Produced by Audrey Longhurst and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
[Illustration: She, too, had seen Monohan seated on the after deck. FRONTISPIECE.]
A Story of the Northwest
By BERTRAND W. SINCLAIR
By DOUGLAS DUER
I. GREEN FIELDS AND PASTURES NEW
II. MR. ABBEY ARRIVES
III. HALFWAY POINT
IV. A FORETASTE OF THINGS TO COME
V. THE TOLL OF BIG TIMBER
VI. THE DIGNITY (?) OF TOIL
VII. SOME NEIGHBORLY ASSISTANCE
VIII. DURANCE VILE
IX. JACK FYFE’S CAMP
X. ONE WAY OUT
XI. THE PLUNGE
XII. AND SO THEY WERE MARRIED
XIII. IN WHICH EVENTS MARK TIME
XIV. A CLOSE CALL AND A NEW ACQUAINTANCE XV. A RESURRECTION
XVI. THE CRISIS
XVII. IN WHICH THERE IS A FURTHER CLASH XVIII. THE OPENING GUN
XIX. FREE AS THE WIND
XXI. AN UNEXPECTED MEETING
XXII. THE FIRE BEHIND THE SMOKE
XXIII. A RIDE BY NIGHT
XXIV. “OUT OF THE NIGHT THAT COVERS ME”
GREEN FIELDS AND PASTURES NEW
The Imperial Limited lurched with a swing around the last hairpin curve of the Yale canyon. Ahead opened out a timbered valley,–narrow on its floor, flanked with bold mountains, but nevertheless a valley,–down which the rails lay straight and shining on an easy grade. The river that for a hundred miles had boiled and snarled parallel to the tracks, roaring through the granite sluice that cuts the Cascade Range, took a wider channel and a leisurely flow. The mad haste had fallen from it as haste falls from one who, with time to spare, sees his destination near at hand; and the turgid Fraser had time to spare, for now it was but threescore miles to tidewater. So the great river moved placidly–as an old man moves when all the headlong urge of youth is spent and his race near run.
On the river side of the first coach behind the diner, Estella Benton nursed her round chin in the palm of one hand, leaning her elbow on the window sill. It was a relief to look over a widening valley instead of a bare-walled gorge all scarred with slides, to see wooded heights lift green in place of barren cliffs, to watch banks of fern massed against the right of way where for a day and a night parched sagebrush, brown tumble-weed, and such scant growth as flourished in the arid uplands of interior British Columbia had streamed in barren monotony, hot and dry and still.
She was near the finish of her journey. Pensively she considered the end of the road. How would it be there? What manner of folk and country? Between her past mode of life and the new that she was hurrying toward lay the vast gulf of distance, of custom, of class even. It was bound to be crude, to be full of inconveniences and uncouthness. Her brother’s letters had partly prepared her for that. Involuntarily she shrank from it, had been shrinking from it by fits and starts all the way, as flowers that thrive best in shady nooks shrink from hot sun and rude winds. Not that Estella Benton was particularly flower-like. On the contrary she was a healthy, vigorous-bodied young woman, scarcely to be described as beautiful, yet undeniably attractive. Obviously a daughter of the well-to-do, one of that American type which flourishes in families to which American politicians unctuously refer as the backbone of the nation. Outwardly, gazing riverward through the dusty pane, she bore herself with utmost serenity. Inwardly she was full of misgivings.
Four days of lonely travel across a continent, hearing the drumming clack of car wheels and rail joint ninety-six hours on end, acutely conscious that every hour of the ninety-six put its due quota of miles between the known and the unknown, may be either an adventure, a bore, or a calamity, depending altogether upon the individual point of view, upon conditioning circumstances and previous experience.
Estella Benton’s experience along such lines was chiefly a blank and the conditioning circumstances of her present journey were somber enough to breed thought that verged upon the melancholy. Save for a natural buoyancy of spirit she might have wept her way across North America. She had no tried standard by which to measure life’s values for she had lived her twenty-two years wholly shielded from the human maelstrom, fed, clothed, taught, an untried product of home and schools. Her head was full of university lore, things she had read, a smattering of the arts and philosophy, liberal portions of academic knowledge, all tagged and sorted like parcels on a shelf to be reached when called for. Buried under these externalities the ego of her lay unaroused, an incalculable quantity.
All of which is merely by way of stating that Miss Estella Benton was a young woman who had grown up quite complacently in that station of life in which–to quote the Philistines–it had pleased God to place her, and that Chance had somehow, to her astonished dismay, contrived to thrust a spoke in the smooth-rolling wheels of destiny. Or was it Destiny? She had begun to think about that, to wonder if a lot that she had taken for granted as an ordered state of things was not, after all, wholly dependent upon Chance. She had danced and sung and played lightheartedly accepting a certain standard of living, a certain position in a certain set, a pleasantly ordered home life, as her birthright, a natural heritage. She had dwelt upon her ultimate destiny in her secret thoughts as foreshadowed by that of other girls she knew. The Prince would come, to put it in a nutshell. He would woo gracefully. They would wed. They would be delightfully happy. Except for the matter of being married, things would move along the same pleasant channels.
Just so. But a broken steering knuckle on a heavy touring car set things in a different light–many things. She learned then that death is no respecter of persons, that a big income may be lived to its limit with nothing left when the brain force which commanded it ceases to function. Her father produced perhaps fifteen to twenty thousand dollars a year in his brokerage business, and he had saved nothing. Thus at one stroke she was put on an equal footing with the stenographer in her father’s office. Scarcely equal either, for the stenographer earned her bread and was technically equipped for the task, whereas Estella Benton had no training whatsoever, except in social usage. She did not yet fully realize just what had overtaken her. Things had happened so swiftly, to ruthlessly, that she still verged upon the incredulous. Habit clung fast. But she had begun to think, to try and establish some working relation between herself and things as she found them. She had discovered already that certain theories of human relations are not soundly established in fact.
She turned at last in her seat. The Limited’s whistle had shrilled for a stop. At the next stop–she wondered what lay in store for her just beyond the next stop. While she dwelt mentally upon this, her hands were gathering up some few odds and ends of her belongings on the berth.
Across the aisle a large, smooth-faced young man watched her with covert admiration. When she had settled back with bag and suitcase locked and strapped on the opposite seat and was hatted and gloved, he leaned over and addressed her genially.
“Getting off at Hopyard? Happen to be going out to Roaring Springs?”
Miss Benton’s gray eyes rested impersonally on the top of his head, traveled slowly down over the trim front of his blue serge to the polished tan Oxfords on his feet, and there was not in eyes or on countenance the slightest sign that she saw or heard him. The large young man flushed a vivid red.
Miss Benton was partly amused, partly provoked. The large young man had been her vis-a-vis at dinner the day before and at breakfast that morning. He had evinced a yearning for conversation each time, but it had been diplomatically confined to salt and other condiments, the weather and the scenery. Miss Benton had no objection to young men in general, quite the contrary. But she did not consider it quite the thing to countenance every amiable stranger.
Within a few minutes the porter came for her things, and the blast of the Limited’s whistle warned her that it was time to leave the train. Ten minutes later the Limited was a vanishing object down an aisle slashed through a forest of great trees, and Miss Estella Benton stood on the plank platform of Hopyard station. Northward stretched a flat, unlovely vista of fire-blackened stumps. Southward, along track and siding, ranged a single row of buildings, a grocery store, a shanty with a huge sign proclaiming that it was a bank, dwelling, hotel and blacksmith shop whence arose the clang of hammered iron. A dirt road ran between town and station, with hitching posts at which farmers’ nags stood dispiritedly in harness.
To the Westerner such spots are common enough; he sees them not as fixtures, but as places in a stage of transformation. By every side track and telegraph station on every transcontinental line they spring up, centers of productive activity, growing into orderly towns and finally attaining the dignity of cities. To her, fresh from trim farmsteads and rural communities that began setting their houses in order when Washington wintered at Valley Forge, Hopyard stood forth sordid and unkempt. And as happens to many a one in like case, a wave of sickening loneliness engulfed her, and she eyed the speeding Limited as one eyes a departing friend.
“How could one live in a place like this?” she asked herself.
But she had neither Slave of the Lamp at her beck, nor any Magic Carpet to transport her elsewhere. At any rate, she reflected, Hopyard was not her abiding-place. She hoped that her destination would prove more inviting.
Beside the platform were ranged two touring cars. Three or four of those who had alighted entered these. Their baggage was piled over the hoods, buckled on the running boards. The driver of one car approached her. “Hot Springs?” he inquired tersely.
She affirmed this, and he took her baggage, likewise her trunk check when she asked how that article would be transported to the lake. She had some idea of route and means, from her brother’s written instruction, but she thought he might have been there to meet her. At least he would be at the Springs.
So she was whirled along a country road, jolted in the tonneau between a fat man from Calgary and a rheumatic dame on her way to take hot sulphur baths at St. Allwoods. She passed seedy farmhouses, primitive in construction, and big barns with moss plentifully clinging on roof and gable. The stretch of charred stumps was left far behind, but in every field of grain and vegetable and root great butts of fir and cedar rose amid the crops. Her first definitely agreeable impression of this land, which so far as she knew must be her home, was of those huge and numerous stumps contending with crops for possession of the fields. Agreeable, because it came to her forcibly that it must be a sturdy breed of men and women, possessed of brawn and fortitude and high courage, who made their homes here. Back in her country, once beyond suburban areas, the farms lay like the squares of a chess board, trim and orderly, tamely subdued to agriculture. Here, at first hand, she saw how man attacked the forest and conquered it. But the conquest was incomplete, for everywhere stood those stubborn roots, six and eight and ten feet across, contending with man for its primal heritage, the soil, perishing slowly as perish the proud remnants of a conquered race.
Then the cleared land came to a stop against heavy timber. The car whipped a curve and drove into what the fat man from Calgary facetiously remarked upon as the tall uncut. Miss Benton sighted up these noble columns to where a breeze droned in the tops, two hundred feet above. Through a gap in the timber she saw mountains, peaks that stood bold as the Rockies, capped with snow. For two days she had been groping for a word to define, to sum up the feeling which had grown upon her, had been growing upon her steadily, as the amazing scroll of that four-day journey unrolled. She found it now, a simple word, one of the simplest in our mother tongue–bigness. Bigness in its most ample sense,–that was the dominant note. Immensities of distance, vastness of rolling plain, sheer bulk of mountain, rivers that one crossed, and after a day’s journey crossed again, still far from source or confluence. And now this unending sweep of colossal trees!
At first she had been overpowered with a sense of insignificance utterly foreign to her previous experience. But now she discovered with an agreeable sensation of surprise she could vibrate to such a keynote. And while she communed with this pleasant discovery the car sped down a straight stretch and around a corner and stopped short to unload sacks of mail at a weather-beaten yellow edifice, its windows displaying indiscriminately Indian baskets, groceries, and hardware. Northward opened a broad scope of lake level, girt about with tremendous peaks whose lower slopes were banked with thick forest.
Somewhere distant along that lake shore was to be her home. As the car rolled over the four hundred yards between store and white-and-green St. Allwoods, she wondered if Charlie would be there to meet her. She was weary of seeing strange faces, of being directed, of being hustled about.
But he was not there, and she recalled that he never had been notable for punctuality. Five years is a long time. She expected to find him changed–for the better, in certain directions. He had promised to be there; but, in this respect, time evidently had wrought no appreciable transformation.
She registered, was assigned a room, and ate luncheon to the melancholy accompaniment of a three-man orchestra struggling vainly with Bach in an alcove off the dining room. After that she began to make inquiries. Neither clerk nor manager knew aught of Charlie Benton. They were both in their first season there. They advised her to ask the storekeeper.
“MacDougal will know,” they were agreed. “He knows everybody around here, and everything that goes on.”
The storekeeper, a genial, round-bodied Scotchman, had the information she desired.
“Charlie Benton?” said he. “No, he’ll be at his camp up the lake. He was in three or four days back. I mind now, he said he’d be down Thursday; that’s to-day. But he isn’t here yet, or his boat’d be by the wharf yonder.”
“Are there any passenger boats that call there?” she asked.
MacDougal shook his head.
“Not reg’lar. There’s a gas boat goes t’ the head of the lake now an’ then. She’s away now. Ye might hire a launch. Jack Fyfe’s camp tender’s about to get under way. But ye wouldna care to go on her, I’m thinkin’. She’ll be loaded wi’ lumberjacks–every man drunk as a lord, most like. Maybe Benton’ll be in before night.”
She went back to the hotel. But St. Allwoods, in its dual capacity of health-and-pleasure resort, was a gilded shell, making a brave outward show, but capitalizing chiefly lake, mountains, and hot, mineral springs. Her room was a bare, cheerless place. She did not want to sit and ponder. Too much real grief hovered in the immediate background of her life. It is not always sufficient to be young and alive. To sit still and think–that way lay tears and despondency. So she went out and walked down the road and out upon the wharf which jutted two hundred yards into the lake.
It stood deserted save for a lone fisherman on the outer end, and an elderly couple that preceded her. Halfway out she passed a slip beside which lay moored a heavily built, fifty-foot boat, scarred with usage, a squat and powerful craft. Lakeward stretched a smooth, unrippled surface. Overhead patches of white cloud drifted lazily. Where the shadows from these lay, the lake spread gray and lifeless. Where the afternoon sun rested, it touched the water with gleams of gold and pale, delicate green. A white-winged yacht lay offshore, her sails in slack folds. A lump of an island lifted two miles beyond, all cliffs and little, wooded hills. And the mountains surrounding in a giant ring seemed to shut the place away from all the world. For sheer wild, rugged beauty, Roaring Lake surpassed any spot she had ever seen. Its quiet majesty, its air of unbroken peace soothed and comforted her, sick with hurry and swift-footed events.
She stood for a time at the outer wharf end, mildly interested when the fisherman drew up a two-pound trout, wondering a little at her own subtle changes of mood. Her surrounding played upon her like a virtuoso on his violin. And this was something that she did not recall as a trait in her own character. She had never inclined to the volatile–perhaps because until the motor accident snuffed out her father’s life she had never dealt in anything but superficial emotions.
After a time she retraced her steps. Nearing the halfway slip, she saw that a wagon from which goods were being unloaded blocked the way. A dozen men were stringing in from the road, bearing bundles and bags and rolls of blankets. They were big, burly men, carrying themselves with a reckless swing, with trousers cut off midway between knee and ankle so that they reached just below the upper of their high-topped, heavy, laced boots. Two or three were singing. All appeared unduly happy, talking loudly, with deep laughter. One threw down his burden and executed a brief clog. Splinters flew where the sharp calks bit into the wharf planking, and his companions applauded.
It dawned upon Stella Benton that these might be Jack Fyfe’s drunken loggers, and she withdrew until the way should be clear, vitally interested because her brother was a logging man, and wondering if these were the human tools he used in his business, if these were the sort of men with whom he associated. They were a rough lot–and some were very drunk. With the manifestations of liquor she had but the most shadowy acquaintance. But she would have been little less than a fool not to comprehend this.
Then they began filing down the gangway to the boat’s deck. One slipped, and came near falling into the water, whereat his fellows howled gleefully. Precariously they negotiated the slanting passage. All but one: he sat him down at the slip-head on his bundle and began a quavering chant. The teamster imperturbably finished his unloading, two men meanwhile piling the goods aboard.
The wagon backed out, and the way was clear, save for the logger sitting on his blankets, wailing his lugubrious song. From below his fellows urged him to come along. A bell clanged in the pilot house. The exhaust of a gas engine began to sputter through the boat’s side. From her after deck a man hailed the logger sharply, and when his call was unheeded, he ran lightly up the slip. A short, squarely-built man he was, light on his feet as a dancing master.
He spoke now with authority, impatiently.
“Hurry aboard, Mike; we’re waiting.”
The logger rose, waved his hand airily, and turned as if to retreat down the wharf. The other caught him by the arm and spun him face to the slip.
“Come on, Slater,” he said evenly. “I have no time to fool around.”
The logger drew back his fist. He was a fairly big man. But if he had in mind to deal a blow, it failed, for the other ducked and caught him with both arms around the middle. He lifted the logger clear of the wharf, hoisted him to the level of his breast, and heaved him down the slip as one would throw a sack of bran.
The man’s body bounced on the incline, rolled, slid, tumbled, till at length he brought up against the boat’s guard, and all that saved him a ducking was the prompt extension of several stout arms, which clutched and hauled him to the flush after deck. He sat on his haunches, blinking. Then he laughed. So did the man at the top of the slip and the lumberjacks clustered on the boat. Homeric laughter, as at some surpassing jest. But the roar of him who had taken that inglorious descent rose loudest of all, an explosive, “Har–har–har!”
He clambered unsteadily to his feet, his mouth expanded in an amiable grin.
“Hey, Jack,” he shouted. “Maybe y’ c’n throw m’ blankets down too, while y’r at it.”
The man at the slip-head caught up the roll, poised it high, and cast it from him with a quick twist of his body. The woolen missile flew like a well-put shot and caught its owner fair in the breast, tumbling him backwards on the deck–and the Homeric laughter rose in double strength. Then the boat began to swing, and the man ran down and leaped the widening space as she drew away from her mooring.
Stella Benton watched the craft gather way, a trifle shocked, her breath coming a little faster. The most deadly blows she had ever seen struck were delivered in a more subtle, less virile mode, a curl of the lip, an inflection of the voice. These were a different order of beings. This, she sensed was man in a more primitive aspect, man with the conventional bark stripped clean off him. And she scarcely knew whether to be amused or frightened when she reflected that among such her life would presently lie. Charlie had written that she would find things and people a trifle rougher than she was used to. She could well believe that. But–they were picturesque ruffians.
Her interested gaze followed the camp tender as it swung around the wharf-end, and so her roaming eyes were led to another craft drawing near. This might be her brother’s vessel. She went back to the outer landing to see.
Two men manned this boat. As she ranged alongside the piles, one stood forward, and the other aft with lines to make fast. She cast a look at each. They were prototypes of the rude crew but now departed, brown-faced, flannel-shirted, shod with calked boots, unshaven for days, typical men of the woods. But as she turned to go, the man forward and almost directly below her looked her full in the face.
She leaned over the rail.
“Charlie Benton–for Heaven’s sake.”
They stared at each other.
“Well,” he laughed at last. “If it were not for your mouth and eyes, Stell, I wouldn’t have known you. Why, you’re all grown up.”
He clambered to the wharf level and kissed her. The rough stubble of his beard pricked her tender skin and she drew back.
“My word, Charlie, you certainly ought to shave,” she observed with sisterly frankness. “I didn’t know you until you spoke. I’m awfully glad to see you, but you do need _some one_ to look after you.”
Benton laughed tolerantly.
“Perhaps. But, my dear girl, a fellow doesn’t get anywhere on his appearance in this country. When a fellow’s bucking big timber, he shucks off a lot of things he used to think were quite essential. By Jove, you’re a picture, Stell. If I hadn’t been expecting to see you, I wouldn’t have known you.”
“I doubt if I should have known you either,” she returned drily.
MR. ABBEY ARRIVES
Stella accompanied her brother to the store, where he gave an order for sundry goods. Then they went to the hotel to see if her trunks had arrived. Within a few yards of the fence which enclosed the grounds of St. Allwoods a man hailed Benton, and drew him a few steps aside. Stella walked slowly on, and presently her brother joined her.
The baggage wagon had brought the trunks, and when she had paid her bill, they were delivered at the outer wharf-end, where also arrived at about the same time a miscellaneous assortment of supplies from the store and a Japanese with her two handbags. So far as Miss Estella Benton could see, she was about to embark on the last stage of her journey.
“How soon will you start?” she inquired, when the last of the stuff was stowed aboard the little steamer.
“Twenty minutes or so,” Benton answered. “Say,” he went on casually, “have you got any money, Stell? I owe a fellow thirty dollars, and I left the bank roll and my check book at camp.”
Miss Benton drew the purse from her hand bag and gave it to him. He pocketed it and went off down the wharf, with the brief assurance that he would be gone only a minute or so.
The minute, however, lengthened to nearly an hour, and Sam Davis had his blow-off valve hissing, and Stella Benton was casting impatient glances shoreward before Charlie strolled leisurely back.
“You needn’t fire up quite so strong, Sam,” he called down. “We won’t start for a couple of hours yet.”
“Sufferin’ Moses!” Davis poked his fiery thatch out from the engine room. “I might ‘a’ known better’n to sweat over firin’ up. You generally manage to make about three false starts to one get-away.”
Benton laughed good-naturedly and turned away.
“Do you usually allow your men to address you in that impertinent way?” Miss Benton desired to know.
Charlie looked blank for a second. Then he smiled, and linking his arm affectionately in hers, drew her off along the wharf, chuckling to himself.
“My dear girl,” said he, “you’d better not let Sam Davis or any of Sam’s kind hear you pass remarks like that. Sam would say exactly what he thought about such matters to his boss, or King George, or to the first lady of the land, regardless. Sabe? We’re what you’ll call primitive out here, yet. You want to forget that master and man business, the servant proposition, and proper respect, and all that rot. Outside the English colonies in one or two big towns, that attitude doesn’t go in B.C. People in this neck of the woods stand pretty much on the same class footing, and you’ll get in bad and get me in bad if you don’t remember that. I’ve got ten loggers working for me in the woods. Whether they’re impertinent or profane cuts no figure so long as they handle the job properly. They’re men, you understand, not servants. None of them would hesitate to tell me what he thinks about me or anything I do. If I don’t like it, I can fight him or fire him. They won’t stand for the sort of airs you’re accustomed to. They have the utmost respect for a woman, but a man is merely a two-legged male human like themselves, whether he wears mackinaws or broadcloth, has a barrel of money of none at all. This will seem odd to you at first, but you’ll get used to it. You’ll find things rather different out here.”
“I suppose so,” she agreed. “But it sounds queer. For instance, if one of papa’s clerks or the chauffeur had spoken like that, he’d have been discharged on the spot.”
“The logger’s a different breed,” Benton observed drily. “Or perhaps only the same breed manifesting under different conditions. He isn’t servile. He doesn’t have to be.”
“Why the delay, though?” she reverted to the point. “I thought you were all ready to go.”
“I am,” Charlie enlightened. “But while I was at the store just now, Paul Abbey ‘phoned from Vancouver to know if there was an up-lake boat in. His people are big lumber guns here, and it will accommodate him and won’t hurt me to wait a couple of hours and drop him off at their camp. I’ve got more or less business dealings with them, and it doesn’t hurt to be neighborly. He’d have to hire a gas-boat otherwise. Besides, Paul’s a pretty good head.”
This, of course, being strictly her brother’s business, Stella forbore comment. She was weary of travel, tired with the tension of eternally being shunted across distances, anxious to experience once more that sense of restful finality which comes with a journey’s end. But, in a measure her movements were no longer dependent upon her own volition.
They walked slowly along the broad roadway which bordered the lake until they came to a branchy maple, and here they seated themselves on the grassy turf in the shadow of the tree.
“Tell me about yourself,” she said. “How do you like it here, and how are you getting on? Your letters home were always chiefly remarkable for their brevity.”
“There isn’t a great lot to tell,” Benton responded. “I’m just beginning to get on my feet. A raw, untried youngster has a lot to learn and unlearn when he hits this tall timber. I’ve been out here five years, and I’m just beginning to realize what I’m equal to and what I’m not. I’m crawling over a hump now that would have been a lot easier if the governor hadn’t come to grief the way he did. He was going to put in some money this fall. But I think I’ll make it, anyway, though it will keep me digging and figuring. I have a contract for delivery of a million feet in September and another contract that I could take if I could see my way clear to finance the thing. I could clean up thirty thousand dollars net in two years if I had more cash to work on. As it is, I have to go slow, or I’d go broke. I’m holding two limits by the skin of my teeth. But I’ve got one good one practically for an annual pittance. If I make delivery on my contract according to schedule it’s plain sailing. That about sizes up my prospects, Sis.”
“You speak a language I don’t understand,” she smiled. “What does a million feet mean? And what’s a limit?”
“A limit is one square mile–six hundred and forty acres more or less–of merchantable timber land,” he explained. “We speak of timber as scaling so many board feet. A board foot is one inch thick by twelve inches square. Sound fir timber is worth around seven dollars per thousand board feet in the log, got out of the woods, and boomed in the water ready to tow to the mills. The first limit I got–from the government–will scale around ten million feet. The other two are nearly as good. But I got them from timber speculators, and it’s costing me pretty high. They’re a good spec if I can hang on to them, though.”
“It sounds big,” she commented.
“It _is_ big,” Charlie declared, “if I could go at it right. I’ve been trying ever since I got wise to this timber business to make the governor see what a chance there is in it. He was just getting properly impressed with the possibilities when the speed bug got him. He could have trimmed a little here and there at home and put the money to work. Ten thousand dollars would have done the trick, given me a working outfit along with what I’ve got that would have put us both on Easy Street. However, the poor old chap didn’t get around to it. I suppose, like lots of other business men, when he stopped, everything ran down. According to Lander’s figures, there won’t be a thing left when all accounts are squared.”
“Don’t talk about it, Charlie,” she begged. “It’s too near, and I was through it all.”
“I would have been there too,” Benton said. “But, as I told you, I was out of reach of your wire, and by the time I got it, it was all over. I couldn’t have done any good, anyway. There’s no use mourning. One way and another we’ve all got to come to it some day.”
Stella looked out over the placid, shimmering surface of Roaring Lake for a minute. Her grief was dimming with time and distance, and she had all her own young life before her. She found herself drifting from painful memories of her father’s sudden death to a consideration of things present and personal. She found herself wondering critically if this strange, rude land would work as many changes in her as were patent in this bronzed and burly brother.
He had left home a slim, cocksure youngster, who had proved more than a handful for his family before he was half through college, which educational finishing process had come to an abrupt stop before it was complete. He had been a problem that her father and mother had discussed in guarded tones. Sending him West had been a hopeful experiment, and in the West that abounding spirit which manifested itself in one continual round of minor escapades appeared to have found a natural outlet. She recalled that latterly their father had taken to speaking of Charlie in accents of pride. He was developing the one ambition that Benton senior could thoroughly understand and properly appreciate, the desire to get on, to grasp opportunities, to achieve material success, to make money.
Just as her father, on the few occasions when he talked business before her, spoke in a big way of big things as the desirable ultimate, so now Charlie spoke, with plans and outlook to match his speech. In her father’s point of view, and in Charlie’s now, a man’s personal life did not seem to matter in comparison with getting on and making money. And it was with that personal side of existence that Stella Benton was now chiefly concerned. She had never been required to adjust herself to an existence that was wholly taken up with getting on to the complete exclusion of everything else. Her work had been to play. She could scarce conceive of any one entirely excluding pleasure and diversion from his or her life. She wondered if Charlie had done so. And if not, what ameliorating circumstances, what social outlet, might be found to offset, for her, continued existence in this isolated region of towering woods. So far as her first impressions went, Roaring Lake appeared to be mostly frequented by lumberjacks addicted to rude speech and strong drink.
“Are there many people living around this lake?” she inquired. “It is surely a beautiful spot. If we had this at home, there would be a summer cottage on every hundred yards of shore.”
“Be a long time before we get to that stage here,” Benton returned. “And scenery in B.C. is a drug on the market; we’ve got Europe backed off the map for tourist attractions, if they only knew it. No, about the only summer home in this locality is the Abbey place at Cottonwood Point. They come up here every summer for two or three months. Otherwise I don’t know of any lilies of the field, barring the hotel people, and they, being purely transient, don’t count. There’s the Abbey-Monohan outfit with two big logging camps, my outfit, Jack Fyfe’s, some hand loggers on the east shore, and the R.A.T. at the head of the lake. That’s the population–and Roaring Lake is forty-two miles long and eight wide.”
“Are there any nice girls around?” she asked.
Benton grinned widely.
“Girls?” said he. “Not so you could notice. Outside the Springs and the hatchery over the way, there isn’t a white woman on the lake except Lefty Howe’s wife,–Lefty’s Jack Fyfe’s foreman,–and she’s fat and past forty. I told you it was a God-forsaken hole as far as society is concerned, Stell.”
“I know,” she said thoughtfully. “But one can scarcely realize such a–such a social blankness, until one actually experiences it. Anyway, I don’t know but I’ll appreciate utter quiet for awhile. But what do you do with yourself when you’re not working?”
“There’s seldom any such time,” he answered. “I tell you, Stella, I’ve got a big job on my hands. I’ve got a definite mark to shoot at, and I’m going to make a bull’s-eye in spite of hell and high water. I have no time to play, and there’s no place to play if I had. I don’t intend to muddle along making a pittance like a hand logger. I want a stake; and then it’ll be time to make a splurge in a country where a man can get a run for his money.”
“If that’s the case,” she observed, “I’m likely to be a handicap to you, am I not?”
“Lord, no,” he smiled. “I’ll put you to work too, when you get rested up from your trip. You stick with me, Sis, and you’ll wear diamonds.”
She laughed with him at this, and leaving the shady maple they walked up to the hotel, where Benton proposed that they get a canoe and paddle to where Roaring River flowed out of the lake half a mile westward, to kill the time that must elapse before the three-thirty train.
The St. Allwoods’ car was rolling out to Hopyard when they came back. By the time Benton had turned the canoe over to the boathouse man and reached the wharf, the horn of the returning machine sounded down the road. They waited. The car came to a stop at the abutting wharf. The driver handed two suitcases off the burdened hood of his machine. From out the tonneau clambered a large, smooth-faced young man. He wore an expansive smile in addition to a blue serge suit, white Panama, and polished tan Oxfords, and he bestowed a hearty greeting upon Charlie Benton. But his smile suffered eclipse, and a faint flush rose in his round cheeks, when his eyes fell upon Benton’s sister.
Miss Benton’s cool, impersonal manner seemed rather to heighten the young man’s embarrassment. Benton, apparently observing nothing amiss, introduced them in an offhand fashion.
“Mr. Abbey–my sister.”
Mr. Abbey bowed and murmured something that passed for acknowledgment. The three turned up the wharf toward where Sam Davis had once more got up steam. As they walked, Mr. Abbey’s habitual assurance returned, and he directed part of his genial flow of conversation to Miss Benton. To Stella’s inner amusement, however, he did not make any reference to their having been fellow travelers for a day and a half.
Presently they were embarked and under way. Charlie fixed a seat for her on the after deck, and went forward to steer, whither he was straightway joined by Paul Abbey. Miss Benton was as well pleased to be alone. She was not sure she should approve of young men who made such crude efforts to scrape acquaintance with women on trains. She was accustomed to a certain amount of formality in such matters. It might perhaps be laid to the “breezy Western manner” of which she had heard, except that Paul Abbey did not impress her as a Westerner. He seemed more like a type of young man she had encountered frequently in her own circle. At any rate, she was relieved when he did not remain beside her to emit polite commonplaces. She was quite satisfied to sit by herself and look over the panorama of woods and lake–and wonder more than a little what Destiny had in store for her along those silent shores.
The Springs fell far behind, became a few white spots against the background of dusky green. Except for the ripples spread by their wake, the water laid oily smooth. Now, a little past four in the afternoon, she began to sense by comparison the great bulk of the western mountains,–locally, the Chehalis Range,–for the sun was dipping behind the ragged peaks already, and deep shadows stole out from the shore to port. Beneath her feet the screw throbbed, pulsing like an overdriven heart, and Sam Davis poked his sweaty face now and then through a window to catch a breath of cool air denied him in the small inferno where he stoked the fire box.
The _Chickamin_ cleared Echo Island, and a greater sweep of lake opened out. Here the afternoon wind sprang up, shooting gustily through a gap between the Springs and Hopyard and ruffling the lake out of its noonday siesta. Ripples, chop, and a growing swell followed each other with that marvellous rapidity common to large bodies of fresh water. It broke the monotony of steady cleaving through dead calm. Stella was a good sailor, and she rather enjoyed it when the _Chickamin_ began to lift and yaw off before the following seas that ran up under her fantail stern.
After about an hour’s run, with the south wind beginning to whip the crests of the short seas into white foam, the boat bore in to a landing behind a low point. Here Abbey disembarked, after taking the trouble to come aft and shake hands with polite farewell. Standing on the float, hat in hand, he bowed his sleek blond head to Stella.
“I hope you’ll like Roaring Lake, Miss Benton,” he said, as Benton jingled the go-ahead bell. “I tried to persuade Charlie to stop over awhile, so you could meet my mother and sister, but he’s in too big a hurry. Hope to have the pleasure of meeting you again soon.”
Miss Benton parried courteously, a little at a loss to fathom this bland friendliness, and presently the widening space cut off their talk. As the boat drew offshore, she saw two women in white come down toward the float, meet Abbey, and turn back. And a little farther out through an opening in the woods, she saw a white and green bungalow, low and rambling, wide-verandahed, set on a hillock three hundred yards back from shore. There was an encircling area of smooth lawn, a place restfully inviting.
Watching that, seeing a figure or two moving about, she was smitten with a recurrence of that poignant loneliness which had assailed her fitfully in the last four days. And while the _Chickamin_ was still plowing the inshore waters on an even keel, she walked the guard rail alongside and joined her brother in the pilot house.
“Isn’t that a pretty place back there in the woods?” she remarked.
“Abbey’s summer camp; spells money to me, that’s all,” Charlie grumbled. “It’s a toy for their women,–up-to-date cottage, gardeners, tennis courts, afternoon tea on the lawn for the guests, and all that. But the Abbey-Monohan bunch has the money to do what they want to do. They’ve made it in timber, as I expect to make mine. You didn’t particularly want to stay over and get acquainted, did you?”
“I? Of course not,” she responded.
“Personally, I don’t want to mix into their social game,” Charlie drawled. “Or at least, I don’t propose to make any tentative advances. The women put on lots of side, they say. If they want to hunt us up and cultivate you, all right. But I’ve got too much to do to butt into society. Anyway, I didn’t want to run up against any critical females looking like I do right now.”
“Under certain circumstances, appearances do count then, in this country,” she remarked. “Has your Mr. Abbey got a young and be-yutiful sister?”
“He has, but that’s got nothing to do with it,” Charlie retorted. “Paul’s all right himself. But their gait isn’t mine–not yet. Here, you take the wheel a minute. I want to smoke. I don’t suppose you ever helmed a forty-footer, but you’ll never learn younger.”
She took the wheel and Charlie stood by, directing her. In twenty minutes they were out where the run of the sea from the south had a fair sweep. The wind was whistling now. All the roughened surface was spotted with whitecaps. The _Chickamin_ would hang on the crest of a wave and shoot forward like a racer, her wheel humming, and again the roller would run out from under her, and she would labor heavily in the trough.
It began to grow insufferably hot in the pilot house. The wind drove with them, pressing the heat from the boiler and fire box into the forward portion of the boat, where Stella stood at the wheel. There were puffs of smoke when Davis opened the fire box to ply it with fuel. All the sour smells that rose from an unclean bilge eddied about them. The heat and the smell and the surging motion began to nauseate Stella.
“I must get outside where I can breathe,” she gasped, at length. “It’s suffocating. I don’t see how you stand it.”
“It does get stuffy in here when we run with the wind,” Benton admitted. “Cuts off our ventilation. I’m used to it. Crawl out the window and sit on the forward deck. Don’t try to get aft. You might slip off, the way she’s lurching.”
Curled in the hollow of a faked-down hawser with the clean air fanning her, Stella recovered herself. The giddiness left her. She pitied Sam Davis back in that stinking hole beside the fire box. But she supposed he, like her brother, was “used to it.” Apparently one could get used to anything, if she could judge by the amazing change in Charlie.
Far ahead loomed a ridge running down to the lake shore and cutting off in a bold promontory. That was Halfway Point, Charlie had told her, and under its shadow lay his camp. Without any previous knowledge of camps, she was approaching this one with less eager anticipation than when she began her long journey. She began to fear that it might be totally unlike anything she had been able to imagine, disagreeably so. Charlie, she decided, had grown hard and coarsened in the evolution of his ambition to get on, to make his pile. She was but four years younger than he, and she had always thought of herself as being older and wiser and steadier. She had conceived the idea that her presence would have a good influence on him, that they would pull together–now that there were but the two of them. But four hours in his company had dispelled that illusion. She had the wit to perceive that Charlie Benton had emerged from the chrysalis stage, that he had the will and the ability to mold his life after his elected fashion, and that her coming was a relatively unimportant incident.
In due course the _Chickamin_ bore in under Halfway Point, opened out a sheltered bight where the watery commotion outside raised but a faint ripple, and drew in alongside a float.
The girl swept lake shore, bay, and sloping forest with a quickening eye. Here was no trim-painted cottage and velvet lawn. In the waters beside and lining the beach floated innumerable logs, confined by boomsticks, hundreds of trunks of fir, forty and sixty feet long, four and six feet across the butt, timber enough, when it had passed through the sawmills, to build four such towns as Hopyard. Just back from the shore, amid stumps and littered branches, rose the roofs of divers buildings. One was long and low. Hard by it stood another of like type but of lesser dimension. Two or three mere shanties lifted level with great stumps,–crude, unpainted buildings. Smoke issued from the pipe of the larger, and a white-aproned man stood in the doorway.
Somewhere in the screen of woods a whistle shrilled. Benton looked at his watch.
“We made good time, in spite of the little roll,” said he. “That’s the donkey blowing quitting time–six o’clock. Well, come on up to the shack, Sis. Sam, you get a wheelbarrow and run those trunks up after supper, will you?”
Away in the banked timber beyond the maples and alder which Stella now saw masked the bank of a small stream flowing by the cabins, a faint call rose, long-drawn:
They moved along a path beaten through fern and clawing blackberry vine toward the camp, Benton carrying the two grips. A loud, sharp crack split the stillness; then a mild swishing sound arose. Hard on the heels of that followed a rending, tearing crash, a thud that sent tremors through the solid earth under their feet. The girl started.
“Falling gang dropped a big fir,” Charlie laughed. “You’ll get used to that. You’ll hear it a good many times a day here.”
“Good Heavens, it sounded like the end of the world,” she said.
“Well, you can’t fell a stick of timber two hundred feet high and six or eight feet through without making a pretty considerable noise,” her brother remarked complacently. “I like that sound myself. Every big tree that goes down means a bunch of money.”
He led the way past the mess-house, from the doorway of which the aproned cook eyed her with frank curiosity, hailing his employer with nonchalant air, a cigarette resting in one corner of his mouth. Benton opened the door of the second building. Stella followed him in.
It had the saving grace of cleanliness–according to logging-camp standards. But the bareness of it appalled her. There was a rusty box heater, littered with cigar and cigarette stubs, a desk fabricated of undressed boards, a homemade chair or two, sundry boxes standing about. The sole concession to comfort was a rug of cheap Axminster covering half the floor. The walls were decorated chiefly with miscellaneous clothing suspended from nails, a few maps and blue prints tacked up askew. Straight across from the entering door another stood ajar, and she could see further vistas of bare board wall, small, dusty window-panes, and a bed whereon gray blankets were tumbled as they fell when a waking sleeper cast them aside.
Benton crossed the room and threw open another door.
“Here’s a nook I fixed up for you, Stella,” he said briskly. “It isn’t very fancy, but it’s the best I could do just now.”
She followed him in silently. He set her two bags on the floor and turned to go. Then some impulse moved him to turn back, and he put both hands on her shoulders and kissed her gently.
“You’re home, anyway,” he said. “That’s something, if it isn’t what you’re used to. Try to overlook the crudities. We’ll have supper as soon as you feel like it.”
He went out, closing the door behind him.
Miss Estella Benton stood in the middle of the room fighting against a swift heart-sinking, a terrible depression that strove to master her.
“Good Lord in Heaven,” she muttered at last. “What a place to be marooned in. It’s–it’s simply impossible.”
Her gaze roved about the room. A square box, neither more nor less, fourteen by fourteen feet of bare board wall, unpainted and unpapered. There was an iron bed, a willow rocker, and a rude closet for clothes in one corner. A duplicate of the department-store bargain rug in the other room lay on the floor. On an upturned box stood an enamel pitcher and a tin washbasin. That was all.
She sat down on the bed and viewed it forlornly. A wave of sickening rebellion against everything swept over her. To herself she seemed as irrevocably alone as if she had been lost in the depths of the dark timber that rose on every hand. And sitting there she heard at length the voices of men. Looking out through a window curtained with cheesecloth she saw her brother’s logging gang swing past, stout woodsmen all, big men, tall men, short-bodied men with thick necks and shoulders, sunburned, all grimy with the sweat of their labors, carrying themselves with a free and reckless swing, the doubles in type of that roistering crew she had seen embark on Jack Fyfe’s boat.
In so far as she had taken note of those who labored with their hands in the region of her birth, she had seen few like these. The chauffeur, the footman, the street cleaner, the factory workers–they were all different. They lacked something,–perhaps nothing in the way of physical excellence; but these men betrayed in every movement a subtle difference that she could not define. Her nearest approximation and the first attempt she made at analysis was that they looked like pirates. They were bold men and strong; that was written in their faces and the swing of them as they walked. And they served the very excellent purpose of taking her mind off herself for the time being.
She watched them cluster by a bench before the cookhouse, dabble their faces and hands in washbasins, scrub themselves promiscuously on towels, sometimes one at each end of a single piece of cloth, hauling it back and forth in rude play.
All about that cookhouse dooryard spread a confusion of empty tin cans, gaudily labeled, containers of corn and peas and tomatoes. Dishwater and refuse, chips, scraps, all the refuse of the camp was scattered there in unlovely array.
But that made no more than a passing impression upon her. She was thinking, as she removed her hat and gloves, of what queer angles come now and then to the human mind. She wondered why she should be sufficiently interested in her brother’s hired men to drive off a compelling attack of the blues in consideration of them as men. Nevertheless, she found herself unable to view them as she had viewed, say, the clerks in her father’s office.
She began to brush her hair and to wonder what sort of food would be served for supper.
A FORETASTE OF THINGS TO COME
Half an hour later she sat down with her brother at one end of a table that was but a long bench covered with oilcloth. Chairs there were none. A narrow movable bench on each side of the fixed table furnished seating capacity for twenty men, provided none objected to an occasional nudging from his neighbor’s elbow. The dishes, different from any she had ever eaten from, were of enormously thick porcelain, dead white, variously chipped and cracked with fine seams. But the food, if plain, was of excellent quality, tastily cooked. She discovered herself with an appetite wholly independent of silver and cut glass and linen. The tin spoons and steel knives and forks harrowed her aesthetic sense without impairing her ability to satisfy hunger.
They had the dining room to themselves. Through a single shiplap partition rose a rumble of masculine talk, where the logging crew loafed in their bunkhouse. The cook served them without any ceremony, putting everything on the table at once,–soup, meat, vegetables, a bread pudding for dessert, coffee in a tall tin pot. Benton introduced him to his sister. He withdrew hastily to the kitchen, and they saw no more of him.
“Charlie,” the girl said plaintively, when the man had closed the door behind him, “I don’t quite fathom your social customs out here. Is one supposed to know everybody that one encounters?”
“Just about,” he grinned. “Loggers, Siwashes, and the natives in general. Can’t very well help it, Sis. There’s so few people in this neck of the woods that nobody can afford to be exclusive,–at least, nobody who lives here any length of time. You can’t tell when you may have to call on your neighbor or the fellow working for you in a matter of life and death almost. A man couldn’t possibly maintain the same attitude toward a bunch of loggers working under him that would be considered proper back where we came from. Take me, for instance, and my case is no different from any man operating on a moderate scale out here. I’d get the reputation of being swell-headed, and they’d put me in the hole at every turn. They wouldn’t care what they did or how it was done. Ten to one I couldn’t keep a capable working crew three weeks on end. On the other hand, take a bunch of loggers on a pay roll working for a man that meets them on an equal footing–why, they’ll go to hell and back again for him. They’re as loyal as soldiers to the flag. They’re a mighty self-sufficient, independent lot, these lumberjacks, and that goes for most everybody knocking about in this country,–loggers, prospectors, miners, settlers, and all. If you’re what they term ‘all right,’ you can do anything, and they’ll back you up. If you go to putting on airs and trying to assert yourself as a superior being, they’ll go out of their way to hand you packages of trouble.”
“I see,” she observed thoughtfully. “One’s compelled by circumstances to practice democracy.”
“Something like that,” he responded carelessly and went on eating his supper.
“Don’t you think we could make this place a lot more homelike, Charlie?” she ventured, when they were back in their own quarters. “I suppose it suits a man who only uses it as a place to sleep, but it’s bare as a barn.”
“It takes money to make a place cosy,” Benton returned. “And I haven’t had it to spend on knickknacks.”
“Fiddlesticks!” she laughed. “A comfortable chair or two and curtains and pictures aren’t knickknacks, as you call them. The cost wouldn’t amount to anything.”
Benton stuffed the bowl of a pipe and lighted it before he essayed reply.
“Look here, Stella,” he said earnestly. “This joint probably strikes you as about the limit, seeing that you’ve been used to pretty soft surroundings and getting pretty nearly anything you wanted whenever you expressed a wish for it. Things that you’ve grown into the way of considering necessities _are_ luxuries. And they’re out of the question for us at present. I got a pretty hard seasoning the first two years I was in this country, and when I set up this camp it was merely a place to live. I never thought anything about it as being comfortable or otherwise until you elected to come. I’m not in a position to go in for trimmings. Rough as this camp is, it will have to go as it stands this summer. I’m up against it for ready money. I’ve got none due until I make delivery of those logs in September, and I have to have that million feet in the water in order to make delivery. Every one of these men but the cook and the donkey engineer are working for me with their wages deferred until then. There are certain expenses that must be met with cash–and I’ve got all my funds figured down to nickels. If I get by on this contract, I’ll have a few hundred to squander on house things. Until then, it’s the simple life for us. You can camp for three or four months, can’t you, without finding it completely unbearable?”
“Why, of course,” she protested. “I wasn’t complaining about the way things are. I merely voiced the idea that it would be nice to fix up a little cosier, make these rooms look a little homelike. I didn’t know you were practically compelled to live like this as a matter of economy.”
“Well, in a sense, I am,” he replied. “And then again, making a place away out here homelike never struck me as being anything but an inconsequential detail. I’m not trying to make a home here. I’m after a bundle of money. A while ago, if you had been here and suggested it, you could have spent five or six hundred, and I wouldn’t have missed it. But this contract came my way, and gave me a chance to clean up three thousand dollars clear profit in four months. I grabbed it, and I find it’s some undertaking. I’m dealing with a hard business outfit, hard as nails. I might get the banks or some capitalist to finance me, because my timber holdings are worth money. But I’m shy of that. I’ve noticed that when a logger starts working on borrowed capital, he generally goes broke. The financiers generally devise some way to hook him. I prefer to sail as close to the wind as I can on what little I’ve got. I can get this timber out–but it wouldn’t look nice, now, would it, for me to be buying furniture when I’m standing these boys off for their wages till September?”
“I should have been a man,” Miss Estella Benton pensively remarked. “Then I could put on overalls and make myself useful, instead of being a drone. There doesn’t seem to be anything here I can do. I could keep house–only you haven’t any house to keep, therefore no need of a housekeeper. Why, who’s that?”
Her ear had caught a low, throaty laugh, a woman’s laugh, outside. She looked inquiringly at her brother. His expression remained absent, as of one concentrated upon his own problems. She repeated the question.
“That? Oh, Katy John, I suppose, or her mother,” he answered. “Siwash bunch camping around the point. The girl does some washing for us now and then. I suppose she’s after Matt for some bread or something.”
Stella looked out. At the cookhouse door stood a short, plump-bodied girl, dark-skinned and black-haired. Otherwise she conformed to none of Miss Benton’s preconceived ideas of the aboriginal inhabitant. If she had been pinned down, she would probably have admitted that she expected to behold an Indian maiden garbed in beaded buckskin and brass ornaments. Instead, Katy John wore a white sailor blouse, a brown pleated skirt, tan shoes, and a bow of baby blue ribbon in her hair.
“Why, she talks good English,” Miss Benton exclaimed, as fragments of the girl’s speech floated over to her.
“Sure. As good as anybody,” Charlie drawled. “Why not?”
“Well–er–I suppose my notion of Indians is rather vague,” Stella admitted. “Are they all civilized and educated?”
“Most of ’em,” Benton replied. “The younger generation anyhow. Say, Stell, can you cook?”
“A little,” Stella rejoined guardedly. “That Indian girl’s really pretty, isn’t she?”
“They nearly all are when they’re young,” he observed. “But they are old and tubby by the time they’re thirty.”
Katy John’s teeth shone white between her parted lips at some sally from the cook. She stood by the door, swinging a straw hat in one hand. Presently Matt handed her a parcel done up in newspaper, and she walked away with a nod to some of the loggers sitting with their backs against the bunkhouse wall.
“Why were you asking if I could cook?” Stella inquired, when the girl vanished in the brush.
“Why, your wail about being a man and putting on overalls and digging in reminded me that if you liked you may have a chance to get on your apron and show us what you can do,” he laughed. “Matt’s about due to go on a tear. He’s been on the water-wagon now about his limit. The first man that comes along with a bottle of whisky, Matt will get it and quit and head for town. I was wondering if you and Katy John could keep the gang from starving to death if that happened. The last time I had to get in and cook for two weeks myself. And I can’t run a logging crew from the cook shanty very well.”
“I daresay I could manage,” Stella returned dubiously. “This seems to be a terrible place for drinking. Is it the accepted thing to get drunk at all times and in public?”
“It’s about the only excitement there is,” Benton smiled tolerantly. “I guess there is no more drinking out here than any other part of this North American continent. Only a man here gets drunk openly and riotously without any effort to hide it, and without it being considered anything but a natural lapse. That’s one thing you’ll have to get used to out here, Stell–I mean, that what vices men have are all on the surface. We don’t get drunk secretly at the club and sneak home in a taxi. Oh, well, we’ll cross the bridge when we come to it. Matt may not break out for weeks.”
He yawned openly.
“Sleepy?” Stella inquired.
“I get up every morning between four and five,” he replied. “And I can go to sleep any time after supper.”
“I think I’ll take a walk along the beach,” she said abruptly.
“All right. Don’t hike into the woods and get lost, though.”
She circled the segment of bay, climbed a low, rocky point, and found herself a seat on a fallen tree. Outside the lake heaved uneasily, still dotted with whitecaps whipped up by the southerly gale. At her feet surge after surge hammered the gravelly shore. Far through the woods behind her the wind whistled and hummed among swaying tops of giant fir and cedar. There was a heady freshness in that rollicking wind, an odor resinous and pungent mingled with that elusive smell of green growing stuff along the shore. Beginning where she sat, tree trunks rose in immense brown pillars, running back in great forest naves, shadowy always, floored with green moss laid in a rich, soft carpet for the wood-sprites’ feet. Far beyond the long gradual lower slope lifted a range of saw-backed mountains, the sanctuary of wild goat and bear, and across the rolling lake lifted other mountains sheer from the water’s edge, peaks rising above timber-line in majestic contour, their pinnacle crests grazing the clouds that scudded before the south wind.
Beauty? Yes. A wild, imposing grandeur that stirred some responsive chord in her. If only one could live amid such surrounding with a contented mind, she thought, the wilderness would have compensations of its own. She had an uneasy feeling that isolation from everything that had played an important part in her life might be the least depressing factor in this new existence. She could not view the rough and ready standards of the woods with much equanimity–not as she had that day seen them set forth. These things were bound to be a part of her daily life, and all the brief span of her years had gone to forming habits of speech and thought and manner diametrically opposed to what she had so far encountered.
She nursed her chin in her hand and pondered this. She could not see how it was to be avoided. She was there, and perforce she must stay there. She had no friends to go elsewhere, or training in the harsh business of gaining a livelihood if she did go. For the first time she began dully to resent the manner of her upbringing. Once she had desired to enter hospital training, had been properly enthusiastic for a period of months over a career in this field of mercy. Then, as now, marriage, while accepted as the ultimate state, was only to be considered through a haze of idealism and romanticism. She cherished certain ideals of a possible lover and husband, but always with a false sense of shame. The really serious business of a woman’s life was the one thing to which she made no attempt to apply practical consideration. But her parents had had positive ideas on that subject, even if they were not openly expressed. Her yearnings after a useful “career” were skilfully discouraged,–by her mother because that worthy lady thought it was “scarcely the thing, Stella dear, and so unnecessary”; by her father because, as he bluntly put it, it would only be a waste of time and money, since the chances were she would get married before she was half through training, and anyway a girl’s place was at home till she did get married. That was his only reference to the subject of her ultimate disposition that she could recall, but it was plain enough as far as it went.
It was too late to mourn over lost opportunities now, but she did wish there was some one thing she could do and do well, some service of value that would guarantee self-support. If she could only pound a typewriter or keep a set of books, or even make a passable attempt at sewing, she would have felt vastly more at ease in this rude logging camp, knowing that she could leave it if she desired.
So far as she could see things, she looked at them with measurable clearness, without any vain illusions concerning her ability to march triumphant over unknown fields of endeavor. Along practical lines she had everything to learn. Culture furnishes an excellent pair of wings wherewith to soar in skies of abstraction, but is a poor vehicle to carry one over rough roads. She might have remained in Philadelphia, a guest among friends. Pride forbade that. Incidentally, such an arrangement would have enabled her to stalk a husband, a moneyed husband, which did not occur to her at all. There remained only to join Charlie. If his fortunes mended, well and good. Perhaps she could even help in minor ways.
But it was all so radically different–brother and all–from what she had pictured that she was filled with dismay and not a little foreboding of the future. Sufficient, however, unto the day was the evil thereof, she told herself at last, and tried to make that assurance work a change of heart. She was very lonely and depressed and full of a futile wish that she were a man.
Over across the bay some one was playing an accordeon, and to its strains a stout-lunged lumberjack was roaring out a song, with all his fellows joining strong in the chorus:
“Oh, the Saginaw Kid was a cook in a camp, way up on the Ocon-to-o-o. And the cook in a camp in them old days had a damn hard row to hoe-i-oh! Had a damn hard row to hoe.”
There was a fine, rollicking air to it. The careless note in their voices, the jovial lilt of their song, made her envious. They at least had their destiny, limited as it might be and cast along rude ways, largely under their own control.
Her wandering gaze at length came to rest on a tent top showing in the brush northward from the camp. She saw two canoes drawn up on the beach above the lash of the waves, two small figures playing on the gravel, and sundry dogs prowling alongshore. Smoke went eddying away in the wind. The Siwash camp where Katy John hailed from, Miss Benton supposed.
She had an impulse to skirt the bay and view the Indian camp at closer range, a notion born of curiosity. She debated this casually, and just as she was about to rise, her movement was arrested by a faint crackle in the woods behind. She looked away through the deepening shadow among the trees and saw nothing at first. But the sound was repeated at odd intervals. She sat still. Thoughts of forest animals slipped into her mind, without making her afraid. At last she caught sight of a man striding through the timber, soundlessly on the thick moss, coming almost straight toward her.
He was scarcely fifty yards away. Across his shoulders he bore a reddish-gray burden, and in his right hand was a gun. She did not move. Bowed slightly under the weight, the man passed within twenty feet of her, so close that she could see the sweat-beads glisten on that side of his face, and saw also that the load he carried was the carcass of a deer.
Gaining the beach and laying the animal across a boulder, he straightened himself up and drew a long breath. Then he wiped the sweat off his face. She recognized him as the man who had thrown the logger down the slip that day at noon,–presumably Jack Fyfe. A sturdily built man about thirty, of Saxon fairness, with a tinge of red in his hair and a liberal display of freckles across nose and cheek bones. He was no beauty, she decided, albeit he displayed a frank and pleasing countenance. That he was a remarkably strong and active man she had seen for herself, and if the firm round of his jaw counted for anything, an individual of considerable determination besides. Miss Benton conceived herself to be possessed of considerable skill at character analysis.
He put away his handkerchief, took up his rifle, settled his hat, and strode off toward the camp. Her attention now diverted from the Siwashes, she watched him, saw him go to her brother’s quarters, stand in the door a minute, then go back to the beach accompanied by Charlie.
In a minute or so he came rowing across in a skiff, threw his deer aboard, and pulled away north along the shore.
She watched him lift and fall among the waves until he turned a point, rowing with strong, even strokes. Then she walked home. Benton was poring over some figures, but he pushed aside his pencil and paper when she entered.
“You had a visitor, I see,” she remarked.
“Yes, Jack Fyfe. He picked up a deer on the ridge behind here and borrowed a boat to get home.”
“I saw him come out of the woods,” she said. “His camp can’t be far from here, is it? He only left the Springs as you came in. Does he hunt deer for sport?”
“Hardly. Oh, well, I suppose it’s sport for Jack, in a way. He’s always piking around in the woods with a gun or a fishing rod,” Benton returned. “But we kill ’em to eat mostly. It’s good meat and cheap. I get one myself now and then. However, you want to keep that under your hat–about us fellows hunting–or we’ll have game wardens nosing around here.”
“Are you not allowed to hunt them?” she asked.
“Not in close season. Hunting season’s from September to December.”
“If it’s unlawful, why break the law?” she ventured hesitatingly. “Isn’t that rather–er–“
“Oh, bosh,” Charlie derided. “A man in the woods is entitled to venison, if he’s hunter enough to get it. The woods are full of deer, and a few more or less don’t matter. We can’t run forty miles to town and back and pay famine prices for beef every two or three days, when we can get it at home in the woods.”
Stella digested this in silence, but it occurred to her that this mild sample of lawlessness was quite in keeping with the men and the environment. There was no policeman on the corner, no mechanism of law and order visible anywhere. The characteristic attitude of these woodsmen was of intolerance for restraint, of complete self-sufficiency. It had colored her brother’s point of view. She perceived that whereas all her instinct was to know the rules of the game and abide by them, he, taking his cue from his environment, inclined to break rules that proved inconvenient, even to formulate new ones to apply.
“And suppose,” said she, “that a game warden should catch you or Mr. Jack Fyfe killing deer out of season?”
“We’d be hauled up and fined a hundred dollars or so,” he told her. “But they don’t catch us.”
He shrugged his shoulders, and smiling tolerantly upon her, proceeded to smoke.
Dusk was falling now, the long twilight of the northern seasons gradually deepening, as they sat in silence. Along the creek bank arose the evening chorus of the frogs. The air, now hushed and still, was riven every few minutes by the whir of wings as ducks in evening flight swept by above. All the boisterous laughter and talk in the bunkhouse had died. The woods ranged gloomy and impenetrable, save only in the northwest, where a patch of sky lighted by diffused pink and gray revealed one mountain higher than its fellows standing bald against the horizon.
“Well, I guess it’s time to turn in.” Benton muffled a yawn. “Pleasant dreams, Sis. Oh, here’s your purse. I used part of the bank roll. You won’t have much use for money up here, anyway.”
He flipped the purse across to her and sauntered into his bedroom. Stella sat gazing thoughtfully at the vast bulk of Mount Douglas a few minutes longer. Then she too went into the box-like room, the bare discomfort of which chilled her merely to behold.
With a curious uncertainty, a feeling of reluctance for the proceeding almost, she examined the contents of her purse. For a little time she stood gazing into it, a queer curl to her full red lips. Then she flung it contemptuously on the bed and began to take down her hair.
“‘A rich, rough, tough country, where it doesn’t do to be finicky about anything,'” she murmured, quoting a line from one of Charlie Benton’s letters. “It would appear to be rather unpleasantly true. Particularly the last clause.”
In her purse, which had contained one hundred and ten dollars, there now reposed in solitary state a twenty-dollar bill.
THE TOLL OF BIG TIMBER
Day came again, in the natural sequence of events. Matt, the cook, roused all the camp at six o’clock with a tremendous banging on a piece of boiler plate hung by a wire. Long before that Stella heard her brother astir. She wondered sleepily at his sprightliness, for as she remembered him at home he had been a confirmed lie-abed. She herself responded none too quickly to the breakfast gong, as a result of which slowness the crew had filed away to the day’s work, her brother striding in the lead, when she entered the mess-house.
She killed time with partial success till noon. Several times she was startled to momentary attention by the prolonged series of sharp cracks which heralded the thunderous crash of a falling tree. There were other sounds which betokened the loggers’ activity in the near-by forest,–the ringing whine of saw blades, the dull stroke of the axe, voices calling distantly.
She tried to interest herself in the camp and the beach and ended up by sitting on a log in a shady spot, staring dreamily over the lake. She thought impatiently of that homely saw concerning Satan and idle hands, but she reflected also that in this isolation even mischief was comparatively impossible. There was not a soul to hold speech with except the cook, and he was too busy to talk, even if he had not been afflicted with a painful degree of diffidence when she addressed him. She could make no effort at settling down, at arranging things in what was to be her home. There was nothing to arrange, no odds and ends wherewith almost any woman can conjure up a homelike effect in the barest sort of place. She beheld the noon return of the crew much as a shipwrecked castaway on a desert shore might behold a rescuing sail, and she told Charlie that she intended to go into the woods that afternoon and watch them work.
“All right,” said he. “Just so you don’t get in the way of a falling tree.”
A narrow fringe of brush and scrubby timber separated the camp from the actual work. From the water’s edge to the donkey engine was barely four hundred yards. From donkey to a ten-foot jump-off on the lake shore in a straight line on a five per cent. gradient ran a curious roadway, made by placing two logs in the hollow scooped by tearing great timbers over the soft earth, and a bigger log on each side. Butt to butt and side to side, the outer sticks half their thickness above the inner, they formed a continuous trough the bottom and sides worn smooth with friction of sliding timbers. Stella had crossed it the previous evening and wondered what it was. Now, watching them at work, she saw. Also she saw why the great stumps that rose in every clearing in this land of massive trees were sawed six and eight feet above the ground. Always at the base the firs swelled sharply. Wherefore the falling gangs lifted themselves above the enlargement to make their cut.
Two sawyers attacked a tree. First, with their double-bitted axes, each drove a deep notch into the sapwood just wide enough to take the end of a two-by-six plank four or five feet long with a single grab-nail in the end,–the springboard of the Pacific coast logger, whose daily business lies among the biggest timber on God’s footstool. Each then clambered up on his precarious perch, took hold of his end of the long, limber saw, and cut in to a depth of a foot or more, according to the size of the tree. Then jointly they chopped down to this sawed line, and there was the undercut complete, a deep notch on the side to which the tree would fall. That done, they swung the ends of their springboards, or if it were a thick trunk, made new holding notches on the other side, and the long saw would eat steadily through the heart of the tree toward that yellow, gashed undercut, stroke upon stroke, ringing with a thin, metallic twang. Presently there would arise an ominous cracking. High in the air the tall crest would dip slowly, as if it bowed with manifest reluctance to the inevitable. The sawyers would drop lightly from their springboards, crying:
The earthward swoop of the upper boughs would hasten till the air was full of a whistling, whishing sound. Then came the rending crash as the great tree smashed prone, crushing what small timber stood in its path, followed by the earth-quivering shock of its impact with the soil. The tree once down, the fallers went on to another. Immediately the swampers fell upon the prone trunk with axes, denuding it of limbs; the buckers followed them to saw it into lengths decreed by the boss logger. When the job was done, the brown fir was no longer a stately tree but saw-logs, each with the square butt that lay donkeyward, trimmed a trifle rounding with the axe.
Benton worked one falling gang. The falling gang raced to keep ahead of the buckers and swampers, and they in turn raced to keep ahead of the hook tender, rigging slinger, and donkey, which last trio moved the logs from woods to water, once they were down and trimmed. Terrible, devastating forces of destruction they seemed to Stella Benton, wholly unused as she was to any woodland save the well-kept parks and little areas of groomed forest in her native State. All about in the ravaged woods lay the big logs, scores of them. They had only begun to pull with the donkey a week earlier, Benton explained to her. With his size gang he could not keep a donkey engine working steadily. So they had felled and trimmed to a good start, and now the falling crew and the swampers and buckers were in a dingdong contest to see how long they could keep ahead of the puffing Seattle yarder.
Stella sat on a stump, watching. Over an area of many acres the ground was a litter of broken limbs, ragged tops, crushed and bent and broken younger growth, twisted awry by the big trees in their fall. Huge stumps upthrust like beacons in a ruffled harbor, grim, massive butts. From all the ravaged wood rose a pungent smell of pitch and sap, a resinous, pleasant smell. Radiating like the spokes of a wheel from the head of the chute ran deep, raw gashes in the earth, where the donkey had hauled up the Brobdingnagian logs on the end of an inch cable.
“This is no small boy’s play, is it, Stell?” Charlie said to her once in passing.
And she agreed that it was not. Agreed more emphatically and with half-awed wonder when she saw the donkey puff and quiver on its anchor cable, as the hauling line spooled up on the drum. On the outer end of that line snaked a sixty-foot stick, five feet across the butt, but it came down to the chute head, brushing earth and brush and small trees aside as if they were naught. Once the big log caromed against a stump. The rearward end flipped ten feet in the air and thirty feet sidewise. But it came clear and slid with incredible swiftness to the head of the chute, flinging aside showers of dirt and small stones, and leaving one more deep furrow in the forest floor. Benton trotted behind it. Once it came to rest well in the chute, he unhooked the line, freed the choker (the short noosed loop of cable that slips over the log’s end), and the haul-back cable hurried the main line back to another log. Benton followed, and again the donkey shuddered on its foundation skids till another log laid in the chute, with its end butted against that which lay before. One log after another was hauled down till half a dozen rested there, elongated peas in a wooden pod.
Then a last big stick came with a rush, bunted these others powerfully so that they began to slide with the momentum thus imparted, slowly at first then, gathering way and speed, they shot down to the lake and plunged to the water over the ten-foot jump-off like a school of breaching whales.
All this took time, vastly more time than it takes in the telling. The logs were ponderous masses. They had to be maneuvered sometimes between stumps and standing timber, jerked this way and that to bring them into the clear. By four o’clock Benton and his rigging-slinger had just finished bunting their second batch of logs down the chute. Stella watched these Titanic labors with a growing interest and a dawning vision of why these men walked the earth with that reckless swing of their shoulders. For they were palpably masters in their environment. They strove with woodsy giants and laid them low. Amid constant dangers they sweated at a task that shamed the seven labors of Hercules. Gladiators they were in a contest from which they did not always emerge victorious.
When Benton and his helper followed the haul-back line away to the domain of the falling gang the last time, Stella had so far unbent as to strike up conversation with the donkey engineer. That greasy individual finished stoking his fire box and replied to her first comment.
“Work? You bet,” said he. “It’s real graft, this is. I got the easy end of it, and mine’s no snap. I miss a signal, big stick butts against something solid; biff! goes the line and maybe cuts a man plumb in two. You got to be wide awake when you run a loggin’ donkey. These woods is no place for a man, anyway, if he ain’t spry both in his head and feet.”
“Do many men get hurt logging?” Stella asked. “It looks awfully dangerous, with these big trees falling and smashing everything. Look at that. Goodness!”
From the donkey they could see a shower of ragged splinters and broken limbs fly when a two-hundred-foot fir smashed a dead cedar that stood in the way of its downward swoop. They could hear the pieces strike against brush and trees like the patter of shot on a tin wall.
The donkey engineer gazed calmly enough.
“Them flyin’ chunks raise the dickens sometimes,” he observed. “Oh, yes, now an’ then a man gets laid out. There’s some things you got to take a chance on. Maybe you get cut with an axe, or a limb drops on you, or you get in the way of a breakin’ line,–though a man ain’t got any business in the bight of a line. A man don’t stand much show when the end of a inch ‘n’ a quarter cable snaps at him like a whiplash. I seen a feller on Howe Sound cut square in two with a cable-end once. A broken block’s the worst, though. That generally gets the riggin’ slinger, but a piece of it’s liable to hit anybody. You see them big iron pulley blocks the haul-back cable works in? Well, sometimes they have to anchor a snatch block to a stump an’ run the main line through it at an angle to get a log out the way you want. Suppose the block breaks when I’m givin’ it to her? Chunks uh that broken cast iron’ll fly like bullets. Yes, sir, broken blocks is bad business. Maybe you noticed the boys used the snatch block two or three times this afternoon? We’ve been lucky in this camp all spring. Nobody so much as nicked himself with an axe. Breaks in the gear don’t come very often, anyway, with an outfit in first-class shape. We got good gear an’ a good crew–about as _skookum_ a bunch as I ever saw in the woods.”
Two hundred yards distant Charlie Benton rose on a stump and semaphored with his arms. The engineer whistled answer and stood to his levers; the main line began to spool slowly in on the drum. Another signal, and he shut off. Another signal, after a brief wait, and the drum rolled faster, the line tautened like a fiddle-string, and the ponderous machine vibrated with the strain of its effort.
Suddenly the line came slack. Stella, watching for the log to appear, saw her brother leap backward off the stump, saw the cable whip sidewise, mowing down a clump of saplings that stood in the bight of the line, before the engineer could cut off the power. In that return of comparative silence there rose above the sibilant hiss of the blow-off valve a sudden commotion of voices.
“Damn!” the donkey engineer peered over the brush. “That don’t sound good. I guess somebody got it in the neck.”
Almost immediately Sam Davis and two other men came running.
“What’s up?” the engineer called as they passed on a dog trot.
“Block broke,” Davis answered over his shoulder. “Piece of it near took a leg off Jim Renfrew.”
Stella stood a moment, hesitating.
“I may be able to do something. I’ll go and see,” she said.
“Better not,” the engineer warned. “Liable to run into something that’ll about turn your stomach. What was I tellin’ about a broken block? Them ragged pieces of flyin’ iron sure mess a man up. They’ll bring a bed spring, an’ pack him down to the boat, an’ get him to a doctor quick as they can. That’s all. You couldn’t do nothin’.”
Nevertheless she went. Renfrew was the rigging slinger working with Charlie, a big, blond man who blushed like a schoolboy when Benton introduced him to her. Twenty minutes before he had gone trotting after the haul-back, sound and hearty, laughing at some sally of her brother’s. It seemed a trifle incredible that he should lie mangled and bleeding among the green forest growth, while his fellows hurried for a stretcher.
Two hundred yards at right angles from where Charlie had stood giving signals she found a little group under a branchy cedar. Renfrew lay on his back, mercifully unconscious. Benton squatted beside him, twisting a silk handkerchief with a stick tightly above the wound. His hands and Renfrew’s clothing and the mossy ground was smeared with blood. Stella looked over his shoulder. The overalls were cut away. In the thick of the man’s thigh stood a ragged gash she could have laid both hands in. She drew back.
Benton looked up.
“Better keep away,” he advised shortly. “We’ve done all that can be done.”
She retreated a little and sat down on a root, half-sickened. The other two men stood up. Benton sat back, his first-aid work done, and rolled a cigarette with fingers that shook a little. Off to one side she saw the fallers climb up on their springboards. Presently arose the ringing whine of the thin steel blade, the chuck of axes where the swampers attacked a fallen tree. No matter, she thought, that injury came to one, that death might hover near, the work went on apace, like action on a battlefield.
A few minutes thereafter the two men who had gone with Sam Davis returned with the spring from Benton’s bed and a light mattress. They laid the injured logger on this and covered him with a blanket. Then four of them picked it up. As they started, Stella heard one say to her brother:
“What?” Benton exploded. “Where’d it come from?”
“One uh them Hungry Bay shingle-bolt cutters’s in camp,” the logger answered. “Maybe he brought a bottle. I didn’t stop to see. But Matt’s sure got a tank full.”
Benton ripped out an angry oath, passed his men, and strode away down the path. Stella fell in behind him, wakened to a sudden uneasiness at the wrathful set of his features. She barely kept in sight, so rapidly did he move.
Sam Davis had smoke pouring from the _Chickamin’s_ stack, but the kitchen pipe lifted no blue column, though it was close to five o’clock. Benton made straight for the cookhouse. Stella followed, a trifle uncertainly. A glimpse past Charlie as he came out showed her Matt staggering aimlessly about the kitchen, red-eyed, scowling, muttering to himself. Benton hurried to the bunkhouse door, much as a hound might follow a scent, peered in, and went on to the corner.
On the side facing the lake he found the source of the cook’s intoxication. A tall and swarthy lumberjack squatted on his haunches, gabbling in the Chinook jargon to a _klootchman_ and a wizen-featured old Siwash. The Indian woman was drunk beyond any mistaking, affably drunk. She looked up at Benton out of vacuous eyes, grinned, and extended to him a square-faced bottle of Old Tim gin. The logger rose to his feet.
“H’lo, Benton,” he greeted thickly. “How’s every-thin’?”
Benton’s answer was a quick lurch of his body and a smashing jab of his clenched fist. The blow stretched the logger on his back, with blood streaming from both nostrils. But he was a hardy customer, for he bounced up like a rubber ball, only to be floored even more viciously before he was well set on his feet. This time Benton snarled a curse and kicked him as he lay.
“Charlie, Charlie!” Stella screamed.
If he heard her, he gave no heed.
“Hit the trail, you,” he shouted at the logger. “Hit it quick before I tramp your damned face into the ground. I told you once not to come around here feeding booze to my cook. I do all the whisky-drinking that’s done in this camp, and don’t you forget it. Damn your eyes, I’ve got troubles enough without whisky.”
The man gathered himself up, badly shaken, and holding his hand to his bleeding nose, made off to his rowboat at the float.
“G’wan home,” Benton curtly ordered the Siwashes. “Get drunk at your own camp, not in mine. _Sabe?_ Beat it.”
They scuttled off, the wizened little old man steadying his fat _klootch_ along her uncertain way. Down on the lake the chastised logger stood out in his boat, resting once on his oars to shake a fist at Benton. Then Charlie faced about on his shocked and outraged sister.
“Good Heavens!” she burst out. “Is it necessary to be so downright brutal in actions as well as speech?”
“I’m running a logging camp, not a kindergarten,” he snapped angrily. “I know what I’m doing. If you don’t like it, go in the house where your hyper-sensitive tastes won’t be offended.”
“Thank you,” she responded cuttingly and swung about, angry and hurt–only to have a fresh scare from the drunken cook, who came reeling forward.
“I’m gonna quit,” he loudly declared. “I ain’t goin’ to stick ’round here no more. The job’s no good. I want m’ time. Yuh hear me, Benton. I’m through. Com-pletely, ab-sho-lutely through. You bet I am. Gimme m’ time. I’m a gone goose.”
“Quit, then, hang you,” Benton growled. “You’ll get your check in a minute. You’re a fine excuse for a cook, all right–get drunk right on the job. You don’t need to show up here again, when you’ve had your jag out.”
“‘S all right,” Matt declared largely. “‘S other jobs. You ain’t the whole Pacific coast. Oh, way down ‘pon the Swa-a-nee ribber–“
He broke into dolorous song and turned back into the cookhouse. Benton’s hard-set face relaxed. He laughed shortly.
“Takes all kinds to make a world,” he commented. “Don’t look so horrified, Sis. This isn’t the regular order of events. It’s just an accumulation–and it sort of got me going. Here’s the boys.”
The four stretcher men set down their burden in the shade of the bunkhouse. Renfrew was conscious now.
“Tough luck, Jim,” Benton sympathized. “Does it pain much?”
Renfrew shook his head. White and weakened from shock and loss of blood, nevertheless he bravely disclaimed pain.
“We’ll get you fixed up at the Springs,” Benton went on. “It’s a nasty slash in the meat, but I don’t think the bone was touched. You’ll be on deck before long. I’ll see you through, anyway.”
They gave him a drink of water and filled his pipe, joking him about easy days in the hospital while they sweated in the woods. The drunken cook came out, carrying his rolled blankets, began maudlin sympathy, and was promptly squelched, whereupon he retreated to the float, emitting conversation to the world at large. Then they carried Renfrew down to the float, and Davis began to haul up the anchor to lay the _Chickamin_ alongside.
While the chain was still chattering in the hawse pipe, the squat black hull of Jack Fyfe’s tender rounded the nearest point.
“Whistle him up, Sam,” Benton ordered. “Jack can beat our time, and this bleeding must be stopped quick.”
The tender veered in from her course at the signal. Fyfe himself was at the wheel. Five minutes effected a complete arrangement, and the _Panther_ drew off with the drunken cook singing atop of the pilot house, and Renfrew comfortable in her cabin, and Jack Fyfe’s promise to see him properly installed and attended in the local hospital at Roaring Springs.
Benton heaved a sigh of relief and turned to his sister.
“Still mad, Stell?” he asked placatingly and put his arm over her shoulders.
“Of course not,” she responded instantly to this kindlier phase. “Ugh! Your hands are all bloody, Charlie.”
“That’s so, but it’ll wash off,” he replied. “Well, we’re shy a good woodsman and a cook, and I’ll miss ’em both. But it might be worse. Here’s where you go to bat, Stella. Get on your apron and lend me a hand in the kitchen, like a good girl. We have to eat, no matter what happens.”
THE DIGNITY (?) OF TOIL
By such imperceptible degrees that she was scarce aware of it, Stella took her place as a cog in her brother’s logging machine, a unit in the human mechanism which he operated skilfully and relentlessly at top speed to achieve his desired end–one million feet of timber in boomsticks by September the first.
From the evening that she stepped into the breach created by a drunken cook, the kitchen burden settled steadily upon her shoulders. For a week Benton daily expected and spoke of the arrival of a new cook. Fyfe had wired a Vancouver employment agency to send one, the day he took Jim Renfrew down. But either cooks were scarce, or the order went astray, for no rough and ready kitchen mechanic arrived. Benton in the meantime ceased to look for one. He worked like a horse, unsparing of himself, unsparing of others. He rose at half-past four, lighted the kitchen fire, roused Stella, and helped her prepare breakfast, preliminary to his day in the woods. Later he impressed Katy John into service to wait on the table and wash dishes. He labored patiently to teach Stella certain simple tricks of cooking that she did not know.
Quick of perception, as thorough as her brother in whatsoever she set her hand to do, Stella was soon equal to the job. And as the days passed and no camp cook came to their relief, Benton left the job to her as a matter of course.
“You can handle that kitchen with Katy as well as a man,” he said to her at last. “And it will give you something to occupy your time. I’d have to pay a cook seventy dollars a month. Katy draws twenty-five. You can credit yourself with the balance, and I’ll pay off when the contract money comes in. We might as well keep the coin in the family. I’ll feel easier, because you won’t get drunk and jump the job in a pinch. What do you say?”
She said the only possible thing to say under the circumstances. But she did not say it with pleasure, nor with any feeling of gratitude. It was hard work, and she and hard work were utter strangers. Her feet ached from continual standing on them. The heat and the smell of stewing meat and vegetables sickened her. Her hands were growing rough and red from dabbling in water, punching bread dough, handling the varied articles of food that go to make up a meal. Upon hands and forearms there stung continually certain small cuts and burns that lack of experience over a hot range inevitably inflicted upon her. Whereas time had promised to hang heavy on her hands, now an hour of idleness in the day became a precious boon.
Yet in her own way she was as full of determination as her brother. She saw plainly enough that she must leave the drone stage behind. She perceived that to be fed and clothed and housed and to have her wishes readily gratified was not an inherent right–that some one must foot the bill–that now for all she received she must return equitable value. At home she had never thought of it in that light; in fact, she had never thought of it at all. Now that she was beginning to get a glimmering of her true economic relation to the world at large, she had no wish to emulate the clinging vine, even if thereby she could have secured a continuance of that silk-lined existence which had been her fortunate lot. Her pride revolted against parasitism. It was therefore a certain personal satisfaction to have achieved self-support at a stroke, insofar as that in the sweat of her brow,–all too literally,–she earned her bread and a compensation besides. But there were times when that solace seemed scarcely to weigh against her growing detest for the endless routine of her task, the exasperating physical weariness and irritations it brought upon her.
For to prepare three times daily food for a dozen hungry men is no mean undertaking. One cannot have in a logging camp the conveniences of a hotel kitchen. The water must be carried in buckets from the creek near by, and wood brought in armfuls from the pile of sawn blocks outside. The low-roofed kitchen shanty was always like an oven. The flies swarmed in their tens of thousands. As the men sweated with axe and saw in the woods, so she sweated in the kitchen. And her work began two hours before their day’s labor, and continued two hours after they were done. She slept, like one exhausted and rose full of sleep-heaviness, full of bodily soreness and spiritual protest when the alarm clock raised its din in the cool morning.
“You don’t like thees work, do you, Mees Benton?” Katy John said to her one day, in the soft, slurring accent that colored her English. “You wasn’t cut out for a cook.”
“This isn’t work,” Stella retorted irritably. “It’s simple drudgery. I don’t wonder that men cooks take to drink.”
“Why don’t you be nice to Mr. Abbey,” she suggested archly. “He’d like to give you a better job than thees–for life. My, but it must be nice to have lots of money like that man’s got, and never have to work.”
“You’ll get those potatoes peeled sooner if you don’t talk quite so much, Katy,” Miss Benton made reply.
There was that way out, as the Siwash girl broadly indicated. Paul Abbey had grown into the habit of coming there rather more often than mere neighborliness called for, and it was palpable that he did not come to hold converse with Benton or Benton’s gang, although he was “hail fellow” with all woodsmen. At first his coming might have been laid to any whim. Latterly Stella herself was unmistakably the attraction. He brought his sister once, a fair-haired girl about Stella’s age. She proved an exceedingly self-contained young person, whose speech during the hour of her stay amounted to a dozen or so drawling sentences. With no hint of condescension or superciliousness, she still managed to arouse in Stella a mild degree of resentment. She wore an impeccable pongee silk, simple and costly, and _her_ hands had evidently never known the roughening of work. In one way and another Miss Benton straightway conceived an active dislike for Linda Abbey. As her reception of Paul’s sister was not conducive to chumminess, Paul did not bring Linda again.
But he came oftener than Stella desired to be bothered with him. Charlie was beginning to indulge in some rather broad joking, which offended and irritated her. She was not in the least attracted to Paul Abbey. He was a nice enough young man; for all she knew, he might be a concentration of all the manly virtues, but he gave no fillip to either her imagination or her emotions. He was too much like a certain type of young fellow she had known in other embodiments. Her instinct warned her that stripped of his worldly goods he would be wholly commonplace. She could be friends with the Paul Abbey kind of man, but when she tried to consider him as a possible lover, she found herself unresponsive, even amused. She was forced to consider it, because Abbey was fast approaching that stage. It was heralded in the look of dumb appeal that she frequently surprised in his gaze, by various signs and tokens, that Stella Benton was too sophisticated to mistake. One of these days he would lay his heart, and hand at her feet.
Sometimes she considered what her life might be if she should marry him. Abbey was wealthy in his own right and heir to more wealth. But–she could not forbear a wry grimace at the idea. Some fateful hour love would flash across her horizon, a living flame. She could visualize the tragedy if it should be too late, if it found her already bound–sold for a mess of pottage at her ease. She did not mince words to herself when she reflected on this matter. She knew herself as a creature of passionate impulses, consciously resenting all restraint. She knew that men and women did mad things under the spur of emotion. She wanted no shackles, she wanted to be free to face the great adventure when it came.
Yet there were times during the weeks that flitted past when it seemed to her that no bondage could be meaner, more repugnant, than that daily slavery in her brother’s kitchen; that transcendent conceptions of love and marriage were vain details by comparison with aching feet and sleep-heavy eyes, with the sting of burns, the smart of sweat on her face, all the never-ending trifles that so irritated her. She had been spoiled in the making for so sordid an existence. Sometimes she would sit amid the array of dishes and pans and cooking food and wonder if she really were the same being whose life had been made up of books and music, of teas and dinners and plays, of light, inconsequential chatter with genial, well-dressed folk. There was no one to talk to here and less time to talk. There was nothing to read except a batch of newspapers filtering into camp once a week or ten days. There was not much in this monster stretch of giant timber but heat and dirt and flies and hungry men who must be fed.
If Paul Abbey had chanced to ask her to marry him during a period of such bodily and spiritual rebellion, she would probably have committed herself to that means of escape in sheer desperation. For she did not harden to the work; it steadily sapped both her strength and patience. But he chose an ill time for his declaration. Stella had overtaken her work and snared a fleeting hour of idleness in mid-afternoon of a hot