The Rules of the Game by Stewart Edward White
Bob was awakened before daylight by the unholy shriek of a great whistle. He then realized that for some time he had been vaguely aware of kindling and stove sounds. The bare little room had become bitterly cold. A gray-blackness represented the world outside. He lighted his glass lamp and took a hasty, shivering sponge bath in the crockery basin. Then he felt better in the answering glow of his healthy, straight young body; and a few moments later was prepared to enjoy a fragrant, new-lit, somewhat smoky fire in the big stove outside his door. The bell rang. Men knocked ashes from their pipes and arose; other men stamped in from outside. The dining room was filled.
Bob took his seat, nodding to the men. A slightly grumpy silence reigned. Collins and Fox had not yet appeared. Bob saw Roaring Dick at the other table, rather whiter than the day before, but carrying himself boldly in spite of his poor head. As he looked, Roaring Dick caught his eye. The riverman evidently did not recognize having seen the young stranger the day before; but Bob was again conscious of the quick impact of the man's personality, quite out of proportion to his diminutive height and slender build. At the end of ten minutes the men trooped out noisily. Shortly a second whistle blew. At the signal the mill awoke. The clang of machinery, beginning slowly, increased in tempo. The exultant shriek of the saws rose to heaven. Bob, peering forth into the young daylight, caught the silhouette of the elephantine tram horse, high in the air, bending his great shoulders to the starting of his little train of cars.
Not knowing what else to do, Bob sauntered to the office. It was locked and dark. He returned to the boarding house, and sat down in the main room. The lamps became dimmer. Finally the chore boy put them out. Then at last Collins appeared, followed closely by Fox.
"You didn't get up to eat with the men?" the bookkeeper asked Bob a trifle curiously. "You don't need to do that. We eat with Mrs. Hallowell at seven."
At eight o'clock the little bookkeeper opened the office door and ushered Bob in to the scene of his duties.
"You're to help me," said Collins concisely. "I have the books. Our other duties are to make out time checks for the men, to answer the correspondence in our province, to keep track of camp supplies, and to keep tab on shipments and the stock on hand and sawed each day. There's your desk. You'll find time blanks and everything there. The copying press is in the corner. Over here is the tally board," He led the way to a pine bulletin, perhaps four feet square, into which were screwed a hundred or more small brass screw hooks. From each depended a small pine tablet or tag inscribed with many figures. "Do you understand a tally board?" Collins asked.
"No," replied Bob.
"Well, these screw hooks are arranged just like a map of the lumber yards. Each hook represents one of the lumber piles--or rather the location of a lumber pile. The tags hanging from them represent the lumber piles themselves; see?"
"Sure," said Bob. Now that he understood he could follow out on this strange map the blocks, streets and alleys of that silent, tenantless city.
"On these tags," pursued Collins, "are figures. These figures show how much lumber is in each pile, and what kind it is, and of what quality. In that way we know just what we have and where it is. The sealers report to us every day just what has been shipped out, and what has been piled from the mill. From their reports we change the figures on the tags. I'm going to let you take care of that."
Bob bestowed his long figure at the desk assigned him, and went to work. He was interested, for it was all new to him. Men were constantly in and out on all sorts of errands. Fox came to shake hands and wish him well; he was off on the ten o'clock train. Bob checked over a long invoice of camp supplies; manipulated the copying press; and, under Collins's instructions, made out time checks against the next pay day. The insistence of details kept him at the stretch until noon surprised him.
After dinner and a breath of fresh air, he plunged again into his tasks. Now he had the scalers' noon reports to transfer to the tally board. He was intensely interested by the novelty of it all; but even this early he encountered his old difficulties in the matter of figures. He made no mistakes, but in order to correlate, remember and transfer correctly he was forced to an utterly disproportionate intensity of application. To the tally board he brought more absolute concentration and will-power than did Collins to all his manifold tasks. So evidently painstaking was he, that the little bookkeeper glanced at him sharply once or twice. However, he said nothing.
When darkness approached the bookkeeper closed his ledger and came over to Bob's desk. In ten minutes he ran deftly over Bob's afternoon work; re-checking the supply invoices, verifying the time checks, comparing the tallies with the scalers' reports. So swiftly and accurately did he accomplish this, with so little hesitation and so assured a belief in his own correctness that the really taxing job seemed merely a bit of light mental gymnastics after the day's work.
"Good!" he complimented Bob; "everything's correct."
Bob nodded, a little gloomily. It might be correct; but he was very tired from the strain of it.
"It'll come easier with practice," said Collins; "always difficult to do a new thing."
The whistle blew. Bob went directly to his room and sat down on the edge of his bed. In spite of Collins's kindly meant reassurances, the iron of doubt had entered his soul. He had tried for four months, and was no nearer facility than when he started.
"If a man hadn't learned better than that, I'd have called him a dub and told him to get off the squad," he said to himself, a little bitterly. He thought a moment. "I guess I'm tired. I must buck up. If Collins and Archie can do it, I can. It's all in the game. Of course, it takes time and training. Get in the game!"