Part 1 out of 12
Produced by Suzanne Shell, Beginners Projects, Maria Khomenko and
the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
[Illustration: He worked desperately. The heat of the flames began to
scorch his face and hands]
THE RULES OF THE GAME
STEWART EDWARD WHITE
ILLUSTRATED BY LEJAREN A. HILLER
1909, 1910, BY JAMES HORSBURGH, JR
1910, BY DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY
PUBLISHED, OCTOBER, 1910
_The geography in this novel may easily be recognized by one familiar
with the country. For that reason it is necessary to state that the
characters therein are in no manner to be confused with the people
actually inhabiting and developing that locality. The Power Company
promoted by Baker has absolutely nothing to do with any Power Company
utilizing any streams: the delectable Plant never exercised his talents
in Sierra North. The author must decline to acknowledge any
identifications of the sort. Plant and Baker and all the rest are,
however, only to a limited extent fictitious characters. What they did
and what they stood for is absolutely true._
He worked desperately. The heat of the flames began to scorch his face
The men calmly withdrew the long ribbon of steel and stood to one side.
"I beg pardon," said he. The girl turned.
Bob found it two hours' journey down.
Late one fall afternoon, in the year 1898, a train paused for a moment
before crossing a bridge over a river. From it descended a heavy-set,
elderly man. The train immediately proceeded on its way.
The heavy-set man looked about him. The river and the bottom-land
growths of willow and hardwood were hemmed in, as far as he could see,
by low-wooded hills. Only the railroad bridge, the steep embankment of
the right-of-way, and a small, painted, windowless structure next the
water met his eye as the handiwork of man. The windowless structure was
bleak, deserted and obviously locked by a strong padlock and hasp.
Nevertheless, the man, throwing on his shoulder a canvas duffle-bag with
handles, made his way down the steep railway embankment, across a plank
over the ditch, and to the edge of the water. Here he dropped his bag
heavily, and looked about him with an air of comical dismay.
The man was probably close to sixty years of age, but florid and
vigorous. His body was heavy and round; but so were his arms and legs.
An otherwise absolutely unprepossessing face was rendered most
attractive by a pair of twinkling, humorous blue eyes, set far apart.
Iron-gray hair, with a tendency to curl upward at the ends, escaped from
under his hat. His movements were slow and large and purposeful.
He rattled the padlock on the boathouse, looked at his watch, and sat
down on his duffle-bag. The wind blew strong up the river; the baring
branches of the willows whipped loose their yellow leaves. A dull,
leaden light stole up from the east as the afternoon sun lost its
By the end of ten minutes, however, the wind carried with it the creak
of rowlocks. A moment later a light, flat duck-boat shot around the bend
and drew up at the float.
"Well, Orde, you confounded old scallywattamus," remarked the man on the
duffle-bag, without moving, "is this your notion of meeting a train?"
The oarsman moored his frail craft and stepped to the float. He was
about ten years the other's junior, big of frame, tanned of skin, clear
of eye, and also purposeful of movement.
"This boathouse," he remarked incisively, "is the property of the Maple
County Duck Club. Trespassers will be prosecuted. Get off this float."
Then they clasped hands and looked at each other.
"It's surely like old times to see you again, Welton," Orde broke the
momentary silence. "It's been--let's see--fifteen years, hasn't it?
"Full of ducks," stated Welton emphatically, "and if you haven't
anything but mud hens and hell divers here, I'm going to sue you for
getting me here under false pretences. I want ducks."
"Well, I'll get the keeper to shoot you some," replied Orde, soothingly,
"or you can come out and see me kill 'em if you'll sit quiet and not
rock the boat. Climb aboard. It's getting late."
Welton threw aboard his duffle-bag, and, with a dexterity marvellous in
one apparently so unwieldy, stepped in astern. Orde grinned.
"Haven't forgotten how to ride a log, I reckon?" he commented.
"Look here, you little squirt!" he cried, "I'd have you know I'm riding
logs yet. I don't suppose you'd know a log if you'd see one, you'
soft-handed, degenerate, old riverhog, you! A golf ball's about your
"No," said Orde; "a fat old hippopotamus named Welton is about my
size--as I'll show you when we land at the Marsh!"
"How's Mrs. Orde and the little boy?" he inquired.
"Mrs. Orde is fine and dandy, and the 'little boy,' as you call him,
graduated from college last June," Orde replied.
"You don't say!" cried Welton, genuinely astounded. "Why, of course, he
must have! Can he lick his dad?"
"You bet he can--or could if his dad would give him a chance. Why, he's
been captain of the football team for two years."
"And football's the only game I'd come out of the woods to see," said
Welton. "I must have seen him up at Minneapolis when his team licked the
stuffing out of our boys; and I remember his name. But I never thought
of him as little Bobby--because--well, because I always did remember him
as little Bobby."
"He's big Bobby, now, all right," said Orde, "and that's one reason I
wanted to see you; why I asked you to run over from Chicago next time
you came down. Of course, there _are_ ducks, too."
"There'd better be!" said Welton grimly.
"I want Bob to go into the lumber business, same as his dad was. This
congressman game is all right, and I don't see how I can very well get
out of it, even if I wanted to. But, Welton, I'm a Riverman, and I
always will be. It's in my bones. I want Bob to grow up in the smell of
the woods--same as his dad. I've always had that ambition for him. It
was the one thing that made me hesitate longest about going to
Washington. I looked forward to _Orde & Son_."
He was resting on his oars, and the duck-boat drifted silently by the
swaying brown reeds.
"I want you to take him and break him in. I'd rather have you than any
one I know. You're the only one of the outsiders who stayed by the Big
Jam," Orde continued. "Don't try to favour him--that's no favour. If he
doesn't make good, fire him. Don't tell any of your people that he's the
son of a friend. Let him stand on his own feet. If he's any good we'll
work him into the old game. Just give him a job, and keep an eye on him
for me, to see how well he does."
"Jack, the job's his," said Welton. "But it won't do him much good,
because it won't last long. We're cleaned up in Minnesota; and have only
an odd two years on some odds and ends we picked up in Wisconsin just to
keep us busy."
"What are you going to do then?" asked Orde, quietly dipping his oars
"I'm going to retire and enjoy life."
Orde laughed quietly.
"Yes, you are!" said he. "You'd have a high old time for a calendar
month. Then you'd get uneasy. You'd build you a big house, which would
keep you mad for six months more. Then you'd degenerate to buying
subscription books, and wheezing around a club and going by the cocktail
route. You'd look sweet retiring, now, wouldn't you?"
Welton grinned back, a trifle ruefully.
"You can no more retire than I can," Orde went on. "And as for enjoying
life, I'll trade jobs with you in a minute, you ungrateful old idiot."
"I know it, Jack," confessed Welton; "but what can I do? I can't pick up
any more timber at any price. I tell you, the game is played out. We're
old mossbacks; and our job is done."
"I have five hundred million feet of sugar pine in California. What do
you say to going in with me to manufacture?"
"The hell you have!" cried Welton, his jaw dropping. "I didn't know
"Neither does anybody else. I bought it twenty years ago, under a
corporation name. I was the whole corporation. Called myself the
"You own the Wolverine property, do you?"
"Yes; ever hear of it?"
"I know where it is. I've been out there trying to get hold of
something, but you have the heart of it."
"Thought you were going to retire," Orde pointed out.
"The property's all right, but I've some sort of notion the title is
"Can't seem to remember; but I must have come against some record
somewhere. Didn't pay extra much attention, because I wasn't interested
in that piece. Something to do with fraudulent homesteading, wasn't it?"
Orde dropped his oars across his lap to fill and light a pipe.
"That title was deliberately clouded by an enemy to prevent my raising
money at the time of the Big Jam, when I was pinched," said he. "Frank
Taylor straightened it out for me. You can see him. As a matter of fact,
most of that land I bought outright from the original homesteaders, and
the rest from a bank. I was very particular. There's one 160 I wouldn't
take on that account."
"Well, that's all right," said Welton, his jolly eyes twinkling. "Why
"I wanted a business for Bob when he should grow up," explained Orde;
"but I didn't want any of this 'rich man's son' business. Nothing's
worse for a boy than to feel that everything's cut and dried for him. He
is to understand that he must go to work for somebody else, and stand
strictly on his own feet, and make good on his own efforts. That's why I
want you to break him in."
"All right. And about this partnership?"
"I want you to take charge. I can't leave Washington. We'll get down to
details later. Bob can work for you there the same as here. By and by,
we'll see whether to tell him or not."
The twilight had fallen, and the shores of the river were lost in dusk.
The surface of the water itself shone with an added luminosity,
reflecting the sky. In the middle distance twinkled a light, beyond
which in long stretches lay the sombre marshes.
"That's the club," said Orde. "Now, if you disgrace me, you old duffer,
I'll use you as a decoy!"
A few moments later the two men, opening the door of the shooting-box,
plunged into a murk of blue tobacco smoke. A half-dozen men greeted them
boisterously. These were just about to draw lots for choice of blinds on
the morrow. A savoury smell of roasting ducks came from the tiny kitchen
where Weber--punter, keeper, duck-caller and cook--exercised the
last-named function. Welton drew last choice, and was commiserated on
his bad fortune. No one offered to give way to the guest, however. On
this point the rules of the Club were inflexible.
Luckily the weather changed. It turned cold; the wind blew a gale.
Squalls of light snow swept the marshes. Men chattered and shivered, and
blew on their wet fingers, but in from the great open lake came myriads
of water-fowl, seeking shelter, and the sport was grand.
"Well, old stick-in-the-mud," said Orde as, at the end of two days, the
men thawed out in a smoking car, "ducks enough for you?"
"Jack," said Welton solemnly, "there are no ducks in Minnesota. They've
all come over here. I've had the time of my life. And about that other
thing: as soon as our woods work is under way, I'll run out to
California and look over the ground--see how easy it is to log that
country. Then we can talk business. In the meantime, send Bob over to
the Chicago office. I'll let Harvey break him in a little on the office
work until I get back. When will he show up?"
Orde grinned apologetically.
"The kid has set his heart on coaching the team this fall, and he don't
want to go to work until after the season," said he. "I'm just an old
fool enough to tell him he could wait. I know he ought to be at it
now--you and I were, long before his age; but----"
"Oh, shut up!" interrupted Welton, his big body shaking all over with
mirth. "You talk like a copy-book. I'm not a constituent, and you
needn't run any bluffs on me. You're tickled to death with that boy, and
you are hoping that team will lick the everlasting daylights out of
Chicago, Thanksgiving; and you wouldn't miss the game or have Bob out of
the coaching for the whole of California; and you know it. Send him
along when you get ready."
Bob Orde, armed with a card of introduction to Fox, Welton's office
partner, left home directly after Thanksgiving. He had heard much of
Welton & Fox in the past, both from his father and his father's
associates. The firm name meant to him big things in the past history of
Michigan's industries, and big things in the vague, large life of the
Northwest. Therefore, he was considerably surprised, on finding the
firm's Adams Street offices, to observe their comparative
He made his way into a narrow entry, containing merely a high desk, a
safe, some letter files, and two bookkeepers. Then, without challenge,
he walked directly into a large apartment, furnished as simply, with
another safe, a typewriter, several chairs, and a large roll-top desk.
At the latter a man sprawled, reading a newspaper. Bob looked about for
a further door closed on an inner private office, where the weighty
business must be transacted. There was none. The tall, broad, lean young
man hesitated, looking about him with a puzzled expression in his
earnest young eyes. Could this be the heart and centre of those vast and
far-reaching activities he had heard so much about?
After a moment the man in the revolving chair looked up shrewdly over
his paper. Bob felt himself the object of an instant's searching
scrutiny from a pair of elderly steel-gray eyes.
"Well?" said the man, briefly.
"I am looking for Mr. Fox," explained Bob.
"I am Fox."
The young man moved forward his great frame with the easy,
loose-jointed grace of the trained athlete. Without comment he handed
his card of introduction to the seated man. The latter glanced at it,
then back to the young fellow before him.
"Glad to see you, Mr. Orde," he unbent slightly. "I've been expecting
you. If you're as good a man as your father, you'll succeed. If you're
not as good a man as your father, you may get on--well enough. But
you've got to be some good on your own account. We'll see." He raised
his voice slightly. "Jim!" he called.
One of the two bookkeepers appeared in the doorway.
"This is young Mr. Orde," Fox told him. "You knew his father at Monrovia
The bookkeeper examined Bob dispassionately.
"Harvey is our head man here," went on Fox. "He'll take charge of you."
He swung his leg over the arm of his chair and resumed his newspaper.
After a few moments he thrust the crumpled sheet into a huge waste
basket and turned to his desk, where he speedily lost himself in a mass
of letters and papers.
Harvey disappeared. Bob stood for a moment, then took a seat by the
window, where he could look out over the smoky city and catch a glimpse
of the wintry lake beyond. As nothing further occurred for some time, he
removed his overcoat, and gazed about him with interest on the framed
photographs of logging scenes and camps that covered the walls. At the
end of ten minutes Harvey returned from the small outer office. Harvey
was, perhaps, fifty-five years of age, exceeding methodical, very
"Can you run a typewriter?" he inquired.
"A little," said Bob.
"Well, copy this, with a carbon duplicate."
Bob took the paper Harvey extended to him. He found it to be a list,
including hundreds of items. The first few lines were like this:
Sec. 4 T, 6 N.R., 26 W S.W. 1/4 of N.W. 1/4
4 6 26 N.W. 1/4 of N.W. 1/4
4 6 26 S.W. 1/4 of S.W. 1/4
5 6 26 S.W. 1/4 of N.W. 1/4
5 6 26 S.E. 1/4 of N.W. 1/4
After an interminable sequence, another of the figures would change, or
a single letter of the alphabet would shift. And so on, column after
column. Bob had not the remotest notion of what it all meant, but he
copied it and handed the result to Harvey. In a few moments Harvey
"Did you verify this?" he asked.
"What?" Bob inquired.
"Verify it, check it over, compare it," snapped Harvey, impatiently.
Bob took the list, and with infinite pains which, nevertheless, could
not prevent him from occasionally losing the place in the bewilderment
of so many similar figures, he managed to discover that he had omitted
three and miscopied two. He corrected these mistakes with ink and
returned the list to Harvey. Harvey looked sourly at the ink marks, and
gave the boy another list to copy.
Bob found this task, which lasted until noon, fully as exhilarating as
the other. When he returned his copies he ventured an inquiry.
"What are these?" he asked.
"Descriptions," snapped Harvey.
In time he managed to reason out the fact that they were descriptions of
land; that each item of the many hundreds meant a separate tract. Thus
the first line of his first copy, translated, would have read as
"The southwest quarter of the northwest quarter of section number four,
township number six, north, range number twenty-six, west."
--And that it represented forty acres of timber land. The stupendous
nature of such holdings made him gasp, and he gasped again when he
realized that each of his mistakes meant the misplacement on the map of
enough for a good-sized farm. Nevertheless, as day succeeded day, and
the lists had no end, the mistakes became more difficult to avoid. The
S, W, E, and N keys on the typewriter bothered him, hypnotized him,
forced him to strike fantastic combinations of their own. Once Harvey
entered to point out to him an impossible N.S.
Over his lists Harvey, the second bookkeeper, and Fox held long
consultations. Then Bob leaned back in his office chair to examine for
the hundredth time the framed photographs of logging crews, winter
scenes in the forest, record loads of logs; and to speculate again on
the maps, deer heads, and hunting trophies. At first they had appealed
to his imagination. Now they had become too familiar. Out the window
were the palls of smoke, gigantic buildings, crevasse-like streets, and
swirling winds of Chicago.
Occasionally men would drift in, inquiring for the heads of the firm.
Then Fox would hang one leg over the arm of his swinging chair, light a
cigar, and enter into desultory conversation. To Bob a great deal of
time seemed thus to be wasted. He did not know that big deals were
decided in apparently casual references to business.
Other lists varied the monotony. After he had finished the tax lists he
had to copy over every description a second time, with additional
statistics opposite each, like this:
S.W. 1/4 of N.W. 1/4, T. 4 N.R., 17, W. Sec. 32,
W.P. 68, N. 16, H. 5.
The last characters translated into: "White pine, 68,000 feet; Norway
pine, 16,000 feet; hemlock, 5,000 feet," and that inventoried the
standing timber on the special forty acres.
And occasionally he tabulated for reference long statistics on how Camp
14 fed its men for 32 cents a day apiece, while Camp 32 got it down to
That was all, absolutely all, except that occasionally they sent him
out to do an errand, or let him copy a wordy contract with a great many
_whereases_ and _wherefores_.
Bob little realized that nine-tenths of this timber--all that wherein S
P (sugar pine) took the place of W P--was in California, belonged to his
own father, and would one day be his. For just at this time the
principal labour of the office was in checking over the estimates on the
Bob did his best because he was a true sportsman, and he had entered the
game, but he did not like it, and the slow, sleepy monotony of the
office, with its trivial tasks which he did not understand, filled him
with an immense and cloying languor. The firm seemed to be dying of the
sleeping sickness. Nothing ever happened. They filed their interminable
statistics, and consulted their interminable books, and marked squares
off their interminable maps, and droned along their monotonous,
unimportant life in the same manner day after day. Bob was used to
out-of-doors, used to exercise, used to the animation of free human
intercourse. He watched the clock in spite of himself. He made mistakes
out of sheer weariness of spirit, and in the footing of the long columns
of figures he could not summon to his assistance the slow, painstaking
enthusiasm for accuracy which is the sole salvation of those who would
get the answer. He was not that sort of chap.
But he was not a quitter, either. This was life. He tried
conscientiously to do his best in it. Other men did; so could he.
The winter moved on somnolently. He knew he was not making a success.
Harvey was inscrutable, taciturn, not to be approached. Fox seemed to
have forgotten his official existence, although he was hearty enough in
his morning greetings to the young man. The young bookkeeper, Archie,
was more friendly, but even he was a being apart, alien, one of the
strangely accurate machines for the putting down and docketing of these
innumerable and unimportant figures. He would have liked to know and
understand Bob, just as the latter would have liked to know and
understand him, but they were separated by a wide gulf in which whirled
the nothingnesses of training and temperament. However, Archie often
pointed out mistakes to Bob before the sardonic Harvey discovered them.
Harvey never said anything. He merely made a blue pencil mark in the
margin, and handed the document back. But the weariness of his smile!
One day Bob was sent to the bank. His business there was that of an
errand boy. Discovering it to be sleeting, he returned for his overcoat.
Harvey was standing rigid in the door of the inner office, talking to
"He has an ingrained inaccuracy. He will never do for business," Bob
Archie looked at him pityingly.
The winter wore away. Bob dragged himself out of bed every morning at
half-past six, hurried through a breakfast, caught a car--and hoped that
the bridge would be closed. Otherwise he would be late at the office,
which would earn him Harvey's marked disapproval. Bob could not see that
it mattered much whether he was late or not. Generally he had nothing
whatever to do for an hour or so. At noon he ate disconsolately at a
cheap saloon restaurant. At five he was free to go out among his own
kind--with always the thought before him of the alarm clock the
One day he sat by the window, his clean, square chin in his hand, his
eyes lost in abstraction. As he looked, the winter murk parted
noiselessly, as though the effect were prearranged; a blue sky shone
through on a glint of bluer water; and, wonder of wonders, there through
the grimy dirty roar of Adams Street a single, joyful robin note flew up
At once a great homesickness overpowered him. He could see plainly the
half-sodden grass of the campus, the budding trees, the red "gym"
building, and the crowd knocking up flies. In a little while the shot
putters and jumpers would be out in their sweaters. Out at Regents'
Field the runners were getting into shape. Bob could almost hear the
creak of the rollers smoothing out the tennis courts; he could almost
recognize the voices of the fellows perching about, smell the fragrant
reek of their pipes, savour the sweet spring breeze. The library clock
boomed four times, then clanged the hour. A rush of feet from all the
recitation rooms followed as a sequence, the opening of doors, the
murmur of voices, occasionally a shout. Over it sounded the sharp,
half-petulant advice of the coaches and the little trainer to the
athletes. It was getting dusk. The campus was emptying. Through the
trees shone lights. And Bob looked up, as he had so often done before,
to see the wonder of the great dome against the afterglow of sunset.
Harvey was examining him with some curiosity.
"Copied those camp reports?" he inquired.
Bob glanced hastily at the clock. He had been dreaming over an hour.
A little later Fox came in; and a little after that Harvey returned
bringing in his hand the copies of the camp reports, but instead of
taking them directly to Bob for correction, as had been his habit, he
laid them before Fox. The latter picked them up and examined them. In a
moment he dropped them on his desk.
"Do you mean to tell me," he demanded of Harvey, "that _seventeen_ only
ran ten thousand? Why, it's preposterous! Saw it myself. It has a
half-million on it, if there's a stick. Let's see Parsons's letter."
While Harvey was gone, Fox read further in the copy.
"See here, Harvey," he cried, "something's dead wrong. We never cut all
this hemlock. Why, hemlock's 'way down."
Harvey laid the original on the desk. After a second Fox's face cleared.
"Why, this is all right. There were 480,000 on _seventeen_. And that
hemlock seems to have got in the wrong column. You want to be a little
more careful, Jim. Never knew that to happen before. Weren't out with
the boys last night, were you?"
But Harvey refused to respond to frivolity.
"It's never happened before because I never let it happen before," he
replied stiffly. "There have been mistakes like that, and worse, in
almost every report we've filed. I've cut them out. Now, Mr. Fox, I
don't have much to say, but I'd rather do a thing myself than do it over
after somebody else. We've got a good deal to keep track of in this
office, as you know, without having to go over everybody else's work
"H'm," said Fox, thoughtfully. Then after a moment, "I'll see about it."
Harvey went back to the outer office, and Fox turned at once to Bob.
"Well, how is it?" he asked. "How did it happen?"
"I don't know," replied Bob. "I'm trying, Mr. Fox. Don't think it isn't
that. But it's new to me, and I can't seem to get the hang of it right
"I see. How long you been here?"
"A little over four months."
Fox swung back in his chair leisurely.
"You must see you're not fair to Harvey," he announced. "That man
carries the details of four businesses in his head, he practically does
the clerical work for them all, and he never seems to hurry. Also, he
can put his hand without hesitation on any one of these documents," he
waved his hand about the room. "I can't."
He stopped to light the stub of a long-extinct cigar.
"I can't make it hard for that sort of man. So I guess we'll have to
take you out of the office. Still, I promised Welton to give you a good
try-out. Then, too, I'm not satisfied in my own mind. I can see you are
trying. Either you're a damn fool or this college education racket has
had the same effect on you as on most other young cubs. If you're the
son of your father, you can't be entirely a damn fool. If it's the
college education, that will probably wear off in time. Anyhow, I think
I'll take you up to the mill. You can try the office there. Collins is
easy to get on with, and of course there isn't the same responsibility
In the buffeting of humiliation Bob could not avoid a fleeting inner
smile over this last remark. Responsibility! In this sleepy, quiet
backwater of a tenth-floor office, full of infinite little statistics
that led nowhere, that came to no conclusion except to be engulfed in
dark files with hundreds of their own kind, aimless, useless, annoying
as so many gadflies! Then he set his face for the further remarks.
"Navigation will open this week," Fox's incisive tones went on, "and our
hold-overs will be moved now. It will be busy there. We shall take the
eight o'clock train to-night." He glanced sharply at Bob's lean, set
face. "I assume you'll go?"
Bob was remembering certain trying afternoons on the field when as
captain, and later as coach, he had told some very high-spirited boys
what he considered some wholesome truths. He was remembering the various
ways in which they had taken his remarks.
"Yes, sir," he replied.
"Well, you can go home now and pack up," said Fox. "Jim!" he shot out in
his penetrating voice; then to Harvey, "Make out Orde's check."
Bob closed his desk, and went into the outer office to receive his
check. Harvey handed it to him without comment, and at once turned back
to his books. Bob stood irresolute a moment, then turned away without
But Archie followed him into the hall.
"I'm mighty sorry, old man," he whispered, furtively. "Did you get the
"I'm going up to the mill office," replied Bob.
"Oh!" the other commiserated him. Then with an effort to see the best
side, "Still you could hardly expect to jump right into the head office
at first. I didn't much think you could hold down a job here. You see
there's too much doing here. Well, good-bye. Good luck to you, old man."
There it was again, the insistence on the responsibility, the activity,
the importance of that sleepy, stuffy little office with its two men at
work, its leisure, its aimlessness. On his way to the car-line Bob
stopped to look in at an open door. A dozen men were jumping truck loads
of boxes here and there. Another man in a peaked cap and a silesia coat,
with a pencil behind his ear and a manifold book sticking out of his
pocket shouted orders, consulted a long list, marked boxes and scribbled
in a shipping book. Dim in the background huge freight elevators rose
and fell, burdened with the mass of indeterminate things. Truck horses,
great as elephants, magnificently harnessed with brass ornaments, drew
drays, big enough to carry a small house, to the loading platform where
they were quickly laden and sent away. From an opened upper window came
the busy click of many typewriters. Order in apparent confusion, immense
activity at a white heat, great movement, the clanging of the wheels of
commerce, the apparition and embodiment of restless industry--these
appeared and vanished, darted in and out, were plain to be seen and were
vague through the murk and gloom. Bob glanced up at the emblazoned sign.
He read the firm's name of well-known wholesale grocers. As he crossed
the bridge and proceeded out Lincoln Park Boulevard two figures rose to
him and stood side by side. One was the shipping clerk in his peaked cap
and silesia coat, hurried, busy, commanding, full of responsibility; the
other was Harvey, with his round, black skull cap, his great, gold-bowed
spectacles, entering minutely, painstakingly, deliberately, his neat
little figures in a neat, large book.
The train stopped about noon at a small board town. Fox and Bob
descended. The latter drew his lungs full of the sparkling clear air and
felt inclined to shout. The thing that claimed his attention most
strongly was the dull green band of the forest, thick and impenetrable
to the south, fringing into ragged tamaracks on the east, opening into a
charming vista of a narrowing bay to the west. Northward the land ran
down to sandpits and beyond them tossed the vivid white and blue of the
Lake. Then when his interest had detached itself from the predominant
note of the imminent wilderness, predominant less from its physical
size--for it lay in remote perspective--than from a certain indefinable
and psychological right of priority, Bob's eye was at once drawn to the
huge red-painted sawmill, with its very tall smokestacks, its row of
water barrels along the ridge, its uncouth and separate conical sawdust
burner, and its long lines of elevated tramways leading out into the
lumber yard where was piled the white pine held over from the season
before. As Bob looked, a great, black horse appeared on one of these
aerial tramways, silhouetted against the sky. The beast moved
accurately, his head held low against his chest, his feet lifted and
planted with care. Behind him rumbled a whole train of little cars each
laden with planks. On the foremost sat a man, his shoulders bowed,
driving the horse. They proceeded slowly, leisurely, without haste,
against the brightness of the sky. The spider supports below them seemed
strangely inadequate to their mass, so that they appeared in an occult
manner to maintain their elevation by some buoyancy of their own, some
quality that sustained them not only in their distance above the earth
but in a curious, decorative, extra-human world of their own. After a
moment they disappeared behind the tall piles of lumber.
Against the sky, now, the place of the elephantine black horse and the
little tram cars and the man was taken by the masts of ships lying
beyond. They rose straight and tall, their cordage like spider webs, in
a succession of regular spaces until they were lost behind the mill.
From the exhaust of the mill's engine a jet of white steam shot up
sparkling. Close on its apparition sounded the exultant, high-keyed
shriek of the saw. It ceased abruptly. Then Bob became conscious of a
heavy _rud, thud_ of mill machinery.
All this time he and Fox were walking along a narrow board walk,
elevated two or three feet above the sawdust-strewn street. They passed
the mill and entered the cool shade of the big lumber piles. Along their
base lay half-melted snow. Soggy pools soaked the ground in the exposed
places. Bob breathed deep of the clear air, keenly conscious of the
freshness of it after the murky city. A sweet and delicate odour was
abroad, an odour elusive yet pungent, an aroma of the open. The young
man sniffed it eagerly, this essence of fresh sawdust, of new-cut pine,
of sawlogs dripping from the water, of faint old reminiscence of cured
lumber standing in the piles of the year before, and more fancifully of
the balsam and spruce, the hemlock and pine of the distant forest.
"Great!" he cried aloud, "I never knew anything like it! What a country
to train in!"
"All this lumber here is going to be sold within the next two months,"
said Fox with the first approach to enthusiasm Bob had ever observed in
him. "All of it. It's got to be carried down to the docks, and tallied
there, and loaded in those vessels. The mill isn't much--too
old-fashioned. We saw with 'circulars' instead of band-saws. Not like
our Minnesota mills. We bought the plant as it stands. Still we turn
out a pretty good cut every day, and it has to be run out and piled."
They stepped abruptly, without transition, into the town. A double row
of unpainted board shanties led straight to the water's edge. This row
was punctuated by four buildings different from the rest--a huge
rambling structure with a wide porch over which was suspended a large
bell; a neatly painted smaller building labelled "Office"; a trim house
surrounded by what would later be a garden; and a square-fronted store.
The street between was soft and springy with sawdust and finely broken
shingles. Various side streets started out bravely enough, but soon
petered out into stump land. Along one of them were extensive stables.
Bob followed his conductor in silence. After an interval they mounted
short steps and entered the office.
Here Bob found himself at once in a small entry railed off from the main
room by a breast-high line of pickets strong enough to resist a
battering-ram. A man he had seen walking across from the mill was
talking rapidly through a tiny wicket, emphasizing some point on a
soiled memorandum by the indication of a stubby forefinger. He was a
short, active, blue-eyed man, very tanned. Bob looked at him with
interest, for there was something about him the young man did not
recognize, something he liked--a certain independent carriage of the
head, a certain self-reliance in the set of his shoulders, a certain
purposeful directness of his whole personality. When he caught sight of
Fox he turned briskly, extending his hand.
"How are you, Mr. Fox?" he greeted. "Just in?"
"Hullo, Johnny," replied Fox, "how are things? I see you're busy."
"Yes, we're busy," replied the man, "and we'll keep busy."
"Everything going all right?"
"Pretty good. Poor lot of men this year. A good many of the old men
haven't showed up this year--some sort of pull-out to Oregon and
California. I'm having a little trouble with them off and on."
"I'll bet on you to stay on top," replied Fox easily. "I'll be over to
see you pretty soon."
The man nodded to the bookkeeper with whom he had been talking, and
turned to go out. As he passed Bob, that young man was conscious of a
keen, gimlet scrutiny from the blue eyes, a scrutiny instantaneous, but
which seemed to penetrate his very flesh to the soul of him. He
experienced a distinct physical shock as at the encountering of an
He came to himself to hear Fox saying:
"That's Johnny Mason, our mill foreman. He has charge of all the sawing,
and is a mighty good man. You'll see more of him."
The speaker opened a gate in the picket railing and stepped inside.
A long shelf desk, at which were high stools, backed up against the
pickets; a big round stove occupied the centre; a safe crowded one
corner. Blue print maps decorated the walls. Coarse rope matting edged
with tin strips protected the floor. A single step down through a door
led into a painted private office where could be seen a flat table desk.
In the air hung a mingled odour of fresh pine, stale tobacco, and the
closeness of books.
Fox turned at once sharply to the left and entered into earnest
conversation with a pale, hatchet-faced man of thirty-five, whom he
addressed as "Collins." In a moment he turned, beckoning Bob forward.
"Here's a youngster for you, Collins," said he, evidently continuing
former remarks. "Young Mr. Orde. He's been in our home office awhile,
but I brought him up to help you out. He can get busy on your tally
sheets and time checks and tally boards, and sort of ease up the strain
"I can use him, right now," said Collins, nervously smoothing back a
strand of his pale hair. "Glad to meet you, Mr. Orde. These 'jumpers' ...
and that confounded mixed stuff from _seventeen_ ..." he trailed off, his
eye glazing in the abstraction of some inner calculation, his long,
nervous fingers reaching unconsciously toward the soiled memoranda left
"Well, I'll set you to work," he roused himself, when he perceived that
the two were about to leave him. And almost before they had time to turn
away he was busy at the papers, his pencil, beautifully pointed, running
like lightning down the long columns, pausing at certain places as
though by instinct, hovering the brief instant necessary to calculation,
then racing on as though in pursuit of something elusive.
As they turned away a slow, cool voice addressed them from behind the
"Hullo, bub!" it drawled.
Fox's face lighted and he extended both hands.
"Well, Tally!" he cried. "You old snoozer!"
The man was upward of sixty years of age, but straight and active. His
features were tanned a deep mahogany, and carved by the years and
exposure into lines of capability and good humour. In contrast to this
brown his sweeping white moustache and bushy eyebrows, blenched flaxen
by the sun, showed strongly. His little blue eyes twinkled, and fine
wrinkles at their corners helped the twinkles. His long figure was so
heavily clothed as to be concealed from any surmise, except that it was
gaunt and wiry. Hands gnarled, twisted, veined, brown, seemed less like
flesh than like some skilful Japanese carving. On his head he wore a
visored cap with an extraordinary high crown; on his back a rather dingy
coat cut from a Mackinaw blanket; on his legs trousers that had been
"stagged" off just below the knees, heavy German socks, and shoes nailed
with sharp spikes at least three-quarters of an inch in length.
"Thought you were up in the woods!" Fox was exclaiming. "Where's
"He's walkin' white water," replied the old man.
"Things going well?"
"Damn poor," admitted Tally frankly. "That is to say, the Whitefish
branch is off. There's trouble with the men. They're a mixed lot. Then
there's old Meadows. He's assertin' his heaven-born rights some more.
It's all right. We're on their backs. Other branches just about down."
There followed a rapid exchange of which Bob could make little--talk of
flood water, of "plugging" and "pulling," of "winging out," of "white
water." It made no sense, and yet somehow it thrilled him, as at times
the mere roll of Greek names used to arouse in his breast vague emotions
of grandeur and the struggle of mighty forces.
Still talking, the two men began slowly to move toward the inner office.
Suddenly Fox seemed to remember his companion's existence.
"By the way, Jim," he said, "I want you to know one of our new men,
young Mr. Orde. You've worked for his father. This is Jim Tally, and
he's one of the best rivermen, the best woodsman, the best boss of men
old Michigan ever turned out. He walked logs before I was born."
"Glad to know you, Mr. Orde," said Tally, quite unmoved.
The two left Bob to his own devices. The old riverman and the
astonishingly thawed and rejuvenated Mr. Fox disappeared in the private
office. Bob proffered a question to the busy Collins, discovered himself
free until afternoon, and so went out through the office and into the
clear open air.
He headed at once across the wide sawdust area toward the mill and the
lake. A great curiosity, a great interest filled him. After a moment he
found himself walking between tall, leaning stacks of lumber, piled
crosswise in such a manner that the sweet currents of air eddied through
the interstices between the boards and in the narrow, alley-like spaces
between the square and separate stacks. A coolness filled these streets,
a coolness born of the shade in which they were cast, the freshness of
still unmelted snow lying in patches, the quality of pine with its faint
aromatic pitch smell and its suggestion of the forest. Bob wandered on
slowly, his hands in his pockets. For the time being his more active
interest was in abeyance, lulled by the subtle, elusive phantom of
grandeur suggested in the aloofness of this narrow street fronted by its
square, skeleton, windowless houses through which the wind rattled.
After a little he glimpsed blue through the alleys between. Then a side
street offered, full of sun. He turned down it a few feet, and found
himself standing over an inlet of the lake.
Then for the first time he realized that he had been walking on "made
ground." The water chugged restlessly against the uneven ends of the
lath-like slabs, thousands of them laid, side by side, down to and below
the water's surface. They formed a substructure on which the sawdust
had been heaped. Deep shadows darted from their shelter and withdrew,
following the play of the little waves. The lower slabs were black with
the wet, and from them, too, crept a spicy odour set free by the
moisture. On a pile head sat an urchin fishing, with a long bamboo pole
many sizes too large for him. As Bob watched, he jerked forth diminutive
"Good work!" called Bob in congratulation.
The urchin looked up at the large, good-humoured man and grinned.
Bob retraced his steps to the street on which he had started out. There
he discovered a steep stairway, and by it mounted to the tramway above.
Along this he wandered for what seemed to him an interminable distance,
lost as in a maze among the streets and byways of this tenantless city.
Once he stepped aside to give passage to the great horse, or one like
him, and his train of little cars. The man driving nodded to him. Again
he happened on two men unloading similar cars, and passing the boards
down to other men below, who piled them skilfully, two end planks one
way, and then the next tier the other, in regular alternation. They wore
thick leather aprons, and square leather pieces strapped across the
insides of their hands as a protection against splinters. These, like
all other especial accoutrements, seemed to Bob somehow romantic, to be
desired, infinitely picturesque. He passed on with the clear,
yellow-white of the pine boards lingering back of his retina.
But now suddenly his sauntering brought him to the water front. The
tramway ended in a long platform running parallel to the edge of the
docks below. There were many little cars, both in the process of
unloading and awaiting their turn. The place swarmed with men, all
busily engaged in handing the boards from one to another as buckets are
passed at a fire. At each point where an unending stream of them passed
over the side of each ship, stood a young man with a long, flexible
rule. This he laid rapidly along the width of each board, and then as
rapidly entered a mark in a note-book. The boards seemed to move fairly
of their own volition, like a scutellate monster of many joints,
crawling from the cars, across the dock, over the side of the ship and
into the black hold where presumably it coiled. There were six ships;
six, many-jointed monsters creeping to their appointed places under the
urging of these their masters; six young men absorbed and busy at the
tallying; six crews panoplied in leather guiding the monsters to their
lairs. Here, too, the sun-warmed air arose sluggish with the aroma of
pitch, of lumber, of tar from the ships' cordage, of the wetness of
unpainted wood. Aloft in the rigging, clear against the sky, were
sailors in contrast of peaceful, leisurely industry to those who toiled
and hurried below. The masts swayed gently, describing an arc against
the heavens. The sailors swung easily to the motion. From below came the
quick dull sounds of planks thrown down, the grind of car wheels, the
movement of feet, the varied, complex sound of men working together, the
clapping of waters against the structure. It was confusing, confusing as
the noise of many hammers. Yet two things seemed to steady it, to
confine it, keep it in the bounds of order, to prevent it from usurping
more than its meet and proper proportion. One was the tingling lake
breeze singing through the rigging of the ship; the other was the idle
and intermittent whistling of one of the sailors aloft. And suddenly, as
though it had but just commenced, Bob again became aware of the saw
shrieking in ecstasy as it plunged into a pine log.
The sound came from the left, where at once he perceived the tall stacks
showing above the lumber piles, and the plume of white steam glittering
in the sun. In a moment the steam fell, and the shriek of the saw fell
with it. He turned to follow the tramway, and in so doing almost bumped
into Mason, the mill foreman.
"They're hustling it in," said the latter. "That's right. Can't give me
yard room any too soon. The drive'll be down next month. Plenty doing
then. Damn those Dutchmen!"
He spoke abstractedly, as though voicing his inner thoughts to himself,
unconscious of his companion. Then he roused himself.
"Going to the mill?" he asked. "Come on."
They walked along the high, narrow platform overlooking the water front
and the lading of the ships. Soon the trestles widened, the tracks
diverging like the fingers of a hand on the broad front to the second
story of the mill. Mason said something about seeing the whole of it,
and led the way along a narrow, railed outside passage to the other end
of the structure.
There Bob's attention was at once caught by a great water enclosure of
logs, lying still and sluggish in the manner of beasts resting. Rank
after rank, tier after tier, in strange patterns they lay, brown and
round, with the little strips of blue water showing between like a
fantastic pattern. While Bob looked, a man ran out over them. He was
dressed in short trousers, heavy socks, and spiked boots, and a faded
blue shirt. The young man watched with interest, old memories of his
early boyhood thronging back on him, before his people had moved from
Monrovia and the "booms." The man ran erratically, but with an accurate
purpose. Behind him the big logs bent in dignified reminiscence of his
tread, and slowly rolled over; the little logs bobbed frantically in a
turmoil of white water, disappearing and reappearing again and again,
sleek and wet as seals. To these the man paid no attention, but leaped
easily on, pausing on the timbers heavy enough to support him, barely
spurning those too small to sustain his weight. In a moment he stopped
abruptly without the transitorial balancing Bob would have believed
necessary, and went calmly to pushing mightily with a long pike-pole.
The log on which he stood rolled under the pressure; the man quite
mechanically kept pace with its rolling, treading it in correspondence
now one way, now the other. In a few moments thus he had forced the mass
of logs before him toward an inclined plane leading to the second story
of the mill.
Up this ran an endless chain armed with teeth. The man pushed one of the
logs against the chain; the teeth bit; at once, shaking itself free of
the water, without apparent effort, without haste, calmly and leisurely
as befitted the dignity of its bulk, the great timber arose. The water
dripped from it, the surface streamed, a cheerful _patter, patter_ of
the falling drops made itself heard beneath the mill noises. In a moment
the log disappeared beneath projecting eaves. Another was just behind
it, and behind that yet another, and another, like great patient beasts
rising from the coolness of a stream to follow a leader through the
narrowness, of pasture bars. And in the booms, up the river, as far as
the eye could see, were other logs awaiting their turn. And beyond them
the forest trees, straight and tall and green, dreaming of the time when
they should follow their brothers to the ships and go out into the
Mason was looking up the river.
"I've seen the time when she was piled thirty feet high there, and the
freshet behind her. That was ten year back."
"What?" asked Bob.
"A jam!" explained Mason.
He ducked his head below his shoulders and disappeared beneath the eaves
of the mill. Bob followed.
First it was dusky; then he saw the strip of bright yellow sunlight and
the blue bay in the opening below the eaves; then he caught the glitter
and whirr of the two huge saws, moving silently but with the deadly
menace of great speed on their axes. Against the light in irregular
succession, alternately blotting and clearing the foreground at the end
of the mill, appeared the ends of the logs coming up the incline. For a
moment they poised on the slant, then fell to the level, and glided
forward to a broad platform where they were ravished from the chain and
rolled into line.
Bob's eyes were becoming accustomed to the gloom. He made out pulleys,
belts, machinery, men. While he watched a black, crooked arm shot
vigorously up from the floor, hurried a log to the embrace of two
clamps, rolled it a little this way, a little that, hovered over it as
though in doubt as to whether it was satisfactorily placed, then plunged
to unknown depths as swiftly and silently as it had come. So abrupt and
purposeful were its movements, so detached did it seem from control,
that, just as when he was a youngster, Bob could not rid his mind of the
notion that it was possessed of volition, that it led a mysterious life
of its own down there in the shadows, that it was in the nature of an
intelligent and agile beast trained to apply its powers independently.
Bob remembered it as the "nigger," and looked about for the man standing
by a lever.
A momentary delay seemed to have occurred, owing to some obscure
difficulty. The man at the lever straightened his back. Suddenly all
that part of the floor seemed to start forward with extraordinary
swiftness. The log rushed down on the circular saw. Instantly the wild,
exultant shriek arose. The car went on, burying the saw, all but the
very top, from which a stream of sawdust flew up and back. A long, clean
slab fell to a succession of revolving rollers which carried it, passing
it from one to the other, far into the body of the mill. The car shot
back to its original position in front of the saw. The saw hummed an
undersong of strong vibration. Again it ploughed its way the length of
the timber. This time a plank with bark edges dropped on the rollers.
And when the car had flown back to its starting point the "nigger" rose
from obscurity to turn the log half way around.
They picked their way gingerly on. Bob looked back. Against the light
the two graceful, erect figures, immobile, but carried back and forth
over thirty feet with lightning rapidity; the brute masses of the logs;
the swift decisive forays of the "nigger," the unobtrusive figures of
the other men handling the logs far in the background; and the bright,
smooth, glittering, dangerous saws, clear-cut in outline by their very
speed, humming in anticipation, or shrieking like demons as they
bit--these seemed to him to swell in the dim light to the proportions of
something gigantic, primeval--to become forces beyond the experience of
to-day, typical of the tremendous power that must be invoked to subdue
the equally tremendous power of the wilderness.
He and Mason together examined the industriously working gang-saws, long
steel blades with the up-and-down motion of cutting cord-wood. They
passed the small trimming saws, where men push the boards between little
round saws to trim their edges. Bob noticed how the sawdust was carried
away automatically, and where the waste slabs went. They turned through
a small side room, strangely silent by contrast to the rest, where the
filer did his minute work. He was an old man, the filer, with
steel-rimmed, round spectacles, and he held Bob some time explaining how
important his position was.
They emerged finally to the broad, open platform with the radiating
tram-car tracks. Here Bob saw the finished boards trundled out on the
moving rollers to be transferred to the cars.
Mason left him. He made his way slowly back toward the office, noticing
on the way the curious pairs of huge wheels beneath which were slung the
heavy timbers or piles of boards for transportation at the level of the
At the edge of the lumber piles Bob looked back. The noises of industry
were in his ears; the blur of industry before his eyes; the clean, sweet
smell of pine in his nostrils. He saw clearly the row of ships and the
many-jointed serpent of boards making its way to the hold, the sailors
swinging aloft; the miles of ruminating brown logs, and the alert little
man zigzagging across them; the shadow of the mill darkening the water,
and the brown leviathan timbers rising dripping in regular succession
from them; the whirr of the deadly circular saws, and the calm, erect
men dominating the cars that darted back and forth; and finally the
sparkling white steam spraying suddenly against the intense blue of the
sky. Here was activity, business, industry, the clash of forces. He
admired the quick, compact alertness of Johnny Mason; he joyed in the
absorbed, interested activity of the brown young men with the scaler's
rules; he envied a trifle the muscle-stretching, physical labour of the
men with the leather aprons and hand-guards, piling the lumber. It was
good to draw in deep breaths of this air, to smell deeply of he
aromatic odours of the north.
Suddenly the mill whistle began to blow. Beneath the noise he could hear
the machinery beginning to run down. From all directions men came. They
converged in the central alley, hundreds of them. In a moment Bob was
caught up in their stream, and borne with them toward the
weather-stained shanty town.
Bob followed this streaming multitude to the large structure that had
earlier been pointed out to him as the boarding house. It was a
commodious affair with a narrow verandah to which led steps picked out
by the sharp caulks of the rivermen's boots. A round stove held the
place of honour in the first room. Benches flanked the walls. At one end
was a table-sink, and tin wash-basins, and roller towels. The men were
splashing and blowing in the plunge-in-all-over fashion of their class.
They emerged slicked down and fresh, their hair plastered wet to their
foreheads. After a moment a fat and motherly woman made an announcement
from a rear room. All trooped out.
The dining room was precisely like those Bob remembered from
recollections of the river camps of his childhood. There were the same
long tables covered with red oilcloth, the same pine benches worn smooth
and shiny, the same thick crockery, and the same huge receptacles
steaming with hearty--and well-cooked--food. Nowhere does the man who
labours with his hands fare better than in the average lumber camp.
Forest operations have a largeness in conception and execution that
leads away from the habit of the mean, small and foolish economics. At
one side, and near the windows, stood a smaller table. The covering of
this was turkey-red cloth with white pattern; it boasted a white-metal
"caster"; and possessed real chairs. Here Bob took his seat, in company
with Fox, Collins, Mason, Tally and the half-dozen active young fellows
he had seen handling the scaling rules near the ships.
At the men's tables the meal was consumed in a silence which Bob
learned later came nearer being obligatory than a matter of choice.
Conversation was discouraged by the good-natured fat woman, Mrs.
Hallowell. Talk delayed; and when one had dishes to wash----
The "boss's table" was more leisurely. Bob was introduced to the
sealers. They proved to be, with one exception, young fellows of
twenty-one or two, keen-eyed, brown-faced, alert and active. They
impressed Bob as belonging to the clerk class, with something added by
the outdoor, varied life. Indeed, later he discovered them to be sons of
carpenters, mechanics and other higher-class, intelligent workingmen;
boys who had gone through high school, and perhaps a little way into the
business college; ambitious youngsters, each with a different idea in
the back of his head. They had in common an air of capability, of
complete adequacy for the task in life they had selected. The sixth
sealer was much older and of the riverman type. He had evidently come up
from the ranks.
There was no general conversation. Talk confined itself strictly to
shop. Bob, his imagination already stirred by the incidents of his
stroll, listened eagerly. Fox was getting in touch with the whole
"The main drive is down," Tally told him, "but the Cedar Branch hasn't
got to the river yet. What in blazes did you want to buy that little
strip this late in the day for?"
"Had to take it--on a deal," said Fox briefly. "Why? Is it hard driving?
I've never been up there. Welton saw to all that."
"It's hell. The pine's way up at the headwaters. You have to drive her
the whole length of the stream, through a mixed hardwood and farm
country. Lots of partridges and mossbacks, but no improvements. Not a dam
the whole length of her. Case of hit the freshet water or get hung."
"Well, we've done that kind of a job before."
"Yes, _before_!" Tally retorted. "If I had a half-crew of good,
old-fashioned white-water birlers, I'd rest easy. But we don't have no
crews like we used to. The old bully boys have all moved out west--or
"Getting old--like us," bantered Fox. "Why haven't you died off too,
"I'm never going to die," stated the old man, "I'm going to live to turn
into a grindstone and wear out. But it's a fact. There's plenty left can
ride a log all right, but they're a tough lot. It's too close here to
"That _is_ too bad," condoled Fox, "especially as I remember so well
what a soft-spoken, lamb-like little tin angel you used to be, Jim."
Fox, who had quite dropped his old office self, winked at Bob. The
latter felt encouraged to say:
"I had a course in college on archaeology. Don't remember much about it,
but one thing. When they managed to decipher the oldest known piece of
hieroglyphics on an Assyrian brick, what do you suppose it turned out to
"Give it up, Brudder Bones," said Tally, dryly, "what was it?"
Bob flushed at the old riverman's tone, but went on.
"It was a letter from a man to his son away at school. In it he lamented
the good old times when he was young, and gave it as his opinion that
the world was going to the dogs."
Tally grinned slowly; and the others burst into a shout of laughter.
"All right, bub," said the riverman good-humouredly. "But that doesn't
get me a new foreman." He turned to Fox. "Smith broke his leg; and I
can't find a man to take charge. I can't go. The main drive's got to be
"There ought to be plenty of good men," said Fox.
"There are, but they're at work."
"Dicky Darrell is over at Marion," spoke up one of the scalers.
"Roaring Dick," said Tally sarcastically, "--but there's no denying
he's a good man in the woods. But if he's at Marion, he's drunk; and if
he's drunk, you can't do nothing with him."
"I heard it three days ago," said the scaler.
Tally ruminated. "Well," he concluded, "maybe he's about over with his
bust. I'll run over this afternoon and see what I can do with him. If
Tom Welton would only tear himself apart from California, we'd get on
A scraping back of benches and a tramp of feet announced the nearly
simultaneous finishing of feeding at the men's tables. At the boss's
table everyone seized an unabashed toothpick. Collins addressed Bob.
"Mr. Fox and I have so much to go over this afternoon," said he, "that I
don't believe I'll have time to show you. Just look around a little."
On the porch outside Bob paused. After a moment he became aware of a
figure at his elbow. He turned to see old Jim Tally bent over to light
his pipe behind the mahogany of his curved hand.
"Want to take in Marion, bub?" he enquired.
"Sure!" cried Bob heartily, surprised at this mark of favour.
"Come on then," said the old riverman, "the lightning express is gettin'
anxious for us."
They tramped to the station and boarded the single passenger car of the
accommodation. There they selected a forward seat and waited patiently
for the freight-handling to finish and for the leisurely puffing little
engine to move on. An hour later they descended at Marion. The journey
had been made in an almost absolute silence. Tally stared straight
ahead, and sucked at his little pipe. To him, apparently, the journey
was merely something to be endured; and he relapsed into that patient
absent-mindedness developed among those who have to wait on forces that
will not be hurried. Bob's remarks he answered in monosyllables. When
the train pulled into the station, Tally immediately arose, as though
released by a spring.
Bob's impressions of Marion were of great mills and sawdust-burners
along a wide river; of broad, sawdust-covered streets; of a single block
of good, brick stores on a main thoroughfare which almost immediately
petered out into the vilest and most ramshackle frame "joints"; of wide
side streets flanked by small, painted houses in yards, some very neat
indeed. Tally walked rapidly by the respectable business blocks, but
pushed into the first of the unkempt frame saloons beyond. Bob followed
close at his heels. He found himself in a cheap bar-room, its paint and
varnish scarred and marred, its floor sawdust-covered, its centre
occupied by a huge stove, its walls decorated by several pictures of the
Four men were playing cards at an old round table, hacked and bruised
and blackened by time. One of them was the barkeeper, a burly individual
with black hair plastered in a "lick" across his forehead. He pushed
back his chair and ducked behind the bar, whence he greeted the
newcomers. Tally proffered a question. The barkeeper relaxed from his
professional attitude, and leaned both elbows on the bar. The two
conversed for a moment; then Tally nodded briefly and went out. Bob
This performance was repeated down the length of the street. The
stage-settings varied little; same oblong, painted rooms; same varnished
bars down one side; same mirrors and bottles behind them; same
sawdust-strewn floors; same pictures on the walls; same obscure, back
rooms; same sleepy card games by the same burly but sodden type of men.
This was the off season. Profits were now as slight as later they would
be heavy. Tim talked with the barkeepers low-voiced, nodded and went
out. Only when he had systematically worked both sides of the street did
he say anything to his companion.
"He's in town," said Tally; "but they don't know where."
"Whither away?" asked Bob.
"Across the river."
They walked together down a side street to a long wooden bridge. This
rested on wooden piers shaped upstream like the prow of a ram in order
to withstand the battering of the logs. It was a very long bridge.
Beneath it the swift current of the river slipped smoothly. The breadth
of the stream was divided into many channels and pockets by means of
brown poles. Some of these were partially filled with logs. A clear
channel had been preserved up the middle. Men armed with long pike-poles
were moving here and there over the booms and the logs themselves,
pushing, pulling, shoving a big log into this pocket, another into that,
gradually segregating the different brands belonging to the different
owners of the mills below. From the quite considerable height of the
bridge all this lay spread out mapwise up and down the perspective of
the stream. The smooth, oily current of the river, leaden-hued and cold
in the light of the early spring, hurried by on its way to the lake,
swiftly, yet without the turmoil and fuss of lesser power. Downstream,
as far as Bob could see, were the huge mills' with their flanking lumber
yards, the masts of their lading ships, their black sawdust-burners, and
above all the pure-white, triumphant banners of steam that shot straight
up against the gray of the sky.
Tally followed the direction of his gaze.
"Modern work," he commented. "Band saws. No circulars there. Two hundred
thousand a day"; with which cryptic utterance he resumed his walk.
The opposite side of the river proved to be a smaller edition of the
other. Into the first saloon Tally pushed.
It resembled the others, except that no card game was in progress. The
barkeeper, his feet elevated, read a pink paper behind the bar. A figure
slept at the round table, its head in its arms. Tally walked over to
shake this man by the shoulder.
In a moment the sleeper raised his head. Bob saw a little, middle-aged
man, not over five feet six in height, slenderly built, yet with broad,
hanging shoulders. His head was an almost exact inverted pyramid, the
base formed by a mop of red-brown hair, and the apex represented by a
very pointed chin. Two level, oblong patches of hair made eyebrows. His
face was white and nervous. A strong, hooked nose separated a pair of
red-brown eyes, small and twinkling, like a chipmunk's. Just now they
were bloodshot and vague.
"Hullo, Dicky Darrell," said Tally.
The man struggled to his feet, knocking over the chair, and laid both
hands effusively on Tally's shoulders.
"Jim!" he cried thickly. "Good ole Jim! Glad to see you! Hav' drink!"
Tally nodded, and, to Bob's surprise, took his place at the bar.
"Hav' 'nother!" cried Darrell. "God! I'm glad to see you! Nobody in
"All right," agreed Tally pacifically; "but let's go across the river
to Dugan's and get it."
To this Darrell readily agreed. They left the saloon. Bob, following,
noticed the peculiar truculence imparted to Darrell's appearance by the
fact that in walking he always held his hands open and palms to the
front. Suddenly Darrell became for the first time aware of his presence.
The riverman whirled on him, and Bob became conscious of something as
distinct as a physical shock as he met the impact of an electrical
nervous energy. It passed, and he found himself half smiling down on
this little, white-faced man with the matted hair and the bloodshot,
"Who'n hell's this!" demanded Darrell savagely.
"Friend of mine," said Tally. "Come on."
Darrell stared a moment longer. "All right," he said at last.
All the way across the bridge Tally argued with his companion.
"We've got to have a foreman on the Cedar Branch, Dick," he began, "and
you're the fellow."
To this Darrell offered a profane, emphatic and contemptuous negative.
With consummate diplomacy Tally led his mind from sullen obstinacy to
mere reluctance. At the corner of Main Street the three stopped.
"But I don't want to go yet, Jim," pleaded Darrell, almost tearfully. "I
ain't had all my 'time' yet."
"Well," said Tally, "you've been polishing up the flames of hell for
four days pretty steady. What more do you want?"
"I ain't smashed no rig yet," objected Darrell.
Tally looked puzzled.
"Well, go ahead and smash your rig and get done with it," he said.
"A' right," said Darrell cheerfully.
He started off briskly, the others following. Down a side street his
rather uncertain gait led them, to the wide-open door of a frame livery
stable. The usual loungers in the usual tipped-back chairs greeted him.
"Want m' rig," he demanded.
A large and leisurely man in shirt sleeves lounged out from the office
and looked him over dispassionately.
"You've been drunk four days," said he, "have you the price?"
"Bet y'," said Dick, cheerfully. He seated himself on the ground and
pulled off his boot from which he extracted a pulpy mass of greenbacks.
"Can't fool me!" he said cunningly. "Always save 'nuff for my rig!"
He shoved the bills into the liveryman's hands. The latter straightened
them out, counted them, thrust a portion into his pocket, and handed the
rest back to Darrell.
"There you are," said he. He shouted an order into the darkness of the
An interval ensued. The stableman and Tally waited imperturbably,
without the faintest expression of interest in anything evident on their
immobile countenances. Dicky Darrell rocked back and forth on his heels,
a pleased smile on his face.
After a few moments the stable boy led out a horse hitched to the most
ramshackle and patched-up old side-bar buggy Bob had ever beheld.
Darrell, after several vain attempts, managed to clamber aboard. He
gathered up the reins, and, with exaggerated care, drove into the middle
of the street.
Then suddenly he rose to his feet, uttered an ear-piercing exultant
yell, hurled the reins at the horse's head and began to beat the animal
with his whip. The horse, startled, bounded forward. The buggy jerked.
Darrell sat down violently, but was at once on his feet, plying the
whip. The crazed man and the crazed horse disappeared up the street, the
buggy careening from side to side, Darrell yelling at the top of his
lungs. The stableman watched him out of sight.
"Roaring Dick of the Woods!" said he thoughtfully at last. He thrust
his hand in his pocket and took out the wad of greenbacks, contemplated
them for a moment, and thrust them back. He caught Tally's eye. "Funny
what different ideas men have of a time," said he.
"Do this regular?" inquired Tally dryly.
Bob got his breath at last.
"Why!" he cried. "What'll happen to him! He'll be killed sure!"
"Not him!" stated the stableman emphatically. "Not Dicky Darrell! He'll
smash up good, and will crawl out of the wreck, and he'll limp back here
in just about one half-hour."
"How about the horse and buggy?"
"Oh, we'll catch the horse in a day or two--it's a spoiled colt,
anyway--and we'll patch up the buggy if she's patchable. If not, we'll
leave it. Usual programme."
The stableman and Tally lit their pipes. Nobody seemed much interested
now that the amusement was over. Bob owned a boyish desire to follow the
wake of the cyclone, but in the presence of this imperturbability, he
repressed his inclination.
"Some day the damn fool will bust his head open," said the liveryman,
after a ruminative pause.
"I shouldn't think you'd rent him a horse," said Bob.
"He pays," yawned the other.
At the end of the half-hour the liveryman dove into his office for a
coat, which he put on. This indicated that he contemplated exercising in
the sun instead of sitting still in the shade.
"Well, let's look him up," said he. "This may be the time he busts his
"Hope not," was Tally's comment; "can't afford to lose a foreman."
But near the outskirts of town they met Roaring Dick limping painfully
down the middle of the road. His hat was gone and he was liberally
plastered with the soft mud of early spring.
Not one word would he vouchsafe, but looked at them all malevolently.
His intoxication seemed to have evaporated with his good spirits. As
answer to the liveryman's question as to the whereabouts of the smashed
rig, he waved a comprehensive hand toward the suburbs. At insistence, he
snapped back like an ugly dog.
"Out there somewhere," he snarled. "Go find it! What the hell do I care
where it is? It's mine, isn't it? I paid you for it, didn't I? Well, go
find it! You can have it!"
He tramped vigorously back toward the main street, a grotesque figure
with his red-brown hair tumbled over his white, nervous countenance of
the pointed chin, with his hooked nose, and his twinkling chipmunk eyes.
"He'll hit the first saloon, if you don't watch out," Bob managed to
whisper to Tally.
But the latter shook his head. From long experience he knew the type.
His reasoning was correct. Roaring Dick tramped doggedly down the length
of the street to the little frame depot. There he slumped into one of
the hard seats in the waiting-room, where he promptly slept. Tally sat
down beside him and withdrew into himself. The twilight fell. After an
apparently interminable interval a train rumbled in. Tally shook his
companion. The latter awakened just long enough to stumble aboard the
smoking car, where, his knees propped up, his chin on his breast, he
relapsed into deep slumber.
They arrived at the boarding house late in the evening. Mrs. Hallowell
set out a cold supper, to which Bob was ready to do full justice. Ten
minutes later he found himself in a tiny box of a bedroom, furnished
barely. He pushed open the window and propped it up with a piece of
kindling. The earth had fallen into a very narrow silhouette, and the
star-filled heavens usurped all space, crowding the world down. Against
the sky the outlines stood significant in what they suggested and
concealed--slumbering roof-tops, the satiated mill glowing vaguely
somewhere from her banked fires, the blackness and mass of silent lumber
yards, the mysterious, hushing fingers of the ships' masts, and then low
and vague, like a narrow strip of velvet dividing these men's affairs
from the star-strewn infinite, the wilderness. As Bob leaned from the
window the bigness of these things rushed into his office-starved spirit
as air into a vacuum. The cold of the lake breeze entered his lungs. He
drew a deep breath of it. For the first time in his short business
experience he looked forward eagerly to the morrow.
Bob was awakened before daylight by the unholy shriek of a great
whistle. He then realized that for some time he had been vaguely aware
of kindling and stove sounds. The bare little room had become bitterly
cold. A gray-blackness represented the world outside. He lighted his
glass lamp and took a hasty, shivering sponge bath in the crockery
basin. Then he felt better in the answering glow of his healthy,
straight young body; and a few moments later was prepared to enjoy a
fragrant, new-lit, somewhat smoky fire in the big stove outside his
door. The bell rang. Men knocked ashes from their pipes and arose; other
men stamped in from outside. The dining room was filled.
Bob took his seat, nodding to the men. A slightly grumpy silence
reigned. Collins and Fox had not yet appeared. Bob saw Roaring Dick at
the other table, rather whiter than the day before, but carrying himself
boldly in spite of his poor head. As he looked, Roaring Dick caught his
eye. The riverman evidently did not recognize having seen the young
stranger the day before; but Bob was again conscious of the quick impact
of the man's personality, quite out of proportion to his diminutive
height and slender build. At the end of ten minutes the men trooped out
noisily. Shortly a second whistle blew. At the signal the mill awoke.
The clang of machinery, beginning slowly, increased in tempo. The
exultant shriek of the saws rose to heaven. Bob, peering forth into the
young daylight, caught the silhouette of the elephantine tram horse,
high in the air, bending his great shoulders to the starting of his
little train of cars.
Not knowing what else to do, Bob sauntered to the office. It was locked
and dark. He returned to the boarding house, and sat down in the main
room. The lamps became dimmer. Finally the chore boy put them out. Then
at last Collins appeared, followed closely by Fox.
"You didn't get up to eat with the men?" the bookkeeper asked Bob a
trifle curiously. "You don't need to do that. We eat with Mrs. Hallowell
At eight o'clock the little bookkeeper opened the office door and
ushered Bob in to the scene of his duties.
"You're to help me," said Collins concisely. "I have the books. Our
other duties are to make out time checks for the men, to answer the
correspondence in our province, to keep track of camp supplies, and to
keep tab on shipments and the stock on hand and sawed each day. There's
your desk. You'll find time blanks and everything there. The copying
press is in the corner. Over here is the tally board," He led the way to
a pine bulletin, perhaps four feet square, into which were screwed a
hundred or more small brass screw hooks. From each depended a small pine
tablet or tag inscribed with many figures. "Do you understand a tally
board?" Collins asked.
"No," replied Bob.
"Well, these screw hooks are arranged just like a map of the lumber
yards. Each hook represents one of the lumber piles--or rather the
location of a lumber pile. The tags hanging from them represent the
lumber piles themselves; see?"
"Sure," said Bob. Now that he understood he could follow out on this
strange map the blocks, streets and alleys of that silent, tenantless
"On these tags," pursued Collins, "are figures. These figures show how
much lumber is in each pile, and what kind it is, and of what quality.
In that way we know just what we have and where it is. The sealers
report to us every day just what has been shipped out, and what has been
piled from the mill. From their reports we change the figures on the
tags. I'm going to let you take care of that."
Bob bestowed his long figure at the desk assigned him, and went to work.
He was interested, for it was all new to him. Men were constantly in and
out on all sorts of errands. Fox came to shake hands and wish him well;
he was off on the ten o'clock train. Bob checked over a long invoice of
camp supplies; manipulated the copying press; and, under Collins's
instructions, made out time checks against the next pay day. The
insistence of details kept him at the stretch until noon surprised him.
After dinner and a breath of fresh air, he plunged again into his tasks.
Now he had the scalers' noon reports to transfer to the tally board. He
was intensely interested by the novelty of it all; but even this early
he encountered his old difficulties in the matter of figures. He made no
mistakes, but in order to correlate, remember and transfer correctly he
was forced to an utterly disproportionate intensity of application. To
the tally board he brought more absolute concentration and will-power
than did Collins to all his manifold tasks. So evidently painstaking was
he, that the little bookkeeper glanced at him sharply once or twice.
However, he said nothing.
When darkness approached the bookkeeper closed his ledger and came over
to Bob's desk. In ten minutes he ran deftly over Bob's afternoon work;
re-checking the supply invoices, verifying the time checks, comparing
the tallies with the scalers' reports. So swiftly and accurately did he
accomplish this, with so little hesitation and so assured a belief in
his own correctness that the really taxing job seemed merely a bit of
light mental gymnastics after the day's work.
"Good!" he complimented Bob; "everything's correct."
Bob nodded, a little gloomily. It might be correct; but he was very
tired from the strain of it.
"It'll come easier with practice," said Collins; "always difficult to do
a new thing."
The whistle blew. Bob went directly to his room and sat down on the
edge of his bed. In spite of Collins's kindly meant reassurances, the
iron of doubt had entered his soul. He had tried for four months, and
was no nearer facility than when he started.
"If a man hadn't learned better than that, I'd have called him a dub and
told him to get off the squad," he said to himself, a little bitterly.
He thought a moment. "I guess I'm tired. I must buck up. If Collins and
Archie can do it, I can. It's all in the game. Of course, it takes time
and training. Get in the game!"
This was on Tuesday. During the rest of the week Bob worked hard. Even a
skilled man would have been kept busy by the multitude of details that
poured in on the little office. Poor Bob was far from skilled. He felt
as awkward amid all these swift and accurate activities as he had when
at sixteen it became necessary to force his overgrown frame into a
crowded drawing room. He tried very hard, as he always did with
everything. When Collins succinctly called his attention to a
discrepancy in his figurings, he smiled his slow, winning, troubled
smile, thrust the hair back from his clear eyes, and bent his lean
athlete's frame again to the labour. He soon discovered that this work
demanded speed as well as accuracy. "And I need a ten-acre lot to turn
around in," he told himself half humorously. "I'm a regular ice-wagon."
He now came to look back on his college triumphs with an exaggerated but
wholesome reaction. His athletic prowess had given him great prominence
in college circles. Girls had been flattered at his attention; his
classmates had deferred to his skill and experience; his juniors had, in
the manner of college boys, looked up to him as to a demi-god. Then for
the few months of the football season the newspapers had made of him a
national character. His picture appeared at least once a week; his
opinions were recorded; his physical measurements carefully detailed.
When he appeared on the streets and in hotel lobbies, people were apt to
recognize him and whisper furtively to one another. Bob was naturally
the most modest youth in the world, and he hated a "fuss" after the
delightfully normal fashion of normal boys, but all this could not fail
to have its subtle effect. He went out into the world without conceit,
but confident of his ability to take his place with the best of them.
His first experience showed him wholly second in natural qualifications,
in ability to learn, and in training to men subordinate in the business
"I'm just plain dub," he told himself. "I thought myself some pumpkins
and got all swelled up inside because good' food and leisure and
heredity gave me a husky build! Football! What good does that do me
here? Four out of five of these rivermen are huskier than I am. Me a
business man! Why I can't seem even to learn the first principles of the
first job of the whole lot! I've _got_ to!" he admonished; himself
grimly. "I _hate_ a fellow who doesn't make good!"' and with a very
determined set to his handsome chin he hurled the whole force of his
young energies at those elusive figures that somehow _would_ lie.
The week slipped by in this struggle. It was much worse than in the
Chicago office. There Bob was allowed all the time he thought he needed.
Here one task followed close on the heels of another, without chance for
a breathing space or room to take bearings. Bob had to do the best he
could, commit the result to a merciful providence, and seize the next
job by the throat.
One morning he awoke with a jump to find it was seven o'clock. He had
heard neither whistle, and must have overslept! Hastily he leaped into
his clothes, and rushed out into the dining room. There he found the
chore-boy leisurely feeding a just-lighted kitchen fire. To Bob's
exclamation of astonishment he looked up.
"Sunday," he grinned; "breakfus' at eight."
The week had gone without Bob's having realized the fact.
Mrs. Hallowell came in a moment later, smiling at the winning, handsome
young man in her fat and good-humoured manner. Bob was seized with an
"Mrs. Hallowell," he said persuasively, "just let me rummage around for
five minutes, will you?"
"You that hungry?" she chuckled. "Law! I'll have breakfast in an hour."
"It isn't that," said Bob; "but I want to get some air to-day. I'm not
used to being in an office. I want to steal a hunk of bread, and a few
of your good doughnuts and a slice of cheese for breakfast and lunch."
"A cup of hot coffee would do you more good," objected Mrs. Hallowell.
"Please," begged Bob, "and I won't disturb a thing."
"Oh, land! Don't worry about that," said Mrs. Hallowell, "there's
teamsters and such in here all times of the day and night. Help
Five minutes later, Bob, swinging a riverman's canvas lunch bag, was
walking rapidly up the River Trail. He did not know whither he was
bound; but here at last was a travelled way. It was a brilliant blue and
gold morning, the air crisp, the sun warm. The trail led him first
across a stretch of stump-dotted wet land with pools and rounded rises,
green new grass, and trickling streamlets of recently melted snow. Then
came a fringe of scrub growth woven into an almost impenetrable
tangle--oaks, poplars, willows, cedar, tamarack--and through it all an
abattis of old slashing--with its rotting, fallen stumps, its network of
tops, its soggy root-holes, its fallen, uprooted trees. Along one of
these strutted a partridge. It clucked at Bob, but refused to move
faster, lifting its feet deliberately and spreading its fanlike tail.
The River Trail here took to poles laid on rough horses. The poles were
old and slippery, and none too large. Bob had to walk circumspectly to
stay on them at all. Shortly, however, he stepped off into the higher
country of the hardwoods. Here the spring had passed, scattering her
fresh green. The tops of the trees were already in half-leaf; the lower
branches just budding, so that it seemed the sowing must have been from
above. Last year's leaves, softened and packed by the snow, covered the
ground with an indescribably beautiful and noiseless carpet. Through it
pushed the early blossoms of the hepatica. Grackles whistled clearly.
Distant redwings gave their celebrated imitation of a great multitude.
Bluebirds warbled on the wing. The busier chickadees and creepers
searched the twigs and trunks, interpolating occasional remarks. The sun
slanted through the forest.
Bob strode on vigorously. His consciousness received these things
gratefully, and yet he was more occupied with a sense of physical joy
and harmony with the world of out-of-doors than with an analysis of its
components. At one point, however, he paused. The hardwoods had risen
over a low hill. Now they opened to show a framed picture of the river,
distant and below. In contrast to the modulated browns of the
tree-trunks, the new green and lilac of the undergrowth and the far-off
hills across the way, it showed like a patch of burnished blue steel.
Logs floated across the vista, singly, in scattered groups, in masses.
Again, the river was clear. While Bob watched, a man floated into view.
He was standing bolt upright and at ease on a log so small that the
water lapped over its top. From this distance Bob could but just make it
out. The man leaned carelessly on his peavy. Across the vista he
floated, graceful and motionless, on his way from the driving camp to
Bob gave a whistle of admiration, and walked on.
"I wish some of our oarsmen could see that," he said to himself.
"They're always guying the fellows that tip over their cranky little
He stopped short.
"I couldn't do it," he cried aloud; "nor I couldn't learn to do it. I
sure _am_ a dub!"
He trudged on, his spirits again at the ebb. The brightness of the day
had dimmed. Indeed, physically, a change had taken place. Over the sun
banked clouds had drawn. With the disappearance of the sunlight a
little breeze, before but a pleasant and wandering companion to the
birds, became cold and draughty. The leaf carpet proved to be soggy; and
as for the birds themselves, their whistles suddenly grew plaintive as
though with the portent of late autumn.
This sudden transformation, usual enough with every passing cloud in the
childhood of the spring, reacted still further on Bob's spirits. He
trudged doggedly on. After a time a gleam of water caught his attention
to the left. He deserted the River Trail, descended a slope, pushed his
way through a thicket of tamaracks growing out from wire grass and
puddles, and found himself on the shores of a round lake.
It was a small body of water, completely surrounded by tall, dead brown
grasses. These were in turn fringed by melancholy tamaracks. The water
was dark slate colour, and ruffled angrily by the breeze which here in
the open developed some slight strength. It reminded Bob of a
"bottomless" lake pointed out many years before to his childish
credulity. A lonesome hell diver flipped down out of sight as Bob
The wet ground swayed and bent alarmingly under his tread. A stub
attracted him. He perched on the end of it, his feet suspended above the
wet, and abandoned himself to reflection. The lonesome diver reappeared.
The breeze rustled the dead grasses and the tamaracks until they seemed
to be shivering in the cold.
Bob was facing himself squarely. This was his first grapple with the
world outside. To his direct American mind the problem was simplicity in
the extreme. An idler is a contemptible being. A rich idler is almost
beneath contempt. A man's life lies in activity. Activity, outside the
artistic and professional, means the world of business. All teaching at
home and through the homiletic magazines, fashionable at that period,
pointed out but one road to success in this world--the beginning at the
bottom, as Bob was doing; close application; accuracy; frugality;
honesty; fair dealing. The homiletic magazines omitted idealism and
imagination; but perhaps those qualities are so common in what some
people are pleased to call our humdrum modern business life that they
were taken for granted. If a young man could not succeed in this world,
something was wrong with him. Can Bob be blamed that in this baffling
and unsuspected incapacity he found a great humility of spirit? In his
fashion he began to remember trifling significances which at the time
had meant little to him. Thus, a girl had once told him, half seriously:
"Yes, you're a nice boy, just as everybody tells you; a nice, big,
blundering, stupid, Newfoundland-dog boy."
He had laughed good-humouredly, and had forgotten. Now he caught at one
word of it. That might explain it; he was just plain stupid! And stupid
boys either played polo or drove fancy horses or ran yachts--or occupied
ornamental--too ornamental--desks for an hour or so a day. Bob
remembered how, as a small boy, he used to hold the ends of the reins
under the delighted belief that he was driving his father's spirited
"I've outgrown holding the reins, thank you," he said aloud in disgust.
At the sound of his voice the diver disappeared. Bob laughed and felt a
He reviewed himself dispassionately. He could not but admit that he had
tried hard enough, and that he had courage. It was just a case of
limitation. Bob, for the first time, bumped against the stone wall that
hems us in on all sides--save toward the sky.
He fell into a profound discouragement; a discouragement that somehow
found its prototype in the mournful little lake with its leaden water,
its cold breeze, its whispering, dried marsh grasses, its funereal
tamaracks, and its lonesome diver.
But Bob was no quitter. The next morning he tramped down to the office,
animated by a new courage. Even stupid boys learn, he remembered. It
takes longer, of course, and requires more application. But he was
strong and determined. He remembered Fatty Hayes, who took four years to
make the team--Fatty, who couldn't get a signal through his head until
about time for the next play, and whose great body moved appreciable
seconds after his brain had commanded it; Fatty Hayes, the "scrub's"
chopping block for trying out new men on! And yet he did make the team
in his senior year. Bob acknowledged him a very good centre, not
brilliant, but utterly sure and safe.
Full of this dogged spirit, he tackled the day's work. It was a heavy
day's work. The mill was just hitting its stride, the tall ships were
being laden and sent away to the four winds, buyers the country over
were finishing their contracts. Collins, his coat off, his sleeve
protectors strapped closely about his thin arms, worked at an intense
white heat. He wasted no second of time, nor did he permit discursive
interruption. His manner to those who entered the office was civil but
curt. Time was now the essence of the contract these men had with life.
About ten o'clock he turned from a swift contemplation of the tally
"Orde!" said he sharply.
Bob disentangled himself from his chair.
"Look there," said the bookkeeper, pointing a long and nervous finger at
three of the tags he held in his hand.
"There's three errors." He held out for inspection the original
sealers' report which he had dug out of the files.
Bob looked at the discrepant figures with amazement. He had checked the
tags over twice, and both times the error had escaped his notice. His
mind, self-hypnotized, had passed them over in the same old fashion. Yet
he had taken especial pains with that list.
"I happened, just happened, to check these back myself," Collins was
saying rapidly. "If I hadn't, we'd have made that contract with Robinson
on the basis of what these tags show. We haven't got that much seasoned
uppers, nor anything like it. If you've made many more breaks like this,
if we'd contracted with Robinson for what we haven't got or couldn't
get, we'd be in a nice mess--and so would Robinson!"
"I'm sorry," murmured Bob. "I'll try to do better."
"Won't do," said Collins briefly. "You aren't big enough for the job. I
can't get behind, checking over your work. This office is too rushed as
it is. Can't fool with blundering stupidity."
Bob flushed at the word.
"I guess you'd better take your time," went on Collins. "You may be all
right, for all I know, but I haven't got time to find out."
He rang a bell twice, and snatched down the telephone receiver.
"Hullo, yards, send up Tommy Gould to the office. I want him to help me.
I don't give a damn for the scaling. You'll have to get along somehow.
The five of you ought to hold that down. Send up Gould, anyhow." He
slammed up the receiver, muttering something about incompetence. Bob for
a moment had a strong impulse to retort, but his anger died. He saw that
Collins was not for the moment thinking of him at all as a human being,
as a personality--only as a piece of this great, swiftly moving machine,
that would not run smoothly. The fact that he had come under Fox's