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Trail of the Axe, The

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<SPAN NAME="chap04"></SPAN> <H3 ALIGN="center"> CHAPTER IV </H3> <H4 ALIGN="center"> DICK MANSELL'S NEWS </H4> <P> For Dave the next fortnight was fraught with a tremendous pressure of work. But arduous and wearing as it was, to him there was that thrill of conscious striving which is the very essence of life to the ambition-inspired man. His goal loomed dimly upon his horizon, he could see it in shadowy outline, and every step he took now, every effort he put forth, he knew was carrying him on, drawing him nearer and nearer to it. He worked with that steady enthusiasm which never rushes. He was calm and purposeful. To hasten, to diverge from his deliberate course in the heat of excitement, he knew would only weaken his effort. Careful organization, perfect, machine-like, was what he needed, and the work would do itself. </P> <P> At the mills a large extension of the milling floors and an added number of saws were needed. In its present state the milling floor could hardly accommodate the ninety-foot logs demanded by the contract. This was a structural alteration that must be carried out at express speed, and had been prepared for, so that it was only a matter of executing plans already drawn up. Joel Dawson, the foreman, one of the best lumbermen in the country, was responsible for the alterations. Simon Odd, the master sawyer, had the organizing of the skilled labor staff inside the mill, a work of much responsibility and considerable discrimination. </P> <P> But with Dave rested the whole responsibility and chief organization. It was necessary to secure labor for both the mill and the camps up in the hills. And for this the district had to be scoured, while two hundred lumber-jacks had to be brought up from the forests of the Ottawa River. </P> <P> Dave and his lieutenants worked all their daylight hours, and most of the night was spent in harness. They ate to live only, and slept only when their falling eyelids refused to keep open. </P> <P> Only Dave and his two loyal supporters knew the work of that fortnight; only they understood the anxiety and strain, but their efforts were crowned with success, and at the end of that time the first of the "ninety-footers" floated down the river to the mouth of the great boom that lay directly under the cranes of the milling floor. </P> <P> It was not until that moment that Dave felt free to look about him, to turn his attention from the grindstone of his labors. It was midday when word passed of the arrival of the first of the timber, and he went at once to verify the matter for himself. It was a sight to do his heart good. The boom, stretching right into the heart of the mills, was a mass of rolling, piling logs, and a small army of men was at work upon them piloting them so as to avoid a "crush." It was perilous, skilful work, and the master of the mills watched with approval the splendid efforts of these intrepid lumber-jacks. He only waited until the rattling chains of the cranes were lowered and the first log was grappled and lifted like a match out of the water, and hauled up to the milling floor. Then, with a sigh as of a man relieved of a great strain, he turned away and passed out of his yards. </P> <P> It was the first day for a fortnight he had gone to his house for dinner. </P> <P> His home was a small house of weather-boarding with a veranda all creeper-grown, as were most of the houses in the village. It had only one story, and every window had a window-box full of simple flowers. It stood in a patch of garden that was chiefly given up to vegetables, with just a small lawn of mean-looking turf with a centre bed of flowers. Along the top-railed fence which enclosed it were, set at regular intervals, a number of small blue-gum and spruce trees. It was just such an abode as one might expect Dave to possess: simple, useful, unpretentious. It was the house of a man who cared nothing for luxury. Utility was the key-note of his life. And the little trivial decorations in the way of creepers, flowers, and such small luxuries were due to the gentle, womanly thought of his old mother, with whom he lived, and who permitted no one else to minister to his wants. </P> <P> She was in the doorway when he came up, a small thin figure with shriveled face and keen, questioning eyes. She was clad in black, and wore a print overall. Her snow-white hair was parted in the middle and smoothed down flat, in the method of a previous generation. She was an alert little figure for all her sixty odd years. </P> <P> The questioning eyes changed to a look of gladness as the burly figure of her son turned in at the gate. There could be no doubt as to her feelings. Dave was all the world to her. Her admiration for her son amounted almost to idolatry. </P> <P> "Dinner's ready," she said eagerly. "I thought I'd just see if you were coming. I didn't expect you. Have you time for it, Dave?" </P> <P> "Sure, ma," he responded, stooping and kissing her upturned face. "The logs are down." </P> <P> "Dear boy, I'm glad." </P> <P> It was all she said, but her tone, and the look she gave him, said far more than the mere words. </P> <P> Dave placed one great arm gently about her narrow shoulders and led her into the house. </P> <P> "I'm going to take an hour for dinner to-day sure," he said, with unusual gaiety. "Just to celebrate. After this," he went on, "for six months I'm going to do work that'll astonish even you, ma." </P> <P> "But you won't overdo it, Dave, will you? The money isn't worth it. It isn't really. I've lived a happy life without much of it, boy, and I don't want much now. I only want my boy." </P> <P> There was a world of gentle solicitude in the old woman's tones. So much that Dave smiled upon her as he took his place at the table. </P> <P> "You'll have both, ma, just as sure as sure. I'm not only working for the sake of the money. Sounds funny to say that when I'm working to make myself a millionaire. But it's not the money. It's success first. I don't like being beaten, and that's a fact. We Americans hate being beaten. Then there's other things. Think of these people here. They'll do well. Malkern'll be a city to be reckoned with, and a prosperous one. Then the money's useful to do something with. We can help others. You know, ma, how we've talked it all out." </P> <P> The mother helped her son to food. </P> <P> "Yes, I know. But your health, boy, you must think of that." </P> <P> Dave laughed boisterously, an unusual thing with him. But his mood was light. He felt that he wanted to laugh at anything. What did anything matter? By this time a dozen or so of the "ninety-footers" were already in the process of mutilation by his voracious saws. </P> <P> "Health, ma?" he cried. "Look at me. I don't guess I'm pretty, but I can do the work of any French-Canadian horse in my yards." </P> <P> The old woman shook her silvery head doubtfully. </P> <P> "Well, well, you know best," she said, "only I don't want you to get ill." </P> <P> Dave laughed again. Then happening to glance out of the window he saw the figure of Joe Hardwig, the blacksmith, turning in at the gate. </P> <P> "Another plate, ma," he said hastily. "There's Hardwig coming along." </P> <P> His mother summoned her "hired" girl, and by the time Hardwig's knock came at the door a place was set for him. Dave rose from the table. </P> <P> "Come right in, Joe," he said cheerily. "We're just having grub. Ma's got some bully stew. Sit down and join us." </P> <P> But Joe Hardwig declined, with many protestations. He was a broad, squat little man, whose trade was in his very manner, in the strength of his face, and in the masses of muscle which his clothes could not conceal. </P> <P> "The missus is wantin' me," he said. "Thank you kindly all the same. Your servant, mam," he added awkwardly, turning to Dave's mother. Then to the lumberman, "I jest come along to hand you a bit of information I guessed you'd be real glad of. Mansell&mdash;Dick Mansell's got back! I've been yarnin' with him. Say, guess you'll likely need him. He's wantin' a job too. He's a bully sawyer." </P> <P> Dave had suddenly become serious. </P> <P> "Dick Mansell!" he cried. Then, after a pause, "Has he brought word of Jim Truscott?" </P> <P> The mother's eyes were on her son, shrewdly speculating. She had seen his sudden gravity. She knew full well that he cared less for Mansell's powers as a sawyer than for Mansell as the companion and sharer of Jim Truscott's exile. Now she waited for the blacksmith's answer. </P> <P> Joe shifted uneasily. His great honest face looked troubled. He had not come there to spill dirty water. He knew how much Dave wanted skilled hands, and he knew that Dick needed work. </P> <P> "Why, yes," he said at last. "At least&mdash;that is&mdash;&mdash;" </P> <P> "Out with it, man," cried Dave, with unusual impatience. "How is Jim, and&mdash;how has he done?" </P> <P> Just for an instant Joe let an appealing glance fall in the old woman's direction, but he got no encouragement from her. She was steadily proceeding with her dinner. Besides, she never interfered with her boy. Whatever he did was always right to her. </P> <P> "Well?" Dave urged the hesitating man. </P> <P> "Oh, I guess he's all right. That is&mdash;he ain't hard up. Why yes, he was speakin' of him," Joe stumbled on. "He guessed he was comin' along down here later. That is, Jim is&mdash;you see&mdash;&mdash;" </P> <P> But Dave hated prevarication. He could see that Joe didn't want to tell what he had heard. However he held him to it fast. </P> <P> "Has Jim been running straight?" he demanded sharply. </P> <P> "Oh, as to that&mdash;I guess so," said Joe awkwardly. </P> <P> Dave came over to where Joe was still standing, and laid a hand on his shoulder. </P> <P> "See here, Joe, we all know you; you're a good sportsman, and you don't go around giving folks away&mdash;and bully for you. But I'd rather you told me what Mansell's told you than that he should tell me. See? It won't be peaching. I've got to hear it." </P> <P> Joe looked straight up into his face, and suddenly his eyes lit angrily at his own thought. "Yes, you'd best have it," he exclaimed, all his hesitation gone; "that dogone boy's been runnin' a wild racket. He's laid hold of the booze and he's never done a straight day's work since he hit the Yukon trail. He's comin' back to here with a gambler's wad in his pocketbook, and&mdash;and&mdash;he's dead crooked. Leastways, that's how Mansell says. It's bin roulette, poker an' faro. An' he's bin runnin' the joint. Mansell says he ain't no sort o' use for him no ways, and that he cut adrift from the boy directly he got crooked." </P> <P> "Oh, he did, did he?" said Dave, after a thoughtful pause. "I don't seem to remember that Dick Mansell was any saint. I'd have thought a crooked life would have fallen in with his views, but he preferred to turn the lad adrift when he most needed help. However, it don't signify. So the lad's coming back a drunkard, a gambler and a crook? At least Dick Mansell says so. Does he say why he's coming back?" </P> <P> "Well, he s'poses it's the girl&mdash;Miss Betty." </P> <P> "Ah!" </P> <P> Joe shifted uneasily. </P> <P> "It don't seem right&mdash;him a crook," he said, with some diffidence. </P> <P> "No." Then Dave's thoughtful look suddenly changed to one of business alertness, and his tone became crisp. "See here, Joe, what about that new tackle for the mills? Those hooks and chains must be ready in a week. Then there's those cant-hooks for the hill camps. The smiths up there are hard at it, so I'm going to look to you for a lot. Then there's another thing. Is your boy Alec fit to join the mills and take his place with the other smiths? I want another hand." </P> <P> "Sure, he's a right good lad&mdash;an' thankee. I'll send him along right away." The blacksmith was delighted. He always wanted to get his boy taken on at the mill. The work that came his way he could cope with himself; besides, he had an assistant. He didn't want his boy working under him; it was not his idea of things. It was far better that he should get out and work under strangers. </P> <P> "Well, that's settled." </P> <P> Dave turned to his dinner and Joe Hardwig took his leave, and when mother and son were left together again the old woman lost no time in discussing Dick Mansell and his unpleasant news. </P> <P> "I never could bear that Mansell," she said, with a severe shake of her head. </P> <P> "No, ma. But he's a good sawyer&mdash;and I need such men." </P> <P> The old woman looked up quickly. </P> <P> "I was thinking of Jim Truscott." </P> <P> "That's how I guessed." </P> <P> "Well? What do you think?" </P> <P> Dave shook his head. </P> <P> "I haven't seen Jim yet," he said. "Ma, we ain't Jim's judges." </P> <P> "No." </P> <P> "I'm going down to the depot," Dave said after a while. "Guess I've got some messages to send. I'm getting anxious about that strike. They say that neither side will give way. The railway is pretty arbitrary on this point, and the plate-layers are a strong union. I've heard that the brakesmen and engine-drivers are going to join them. If they do, it's going to be bad for us. That is, in a way. Strikes are infectious, and I don't want 'em around here just now. We've got to cut a hundred thousand foot a day steady, and anything delaying us means&mdash;well, it's no use thinking what it means. We've got to be at full work night and day until we finish. I'll get going." </P> <P> He pushed his plate away and rose from the table. He paused while he filled and lit his pipe, then he left the house. Joe Hardwig's news had disturbed him more than he cared to admit, and he did not want to discuss it, even with his mother. </P> <BR><BR><BR>
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