The Riverman by Stewart Edward White
Orde had reconnoitred the river as a general reconnoitres his antagonist, and had made his dispositions as the general disposes of his army, his commissary, his reserves. At this point five men could keep the river clear; at that rapid it would require twenty; there a dozen would suffice for ordinary contingencies, and yet an emergency might call for thirty--those thirty must not be beyond reach. In his mind's eye he apportioned the sections of the upper river. Among the remoter wildernesses every section must have its driving camp. The crews of each, whether few or many, would be expected to keep clear and running their own "beats" on the river. As far as the rear crew should overtake these divisions, either it would absorb them or the members of them would be thrown forward beyond the lowermost beat, to take charge of a new division down stream. When the settled farm country or the little towns were reached, many of the driving camps would become unnecessary; the men could be boarded out at farms lying in their beats. A continual advance would progress toward the Lake, the drive crews passing and repassing each other like pigeons in the sown fields. Each of these sections would be in charge of a foreman, whose responsibility ceased with the delivery of the logs to the men next below. A walking boss would trudge continually the river trail, or ride the logs down stream, holding the correlation of these many units. Orde himself would drive up and down the river, overseeing the whole plan of campaign, throwing the camps forward, concentrating his forces here, spreading them elsewhere, keeping accurately in mind the entire situation so that he could say with full confidence: "Open Dam Number One for three hours at nine o'clock; Dam Number Two for two hours and a half at ten thirty," and so on down the line; sure that the flood waters thus released would arrive at the right moment, would supplement each other, and would so space themselves as to accomplish the most work with the least waste. In that one point more than in any other showed the expert. The water was his ammunition, a definite and limited quantity of it. To "get the logs out with the water" was the last word of praise to be said for the river driver. The more logs, the greater the glory.
Thus it can readily be seen, this matter was rather a campaign than a mere labour, requiring the men, the munitions, the organisation, the tactical ability, the strategy, the resourcefulness, the boldness, and the executive genius of a military commander.
To all these things, and to the distribution of supplies and implements among the various camps, Orde had attended. The wanigan for the rear crew was built. The foremen and walking boss had been picked out. Everything was in readiness. Orde was satisfied with the situation except that he found himself rather short-handed. He had counted on three hundred men for his crews, but scrape and scratch as he would, he was unable to gather over two hundred and fifty. This matter was not so serious, however, as later, when the woods camps should break up, he would be able to pick up more workmen.
"They won't be rivermen like my old crew, though," said Orde regretfully to Tom North, the walking boss. "I'd like to steal a few from some of those Muskegon outfits."
Until the logs should be well adrift, Orde had resolved to boss the rear crew himself.
As the rear was naturally the farthest up stream, Orde had taken also the contract to break the rollways belonging to Carlin, which in the season's work would be piled up on the bank. Thus he could get to work immediately at the break-up, and without waiting for some one else. The seven or eight million feet of lumber comprised in Carlin's drive would keep the men below busy until the other owners, farther down and up the tributaries, should also have put their season's cut afloat.
The ice went out early, to Orde's satisfaction. As soon as the river ran clear in its lower reaches he took his rear crew in to Carlin's rollways.
This crew was forty in number, and had been picked from the best--a hard-bitten, tough band of veterans, weather beaten, scarred in numerous fights or by the backwoods scourge of small-pox, compact, muscular, fearless, loyal, cynically aloof from those not of their cult, out-spoken and free to criticise--in short, men to do great things under the strong leader, and to mutiny at the end of three days under the weak. They piled off the train at Sawyer's, stamped their feet on the board platform of the station, shouldered their "turkeys," and straggled off down the tote-road. It was an eighteen-mile walk in. The ground had loosened its frost. The footing was ankle-deep in mud and snow-water.
Next morning, bright and early, the breaking of the rollways began. During the winter the logs had been hauled down ice roads to the river, where they were "banked" in piles twenty, and even thirty, feet in height. The bed of the stream itself was filled with them for a mile, save in a narrow channel left down through the middle to allow for some flow of water; the banks were piled with them, side on, ready to roll down at the urging of the men.
First of all, the entire crew set itself, by means of its peavies, to rolling the lower logs into the current, where they were rapidly borne away. As the waters were now at flood, this was a quick and easy labour. Occasionally some tiers would be stuck together by ice, in which case considerable prying and heaving was necessary in order to crack them apart. But forty men, all busily at work, soon had the river full. Orde detailed some six or eight to drop below in order that the river might run clear to the next section, where the next crew would take up the task. These men, quite simply, walked to the edges of the rollway, rolled a log apiece into the water, stepped aboard, leaned against their peavies, and were swept away by the swift current. The logs on which they stood whirled in the eddies, caromed against other timbers, slackened speed, shot away; never did the riders alter their poses of easy equilibrium. From time to time one propelled his craft ashore by hooking to and pushing against other logs. There he stood on some prominent point, leaning his chin contemplatively against the thick shaft of his peavy, watching the endless procession of the logs drifting by. Apparently he was idle, but in reality his eyes missed no shift of the ordered ranks. When a slight hitch or pause, a subtle change in the pattern of the brown carpet caught his attention, he sprang into life. Balancing his peavy across his body, he made his way by short dashes to the point of threatened congestion. There, working vigorously, swept down stream with the mass, he pulled, hauled, and heaved, forcing the heavy, reluctant timbers from the cohesion that threatened trouble later. Oblivious to his surroundings, he wrenched and pried desperately. The banks of the river drifted by. Point succeeded point, as though withdrawn up stream by some invisible manipulator. The river appeared stationary, the banks in motion. Finally he heard at his elbow the voice of the man stationed below him, who had run out from his own point.
"Hullo, Bill," he replied to this man, "you old slough hog! Tie into this this!"
"All the time!" agreed Bill cheerfully.
In a few moments the danger was averted, the logs ran free. The rivermen thereupon made their uncertain way back to shore, where they took the river trail up stream again to their respective posts.
At noon they ate lunches they had brought with them in little canvas bags, snatched before they left the rollways from a supply handy by the cook. In the meantime the main crew were squatting in the lea of the brush, devouring a hot meal which had been carried to them in wooden boxes strapped to the backs of the chore boys. Down the river and up its tributaries other crews, both in the employ of Newmark and Orde and of others, were also pausing from their cold and dangerous toil. The river, refreshed after its long winter, bent its mighty back to the great annual burden laid upon it.
By the end of the second day the logs actually in the bed of the stream had been shaken loose, and a large proportion of them had floated entirely from sight. It now became necessary to break down the rollways piled along the tops of the banks.
The evening of this day, however, Orde received a visit from Jim Denning, the foreman of the next section below, bringing with him Charlie, the cook of Daly's last year's drive. Leaving him by the larger fire, Jim Denning drew his principal one side.
"This fellow drifted in to-night two days late after a drunk, and he tells an almighty queer story," said he. "He says a crew of bad men from the Saginaw, sixty strong, have been sent in by Heinzman. He says Heinzman hired them to come over not to work, but just to fight and annoy us."
"That so?" said Orde. "Well, where are they?"
"Don't know. But he sticks by his story, and tells it pretty straight."
"Bring him over, and let's hear it," said Orde.
"Hullo, Charlie!" he greeted the cook when the latter stood before him. "What's this yarn Jim's telling me?"
"It's straight, Mr. Orde," said the cook. "There's a big crew brought in from the Saginaw Waters to do you up. They're supposed to be over here to run his drive, but really they're goin' to fight and raise hell. For why would he want sixty men to break out them little rollways of his'n up at the headwaters?"
"Is that where they've gone?" asked Orde like a flash.
"Yes, sir. And he only owns a 'forty' up there, and it ain't more'n half cut, anyway."
"I didn't know he owned any."
"Yes, sir. He bought that little Johnson piece last winter. I been workin' up there with a little two-horse crew since January. We didn't put up more'n a couple hundred thousand."
"Is he breaking out his rollways below?" Orde asked Denning.
"No, sir," struck in Charlie, "he ain't."
"How do you happen to be so wise?" inquired Orde, "Seems to me you know about as much as old man Solomon."
"Well," explained Charlie, "you see it's like this. When I got back from the woods last week, I just sort of happened into McNeill's place. I wasn't drinkin' a drop!" he cried virtuously, in answer to Orde's smile.
"Of course not," said Orde. "I was just thinking of the last time we were in there together."
"That's just it!" cried Charlie. "They was always sore at you about that. Well, I was lyin' on one of those there benches back of the 'Merican flags in the dance hall 'cause I was very sleepy, when in blew old man Heinzman and McNeill himself. I just lay low for black ducks and heard their talk. They took a look around, but didn't see no one, so they opened her up wide."
"What did you hear?" asked Orde.
"Well, McNeill he agreed to get a gang of bad ones from the Saginaw to run in on the river, and I heard Heinzman tell him to send 'em in to headwaters. And McNeill said, 'That's all right about the cash, Mr. Heinzman, but I been figgerin' on gettin' even with Orde for some myself.'"
"Is that all?" inquired Orde.
"That's about all," confessed Charlie.
"How do you know he didn't hire them to carry down his drive for him? He'd need sixty men for his lower rollways, and maybe they weren't all to go to headwaters?" asked Orde by way of testing Charlie's beliefs.
"He's payin' them four dollars a day," replied Charlie simply. "Now, who'd pay that fer just river work?"
Orde nodded at Jim Denning.
"Hold on, Charlie," said he. "Why are you giving all this away if you were working for Heinzman?"
"I'm working for you now," replied Charlie with dignity. "And, besides, you helped me out once yourself."
"I guess it's a straight tip all right," said Orde to Denning, when the cook had resumed his place by the fire.
"That's what I thought. That's why I brought him up."
"If that crew's been sent in there, it means only one thing at that end of the line," said Orde.
"Sure. They're sent up to waste out the water in the reservoir and hang this end of the drive," replied Denning.
"Correct," said Orde. "The old skunk knows his own rollways are so far down stream that he's safe, flood water or no flood water."
A pause ensued, during which the two smoked vigorously.
"What are you going to do about it?" asked Denning at last.
"What would you do?" countered Orde.
"Well," said Denning slowly, and with a certain grim joy, "I don't bet those Saginaw river-pigs are any more two-fisted than the boys on this river. I'd go up and clean 'em out."
"Won't do," negatived Orde briefly. "In the first place, as you know very well, we're short-handed now, and we can't spare the men from the work. In the second place, we'd hang up sure, then; to go up in that wilderness, fifty miles from civilisation, would mean a first-class row of too big a size to handle. Won't do!"
"Suppose you get a lawyer," suggested Denning sarcastically.
Orde laughed with great good-humour
"Where'd our water be by the time he got an injunction for us?"
He fell into a brown study, during which his pipe went out.
"Jim," he said finally, "it isn't a fair game. I don't know what to do. Delay will hang us; taking men off the work will hang us. I've just got to go tip there myself and see what can be done by talking to them."
"Talking to them!" Denning snorted. "You might as well whistle down the draught-pipe of hell! If they're just up there for a row, there'll be whisky in camp; and you can bet McNeill's got some of 'em instructed on your account. They'll kill you, sure!"
"I agree with you it's risky," replied Orde. "I'm scared; I'm willing to admit it. But I don't see what else to do. Of course he's got no rights, but what the hell good does that do us after our water is gone? And Jim, my son, if we hang this drive, I'll be buried so deep I never will dig out. No; I've got to go. You can stay up here in charge of the rear until I get back. Send word by Charlie who's to boss your division while you're gone."