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Blazed Trail, The

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<SPAN name="link2HCH0050" id="link2HCH0050"> <!-- H2 anchor --> </SPAN> </p> <div style="height: 4em;"> <br /><br /><br /><br /> </div> <h2> Chapter L </h2> <p> For a moment the three men stared at each other without speaking. </p> <p> "What does it mean?" almost whispered Carpenter. </p> <p> "Mean? Foul play!" snarled Thorpe. "Come on, Tim." </p> <p> The two struck into the brush, threading the paths with the ease of woodsmen. It was necessary to keep to the high inland ridges for the simple reason that the pole trail had by now become impassable. Wallace Carpenter, attempting to follow them, ran, stumbled, and fell through brush that continually whipped his face and garments, continually tripped his feet. All he could obtain was a vanishing glimpse of his companions' backs. Thorpe and his foreman talked briefly. </p> <p> "It's Morrison and Daly," surmised Shearer. "I left them 'count of a trick like that. They wanted me to take charge of Perkinson's drive and hang her a purpose. I been suspecting something&mdash;they've been layin' too low." </p> <p> Thorpe answered nothing. Through the site of the old dam they found a torrent pouring from the narrowed pond, at the end of which the dilapidated wings flapping in the current attested the former structure. Davis stood staring at the current. </p> <p> Thorpe strode forward and shook him violently by the shoulder. </p> <p> "How did this happen?" he demanded hoarsely. "Speak!" </p> <p> The man turned to him in a daze. "I don't know," he answered. </p> <p> "You ought to know. How was that 'shot' exploded? How did they get in here without you seeing them? Answer me!" </p> <p> "I don't know," repeated the man. "I jest went over in th' bresh to kill a few pa'tridges, and when I come back I found her this way. I wasn't goin' to close down for three hours yet, and I thought they was no use a hangin' around here." </p> <p> "Were you hired to watch this dam, or weren't you?" demanded the tense voice of Thorpe. "Answer me, you fool." </p> <p> "Yes, I was," returned the man, a shade of aggression creeping into his voice. </p> <p> "Well, you've done it well. You've cost me my dam, and you've killed five men. If the crew finds out about you, you'll go over the falls, sure. You get out of here! Pike! Don't you ever let me see your face again!" </p> <p> The man blanched as he thus learned of his comrades' deaths. Thorpe thrust his face at him, lashed by circumstances beyond his habitual self-control. </p> <p> "It's men like you who make the trouble," he stormed. "Damn fools who say they didn't mean to. It isn't enough not to mean to. They should MEAN NOT TO! I don't ask you to think. I just want you to do what I tell you, and you can't even do that." </p> <p> He threw his shoulder into a heavy blow that reached the dam watcher's face, and followed it immediately by another. Then Shearer caught his arm, motioning the dazed and bloody victim of the attack to get out of sight. Thorpe shook his foreman off with one impatient motion, and strode away up the river, his head erect, his eyes flashing, his nostrils distended. </p> <p> "I reckon you'd better mosey," Shearer dryly advised the dam watcher; and followed. </p> <p> Late in the afternoon the two men reached Dam Three, or rather the spot on which Dam Three had stood. The same spectacle repeated itself here, except that Ellis, the dam watcher, was nowhere to be seen. </p> <p> "The dirty whelps," cried Thorpe, "they did a good job!" </p> <p> He thrashed about here and there, and so came across Ellis blindfolded and tied. When released, the dam watcher was unable to give any account of his assailants. </p> <p> "They came up behind me while I was cooking," he said. "One of 'em grabbed me and the other one kivered my eyes. Then I hears the 'shot' and knows there's trouble." </p> <p> Thorpe listened in silence. Shearer asked a few questions. After the low-voiced conversation Thorpe arose abruptly. </p> <p> "Where you going?" asked Shearer. </p> <p> But the young man did not reply. He swung, with the same long, nervous stride, into the down-river trail. </p> <p> Until late that night the three men&mdash;for Ellis insisted on accompanying them&mdash;hurried through the forest. Thorpe walked tirelessly, upheld by his violent but repressed excitement. When his hat fell from his head, he either did not notice the fact, or did not care to trouble himself for its recovery, so he glanced through the trees bare-headed, his broad white brow gleaming in the moonlight. Shearer noted the fire in his eyes, and from the coolness of his greater age, counselled moderation. </p> <p> "I wouldn't stir the boys up," he panted, for the pace was very swift. "They'll kill some one over there, it'll be murder on both sides." </p> <p> He received no answer. About midnight they came to the camp. </p> <p> Two great fires leaped among the trees, and the men, past the idea of sleep, grouped between them, talking. The lesson of twisted timbers was not lost to their experience, and the evening had brought its accumulation of slow anger against the perpetrators of the outrage. These men were not given to oratorical mouthings, but their low-voiced exchanges between the puffings of a pipe led to a steadier purpose than that of hysteria. Even as the woodsmen joined their group, they had reached the intensity of execution. Across their purpose Thorpe threw violently his personality. </p> <p> "You must not go," he commanded. </p> <p> Through their anger they looked at him askance. </p> <p> "I forbid it," Thorpe cried. </p> <p> They shrugged their indifference and arose. This was an affair of caste brotherhood; and the blood of their mates cried out to them. </p> <p> "The work," Thorpe shouted hoarsely. "The work! We must get those logs out! We haven't time!" </p> <p> But the Fighting Forty had not Thorpe's ideal. Success meant a day's work well done; while vengeance stood for a righting of the realities which had been unrighteously overturned. Thorpe's dry-eyed, burning, almost mad insistence on the importance of the day's task had not its ordinary force. They looked upon him from a standpoint apart, calmly, dispassionately, as one looks on a petulant child. The grim call of tragedy had lifted them above little mundane things. </p> <p> Then swiftly between the white, strained face of the madman trying to convince his heart that his mind had been right, and the fanatically exalted rivermen, interposed the sanity of Radway. The old jobber faced the men calmly, almost humorously, and somehow the very bigness of the man commanded attention. When he spoke, his coarse, good-natured, everyday voice fell through the tense situation, clarifying it, restoring it to the normal. </p> <p> "You fellows make me sick," said he. "You haven't got the sense God gave a rooster. Don't you see you're playing right in those fellows' hands? What do you suppose they dynamited them dams for? To kill our boys? Don't you believe it for a minute. They never dreamed we was dry pickin' that jam. They sent some low-lived whelp down there to hang our drive, and by smoke it looks like they was going to succeed, thanks to you mutton-heads. </p> <p> "'Spose you go over and take 'em apart; what then? You have a scrap; probably you lick 'em." The men growled ominously, but did not stir. "You whale daylights out of a lot of men who probably don't know any more about this here shooting of our dams than a hog does about a ruffled shirt. Meanwhile your drive hangs. Well? Well? Do you suppose the men who were back of that shooting, do you suppose Morrison and Daly give a tinker's dam how many men of theirs you lick? What they want is to hang our drive. If they hang our drive, it's cheap at the price of a few black eyes." </p> <p> The speaker paused and grinned good-humoredly at the men's attentive faces. Then suddenly his own became grave, and he swung into his argument all the impressiveness of his great bulk, </p> <p> "Do you want to know how to get even?" he asked, shading each word. "Do you want to know how to make those fellows sing so small you can't hear them? Well, I'll tell you. TAKE OUT THIS DRIVE! Do it in spite of them! Show them they're no good when they buck up against Thorpe's One! Our boys died doing their duty&mdash;the way a riverman ought to. NOW HUMP YOURSELVES! Don't let 'em die in vain!" </p> <p> The crew stirred uneasily, looking at each other for approval of the conversion each had experienced. Radway, seizing the psychological moment, turned easily toward the blaze. </p> <p> "Better turn in, boys, and get some sleep," he said. "We've got a hard day to-morrow." He stooped to light his pipe at the fire. When he had again straightened his back after rather a prolonged interval, the group had already disintegrated. A few minutes later the cookee scattered the brands of the fire from before a sleeping camp. </p> <p> Thorpe had listened non-committally to the colloquy. He had maintained the suspended attitude of a man who is willing to allow the trial of other methods, but who does not therefore relinquish his own. At the favorable termination of the discussion he turned away without comment. He expected to gain this result. Had he been in a more judicial state of mind he might have perceived at last the reason, in the complicated scheme of Providence, for his long connection with John Radway. </p> <p> <SPAN name="link2HCH0051" id="link2HCH0051"> <!-- H2 anchor --> </SPAN> </p> <div style="height: 4em;"> <br /><br /><br /><br /> </div> <h2> Chapter LI </h2> <p> Before daylight Injin Charley drifted into the camp to find Thorpe already out. With a curt nod the Indian seated himself by the fire, and, producing a square plug of tobacco and a knife, began leisurely to fill his pipe. Thorpe watched him in silence. Finally Injin Charley spoke in the red man's clear-cut, imitative English, a pause between each sentence. </p> <p> "I find trail three men," said he. "Both dam, three men. One man go down river. Those men have cork-boot. One man no have cork-boot. He boss." The Indian suddenly threw his chin out, his head back, half closed his eyes in a cynical squint. As by a flash Dyer, the scaler, leered insolently from behind the Indian's stolid mask. </p> <p> "How do you know?" said Thorpe. </p> <p> For answer the Indian threw his shoulders forward in Dyer's nervous fashion. </p> <p> "He make trail big by the toe, light by the heel. He make trail big on inside." </p> <p> Charley arose and walked, after Dyer's springy fashion, illustrating his point in the soft wood ashes of the immediate fireside. </p> <p> Thorpe looked doubtful. "I believe you are right, Charley," said he. "But it is mighty little to go on. You can't be sure." </p> <p> "I sure," replied Charley. </p> <p> He puffed strongly at the heel of his smoke, then arose, and without farewell disappeared in the forest. </p> <p> Thorpe ranged the camp impatiently, glancing often at the sky. At length he laid fresh logs on the fire and aroused the cook. It was bitter cold in the early morning. After a time the men turned out of their own accord, at first yawning with insufficient rest, and then becoming grimly tense as their returned wits reminded them of the situation. </p> <p> From that moment began the wonderful struggle against circumstances which has become a by-word among rivermen everywhere. A forty-day drive had to go out in ten. A freshet had to float out thirty million feet of logs. It was tremendous; as even the men most deeply buried in the heavy hours of that time dimly realized. It was epic; as the journalist, by now thoroughly aroused, soon succeeded in convincing his editors and his public. Fourteen, sixteen, sometimes eighteen hours a day, the men of the driving crew worked like demons. Jams had no chance to form. The phenomenal activity of the rear crew reduced by half the inevitable sacking. Of course, under the pressure, the lower dam had gone out. Nothing was to be depended on but sheer dogged grit. Far up-river Sadler &amp; Smith had hung their drive for the season. They had stretched heavy booms across the current, and so had resigned themselves to a definite but not extraordinary loss. Thorpe had at least a clear river. </p> <p> Wallace Carpenter could not understand how human flesh and blood endured. The men themselves had long since reached the point of practical exhaustion, but were carried through by the fire of their leader. Work was dogged until he stormed into sight; then it became frenzied. He seemed to impart to those about him a nervous force and excitability as real as that induced by brandy. When he looked at a man from his cavernous, burning eyes, that man jumped. </p> <p> It was all willing enough work. Several definite causes, each adequate alone to something extraordinary, focussed to the necessity. His men worshipped Thorpe; the idea of thwarting the purposes of their comrade's murderers retained its strength; the innate pride of caste and craft&mdash;the sturdiest virtue of the riverman&mdash;was in these picked men increased to the dignity of a passion. The great psychological forces of a successful career gathered and made head against the circumstances which such careers always arouse in polarity. </p> <p> Impossibilities were puffed aside like thistles. The men went at them headlong. They gave way before the rush. Thorpe always led. Not for a single instant of the day nor for many at night was he at rest. He was like a man who has taken a deep breath to reach a definite goal, and who cannot exhale until the burst of speed be over. Instinctively he seemed to realize that a let-down would mean collapse. </p> <p> After the camp had fallen asleep, he would often lie awake half of the few hours of their night, every muscle tense, staring at the sky. His mind saw definitely every detail of the situation as he had last viewed it. In advance his imagination stooped and sweated to the work which his body was to accomplish the next morning. Thus he did everything twice. Then at last the tension would relax. He would fall into uneasy sleep. But twice that did not follow. Through the dissolving iron mist of his striving, a sharp thought cleaved like an arrow. It was that after all he did not care. The religion of Success no longer held him as its devoutest worshiper. He was throwing the fibers of his life into the engine of toil, not because of moral duty, but because of moral pride. He meant to succeed in order to prove to himself that he had not been wrong. </p> <p> The pain of the arrow-wound always aroused him from his doze with a start. He grimly laughed the thought out of court. To his waking moments his religion was sincere, was real. But deep down in his sub-consciousness, below his recognition, the other influence was growing like a weed. Perhaps the vision, not the waking, had been right. Perhaps that far-off beautiful dream of a girl which Thorpe's idealism had constructed from; the reactionary necessities of Thorpe's harsh life had been more real than his forest temples of his ruthless god! Perhaps there were greater things than to succeed, greater things than success. Perhaps, after all, the Power that put us here demands more that we cleave one to the other in loving-kindness than that we learn to blow the penny whistles it has tossed us. And then the keen, poignant memory of the dream girl stole into the young man's mind, and in agony was immediately thrust forth. He would not think of her. He had given her up. He had cast the die. For success he had bartered her, in the noblest, the loftiest spirit of devotion. He refused to believe that devotion fanatical; he refused to believe that he had been wrong. In the still darkness of the night he would rise and steal to the edge of the dully roaring stream. There, his eyes blinded and his throat choked with a longing more manly than tears, he would reach out and smooth the round rough coats of the great logs. </p> <p> "We'll do it!" he whispered to them&mdash;and to himself. "We'll do it! We can't be wrong. God would not have let us!" </p> <p> <SPAN name="link2HCH0052" id="link2HCH0052"> <!-- H2 anchor --> </SPAN> </p> <div style="height: 4em;"> <br /><br /><br /><br /> </div> <h2> Chapter LII </h2> <p> Wallace Carpenter's search expedition had proved a failure, as Thorpe had foreseen, but at the end of the week, when the water began to recede, the little beagles ran upon a mass of flesh and bones. The man was unrecognizable, either as an individual or as a human being. The remains were wrapped in canvas and sent for interment in the cemetery at Marquette. Three of the others were never found. The last did not come to light until after the drive had quite finished. </p> <p> Down at the booms the jam crew received the drive as fast as it came down. From one crib to another across the broad extent of the river's mouth, heavy booms were chained end to end effectually to close the exit to Lake Superior. Against these the logs caromed softly in the slackened current, and stopped. The cribs were very heavy with slanting, instead of square, tops, in order that the pressure might be downwards instead of sidewise. This guaranteed their permanency. In a short time the surface of the lagoon was covered by a brown carpet of logs running in strange patterns like windrows of fallen grain. Finally, across the straight middle distance of the river, appeared little agitated specks leaping back and forth. Thus the rear came in sight and the drive was all but over. </p> <p> Up till now the weather had been clear but oppressively hot for this time of year. The heat had come suddenly and maintained itself well. It had searched out with fierce directness all the patches of snow lying under the thick firs and balsams of the swamp edge, it had shaken loose the anchor ice of the marsh bottoms, and so had materially aided the success of the drive by increase of water. The men had worked for the most part in undershirts. They were as much in the water as out of it, for the icy bath had become almost grateful. Hamilton, the journalist, who had attached himself definitely to the drive, distributed bunches of papers, in which the men read that the unseasonable condition prevailed all over the country. </p> <p> At length, however, it gave signs of breaking. The sky, which had been of a steel blue, harbored great piled thunder-heads. Occasionally athwart the heat shot a streak of cold air. Towards evening the thunder-heads shifted and finally dissipated, to be sure, but the portent was there. </p> <p> Hamilton's papers began to tell of disturbances in the South and West. A washout in Arkansas derailed a train; a cloud-burst in Texas wiped out a camp; the cities along the Ohio River were enjoying their annual flood with the usual concomitants of floating houses and boats in the streets. The men wished they had some of that water here. </p> <p> So finally the drive approached its end and all concerned began in anticipation to taste the weariness that awaited them. They had hurried their powers. The few remaining tasks still confronting them, all at once seemed more formidable than what they had accomplished. They could not contemplate further exertion. The work for the first time became dogged, distasteful. Even Thorpe was infected. He, too, wanted more than anything else to drop on the bed in Mrs. Hathaway's boarding house, there to sponge from his mind all colors but the dead gray of rest. There remained but a few things to do. A mile of sacking would carry the drive beyond the influence of freshet water. After that there would be no hurry. </p> <p> He looked around at the hard, fatigue-worn faces of the men about him, and in the obsession of his wearied mood he suddenly felt a great rush of affection for these comrades who had so unreservedly spent themselves for his affair. Their features showed exhaustion, it is true, but their eyes gleamed still with the steady half-humorous purpose of the pioneer. When they caught his glance they grinned good-humoredly. </p> <p> All at once Thorpe turned and started for the bank. </p> <p> "That'll do, boys," he said quietly to the nearest group. "She's down!" </p> <p> It was noon. The sackers looked up in surprise. Behind them, to their very feet, rushed the soft smooth slope of Hemlock Rapids. Below them flowed a broad, peaceful river. The drive had passed its last obstruction. To all intents and purposes it was over. </p> <p> Calmly, with matter-of-fact directness, as though they had not achieved the impossible; as though they, a handful, had not cheated nature and powerful enemies, they shouldered their peaveys and struck into the broad wagon road. In the middle distance loomed the tall stacks of the mill with the little board town about it. Across the eye spun the thread of the railroad. Far away gleamed the broad expanses of Lake Superior. </p> <p> The cook had, early that morning, moored the wanigan to the bank. One of the teamsters from town had loaded the men's "turkeys" on his heavy wagon. The wanigan's crew had thereupon trudged into town. </p> <p> The men paired off naturally and fell into a dragging, dogged walk. Thorpe found himself unexpectedly with Big Junko. For a time they plodded on without conversation. Then the big man ventured a remark. </p> <p> "I'm glad she's over," said he. "I got a good stake comin'." </p> <p> "Yes," replied Thorpe indifferently. </p> <p> "I got most six hundred dollars comin'," persisted Junko. </p> <p> "Might as well be six hundred cents," commented Thorpe, "it'd make you just as drunk." </p> <p> Big Junko laughed self-consciously but without the slightest resentment. </p> <p> "That's all right," said he, "but you betcher life I don't blow this stake." </p> <p> "I've heard that talk before," shrugged Thorpe. </p> <p> "Yes, but this is different. I'm goin' to git married on this. How's THAT?" </p> <p> Thorpe, his attention struck at last, stared at his companion. He noted the man's little twinkling animal eyes, his high cheek bones, his flat nose, his thick and slobbery lips, his straggling, fierce mustache and eyebrows, his grotesque long-tailed cutaway coat. So to him, too, this primitive man reaching dully from primordial chaos, the great moment had yielded its vision. </p> <p> "Who is she?" he asked abruptly. </p> <p> "She used to wash at Camp Four." </p> <p> Thorpe dimly remembered the woman now&mdash;an overweighted creature with a certain attraction of elfishly blowing hair, with a certain pleasing full-cheeked, full-bosomed health. </p> <p> The two walked on in re-established silence. Finally the giant, unable to contain himself longer, broke out again. </p> <p> "I do like that woman," said he with a quaintly deliberate seriousness. "That's the finest woman in this district." </p> <p> Thorpe felt the quick moisture rush to his eyes. There was something inexpressibly touching in those simple words as Big Junko uttered them. </p> <p> "And when you are married," he asked, "what are you going to do? Are you going to stay on the river?" </p> <p> "No, I'm goin' to clear a farm. The woman she says that's the thing to do. I like the river, too. But you bet when Carrie says a thing, that's plenty good enough for Big Junko." </p> <p> "Suppose," suggested Thorpe, irresistibly impelled towards the attempt, "suppose I should offer you two hundred dollars a month to stay on the river. Would you stay?" </p> <p> "Carrie don't like it," replied Junko. </p> <p> "Two hundred dollars is big wages," persisted Thorpe. "It's twice what I give Radway." </p> <p> "I'd like to ask Carrie." </p> <p> "No, take it or leave it now." </p> <p> "Well, Carrie says she don't like it," answered the riverman with a sigh. </p> <p> Thorpe looked at his companion fixedly. Somehow the bestial countenance had taken on an attraction of its own. He remembered Big Junko as a wild beast when his passions were aroused, as a man whose honesty had been doubted. </p> <p> "You've changed, Junko," said he. </p> <p> "I know," said the big man. "I been a scalawag all right. I quit it. I don't know much, but Carrie she's smart, and I'm goin' to do what she says. When you get stuck on a good woman like Carrie, Mr. Thorpe, you don't give much of a damn for anything else. Sure! That's right! It's the biggest thing top o' earth!" </p> <p> Here it was again, the opposing creed. And from such a source. Thorpe's iron will contracted again. </p> <p> "A woman is no excuse for a man's neglecting his work," he snapped. </p> <p> "Shorely not," agreed Junko serenely. "I aim to finish out my time all right, Mr. Thorpe. Don't you worry none about that. I done my best for you. And," went on the riverman in the expansion of this unwonted confidence with his employer, "I'd like to rise to remark that you're the best boss I ever had, and we boys wants to stay with her till there's skating in hell!" </p> <p> "All right," murmured Thorpe indifferently. </p> <p> His momentary interest had left him. Again the reactionary weariness dragged at his feet. Suddenly the remaining half mile to town seemed very long indeed. </p> <p>
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