The Riverman by Stewart Edward White
Thus Orde, by the sheer good luck that sometimes favours men engaged in large enterprises, not only frustrated a plan likely to bring failure to his interests, but filled up his crews. It may be remarked here, as well as later, that the "terrors of the Saginaw" stayed with the drive to its finish, and proved reliable and tractable in every particular. Orde scattered them judiciously, so there was no friction with the local men. The Rough Red he retained on the rear.
Here the breaking of the rollways had reached a stage more exciting both to onlooker and participant than the mere opening of the river channel. Huge stacks of logs piled sidewise to the bank lined the stream for miles. When the lowermost log on the river side was teased and pried out, the upper tiers were apt to cascade down with a roar, a crash, and a splash. The man who had done the prying had to be very quick-eyed, very cool, and very agile to avoid being buried under the tons of timber that rushed down on him. Only the most reliable men were permitted at this initial breaking down. Afterwards the crew rolled in what logs remained.
The Rough Red's enormous strength, dare-devil spirit, and nimbleness of body made him invaluable at this dangerous work. Orde, too, often took a hand in some of the more ticklish situations. In old days, before he had attained the position of responsibility that raised the value of his time beyond manual work, he had been one of the best men on the river at breaking bank rollways. A slim, graceful, handsome boy of twenty, known as "Rollway Charlie," also distinguished himself by the quickness and certainty of his work. Often the men standing near lost sight of him entirely in the spray, the confusion, the blur of the breaking rollways, until it seemed certain he must have perished. Nevertheless, always he appeared at right or left, sometimes even on a log astream, nonchalant, smiling, escaped easily from the destructive power he had loosed. Once in the stream the logs ran their appointed course, watched by the men who herded them on their way. And below, from the tributaries, from the other rollways a never-ending procession of recruits joined this great brown army on its way to the lake, until for miles and miles the river was almost a solid mass of logs.
The crews on the various beats now had their hands full to keep the logs running. The slightest check at any one point meant a jam, for there was no way of stopping the unending procession. The logs behind floated gently against the obstruction and came to rest. The brown mass thickened. As far as the eye could reach the surface of the water was concealed. And then, as the slow pressure developed from the three or four miles of logs forced against each other by the pushing of the current, the breast of the jam began to rise. Timbers up-ended, crossed, interlocked, slid one over the other, mounted higher and higher in the formidable game of jack-straws the loss of which spelled death to the players.
Immediately, and with feverish activity, the men nearest at hand attacked the work. Logs on top they tumbled and rolled into the current below. Men beneath the breast tugged and pried in search of the key logs causing all the trouble. Others "flattened out the wings," hoping to get a "draw" around the ends. As the stoppage of the drive indicated to the men up and down stream that a jam had formed, they gathered at the scene--those from above over the logs, those from below up the river trail.
Rarely, unless in case of unusual complications, did it take more than a few hours at most to break the jam. The breast of it went out with a rush. More slowly the wings sucked in. Reluctantly the mass floating on the surface for miles up stream stirred, silently moved forward. For a few minutes it was necessary to watch carefully until the flow onward steadied itself, until the congestion had spaced and ordered as before. Then the men moved back to their posts; the drive was resumed. At night the river was necessarily left to its own devices. Rivermen, with the touch of superstition inseparably connected with such affairs, believe implicitly that "logs run free at night." Certainly, though it might be expected that each morning would reveal a big jam to break, such was rarely the case. The logs had usually stopped, to be sure, but generally in so peaceful a situation as easily to be started on by a few minutes' work. Probably this was because they tended to come to rest in the slow, still reaches of the river, through which, in daytime, they would be urged by the rivermen.
Jams on the river, contrary to general belief, are of very common occurrence. Throughout the length of the drive there were probably three or four hang-ups a day. Each of these had to be broken, and in the breaking was danger. The smallest misstep, the least slowness in reading the signs of the break, the slightest lack of promptness in acting on the hint or of agility in leaping from one to the other of the plunging timbers, the faintest flicker from rigid attention to the antagonist crouching on the spring, would mean instant death to the delinquent. Thus it was literally true that each one of these men was called upon almost daily to wager his personal skill against his destruction.
In the meantime the rear was "sacking" its way as fast as possible, moving camp with the wanigan whenever necessary, working very hard and very cold and very long. In its work, however, beyond the breaking of the rollways, was little of the spectacular.
Orde, after the rear was well started, patrolled the length of the drive in his light buckboard. He had a first-class team of young horses--high-spirited, somewhat fractious, but capable on a pinch of their hundred miles in a day. He handled them well over the rough corduroys and swamp roads. From jam to rear and back again he travelled, pausing on the river banks to converse earnestly with one of the foremen, surveying the situation with the bird's-eye view of the general. At times he remained at one camp for several days watching the trend of the work. The improvements made during the preceding summer gave him the greatest satisfaction, especially the apron at the falls.
"We'd have had a dozen bad jams here before now with all these logs in the river," said he to Tim Nolan, who was in charge of that beat.
"And as it is," said Tim, "we've had but the one little wing jam."
The piers to define the channel along certain shallows also saved the rear crew much labour in the matter of stranded logs. Everything was very satisfactory. Even old man Reed held to his chastened attitude, and made no trouble. In fact, he seemed glad to turn an honest penny by boarding the small crew in charge of sluicing the logs.
No trouble was experienced until Heinzman's rollways were reached. Here Orde had, as he had promised his partner, boomed a free channel to prevent Heinzman from filling up the entire river-bed with his rollways. When the jam of the drive had descended the river as far as this, Orde found that Heinzman had not yet begun to break out. Hardly had Orde's first crew passed, however, when Heinzman's men began to break down the logs into the drive. Long before the rear had caught up, all Heinzman's drive was in the water, inextricably mingled with the sixty or eighty million feet Orde had in charge.
The situation was plain. All Heinzman now had to do was to retain a small crew, which should follow after the rear in order to sack what logs the latter should leave stranded. This amounted practically to nothing. As it was impossible in so great a mass of timbers, and in the haste of a pressing labour, to distinguish or discriminate against any single brand, Heinzman was in a fair way to get his logs sent down stream with practically no expense.
"Vell, my boy," remarked the German quite frankly to Orde as they met on the road one day, "looks like I got you dis time, eh?"
Orde laughed, also with entire good-humour.
"If you mean your logs are going down with ours, why I guess you have. But you paste this in your hat: you're going to keep awful busy, and it's going to cost you something yet to get 'em down."
To Newmark, on one of his occasional visits to the camps, Orde detailed the situation.
"It doesn't amount to much," said he, "except that it complicates matters. We'll make him scratch gravel, if we have to sit up nights and work overtime to do it. We can't injure him or leave his logs, but we can annoy him a lot."
The state of affairs was perfectly well known to the men, and the entire river entered into the spirit of the contest. The drivers kept a sharp lookout for "H" logs, and whenever possible thrust them aside into eddies and backwaters. This, of course, merely made work for the sackers Heinzman had left above the rear. Soon they were in charge of a very fair little drive of their own. Their lot was not enviable. Indeed, only the pressure of work prevented some of the more aggressive of Orde's rear--among whom could be numbered the Rough Red--from going back and "cleaning out" this impertinent band of hangers-on. One day two of the latter, conducting the jam of the miniature drive astern, came within reach of the Rough Red. The latter had lingered in hopes of rescuing his peavy, which had gone overboard. To lose one's peavy is, among rivermen, the most mortifying disgrace. Consequently, the Rough Red was in a fit mood for trouble. He attacked the two single-handed. A desperate battle ensued, which lasted upward of an hour. The two rivermen punched, kicked, and battered the Rough Red in a manner to tear his clothes, deprive him to some extent of red whiskers, bloody his face, cut his shoulder, and knock loose two teeth. The Rough Red, more than the equal of either man singly, had reciprocated in kind. Orde, driving in toward the rear from a detour to avoid a swamp, heard, and descended from his buckboard. Tying his horses to trees, he made his way through the brush to the scene of conflict. So winded and wearied were the belligerents by now that he had no difficulty in separating them. He surveyed their wrecks with a sardonic half smile.
"I call this a draw," said he finally. His attitude became threatening as the two up-river men, recovering somewhat, showed ugly symptoms. "Git!" he commanded. "Scat! I guess you don't know me. I'm Jack Orde. Jimmy and I together could do a dozen of you." He menaced them until, muttering, they had turned away.
"Well, Jimmy," said he humorously, "you look as if you'd been run through a thrashing machine."
"Those fellers make me sick!" growled the Rough Red.
Orde looked him over again.
"You look sick," said he.
When the buckboard drew into camp, Orde sent Bourke away to repair damages while he called the cookee to help unpack several heavy boxes of hardware. They proved to contain about thirty small hatchets, well sharpened, and each with a leather guard. When the rear crew had come in that night, Orde distributed the hatchets.
"Boys," said he, "while you're on the work, I want you all to keep a watch-out for these "H" logs, and whenever you strike one I want you to blaze it plainly, so there won't be any mistake about it."
"What for?" asked one of the Saginaw men as he received his hatchet.
But the riverman who squatted next nudged him with his elbow.
"The less questions you ask Jack, the more answers you'll get. Just do what you're told to on this river and you'll see fun sure."
Three days later the rear crew ran into the head of the pond above Reed's dam. To every one's surprise, Orde called a halt on the work and announced a holiday.
Now, holidays are unknown on drive. Barely is time allowed for eating and sleeping. Nevertheless, all that day the men lay about in complete idleness, smoking, talking, sleeping in the warm sun. The river, silenced by the closed sluice-gates, slept also. The pond filled with logs. From above, the current, aided by a fair wind, was driving down still other logs--the forerunners of the little drive astern. At sight of these, some of the men grumbled. "We're losin' what we made," said they. "We left them logs, and sorted 'em out once already."
Orde sent a couple of axe-men to blaze the newcomers. A little before sundown he ordered the sluice-gates of the dam opened.
"Night work," said the men to one another. They knew, of course, that in sluicing logs, the gate must be open a couple of hours before the sluicing begins in order to fill the river-bed below. Logs run ahead faster than the water spreads.
Sure enough, after supper Orde suddenly appeared among them, the well-known devil of mischief dancing in his eyes and broadening his good-natured face.
"Get organised, boys," said he briskly. "We've got to get this pond all sluiced before morning, and there's enough of us here to hustle it right along."
The men took their places. Orde moved here and there, giving his directions.
"Sluice through everything but the "H" logs," he commanded. "Work them off to the left and leave them."
Twilight, then dark, fell. After a few moments the moon, then just past its full, rose behind the new-budding trees. The sluicing, under the impetus of a big crew, went rapidly.
"I bet there's mighty near a million an hour going through there," speculated Orde, watching the smooth, swift, but burdened waters of the chute.
And in this work the men distinguished easily the new white blaze- marks on Heinzman's logs; so they were able without hesitation to shunt them one side into the smoother water, as Orde had commanded.
About two o'clock the last log shot through.
"Now, boys," said Orde, "tear out the booms."
The chute to the dam was approached, as has been earlier explained, by two rows of booms arranged in a V, or funnel, the apex of which emptied into the sluice-way, and the wide, projecting arms of which embraced the width of the stream. The logs, floating down the pond, were thus concentrated toward the sluice. Also, the rivermen, walking back and forth the length of the booms, were able easily to keep the drive moving.
Now, however, Orde unchained these boom logs. The men pushed them ashore. There as many as could find room on either side the boom- poles clamped in their peavies, and, using these implements as handles, carried the booms some distance back into the woods. Then everybody tramped back and forth, round and about, to confuse the trail. Orde was like a mischievous boy at a school prank. When the last timber had been concealed, he lifted up his deep voice in a roar of joy, in which the crew joined.
"Now let's turn in for a little sleep," said be.
This situation, perhaps a little cloudy in the reader's mind, would have cleared could he have looked out over the dam pond the following morning. The blazed logs belonging to Heinzman, drifting slowly, had sucked down into the corner toward the power canal where, caught against the grating, they had jammed. These logs would have to be floated singly, and pushed one by one against the current across the pond and into the influence of the sluice-gate. Some of them would be hard to come at.
"I guess that will keep them busy for a day or two," commented Orde, as he followed the rear down to where it was sacking below the dam.
This, as Orde had said, would be sufficiently annoying to Heinzman, but would have little real effect on the main issue, which was that the German was getting down his logs with a crew of less than a dozen men. Nevertheless, Orde, in a vast spirit of fun, took delight in inventing and executing practical jokes of the general sort just described. For instance, at one spot where he had boomed the deeper channel from the rocks on either side, he shunted as many of Heinzman's logs as came by handily through an opening he had made in the booms. There they grounded on the shallows--more work for the men following. Many of the logs in charge of the latter, however, catching the free current, overtook the rear, so that the number of the "H" logs in the drive was not materially diminished.
At first, as has been hinted, these various tactics had little effect. One day, however, the chore boy, who had been over to Spruce Rapids after mail, reported that an additional crew of twenty had been sent in to Heinzman's drive. This was gratifying.
"We're making him scratch gravel, boys, anyway," said Orde.
The men entered into the spirit of the thing. In fact, their enthusiasm was almost too exuberant. Orde had constantly to negative new and ingenious schemes.
"No, boys," said he, "I want to keep on the right side of the law. We may need it later."
Meanwhile the entire length of the river was busy and excited. Heinzman's logs were all blazed inside a week. The men passed the hatchets along the line, and slim chance did a marked log have of rescue once the poor thing fell into difficulties. With the strange and interesting tendency rivermen and woodsmen have of personifying the elements of their daily work, the men addressed the helpless timbers in tones of contempt.
"Thought you'd ride that rock, you ---- ---- ----," said they, "and got left, did you? Well, lie there and be ---- to you!"
And if chance offered, and time was not pressing, the riverman would give his helpless victim a jerk or so into a more difficult position. Times of rising water--when the sluice-gates above had been opened--were the most prolific of opportunities. Logs rarely jam on rising water, for the simple reason that constantly the surface area of the river is increasing, thus tending to separate the logs. On the other hand, falling water, tending to crowd the drive closer together, is especially prolific of trouble. Therefore, on flood water the watchers scattered along the stretches of the river had little to do--save strand Heinzman's logs for him. And when flood water had passed, some of those logs were certainly high and dry.
Up to a certain point this was all very well. Orde took pains not to countenance it officially, and caused word to be passed about, that while he did not expect his men to help drive Heinzman's logs, they must not go out of their way to strand them.
"If things get too bad, he'll have spies down here to collect evidence on us," said Orde, "and he'll jug some of us for interference with his property. We don't own the river."
"How about them booms?" asked the Rough Red.
"I did own them," explained Orde, "and I had a right to take them up when I had finished with them."
This hint was enough. The men did not cease from a labour that tickled them mightily, but they adopted a code of signals. Strangers were not uncommon. Spectators came out often from the little towns and from the farms round-about. When one of these appeared the riverman nearest raised a long falsetto cry. This was taken up by his next neighbour and passed on. In a few minutes all that section of the drive knew that it would be wise to "lie low." And inside of two weeks Orde had the great satisfaction of learning that Heinzman was working--and working hard--a crew of fifty men.
"A pretty fair crew, even if he was taking out his whole drive," commented Orde.
The gods of luck seemed to be with the new enterprise. Although Orde had, of course, taken the utmost pains to foresee every contingency possible to guard against, nevertheless, as always when dealing with Nature's larger forces, he anticipated some of those gigantic obstacles which continually render uncertain wilderness work. Nothing of the kind happened. There formed none of the tremendous white-water jams that pile up several million feet of logs, tax every resource of men, horses, and explosives, and require a week or so to break. No men were killed, and only two injured. No unexpected floods swept away works on which the drive depended. The water held out to carry the last stick of timber over the shallowest rapids. Weather conditions were phenomenal--and perfect. All up and down the river the work went with that vim and dash that is in itself an assurance of success. The Heinzman affair, which under auspices of evil augury might have become a serious menace to the success of the young undertaking, now served merely to add a spice of humour to the situation. Among the men gained currency a half-affectionate belief in "Orde's luck."
After this happy fashion the drive went, until at last it entered the broad, deep, and navigable stretches of the river from Redding to the lake. Here, barring the accident of an extraordinary flood, the troubles were over. On the broad, placid bosom of the stream the logs would float. A crew, following, would do the easy work of sacking what logs would strand or eddy in the lazy current; would roll into the faster waters the component parts of what were by courtesy called jams, but which were in reality pile-ups of a few hundred logs on sand bars mid-stream; and in the growing tepid warmth of summer would tramp pleasantly along the river trail. Of course, a dry year would make necessary a larger crew and more labour; of course, a big flood might sweep the logs past all defences into the lake for an irretrievable loss. But such floods come once in a century, and even the dryest of dry years could not now hang the drive. As Orde sat in his buckboard, ready to go into town for a first glimpse of Carroll in more than two months, he gazed with an immense satisfaction over the broad river moving brown and glacier-like as though the logs that covered it were viscid and composed all its substance. The enterprise was practically assured of success.
For a while now Orde was to have a breathing spell. A large number of men were here laid off. The remainder, under the direction of Jim Denning, would require little or no actual supervision. Until the jam should have reached the distributing booms above Monrovia, the affair was very simple. Before he left, however, he called Denning to him.
"Jim," said he, "I'll be down to see you through the sluiceways at Redding, of course. But now that you have a good, still stretch of river, I want you to have the boys let up on sacking out those "H" logs. And I want you to include in our drive all the Heinzman logs from above you possibly can. If you can fix it, let their drive drift down into ours.
"Then we'll have to drive their logs for them," objected Denning.
"Sure," rejoined Orde, "but it's easy driving; and if that crew of his hasn't much to do, perhaps he'll lay most of them off here at Redding."
Denning looked at his principal for a moment, then a slow grin overspread his face. Without comment he turned back to camp, and Orde took up his reins.