The Blazed Trail by Stewart Edward White
Part V: The Following of the Trail
They stood and watched them go.
"Oh, the great man! Oh, the great man! murmured the writer, fascinated.
The grandeur of the sacrifice had struck them dumb. They did not understand the motives beneath it all; but the fact was patent. Big Junko broke down and sobbed.
After a time the stream of logs through the gap slackened. In a moment more, save for the inevitably stranded few, the booms were empty. A deep sigh went up from the attentive multitude.
"She's gone!" said one man, with the emphasis of a novel discovery; and groaned.
Then the awe broke from about their minds, and they spoke many opinions and speculations. Thorpe had disappeared. They respected his emotion and did not follow him.
"It was just plain damn foolishness;--but it was great!" said Shearer. "That no-account jackass of a Big Junko ain't worth as much per thousand feet as good white pine."
Then they noticed a group of men gathering about the office steps, and on it someone talking. Collins, the bookkeeper, was making a speech.
Collins was a little hatchet-faced man, with straight, lank hair, nearsighted eyes, a timid, order-loving disposition, and a great suitability for his profession. He was accurate, unemotional, and valuable. All his actions were as dry as the saw-dust in the burner. No one had ever seen him excited. But he was human; and now his knowledge of the Company's affairs showed him the dramatic contrast. He knew! He knew that the property of the firm had been mortgaged to the last dollar in order to assist expansion, so that not another cent could be borrowed to tide over present difficulty. He knew that the notes for sixty thousand dollars covering the loan to Wallace Carpenter came due in three months; he knew from the long table of statistics which he was eternally preparing and comparing that the season's cut should have netted a profit of two hundred thousand dollars--enough to pay the interest on the mortgages, to take up the notes, and to furnish a working capital for the ensuing year. These things he knew in the strange concrete arithmetical manner of the routine bookkeeper. Other men saw a desperate phase of firm rivalry; he saw a struggle to the uttermost. Other men cheered a rescue: he thrilled over the magnificent gesture of the Gambler scattering his stake in largesse to Death.
It was the simple turning of the hand from full breathed prosperity to lifeless failure.
His view was the inverse of his master's. To Thorpe it had suddenly become a very little thing in contrast to the great, sweet elemental truth that the dream girl had enunciated. To Collins the affair was miles vaster than the widest scope of his own narrow life.
The firm could not take up its notes when they came due; it could not pay the interest on the mortgages, which would now be foreclosed; it could not even pay in full the men who had worked for it--that would come under a court's adjudication.
He had therefore watched Thorpe's desperate sally to mend the weakened chain, in all the suspense of a man whose entire universe is in the keeping of the chance moment. It must be remembered that at bottom, below the outer consciousness, Thorpe's final decision had already grown to maturity. On the other hand, no other thought than that of accomplishment had even entered the little bookkeeper's head. The rescue and all that it had meant had hit him like a stroke of apoplexy, and his thin emotions had curdled to hysteria. Full of the idea he appeared before the men.
With rapid, almost incoherent speech he poured it out to them. Professional caution and secrecy were forgotten. Wallace Carpenter attempted to push through the ring for the purpose of stopping him. A gigantic riverman kindly but firmly held him back.
"I guess it's just as well we hears this," said the latter.
It all came out--the loan to Carpenter, with a hint at the motive: the machinations of the rival firm on the Board of Trade; the notes, the mortgages, the necessity of a big season's cut; the reasons the rival firm had for wishing to prevent that cut from arriving at the market; the desperate and varied means they had employed. The men listened silent. Hamilton, his eyes glowing like coals, drank in every word. Here was the master motive he had sought; here was the story great to his hand!
"That's what we ought to get," cried Collins, almost weeping, "and now we've gone and bust, just because that infernal river-hog had to fall off a boom. By God, it's a shame! Those scalawags have done us after all!"
Out from the shadows of the woods stole Injin Charley. The whole bearing and aspect of the man had changed. His eye gleamed with a distant farseeing fire of its own, which took no account of anything but some remote vision. He stole along almost furtively, but with a proud upright carriage of his neck, a backward tilt of his fine head, a distention of his nostrils that lent to his appearance a panther-like pride and stealthiness. No one saw him. Suddenly he broke through the group and mounted the steps beside Collins.
"The enemy of my brother is gone," said he simply in his native tongue, and with a sudden gesture held out before them--a scalp.
The medieval barbarity of the thing appalled them for a moment. The days of scalping were long since past, had been closed away between the pages of forgotten histories, and yet here again before them was the thing in all its living horror. Then a growl arose. The human animal had tasted blood.
All at once like wine their wrongs mounted to their heads. They remembered their dead comrades. They remembered the heart-breaking days and nights of toil they had endured on account of this man and his associates. They remembered the words of Collins, the little bookkeeper. They hated. They shook their fists across the skies. They turned and with one accord struck back for the railroad right- of-way which led to Shingleville, the town controlled by Morrison & Daly.
The railroad lay for a mile straight through a thick tamarack swamp, then over a nearly treeless cranberry plain. The tamarack was a screen between the two towns. When half-way through the swamp, Red Jacket stopped, removed his coat, ripped the lining from it, and began to fashion a rude mask.
"Just as well they don't recognize us," said he.
"Somebody in town will give us away," suggested Shorty, the chore-boy.
"No, they won't; they're all here," assured Kerlie.
It was true. Except for the women and children, who were not yet about, the entire village had assembled. Even old Vanderhoof, the fire-watcher of the yard, hobbled along breathlessly on his rheumatic legs. In a moment the masks were fitted. In a moment more the little band had emerged from the shelter of the swamp, and so came into full view of its objective point.
Shingleville consisted of a big mill; the yards, now nearly empty of lumber; the large frame boarding-house; the office; the stable; a store; two saloons; and a dozen dwellings. The party at once fixed its eyes on this collection of buildings, and trudged on down the right-of-way with unhastening grimness.
Their approach was not unobserved. Daly saw them; and Baker, his foreman, saw them. The two at once went forth to organize opposition. When the attacking party reached the mill-yard, it found the boss and the foreman standing alone on the saw-dust, revolvers drawn.
Daly traced a line with his toe.
"The first man that crosses that line gets it," said he.
They knew he meant what he said. An instant's pause ensued, while the big man and the little faced a mob. Daly's rivermen were still on drive. He knew the mill men too well to depend on them. Truth to tell, the possibility of such a raid as this had not occurred to him; for the simple reason that he did not anticipate the discovery of his complicity with the forces of nature. Skillfully carried out, the plan was a good one. No one need know of the weakened link, and it was the most natural thing in the world that Sadler & Smith's drive should go out with the increase of water.
The men grouped swiftly and silently on the other side of the sawdust line. The pause did not mean that Daly's defense was good. I have known of a crew of striking mill men being so bluffed down, but not such men as these.
"Do you know what's going to happen to you?" said a voice from the group. The speaker was Radway, but the contractor kept himself well in the background. "We're going to burn your mill; we're going to burn your yards; we're going to burn your whole shooting match, you low-lived whelp!"
"Yes, and we're going to string you to your own trestle!" growled another voice harshly.
"Dyer!" said Injin Charley, simply, shaking the wet scalp arm's length towards the lumbermen.
At this grim interruption a silence fell. The owner paled slightly; his foreman chewed a nonchalant straw. Down the still and deserted street crossed and recrossed the subtle occult influences of a half- hundred concealed watchers. Daly and his subordinate were very much alone, and very much in danger. Their last hour had come; and they knew it.
With the recognition of the fact, they immediately raised their weapons in the resolve to do as much damage as possible before being overpowered.
Then suddenly, full in the back, a heavy stream of water knocked them completely off their feet, rolled them over and over on the wet sawdust, and finally jammed them both against the trestle, where it held them, kicking and gasping for breath, in a choking cataract of water. The pistols flew harmlessly into the air. For an instant the Fighting Forty stared in paralyzed astonishment. Then a tremendous roar of laughter saluted this easy vanquishment of a formidable enemy.
Daly and Baker were pounced upon and captured. There was no resistance. They were too nearly strangled for that. Little Solly and old Vanderhoof turned off the water in the fire hydrant and disconnected the hose they had so effectively employed.
"There, damn you!" said Rollway Charley, jerking the millman to his feet. "How do you like too much water? hey?"
The unexpected comedy changed the party's mood.
It was no longer a question of killing. A number broke into the store, and shortly emerged, bearing pails of kerosene with which they deluged the slabs on the windward side of the mill. The flames caught the structure instantly. A thousand sparks, borne by the off-shore breeze, fastened like so many stinging insects on the lumber in the yard.
It burned as dried balsam thrown on a camp fire. The heat of it drove the onlookers far back in the village, where in silence they watched the destruction. From behind locked doors the inhabitants watched with them.
The billow of white smoke filled the northern sky. A whirl of gray wood ashes, light as air, floated on and ever on over Superior. The site of the mill, the squares where the piles of lumber had stood, glowed incandescence over which already a white film was forming.
Daly and his man were slapped and cuffed hither and thither at the men's will. Their faces bled, their bodies ached as one bruise.
"That squares us," said the men. "If we can't cut this year, neither kin you. It's up to you now!"
Then, like a destroying horde of locusts, they gutted the office and the store, smashing what they could not carry to the fire. The dwellings and saloons they did not disturb. Finally, about noon, they kicked their two prisoners into the river, and took their way stragglingly back along the right-of-way.
"I surmise we took that town apart some!" remarked Shorty with satisfaction.
"I should rise to remark," replied Kerlie. Big Junko said nothing, but his cavernous little animal eyes glowed with satisfaction. He had been the first to lay hands on Daly; he had helped to carry the petroleum; he had struck the first match; he had even administered the final kick.
At the boarding-house they found Wallace Carpenter and Hamilton seated on the veranda. It was now afternoon. The wind had abated somewhat, and the sun was struggling with the still flying scuds.
"Hello, boys," said Wallace, "been for a little walk in the woods?"
"Yes, sir," replied Jack Hyland, "we---"
"I'd rather not hear," interrupted Wallace. "There's quite a fire over east. I suppose you haven't noticed it."
Hyland looked gravely eastward.
"Sure 'nough!" said he.
"Better get some grub," suggested Wallace.
After the men had gone in, he turned to the journalist.
"Hamilton," he began, "write all you know about the drive, and the break, and the rescue, but as to the burning of the mill---"
The other held out his hand.
"Good," said Wallace offering his own.
And that was as far as the famous Shingleville raid ever got. Daly did his best to collect even circumstantial evidence against the participants, but in vain. He could not even get anyone to say that a single member of the village of Carpenter had absented himself from town that morning. This might have been from loyalty, or it might have been from fear of the vengeance the Fighting Forty would surely visit on a traitor. Probably it was a combination of both. The fact remains, however, that Daly never knew surely of but one man implicated in the destruction of his plant. That man was Injin Charley, but Injin Charley promptly disappeared.
After an interval, Tim Shearer, Radway and Kerlie came out again.
"Where's the boss?" asked Shearer.
"I don't know, Tim," replied Wallace seriously.
"I've looked everywhere. He's gone. He must have been all cut up. I think he went out in the woods to get over it. I am not worrying. Harry has lots of sense. He'll come in about dark."
"Sure!" said Tim.
"How about the boy's stakes?" queried Radway. "I hear this is a bad smash for the firm."
"We'll see that the men get their wages all right," replied Carpenter, a little disappointed that such a question should be asked at such a time.
"All right," rejoined the contractor. "We're all going to need our money this summer."