The Rules of the Game by Stewart Edward White
They tramped to the station and boarded the single passenger car of the accommodation. There they selected a forward seat and waited patiently for the freight-handling to finish and for the leisurely puffing little engine to move on. An hour later they descended at Marion. The journey had been made in an almost absolute silence. Tally stared straight ahead, and sucked at his little pipe. To him, apparently, the journey was merely something to be endured; and he relapsed into that patient absent-mindedness developed among those who have to wait on forces that will not be hurried. Bob's remarks he answered in monosyllables. When the train pulled into the station, Tally immediately arose, as though released by a spring.
Bob's impressions of Marion were of great mills and sawdust-burners along a wide river; of broad, sawdust-covered streets; of a single block of good, brick stores on a main thoroughfare which almost immediately petered out into the vilest and most ramshackle frame "joints"; of wide side streets flanked by small, painted houses in yards, some very neat indeed. Tally walked rapidly by the respectable business blocks, but pushed into the first of the unkempt frame saloons beyond. Bob followed close at his heels. He found himself in a cheap bar-room, its paint and varnish scarred and marred, its floor sawdust-covered, its centre occupied by a huge stove, its walls decorated by several pictures of the nude.
Four men were playing cards at an old round table, hacked and bruised and blackened by time. One of them was the barkeeper, a burly individual with black hair plastered in a "lick" across his forehead. He pushed back his chair and ducked behind the bar, whence he greeted the newcomers. Tally proffered a question. The barkeeper relaxed from his professional attitude, and leaned both elbows on the bar. The two conversed for a moment; then Tally nodded briefly and went out. Bob followed.
This performance was repeated down the length of the street. The stage-settings varied little; same oblong, painted rooms; same varnished bars down one side; same mirrors and bottles behind them; same sawdust-strewn floors; same pictures on the walls; same obscure, back rooms; same sleepy card games by the same burly but sodden type of men. This was the off season. Profits were now as slight as later they would be heavy. Tim talked with the barkeepers low-voiced, nodded and went out. Only when he had systematically worked both sides of the street did he say anything to his companion.
"He's in town," said Tally; "but they don't know where."
"Whither away?" asked Bob.
"Across the river."
They walked together down a side street to a long wooden bridge. This rested on wooden piers shaped upstream like the prow of a ram in order to withstand the battering of the logs. It was a very long bridge. Beneath it the swift current of the river slipped smoothly. The breadth of the stream was divided into many channels and pockets by means of brown poles. Some of these were partially filled with logs. A clear channel had been preserved up the middle. Men armed with long pike-poles were moving here and there over the booms and the logs themselves, pushing, pulling, shoving a big log into this pocket, another into that, gradually segregating the different brands belonging to the different owners of the mills below. From the quite considerable height of the bridge all this lay spread out mapwise up and down the perspective of the stream. The smooth, oily current of the river, leaden-hued and cold in the light of the early spring, hurried by on its way to the lake, swiftly, yet without the turmoil and fuss of lesser power. Downstream, as far as Bob could see, were the huge mills' with their flanking lumber yards, the masts of their lading ships, their black sawdust-burners, and above all the pure-white, triumphant banners of steam that shot straight up against the gray of the sky.
Tally followed the direction of his gaze.
"Modern work," he commented. "Band saws. No circulars there. Two hundred thousand a day"; with which cryptic utterance he resumed his walk.
The opposite side of the river proved to be a smaller edition of the other. Into the first saloon Tally pushed.
It resembled the others, except that no card game was in progress. The barkeeper, his feet elevated, read a pink paper behind the bar. A figure slept at the round table, its head in its arms. Tally walked over to shake this man by the shoulder.
In a moment the sleeper raised his head. Bob saw a little, middle-aged man, not over five feet six in height, slenderly built, yet with broad, hanging shoulders. His head was an almost exact inverted pyramid, the base formed by a mop of red-brown hair, and the apex represented by a very pointed chin. Two level, oblong patches of hair made eyebrows. His face was white and nervous. A strong, hooked nose separated a pair of red-brown eyes, small and twinkling, like a chipmunk's. Just now they were bloodshot and vague.
"Hullo, Dicky Darrell," said Tally.
The man struggled to his feet, knocking over the chair, and laid both hands effusively on Tally's shoulders.
"Jim!" he cried thickly. "Good ole Jim! Glad to see you! Hav' drink!"
Tally nodded, and, to Bob's surprise, took his place at the bar.
"Hav' 'nother!" cried Darrell. "God! I'm glad to see you! Nobody in town."
"All right," agreed Tally pacifically; "but let's go across the river to Dugan's and get it."
To this Darrell readily agreed. They left the saloon. Bob, following, noticed the peculiar truculence imparted to Darrell's appearance by the fact that in walking he always held his hands open and palms to the front. Suddenly Darrell became for the first time aware of his presence. The riverman whirled on him, and Bob became conscious of something as distinct as a physical shock as he met the impact of an electrical nervous energy. It passed, and he found himself half smiling down on this little, white-faced man with the matted hair and the bloodshot, chipmunk eyes.
"Who'n hell's this!" demanded Darrell savagely.
"Friend of mine," said Tally. "Come on."
Darrell stared a moment longer. "All right," he said at last.
All the way across the bridge Tally argued with his companion.
"We've got to have a foreman on the Cedar Branch, Dick," he began, "and you're the fellow."
To this Darrell offered a profane, emphatic and contemptuous negative. With consummate diplomacy Tally led his mind from sullen obstinacy to mere reluctance. At the corner of Main Street the three stopped.
"But I don't want to go yet, Jim," pleaded Darrell, almost tearfully. "I ain't had all my 'time' yet."
"Well," said Tally, "you've been polishing up the flames of hell for four days pretty steady. What more do you want?"
"I ain't smashed no rig yet," objected Darrell.
Tally looked puzzled.
"Well, go ahead and smash your rig and get done with it," he said.
"A' right," said Darrell cheerfully.
He started off briskly, the others following. Down a side street his rather uncertain gait led them, to the wide-open door of a frame livery stable. The usual loungers in the usual tipped-back chairs greeted him.
"Want m' rig," he demanded.
A large and leisurely man in shirt sleeves lounged out from the office and looked him over dispassionately.
"You've been drunk four days," said he, "have you the price?"
"Bet y'," said Dick, cheerfully. He seated himself on the ground and pulled off his boot from which he extracted a pulpy mass of greenbacks. "Can't fool me!" he said cunningly. "Always save 'nuff for my rig!"
He shoved the bills into the liveryman's hands. The latter straightened them out, counted them, thrust a portion into his pocket, and handed the rest back to Darrell.
"There you are," said he. He shouted an order into the darkness of the stable.
An interval ensued. The stableman and Tally waited imperturbably, without the faintest expression of interest in anything evident on their immobile countenances. Dicky Darrell rocked back and forth on his heels, a pleased smile on his face.
After a few moments the stable boy led out a horse hitched to the most ramshackle and patched-up old side-bar buggy Bob had ever beheld. Darrell, after several vain attempts, managed to clamber aboard. He gathered up the reins, and, with exaggerated care, drove into the middle of the street.
Then suddenly he rose to his feet, uttered an ear-piercing exultant yell, hurled the reins at the horse's head and began to beat the animal with his whip. The horse, startled, bounded forward. The buggy jerked. Darrell sat down violently, but was at once on his feet, plying the whip. The crazed man and the crazed horse disappeared up the street, the buggy careening from side to side, Darrell yelling at the top of his lungs. The stableman watched him out of sight.
"Roaring Dick of the Woods!" said he thoughtfully at last. He thrust his hand in his pocket and took out the wad of greenbacks, contemplated them for a moment, and thrust them back. He caught Tally's eye. "Funny what different ideas men have of a time," said he.
"Do this regular?" inquired Tally dryly.
Bob got his breath at last.
"Why!" he cried. "What'll happen to him! He'll be killed sure!"
"Not him!" stated the stableman emphatically. "Not Dicky Darrell! He'll smash up good, and will crawl out of the wreck, and he'll limp back here in just about one half-hour."
"How about the horse and buggy?"
"Oh, we'll catch the horse in a day or two--it's a spoiled colt, anyway--and we'll patch up the buggy if she's patchable. If not, we'll leave it. Usual programme."
The stableman and Tally lit their pipes. Nobody seemed much interested now that the amusement was over. Bob owned a boyish desire to follow the wake of the cyclone, but in the presence of this imperturbability, he repressed his inclination.
"Some day the damn fool will bust his head open," said the liveryman, after a ruminative pause.
"I shouldn't think you'd rent him a horse," said Bob.
"He pays," yawned the other.
At the end of the half-hour the liveryman dove into his office for a coat, which he put on. This indicated that he contemplated exercising in the sun instead of sitting still in the shade.
"Well, let's look him up," said he. "This may be the time he busts his fool head."
"Hope not," was Tally's comment; "can't afford to lose a foreman."
But near the outskirts of town they met Roaring Dick limping painfully down the middle of the road. His hat was gone and he was liberally plastered with the soft mud of early spring.
Not one word would he vouchsafe, but looked at them all malevolently. His intoxication seemed to have evaporated with his good spirits. As answer to the liveryman's question as to the whereabouts of the smashed rig, he waved a comprehensive hand toward the suburbs. At insistence, he snapped back like an ugly dog.
"Out there somewhere," he snarled. "Go find it! What the hell do I care where it is? It's mine, isn't it? I paid you for it, didn't I? Well, go find it! You can have it!"
He tramped vigorously back toward the main street, a grotesque figure with his red-brown hair tumbled over his white, nervous countenance of the pointed chin, with his hooked nose, and his twinkling chipmunk eyes.
"He'll hit the first saloon, if you don't watch out," Bob managed to whisper to Tally.
But the latter shook his head. From long experience he knew the type.
His reasoning was correct. Roaring Dick tramped doggedly down the length of the street to the little frame depot. There he slumped into one of the hard seats in the waiting-room, where he promptly slept. Tally sat down beside him and withdrew into himself. The twilight fell. After an apparently interminable interval a train rumbled in. Tally shook his companion. The latter awakened just long enough to stumble aboard the smoking car, where, his knees propped up, his chin on his breast, he relapsed into deep slumber.
They arrived at the boarding house late in the evening. Mrs. Hallowell set out a cold supper, to which Bob was ready to do full justice. Ten minutes later he found himself in a tiny box of a bedroom, furnished barely. He pushed open the window and propped it up with a piece of kindling. The earth had fallen into a very narrow silhouette, and the star-filled heavens usurped all space, crowding the world down. Against the sky the outlines stood significant in what they suggested and concealed--slumbering roof-tops, the satiated mill glowing vaguely somewhere from her banked fires, the blackness and mass of silent lumber yards, the mysterious, hushing fingers of the ships' masts, and then low and vague, like a narrow strip of velvet dividing these men's affairs from the star-strewn infinite, the wilderness. As Bob leaned from the window the bigness of these things rushed into his office-starved spirit as air into a vacuum. The cold of the lake breeze entered his lungs. He drew a deep breath of it. For the first time in his short business experience he looked forward eagerly to the morrow.