The Young Timber-cruisers; or, Fighting the Spruce Pirates/Chapter 3

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Now, Sonny, you keep shut,” admonished McPherson as Bub began a voluble eulogy on his friend. “I guess this young man is big enough to do his own talking.” Then to Stanley, “What can you do?”

“I can work hard and do my best,” eagerly replied Stanley.

“That is a great deal, but not quite enough up here,” slowly informed McPherson, carefully whittling a chip of pine into a cube. “What you call working hard might strike us as being a pretty thin effort. Your hands don’t look as if they’d been used much.”

“But he just—” began Bub, excitedly, as he caught a glimpse of the stern faced Hatton approaching.

“Keep shut,” broke in McPherson, not unkindly. “Never see such a younker to talk. You ought to be a auctioneer. Now, young man,” this to Stanley, “I guess there’s nothing doing for you. What I need is men that can pile, load and unload lumber, toss pulp squares about and keep at it between meals to the last second.”

“If I can’t do a man’s work you can pay me a boy’s pay,” entreated Stanley. “Surely, my labor would be worth something.”

“That’s the boy of it; you don’t examine into things. Only so many men can work around a lumber pile, or pass pulp squares into a car. You’d take up as much room as an able-bodied man without doing the man’s work. It ain’t what we call economy. If you had a boss that could only pull a colt’s load you’d not waste time by hitching him up with a real worker, eh? Of course not. Where’ve you been working?”

“In the kitchen,” bitterly replied Stanley, his hopes now down to zero.

“Then I’d advise you to dig back to the kitchen,” curtly said McPherson.

“But, Mister McPherson, he’s had a row with Gilvey and has got the best of him and he can’t go back there,” exploded Bub, now in a frenzy to clinch the situation before Hatton could arrive.

“What! licked Gilvey,” exclaimed McPherson, his eyes lighting.

“He assaulted me and I only defended myself and in the tussle he fell underneath and cut his head open,” apologized Stanley.

“Licked Gilvey, eh?” murmured McPherson, his rugged features relaxing. “That feller makes poor coffee a purpose, just because he knows I’d rather have a good cup of coffee than the best meal ever cooked.” Then almost fiercely, “So that’s the way you start in to git a job, eh? You come in here and go a bullying and rowdying ’round and expect hard working bosses to find you work when your evil ways has kicked you out of a job. I’m ashamed to hear you confess it.” And McPherson frowned heavily on the disconsolate youth.

“I’m sorry to have troubled you. I had hoped to get a chance to earn my living,” said Stanley, hanging his head as he turned to walk away.

“What’s the matter with you?” sharply demanded McPherson. “Think I’m going to lug you around in my arms and hand your work to you? Why don’t you git busy?”

“You mean?” cried Stanley, his face illumined.

“I mean I’ll fire you if you don’t hustle down to that car and tell the feller with the whiskers you’re to help juggle pulp. Come, git a moving.” As the two delighted youths raced for the car McPherson softly repeated, “Licked Gilvey, eh? Well, well, who’d a thought it. There must be something in the younker even if his hands is soft.”

His soliloquy was interrupted by Hatton’s harsh voice asking, “Who are those boys you were talking with?”

“Only Bub and a new feller I’ve hired for gang four,” carelessly replied McPherson, yet eying the manager narrowly from the corner of his eye.

“You mean the chap the men call Red?” said Hatton, looking after the youths.

“I guess that’s among his nicknames,” easily returned McPherson.

“Take him off. Tell him to get his time. He half killed Gilvey. He can’t work here.”

McPherson’s jaw squared and he closed his knife with a click. “Say, Mr. Hatton, who’s the most importance ’round here? The cook’s helper, or me?”

“Why, Mac, you’re worth a million helpers,” Hatton hastened to assure, detecting the danger signal in the Scotchman’s grey eyes.

“All right; I want that younker in my gang. Of course you don’t mind?”

Hatton smiled grimly at the politeness in McPherson’s low voice. He knew his man to be one of the best bosses in the district and one who could be very stubborn in small things. “Of course not, Mac,” he returned. “He’s your man now and you’re responsible for him.”

“I’m starting him at six dollars a week,” said McPherson.

“Very well; tell the time-keeper. Now give me the figures on last week’s shipments of pulp. They’re kicking hard down there and we must get more stuff through.”

Stanley found his new job more to his taste although the first half-hour found him aching in every bone. There was no abuse, but the machine-like rapidity with which the men passed the large squares of wet pulp into the car, called for every ounce of muscle in his body. At the end of the first hour he believed he must stop and rest, or drop in his tracks; but the men showed no inclination to pause. Then he seemed to get his second wind. He ached in every joint and cord, but by clinching his teeth he discovered he could keep moving.

At last the man with the whiskers, who had immediate charge of the loading, turned to him and humorously remarked, “You like this light work, eh?”

“It’s pretty tough, but it’s good to have a try at a man’s work,” panted Stanley.

“Wal, you make a pretty good try. Now git up in the car and take your time seeing the stuff is piled squarely,” kindly directed the man.

In a few moments Stanley jumped down from the door and announced, “No use of me in there. Everything is squared up beautifully.”

“Then git over on that pile of boards and keep tally till I call you,” snapped the man.

Then Stanley appreciated that he had found a new friend, who was trying to find a way to allow him a breathing spell. His heart swelled with gratitude and for thirty minutes he enjoyed the luxury of complete relaxation.

“Hi! going to loaf all day?” bawled the man at last.

Stanley leaped to his feet, his eyes blazing his thanks, and with renewed zeal assailed the ever arriving squares of pulp.

That night he slept the sleep of the exhausted and did not have to go to work until seven o’clock in the morning. The next few days were a repetition of the first, only now his muscles began to harden and respond more quickly and less painfully to the call made upon them. Then he was shifted to the lumber gang and underwent new torture.

The boards were long and heavy and his hands filled with splinters until the boss accosted him brusquely one day and concluded by giving him a pair of old gloves. He now found himself doing a man’s work, indeed. And the man at the other end of the board never waited for him to get a grip on the lumber, but with head bowed threw his end onto the flat car. This often resulted in a benumbing jar to Stanley’s whole frame as one end of the heavy timber fell on the car while the other end was in his hands. But he asked no quarter and pluckily stuck to his task.

Bub had been away from the settlement for several days and it was with genuine pleasure that Stanley limped to his room one night and found the good-natured youth sitting on the bed.

“Well, my son; how goes things?” cried out Bub, jumping to his feet and warmly clasping the other’s hand. “Licked any more people?”

“Bub, I never knew I could be so glad to see anyone as I am to see you,” earnestly replied Stanley.

Bub’s face burned red with pleasure, although he said, “O stop your kidding. Anyone abusing you? If Whiskers bears down on you just let me know and I’ll have a talk with him.”

For the first time since his arrival at the mills Stanley laughed aloud. “You’re the queerest chap I ever met, Bub,” he said. “No, Mr. White—please don’t call him Whiskers—has treated me mighty well. He’s rough as a bear, but he’s good to me. Where’ve you been?”

“O trotting ’round with Abner Whitten, our best timber cruiser. He’s a sort of cousin to my father and I work with him. In winter time he’s the walking boss and goes all up through the region north of the Rangeleys, visiting camp after camp, crosses over to the Kennebec Valley and on up to the West Branch of the Penobscot. I tell you that man knows his business.”

Stanley’s eyes glistened. “I wish he’d let me go with you. That’s the kind of life I’d like; free and easy and out in the open.”

Bub smothered a smile and assured, “My son, if you are looking for a snap don’t take to cruising. It may read pretty in books, but did you ever carry seventy-five pounds of grub and equipment through an overgrown tote road? It’s no picnic.”

“I can do it,” promptly declared Stanley. “Mr. White says I can do almost as well as a man on the loading gang.”

“Then why don’t you want to stick to it?” asked Bub, a bit suspicious.

Stanley threw out his hands passionately as he explained, “I’m not over-conceited, Bub, but that loading job is tiresome. It isn’t the hard work, but I owe it to my intelligence to get something better. We are nothing but cogs in a machine, lumber and pulp, pulp and lumber, day in and day out. I could do it just as well, perhaps better, if I didn’t know how to read or write. Why, they train elephants in India to pile lumber. Now I want a chance where I can think a bit.”

“Why don’t you think while loading? Did you ever stop to think how the boards you pile were cut way up north; how they were sent down the river, towed across lakes, sluiced from one lake to another, hauled against the current between lakes by endless chains, and at last how the cedar is cut into shingles, pine into lumber and clapboards, how fir, spruce and poplar goes into pulp, only we don’t handle much of the last, if any. Did you ever stop to think of the money spent and the lives lost before you can get a job tossing lumber?”

“No; I never thought of it before because I am green,” soberly replied Stanley. “But now you’ve set me thinking I am all the more anxious to go with you and see the work at the beginning. Wouldn’t you like to have me along, Bub?”

The note of entreaty affected Bub keenly and he cried, “I’d be awfully pleased if you was one of us. But, honest, Stanley, Ab Whitten is a most peculiar man and he’d never consent, or I would have asked him before this.”

Stanley’s face became downcast. “When do you start?” he asked.

Bub dropped his eyes and tried to speak indifferently as he replied, “To-morrow.”

“So soon,” sighed Stanley. “Where are you bound for?”

Bub’s eyes brightened as he replied, “I don’t know, but it’s something big. We’re taking three rifles and flatten wants to see Abner to-night for a last talk. I suspect that Jim Nace and his gang has been up to something pretty stiff.”

“Who’s Nace?” inquired Stanley, now deeply interested at the hint of a hazardous undertaking.

“He’s the worst timber pirate in the State. He’s not satisfied with letting out jobs to small operators and then beating ’em out of their money, but it’s believed he’s stolen millions of spruce and pine during the last thirty years. Of course we wouldn’t mix up with him if he hadn’t robbed the company in some way. I tell you, Stan, it’s going to be exciting before we return. We’re to push right through to Kennebago river and outfit there. The company has wangans all up through, even beyond Parmachena lake and east along the Dead river.”

“The company has what there?” asked Stanley, looking much puzzled.

“Wangans, Mister Malcolm. A Wangan is a store-house, where they keep the equipment. You can git blankets, blue and red shirts, trousers, heavy woolen cloth coats called Mackinaws—they look like a hoss~blanket and have a belt, made in colors that are very giddy—and then there are pontiacs, or single breasted woolen coats. Then there is tobacco and liniment. You never see so much tobacco and liniment as is used in the woods. The loggers are strong on both. Then there are mittens, leggings; in short, everything a man would need in the woods.”

“That’s where I want to go,” repeated Stanley, his very eyes wistful. “I can’t learn anything piling lumber.”

“No?” sweetly said Bub. “Let’s see; you’ve been handling spruce. Do you know how many spruce logs was necessary to scale a thousand feet?”

Stanley shook his head and looked blank.

“It wouldn’t have hurt you to have asked,” suggested Bub, his eyes twinkling.

“Well, I ask now,” humbly said Stanley.

Bub threw out his chest importantly and carelessly explained, “From ten to a dozen. In the old days it wouldn’t take more’n half of that number. Did you know a fir looks like a spruce, only has a smoother bark and when growing shows a little lighter shade of green? I thought so. Did you know a pine’ll stand more heat than any other tree up here and will live when other trees are killed by fire? Dear! dear! Did you know a spruce takes about seventy-five years to get a six-inch diameter at breast height? And that if not cut down will live two or three hundred years?”

“I know none of these things,” sadly replied Stanley.

“I’ll give you an easy one,” kindly encouraged Bub. “We had a boom break on the lake yesterday. Now which would you prefer, to have a boom of logs break on a calm day or a windy day?”

“On a calm day,” promptly answered Stanley, recovering some of his composure.

Bub grinned. “Wrong again. On a calm day they scatter in all directions and if the lake is a big one it ain’t hardly worth while to pick ’em up. On a windy day they drive ashore in a bunch and are sure to fetch up somewhere. On a calm day there seems to be an undertow, and it’s amazing how quickly they’ll scatter in all directions.”

“I admit I’m ignorant,” said Stanley; “but that’s all the more reason why I should go with you and have you tell me things. I can’t keep asking the men here as the most of them will only swear at me.”

Bub pursed up his lips thoughtfully. “It would be lots of fun to have you along and I’m willing to ask Abner. We’ll find him now; only, don’t git your hopes up. You stand about as much chance as you would to git Hatton’s job. We’ve got to travel fast, cruise several cants along Mt. Jim, besides obeying important orders which I ain’t found out about as yet.”

Stanley moved to the door. “Let’s waste no time in finding him. I’ll work for my board.”

“If you offer to do that he wouldn’t take you,” smiled Bub. “And again, we must wait till he’s had his supper. He’d refuse anything before he’s had his meal. Abner is the greatest man for thinking about his food that you ever saw. Wait a minute, so’s we’ll be sure he’s finished.”

Abner Whitten was a most eccentric man. He lived in two hobbies: loyalty to his employers and worry about food supplies. Yet he was not what the men called a “heavy feeder.” A stranger to hear him talk would believe he was a glutton or was perpetually being starved to death, while in truth he ate but little. The greater part of his life had been spent in the woods and Bub had not exaggerated his value as a timber cruiser and “walking-boss.” When new lands were to be opened up it was Abner who was sent to spy out the situation. In the operating season, or during the winter months, he passed on snowshoes and on tote teams from camp to camp, keeping a general supervision over a thousand and one details pertaining to the various crews.

While the youths were waiting for him to eat his fill he had finished his evening meal and proceeded to the office, where Hatton awaited him.

“You start to-morrow?” greeted Hatton, speaking nervously.

Abner nodded and seated himself on the edge of a table, swinging one leg as he waited for his superior to continue.

“Who do you take?”

“Noisy Charlie and the boy, Bub,” replied Abner.

“Very well; here is the copy of the old and new lines. Unless we can prove our boundary, as we know it was run out in 1800, the Nace outfit will skin us to the tune of more than one hundred thousand dollars.” And Hatton handed over a paper which revealed the following:

P50, The Young Timber-cruisers.png

“Of course they’ve done everything to conceal the old monuments,” muttered Abner, intently studying the triangle which the company was in danger of losing.

“Yes; our surveyors were unable to find anything to warrant our contention. On the other hand they say the markings on the beech, along the line claimed by Nace, has every appearance of being genuine. The surveyor’s private mark, two circles linked and crossed by an arrow, is there, as well as the initials of the original owners.”

“They’ve got us unless the unexpected turns up,” said Abner, simply, turning the paper over and over in his hands. “Nace is too good a politician to buck up against us in the courts unless he’s sure his line will stand law.”

“He may have us, but he is a scoundrel and anything he’s in is usually rotten at the core. Now I am positive that he is swindling us out of eighty acres of the best spruce timber in the State and I’m sending you up there to prove that fact.” And Hatton’s iron jaws clicked loudly.

“I’ll do everything I can,” simply replied Abner, rising to go. “I suppose I’d better cruise Mt. Jim on the way up so’s not to excite any suspicion.”

“Sure; and don’t let even the guide know your destination till you’re most there,” added Hatton.

“I understand; I’m not much of a talker,” reminded Abner, walking to the door.

He was still deep in thought when Stanley and Bub accosted him. At first he did not sense their presence and when they repeated their salutation he waved them aside impatiently and with bowed head walked slowly towards the edge of the settlement. He knew he was approaching a crisis in his affairs. He had been on many ventures for the company, had made many cruises, had managed many camps, and never yet had failed to show the expected results. But now there seemed small chance for success. He knew that Nace must be extremely confident to invite a litigation from so powerful a rival. If the line had been changed it must have been changed fully a score of years before, or when Nace was beginning his career as an operator. Abner could not but help admiring the forethought that prompted the swindle.

“To think of his shifting that line and then waiting twenty years before trying to turn the trick,” he muttered, half aloud.

“Could we speak to you, Mister Whitten?” politely repeated Bub for the fifth time.

“What do ye want?” suspiciously asked Abner. “When ye come snooping ’round and a mistering me I know something is up. Have ye seen to the food for to-morrer?”

“Yes, sir; I’ve put in three tins of that sliced ham you like so well,” eagerly assured Bub.

“Three tins, eh?” pondered Abner. Then quickly, “Make it six; we might git stalled somewhere for a day or so. If we make the Kennebago day after to-morrer it won’t have done any harm to have the extry tins along. Kind of look over Charlie’s packs and see if he’s got enough of everything. Then—but who have we here?” And he glanced keenly at Stanley.

“He’s a friend of mine,” informed Bub, trying to speak in an unconcerned voice.

“Uh! Didn’t know ye had any friends. Prob’ly as wurthless as ye be,” grunted Abner.

“Abner, you are the only best friend I have,” smiled Bub. “You know it and it’s no use playing the bear with me.”

“Well, well; what do ye want?” snapped Abner, but not displeased with Bub.

“I want you to take Stanley along with us. He’s a good worker and will help us more’n he’ll hinder us and——

“Stop it!” roared Abner, waving his hands. “What do ye mean by trying to force help onto me? Of course he can’t go. He’d eat more’n a dozen men, to begin with. Didn’t I see him feeding the first night he was here?”

“At that time he was half starved; he doesn’t eat much now,” defended Bub.

“It’s no use; quit talking,” grumbled Abner. “I’ve seen too many of them thin, scrawny fellers not to know a big feeder when I see one. It ain’t no place to be took starving up in the woods. Besides, I don’t need anyone else.”

“Bub told me he knew you wouldn’t take me,” spoke up Stanley, “but I urged him to ask you, as I awfully wanted to make the trip.”

“Do ye know the woods?” asked Abner, veiling a sarcastic gleam in his shrewd eyes.

“I’ve camped out quite a few times,” eagerly replied Stanley.

“I see,” sniffed Abner. “Drank spring water out of fancy drinking cups and thought ye was roughin’ it, eh? If ye was dying of thirst in the woods and see a loon flying above ye and had a gun, what would ye do?”

“I’d shoot the loon,” promptly replied Stanley, bracing back his shoulders as he became more confident.

Bub’s groan told him, however, that he had erred, even before Abner exploded, “Ye would, would ye? Wal, I thought so. Ye’d make a woodsman in about seventeen million years. What’d ye shoot the loon for? Did he ever do ye any harm?”

“I thought one could drink his blood,” ventured Stanley, trying to get his cue from Bub’s worried face.

“Ye two just scat! Clear out! I want to think,” commanded Abner, giving them his back.

“For mercy’s sake, Stan, what made you say anything so idiotic as that,” complained Bub, as they walked back to the boarding house.

“What should I have said?” cried Stanley, now thoroughly exasperated. “Try to tame the loon, tie a message to his leg? Why did he bring in the gun if he didn’t mean for me to shoot?”

“He was just trying you,” sadly explained Bub. “Of course, if you knew the A B C about the woods you’d know the loon was pointing for water. That’s what you should have said. And you should have added that while following that course you’d keep your eye peeled for the Indian cucumber plant, so’s to dig up one and stop your thirst. It’s no use for me to try to describe it to you—”

“Not a bit,” interrupted Stanley. “It’ll be much better to wait and show me one.”

“You’d have to go into the woods for me to do that,” said Bub. “I shan’t have time till after this trip.”

“Oh, yes, you will; you’ll show me lots of them during the trip. I’m going with you, you know,” smiled Stanley.

“How?” gasped Bub.

“I don’t know, unless I walk. But I’m going,” cried Stanley. “I’ve been bossed about and swore at and now I’m going to see the woods. And Mr. Whitten must include me in his party. I don’t know just how it is to be worked, Bub, but it’s going to be worked just the same. What time do you start to-morrow?”

“A little after the noon hour. The gas boat takes us across Umbagog lake to Rapid river. We shall push right through to the north of Kennebago lake,” explained Bub.

“All right. I shall be with you,” promised Stanley.

“I snum! but that feller’s got nerve,” admired Bub, as Stanley swung away. “He almost makes me believe he can do it. He’s a good feller and I must try to learn to talk as he does.”