Barkskins by Annie Proulx

Barkskins by Annie Proulx

Author:Annie Proulx
Language: eng
Format: epub, mobi
Publisher: Scribner


needles and pins, needles and pins

James Duke’s oft-postponed wedding day—he feared his cousins’ reaction to his connection with a New Brunswick lumberman—began with a shock like a snapped fiddle string. His future father-in-law arrived in midmorning astride a limping, rolling-gaited woods horse of indifferent color. And who had ever seen such a physiognomy as that possessed by Phineas Breeley? His head looked as though it had been lopped off with a broadax just above the eyebrows and then squeezed back together leaving a great horizontal scar. Below the scar sat two anthracite-black eyes, a much-broken nose (a sure sign of coarseness) and a lipless mouth opening. His left ear was missing, only a hairy hole remained. The man let himself carefully down to the ground and advanced on Posey. He gripped her in a mighty hug, plastered her face with kisses that sounded like popping corn and turned to James.

“Well,” he said. “Here I be. Ready for the shivaree and our Grand Trip.” Posey had invited her father to accompany them on their honeymoon to New York. She had wanted James to invite Freegrace and Edward Duke and their wives to the ceremony and the celebratory dinner, but he found excuses—Edward was traveling, Freegrace’s wife was abed with pleurisy—and he presented very excellent reasons for not asking the others. Indeed, he had not told them of his impending marriage. Not yet, not yet, he temporized.

“I know you’ll love my papa,” she had said, “and he’s always wanted to see that New York. It will be company for us in a place we don’t know no one.” Now the moment had arrived. James and Posey would be getting into a hired coach with this man in a few hours. Unsure how to greet the fellow, James looked covertly at the horse’s hooves, which showed founder rings. No wonder the wretched beast limped.

“Let us turn out your horse in the pasture,” he said. “I see he is sore-footed. He may have a holiday while we tour New York.”

“Now, fellows, don’t spend too much time talkin,” said Posey, looking at the brass mantel clock. “We are to be at the magistrate’s eleven sharp. It lacks only half an hour to that time.”

“Sore foot or not, all the same to me,” said Phineas Breeley. “They are all jades and nags. I have No Love for Horses.”

I can see that, thought James, somewhat put off by the fellow’s odd emphases.

• • •

The ceremony was brief and, as James had hoped, unknown to his cousins. Father and daughter chattered animatedly on the long coach trip while James, across from them but huddled into the corner, tried to doze. The father’s arm encircled Posey and occasionally he peppered her with his clicking kisses. The day waned and twilight darkened the coach interior and they talked on of people born and dead, accidents, departures from the scene, violent weather, amusing happenings, the faults of the men who worked for Breeley. All night they talked, a great telling of names and antics.


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