The Young Timber-cruisers; or, Fighting the Spruce Pirates/Chapter 2

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Bub’s remarks as they drew near the office were half inaudible because of the increased clamor pouring out of the mill. A hasty glance sufficed for Bub to know the manager was in one of the mills, or at the sorting gaps.

“We’ll try in here,” he shouted in Stanley’s ear. “Sawing pine into lumber. I tell you, my son, we are the only people and you must git in with us.”

Stanley smiled gloomily; at another time he knew Bub would be a continuous source of delight to him, but now the future was veiled in doubts and misgivings. It was too late to retreat, however, for with his last optimistic observation Bub had led the way into the place of noise. The songs of the saws were keyed from droning monotones to the shrill screech that seemed to split the ear. Added to this vibrating babel was the clang and roar of pulleys and belts and the racket of the boards sliding from the tables. For the fraction of a moment Stanley forgot their errand and with mouth agape and eardrums singing, stared at the sawdust—covered men bending over and clustered around the discs of flashing steel. The Western sun in burnishing a huge circular saw into silver and gold was unable to reveal its motion. For all the world it was stationary and smooth of rim. And yet, when the huge log was urged upon the table and fed against its edge it divided like a cheese under the knife and only the intense scream of the long, hooked teeth evidenced that it was alive.

When Stanley turned to look for his new found friend he beheld Bub nearby, talking to a square built man, whose eyes were as cold and hard as the monster now severing the log. Although they were within a few feet of him Stanley could hear no word spoken. He saw the motion of Bub’s lips and then knew the manager had uttered some monosyllable. Bub turned and gaining his side said something.

“Can’t hear you,” bellowed Stanley; nor could he hear his own words. Bub smiled and let him outdoors, but it was some seconds before the ringing left his ears and Bub’s voice was very hollow and sounded far off as he informed:

“Good luck. You are to work in the kitchen helping the cook. You’ll have to git to work at four o’clock in the morning and you’ll get three dollers a week and your board. Not bad, eh?”

“Is that all?” asked Stanley, now thoroughly discouraged.

Bub misunderstood him and laughed merrily. “I don’t wonder you think it is a cinch. I started in there at only two dollers a week, but I didn’t have anyone to speak for me. I pulled your oar in great shape, my son. Besides helping the cook you’ll have to carry water to the men, build the fires and so on. If you have any spare time you’ll be sent to help with the bosses, of course.”

“I didn’t know anyone ever worked for three dollars,” sighed Stanley.

“You didn’t expect Wilson’s place right off the reel, did you?” drawled Bub.

“No; but this kitchen work—what do I have to do?”

“Come up to my room, or rather our room, for you’ll bunk with me, and I’ll tell you,” said Bub, leading the way.

Bub’s room was in the middle boarding house and was not a large one. Still the owner seemed proud of it and pointing at the one chair and a small pine table, the latter covered With writing material and some old magazines, exulted, “There’s style for you, my son. You’re lucky in meeting up with me.”

Stanley turned aside to conceal his dismay and in a choked voice asked, “And now as to my duties?”

“Build fires, put on the coppers, clean the kettles, pots and pans, peel potatoes—”

“Hold hard! Peeling potatoes is girl’s work. I’ll have none of it.”

Bub sank on the bed, head in his hands, and moodily remarked, “I don’t know as I can do anything for you after all. You’re too finicky. What had you in mind, Mister Malcolm?”

“I certainly expected to get some clerical work, something more fitting,” irritably returned Stanley.

“Very well, Mister Malcolm,” politely observed Bub. “Please draw the chair up to the table and write as I talk. No, I mean it. We must find out where you are heavily wooded and blaze a trail to that place.”

Stanley grimly seated himself and dipped the pen. “‘Mister Bub Thomas, Esquire,’” began Bub, gravely.

“What nonsense is this?” cried Stanley, throwing down the pen.

“See here, Mister Malcolm, pick up that pen,” growled Bub. “Think I’m spending my time up here for fun? ‘Mister Malcolm, Esquire. My dear sir; although I ain’t no particular ability and never worked I would like a nice job at a fat salary—’”

“I’ll write no more,” cried Stanley.

Bub reached over and picked up the paper and studied it thoughtfully; then he said, “I don’t blame you. They wouldn’t let you sharpen pencils in the office, and if you don’t cut more of a figure peeling potatoes than you do slinging ink you’ll say good-bye to the kitchen mighty quick. I can’t git into the office, but I’m more shakes then you on writing. See here,” and seizing the pen he rapidly copied Stanley’s scrawling effort and presented for inspection a fair, clean bit of copy.

“Why, you write better than I do,” sorrowfully admitted Stanley.

Blandly ignoring the compliment Bub assumed a paternal air and inquired, “What about arithmetic? Can you scale lumber, can you reckon stumpage? Or can you find a discount, the number of acres in a piece of land shaped like a lobster. I, myself, have gone only through plane geometry and the high school algebra. Of course Mister Malcolm is much farther advanced."

“No; I’m not,” soberly corrected Stanley, eying Bub with chagrin and respect. “I give in; you’re ahead of me.”

“Now we are improving and peeling potatoes don’t look so black, eh?” cried Bub, kindly and encouraging again.

“You’ll admit there isn’t much of a future in that kind of work,” said Stanley, smiling sadly.

“But when a man is down and out and has no money, nor grub, there’s a supper and other suppers in it,” reminded Bub. “Now, if you’re keen to git ahead and are really ambitious, think I can fix it so you can git some washings to do outside of hours. The men pay twenty-five cents per wash. Ten of ’em a week would nearly double your income.”

“Income!” sneered Stanley; then repentant, “Bub, you’re a good fellow. I’ll tackle the potatoes, but we’ll leave the washings for the time being.”

At this juncture a bell rang down below and Bub made a leap for the door. “Supper!” he cried, gaining the stairs in another bound.

“Won’t there be enough?” asked Stanley, keeping up with him only by something of an exertion.

Bub’s boyish laughter rang out clear and full, even rising above the warning of the bell and he slackened his steps. “Enough? Of course we have enough. Eat all you can hold, but we fellers git so all fired hungry we usually sprint for the dining room. Hear ’em outside! You’d think there was only a slice of bread and we’d got to fight for it. Follow me.”

For the first time in his life Stanley beheld more than a hundred men eating in their shirt-sleeves, and eating as if life depended upon their finishing quickly. Only they didn’t finish but helped themselves again and again. Mountains of baked beans, hills of doughnuts, seas of strong coffee, plateaus of gingerbread, foothills of fried potato vanished and were replaced, only to vanish again. And no one spoke, except to grunt a request for some particular dish. The rattle of the knives and forks, the clatter of the dishes, was a reprodution in miniature of the confusion in the mill.

“Pitch in,” encouraged Bub, manfully wresting the doughnuts from the expectant hand of a Prince Edwards Islander.

“I’m through,” whispered Stanley, suddenly finding his appetite had fled.

“Jumping cats!” exclaimed Bub, pausing in amazement. “Off your feed as bad as that? I thought you was hungry.”

“I was, but the noise, the sight of so much food,” mumbled Stanley. “Why don’t they bring in what you order instead of putting everything on the table at once?”

“O my son, my son!” choked Bub, holding his sides. Then in a mincing voice, “Waiter, I will have a bit of a bean and a sprig of spruce—”

“Shut up!” snarled Stanley.

“Say, Red-head, shoot over them biscuit. Be ye deef?” called out a black whiskered man across the table. Stanley’s face reddened and he opened his mouth to resent the tone and language, but mastered himself and silently obeyed the rough request.

Bub nudged him and whispered, “That’s better. I have some hopes for you. Remember, you are only a kitchen boy for the present. If you ain’t got nerve enough to be that and be it right you’ll never amount to shucks at anything else up here.”

“Let’s get out of here,” was Stanley’s answer.

Bub looked ruefully at his plate, recently refilled, but stifling a sigh rose and ushered his new friend, not to the outer air, but to the kitchen.

“You must meet the cook. He’s your boss. Try and be pleasant. You won’t disturb him any if you’re not, but he’ll have a new kitchen boy.”

Stanley heard this final bit of advice with a grimace, and Bub approaching a perspiring man stirring something in a kettle said, “This is your new boy, Cook.”

“Git out of my way, or I’ll scald ye,” cried the cook, not raising his eyes from the kettle.

“He goes on tomorrow morning. I’ll tell him what to do,” continued Bub, in no way abashed.

“Out of this kitchen or I’ll be the death of ye,” bawled the cook.

“There! we’ve fixed that all right,” enthusiastically cried Bub as they gained the open air. “You’d had a disagreeable time if I hadn’t gone in to break the ice. When I began in there I didn’t have a soul to speak a good word for me.”

“And you call that a cordial welcome?” asked Stanley, his voice trembling.

Bub’s eyes widened in surprise. “Did you expect him to throw his arms around you and kiss you?” he at last inquired.

Stanley was too depressed to resent the scorn in Bub’s tone and he could only say, “Threatened to scald me!”

“But he didn’t hurt you, did he? Words don’t break no bones or float logs. Why, my son, when you git use to it you’ll go ’round feeling real lonely, when the cook stops jawing you.” Then sagely, “You see, Stan, there never was a cook but what gits filled up with hot air from the cooking, and if he don’t let off steam he’ll bust, and then the whole settlement goes hungry. If you was over to Number One or Two you’d find either cook a heap worse’n this one.”

“Are there more boarding houses?” faltered Stanley.

“Three of ’em., This is the best, though. The saw gangs live here and the teamsters. Over to One and Two you git the loggers and the foreigners. The loggers are all right, but they’ve blown their winter wages and their drive wages and they feel out of sorts. One of ’em threw a cup at me once and cut my head open.”

“I’m tired. May I go to bed?” humbly asked Stanley.

“Sure. Of course you’re tired; I ought to have remembered. Go ahead up and take either the front or back side of the bed. Most of the men have bunks, but we officers have to throw on style. I’ll bring the alarm clock so you can git up in time.”

“I don’t know why you should bother, Bub,” said Stanley, clasping the other’s hand impulsively. “You know more’n I do.”

“No, I don’t,” sorrowfully replied Bub. “I can’t talk the lingo you can.” Then with a blaze of optimism, “But, my son, if you’re not fired I’ll learn the trick from you. I talk rough, but watch my smoke. I’ll pick it up. So long.”

Stanley found the room as one in a dream. Not only was he worn out by physical hardships, but by gloomy thoughts. It all seemed so hopeless. A dozen Frenchmen now could have been abused in his sight and he would not offer to interfere. It was all so rough and hard. There was no single redeeming feature. Hold on—there was Bub. Bub was a true friend. He owed his supper and bed to Bub. Then with a flush of shame he remembered that this same uncouth Bub, with no advantages, was ahead of him in book knowledge. Accompanied by these disagreeable thoughts he fell asleep.

In a vague way Stanley knew four o’clock in the morning, was, at some seasons of the year, in the neighborhood of sunrise. He always had believed it to be an early hour, judging entirely from hearsay; but he never had appreciated just how early it was until Bub shook him violently and commanded, “Git up! Turn out!”

“You just come to bed?” sleepin asked Stanley, preparing for another nap.

“Just come to bed! It’s morning and time you was hoofing it downstairs. Want the cook to come up and git you? Better not have him, my son.”

“But it’s dark,” remonstrated Stanley, his heart sinking at the loneliness of the hour.

“It’ll be mighty hot if you ain’t downstairs in two jumps,” warned Bub. The note of earnestness in his voice had its effect on Stanley.

With a shiver the youth crawled from the warm blankets and fumbled for his clothes. He had never known that nights and mornings in late May could be so desolate and cold. The rawness of the early morning air bit to the bone. And to heighten his sense of isolation Bub snored softly as he cuddled luxuriously. And with his heart in his boots Stanley stole awkwardly down the stairs and out into the kitchen.

Here he found the cook’s assistant, an Irishman named Gilvey. He was some four years older than Stanley, but ages ahead of him in importance.

“Think this is a lawn party?” greeted Gilvey, icily. “Ye be late again, me lad, and ye’ll answer to me.”

“I thought the cook was my boss,” defended Stanley.

“The cook is my boss, ye red-head,” snarled Gilvey. “Think he has time to bother with bossing tramps? It’s bad enough for me to have to be saddled with the dirty work. Now hump yerself. Start them fires.”

With many blunders and under a liberal cursing Stanley worked through the early morning tasks. When breakfast was ready he found he could not sit down with Bub, but must work the harder in the kitchen. After the men had trooped away he was allowed to eat his meal in the corner. While he drank his coffee and tried to believe he had not been working for days Gilvey kept up a fire of coarse remarks. Lost in his somber meditations Stanley did not heed these at first. Then as he caught the insults and heard the cook chuckle an encouragement his blood boiled and he was about to rise from the table, when Gilvey’s malice was given a new turn by the breezy entrance of Bub.

“Hi, my son. How goes the battle?” he greeted, running up and slapping Stanley on the shoulder.

“It’s horrible,” groaned Stanley, shaking his head. “Everyone is so cruel. The assistant has been abusing me fearfully. I won’t stand it.”

“Nonsense, man,” brusquely returned Bub in a low voice. “He wants to bedevil you till he can git you mad. Keep smiling if you want to git even with him. As for me I ain’t under his command and I’ll touch him up a bit.”

Saying this he walked down by Gilvey, who watched him suspiciously. As he reached the door he turned and cried out, “Say, Paddy, how much did you pay for stealing that last pig?"

With a terrible oath Gilvey seized a butcher knife and hurled it at the grinning face. The door slammed to and the knife sank deep into the plank, quivering back and forth. But if Bub intended to lighten his friend’s spirits by this method he succeeded only in part. For once Gilvey had completed his arraignment of Bub he redoubled his persecutions of Stanley. He offered the youth no violence, but he sought in every way to provoke him into making an assault. When the water was brought in he declared it to be filled with dirt and with an oath told the weary lad to bring fresh. By this and other means he completely exhausted Stanley by the time the supper dishes and kettles were washed and set away.

That night, aching in every bone and thoroughly heart-sick, Stanley threw himself on the bed and for an hour or two would not be comforted. Finally he said, “It’s no use, Bub. I can’t stand it. I’d rather die of starvation than endure Gilvey’s insults and abuse longer.”

“And that would tickle Gilvey to death,” cried Bub. “Can’t you see he is trying to make you so mad you’ll forgit and go at him. Then he’ll have an excuse for polishing you off. He did that to the last feller.”

“He is horrible. Sometimes to-day I felt like killing him.”

“None of that,” sharply warned Bub. “I ain’t sharing my room with assassins. Gilvey is ignorant and a brute. If you say so I’ll join you and we’ll lick him. We could do it easy, only it wouldn’t help you much. For the men would say I had to help you hoe your row.”

“It’s not to be thought of,” quickly replied Stanley, reddening. “I’ll fight my own battles in the kitchen. I’ll keep on my guard and if he keeps his hands off me I’ll let him be and let him talk.”

“He won’t touch you,” assured Bub.

On the next morning Stanley progressed more rapidly with his work, but there was no surcease in Gilvey’s abuse. It seemed to anger him that the youth made no mistakes this morning.

“Why haven’t ye peeled that other kettle full of pertaties?” he finally demanded, a note of triumph in his voice. “Didn’t ye hear me tell ye a dozen times?”

“Yes, I heard you,” quietly responded Stanley, his form trembling.

“Why didn’t ye do it then?” roared Gilvey, approaching, his eyes flashing.

“Because the cook told me you had made a mistake, and that I wasn’t to peel them,” politely replied Stanley, a cold little smile playing around his mouth as he faced Gilvey.

Infuriated at the smile Gilvey screamed an oath and flung himself upon the youth. The cook paused in amazement to see the two struggling. Before he could interfere the combatants whirled clear of the tables and fell with a heavy thud. When Stanley rose panting to his feet Gilvey remained motionless. From a cut in his head, received from the edge of a kettle, a thin stream of blood trickled across the floor Stanley had just washed.

“You git out of here!” cried the cook, advancing threateningly.

“I’ll wait and see how badly he is hurt,” stoutly replied Stanley, now surprised to find himself no longer afraid. “Bring some water.”

The cook mechanically dipped into a pail and between them Gilvey soon regained his senses. Then with a new burst of rage the cook repeated, “You’re fired. Git! I’ll have no trouble-makers here.”

“I may be fired, as you say, but I am no trouble-maker. That man has abused me from the start. You have laughed at him and encouraged him. If either of us had been killed today the blood would have been on your head,” indignantly accused Stanley.

The cook lowered his tone, but lost none of his insistence, as he said, “You’re through. Git your time. Gilvey may have nagged you a bit too hard. I may have done wrong to laff, but the woods are full of chore boys, while a good second-man is hard to find, and harder to hold. So, git!”

“What’s the matter? Had a raise in pay?” cried Bub as Stanley found him cleaning three rifles back of the office. The query was occasioned by Stanley’s new bearing. He walked more erect and his eye was clearer. The lines about his mouth had disappeared and there was almost the shadow of a smile on his face. “What’s up? Money from home?” anxiously persisted Bub.

“No, I’m discharged,” informed Stanley, dropping beside the rifles.

“Fired!” gasped Bub in dismay, rubbing his nose with an oily rag. “And I’d planned on we two having such good times. Fired! And to think you feel good over it.” His voice was now one of reproach.

“I’m sorry I’m discharged,” said Stanley, “but Gilvey will never abuse me again.” And he hastened to relate his experience.

Bub’s eyes blazed with joy as he listened and he threw his hands wildly about as Stanley reached the climax. “Hooray!” he softly bleated. “I love you for it. I’ll git you a job on the loading gang. It’ll break your back for a few days, but it’s the only place you can work in after being fired. You see, McPherson hates Gilvey. Mac is the boss of the loaders. If I can hustle you down there before Hatton learns of the fracas you’ll be let alone once Mac has hired you. Come, my warrior boy, let’s hurry.”