Talk:The Boss of Wind River

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Information about this edition
Edition: New York: Doubleday, Page & co., 1911.
Source: Internet Archive and Project Gutenberg
Contributor(s): WSer
Level of progress:
Notes:
Proofreaders: "Roger Frank and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net" and WSer

XXII

As included in the Grosset & Dunlap edition, 1911

BY the terms of Joe's contract with Wismer & Holden, these astute millmen had agreed to pay cash for the logs on delivery. Joe held them to this, refusing acceptances at thirty and sixty days. He was thus at once in a position to reduce his liabilities and sustain his credit, which had been seriously strained, with his own bank.

His mill was running at capacity. All day the air was vibrant with the hum of it, the thunder of the log carriages, the deep raucous drone of the big saws, the higher pitched voices of the smaller. All day a stream of shaggy, brown logs, prodded by pike poles, was swept upward in dripping procession on an endless chain, tossed on iron beds, flung against the saws, rolled on carriers as rough boards to other saws—to edgers, trimmers and planers—and disgorged from the farther end of the mill in a dozen grades of product to be carried to the piling yards and drying sheds. Day and night the smoke from burning sawdust in the huge, stack-like consumer poured upward to the sky.

Thus the producing end of his business was satisfactory. Not less so were the sales. In addition to a particularly brisk local demand, Wright's activities had resulted in some excellent contracts not only for immediate, but for future delivery. There would be no lack of a market for every foot the mill could turn out. Also there was no car shortage. The tacit agreement which Locke had been able to obtain as part of the price of withdrawing his action was being held to rigidly. The firm could sell all its mills could cut and deliver all it could sell. Naturally Wright and Joe were pleased and congratulated each other upon the rosy outlook.

“It looks as if we were over the hump,” said Joe one afternoon. “Those are good contracts you landed. I want to show you that I appreciate all you have done. Left to myself I'd have been as helpless as a baby in this business.”

“Oh, I don't know,” said Wright. “You pick up things pretty fast. I've been paid for whatever I've done. But apart from that I've been with this concern a good many years and your father always treated me well. Funny if I wouldn't do all I could for you. You've come pretty near making good so far. You made the big cut that your father planned to make and you brought the logs down. That's all he could have done, and I tell you not even Crooks knows the logging business better than he did. So far as showing your appreciation goes it isn't necessary—or, anyway, that can wait till you are in better shape. I'm not shouting for money the minute I see your head above water.”

“I know you're not, but at the end of the year we'll fix things up on a better basis,” said Joe.

While Joe was occupied with his business, Jack was busy, too. Mysterious packages were constantly arriving at Bill Crooks's home. As the wedding day drew near the patter of these became a downpour. Jack's friends gave luncheons in her honour, and she was “showered” with articles of alleged usefulness or ornament.

She and Joe, sitting chatting one night in her den, heard the heavy, decided tread of the old lumber baron in the darkened hall. Suddenly there was a stumble, a wrathful bellow, and Bill Crooks's voice raised in insistent demand for the name of the thus-and-so-forth wretch who left boxes in the hall, mingled with a prophecy as to his ultimate fate.

“What kind of 'fire' and 'nation' were you speaking of, dad?” asked Jack as he appeared in the door.

“Never mind,” growled Crooks, who was under the impression that his remarks had been sotto voce. “This house is being cluttered up with a bunch of junk. I've peeled a six-inch strip of hide clean off my shin. Who left that box out there?”

“I think you did.”

“Hey?”

“I think you did. You took it from the expressman.”

“Huh?” snorted Crooks. “If I did I didn't leave it in the middle of the hall. I put it out of the way behind the hatrack. Somebody moved it out. That's only one thing. There's a hundred others. You've got enough truck to start a china shop or a jewellery store or a whitewear sale!”

“I don't get married every summer,” his daughter returned placidly. “We have to have things. And then our friends are good to us. I know one darling old grouch who gave me a big cheque. Remember what he told me to do with it?”

“I didn't need to tell you. You can get away with a cheque without instructions. Never knew a woman who couldn't.”

“You told me to 'blow it' on myself—not to put a dollar of it into house furnishings.”

“Suppose I did! You don't need house furnishings. There's two houses ready furnished for you—this one and Kent's. How many blamed houses do you want to live in, anyway?”

“Oh, Heavens, Joe, give him a cigar!” exclaimed Jack at the end of her patience. “He's going to be an awful crank of a father-in-law.”

Crooks took Joe's cigar and dropped into a chair, while Jack departed in search of refreshment; men being, as she declared, invariably hungry when they were not thirsty.

“I've been thinking, Joe,” said the old lumberman, “quite a bit about my business lately.”

“Why, what's the matter with it?” asked Joe in surprise, for Crooks's business, like his own, had been very good indeed.

“Nothing's the matter with it,” Crooks replied. “It's good—it's too good. I've run it for a long time, and now it's beginning to run me.”

“I don't quite understand.”

“It's this way,” Crooks explained: “I'm getting on, and outside of Jack I've nobody. Now you're going to marry her. It had to be somebody, I suppose, and I'm glad it's you. Still, there's the business. It's mine, I made it and I like it—but it's beginning to drive me too much. I can't go away for a month or a week without being afraid things will be tied up in hard knots before I get back. If I had a man as good as Wright it might be different, but I haven't. I have to be on the job myself all the time, and I'm getting too old for that. I want to take it easy a little and get the most out of the years that are left me.”

“I see,” said Joe as Crooks paused.

“You'll know better how it is yourself thirty years from now,” Crooks continued. “I've nobody but Jack. If the boys had lived they'd have been able to run the business and let me sit back and just give them a hand now and then. But they died.” He was silent for a long moment. “I'll tell you something, Joe, you were the one thing I envied your father. I saw you growing up, a good, clean, healthy young fellow, with no bad habits to speak of—oh, I don't mean that you were any saint; I suppose you kicked up once in a while, same as any healthy young colt, but there was nothing vicious about you—and it seemed hard luck that out of my three boys one wasn't left me. Well, never mind that. Now all I've got will be Jack's when I get my time. And so I was thinking of making you a little proposition.”

“Yes,” said Joe wondering what this was leading up to. “What is it, Mr. Crooks?”

“I was wondering,” Crooks pursued, “whether you'd care to combine our businesses?”

Joe was thoughtful for a moment. His eyes narrowed a little, and his brows drew down in a slight frown. He looked at Crooks steadily. The old lumberman returned his gaze.

“Is there anything behind this, sir?” Joe asked.

“Behind it—how? You don't think I'm putting up a job to freeze you out, do you?”

“No, not that. But are you making this proposition for Jack's sake? I mean, do you think I'd make a mess of my business if I ran it alone? Because if that's really the reason I'd like to show you.”

“If I thought you couldn't run your own business I wouldn't want your help to run mine,” Crooks replied. “Mind you, I consider myself able to give you a few pointers. You've a lot to learn, but you're one of the young fellows who will learn. Some can't; others won't. I'd hate to see Jack marry a man I didn't think would make good. I'd tell him so mighty quick. No, I gave you my real reason.”

“It's a good proposition for me, Mr. Crooks,” said Joe. “I'm for it, if we can arrange details. Were you thinking of forming a company?”

“No, I wasn't,” said Crooks. “I don't like companies—too much shenanigan about stock and directors and meetings. A company can't do a blamed thing without seeing a lawyer first. I own one business which will be Jack's and yours some day, and you own another. We just make a little 'greement to run 'em together and divide the profits; and we arrange who's to do what work—and there you are. Any time things don't run to suit us we split the blanket. If we tell Locke what we want he'll put it in shape in half an hour.”

“I'll do it,” Joe agreed; “but I feel that I'm getting the best of the bargain in your experience.”

“My experience is all right,” said Crooks, “but I can't hustle like I used to—or else I won't. You will, and I'll be able to tell you how. That makes it an even break. And then you've got Wright. I've wanted him or some one like him for years.”

“I feel that I owe Wright a good deal,” said Joe. “He has really run the business end of the concern. I was thinking of giving him a share in it. Seems to me something like that is coming to him.”

“I'm glad to hear you say so. We'll take him in with us and give him an interest.”

“I want it to come out of my share.”

“No. He's going to work for me as much as for you. Wright is a part of your equipment and a big asset. Whatever interest he gets must come out of the whole business and not out of one end of it.”

They took their proposition in the rough to Locke, and that experienced adjuster of other men's perplexities proceeded to hammer it into working shape, finally producing an agreement, clear, concise and satisfactory. Thus the lumber firm of Crooks & Kent was born.

A couple of days before the wedding, certain quarters of the town—and also those charged with the duty of enforcing a fair imitation of law and order therein—began to notice a sudden influx of strangers. They were for the most part big and very brown, and they walked with a truculent swagger and regarded the world through humorously insolent eyes. Also they held together clannishly, and for the most part—to the relief of the authorities—maintained themselves in a condition of near sobriety.

“For if ye get too full,” big Cooley explained to the bibulously inclined Chartrand, “ye miss the weddin'. An' it's not the likes of you is axed to one every day.”

“I'll be mos' awful dry, me!” Chartrand complained. He hailed little Narcisse Laviolette. “Hola, Narcisse, mon vieux! Come on, tak' leetle drink wit' me. Come on, you beeg Cooley. We don't get dronk—pas du tout. We jus' feex ourself so we lak for sing leetle chanson.”

He hammered the bar with the heavy-bottomed little glass constructed in the interests of the house to hold one man's size drink and no more, and burst into alleged melody:

 

“Dat square-face-gin, she'll be ver' fine,
Some feller lak dat champagne wine—
But de bes' dam' drink w'hat I never saw
Come out of a bottle of whiskey blanc.
(O listen to me now, while I'll tol' you how!)
Dere was Joe Leduc an' me, Larry Frost an' Savigny,
Chevrier an' Prevost, Jimmy Judge an' Larribee,
Lamontagne an' Lajeunesse—mebbe fifty mans, I guess;
You would know de whole kaboodle if I ain't forget de res'.
We was drive upon dat reever an' we ron heem down les Chats,
An' den we hit dat Quyon where we buy dat whiskey blanc!”

 

“Yell her out, mes amis! Bus' dat roof!”

 

“Hooraw! hooraw! pour le good ol' whiskey blanc!
She's gran' for mak love on, she's bully for fight,
She'll keep out dat col', an'——

 

“Shut up!” roared Cooley. “Now you listen here—you ain't goin' to show up drunk at the boss's weddin', puttin' the whole crew on the hog. Savvy? You're three parts full now. I'll sober ye, me buck, if it's wid me feet in yer face!”

And the threat of Cooley, combined with the eloquent profanity of a self-constituted temperance committee, caused Chartrand to postpone his celebration. It was Cooley also who constituted himself an authority on social usage.

“Bein' asked to this weddin',” said he, “the c'rect thing is to put up a present.”

“Sure!”

“That's right, Cooley.”

“You bet!”

“We'll do it right while we're about it,” said the big man. “Here's ten dollars in me hat. Sweeten as she goes 'round, boys. Let's buy the boss an' his girl somethin' good—somethin' they won't be ashamed to keep in the front room an' tell their friends it come from the boys of Kent's big drive!”

An hour later the proprietor of Falls City's leading jewelry store was somewhat startled by an invasion of half a dozen weather-beaten, rough-looking customers quite different from his ordinary patrons; and he nearly fainted when the spokesman told him that they were in search of a wedding present on which they were prepared to expend between three and four hundred dollars.

In the end they chose a cabinet filled with silver, eying respectfully the dainty knives, forks, and spoons, and other articles of whose use they had small conception.

“We want a name plate put on her,” said Cooley, “showing a lad in river clothes standin' on a log wid a peavey in his fist; an' above that we want the date; an' underneath it, 'From Kent's River Crew.'”

It is safe to say that never had the church, to whose support old Bill Crooks contributed more often than he attended it, held as motley a gathering as on the morning of the wedding of his daughter and Joe Kent. Big, brown men, painfully shaven, in aggressively new garments which cramped their strong muscles and rendered them awkward and ill at ease, occupied seats beside the members of Falls City's leading families, who eyed the intruders askance. And here and there, also ill at ease, were old men and women, dependents of William Crooks and friends of his daughter, whom they loved.

Joe and his best man entered from the vestry; but there was a slight delay. They stood before the chancel waiting for the bride and her father.

“The boss is nervous,” Cooley commented to Haggarty in a low whisper. “Look at him shift on his feet. An' see the ears of him. Red!”

“Small blame to him,” Haggarty responded sympathetically. “I'll bet he'd rather be swappin' punches wid a man twice his own weight.”

But Jack entered on her father's arm—a dainty, queenly Jack, clad in bride-white, her eyes demurely downcast but the small head with the crown of glossy brown hair carried as proudly as ever.

“An' I used to give her lumps out of the sugar bar'l!” said Jimmy Bowes, the fat old bull-cook, in sentimental reminiscence.

“Purty as a little red wagon,” said Haggarty with approval.

“Mo' Gee! I leave home for dat myself!” commented little Narcisse Laviolette, who possessed a wife of double his own fighting weight and offspring of about the same combined avoirdupois. And Cooley, who overheard this tribute from the little teamster, took offence thereat.

“Shut up, ye blasted little pea-soup!” he growled. “She's the boss's wife—or as good as. You remember that, and don't try to be funny!”

“Who's try for be fonnee?” demanded Laviolette with indignation at this unjust interpretation of his well-meant speech. “You give me de swif' pain, you. Sacré dam! Some tam, bagosh, I ponch your beeg Irish mug!”

“Sh!” rumbled Haggarty. “Can't ye quit yer dam' swearin' in a church? Shut up, the both of ye!”

The ceremony, which was rapidly changing Jack Crooks into Mrs. Joe Kent, proceeded, finished. Kisses were showered on her, handshakes and slaps on the back on Joe. In the midst of these the latter caught sight of a group of weather-tanned faces in the centre of the church. Their owners were standing uncertainly, diffident, not caring to mingle with the more fashionably clad throng that clustered about the principals. Joe turned to his bride.

“There's Cooley and Haggarty and a bunch of the boys of my river crew, Jack,” he said. “They want to wish us luck, and they're too bashful to mix. Come on down and shake hands.”

“Of course,” said Jack.

With his bride on his arm Joe went down the aisle to the men of his drive, to have his right hand almost permanently disabled in the grips he received; but the pressure of the big hands that closed bashfully around Jack's slim fingers would not have crushed a butterfly. “Wishin' ye good luck an' happiness, ma'am,” was the formula, but little varied.

Into the midst of them came old Bill Crooks. “Come on, boys!” he exclaimed. “There's a wedding spread up at my house, and I want every man of you there to drink good luck to the bride—and to the new firm of Crooks & Kent. No holding back, now. Come along, everybody!”

They came along, though most of them would have preferred to go down a bad piece of water on a single stick of pine, and their coming taxed the space of Crooks's dining-room—to say nothing of the commissariat and canteen—to the limit. They ate and drank solemnly, on their best behaviour and conscious of it, sipping the unaccustomed wines with reserved judgment.

“What'll be a dose of this?” whispered Regan, eying his champagne glass with suspicion. “The waitin' gyurls fill it up whenever I empty it. This makes five I've had and I can't feel it yet. Belike it acts suddint. I wouldn't want to get full here.”

“Nor me,” Cooley agreed. “They're all drinkin' it, an' none the worse. If they can stand it we can.” He gulped down half a glass and thrust his tongue back and forth experimentally. “Champagne, hey? It has a puckery taste till it, but no rasp. It might be hard cider wid more fizz. There's no harm in it. I cud drink enough of it to float a log. Here's some lad speakin'. Listen to what he says.”

They heard the health of the bride proposed in customary language; Joe's reply, embarrassed, jerky, brief.

“Speaking isn't Kent's strong point,” a guest commented. Cooley glowered at him, resentful of the just criticism.

“He can talk when he has anything to say, and he can curse fine!” he affirmed. He led vociferous cheers as Joe sat down, and cheered almost equally hard when Crooks concluded five minutes of pointed remarks in which he announced the formation of the new firm.

But these cheers were as nothing to the leather-lunged roars that bade Jack and Joe farewell as they stepped into the carriage. With the cheers came showers of rice. Joe turned up his coat collar; but Jack laughed back through the fusillade of it, blowing kisses to her father, her girl friends, and the rivermen, impartially. And the memory of them stayed with the rough shantymen for years.

The train which bore Joe and his bride on their wedding journey clanked slowly through the yards following the line of the river. As it looped around a curve they could see, looking backward from the rear platform of the last coach which they had to themselves, the mills of Bill Crooks and of Joe Kent each flying a flag from the topmost point, the silver of the flowing water checkered with the black lines of the long booms and the herds of brown logs inside them. In the mills not a wheel turned that day. But steam was in the boilers, for as they looked it poured white from the roofs of the engine houses and the bellowing howls of two fire sirens bade them a joyous farewell.

Jack slipped her hand in Joe's.

“Are you glad?”

“Glad it's over? You bet I am!”

“No—glad we're married?”

“That's a nice question. And you know the answer.”

“Of course I do,” she admitted happily. “I suppose a wedding trip is a fine thing. Anyway, it's conventional. But—I'll be glad to come back home.”

“Same here,” he agreed. “There's lot to be done—a holy lot. I have to get right down to work. I want to take all the weight I can off your father's shoulders. That's up to me. Then, when you come to running two mills under one management, there must be all sorts of economies possible, if a fellow could only find out what they are. I don't want to let Wright do all the finding out for me. Yes, I'll be pretty busy.”

“Well, you like the work. That's the main thing.”

“That's so,” he admitted. “I like it better all the time. I never knew what real fun was till I had to hustle for myself. A year ago I was no better than a big kid. I could feed myself and dress myself if somebody handed me the price, and that just about let me out. And at that I thought I was having a good time. A good time? Huh! Why, I didn't know I was alive. Oh, well … we'll cut out business on this trip—not talk of it or think of it at all. Shall we?”

“No—o. I like to talk about it. It makes me think I'm helping. If I were a man——

“I'm mighty glad you're not. Remember the time you wished you were a boy?”

“That was before——

“Before what?”

“You know very well. Before I knew you thought anything of me.”

“You are absolutely the best little girl in the world,” he said with conviction. “I always loved you, Jack—ever since we were kids—only I didn't know it.”

She gave his arm a quick little understanding hug, with a new womanly pride in the hard, swelling muscles that met the pressure. They stood close together, watching the last silvery reach of the river, burnished, mirror-like, lustrous beneath the sloping afternoon sun. They had been born beside it; as children they had played on it, in it; and they loved it as a part of their lives. It was a treasure stream, bearing to them year after year the loot of the northern forests—the great, brown sticks of pine. Changeless and yet ever changing it never failed to charm. Ages old but ever young it held its children in the spell of its eternal life. And so as it vanished, shut out by a landscape that seemed to rush backward as the train gathered speed, their eyes and their thoughts clung to it; for by the river and with the pine their lifework lay.


THE END