The Foreman by Stewart Edward White
A man is one thing: a man plus his work is another, entirely different. You can learn this anywhere, but in the lumber woods best of all.
Especially is it true of the camp boss, the foreman. A firm that knows its business knows this, and so never considers merely what sort of a character a candidate may bear in town. He may drink or abstain, may exhibit bravery or cowardice, strength or weakness--it is all one to the lumbermen who employ him. In the woods his quality must appear.
So often the man most efficient and trusted in the especial environment of his work is the most disreputable outside it. The mere dignifying quality of labour raises his value to the nth power. In it he discovers the self-respect which, in one form or another, is absolutely necessary to the man who counts. His resolution to succeed has back of it this necessity of self-respect, and so is invincible. A good boss gives back before nothing which will further his job.
Most people in the North Country understand this double standard; but occasionally someone, either stupid or inexperienced or unobservant, makes the mistake of concluding that the town-character and the woods-character are necessarily the same. If he acts in accordance with that erroneous idea, he gets into trouble. Take the case of Silver Jack and the walking boss of Morrison & Daly, for instance. Silver Jack imagined his first encounter with Richard Darrell in Bay City indicated the certainty of like results to his second encounter with that individual in Camp Thirty. His mistake was costly; but almost anybody could have told him better. To understand the case, you must first meet Richard Darrell.
The latter was a man about five feet six inches in height, slenderly built, yet with broad, hanging shoulders. His face was an exact triangle, beginning with a mop of red-brown hair, and ending with a pointed chin. Two level quadrilaterals served him as eyebrows, beneath which a strong hooked nose separated his round, brown, chipmunk's eyes. When he walked, he threw his heavy shoulders slightly forward. This, in turn, projected his eager, nervous countenance. The fact that he was accustomed to hold his hands half open, with the palms square to the rear, lent him a peculiarly ready and truculent air. His name, as has been said, was Richard Darrell; but men called him Roaring Dick.
For upward of fifteen years he had been woods foreman for Morrison & Daly, the great lumber firm of the Beeson Lake district. That would make him about thirty-eight years old. He did not look it. His firm thought everything of him in spite of the fact that his reputation made it exceedingly difficult to hire men for his camps. He had the name of a "driver." But this little man, in some mysterious way of his own, could get in the logs. There was none like him. About once in three months he would suddenly appear, worn and haggard, at Beeson Lake, where he would drop into an iron bed, which the Company maintained for that especial purpose. Tim Brady, the care-taker, would bring him food at stated intervals. After four days of this, he would as suddenly disappear into the forest, again charged with the vital, restless energy which kept him on his feet fourteen hours a day until the next break down. When he looked directly at you, this nerve-force seemed to communicate itself to you with the physical shock of an impact.
Richard Darrell usually finished banking his season's cut a month earlier than anybody else. Then he drew his pay at Beeson Lake, took the train for Bay City, and set out to have a good time. Whiskey was its main element. On his intensely nervous organisation it acted like poison. He would do the wildest things. After his money was all spent, he started up river for the log-drive, hollow-eyed, shaking. In twenty-four hours he was himself again, dominant, truculent, fixing his brown chipmunk eyes on the delinquents with the physical shock of an impact, coolly balancing beneath the imminent ruin of a jam.
Silver Jack, on the other hand, was not nervous at all, but very tall and strong, with bronze-red skin, and flaxen white hair, mustache and eyebrows. The latter peculiarity earned him his nickname. He was at all times absolutely fearless and self-reliant in regard to material conditions, but singularly unobservant and stupid when it was a question of psychology. He had been a sawyer in his early experience, but later became a bartender in Muskegon. He was in general a good-humoured animal enough, but fond of a swagger, given to showing off, and exceedingly ugly when his passions were aroused.
His first hard work, after arriving in Bay City, was, of course, to visit the saloons. In one of these he came upon Richard Darrell. The latter was enjoying himself noisily by throwing wine-glasses at a beer advertisement. As he always paid liberally for the glasses, no one thought of objecting.
"Who's th' bucko?" inquired Silver Jack of a man near the stove.
"That's Roaring Dick Darrell, walkin' boss for M. & D.," replied the other.
Silver Jack drew his flax-white eyebrows together.
"Roaring Dick, eh? Roaring Dick? Fine name fer a bad man. I s'pose he thinks he's perticular all hell, don't he?"
"I do'no. Guess he is. He's got th' name fer it."
"Well," said Silver Jack, drawing his powerful back into a bow, "I ain't much; but I don't like noise--'specially roaring."
With the words he walked directly across the saloon to the foreman.
"My name is Silver Jack," said he, "I come from Muskegon way. I don't like noise. Quit it."
"All right," replied Dick.
The other was astonished. Then he recovered his swagger and went on:
"They tell me you're the old he-coon of this neck of th' woods. P'r'aps you were. But I'm here now. Ketch on? I'm th' boss of this shebang now."
Dick smiled amiably. "All right," he repeated.
This second acquiescence nonplussed the newcomer. But he insisted on his fight.
"You're a bluff!" said he, insultingly.
"Ah! go to hell!" replied Dick with disgust.
"What's that?" shouted the stranger, towering with threatening bulk over the smaller man.
And then to his surprise Dick Darrell began to beg.
"Don't you hit me!" he cried, "I ain't done nothing to you. You let me alone! Don't you let him touch me!" he called beseechingly to the barkeeper. "I don't want to get hurt. Stop it! Let me be!"
Silver Jack took Richard Darrell by the collar and propelled him rapidly to the door. The foreman hung back like a small boy in the grasp of a schoolmaster, whining, beseeching, squirming, appealing for help to the barkeeper and the bystanders. When finally he was energetically kicked into the gutter, he wept a little with nervous rage.
"Roaring Dick! Rats!" said Silver Jack. "Anybody can do him proper. If that's your 'knocker,' you're a gang of high bankers."
The other men merely smiled in the manner of those who know. Incidentally Silver Jack was desperately pounded by Big Dan, later in the evening, on account of that "high-banker" remark.
Richard Darrell, soon after, went into the woods with his crew, and began the tremendous struggle against the wilderness. Silver Jack and Big Dan took up the saloon business at Beeson Lake, and set themselves to gathering a clientele which should do them credit.
The winter was a bad one for everybody. Deep snows put the job behind; frequent storms undid the work of an infinitely slow patience. When the logging roads were cut through, the ground failed to freeze because of the thick white covering that overlaid it. Darrell in his mysterious compelling fashion managed somehow. Everywhere his thin eager triangle of a face with the brown chipmunk eyes was seen, bullying the men into titanic exertions by the mere shock of his nervous force. Over the thin crust of ice cautious loads of a few thousand feet were drawn to the banks of the river. The road-bed held. Gradually it hardened and thickened. The size of the loads increased. Finally Billy O'Brien drew up triumphantly at the rollway.
"There's a rim-racker!" he exclaimed. "Give her all she'll stand, Jimmy."
Jimmy Hall, the sealer, laid his flexible rule over the face of each log. The men gathered, interested in this record load.
"Thirteen thousand two hundred and forty," announced the scaler at last.
"Whoopee!" crowed Billy O'Brien, "that'll lay out Rollway Charley by two thousand feet!"
The men congratulated him on his victory over the other teamster, Rollway Charley. Suddenly Darrell was among them, eager, menacing, thrusting his nervous face and heavy shoulders here and there in the crowd, bullying them back to the work which they were neglecting. When his back was turned they grumbled at him savagely, threatening to disobey, resolving to quit. Some of them did quit: but none of them disobeyed.
Now the big loads were coming in regularly, and the railways became choked with the logs dumped down on them from the sleighs. There were not enough men to roll them down to the river, nor to "deck" them there in piles. Work accumulated. The cant-hook men became discouraged. What was the use of trying? They might as well take it easy. They did take it easy. As a consequence the teamsters had often to wait two, three hours to be unloaded. They were out until long after dark, feeling their way homeward through hunger and cold.
Dick Darrell, walking boss of all the camps, did the best he could. He sent message after message to Beeson Lake demanding more men. If the rollways could be definitely cleared once, the work would lighten all along the line. Then the men would regain their content. More help was promised, but it was slow in coming. The balance hung trembling. At any moment the foreman expected the crisis, when the men, discouraged by the accumulation of work, would begin to "jump," would ask for their "time" and quit, leaving the job half finished in the woods. This catastrophe must not happen. Darrell himself worked like a demon until dark, and then, ten to one, while the other men rested, would strike feverishly across to Camp Twenty-eight or Camp Forty, where he would consult with Morgan or Scotty Parsons until far into the night. His pale, triangular face showed the white lines of exhaustion, but his chipmunk eyes and his eager movements told of a determination stronger than any protests of a mere nature.
Now fate ordained that Silver Jack for the purposes of his enlightenment should select just this moment to drum up trade. He was, in his way, as anxious to induce the men to come out of the woods as Richard Darrell was to keep them in. Beeson Lake at this time of year was very dull. Only a few chronic loafers, without money, ornamented the saloon walls. On the other hand, at the four camps of Morrison & Daly were three hundred men each with four months' pay coming to him. In the ordinary course of events these men would not be out for sixty days yet, but Silver Jack and Big Dan perfectly well knew that it only needed the suggestion, the temptation, to arouse the spirit of restlessness. That a taste or so of whiskey will shiver the patience of men oppressed by long monotony is as A B C to the north-country saloon-keeper. Silver Jack resolved to make the rounds of the camps sure that the investment of a few jugs of whiskey would bring down to Beeson Lake at least thirty or forty woods-wearied men.
Accordingly he donned many clothes, and drove out into the wilderness a cutter containing three jugs and some cigars in boxes. He anticipated trouble. Perhaps he would even have to lurk in the woods, awaiting his opportunity to smuggle his liquor to the men.
However, luck favoured him. At Camp Twenty-eight he was able to dodge unseen into the men's camp. When Morgan, the camp foreman, finally discovered his presence, the mischief had been done. Everybody was smoking cigars, everybody was happily conscious of a warm glow at the pit of the stomach, everybody was firmly convinced that Silver Jack was the best fellow on earth. Morgan could do nothing. An attempt to eject Silver Jack, an expostulation even, would, he knew, lose him his entire crew. The men, their heads whirling with the anticipated delights of a spree, would indignantly champion their new friend. Morgan retired grimly to the "office." There, the next morning, he silently made out the "time" of six men, who had decided to quit. He wondered what would become of the rollways.
Silver Jack, for the sake of companionship, took one of the "jumpers" in the cutter with him. He was pleased over his success, and intended now to try Camp Thirty, Darrell's headquarters. In regard to Morgan he had been somewhat uneasy, for he had never encountered that individual; but Darrell he thought he knew. The trouble at Bay City had inspired him with a great contempt for the walking boss. That is where his mistake came in.
It was very cold. The snow was up to the horses' bellies, so Silver Jack had to drive at a plunging walk. Occasionally one or the other of the two stood up and thrashed his arms about. At noon they ate sandwiches of cold fried bacon, which the frost rendered brittle as soon as it left the warmth of their inside pockets. Underfoot the runners of the cutter shrieked loudly. They saw the tracks of deer and wolves and partridge, and encountered a few jays, chickadees, and woodpeckers. Otherwise the forest seemed quite empty. By half-past two they had made nine miles, and the sun, in this high latitude, was swinging lower. Silver Jack spoke angrily to his struggling animals. The other had fallen into the silence of numbness.
They did not know that across the reaches of the forest a man was hurrying to intercept them, a man who hastened to cope with this new complication as readily as he would have coped with the emergency of a lack of flour or the sickness of horses. They drove confidently.
Suddenly from nowhere a figure appeared in the trail before them. It stood, silent and impassive, with forward-drooping, heavy shoulders, watching the approaching cutter through inscrutable chipmunk eyes. When the strangers had approached to within a few feet of this man, the horses stopped of their own accord.
"Hello, Darrell," greeted Silver Jack, tugging at one of the stone jugs beneath the seat, "you're just the man I wanted to see."
The figure made no reply.
"Have a drink," offered the big man, finally extricating the whiskey.
"You can't take that whiskey into camp," said Darrell.
"Oh, I guess so," replied Silver Jack, easily, hoping for the peaceful solution. "There ain't enough to get anybody full. Have a taster, Darrell; it's pretty good stuff."
"I mean it," repeated Darrell. "You got to go back." He seized the horses' bits and began to lead them in the reversing circle.
"Hold on there!" cried Silver Jack. "You let them horses alone! You damn little runt! Let them alone I say!" The robe was kicked aside, and Silver Jack prepared to descend.
Richard Darrell twisted his feet out of his snow-shoe straps. "You can't take that whiskey into camp," he repeated simply.
"Now look here, Darrell," said the other in even tones, "don't you make no mistake. I ain't selling this whiskey; I'm giving it away. The law can't touch me. You ain't any right to say where I'll go, and, by God, I'm going where I please!"
"You got to go back with that whiskey," replied Darrell.
Silver Jack threw aside his coat, and advanced. "You get out of my way, or I'll kick you out, like I done at Bay City."
In an instant two blows were exchanged. The first marked Silver Jack's bronze-red face just to the left of his white eyebrow. The second sent Richard Darrell gasping and sobbing into the snow-bank ten feet away. He arose with the blood streaming from beneath his mustache. His eager, nervous face was white; his chipmunk eyes narrowed; his great hands, held palm backward, clutched spasmodically. With the stealthy motion of a cat he approached his antagonist, and sprang. Silver Jack stood straight and confident, awaiting him. Three times the aggressor was knocked entirely off his feet. The fourth he hit against the cutter body, and his fingers closed on the axe which all voyagers through the forest carry as a matter of course.
"He's gettin' ugly. Come on, Hank!" cried Silver Jack.
The other man, with a long score to pay the walking boss, seized the iron starting-bar, and descended. Out from the inscrutable white forest murder breathed like a pestilential air. The two men talked about it easily, confidently.
"You ketch him on one side, and I'll come in on the other," said the man named Hank, gripping his short, heavy bar.
The forest lay behind; the forest, easily penetrable to a man in moccasins. Richard Darrell could at any moment have fled beyond the possibility of pursuit. This had become no mere question of a bar-room fisticuff, but of life and death. He had begged abjectly from the pain of a cuff on the ear; now he merely glanced over his shoulder toward the safety that lay beyond. Then, with a cry, he whirled the axe about his head and threw it directly at the second of his antagonists. The flat of the implement struck heavily, full on the man's forehead. He fell, stunned. Immediately the other two precipitated themselves on the weapons. This time Silver Jack secured the axe, while Darrell had to content himself with the short, heavy bar. The strange duel recommenced, while the horses, mildly curious, gazed through the steam of their nostrils at their warring masters.
Overhead the ravens of the far north idled to and fro. When the three men lay still on the trampled snow, they stooped, nearer and nearer. Then they towered. One of the men had stirred.
Richard Darrell painfully cleared his eyes and dragged himself to a sitting position, sweeping the blood of his shallow wound from his forehead. He searched out the axe. With it he first smashed in the whiskey jugs. Then he wrecked the cutter, chopping it savagely until it was reduced to splinters and twisted iron. By the time this was done, his antagonists were in the throes of returning consciousness. He stood over them, dominant, menacing.
"You hit th' back trail," said he, "damn quick! Don't you let me see you 'round these diggings again."
Silver Jack, bewildered, half stunned, not understanding this little cowardly man who had permitted himself to be kicked from the saloon, rose slowly.
"You stand there!" commanded Darrell. He opened a pocket-knife, and cut the harness to bits, leaving only the necessary head-stalls intact.
"Now git!" said he. "Pike out!--fer Beeson Lake. Don't you stop at no Camp Twenty-eight!"
Appalled at the prospect of the long journey through the frozen forest, Silver Jack and his companion silently led the horses away. As they reached the bend in the trail, they looked back. The sun was just setting through the trees, throwing the illusion of them gigantic across the eye. And he stood there huge, menacing, against the light--the dominant spirit, Roaring Dick of the woods, the incarnation of Necessity, the Man defending his Work, the Foreman!