BLAZED TRAIL STORIES
OTHER BOOKS BY THE SAME AUTHOR
The Blazed Trail, The Silent Places, Conjuror's House The Westerners, The Claim Jumpers The Magic Forest, The Forest The Mountains
BLAZED TRAIL STORIES AND STORIES OF THE WILD LIFE
BY STEWART EDWARD WHITE
NEW YORK McCLURE, PHILLIPS & CO. MCMIV Copyright 1904, by Stewart Edward White Published September, 1904
Copyright 1899, 1902, 1903, by The S. S. McClure Co. Copyright 1901, by The Century Company. Copyright 1899, 1900, by J. B. Lippincott Company. Copyright 1902, by Perry Mason Company. Copyright 1901, by Truth Company.
PART I BLAZED TRAIL STORIES PAGE
The Riverman 3
The Foreman 22
The Scaler 39
The River-Boss 58
The Fifth Way 73
The Life of the Winds of Heaven 83
PART II STORIES OF THE WILD LIFE
The Girl Who Got Rattled 111
Billy's Tenderfoot 132
The Two Cartridges 153
The Race 180
The Saving Grace 198
The Prospector 222
The Girl in Red 246
BLAZED TRAIL STORIES AND STORIES OF THE WILD LIFE
I first met him one Fourth of July afternoon in the middle eighties. The sawdust streets and high board sidewalks of the lumber town were filled to the brim with people. The permanent population, dressed in the stiffness of its Sunday best, escorted gingham wives or sweethearts; a dozen outsiders like myself tried not to be too conspicuous in a city smartness; but the great multitude was composed of the men of the woods. I sat, chair-tilted by the hotel, watching them pass. Their heavy woollen shirts crossed by the broad suspenders, the red of their sashes or leather shine of their belts, their short kersey trousers "stagged" off to leave a gap between the knee and the heavily spiked "cork boots"—all these were distinctive enough of their class, but most interesting to me were the eyes that peered from beneath their little round hats tilted rakishly askew. They were all subtly alike, those eyes. Some were black, some were brown, or gray, or blue, but all were steady and unabashed, all looked straight at you with a strange humorous blending of aggression and respect for your own business, and all without exception wrinkled at the corners with a suggestion of dry humor. In my half-conscious scrutiny I probably stared harder than I knew, for all at once a laughing pair of the blue eyes suddenly met mine full, and an ironical voice drawled,
"Say, bub, you look as interested as a man killing snakes. Am I your long-lost friend?"
The tone of the voice matched accurately the attitude of the man, and that was quite non-committal. He stood cheerfully ready to meet the emergency. If I sought trouble, it was here to my hand; or if I needed help he was willing to offer it.
"I guess you are," I replied, "if you can tell me what all this outfit's headed for."
He thrust back his hat and ran his hand through a mop of closely cropped light curls.
"Birling match," he explained briefly. "Come on."
I joined him, and together we followed the crowd to the river, where we roosted like cormorants on adjacent piles overlooking a patch of clear water among the filled booms.
"Drive's just over," my new friend informed me. "Rear come down last night. Fourther July celebration. This little town will scratch fer th' tall timber along about midnight when the boys goes in to take her apart."
A half-dozen men with peavies rolled a white-pine log of about a foot and a half diameter into the clear water, where it lay rocking back and forth, three or four feet from the boom piles. Suddenly a man ran the length of the boom, leaped easily into the air, and landed with both feet square on one end of the floating log. That end disappeared in an ankle-deep swirl of white foam, the other rose suddenly, the whole timber, projected forward by the shock, drove headlong to the middle of the little pond. And the man, his arms folded, his knees just bent in the graceful nervous attitude of the circus-rider, stood upright like a statue of bronze.
A roar approved this feat.
"That's Dickey Darrell," said my informant, "Roaring Dick. He's hell and repeat. Watch him."
The man on the log was small, with clean beautiful haunches and shoulders, but with hanging baboon arms. Perhaps his most striking feature was a mop of reddish-brown hair that overshadowed a little triangular white face accented by two reddish-brown quadrilaterals that served as eyebrows and a pair of inscrutable chipmunk eyes.
For a moment he poised erect in the great calm of the public performer. Then slowly he began to revolve the log under his feet. The lofty gaze, the folded arms, the straight supple waist budged not by a hair's breadth; only the feet stepped forward, at first deliberately, then faster and faster, until the rolling log threw a blue spray a foot into the air. Then suddenly slap! slap! the heavy caulks stamped a reversal. The log came instantaneously to rest, quivering exactly like some animal that had been spurred through its paces.
"Magnificent!" I cried.
"Hell, that's nothing!" my companion repressed me, "anybody can birl a log. Watch this."
Roaring Dick for the first time unfolded his arms. With some appearance of caution he balanced his unstable footing into absolute immobility. Then he turned a somersault.
This was the real thing. My friend uttered a wild yell of applause which was lost in a general roar.
A long pike-pole shot out, bit the end of the timber, and towed it to the boom pile. Another man stepped on the log with Darrell. They stood facing each other, bent-kneed, alert. Suddenly with one accord they commenced to birl the log from left to right. The pace grew hot. Like squirrels treading a cage their feet twinkled. Then it became apparent that Darrell's opponent was gradually being forced from the top of the log. He could not keep up. Little by little, still moving desperately, he dropped back to the slant, then at last to the edge, and so off into the river with a mighty splash.
"Clean birled!" commented my friend.
One after another a half-dozen rivermen tackled the imperturbable Dick, but none of them possessed the agility to stay on top in the pace he set them. One boy of eighteen seemed for a moment to hold his own, and managed at least to keep out of the water even when Darrell had apparently reached his maximum speed. But that expert merely threw his entire weight into two reversing stamps of his feet, and the young fellow dove forward as abruptly as though he had been shied over a horse's head.
The crowd was by now getting uproarious and impatient of volunteer effort to humble Darrell's challenge. It wanted the best, and at once. It began, with increasing insistence, to shout a name.
"Jimmy Powers!" it vociferated, "Jimmy Powers."
And then by shamefaced bashfulness, by profane protest, by muttered and comprehensive curses I knew that my companion on the other pile was indicated.
A dozen men near at hand began to shout. "Here he is!" they cried. "Come on, Jimmy." "Don't be a high banker." "Hang his hide on the fence."
Jimmy, still red and swearing, suffered himself to be pulled from his elevation and disappeared in the throng. A moment later I caught his head and shoulders pushing toward the boom piles, and so in a moment he stepped warily aboard to face his antagonist.
This was evidently no question to be determined by the simplicity of force or the simplicity of a child's trick. The two men stood half-crouched, face to face, watching each other narrowly, but making no move. To me they seemed like two wrestlers sparring for an opening. Slowly the log revolved one way; then slowly the other. It was a mere courtesy of salute. All at once Dick birled three rapid strokes from left to right as though about to roll the log, leaped into the air and landed square with both feet on the other slant of the timber. Jimmy Powers felt the jar, and acknowledged it by the spasmodic jerk with which he counterbalanced Darrell's weight. But he was not thrown.
As though this daring and hazardous manoeuvre had opened the combat, both men sprang to life. Sometimes the log rolled one way, sometimes the other, sometimes it jerked from side to side like a crazy thing, but always with the rapidity of light, always in a smother of spray and foam. The decided spat, spat, spat of the reversing blows from the caulked boots sounded like picket firing. I could not make out the different leads, feints, parries, and counters of this strange method of boxing, nor could I distinguish to whose initiative the various evolutions of that log could be described. But I retain still a vivid mental picture of two men nearly motionless above the waist, nearly vibrant below it, dominating the insane gyrations of a stick of pine.
The crowd was appreciative and partisan—for Jimmy Powers. It howled wildly, and rose thereby to ever higher excitement. Then it forgot its manners utterly and groaned when it made out that a sudden splash represented its favourite, while the indomitable Darrell still trod the quarter-deck as champion birler for the year.
I must confess I was as sorry as anybody. I climbed down from my cormorant roost, and picked my way between the alleys of aromatic piled lumber in order to avoid the press, and cursed the little gods heartily for undue partiality in the wrong direction. In this manner I happened on Jimmy Powers himself seated dripping on a board and examining his bared foot.
"I'm sorry," said I behind him. "How did he do it?"
He whirled, and I could see that his laughing boyish face had become suddenly grim and stern, and that his eyes were shot with blood.
"Oh, it's you, is it?" he growled disparagingly. "Well, that's how he did it."
He held out his foot. Across the instep and at the base of the toes ran two rows of tiny round punctures from which the blood was oozing. I looked very inquiring.
"He corked me!" Jimmy Powers explained. "Jammed his spikes into me! Stepped on my foot and tripped me, the——" Jimmy Powers certainly could swear.
"Why didn't you make a kick?" I cried.
"That ain't how I do it," he muttered, pulling on his heavy woollen sock.
"But no," I insisted, my indignation mounting. "It's an outrage! That crowd was with you. All you had to do was to say something——"
He cut me short. "And give myself away as a damn fool—sure Mike. I ought to know Dickey Darrell by this time, and I ought to be big enough to take care of myself." He stamped his foot into his driver's shoe and took me by the arm, his good humour apparently restored. "No, don't you lose any hair, bub; I'll get even with Roaring Dick."
That night, having by the advice of the proprietor moved my bureau and trunk against the bedroom door, I lay wide awake listening to the taking of the town apart. At each especially vicious crash I wondered if that might be Jimmy Powers getting even with Roaring Dick.
The following year, but earlier in the season, I again visited my little lumber town. In striking contrast to the life of that other midsummer day were the deserted streets. The landlord knew me, and after I had washed and eaten approached me with a suggestion.
"You got all day in front of you," said he; "why don't you take a horse and buggy and make a visit to the big jam? Everybody's up there more or less."
In response to my inquiry, he replied:
"They've jammed at the upper bend, jammed bad. The crew's been picking at her for near a week now, and last night Darrell was down to see about some more dynamite. It's worth seein'. The breast of her is near thirty foot high, and lots of water in the river."
"Darrell?" said I, catching at the name.
"Yes. He's rear boss this year. Do you think you'd like to take a look at her?"
"I think I should," I assented.
The horse and I jogged slowly along a deep sand road, through wastes of pine stumps and belts of hardwood beautiful with the early spring, until finally we arrived at a clearing in which stood two huge tents, a mammoth kettle slung over a fire of logs, and drying racks about the timbers of another fire. A fat cook in the inevitable battered derby hat, two bare-armed cookees, and a chore "boy" of seventy-odd summers were the only human beings in sight. One of the cookees agreed to keep an eye on my horse. I picked my way down a well-worn trail toward the regular clank, clank, click of the peavies.
I emerged finally to a plateau elevated some fifty or sixty feet above the river. A half-dozen spectators were already gathered. Among them I could not but notice a tall, spare, broad-shouldered young fellow dressed in a quiet business suit, somewhat wrinkled, whose square, strong, clean-cut face and muscular hands were tanned by the weather to a dark umber-brown. In another moment I looked down on the jam.
The breast, as my landlord had told me, rose sheer from the water to the height of at least twenty-five feet, bristling and formidable. Back of it pressed the volume of logs packed closely in an apparently inextricable tangle as far as the eye could reach. A man near informed me that the tail was a good three miles up stream. From beneath this wonderful chevaux de frise foamed the current of the river, irresistible to any force less mighty than the statics of such a mass.
A crew of forty or fifty men were at work. They clamped their peavies to the reluctant timbers, heaved, pushed, slid, and rolled them one by one into the current, where they were caught and borne away. They had been doing this for a week. As yet their efforts had made but slight impression on the bulk of the jam, but some time, with patience, they would reach the key-logs. Then the tangle would melt like sugar in the freshet, and these imperturbable workers would have to escape suddenly over the plunging logs to shore.
My eye ranged over the men, and finally rested on Dickey Darrell. He was standing on the slanting end of an upheaved log dominating the scene. His little triangular face with the accents of the quadrilateral eyebrows was pale with the blaze of his energy, and his chipmunk eyes seemed to flame with a dynamic vehemence that caused those on whom their glance fell to jump as though they had been touched with a hot poker. I had heard more of Dickey Darrell since my last visit, and was glad of the chance to observe Morrison & Daly's best "driver" at work.
The jam seemed on the very edge of breaking. After half an hour's strained expectation it seemed still on the very edge of breaking. So I sat down on a stump. Then for the first time I noticed another acquaintance, handling his peavie near the very person of the rear boss.
"Hullo," said I to myself, "that's funny. I wonder if Jimmy Powers got even; and if so, why he is working so amicably and so near Roaring Dick."
At noon the men came ashore for dinner. I paid a quarter into the cook's private exchequer and so was fed. After the meal I approached my acquaintance of the year before.
"Hello, Powers," I greeted him, "I suppose you don't remember me?"
"Sure," he responded heartily. "Ain't you a little early this year?"
"No," I disclaimed, "this is a better sight than a birling match."
I offered him a cigar, which he immediately substituted for his corn-cob pipe. We sat at the root of a tree.
"It'll be a great sight when that jam pulls," said I.
"You bet," he replied, "but she's a teaser. Even old Tim Shearer would have a picnic to make out just where the key-logs are. We've started her three times, but she's plugged tight every trip. Likely to pull almost any time."
We discussed various topics. Finally I ventured:
"I see your old friend Darrell is rear boss."
"Yes," said Jimmy Powers, dryly.
"By the way, did you fellows ever square up on that birling match?"
"No," said Jimmy Powers; then after an instant, "Not yet."
I glanced at him to recognise the square set to the jaw that had impressed me so formidably the year before. And again his face relaxed almost quizzically as he caught sight of mine.
"Bub," said he, getting to his feet, "those little marks are on my foot yet. And just you tie into one idea: Dickey Darrell's got it coming." His face darkened with a swift anger. "God damn his soul!" he said, deliberately. It was no mere profanity. It was an imprecation, and in its very deliberation I glimpsed the flare of an undying hate.
About three o'clock that afternoon Jimmy's prediction was fulfilled. Without the slightest warning the jam "pulled." Usually certain premonitory cracks, certain sinkings down, groanings forward, grumblings, shruggings, and sullen, reluctant shiftings of the logs give opportunity for the men to assure their safety. This jam, after inexplicably hanging fire for a week, as inexplicably started like a sprinter almost into its full gait. The first few tiers toppled smash into the current, raising a waterspout like that made by a dynamite explosion; the mass behind plunged forward blindly, rising and falling as the integral logs were up-ended, turned over, thrust to one side, or forced bodily into the air by the mighty power playing jack-straws with them.
The rivermen, though caught unaware, reached either bank. They held their peavies across their bodies as balancing-poles, and zig-zagged ashore with a calmness and lack of haste that were in reality only an indication of the keenness with which they fore-estimated each chance. Long experience with the ways of saw-logs brought them out. They knew the correlation of these many forces just as the expert billiard-player knows instinctively the various angles of incident and reflection between his cue-ball and its mark. Consequently they avoided the centres of eruption, paused on the spots steadied for the moment, dodged moving logs, trod those not yet under way, and so arrived on solid ground. The jam itself started with every indication of meaning business, gained momentum for a hundred feet, and then plugged to a standstill. The "break" was abortive.
Now we all had leisure to notice two things. First, the movement had not been of the whole jam, as we had at first supposed, but only of a block or section of it twenty rods or so in extent. Thus between the part that had moved and the greater bulk that had not stirred lay a hundred feet of open water in which floated a number of loose logs. The second fact was, that Dickey Darrell had fallen into that open stretch of water and was in the act of swimming toward one of the floating logs. That much we were given just time to appreciate thoroughly. Then the other section of the jam rumbled and began to break. Roaring Dick was caught between two gigantic millstones moving to crush him out of sight.
An active figure darted down the tail of the first section, out over the floating logs, seized Darrell by the coat-collar, and so burdened began desperately to scale the very face of the breaking jam.
Never was a more magnificent rescue. The logs were rolling, falling, diving against the laden man. He climbed as over a treadmill, a treadmill whose speed was constantly increasing. And when he finally gained the top, it was as the gap closed splintering beneath him and the man he had saved.
It is not in the woodsman to be demonstrative at any time, but here was work demanding attention. Without a pause for breath or congratulation they turned to the necessity of the moment. The jam, the whole jam, was moving at last. Jimmy Powers ran ashore for his peavie. Roaring Dick, like a demon incarnate, threw himself into the work. Forty men attacked the jam at a dozen places, encouraging the movement, twisting aside the timbers that threatened to lock anew, directing pigmy-like the titanic forces into the channel of their efficiency. Roaring like wild cattle the logs swept by, at first slowly, then with the railroad rush of the curbed freshet. Men were everywhere, taking chances, like cowboys before the stampeded herd. And so, out of sight around the lower bend swept the front of the jam in a swirl of glory, the rivermen riding the great boom back of the creature they subdued, until at last, with the slackening current, the logs floated by free, cannoning with hollow sound one against the other. A half-dozen watchers, leaning statuesquely on the shafts of their peavies, watched the ordered ranks pass by.
One by one the spectators departed. At last only myself and the brown-faced young man remained. He sat on a stump, staring with sightless eyes into vacancy. I did not disturb his thoughts.
The sun dipped. A cool breeze of evening sucked up the river. Over near the cook-camp a big fire commenced to crackle by the drying frames. At dusk the rivermen straggled in from the down-river trail.
The brown-faced young man arose and went to meet them. I saw him return in close conversation with Jimmy Powers. Before they reached us he had turned away with a gesture of farewell.
Jimmy Powers stood looking after him long after his form had disappeared, and indeed even after the sound of his wheels had died toward town. As I approached, the riverman turned to me a face from which the reckless, contained self-reliance of the woods-worker had faded. It was wide-eyed with an almost awe-stricken wonder and adoration.
"Do you know who that is?" he asked me in a hushed voice. "That's Thorpe, Harry Thorpe. And do you know what he said to me just now, me? He told me he wanted me to work in Camp One next winter, Thorpe's One. And he told me I was the first man he ever hired straight into One."
His breath caught with something like a sob.
I had heard of the man and of his methods. I knew he had made it a practice of recruiting for his prize camp only from the employees of his other camps, that, as Jimmy said, he never "hired straight into One." I had heard, too, of his reputation among his own and other woodsmen. But this was the first time I had ever come into personal contact with his influence. It impressed me the more in that I had come to know Jimmy Powers and his kind.
"You deserve it, every bit," said I. "I'm not going to call you a hero, because that would make you tired. What you did this afternoon showed nerve. It was a brave act. But it was a better act because you rescued your enemy, because you forgot everything but your common humanity when danger——"
I broke off. Jimmy was again looking at me with his ironically quizzical grin.
"Bub," said he, "if you're going to hang any stars of Bethlehem on my Christmas tree, just call a halt right here. I didn't rescue that scalawag because I had any Christian sentiments, nary bit. I was just naturally savin' him for the birling match next Fourther July."
A man is one thing: a man plus his work is another, entirely different. You can learn this anywhere, but in the lumber woods best of all.
Especially is it true of the camp boss, the foreman. A firm that knows its business knows this, and so never considers merely what sort of a character a candidate may bear in town. He may drink or abstain, may exhibit bravery or cowardice, strength or weakness—it is all one to the lumbermen who employ him. In the woods his quality must appear.
So often the man most efficient and trusted in the especial environment of his work is the most disreputable outside it. The mere dignifying quality of labour raises his value to the nth power. In it he discovers the self-respect which, in one form or another, is absolutely necessary to the man who counts. His resolution to succeed has back of it this necessity of self-respect, and so is invincible. A good boss gives back before nothing which will further his job.
Most people in the North Country understand this double standard; but occasionally someone, either stupid or inexperienced or unobservant, makes the mistake of concluding that the town-character and the woods-character are necessarily the same. If he acts in accordance with that erroneous idea, he gets into trouble. Take the case of Silver Jack and the walking boss of Morrison & Daly, for instance. Silver Jack imagined his first encounter with Richard Darrell in Bay City indicated the certainty of like results to his second encounter with that individual in Camp Thirty. His mistake was costly; but almost anybody could have told him better. To understand the case, you must first meet Richard Darrell.
The latter was a man about five feet six inches in height, slenderly built, yet with broad, hanging shoulders. His face was an exact triangle, beginning with a mop of red-brown hair, and ending with a pointed chin. Two level quadrilaterals served him as eyebrows, beneath which a strong hooked nose separated his round, brown, chipmunk's eyes. When he walked, he threw his heavy shoulders slightly forward. This, in turn, projected his eager, nervous countenance. The fact that he was accustomed to hold his hands half open, with the palms square to the rear, lent him a peculiarly ready and truculent air. His name, as has been said, was Richard Darrell; but men called him Roaring Dick.
For upward of fifteen years he had been woods foreman for Morrison & Daly, the great lumber firm of the Beeson Lake district. That would make him about thirty-eight years old. He did not look it. His firm thought everything of him in spite of the fact that his reputation made it exceedingly difficult to hire men for his camps. He had the name of a "driver." But this little man, in some mysterious way of his own, could get in the logs. There was none like him. About once in three months he would suddenly appear, worn and haggard, at Beeson Lake, where he would drop into an iron bed, which the Company maintained for that especial purpose. Tim Brady, the care-taker, would bring him food at stated intervals. After four days of this, he would as suddenly disappear into the forest, again charged with the vital, restless energy which kept him on his feet fourteen hours a day until the next break down. When he looked directly at you, this nerve-force seemed to communicate itself to you with the physical shock of an impact.
Richard Darrell usually finished banking his season's cut a month earlier than anybody else. Then he drew his pay at Beeson Lake, took the train for Bay City, and set out to have a good time. Whiskey was its main element. On his intensely nervous organisation it acted like poison. He would do the wildest things. After his money was all spent, he started up river for the log-drive, hollow-eyed, shaking. In twenty-four hours he was himself again, dominant, truculent, fixing his brown chipmunk eyes on the delinquents with the physical shock of an impact, coolly balancing beneath the imminent ruin of a jam.
Silver Jack, on the other hand, was not nervous at all, but very tall and strong, with bronze-red skin, and flaxen white hair, mustache and eyebrows. The latter peculiarity earned him his nickname. He was at all times absolutely fearless and self-reliant in regard to material conditions, but singularly unobservant and stupid when it was a question of psychology. He had been a sawyer in his early experience, but later became a bartender in Muskegon. He was in general a good-humoured animal enough, but fond of a swagger, given to showing off, and exceedingly ugly when his passions were aroused.
His first hard work, after arriving in Bay City, was, of course, to visit the saloons. In one of these he came upon Richard Darrell. The latter was enjoying himself noisily by throwing wine-glasses at a beer advertisement. As he always paid liberally for the glasses, no one thought of objecting.
"Who's th' bucko?" inquired Silver Jack of a man near the stove.
"That's Roaring Dick Darrell, walkin' boss for M. & D.," replied the other.
Silver Jack drew his flax-white eyebrows together.
"Roaring Dick, eh? Roaring Dick? Fine name fer a bad man. I s'pose he thinks he's perticular all hell, don't he?"
"I do'no. Guess he is. He's got th' name fer it."
"Well," said Silver Jack, drawing his powerful back into a bow, "I ain't much; but I don't like noise—'specially roaring."
With the words he walked directly across the saloon to the foreman.
"My name is Silver Jack," said he, "I come from Muskegon way. I don't like noise. Quit it."
"All right," replied Dick.
The other was astonished. Then he recovered his swagger and went on:
"They tell me you're the old he-coon of this neck of th' woods. P'r'aps you were. But I'm here now. Ketch on? I'm th' boss of this shebang now."
Dick smiled amiably. "All right," he repeated.
This second acquiescence nonplussed the newcomer. But he insisted on his fight.
"You're a bluff!" said he, insultingly.
"Ah! go to hell!" replied Dick with disgust.
"What's that?" shouted the stranger, towering with threatening bulk over the smaller man.
And then to his surprise Dick Darrell began to beg.
"Don't you hit me!" he cried, "I ain't done nothing to you. You let me alone! Don't you let him touch me!" he called beseechingly to the barkeeper. "I don't want to get hurt. Stop it! Let me be!"
Silver Jack took Richard Darrell by the collar and propelled him rapidly to the door. The foreman hung back like a small boy in the grasp of a schoolmaster, whining, beseeching, squirming, appealing for help to the barkeeper and the bystanders. When finally he was energetically kicked into the gutter, he wept a little with nervous rage.
"Roaring Dick! Rats!" said Silver Jack. "Anybody can do him proper. If that's your 'knocker,' you're a gang of high bankers."
The other men merely smiled in the manner of those who know. Incidentally Silver Jack was desperately pounded by Big Dan, later in the evening, on account of that "high-banker" remark.
Richard Darrell, soon after, went into the woods with his crew, and began the tremendous struggle against the wilderness. Silver Jack and Big Dan took up the saloon business at Beeson Lake, and set themselves to gathering a clientele which should do them credit.
The winter was a bad one for everybody. Deep snows put the job behind; frequent storms undid the work of an infinitely slow patience. When the logging roads were cut through, the ground failed to freeze because of the thick white covering that overlaid it. Darrell in his mysterious compelling fashion managed somehow. Everywhere his thin eager triangle of a face with the brown chipmunk eyes was seen, bullying the men into titanic exertions by the mere shock of his nervous force. Over the thin crust of ice cautious loads of a few thousand feet were drawn to the banks of the river. The road-bed held. Gradually it hardened and thickened. The size of the loads increased. Finally Billy O'Brien drew up triumphantly at the rollway.
"There's a rim-racker!" he exclaimed. "Give her all she'll stand, Jimmy."
Jimmy Hall, the sealer, laid his flexible rule over the face of each log. The men gathered, interested in this record load.
"Thirteen thousand two hundred and forty," announced the scaler at last.
"Whoopee!" crowed Billy O'Brien, "that'll lay out Rollway Charley by two thousand feet!"
The men congratulated him on his victory over the other teamster, Rollway Charley. Suddenly Darrell was among them, eager, menacing, thrusting his nervous face and heavy shoulders here and there in the crowd, bullying them back to the work which they were neglecting. When his back was turned they grumbled at him savagely, threatening to disobey, resolving to quit. Some of them did quit: but none of them disobeyed.
Now the big loads were coming in regularly, and the railways became choked with the logs dumped down on them from the sleighs. There were not enough men to roll them down to the river, nor to "deck" them there in piles. Work accumulated. The cant-hook men became discouraged. What was the use of trying? They might as well take it easy. They did take it easy. As a consequence the teamsters had often to wait two, three hours to be unloaded. They were out until long after dark, feeling their way homeward through hunger and cold.
Dick Darrell, walking boss of all the camps, did the best he could. He sent message after message to Beeson Lake demanding more men. If the rollways could be definitely cleared once, the work would lighten all along the line. Then the men would regain their content. More help was promised, but it was slow in coming. The balance hung trembling. At any moment the foreman expected the crisis, when the men, discouraged by the accumulation of work, would begin to "jump," would ask for their "time" and quit, leaving the job half finished in the woods. This catastrophe must not happen. Darrell himself worked like a demon until dark, and then, ten to one, while the other men rested, would strike feverishly across to Camp Twenty-eight or Camp Forty, where he would consult with Morgan or Scotty Parsons until far into the night. His pale, triangular face showed the white lines of exhaustion, but his chipmunk eyes and his eager movements told of a determination stronger than any protests of a mere nature.
Now fate ordained that Silver Jack for the purposes of his enlightenment should select just this moment to drum up trade. He was, in his way, as anxious to induce the men to come out of the woods as Richard Darrell was to keep them in. Beeson Lake at this time of year was very dull. Only a few chronic loafers, without money, ornamented the saloon walls. On the other hand, at the four camps of Morrison & Daly were three hundred men each with four months' pay coming to him. In the ordinary course of events these men would not be out for sixty days yet, but Silver Jack and Big Dan perfectly well knew that it only needed the suggestion, the temptation, to arouse the spirit of restlessness. That a taste or so of whiskey will shiver the patience of men oppressed by long monotony is as A B C to the north-country saloon-keeper. Silver Jack resolved to make the rounds of the camps sure that the investment of a few jugs of whiskey would bring down to Beeson Lake at least thirty or forty woods-wearied men.
Accordingly he donned many clothes, and drove out into the wilderness a cutter containing three jugs and some cigars in boxes. He anticipated trouble. Perhaps he would even have to lurk in the woods, awaiting his opportunity to smuggle his liquor to the men.
However, luck favoured him. At Camp Twenty-eight he was able to dodge unseen into the men's camp. When Morgan, the camp foreman, finally discovered his presence, the mischief had been done. Everybody was smoking cigars, everybody was happily conscious of a warm glow at the pit of the stomach, everybody was firmly convinced that Silver Jack was the best fellow on earth. Morgan could do nothing. An attempt to eject Silver Jack, an expostulation even, would, he knew, lose him his entire crew. The men, their heads whirling with the anticipated delights of a spree, would indignantly champion their new friend. Morgan retired grimly to the "office." There, the next morning, he silently made out the "time" of six men, who had decided to quit. He wondered what would become of the rollways.
Silver Jack, for the sake of companionship, took one of the "jumpers" in the cutter with him. He was pleased over his success, and intended now to try Camp Thirty, Darrell's headquarters. In regard to Morgan he had been somewhat uneasy, for he had never encountered that individual; but Darrell he thought he knew. The trouble at Bay City had inspired him with a great contempt for the walking boss. That is where his mistake came in.
It was very cold. The snow was up to the horses' bellies, so Silver Jack had to drive at a plunging walk. Occasionally one or the other of the two stood up and thrashed his arms about. At noon they ate sandwiches of cold fried bacon, which the frost rendered brittle as soon as it left the warmth of their inside pockets. Underfoot the runners of the cutter shrieked loudly. They saw the tracks of deer and wolves and partridge, and encountered a few jays, chickadees, and woodpeckers. Otherwise the forest seemed quite empty. By half-past two they had made nine miles, and the sun, in this high latitude, was swinging lower. Silver Jack spoke angrily to his struggling animals. The other had fallen into the silence of numbness.
They did not know that across the reaches of the forest a man was hurrying to intercept them, a man who hastened to cope with this new complication as readily as he would have coped with the emergency of a lack of flour or the sickness of horses. They drove confidently.
Suddenly from nowhere a figure appeared in the trail before them. It stood, silent and impassive, with forward-drooping, heavy shoulders, watching the approaching cutter through inscrutable chipmunk eyes. When the strangers had approached to within a few feet of this man, the horses stopped of their own accord.
"Hello, Darrell," greeted Silver Jack, tugging at one of the stone jugs beneath the seat, "you're just the man I wanted to see."
The figure made no reply.
"Have a drink," offered the big man, finally extricating the whiskey.
"You can't take that whiskey into camp," said Darrell.
"Oh, I guess so," replied Silver Jack, easily, hoping for the peaceful solution. "There ain't enough to get anybody full. Have a taster, Darrell; it's pretty good stuff."
"I mean it," repeated Darrell. "You got to go back." He seized the horses' bits and began to lead them in the reversing circle.
"Hold on there!" cried Silver Jack. "You let them horses alone! You damn little runt! Let them alone I say!" The robe was kicked aside, and Silver Jack prepared to descend.
Richard Darrell twisted his feet out of his snow-shoe straps. "You can't take that whiskey into camp," he repeated simply.
"Now look here, Darrell," said the other in even tones, "don't you make no mistake. I ain't selling this whiskey; I'm giving it away. The law can't touch me. You ain't any right to say where I'll go, and, by God, I'm going where I please!"
"You got to go back with that whiskey," replied Darrell.
Silver Jack threw aside his coat, and advanced. "You get out of my way, or I'll kick you out, like I done at Bay City."
In an instant two blows were exchanged. The first marked Silver Jack's bronze-red face just to the left of his white eyebrow. The second sent Richard Darrell gasping and sobbing into the snow-bank ten feet away. He arose with the blood streaming from beneath his mustache. His eager, nervous face was white; his chipmunk eyes narrowed; his great hands, held palm backward, clutched spasmodically. With the stealthy motion of a cat he approached his antagonist, and sprang. Silver Jack stood straight and confident, awaiting him. Three times the aggressor was knocked entirely off his feet. The fourth he hit against the cutter body, and his fingers closed on the axe which all voyagers through the forest carry as a matter of course.
"He's gettin' ugly. Come on, Hank!" cried Silver Jack.
The other man, with a long score to pay the walking boss, seized the iron starting-bar, and descended. Out from the inscrutable white forest murder breathed like a pestilential air. The two men talked about it easily, confidently.
"You ketch him on one side, and I'll come in on the other," said the man named Hank, gripping his short, heavy bar.
The forest lay behind; the forest, easily penetrable to a man in moccasins. Richard Darrell could at any moment have fled beyond the possibility of pursuit. This had become no mere question of a bar-room fisticuff, but of life and death. He had begged abjectly from the pain of a cuff on the ear; now he merely glanced over his shoulder toward the safety that lay beyond. Then, with a cry, he whirled the axe about his head and threw it directly at the second of his antagonists. The flat of the implement struck heavily, full on the man's forehead. He fell, stunned. Immediately the other two precipitated themselves on the weapons. This time Silver Jack secured the axe, while Darrell had to content himself with the short, heavy bar. The strange duel recommenced, while the horses, mildly curious, gazed through the steam of their nostrils at their warring masters.
Overhead the ravens of the far north idled to and fro. When the three men lay still on the trampled snow, they stooped, nearer and nearer. Then they towered. One of the men had stirred.
Richard Darrell painfully cleared his eyes and dragged himself to a sitting position, sweeping the blood of his shallow wound from his forehead. He searched out the axe. With it he first smashed in the whiskey jugs. Then he wrecked the cutter, chopping it savagely until it was reduced to splinters and twisted iron. By the time this was done, his antagonists were in the throes of returning consciousness. He stood over them, dominant, menacing.
"You hit th' back trail," said he, "damn quick! Don't you let me see you 'round these diggings again."
Silver Jack, bewildered, half stunned, not understanding this little cowardly man who had permitted himself to be kicked from the saloon, rose slowly.
"You stand there!" commanded Darrell. He opened a pocket-knife, and cut the harness to bits, leaving only the necessary head-stalls intact.
"Now git!" said he. "Pike out!—fer Beeson Lake. Don't you stop at no Camp Twenty-eight!"
Appalled at the prospect of the long journey through the frozen forest, Silver Jack and his companion silently led the horses away. As they reached the bend in the trail, they looked back. The sun was just setting through the trees, throwing the illusion of them gigantic across the eye. And he stood there huge, menacing, against the light—the dominant spirit, Roaring Dick of the woods, the incarnation of Necessity, the Man defending his Work, the Foreman!
Once Morrison & Daly, of Saginaw, but then lumbering at Beeson Lake, lent some money to a man named Crothers, taking in return a mortgage on what was known as the Crothers Tract of white pine. In due time, as Crothers did not liquidate, the firm became possessed of this tract. They hardly knew what to do with it.
The timber was situated some fifty miles from the railroad in a country that threw all sorts of difficulties across the logger's path, and had to be hauled from nine to fifteen miles to the river. Both Morrison and Daly groaned in spirit. Supplies would have to be toted in to last the entire winter, for when the snow came, communication over fifty miles of forest road would be as good as cut off. Whom could they trust among the lesser foremen of their woods force? Whom could they spare among the greater?
At this juncture they called to them Tim Shearer, their walking boss and the greatest riverman in the State.
"You'll have to 'job' her," said Tim, promptly.
"Who would be hired at any price to go up in that country on a ten-mile haul?" demanded Daly, sceptically.
"Jest one man," replied Tim, "an' I know where to find him."
He returned with an individual at the sight of whom the partners glanced toward each other in doubt and dismay. But there seemed no help for it. A contract was drawn up in which the firm agreed to pay six dollars a thousand, merchantable scale, for all saw-logs banked at a rollway to be situated a given number of miles from the forks of Cass Branch, while on his side James Bourke, better known as the Rough Red, agreed to put in at least three and one-half million feet. After the latter had scrawled his signature he lurched from the office, softly rubbing his hairy freckled hand where the pen had touched it.
"That means a crew of wild Irishmen," said Morrison.
"And that means they'll just slaughter the pine," added Daly. "They'll saw high and crooked, they'll chuck the tops—who are we going to send to scale for 'em?"
Morrison sighed. "I hate to do it: there's only Fitz can make it go."
So then they called to them another of their best men, named FitzPatrick, and sent him away alone to protect the firm's interests in the depths of the wilderness.
The Rough Red was a big broad-faced man with eyes far apart and a bushy red beard. He wore a dingy mackinaw coat, a dingy black-and-white checked-flannel shirt, dingy blue trousers, tucked into high socks and lumberman's rubbers. The only spot of colour in his costume was the flaming red sash of the voyageur which he passed twice around his waist. When at work his little wide eyes flickered with a baleful, wicked light, his huge voice bellowed through the woods in a torrent of imprecations and commands, his splendid muscles swelled visibly even under his loose blanket-coat as he wrenched suddenly and savagely at some man's stubborn cant-hook stock. A hint of reluctance or opposition brought his fist to the mark with irresistible impact. Then he would pluck his victim from the snow, and kick him to work with a savage jest that raised a laugh from everybody—excepting the object of it.
At night he stormed back through the forest at the head of his band, shrieking wild blasphemy at the silent night, irreverent, domineering, bold, with a certain tang of Irish good-nature that made him the beloved of Irishmen. And at the trail's end the unkempt, ribald crew swarmed their dark and dirty camp as a band of pirates a galleon.
In the work was little system, but much efficacy. The men gambled, drank, fought, without a word of protest from their leader. With an ordinary crew such performances would have meant slight accomplishment, but these wild Irishmen, with their bloodshot eyes, their ready jests, their equally ready fists, plunged into the business of banking logs with all the abandon of a carouse—and the work was done.
Law in that wilderness was not, saving that which the Rough Red chose to administer. Except in one instance, penalty more severe than a beating there was none, for the men could not equal their leader in breaking the greater and lesser laws of morality. The one instance was that of young Barney Mallan, who, while drunk, mishandled a horse so severely as to lame it. Him the Rough Red called to formal account.
"Don't ye know that horses can't be had?" he demanded, singularly enough without an oath. "Come here."
The man approached. With a single powerful blow of a starting-bar the Rough Red broke one of the bones of his tibia.
"Try th' lameness yerself," said the Rough Red, grimly. He glared about through the dimness at his silent men, then stalked through the door into the cook-camp. Had he killed Barney Mallan outright, it would have been the same. No one in the towns would have been a word the wiser.
On Thanksgiving Day the entire place went on a prolonged drunk. The Rough Red distinguished himself by rolling the round stove through the door into the snow. He was badly burned in accomplishing this delicate jest, but minded the smart no more then he did the admiring cheers of his maudlin but emulative mates. FitzPatrick extinguished a dozen little fires that the coals had started, shifted the intoxicated Mallan's leg out of the danger of someone's falling on it, and departed from that roaring hell-hole to the fringe of the solemn forest. And this brings us to FitzPatrick.
FitzPatrick was a tall, slow man, with a face built square. The lines of his brows, his mouth, and his jaw ran straight across; those of his temples, cheeks, and nose straight up and down. His eye was very quiet and his speech rare. When he did talk, it was with deliberation. For days, sometimes, he would ejaculate nothing but monosyllables, looking steadily on the things about him.
He had walked in ahead of the tote-team late one evening in the autumn, after the Rough Red and his devils had been at work a fortnight. The camp consisted quite simply of three buildings, which might have been identified as a cook-camp, a sleeping-camp, and a stable. FitzPatrick entered the sleeping-camp, stood his slender scaling-rule in the corner, and peered about him through the dusk of a single lamp.
He saw a round stove in the centre, a littered and dirty floor, bunks filled with horrible straw and worse blankets jumbled here and there, old and dirty clothes drying fetidly. He saw an unkempt row of hard-faced men along the deacon-seat, reckless in bearing, with the light of the dare-devil in their eyes.
"Where is the boss?" asked FitzPatrick, steadily.
The Rough Red lurched his huge form toward the intruder.
"I am your scaler," explained the latter. "Where is the office?"
"You can have the bunk beyand," indicated the Rough Red, surlily.
"You have no office then?"
"What's good enough fer th' men is good enough for a boss; and what's good enough fer th' boss is good enough fer any blank blanked scaler."
"It is not good enough for this one," replied FitzPatrick, calmly. "I have no notion of sleepin' and workin' in no such noise an' dirt. I need an office to keep me books and th' van. Not a log do I scale for ye, Jimmy Bourke, till you give me a fit place to tally in."
And so it came about, though the struggle lasted three days. The Rough Red stormed restlessly between the woods and the camp, delivering tremendous broadsides of oaths and threats. FitzPatrick sat absolutely imperturbable on the deacon-seat, looking straight in front of him, his legs stretched comfortably aslant, one hand supporting the elbow of the other, which in turn held his short brier pipe.
"Good-mornin' to ye, Jimmy Bourke," said he each morning, and after that uttered no word until the evening, when it was, "Good-night to ye, Jimmy Bourke," with a final rap, rap, rap of his pipe.
The cook, a thin-faced, sly man, with a penchant for the Police Gazette, secretly admired him.
"Luk' out for th' Rough Red; he'll do ye!" he would whisper hoarsely when he passed the silent scaler.
But in the three days the Rough Red put his men to work on a little cabin. FitzPatrick at once took his scaling-rule from the corner and set out into the forest.
His business was, by measuring the diameter of each log, to ascertain and tabulate the number of board feet put in by the contractor. On the basis of his single report James Bourke would be paid for the season's work. Inevitably he at once became James Bourke's natural enemy, and so of every man in the crew with the possible exception of the cook.
Suppose you log a knoll which your eye tells you must grow at least a half-million; suppose you work conscientiously for twelve days; suppose your average has always been between forty and fifty thousand a day. And then suppose the scaler's sheets credit you with only a little over the four hundred thousand! What would you think of it? Would you not be inclined to suspect that the scaler had cheated you in favour of his master? that you had been compelled by false figures to work a day or so for nothing?
FitzPatrick scaled honestly, for he was a just man, but exactitude and optimism of estimate never have approximated, and they did not in this case. The Rough Red grumbled, accused, swore, threatened. FitzPatrick smoked "Peerless," and said nothing. Still it was not pleasant for him, alone there in the dark wilderness fifty miles from the nearest settlement, without a human being with whom to exchange a friendly word.
The two men early came to a clash over the methods of cutting. The Rough Red and his crew cut anywhere, everywhere, anyhow. The easiest way was theirs. Small timber they skipped, large timber they sawed high, tops they left rather than trim them into logs. FitzPatrick would not have the pine "slaughtered."
"Ye'll bend your backs a little, Jimmy Bourke," said he, "and cut th' stumps lower to th' ground. There's a bunch of shingles at least in every stump ye've left. And you must saw straighter. And th' contract calls for eight inches and over; mind ye that. Don't go to skippin' th' little ones because they won't scale ye high. 'Tis in the contract so. And I won't have th' tops left. There's many a good log in them, an' ye trim them fair and clean."
"Go to hell, you—" shouted the Rough Red. "Where th' blazes did ye learn so much of loggin'? I log th' way me father logged, an' I'm not to be taught by a high-banker from th' Muskegon!"
Never would he acknowledge the wrong nor promise the improvement, but both were there, and both he and FitzPatrick knew it. The Rough Red chafed frightfully, but in a way his hands were tied. He could do nothing without the report; and it was too far out to send for another scaler, even if Daly would have given him one.
Finally in looking over a skidway he noticed that one log had not been blue-pencilled across the end. That meant that it had not been scaled; and that in turn meant that he, the Rough Red, would not be paid for his labour in cutting and banking it. At once he began to bellow through the woods.
"Hey! FitzPatrick! Come here, you blank-blanked-blank of a blank! Come here!"
The sealer swung leisurely down the travoy trail and fronted the other with level eyes.
"Well?" said he.
"Why ain't that log marked?"
"I culled it."
"Ain't it sound and good? Is there a mark on it? A streak of punk or rot? Ain't it good timber? What the hell's th' matter with it? You tried to do me out of that, you damn skunk."
A log is culled, or thrown out, when, for any reason, it will not make good timber.
"I'll tell you, Jimmy Bourke," replied FitzPatrick, calmly, "th' stick is sound and good, or was before your murderin' crew got hold of it, but if ye'll take a squint at the butt of it ye'll see that your gang has sawed her on a six-inch slant. They've wasted a good foot of th' log. I spoke of that afore; an' now I give ye warnin' that I cull every log, big or little, punk or sound, that ain't sawed square and true across th' butt."
"Th' log is sound and good, an' ye'll scale it, or I'll know th' reason why!"
"I will not," replied FitzPatrick.
The following day he culled a log in another and distant skidway whose butt showed a slant of a good six inches. The day following he culled another of the same sort on still another skidway. He examined it closely, then sought the Rough Red.
"It is useless, Jimmy Bourke," said he, "to be hauling of the same poor log from skidway to skidway. You can shift her to every travoy trail in th' Crother tract, but it will do ye little good. I'll cull it wherever I find it, and never will ye get th' scale of that log."
The Rough Red raised his hand, then dropped it again; whirled away with a curse; whirled back with another, and spat out:
"By God, FitzPatrick, ye go too far! Ye've hounded me and harried me through th' woods all th' year! By God, 'tis a good stick, an' ye shall scale it!"
"Yo' and yore Old Fellows is robbers alike!" cried one of the men.
FitzPatrick turned on his heel and resumed his work. The men ceased theirs and began to talk.
That night was Christmas Eve. After supper the Rough Red went directly from the cook-camp to the men's camp. FitzPatrick, sitting lonely in the little office, heard the sounds of debauch rising steadily like mysterious storm winds in distant pines. He shrugged his shoulders, and tallied his day's scaling, and turned into his bunk wearily, for of holidays there are none in the woods, save Sunday. About midnight someone came in. FitzPatrick, roused from his sleep by aimless blunderings, struck a light, and saw the cook looking uncertainly toward him through blood-clotted lashes. The man was partly drunk, partly hurt, but more frightened.
"They's too big fer me, too big fer me!" he repeated, thickly.
FitzPatrick kicked aside the blankets and set foot on the floor.
"Le' me stay," pleaded the cook, "I won't bother you; I won't even make a noise. I'm skeered!"
"Course you can stay," replied the scaler. "Come here."
He washed the man's forehead, and bound up the cut with surgeon's plaster from the van. The man fell silent, looking at him in wonderment for such kindness.
Four hours later, dimly, through the mist of his broken sleep, FitzPatrick heard the crew depart for the woods in the early dawn. On the crest of some higher waves of consciousness were borne to him drunken shouts, maudlin blasphemies. After a time he arose and demanded breakfast.
The cook, pale and nervous, served him. The man was excited, irresolute, eager to speak. Finally he dropped down on the bench opposite FitzPatrick, and began.
"Fitz," said he, "don't go in th' woods to-day. The men is fair wild wid th' drink, and th' Rough Red is beside hi'self. Las' night I heerd them. They are goin' to skid the butt log again, and they swear that if you cull it again, they will kill you. They mean it. That's all why they wint to th' woods this day."
FitzPatrick swallowed his coffee in silence. In silence he arose and slipped on his mackinaw blanket coat. In silence he thrust his beechwood tablets into his pocket, and picked his pliable scaler's rule from the corner.
"Where are ye goin'?" asked the cook, anxiously.
"I'm goin' to do th' work they pay me to do," answered FitzPatrick.
He took his way down the trail, his face set straight before him, the smoke of his breath streaming behind. The first skidway he scaled with care, laying his rule flat across the face of each log, entering the figures on his many-leaved tablets of beech, marking the timbers swiftly with his blue crayon.
The woods were empty. No ring of the axe, no shout of the driver, no fall of the tree broke the silence. FitzPatrick comprehended. He knew that at the next skidway the men were gathered, waiting to see what he would do; gathered openly at last in that final hostility which had been maturing all winter. He knew, besides, that most of them were partly drunk and wholly reckless, and that he was alone. Nevertheless, after finishing conscientiously skidway number one, he moved on to skidway number two.
There, as he had expected, the men were waiting in ominous silence, their eyes red with debauch and hate. FitzPatrick paid them no heed, but set about his business.
Methodically, deliberately, he did the work. Then, when the last pencil-mark had been made, and the tablets had been closed with a snap of finality, the Rough Red stepped forward.
"Ye have finished with this skidway?" asked the foreman in soft cat-tones.
"I have," answered FitzPatrick, briefly.
"Yo' have forgot to scale one stick."
"There is a stick still not marked."
"I culled it."
"It was not sawed straight."
FitzPatrick threw his head back proudly, answering his man at ease, as an accomplished swordsman. The Rough Red shifted his feet, almost awed in spite of himself. One after another the men dropped their eyes and stood ill at ease. The scaler turned away; his heel caught a root; he stumbled; instantly the pack was on him, for the power of his eye was broken.
Mad with rage they kicked and beat and tore at FitzPatrick's huddled form long after consciousness had left it. Then an owl hooted from the shadow of the wood, or a puff of wind swept by, or a fox barked, or some other little thing happened, so that in blind unreasoning panic they fled. The place was deserted, save for the dark figure against the red-and-white snow.
FitzPatrick regained his wits in pain, and so knew he was still on earth. Every movement cost him a moan, and some agency outside himself inflicted added torture. After a long time he knew it was the cook, who was kindly kneading his limbs and knuckling his hair. The man proved to be in a maze of wonderment over his patient's tenacity of life.
"I watched ye," he murmured soothingly, "I did not dare interfere. But I kem to yo' 's soon as I could. See, here's a fire that I built for ye, and some tea. Take a little. And no bones broke! True for ye, ye're a hearty man, and strong with th' big muscles on ye fit to fight th' Rough Red man to man. Get th' use of yere legs, darlint, an' I'll tak' ye to camp, for its fair drunk they are by now. Sure an' I tole ye they'd kill ye!"
"But they didn't," muttered FitzPatrick with a gleam of humour.
"Sure 'twas not their fault—nor yer own!"
Hours later, as it seemed, they moved slowly in the direction of camp. The cold had stiffened FitzPatrick's cuts and bruises. Every step shot a red wave of torture through his arteries to his brain. They came in sight of camp. It was silent. Both knew that the men had drunk themselves into a stupor.
"I'd like t' kill th' whole lay-out as she sleeps," snarled the cook, shaking his fist.
"So would I," replied FitzPatrick.
Then as they looked, a thin wreath of smoke curled from under the open doorway and spread lazily in the frosty air. Another followed; another; still another. The cabin was afire.
"They've kicked over th' stove again," said FitzPatrick, seating himself on a stump. His eyes blazed with wrath and bitterness.
"What yo' goin' to do?" asked the cook.
"Sit here," replied FitzPatrick, grimly.
The cook started forward.
"Stop!" shouted the scaler, fiercely; "if you move a step, I'll break your back!"
The cook stared at him through saucer eyes.
"But they'd be burnt alive!" he objected, wildly.
"They ought to be," snarled the scaler; "it ain't their fault I'm here to help them. 'Tis their own deed that I'm now lyin' beyant there in th' forest, unable to help myself. Do you understand? I'm yet out there in th' woods!"
"Ah, wirra, wirra!" wailed the cook, wringing his hands. "Th' poor lads!" He began to weep.
FitzPatrick stared straight in front of him for a moment. Then he struck his forehead, and with wonderful agility, considering the injuries he had but just received, tore down the hill in the direction of the smouldering cabin. The cook followed him joyfully. Together they put out the fire. The men snored like beasts, undisturbed by all the tumult.
"'Tis th' soft heart ye have after all, Fitz," said the cook, delightedly, as the two washed their hands in preparation for a lunch. "Ye could not bear t' see th' lads burn."
FitzPatrick glowered at him for an instant from beneath his square brows.
"They can go to hell for all of me," he answered, finally, "but my people want these logs put in this winter, an' there's nobody else to put them in."
"Obey orders if you break owners" is a good rule, but a really efficient river-boss knows a better. It runs, "Get the logs out. Get them out peaceably if you can, but get them out." He does not need a field-telephone to headquarters to teach him how to live up to the spirit of this rule. That might involve headquarters.
Jimmy was such a river-boss. Therefore when Mr. Daly, of the firm of Morrison & Daly, unexpectedly contracted to deliver five million feet of logs on a certain date, and the logs an impossible number of miles up river, he called in Jimmy.
Jimmy was a small man, changeless as the Egyptian sphinx. A number of years ago a French comic journal published a series of sketches supposed to represent the Shah of Persia influenced by various emotions. Under each was an appropriate caption, such as Surprise, Grief, Anger, or Astonishment. The portraits were identically alike, and uniformly impassive.
Well, that was Jimmy. He looked always the same. His hair, thick and black, grew low on his forehead; his beard, thick and black, mounted over the ridge of his cheek-bones; and his eyebrows, thick and black, extended in an uninterrupted straight line from one temple to the other. Whatever his small, compact, muscular body might be doing, the mask of his black and white imperturbability remained always unchanged. Generally he sat clasping one knee, staring directly in front of him, and puffing regularly on a "meerschaum" pipe he had earned by saving the tags of Spearhead tobacco. Whatever you said to him sank without splash into this almost primal calm and was lost to your view forever. Perhaps after a time he might do something about it, but always without explanation, calmly, with the lofty inevitability of fate. In fact, he never explained himself, even to his employers.
Daly swung his bulk back and forth in the office chair. Jimmy sat bolt upright, his black hat pendant between his knees.
"I want you to take charge of the driving crew, Jimmy," said the big man; "I want you to drive those logs down to our booms as fast as you can. I give you about twenty days. It ought to be done in that. Sanders will keep time for you, and Merrill will cook. You can get a pretty good crew from the East Branch, where the drive is just over."
When Daly had quite finished his remarks, Jimmy got up and went out without a word. Two days later he and sixty men were breaking rollways forty-five miles up-stream.
Jimmy knew as well as Daly that the latter had given him a hard task. Twenty days was too brief a time. However, that was none of his business.
The logs, during the winter, had been piled in the bed of the stream. They extended over three miles of rollways. Jimmy and his crew began at the down-stream end to tumble the big piles into the current. Sometimes only two or three logs would rattle down; at others the whole deck would bulge outward, hover for a moment, and roar into the stream like grain from an elevator. Shortly the narrows below the rollways jammed. Twelve men were detailed as the jam crew. Their business was to keep the stream free in order that the constantly increasing supply from the rollways might not fill up the river. It was not an easy business, nor a very safe. As the "jam" strung out over more and more of the river, the jam crew was constantly recruited from the men on the rollways. Thus some of the logs, a very few, the luckiest, drifted into the dam pond at Grand Rapids within a few days; the bulk jammed and broke and jammed again at a point a few miles below the rollways, while a large proportion stranded, plugged, caught, and tangled at the very rollways themselves.
Jimmy had permitted himself two days in which to "break out" the rollways. It was done in two. Then the "rear" was started. Men in the rear crew had to see that every last log got into the current. When a jam broke, the middle of it shot down-stream in a most spectacular fashion, but along the banks "winged out" most distressingly. Sometimes the heavy sticks of timber had been forced right out on the dry land. The rear crew lifted them back. When an obstinate log grounded, they jumped cheerfully into the water—with the rotten ice swirling around them—and pried the thing off bottom. Between times they stood upright on single, unstable logs and pushed mightily with poles, while the ice-water sucked in and out of their spiked river shoes.
As for the compensations, naturally there was a good deal of rivalry between the men on the right and left banks of the river as to which "wing" should advance the fastest; and one experiences a certain physical thrill in venturing under thirty feet of jammed logs for the sole purpose of teasing the whole mass to cascade down on one, or of shooting a rapid while standing upright on a single timber. I believe, too, it is considered the height of glory to belong to a rear crew. Still, the water is cold and the hours long, and you have to sleep in a tent.
It can readily be seen that the progress of the "rear" measures the progress of the drive. Some few logs in the "jam" may run fifty miles a day—and often do—but if the sacking has gone slowly at the rear, the drive may not have gained more than a thousand yards. Therefore Jimmy stayed at the rear.
Jimmy was a mighty good riverman. Of course he had nerve, and could do anything with a log and a peavy, and would fight at the drop of a hat—any "bully boy" would qualify there—but also he had judgment. He knew how to use the water, how to recognise the key log of jams, where to place his men—in short, he could get out the logs. Now Jimmy also knew the river from one end to the other, so he had arranged in his mind a sort of schedule for the twenty days. Forty-eight hours for the rollways; a day and a half to the upper rapids; three days into the dam pond; one day to sluice the drive through the Grand Rapids dam; three days for the Crossing; and so on. If everything went well, he could do it, but there must be no hitches in the programme.
Even from this imperfect fragment of the schedule the inexperienced might imagine Jimmy had allowed an altogether disproportionate time to cover the mile or so from the rapids to the dam pond. As it turned, however, he found he had not allowed enough, for at this point the river was peculiar and very trying.
The backwater of the dam extended up-stream a half mile; then occurred a rise of four feet, down the slope of which the water whirled and tumbled, only to spread out over a broad fan of gravel shallows. These shallows did the business. When the logs had bumped through the tribulations of the rapids, they seemed to insist obstinately on resting in the shallows, like a lot of wearied cattle. The rear crew had to wade in. They heaved and pried and pushed industriously, and at the end of it had the satisfaction of seeing a single log slide reluctantly into the current. Sometimes a dozen of them would clamp their peavies on either side, and by sheer brute force carry the stick to deep water. When you reflect that there were some twenty thousand pieces in the drive, and that a good fifty per cent. of them balked below the rapids, you can see that a rear crew of thirty men had its work cut out for it. Jimmy's three days were three-fourths gone, and his job not more than a third finished. McGann, the sluice boss, did a little figuring.
"She'll hang over thim twinty days," he confided to Jimmy. "Shure!"
Jimmy replied not a word, but puffed piston-like smoke from his pipe. McGann shrugged in Celtic despair.
But the little man had been figuring, too, and his arrangements were more elaborate and more nearly completed than McGann suspected. That very morning he sauntered leisurely out over the rear logs, his hands in his pockets. Every once in a while he stopped to utter a few low-voiced words to one or another of the men. The person addressed first looked extremely astonished; then shouldered his peavy and started for camp, leaving the diminished rear a prey to curiosity. Soon the word went about. "Day and night work," they whispered, though it was a little difficult to see the difference in ultimate effectiveness between a half crew working all the time and a whole crew working half the time.
About now Daly began to worry. He took the train to Grand Rapids, anxiety written deep in his brows. When he saw the little inadequate crew pecking in a futile fashion at the logs winged out over the shallows, he swore fervidly and sought Jimmy.
Jimmy appeared calm.
"We'll get them out all right, Mr. Daly," said he.
"Get them out!" growled Daly. "Sure! But when? We ain't got all the summer this season. Those logs have got to hit our booms in fourteen days or they're no good to us!"
"You'll have 'em," assured Jimmy.
Such talk made Daly tired, and he said so.
"Why, it'll take you a week to get her over those confounded shallows," he concluded. "You got to get more men, Jimmy."
"I've tried," answered the boss. "They ain't no more men to be had."
"Suffering Moses!" groaned the owner. "It means the loss of a fifty-thousand-dollar contract to me. You needn't tell me! I've been on the river all my life. I know you can't get them off inside of a week."
"I'll have 'em off to-morrow morning, but it may cost a little something," asserted Jimmy, calmly.
Daly took one look at the mass of logs, and the fifteen men pulling out an average of one a minute. Then he returned in disgust to the city, where he began to adjust his ideas to a loss on his contract.
At sundown the rear crew quit work, and swarmed to the encampment of white tents on the river-bank. There they hung wet clothes over a big skeleton framework built around a monster fire, and ate a dozen eggs apiece as a side dish to supper, and smoked pipes of strong "Peerless" tobacco, and swapped yarns, and sang songs, and asked questions. To the latter they received no satisfactory replies. The crew that had been laid off knew nothing. It appeared they were to go to work after supper. After supper, however, Jimmy told them to turn in and get a little more sleep. They did turn in, and speedily forgot to puzzle.
At midnight, however, Jimmy entered the big tent quietly with a lantern, touching each of the fresh men on the shoulder. They arose without comment, and followed him outside. There they were given tools. Then the little band filed silently down river under the stars.
Jimmy led them, his hands deep in his pockets, puffing white steam-clouds at regular intervals from his "meerschaum" pipe. After twenty minutes they struck the Water Works, then the board-walk of Canal Street. The word passed back for silence. Near the Oriole Factory their leader suddenly dodged in behind the piles of sawed lumber, motioning them to haste. A moment later a fat and dignified officer passed, swinging his club. After the policeman had gone, Jimmy again took up his march at the head of fifteen men, now thoroughly aroused to the fact that something unusual was afoot. Soon a faint roar lifted the night silence. They crossed a street, and a moment after stood at one end of the power-dam.
The long smooth water shot over, like fluid steel, silent and inevitable, mirroring distorted flashes of light that were the stars. Below, it broke in white turmoil, shouting defiance at the calm velvet rush above. Ten seconds later the current was broken. A man, his heels caught against the combing, up to his knees in water, was braced back at the exact angle to withstand the rush. Two other men passed down to him a short heavy timber. A third, plunging his arms and shoulders into the liquid, nailed it home with heavy, inaudible strokes. As though by magic a second timber braced the first, bolted through sockets already cut for it. The workers moved on eight feet, then another eight, then another. More men entered the water. A row of heavy, slanted supports grew out from the shoulder of the dam, dividing the waters into long, arrow-shaped furrows of light. At half-past twelve Tom Clute was swept over the dam into the eddy. He swam ashore. Purdy took his place.
When the supports had reached out over half of the river's span, and the water was dotted with the shoulders of men gracefully slanted against the current, Jimmy gave orders to begin placing the flash-boards. Heavy planks were at once slid across the supports, where the weight of the racing water at once clamped them fast. Spikes held the top board beyond the possibility of a wrench loose. The smooth, quiet river, interrupted at last, murmured and snarled and eddied back, only to rush with increased vehemence around the end of the rapidly growing obstruction.
The policeman, passing back and forth on Canal Street, heard no sound of the labour going on. If he had been an observant policeman, he would have noted an ever-changing tone in the volume of sound roaring up from the eddy below the dam. After a time even he remarked on a certain obvious phenomenon.
"Sure!" said he; "now, that's funny!"
He listened a moment, then passed on. The vagaries of the river were, after all, nothing to him. He belonged on Canal Street, east side; and Canal Street, east side, seemed peaceful.
The river had fallen absolutely silent. The last of Jimmy's flash-boards was in place. Back in the sleeping town the clock in Pierce's Tower struck two.
Jimmy and his men, having thus raised the level of the dam a good three feet, emerged dripping from the west-side canal, and cheerfully took their way northward to where, in the chilly dawn, their companions were sleeping the sleep of the just. As they passed the riffles they paused. A heavy grumbling issued from the logs jammed there, a grumbling brutish and sullen, as though the reluctant animals were beginning to stir. The water had already backed up from the raised dam.
Of course the affair, from a river-driver's standpoint, at once became exceedingly simple. The slumbering fifteen were aroused to astounded drowsiness. By three, just as the dawn was beginning to differentiate the east from the west, the regular clank, clank, clink of the peavies proclaimed that due advantage of the high water was being seized. From then until six was a matter of three hours more. A great deal can be accomplished in three hours with flood-water. The last little jam "pulled" just about the time the first citizen of the west side discovered that his cellar was full of water. When that startled freeman opened the front door to see what was up, he uttered a tremendous ejaculation; and so, shortly, came to the construction of a raft.
Well, the papers got out an extra edition with scare-heads about "Outrages" and "High-handed Lawlessness!" and factory owners by the canals raised up their voices in bitterness over flooded fire-rooms; and property owners of perishable cellar goods howled about damage suits; and the ordinary citizen took to bailing out the hollow places of his domain. Toward nine o'clock, after the first excitement had died, and the flash-boards had been indignantly yanked from their illegal places, a squadron of police went out to hunt up the malefactor. The latter they discovered on a boom-pole directing the sluicing. From this position he declined to stir. One fat policeman ventured a toppling yard or so on the floating timber, threw his hands aloft in loss of equilibrium, and with a mighty effort regained the shore, where he sat down, panting. To the appeals of the squad to come and be arrested, Jimmy paid not the slightest heed. He puffed periodically on his "meerschaum" pipe, and directed the sluicing. Through the twenty-foot gate about a million feet an hour passed. Thus it happened that a little after noon Jimmy came peaceably ashore and gave himself up.
"You won't have no more trouble below," he observed to McGann, his lieutenant, watching reflectively the last logs shoot through the gate. "Just tie right into her and keep her hustling." Then he refilled his pipe, lit it, and approached the expectant squad.
At the station-house he was interviewed by reporters. That is, they asked questions. To only one of them did they elicit a reply.
"Didn't you know you were breaking the law?" inquired the Eagle man. "Didn't you know you'd be arrested?"
"Sure!" replied Jimmy, with obvious contempt.
The next morning the court-room was crowded. Jimmy pleaded guilty, and was fined five hundred dollars or ninety days in jail. To the surprise of everybody he fished out a tremendous roll and paid the fine. The spectators considered it remarkable that a river-boss should carry such an amount. They had not been present at the interview between Jimmy and his principal the night before.
The latter stood near the door as the little man came out.
"Jimmy," said Mr. Daly, distinctly, so that everyone could hear, "I am extremely sorry to see you in this trouble; but perhaps it may prove a lesson to you. Next time you must understand that you are not supposed to exceed your instructions."
Thus did the wily Daly publicly disclaim his liability.
"Yes, sir," said Jimmy, meekly. "Did you get the logs in time, Mr. Daly?"
They looked at each other steadily. Then, for the first and only time, the black and white mask of Jimmy's inscrutability melted away. In his left eye appeared a faint glimmer. Then the left eyelid slowly descended.
THE FIFTH WAY
The prophet confessed four things as beyond his understanding—the way of an eagle in the air, the way of a serpent upon the rock, the way of a ship in the midst of the sea, and the way of a man with a maid—but we of modern times must add a fifth, and that is the way of justice. For often a blunderer caught red-handed escapes with slight punishment, while the clever man who transgresses, yet conceals his transgression craftily, pays at the end of a devious sequence with his life. Of this fashion was the death of Regis Brugiere.
It happened that in the fall of the year two strangers came to Ste. Jeanne for the purpose of shooting grouse, and Regis Brugiere hired himself to them as guide. His duties were not many. He had simply to drive them from one hardwood belt to another. But in his leisure he often followed them about, and so fell in love with Jim.
Jim was a black-and-white setter dog. Regis Brugiere watched him as he trotted carefully through the woods, his four legs working like pistons, his head high, his soft, intelligent eyes spying for the likely cover. Then when he caught a faint whiff of the game, he would stop short, and look around, and wag his tail. Not one step would he take toward assuring his point until the man had struggled through the thicket to his side. Thus his master obtained many shots at birds flushing wild before the dog which otherwise he would not have had.
But when the bird lay well, then Jim would tread carefully forward as though on eggs, until, his nostrils filled with the warm body-scent, he stood rigid, a living statue of beauty. A moment of breathless excitement ensued. With a burst of sound the bird roared away. There followed the quick crack of the fowling-piece, a cloud of feathers in the air, a long slanting fall. Jim looked up, eager but self-controlled.
"Fetch, Jim," said the man.
At once the dog bounded away, to return after a moment in the pride of an army with banners, carrying the grouse daintily between his jaws.
Or the shot failed. Jim waited until he heard the click of the gun as its breech closed after reloading, then moved forward with well-bred restraint to sniff long and inquiringly where the bird had been.
These things Regis Brugiere saw, following the hunt through the thickets, so that he broke the tenth commandment and coveted Jim with a great love. He worshipped the dog's aloof dignity, his gentlemanly demeanour of unhasting grace in the woods, his well-bred far-away gaze as he sat on his haunches staring into the distance.
So Regis Brugiere stole Jim, the black-and-white setter, and concealed him well. To him it was a little thing to do. He did not know Jim's value, for in the north country a dog is a dog. After the strangers had gone, bewailing their loss, Regis Brugiere loaded a toboggan with supplies and traps and set out into the northwest on his annual trapping excursion. He took with him Jim, by now entirely accustomed to his new master.
The two journeyed far through the forest, over many rivers and muskegs, through many swamps and ranges of hills. Regis Brugiere drew the toboggan after him. The task should have been Jim's, but to the trapper that would have seemed like harnessing Ignace St. Cloud, the seigneur of Ste. Jeanne, to an apple-cart. So Jim ranged at large in diagonals having a good time, while the man enjoyed himself by watching the animal. In due course they came to a glade through which ran a soggy, choked, little spring-creek. Here Regis Brugiere kicked off his snow-shoes with an air of finality. Here he erected a cabin, and established himself and Jim.
Over a circumference of forty miles then he set his traps, for the beaver, the mink, the fox, the fisher, the muskrat, and the other fur-bearing animals of the north. At regular intervals he visited these traps one after the other, crunching swiftly along on his snow-shoes. Jim always accompanied him. When the snow was deep, he wallowed painfully after in the tracks made by Regis Brugiere. When it was not so deep, he looked for grouse or ptarmigan, investigated many strange things, or ran at large over the frozen surfaces of the little lakes.
At the trapping-places Jim had to stay behind. The man left with him his capote and snow-shoes, which Jim imagined himself to be guarding faithfully. Thus he was satisfied.
Then on the return journey the two had fun. Regis Brugiere liked to pick Jim up and throw him bodily into the deepest snow. Jim liked to have him do so, and would disappear with an ecstatic yelp. In a moment he would burst out of the drift and would dance about on the tips of his toes growling fiercely in mock deprecation of a repetition for which he hoped. These were the only occasions in which Jim relaxed his solemnity. At all other times his liquid brown eyes were mournful with the tempered, delicious sorrow of affection.
In the woods Jim acquired bad habits. He reverted to the original dog. Finding that Regis Brugiere paid little attention to the grouse so carefully pointed, Jim resolved to hunt on his own account. At first his conscience hurt him so that the act amounted to sin. But afterward the delighted applause of his new master reassured him. He crouched, he trailed, he flushed, he chased, he broke all the commandments of a sporting-dog's morality. In this was demoralisation, but also great profit. For Jim came to be an adept at surprising game in the snow. His point now became exactly what it used to be in the primordial dog—a pause of preparation before the spring. Jim was beautifully independent. Except in the matter of delicacies, he supported himself.
But one thing he knew not, and that was the deer. To him they were as horses or sheep. He could not understand, nor did he care greatly, why they should flee so suddenly when he appeared. So Regis Brugiere tried to teach him, but vainly. Thus it happened that often Jim had to be left at home, for to a solitary trapper the deer is a necessity. There is in him food and clothing.
At such times Regis Brugiere was accustomed to pile high the fireplace with wood in order that his friend might be comfortable during his absence. Then he would leave the dog disconsolate. On the first of these occasions Jim effected an escape, and rejoined his master at a distance with every symptom of delight. Regis Brugiere, returning disgusted, found the cabin-door sprawled wide: Jim had learned to pull it toward him with his teeth. Shortly the trapper was forced to make a latch so that the dog could not pull it ajar by the strength of his jaws and legs. Perhaps it is well here to explain that ordinarily such a cabin-door merely jams shut against the spring of a wand of hickory.
Now mark you this: If Regis Brugiere had not coveted and stolen the dog Jim, he would not have been forced to construct the latch; without the latch, he could easily have pushed open the door by leaning against it; if he could have pushed open the door, all would have been well with both himself and Jim. And in this we admire the wonder of the fifth way—the way of justice by which a man's life is bartered for a fault.
One morning in the midwinter, when it was very cold with seventy degrees of frost, Regis Brugiere resolved to hunt the deer. As usual, he filled the fireplace, spread a robe for Jim's accommodation, thrust the latch-string through the small hole bored for that purpose, and set out in the forest. When he reached the swamp edge, he removed his snow-shoes and began carefully to pick his way along the fallen tops. Mounting on a snow-covered root, he thrust his right foot down into an unsuspected crevice, stumbled, and fell forward on his face.
When the blur of pain had cleared away, and he was able to take stock of what had happened, Regis Brugiere found that he had snapped the bones of his leg short off below the knee.
The first part of his journey home to the cabin was one of profanity; the second of prayer; the third of grim silence. In the first he lost his rifle; in the second his courage; in the third his knowledge of what was about him. Like a crippled rabbit he dragged himself over the snow, a single black spot against the whiteness. The dark forest-trees gathered curiously about his wavering consciousness to look down on him in aloof compassion. And over him, invisible, palpable, hovered the dreadful north-country cold, waiting to stoop.
Regis Brugiere, by the grace of a woodsman's perseverance and the instinct of a wild creature, gained at last the clearing in which his cabin stood. Behind him wavered a long, deep-gouged furrow-trail, pitiful attest of suffering. His strength was water, but he was home. After a long time he reached the door, and rested. The incident was cruel, but it was only one of many in a cruel way of life.
The twilight was coming down with thronging mysterious voices. Among them clamoured fiercely the voice of the cold. Regis Brugiere felt its breath on his heart, and, in alarm, broke through the apathy of his condition. It was time to recall his forces, to enter where could be found provisions and warmth. Painfully he turned on his right side and prepared to reach the latch-string. His first movement brought him an agony to be endured only with teeth and eyes closed, only by summoning to the minute task of thrusting his hand upward along the rough door all the forces of his being down to the last shred of vitality. At once the indomitable spirit of the woods-runner answered the call. Regis Brugiere concentrated his will on a pinpoint. Like a sprinter his volition was fixed on a goal, beyond which lay collapse.
Inch by inch the hand kept on, blindly groping. It reached the latch-string; passed it by.
Then, like a flame before it expires, the spirit of Regis Brugiere blazed out. With strange contortions of the body and writhings of the face his form came upright, the arm still reaching. So it swayed for a moment, then fell. The man's will-power ran from him in a last supreme effort. Twice more he struggled blindly, but the efforts were feeble. At last with a sigh he gave himself to the cold, which had been waiting. And the cold was kind. Regis Brugiere fell asleep.
Five days later Jim, the black-and-white setter-dog, ceased his restless wanderings to and fro, ceased trying to leap to the oiled window beyond which lay the forest and food in abundance, ceased vain clawings below the shelf-high supplies of flour and bacon, to curl himself by the door as near as possible to the master who lay without. There he starved, dreaming in a merciful torpor of partridges in the snow. Thus was the way of justice fulfilled in the case of Regis Brugiere and the setter-dog Jim.
THE LIFE OF THE WINDS OF HEAVEN
Barbara hesitated long between the open-work stockings and the plain-silk, but finally decided on the former. Then she vouchsafed a pleased little smile to her pleasant little image in the mirror, and stepped through the door into the presence of her aunt. The aunt was appropriately astonished. This was the first time Barbara had spread her dainty chiffon wings in the air of the great north woods. Strangely, daintily incongruous she looked now against the rough walls of the cabin, against the dark fringe of the forest beyond the door.
Barbara was a petite little body with petite little airs of babylike decision. She knew that her greatest attraction lay in the strange backward poise of her head, bringing her chin, pointed and adorable, to the tilt of maddening charm. She was perfectly aware, too, of her very full red lips, the colour of cherries, but with the satiny finish of the peach; and she could not remain blind to the fact that her light hair and her velvet-black eyes were in rare and delicious contrast. All these things, and more, Barbara knew because a dozen times a day her mirror swore them true. That she was elusively, teasingly, judicially, calmly distracting she knew because, ever since she could remember, men had told her so with varying degrees of bitter humour. She accepted the fact, and carried herself in all circumstances as a queen surrounded by an indefinite number of rights matured to her selection.
After her plain old backwoods aunt had admired and exclaimed over the butterfly so unexpectedly developed from the brown tailor-made chrysalis, Barbara determined to take a walk. She knew that over through that cool, fascinating forest, only a half-mile away, dwelt the Adamses. The Adamses, too, were only of the woods people, but they were human, and chiffon was chiffon, in the wilderness as in the towns. So Barbara announced her intention, and stepped into the sunlight.
The parasol completed her sense of happiness. She raised it, and slanted it over her shoulder, and drew one of its round tips across her face, playing out to herself a pretty little comedy as she sauntered deliberately down the trail between the stumps and tangled blackberry vines of the clearing. She tilted her chin, and glanced shyly from beneath the brim of her big hat at the solemn stumps, and looked just as pretty as she possibly could for the benefit of the bold, noisy finches. With her light summer dress and her picture-hat and her open-work stockings and her absurd little high-heeled, silver-buckled shoes she had somehow regained the feminine self-confidence which her thick boots and sober brown woods dress had filched from her. For the first time in this whimsical visit to a new environment she was completely happy. Dear little Barbara; she was only eighteen.
Pretty soon the trail entered the great, cool, green forest. Barbara closed her parasol and carried it under one arm, while with the same hand she swept her skirt clear of the ground. She was now a grande marquise in the Forest of Fontainebleau. Through little round holes in the undergrowth she could see away down between the trees to dashes of sunlight and green shadows. Always Barbara conducted herself as though, in the vista, a cavalier was about to appear, who would sweep off his plumed hat in a bow of knightly adoration. She practised the courtesy in return, sinking on one little high-pointed heel with a downward droop of her pretty head and an upward cast of her pretty eyes.
"Oui, c'est un reve, un reve doux d'amour," she hummed, as the hem of her outspread skirt just swept the ground.
"Phew!" came a most terrible, dreadful sound from the thicket close at hand.
Barbara dropped her parasol, and clasped her heart with both hands, and screamed. From the thicket two slender ears pointed inquiringly toward her, two wide brown eyes stared frightened into hers, a delicate nose dilated with terror. "Phew!" snorted the deer again, and vanished in a series of elastic stiff-legged springs.
"Oh!" cried Barbara. "You horrid thing! How you frightened me!"
She picked up her parasol, and resumed her journey in some perturbation of mind, reflecting on the utter rudeness of the deer. Gradually the trail seemed to become more difficult. After a time it was obstructed by the top of a fallen basswood. Barbara looked about her. She was not on the trail at all.
This was distinctly annoying. Barbara felt a little resentful on account of it. She gathered her skirts closely about her ankles, and tried to pick her way through the undergrowth to the right. The brush was exceedingly difficult to avoid, and a little patch of briers was worse. Finally an ugly stub ripped a hole in the chiffon skirt. This was unbearable. Barbara stamped her foot in vexation. She wanted to cry; and fully made up her mind to do so as soon as she should have regained the trail. In a little while the high beech-ridge over which she had been travelling ended in a narrow cedar-swamp. Then Barbara did a foolish thing; she tried to cross the swamp.
At first she proceeded circumspectly, with an eye to the chiffon. It was torn in a dozen places. Then she thrust one dear little slipper through the moss into black water. Three times the stiff straight rods of the tamarack whipped her smartly across the face. When finally she emerged on the other side of the hundred feet of that miserable cedar-swamp, she had ceased to hold up the chiffon skirt, and was most vexed.
"I think you're just mean!" she cried, pettishly, to the still forest; and then caught her breath in the silence of awe.
The forest had become suddenly unfriendly; its kindliness had somehow vanished. In all directions it looked the same; straight towering trunks, saplings, undergrowth. It had shut her in with a wall of green, and hurry in whatever direction she would, Barbara was always inclosed in apparently the same little cell of leaves.
Frightened, but with determination, she commenced to walk rapidly in the direction she believed would lead her out. The bushes now caught at her unheeded. She tore through briers, popples, moose-maples alike. The chiffon was sadly marred, the picture-hat stained and awry, the brave little shoes with their silver buckles and their pointed high heels were dull with wet. And suddenly, as the sun shadows began to lift in the late afternoon, her determined stock of fortitude quite ran out. She stopped short. All about her were the same straight towering trunks, the saplings, the undergrowth. Nothing had changed. It was useless.
She dropped to the ground and gave way to her wild terror, weeping with the gulping sobs of a frightened child, but even in extremity dabbing her eyes from time to time with an absurd tiny handkerchief of drawn-work border.
Poor little Barbara: she was lost!
After a while, subtly, she felt that someone was standing near her. She looked up.
The somebody was a man. He was young. Barbara saw three things—that he had kindly gray eyes, which just now were twinkling at her amusedly; that the handkerchief about his neck was clean; and that the line of his jaw was unusually clear cut and fine. An observant person would have noticed further that the young man carried a rifle and a pack, that he wore a heavily laden belt about his waist, and moccasins on his feet, that his blue-flannel shirt, though clean, was faded, that his skin was as brown as pine-bark. Barbara had no use for such details. The eye was kindly, the jaw was strong, the neatness indicated the gentleman. And a strong, kindly gentleman was just what poor little lost Barbara needed the most. Unconsciously she tilted her pointed chin forward adorably, and smiled.