The Blazed Trail by Stewart Edward White
Part V: The Following of the Trail
During perhaps ten seconds the survivors watched the end of Thorpe's rope trailing in the flood. Then the young man with a deep sigh began to pull it towards him.
At once a hundred surmises, questions, ejaculations broke out.
"What happened?" cried Wallace Carpenter.
"What was that man's name?" asked the Chicago journalist with the eager instinct of his profession.
"This is terrible, terrible, terrible!" a white-haired physician from Marquette kept repeating over and over.
A half dozen ran towards the point of the cliff to peer down stream, as though they could hope to distinguish anything in that waste of flood water.
"The dam's gone out," replied Thorpe. "I don't understand it. Everything was in good shape, as far as I could see. It didn't act like an ordinary break. The water came too fast. Why, it was as dry as a bone until just as that wave came along. An ordinary break would have eaten through little by little before it burst, and Davis should have been able to stop it. This came all at once, as if the dam had disappeared. I don't see."
His mind of the professional had already began to query causes.
"How about the men?" asked Wallace. "Isn't there something I can do?"
"You can head a hunt down the river," answered Thorpe. "I think it is useless until the water goes down. Poor Jimmy. He was one of the best men I had. I wouldn't have had this happen---"
The horror of the scene was at last beginning to filter through numbness into Wallace Carpenter's impressionable imagination.
"No, no!" he cried vehemently. "There is something criminal about it to me! I'd rather lose every log in the river!"
Thorpe looked at him curiously. "It is one of the chances of war," said he, unable to refrain from the utterance of his creed. "We all know it."
"I'd better divide the crew and take in both banks of the river," suggested Wallace in his constitutional necessity of doing something.
"See if you can't get volunteers from this crowd," suggested Thorpe. "I can let you have two men to show you trails. If you can make it that way, it will help me out. I need as many of the crew as possible to use this flood water."
"Oh, Harry," cried Carpenter, shocked. "You can't be going to work again to-day after that horrible sight, before we have made the slightest effort to recover the bodies!"
"If the bodies can be recovered, they shall be," replied Thorpe quietly. "But the drive will not wait. We have no dams to depend on now, you must remember, and we shall have to get out on freshet water."
"Your men won't work. I'd refuse just as they will!" cried Carpenter, his sensibilities still suffering.
Thorpe smiled proudly. "You do not know them. They are mine. I hold them in the hollow of my hand!"
"By Jove!" cried the journalist in sudden enthusiasm. "By Jove! that is magnificent!"
The men of the river crew had crouched on their narrow footholds while the jam went out. Each had clung to his peavey, as is the habit of rivermen. Down the current past their feet swept the debris of flood. Soon logs began to swirl by,--at first few, then many from the remaining rollways which the river had automatically broken. In a little time the eddy caught up some of these logs, and immediately the inception of another jam threatened. The rivermen, without hesitation, as calmly as though catastrophe had not thrown the weight of its moral terror against their stoicism, sprang, peavey in hand, to the insistent work.
"By Jove!" said the journalist again. "That is magnificent! They are working over the spot where their comrades died!"
Thorpe's face lit with gratification. He turned to the young man.
"You see," he said in proud simplicity.
With the added danger of freshet water, the work went on.
At this moment Tim Shearer approached from inland, his clothes dripping wet, but his face retaining its habitual expression of iron calmness. "Anybody caught?" was his first question as he drew near.
"Five men under the face," replied Thorpe briefly.
Shearer cast a glance at the river. He needed to be told no more.
"I was afraid of it," said he. "The rollways must be all broken out. It's saved us that much, but the freshet water won't last long. It's going to be a close squeak to get 'em out now. Don't exactly figure on what struck the dam. Thought first I'd go right up that way, but then I came down to see about the boys."
Carpenter could not understand this apparent callousness on the part of men in whom he had always thought to recognize a fund of rough but genuine feeling. To him the sacredness of death was incompatible with the insistence of work. To these others the two, grim necessity, went hand in hand.
"Where were you?" asked Thorpe of Shearer.
"On the pole trail. I got in a little, as you see."
In reality the foreman had had a close call for his life. A toughly-rooted basswood alone had saved him.
"We'd better go up and take a look," he suggested. "Th' boys has things going here all right."
The two men turned towards the brush.
"Hi, Tim," called a voice behind them.
Red Jacket appeared clambering up the cliff.
"Jack told me to give this to you," he panted, holding out a chunk of strangely twisted wood.
"Where'd he get this?" inquired Thorpe, quickly. "It's a piece of the dam," he explained to Wallace, who had drawn near.
"Picked it out of the current," replied the man.
The foreman and his boss bent eagerly over the morsel. Then they stared with solemnity into each other's eyes.
"Dynamite, by God!" exclaimed Shearer.