as he hauled in until he came to the trip rope, and so loosed it, and the next moment he was at the trap and loosed the cord and had the bass under his fingers.

A box of the big bass they had there, and that was fifty dollars, Mary throwing the small ones back. That was two hours gone and twelve miles behind them, when Bowery threw over the flywheel and pointed west for Garden Island and his own nets. There was a scud of mist and gray slime that hid Garden from sight, so Bowery got out his compass and laid it between the feet of him. and laughed into Mary’s eyes.

"It’ll be storm by afternoon," said Mary, taking the tiller, her cheeks flushed with the sharp wind.

"Hear the fog whistle from Squaw Island driftin’ on the gale? Let her blow." Bowery’s rich laugh broke out.

"We'll be drinkin' coffee with old Nels, and if ye don’t like the weather he’ll take ye home in his big tug, Mary."

"Oh, will he?" She laughed back at him. "Speak for yourself. Eddie Bowery! I’m satisfied where I am."

It was an hour or more before they picked up the Garden shore and Bowery got his bearings; then there were the nets to be got in, and the traps to be opened, and the lines to be knotted again under the water. Because Mary was with him, Bowery had brought boxes for the fish, and she stacked them up forward with the tubs of nets atop them.

"Four hundred pound and that's a hundred and twenty," said Bowery, as he took the tiller and headed for the Danes' cove. "Listen to the wind howl outside! It’ll be sweet work crossin' the channel back to Beaver!"

"And you soaked to the waist," said Mary. "How long will it be, Eddie, before the life will go out of your big shoulders?"

"Never, praise be!" said he, and laughed out. "Dad's near seventy, he—and has he ever said a word o’ rheumatism? Not him. The Galleghers are a tough lot."

Near noon they came into the little cove midway the east side of Garden, where old Nels and his two sons had held ground for thirty years. There were the three of them mending nets by the ice shed, and their big, fast boat at the dock.

A hearty greeting they had from Nels and Pete and Ole, and all trooped up together to the house under the singing cedars. Now there was laughing of women and killing of chickens, while the good beer that Nels brewed was fetched in, with heady sandcherry wine for the table. Coffee, parched black and made strong, and new bread hot from the oven, and butter golden from the churn; never was a better or more open-to-all table than the Danes set forth when visitors came.

But it was neither beer nor wine that held Bowery Gallegher's spirits high. When the cigars and pipes were lighted and the dishes cleared off, Mary spoke up.

"My mother wanted me to bring home two of your big red hens and a rooster with them, if you could spare them," said she.

"Ja, sure!" said old Nels, and rose up from his seat. "Aye see dem birds down to de ice house—you come?"

So they went out, while Bowery was telling about the fine French barometer that he won from Delaney in a craps game.

*****

IT was a cry from old Nels that brought them out as he came staggering up among the trees, and blood black in his matted whiskers.

"Dos Icelander:" he yelled. "He’s ban take her——"

Bowery was the first down to the dock, with old Nels and the boys and the women all streaming after him. The boat of Gisli Gislison was heading out to clear the bowlders, with never a soul showing aboard her. Once she lurched and yawed about, then righted to her course, and Bowery knew that Mary had done her best in that moment and could do no more.

He stood gazing, while old Nels cried out how the Icelander had leaped on him and struck him down, and had lifted Mary aboard and gone. Bowery crooked his finger at the two boys.

"Give me a hand here," said he, and the three of them lifted out the nets and the boxes of fish to the dock. Then Bowery lifted old Nels in his arms, and carried him to the boat, dropping him in the stern.

"Ye'll not catch him," yelled Pete. "Nor will we!"

Go after him, you and Ole!" roared out Bowery Gallegher, throwing off his lines. "Go after him in your own boat, for I’ll stop him or drown doin’ it!"

The two boys jumped to their big boat, and when Bowery headed out of the cove he looked back to see her following. Then he set the tiller, and laid old Nels against it, while he poured oil into the engine and screwed down the cups over the bearings.

He peered at the boat ahead, seeing that she was low in the water and steady as a rock.

"He’ll circle into the channel, knowing well that few men would follow him that way," Bowery muttered.

He came back to the tiller and headed in along the Garden shore. He knew that Gislison must travel two legs of a triangle, so he himself was taking the third leg across the shoals and through Stony Reef, though it was six years since he had taken a boat that scary way.

*****

BOWERY filled the gas tank, the rest of the spare gasoline heaved overboard and followed it with everything he could tear loose except the lifebelts. Then he came back into the stern. Under the drive of the spray old Nels had come back to life and was lifting his red dripping whiskers over the rail to see.

"Ye ban fool!" he sang out. "Not wan foot water on de reef!"

"There'll be less than that under us when we get there, said Bowery, as he threw down a lifebelt beside Nels.

He took the tiller while Nels got his arms into the belt and tied the straps.

The slow time dragged along, and now they were past the eastern tip of Garden; and heading for Stony reef ahead. Even here in shelter of the reef the waves ran high.

"Ye’ll not catch him!" yelled old Nels.

"He ain’t around Pismire yet—we got him!" sang out Bowery. "Mind the tiller while I con the way."

He went leaping forward to the bow, where he stooped and threw out the lifebelts in a loose mass, then stood up on the prow watching the bowlder-strewn water ahead.

Straight for Stony reef they drove, a long line of shoal running out from Garden island and ending off to the left in two shallow sand spits where the waves burst high.

The Eleanor wallowed over the shoal water, and began to zigzag back and forth, with Bowery standing up on the tossing prow and putting out his arms to right or left, while old Nels shoved his weight against the tiller.

A wild yell came from Bowery as he sighted the Icelander's boat at last. Back aft came Bowery, pausing at the engine to pour in oil, then jumped to the stern and seized the tiller. He put the Eleanor square at the reef.

"Over with ye!" he shouted to old Nels. "Over and make the sand spit—ye can wade it!"

Just then she struck, came free, struck again with a rending smash and stayed where she was. Bowery leaned forward and threw the engine into neutral, then came up and gripped the arm of Nels. "Over, or I’ll throw ye!" he roared.

Nels scrambled outboard and with his weight gone the boat lifted. Bowery threw in the clutch and she began to forge ahead though she was taking in water fast from the crash. Nels gained his footing and scrambled toward the spit of sand, and the boat slid off into deep water and headed out into the channel welter.

Straight south across the bow of the Icelander's boat Bowery held her, while the waves thundered down, and broke over her with every crashing impact of the bow. Bowery hung a tarpaulin over the engine. "Better man than I am, hey?" he yelled. "Prove it, ye yellow-haired devil!"

The larger boat drove straight for him while he still headed down across her bow. The only opening aboard her was aft, where Gisli Gislison sat at the tiller.

*****

THE two boats held steady, unswerving, while up before Bowery rose a veil of driving mist as the whirl of the flywheel churned up the rising water. The larger craft hurled down at him, and suddenly above her box appeared the yellow hair of Gislison, he standing with foot on tiller and looking ahead with the ice-cold eyes of him, since from below he could not see under her bow. Not forty feet of water held the two boats apart, and the Icelander’s craft was headed to strike the Eleanor fair amidships, for Gislison would give no warning of his intent.

Then, holding his upper body unmoving, Bowery slid out his foot through the sloshing water, and when his toes touched the clutch lever, he shoved with all the strength in him. That reversed the engine, checking the boat’s speed and pulling her back, and at the same instant Gislison swung tiller with his foot to strike the Eleanor astern and send Bowery under with her.

At that play the Icelander lost. The Eleanor seemed to jump backward under his very eyes, then the bow of his boat rose above her on a sea and came down upon her gunnel, and the open boat rolled with the crash, but drove her engine into the bow of the other and ripped the planks out.

Bowery Gallegher was not under that bow as the Icelander wanted him, for the crash came forward of his seat, and he was in the air and leaping for the bow space of the larger boat, forward of her house.

Bowery hauled himself over the rail, and looked up to see the Icelander whirling at him, with foot upraised. He took the kick, for he had to, and came to his feet with hurt ribs and a fist flung out, a moment the two men stood in that little space of deck and swung at each other, while the boat drifted about in the trough of the sea and rolled under their feet the bow slowly going down Into the water.

"Better man than I am, hey?" said Bowery, and laughed as he struck. "Prove it, then!"

A wave burst over their feet and legs. Startled by that the Icelander flung up his head, and a fierce look came into his cold face as he saw they were going down, than he sickened Bowery with a cruel blow under the belt, turned, and went leaping toward the stern along the side of the box, and Bowery staggering after him with white lips. By now the rollers were bursting clean over the bow of the craft, and in her lee floated the scattered life belts from the Eleanor, as Bowery had figured when he loosened them.

*****

GISLISON disappeared under the box and Bowery came at last to the opening. There in front of him was the Icelander and beyond the figure of Mary Boyle, stunned and motionless.

A net spread wide in his hands, Gislison came erect as he made to fling the net over Bowery. The net flew, but wide of the mark, for Bowery let himself go feet first beneath it and kicked the Icelander’s legs from under him, himself falling across the hot cylinders of the engine until his ribs were seared with the heat and he jerked himself clear. Barely in time was the jerk, for Gislison was erect and whirling on him, but Bowery kicked the feet from under the man once more and sent him sprawling across the tubs of nets and the long coils of line with the bloater hooks.

In that instant Bowery caught at Mary, lifting her with one arm, and scrambled back to the rising stern of the boat. What happened after that he was not sure, for around them swelled a black tide of water.

But as he went he thought of the Icelander down below—and a laugh was on the lips of him.

The Danes' boat came up and they pulled Bowery out of the water with Mary in his arms and a life belt clenched in his fingers, and, letting the boat drift, they rolled the water out of the two. Bowery was the first to come around and he swung himself over, coughing, until he stood on his two feet, "What are ye waitin’ for?" he said to the boys.

"For the Icelander," said Pete, squinting at him.

With that Bowery thought of the man down below and the bloater hooks and the lacy nets spreading out with the water. So he caught up the coiled line that was by him and over the side he went, a laugh on his lips as he vanished.

Mad the boys thought him, and loud they cursed as the boat drifted in the fog and mist and the waves drove them. Then Bowery was up again and reaching for the gunnel. They dragged him in, and he so exhausted that he could only grin at them and jerk his hand at the line. They pulled it in, and there was a heavy weight on the end. and that same was Gisli Gislison.

A full half-hour it was before they brought the Icelander round. Bowery rose and looked down at Mary and saw the flush on her cheek. Then he looked at the boys and his eyes twinkled.

"Off wid ye!" says he. "Turn her over. We’ll pick up Nels and go back for them chickens, not to mention a warm fire and a cup o’ hot coffee and a bed for Gisli Gislison. Glory be, it’s a fine day!"

The boys stared at him. "Crazy Gallegher!" said Ole.

"Sure!" A great laugh bubbled on the lips of Bowery. "Sure! The Beaver Island Gallaghers are all crazy! Let’s go. I told the priest I’d be taking the pledge tonight and I’d not keep him waiting."

(Copyright, 1923.)


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924.


The author died in 1949, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 60 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.