The Rules of the Game by Stewart Edward White
The cook was early a foot next morning. Bob, restless with the uneasiness of the first night out of doors, saw the flicker of the fire against the tent canvas long before the first signs of daylight. In fact, the gray had but faintly lightened the velvet black of the night when the cook thrust his head inside the big sleeping tents to utter a wild yell of reveille.
The men stirred sleepily, stretched, yawned, finally kicked aside their blankets. Bob stumbled into the outer air. The chill of early morning struck into his bones. Teeth chattering, he hurried to the river bank where he stripped and splashed his body with the bracing water. Then he rubbed down with the little towel Tommy Gould had allowed him. The reaction in this chill air was slow in coming--Bob soon learned that the early cold bath out of doors is a superstition--and he shivered from time to time as he propped up his little mirror against a stump. Then he shaved, anointing his face after the careful manner of college boys. This satisfactorily completed, he fished in his duffle bag to find his tooth brush and soap. His hair he arranged painstakingly with a pair of military brushes. He further manipulated a nail-brush vigorously, and ended with manicuring his nails. Then, clean, vigorous, fresh, but somewhat chilly, he packed away his toilet things and started for camp.
Whereupon, for the first time, he became aware of one of the rivermen, pipe clenched between his teeth, watching him sardonically.
Bob nodded, and made as though to pass.
"Oh, bub!" said the older man.
"Say," drawled the riverman, "air you as much trouble to yourself every day as this?"
Bob laughed, and dove for camp. He found it practically deserted. The men had eaten breakfast and departed for work. Welton greeted him.
"Well, bub," said he, "didn't know but we'd lost you. Feed your face, and we'll go upstream."
Bob ate rapidly. After breakfast Welton struck into a well-trodden foot trail that led by a circuitous route up the river bottom, over points of land, around swamps. Occasionally it forked. Then, Welton explained, one fork was always a short cut across a bend, while the other followed accurately the extreme bank of the river. They took this latter and longest trail, always, in order more closely to examine the state of the drive. As they proceeded upstream they came upon more and more logs, some floating free, more stranded gently along the banks. After a time they encountered the first of the driving crew. This man was standing on an extreme point, leaning on his peavy, watching the timbers float past. Pretty soon several logs, held together by natural cohesion, floated to the bend, hesitated, swung slowly and stopped. Other logs, following, carromed gently against them and also came to rest.
Immediately the riverman made a flying leap to the nearest. He hit it with a splash that threw the water high to either side, immediately caught his equilibrium, and set to work with his peavy. He seemed to know just where to bend his efforts. Two, then three, logs, disentangled from the mass, floated away. Finally, all moved slowly forward. The riverman intent on his work, was swept from view.
"After he gets them to running free, he'll come ashore," said Welton, in answer to Bob's query. "Oh, just paddle ashore with his peavy. Then he'll come back up the trail. This bend is liable to jam, and so we have to keep a man here."
They walked on and on, up the trail. Every once in a while they came upon other members of the jam crew, either watching, as was the first man, at some critical point, or working in twos and threes to keep the reluctant timbers always moving. At one place six or eight were picking away busily at a jam that had formed bristling quite across the river. Bob would have liked to stop to watch; but Welton's practised eye saw nothing to it.
"They're down to the key log, now," he pronounced. "They'll have it out in a jiffy."
Inside of two miles or so farther they left behind them the last member of the jam crew and came upon an outlying scout of the "rear." Then Welton began to take the shorter trails. At the end of another half-hour the two plumped into the full activity of the rear itself.
Bob saw two crews of men, one on either bank, busily engaged in restoring to the current the logs stranded along the shore. In some cases this merely meant pushing them afloat by means of the peavies. Again, when the timbers had gone hard aground, they had to be rolled over and over until the deeper water caught them. In extreme cases, when evidently the freshet water had dropped away from them, leaving them high and dry, a number of men would clamp on the jaws of their peavies and carry the logs bodily to the water. In this active work the men were everywhere across the surface of the river. They pushed and heaved from the instability of the floating logs as easily as though they had possessed beneath their feet the advantages of solid land. When they wanted to go from one place to another across the clear water they had various methods of propelling themselves--either broad on, by rolling the log treadwise, or endways by paddling, or by jumping strongly on one end. The logs dipped and bobbed and rolled beneath them; the water flowed over their feet; but always they seemed to maintain their balance unconsciously, and to give their whole attention to the work in hand. They worked as far as possible from the decks of logs, but did not hesitate, when necessary, to plunge even waist-deep into the icy current. Behind them they left a clear river.
Like most exhibitions of superlative skill, all this would have seemed to an uninitiated observer like Bob an easy task, were it not for the misfortunes of one youth. That boy was about half the time in the water. He could stand upright on a log very well as long as he tried to do nothing else. This partial skill undoubtedly had lured him to the drive. But as soon as he tried to work, he was in trouble. The log commenced to roll; he to struggle for his balance. It always ended with a mighty splash and a shout of joy from every one in sight, as the unfortunate youth soused in all over. Then, after many efforts, he dragged himself out, his garments heavy and dripping, and cautiously tried to gain the perpendicular. This ordinarily required several attempts, each of which meant another ducking as the treacherous log rolled at just the wrong instant. The boy was game, though, and kept at it earnestly in spite of repeated failure.
Welton watched two repetitions of this performance.
"Dick!" he roared across the tumult of sound.
Roaring Dick, whose light, active figure had been seen everywhere across the logs, looked up, recognized Welton, and zigzagged skilfully ashore. He stamped the water from his shoes.
"Why don't you fire that kid ashore?" demanded Welton. "Do you want to drown him? He's so cold now he don't know where's his feet?"
Roaring Dick glanced carelessly at the boy. The latter had succeeded in gaining the shallows, where he was trying to roll over a stranded log. His hands were purple and swollen; his face puffed and blue; violent shivers shook him from head to foot; his teeth actually chattered when, for a moment, he relaxed his evident intention to stick it through without making a sign. All his movements were slow and awkward, and his dripping clothes clung tight to his body.
"Oh, him!" said Roaring Dick in reply. "I didn't pay no more attention to him than to one of these yere hell divers. He ain't no good, so I clean overlooked him. Here, you!" he cried suddenly.
The boy looked up, Bob saw him start convulsively, and knew that he had met the impact of that peculiar dynamic energy in Roaring Dick's nervous face. He clambered laboriously from the shallows, the water draining from the bottom of his "stagged" trousers.
"Get to camp," snapped Dick. "You're laid off."
"Why did you ever take such a man on in the first place?" asked Welton.
"He was here when I come," replied Roaring Dick, indifferently, "and, anyway, he's bound he's goin to be a river-hog. You couldn't keep him out with a fly-screen."
"How're things going?" inquired Welton.
"All right," said Roaring Dick. "This ain't no drive to have things goin' wrong. A man could run a hand-organ, a quiltin' party and this drive all to once and never drop a stitch."
"How about old Murdock's dam? Looks like he might make trouble."
"Ain't got to old Murdock yet," said Roaring Dick. "When we do, we'll trim his whiskers to pattern. Don't you worry none about Murdock."
"I don't," laughed Welton. "But, Dick, what are all these deadheads I see in the river? Our logs are all marked, aren't they?"
"They's been some jobbing done way below our rollways," said Roaring Dick, "and the mossbacks have been taking 'em out long before our drive got this far. Them few deadheads we've picked up along the line; mossbacks left 'em stranded. They ain't very many."
"I'll send up a marking hammer, and we'll brand them. Finders keepers."
"Sure," said Roaring Dick.
He nodded and ran out over the logs. The work leaped. Wherever he went the men took hold as though reanimated by an electric current.
"Dick's a driver," said Welton, reflectively, "and he gets out the logs. But I'm scared he don't take this little job serious."
He looked out over the animated scene for a moment in silence. Then he seemed suddenly to remember his companion.
"Well, son," said he, "that's called 'sacking' the river. The rear crew is the place of honour, let me tell you. The old timers used to take a great pride in belonging to a crack rear on a big drive. When you get one side of the river working against the other, it's great fun. I've seen some fine races in my day."
At this moment two men swung up the river trail, bending to the broad tump lines that crossed the tops of their heads. These tump lines supported rather bulky wooden boxes running the lengths of the men's backs. Arrived at the rear, they deposited their burdens. One set to building a fire; the other to unpacking from the boxes all the utensils and receptacles of a hearty meal. The food was contained in big lard tins. It was only necessary to re-heat it. In ten minutes the usual call of "grub pile" rang out across the river. The men came ashore. Each group of five or six built its little fire. The wind sucked aloft these innumerable tiny smokes, and scattered them in a thin mist through the trees.
Welton stayed to watch the sacking until after three o'clock. Then he took up the river trail to the rear camp. This Bob found to be much like the other, but larger.
"Ordinarily on drive we have a wanigan," said Welton. "A wanigan's a big scow. It carries the camp and supplies to follow the drive. Here we use teams; and it's some of a job, let me tell you! The roads are bad, and sometimes it's a long ways around. Hard sledding, isn't it Billy?" he inquired of the teamster, who was warming his hands by the fire.
"Well, I always get there," the latter replied with some pride. "From the Little Fork here I only tipped over six times, all told."
The cook, who had been listening near by, grunted.
"Only time I wasn't with you, Billy," said he; "that's why you got the nerve to tell that!"
"It's a fact!" insisted the driver.
The young fellow who had been ordered off the river sat alone by the drying-fire. Now that he had warmed up and dried off, he was seen to be a rather good-looking boy, dark-skinned, black-eyed, with overhanging, thick, straight brows, like a line from temple to temple. These gave him either the sullen, biding look of an Indian or an air of set determination, as the observer pleased. Just now he contemplated the fire rather gloomily.
Welton sat down on the same log with him.
"Well, bub," said the old riverman good-naturedly, "so you thought you'd like to be a riverman?"
"Yes, sir," replied the boy, with a certain sullen reserve.
"Where did you think you learned to ride a log?"
"I've been around a little at the booms."
"I see. Well, it's a different proposition when you come to working on 'em in fast water."
"Where you from?"
"Down Greenville way."
"Back to the farm now, eh?"
"I suppose so."
"Don't like the notion, eh?"
"No!" cried the boy, with a flash of passion.
"Still like to tackle the river?"
"Yes, sir," replied the young fellow, again encased in his sullen apathy.
"If I send you back to-morrow, would you like to tackle it again?"
"Oh, yes!" said the boy eagerly. "I didn't have any sort of a show when you saw me to-day! I can do a heap better than that. I was froze through and couldn't handle myself."
"What you so stuck on getting wet for?" he inquired.
"I dunno," replied the boy vaguely. "I just like the woods."
"Well, I got no notion of drownding you off in the first white water we come across," said Welton; "but I tell you what to do: you wait around here a few days, helping the cook or Billy there, and I'll take you down to the mill and put you on the booms where you can practise in still water with a pike-pole, and can go warm up in the engine room when you fall off. Suit you?"
"Yes, sir. Thank you," said the boy quietly; but there was a warm glow in his eye.
By now it was nearly dark.
"Guess we'll bunk here to-night," Welton told Bob casually.
Bob looked his dismay.
"Why, I left everything down at the other camp," he cried, "even my tooth brush and hair brush!"
Welton looked at him comically.
"Me, too," said he. "We won't neither of us be near as much trouble to ourselves to-morrow, will we?"
So he had overheard the riverman's remark that morning. Bob laughed.
"That's right," approved Welton, "take it easy. Necessities is a great comfort, but you can do without even them."
After supper all sprawled around a fire. Welton's big bulk extended in the acme of comfort. He puffed his pipe straight up toward the stars, and swore gently from time to time when the ashes dropped back into his eyes.
"Now that's a good kid," he said, waving a pipe toward the other fire where the would-be riverman was helping wash the dishes. "He'll never be a first-class riverman, but he's a good kid."
"Why won't he make a good riverman?" asked Bob.
"Same reason you wouldn't," said Welton bluntly. "A good white water man has to start younger. Besides, what's the use? There won't be any rivermen ten year from now. Say, you," he raised his voice peremptorily, "what do you call yourself?"
The boy looked up startled, saw that he was indicated, stammered, and caught his voice.
"John Harvey, sir," he replied.
"Son of old John who used to be on the Marquette back in the seventies?"
"Yes, sir; I suppose so."
"He ought to be a good kid: he comes of good stock," muttered Welton; "but he'll never be a riverman. No use trying to shove that shape peg in a round hole!"