The Boss of Wind River/Chapter 17

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XVII

IN DUE course the Wind River logs reached McColl's Sney, where Tobin and Deever had already brought their respective drives, and were waiting impatiently with McKenna for the others. A strong crew had gone upriver to lend a hand, and as soon as MacNutt's logs got within a few miles the booms were opened and the entire drive thrown into the current.

McColl's boasted a post-office, and there Joe found a stack of mail awaiting him, among it half a dozen letters from Jack; and it is a sad commentary on his attention to business that he opened these first.

Jack did not run to sentiment in correspondence. Her letters were frank, newsy notes, and she was keenly interested in the drive and all that pertained to it. She wrote much as a partner in the business might write, giving here and there a bit of advice from Bill Crooks's ripe experience; but beneath the frank words and often slangy phrases ran a tender undercurrent which Joe was quick to detect.

“What a little brick she is,” he said to himself as he folded her last letter and placed it carefully in an inside pocket. “When we get into touch with the railway, I'll bring her up to see the drive. She'd like that, bless her little heart.”

This was the real thing at last. He knew that thenceforth no pleasure would be perfect which she did not share, no sorrow too great to be borne with her help. He looked at the logs, acres and acres of them herded in the booms and drifting by in the current, at the steel-shod rivermen who ran here and there pushing and guiding, at his camp set back beneath the budding trees; and he realized that the mainspring of his life and his endeavour had changed. It was no longer the business—his father's business—personal pride, nor the desire to succeed that held him to effort; but it was Jack—straight, slim little Jack, with the crown of dark hair and the frank, fearless eyes. From such realizations spring success.

The next letter he opened was from Locke, and the news it contained was not only unexpected but very good indeed.

 

You will be surprised to hear the action against Garwood et al. has been discontinued, Crooks agreeing with me that we should accept the terms of settlement offered, which, however, did not proceed from Garwood directly. As a matter of fact, the action was getting out of the realm of law into that of politics. The newspapers were beginning to sit up and take notice, and it looked as if our innocent little lawsuit might blossom into a general investigation which, in turn, might involve a number of prominent people. At this stage I received an intimation that if we dropped the action we could have what we wanted, and after consultation with Crooks we decided to do so.

In future you will both receive a fair share of orders from the contractors who have been boycotting you; you will get a fair deal in buying timber berths; the railway will give you all the cars you want; and there will be no discrimination against you in haulage rates. This means that your businesses will be henceforth on a fair competitive basis in the above respects, which is all you can expect. It also means that the riot act has been read to Garwood by some people who are in a position to read it. Just how he was persuaded to crawl down I don't know, though I rather think a threat of legislation affecting his railways was the means used. You see he might very easily be forced to spend anywhere from half a million up on useless frills and equipment merely as a beginning. Anyway, you may depend upon these terms of settlement being carried out.

But all the same you are by no means out of the woods, and a great deal depends upon your ability to deliver your logs to Wismer & Holden by July 1st. I am satisfied in my own mind that their offer and the “little joker” in the contract were both inspired by Garwood; also that they will not give you an hour's grace. McDowell, of the Farmers' National, tells me that his bank cannot carry you after that date—indeed, only the practical certainty of your filling the contract induced them to finance you to the extent which they did. If you don't make good they will shut down on you, and proceed to realize on what securities they hold. Then, a payment will be due on your mortgage to the Northern Loan Company. You need not expect any leniency from them. So, if I were you, I'd hustle the logs down day and night.

 

Joe was delighted with the first part of the letter. With fair competition in the future he saw plain sailing ahead. But the latter part gave him some uneasiness.

It was then well along in May, and the drive was at least three weeks later than it should have been, due to the backward season and to the unforeseen delays. That night Joe held council with his foremen. The probabilities were carefully canvassed, and at the end of the discussion old Dennis McKenna voiced the general opinion.

“We can make her with a week or two to spare—if we don't strike a snag somewheres,” said he. “That's allowin' for usual hard luck, too. The river's risin' now. The snows up north are meltin' and she'll boom soon. That'll help us a lot.”

Day after day the brown logs of Kent's big drive slipped down the current. He had experienced foremen and a strong driving crew. A log no sooner touched the shore than it was thrust back into deep water. The drive was strung for miles, and all along the banks prowled husky rivermen, peavey or pike pole in hand, keeping the sticks hustling.

MacNutt and the Wind River crew, reinforced by most of Deever's, had the rear, which usually means hard work, for none of the logs must be left behind. McKenna travelled daily up and down the banks overseeing the whole, and Joe tramped with him. Tobin, ahead, kept a sharp lookout for obstructions and possible jams. But so far not a jam worth mentioning had formed.

“She's too good to last,” said McKenna one night. “Tobin will hit the Silver Chain to-morrow, and then look out. I figured on higher water than this.”

The Silver Chain was a succession of rapids greatly disliked by river drivers. It extended for a couple of miles, white, torn patches of water with some clear current between. The banks were steep, sheer rock fringed with dwarf pines, frowning ceaselessly at the foam and turmoil below. Jams had a habit of forming there, and nearly always some sort of trouble occurred. The crew had calculated upon this and they got it, for early the next day Tobin sent them word of a jam which he had not been able to break, and demanded more men.

“And she's a bad one, sure enough,” said McKenna, when he and Joe arrived.

The jam had occurred in a rapid familiarly known as “Hell's Bumps,” about midway in the Chain. Just how it had formed nobody knew. The logs were running free when suddenly half a dozen plugged and held for an instant only, but it was sufficient for others to pile on top of them. Every moment brought down fresh sticks, and the fast water flung them at the growing mass to make a part of it. Some shoved, up-ended, and forced others aloft. The face of the jam rose high, abrupt, and dangerous. The tail grew swiftly upstream. By the time McKenna arrived it had become a genuine, old-time “teaser.” The foremen went over it carefully, with glum faces, for this meant more delay; no one could tell how long it would take to break it. They pondered the current and the depth of water as they knew it by experience, and were not encouraged.

“Sooner or later we'll have to use powder on her,” said McKenna; “we might as well use it sooner.”

He set the crew to work picking out logs so that the dynamite might be exploded in the bowels of the monster. The men worked with a will but gingerly, for the task was dangerous. The dynamite was placed deep in the jam. When it exploded the mass heaved, shook, buckled, and moved a few yards downstream, where it plugged again. Nothing had been gained.

“It'd take a carload of powder to root her out,” said Tobin in disgust. “We'll just have to dig into her with the peavies, Dinny, and trust to luck.”

So they dug with the peavies for three days, and nothing happened. Occasionally there would be a quiver and a long, shuddering groan as if a monster were awaking from sleep; and once a series of startling, premonitory cracks and a sharp movement set the jam crew zig-zagging for shore. But this proved a false alarm, for the tremendous pack of timber merely settled down and squatted immutably upon its brown haunches, the bristling top of it seeming to grin defiance at the puny efforts of man.

“If it takes a trainload of powder we've got to break it,” said Joe desperately, and telegraphed Wright from the nearest station to send on a supply of high-explosive.

As the keystone supports an arch so key-logs hold a jam. If they can be found and dislodged, the jam collapses and disentangles. Finding them is difficult, laborious, and very dangerous. If there are dams above, a head of water is sometimes let loose suddenly and the jam swept away. But there were no dams, so that Kent had his choice between manual labour, which is slow and costly, and dynamite, which is sudden but uncertain. By way of compromise he used both, and still the logs did not move.

He began to feel a strange personal enmity toward them. They were his, bought by his money, cut by his crew, inanimate, senseless things. And yet in the mass they seemed to possess a personality, a living spirit of pure, balky cussedness; they lay in bulk, a brown shaggy monster that obstinately refused to heed the voice of its master.