‘The Redemption of Galen Pike’ by Carys Davies

This is a magnificent story about good and evil in the old West. Patience Haig, a Quaker, spends her time sitting with the occupants of Piper City jailhouse while they await the hangman, including the revolting Galen Pike, who has killed and eaten his four companions on a failed gold-digging expedition. We observe the relationship that grows up between Haig and Pike through their own eyes and also those of Knapp, the jailer, who has a considerably less nuanced view of humanity than Haig.

The portrait that Davies draws of Haig, who tries to see the good in everyone – even Pike – is touching and utterly believable, especially in Knapp’s description of her at the hanging:

It was hard not to tell, Knapp said later to his wife, what effect this short speech of Pike had on Patience Haig, but when the burlap bag came smartly down on Pike’s black eyes and repulsive ravenous features and the floor opened beneath his feet, he was certain Miss Haig struggled with her famous composure; that behind the rough snap of the cloth and the clatter of the scaffold’s wooden machinery, he heard a small high cry escape from her plain upright figure.

When we find out at the end about the unexpected consequence of Pike’s crime, it’s hard not to cheer out loud.

From The Redemption of Galen Pike, Salt 2014

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