The Riverman by Stewart Edward White
Three days later the jam of the drive reached the dam at Redding. Orde took Carroll downtown in the buckboard. There a seat by the dam-watcher's little house was given her, back of the brick factory buildings next the power canal, whence for hours she watched the slow onward movement of the sullen brown timbers, the smooth, polished-steel rush of the waters through the chute, the graceful certain movements of the rivermen. Some of the latter were brought up by Orde and introduced. They were very awkward, and somewhat embarrassed, but they all looked her straight in the eye, and Carroll felt somehow that back of their diffidence they were quite dispassionately appraising her. After a few gracious speeches on her part and monosyllabic responses on theirs, they blundered away. In spite of the scant communication, these interviews left something of a friendly feeling on both sides.
"I like your Jim Denning," she told Orde; "he's a nice, clean-cut fellow. And Mr. Bourke," she laughed. "Isn't he funny with his fierce red beard and his little eyes? But he simply adores you."
Orde laughed at the idea of the Rough Red's adoring anybody.
"It's so," she insisted, "and I like him for it--only I wish he were a little cleaner."
She thought the feats of "log-riding" little less than wonderful, and you may be sure the knowledge of her presence did not discourage spectacular display. Finally, Johnny Challan, uttering a loud whoop, leaped aboard a log and went through the chute standing bolt upright. By a marvel of agility, he kept his balance through the white-water below, and emerged finally into the lower waters still proudly upright, and dry above the knees.
Carroll had arisen, the better to see.
"Why," she cried aloud, "it's marvellous! Circus riding is nothing to it!"
"No, ma'am," replied a gigantic riverman who was working near at hand, "that ain't nothin'. Ordinary, however, we travel that way on the river. At night we have the cookee pass us out each a goose- ha'r piller, and lay down for the night."
Carroll looked at him in reproof. He grinned slowly.
"Don't git worried about me, ma'am," said he, "I'm hopeless. For twenty year now I been wearin' crape on my hat in memory of my departed virtues."
After the rear had dropped down river from Redding, Carroll and Orde returned to their deserted little box of a house at Monrovia.
Orde breathed deep of a new satisfaction in walking again the streets of this little sandy, sawdust-paved, shantyfied town, with its yellow hills and its wide blue river and its glimpse of the lake far in the offing. It had never meant anything to him before. Now he enjoyed every brick and board of it; he trod the broken, aromatic shingles of the roadway with pleasure; he tramped up the broad stairs and down the dark hall of the block with anticipation; he breathed the compounded office odour of ledgers, cocoa matting, and old cigar smoke in a long, reminiscent whiff; he took his seat at his roll-top desk, enchanted to be again in these homely though familiar surroundings.
"Hanged if I know what's struck me," he mused. "Never experienced any remarkable joy before in getting back to this sort of truck."
Then, with a warm glow at the heart, the realisation was brought to him. This was home, and over yonder, under the shadow of the heaven-pointing spire, a slip of a girl was waiting for him.
He tried to tell her this when next he saw her.
"I felt that I ought to make you a little shrine, and burn candles to you, the way the Catholics do--"
"To the Mater Dolorosa?" she mocked.
He looked at her dark eyes so full of the sweetness of content, at her sensitive lips with the quaintly upturned corners, and he thought of what her home life had been and of the real sorrow that even yet must smoulder somewhere down in the deeps of her being.
"No," said he slowly, "not that. I think my shrine will be dedicated to Our Lady of the Joyous Soul."
The rest of the week Orde was absent up the river, superintending in a general way the latter progress of the drive, looking into the needs of the crews, arranging for supplies. The mills were all working now, busily cutting into the residue of last season's logs. Soon they would need more.
At the booms everything was in readiness to receive the jam. The long swing arm slanting across the river channel was attached to its winch which would operate it. When shut it would close the main channel and shunt into the booms the logs floating in the river. There, penned at last by the piles driven in a row and held together at the top by bolted timbers, they would lie quiet. Men armed with pike-poles would then take up the work of distribution according to the brands stamped on the ends. Each brand had its own separate "sorting pens," the lower end leading again into the open river. From these each owner's property was rafted and towed to his private booms at his mill below.
Orde spent the day before the jam appeared in constructing what he called a "boomerang."
"Invention of my own," he explained to Newmark. "Secret invention just yet. I'm going to hold up the drive in the main river until we have things bunched, then I'm going to throw a big crew down here by the swing. Heinzman anticipates, of course, that I'll run the entire drive into the booms and do all my sorting there. Naturally, if I turn his logs loose into the river as fast as I run across them, he will be able to pick them up one at a time, for he'll only get them occasionally. If I keep them until everything else is sorted, only Heinzman's logs will remain; and as we have no right to hold logs, we'll have to turn them loose through the lower sorting booms, where he can be ready to raft them. In that way he gets them all right without paying us a cent. See?"
"Yes, I see," said Newmark.
"Well," said Orde, with a laugh, "here is where I fool him. I'm going to rush the drive into the booms all at once, but I'm going to sort out Heinzman's logs at these openings near the entrance and turn them into the main channel."
"What good will that do?" asked Newmark sceptically. "He gets them sorted just the same, doesn't he?"
"The current's fairly strong," Orde pointed out, "and the river's almighty wide. When you spring seven or eight million feet on a man, all at once and unexpected, and he with no crew to handle them, he's going to keep almighty busy. And if he don't stop them this side his mill, he'll have to raft and tow them back; and if he don't stop 'em this side the lake, he may as well kiss them all good bye-- except those that drift into the bayous and inlets and marshes, and other ungodly places."
"I see," said Newmark drily.
"But don't say a word anywhere," warned Orde. "Secrecy is the watchword of success with this merry little joke."
The boomerang worked like a charm. The men had been grumbling at an apparently peaceful yielding of the point at issue, and would have sacked out many of the blazed logs if Orde had not held them rigidly to it. Now their spirits flamed into joy again. The sorting went like clockwork. Orde, in personal charge, watched that through the different openings in his "boomerang" the "H" logs were shunted into the river. Shortly the channel was full of logs floating merrily away down the little blue wavelets. After a while Orde handed over his job to Tom North.
"Can't stand it any longer, boys," said he. "I've got to go down and see how the Dutchman is making it."
"Come back and tell us!" yelled one of the crew.
"You bet I will!" Orde shouted back.
He drove the team and buckboard down the marsh road to Heinzman's mill. There he found evidences of the wildest excitement. The mill had been closed down, and all the men turned in to rescue logs. Boats plied in all directions. A tug darted back and forth. Constantly the number of floating logs augmented, however. Many had already gone by.
"If you think you're busy now," said Orde to himself with a chuckle, "just wait until you begin to get logs."
He watched for a few moments in silence.
"What's he doing with that tug?" thought he. "O-ho! He's stringing booms across the river to hold the whole outfit."
He laughed aloud, turned his team about, and drove frantically back to the booms. Every few moments he chuckled. His eyes danced. Hardly could he wait to get there. Once at the camp, he leaped from the buckboard, with a shout to the stableman, and ran rapidly out over the booms to where the sorting of "H" logs was going merrily forward.
"He's shut down his mill," shouted Orde, "and he's got all that gang of highbankers out, and every old rum-blossom in Monrovia, and I bet if you say 'logs' to him, he'd chase his tail in circles."
"Want this job?" North asked him.
"No," said Orde, suddenly fallen solemn, "haven't time. I'm going to take Marsh and the Sprite and go to town. Old Heinzman," he added as an afterthought, "is stringing booms across the river-- obstructing navigation."
He ran down the length of the whole boom to where lay the two tugs.
"Marsh," he called when still some distance away, "got up steam?"
There appeared a short, square, blue-clad man, with hard brown cheeks, a heavy bleached flaxen moustache, and eyes steady, unwavering, and as blue as the sky.
"Up in two minutes," he answered, and descended from the pilot house to shout down a low door leading from the deck into the engine room.
"Harvey," he commanded, "fire her up!"
A tall, good-natured negro reached the upper half of his body from the low door to seize an armful of the slabs piled along the narrow deck. Ten minutes later the Sprite, a cloud of white smoke pouring from her funnel, was careening down the stretch of the river.
Captain Marsh guided his energetic charge among the logs floating in the stream with the marvellous second instinct of the expert tugboat man. A whirl of the wheel to the right, a turn to the left--the craft heeled strongly under the forcing of her powerful rudder to avoid by an arm's-length some timbers fairly flung aside by the wash. The displacement of the rapid running seemed almost to press the water above the level of the deck on either side and about ten feet from the gunwale. As the low marshes and cat-tails flew past, Orde noted with satisfaction that many of the logs, urged one side by the breeze, had found lodgment among the reeds and in the bayous and inlets. One at a time, and painfully, these would have to be salvaged.
In a short time the mills' tall smokestacks loomed in sight. The logs thickened until it was with difficulty that Captain Marsh could thread his way among them at all. Shortly Orde, standing by the wheel in the pilot-house, could see down the stretches of the river a crowd of men working antlike.
"They've got 'em stopped," commented Orde. "Look at that gang working from boats! They haven't a dozen 'cork boots' among 'em."
"What do you want me to do?" asked Captain Marsh.
"This is a navigable river, isn't it?" replied Orde. "Run through!"
Marsh rang for half-speed and began to nose his way gently through the loosely floating logs. Soon the tug had reached the scene of activity, and headed straight for the slender line of booms hitched end to end and stretching quite across the river.
"I'm afraid we'll just ride over them if we hit them too slow," suggested Marsh.
Orde looked at his watch.
"We'll be late for the mail unless we hurry," said he. Marsh whirled the spokes of his wheel over and rang the engine-room bell. The water churned white behind, the tug careened.
"Vat you do! Stop!" cried Heinzman from one of the boats.
Orde stuck his head from the pilot-house door.
"You're obstructing navigation!" he yelled. "I've got to go to town to buy a postage-stamp."
The prow of the tug, accurately aimed by Marsh, hit square in the junction of two of the booms. Immediately the water was agitated on both sides and for a hundred feet or so by the pressure of the long poles sidewise. There ensued a moment of strain; then the links snapped, and the Sprite plunged joyously through the opening. The booms, swept aside by the current, floated to either shore. The river was open.
Orde, his head still out the door, looked back. "Slow down, Marsh," said he. "Let's see the show." Already the logs caught by the booms had taken their motion and had swept past the opening. Although the lonesome tug Heinzman had on the work immediately picked up one end of the broken boom, and with it started out into the river, she found difficulty in making headway against the sweep of the logs. After a long struggle she reached the middle of the river, where she was able to hold her own.
"Wonder what next?" speculated Orde. "How are they going to get the other end of the booms out from the other bank?"
Captain Marsh had reversed the Sprite. The tug lay nearly motionless amidstream, her propeller slowly revolving.
Up river all the small boats gathered in a line, connected one to the other by a rope. The tug passed over to them the cable attached to the boom. Evidently the combined efforts of the rowboats were counted on to hold the half-boom across the current while the tug brought out the other half. When the tug dropped the cable, Orde laughed.
"Nobody but a Dutchman would have thought of that!" he cried. "Now for the fun!"
Immediately the weight fell on the small boats, they were dragged irresistibly backward. Even from a distance the three men on the Sprite could make out the white-water as the oars splashed and churned and frantically caught crabs in a vain effort to hold their own. Marsh lowered his telescope, the tears streaming down his face.
"It's better than a goat fight," said he.
Futilely protesting, the rowboats were dragged backward, turned as a whip is snapped, and strung out along the bank below.
"They'll have to have two tugs before they can close the break that way," commented Orde.
"Sure thing," replied Captain Marsh.
But at that moment a black smoke rolled up over the marshes, and shortly around the bend from above came the Lucy Belle.
The Lucy Belle was the main excuse for calling the river navigable. She made trips as often as she could between Redding and Monrovia. In luck, she could cover the forty miles in a day. It was no unusual thing, however, for the Lucy Belle to hang up indefinitely on some one of the numerous shifting sand bars. For that reason she carried more imperishable freight than passengers. In appearance she was two-storied, with twin smokestacks, an iron Indian on her top, and a "splutter-behind" paddle-wheel.
"There comes his help," said Orde. "Old Simpson would stop to pick up a bogus three-cent piece."
Sure enough, on hail from one of the rowboats, the Lucy Belle slowed down and stopped. After a short conference, she steamed clumsily over to get hold of one end of the booms. The tug took the other. In time, and by dint of much splashing, some collisions, and several attempts, the ends of the booms were united.
By this time, however, nearly all the logs had escaped. The tug, towing a string of rowboats, set out in pursuit.
The Sprite continued on her way until beyond sight. Then she slowed down again. The Lucy Belle churned around the bend, and turned in toward the tug.
"She's going to speak us," marvelled Orde. "I wonder what the dickens she wants."
"Tug ahoy!" bellowed a red-faced individual from the upper deck. He was dressed in blue and brass buttons, carried a telescope in one hand, and was liberally festooned with gold braid and embroidered anchors.
"Answer him," Orde commanded Marsh.
"Hullo there, commodore! what is it?" replied the tug captain.
The red-faced figure glared down for a moment.
"They want a tug up there at Heinzman's. Can you go?"
"Sure!" cried Marsh, choking.
The Lucy Belle sheered off magnificently.
"What do you think of that?" Marsh asked Orde.
"The commodore always acts as if that old raft was a sixty-gun frigate," was Orde's non-committal answer. "Head up stream again."
Heinzman saw the Sprite coming, and rowed out frantically, splashing at every stroke and yelling with every breath.
"Don't you go through there! Vait a minute! Stop, I tell you!"
"Hold up!" said Orde to Marsh.
Heinzman rowed alongside, dropped his oars and mopped his brow.
"Vat you do?" he demanded heatedly.
"I forgot the money to buy my stamp with," said Orde sweetly. "I'm going back to get it."
"Not through my pooms!" cried Heinzman.
"Mr. Heinzman," said Orde severely, "you are obstructing a navigable stream. I am doing business, and I cannot be interfered with."
"But my logs!" cried the unhappy mill man.
"I have nothing to do with your logs. You are driving your own logs," Orde reminded him.
Heinzman vituperated and pounded the gunwale.
"Go ahead, Marsh!" said Orde.
The tug gathered way. Soon Heinzman was forced to let go. For a second time the chains were snapped. Orde and Marsh looked back over the churning wake left by the Sprite. The severed ends of the booms were swinging back toward either shore. Between them floated a rowboat. In the rowboat gesticulated a pudgy man. The river was well sprinkled with logs. Evidently the sorting was going on well.
"May as well go back to the works," said Orde. "He won't string them together again to-day--not if he waits for that tug he sent Simpson for."
Accordingly, they returned to the booms, where work was suspended while Orde detailed to an appreciative audience the happenings below. This tickled the men immensely.
"Why, we hain't sorted out more'n a million feet of his logs," cried Rollway Charlie. "He hain't seen no logs yet!"
They turned with new enthusiasm to the work of shunting "H" logs into the channel.
In ten minutes, however, the stableman picked his way out over the booms with a message for Orde.
"Mr. Heinzman's ashore, and wants to see you," said he.
Orde and Jim Denning exchanged glances.
"'Coon's come down," said the latter.
Orde found the mill man pacing restlessly up and down before a steaming pair of horses. Newmark, perched on a stump, was surveying him sardonically and chewing the end of an unlighted cigar.
"Here you poth are!" burst out Heinzman, when Orde stepped ashore. "Now, this must stop. I must not lose my logs! Vat is your probosition?"
Newmark broke in quickly before Orde could speak.
"I've told Mr. Heinzman," said he, "that we would sort and deliver the rest of his logs for two dollars a thousand."
"That will be about it," agreed Orde.
"But," exploded Heinzman, "that is as much as you agreet to drive and deliffer my whole cut!"
"Precisely," said Newmark.
"Put I haf all the eggspence of driving the logs myself. Why shoult I pay you for doing what I haf alretty paid to haf done?"
"Heinzman," said he, "I told you I'd make you scratch gravel. Now it's time to talk business. You thought you were boring with a mighty auger, but it's time to revise. We aren't forced to bother with your logs, and you're lucky to get out so easy. If I turn your whole drive into the river, you'll lose more than half of it outright, and it'll cost you a heap to salvage the rest. And what's more, I'll turn 'em in before you can get hold of a pile-driver. I'll sort night and day," he bluffed, "and by to-morrow morning you won't have a stick of timber above my booms." He laughed again. "You want to get down to business almighty sudden."
When finally Heinzman had driven sadly away, and the whole drive, "H" logs included, was pouring into the main boom, Orde stretched his arms over his head in a luxury of satisfaction.
"That just about settles that campaign," he said to Newmark.
"Oh, no, it doesn't," replied the latter decidedly.
"Why?" asked Orde, surprised. "You don't imagine he'll do anything more?"
"No, but I will," said Newmark.