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Trail of the Axe, The

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<SPAN NAME="chap13"></SPAN> <H3 ALIGN="center"> CHAPTER XIII </H3> <H4 ALIGN="center"> BETTY DECIDES </H4> <P> Two nights later Dave was waiting in the tally room for his guests to arrive. The place was just a corner partitioned off from the milling floor. It was here the foreman kept account of the day's work&mdash;a bare room, small, and hardly worth the name of "office." Yet there was work enough done in it to satisfy the most exacting master. </P> <P> The master of the mills had taken up a position in the narrow doorway, in full view of the whole floor, and was watching the sawyer on No. 1. It was Mansell. He beheld with delight the wonderful skill with which the man handled the giant logs as they creaked and groaned along over the rollers. He appeared to be sober, too. His deliberate movements, timed to the fraction of a second, were sufficient evidence of this. He felt glad that he had taken him on his time-sheet. Every really skilful sawyer was of inestimable value at the moment, and, after all, this man's failing was one pretty common to all good lumbermen. </P> <P> Dawson came up, and Dave nodded in the sawyer's direction. </P> <P> "Working good," he observed with satisfaction. </P> <P> "Too good to last, if I know anything," grumbled the foreman. "He'll get breakin' out, an then&mdash;&mdash; I've a mind to set him on a 'buzz-saw'. These big saws won't stand for tricks if he happens to git around with a 'jag' on." </P> <P> "You can't put a first-class sawyer on to a 'buzzer,'" said Dave decisively. "It's tantamount to telling him he doesn't know his work. No, keep him where he is. If he 'signs' in with a souse on, push him out till he's sober. But so long as he's right let him work where he is." </P> <P> "Guess you're 'boss' o' this lay-out," grumbled the foreman. </P> <P> "Just so." </P> <P> Then, as though the matter had no further concern for him, Dawson changed the subject. </P> <P> "There's twenty 'jacks' scheduled by to-night's mail," he said, as though speaking of some dry-goods instead of a human freight. </P> <P> "They're for the hills to-night. Mr. Chepstow's promised to go up and dose the boys for their fever. I'm putting it to him to-night. He'll take 'em with him. By the way, I'm expecting the parson and Miss Betty along directly. They want to get a look at this." He waved an arm in the direction of the grinding rollers. "They want to see it&mdash;busy." </P> <P> Dawson was less interested in the visitors. </P> <P> "I see 'em as I come up," he said indifferently. "Looked like they'd been around your office." </P> <P> Dave turned on him sharply. </P> <P> "Go down and bring 'em along up. And say&mdash;get things ready for sending up to the camps to-night. Parson'll have my buckboard and the black team. He's got to travel quick. They can come right away back when he's got there. See he's got plenty of bedding and rations. Load it down good. There's a case of medical supplies in my office. That goes with him. Then you'll get three 'democrats' from Mulloc's livery barn for the boys. See they've got plenty of grub too." </P> <P> When Dave gave sharp orders, Dawson simply listened and obeyed. He understood his employer, and never ventured criticism at such times. He hurried away now to give the necessary orders, and then went on to find the visitors. </P> <P> Directly he had gone the master of the mills moved over to the sawyer on No. 1. </P> <P> "You haven't forgotten your craft, Mansell," he said pleasantly, his deep voice carrying, clarion-like, distinctly over the din of the sawing-floor. </P> <P> "Would you fergit how t' eat, boss?" the man inquired surlily, measuring an oncoming log keenly with his eye. He bore down on a "jolting" lever and turned the log into a fresh position. Then he leant forward and tipped the end of it with chalk. Hand and eye worked mechanically together. He knew to a hairsbreadth just where the trimming blade should strike the log to get the maximum square of timber. </P> <P> Dave shook his head. </P> <P> "It would take some forgetting," he said, with a smile. "You see there's always a stomach to remind you." </P> <P> The log was passing, and the man had a moment's breathing space while it traveled to the fangs of the rushing saw. He looked up with a pair of dark, brooding eyes in which shone a peculiarly offensive light. </P> <P> "Jest so," he vouchsafed. "I learned this when I learned t' eat, an' it's filled my belly that long, fi' year ain't like to set me fergittin'." </P> <P> He turned to the rollers and watched the log. He saw it hit the teeth of the saw plumb on his chalk mark. </P> <P> "An awful waste out of a lumberman's life, that five years," Dave went on, when the crucial moment had passed. "That mill would have been doing well now, and&mdash;and you were foreman." </P> <P> He was looking straight into the fellow's mean face. He noted the terrible inroads drink had made upon it, the sunken eyes, the pendulous lip, the lines of dissipation in deep furrows round his mouth. He pitied him from the bottom of his heart, but allowed no softness of expression. </P> <P> "Say," exclaimed the sawyer, with a vicious snap, "when I'm lumberin' I ain't got time fer rememberin' anything else&mdash;which is a heap good. I don't guess it's good for any one buttin' in when the logs are rollin'. Guess that log's comin' right back." </P> <P> The man's unnecessary insolence was a little staggering. Yet Dave rather liked him for it. The independence of the sawyer's spirit appealed to him. He really had no right to criticize Mansell's past, to stir up an unpleasant memory for him. </P> <P> He knew his men, and he realized that he had overstepped his rights in the matter. He was simply their employer. It was for him to give orders, and for them to obey. In all else he must take them as man and man. He felt now that there was nothing more for him to say, so while the sawyer clambered over to the return rollers, ready for the second journey of the log, he walked thoughtfully back to his office. </P> <P> At that moment his visitors appeared, escorted by Dawson. The foreman was piloting them with all the air of a guide and the pride of his association with the mills. Betty was walking beside him, and while taking in the wonderful scene that opened out before her, she was listening to the conversation of the two men. </P> <P> The foreman had taken upon himself to tell the parson of the orders he had received for the night journey, and the details of the preparations being made for it. The news came to Chepstow unpleasantly, yet he understood that its urgency must be great, or Dave would never have decided upon so sudden a journey. He was a little put out, but quite ready to help his friend. </P> <P> It was the first Betty had heard of it. She was astonished and resentful. She had heard that there was fever up in the hills, but her uncle had told her nothing of Dave's request to him. Therefore, before greetings had been exchanged, and almost before the door of the tally room had closed upon the departing foreman, she opened a volley of questions upon him. </P> <P> "What's this about uncle going up to the hills to-night, Dave?" she demanded. "Why has it been kept secret? Why so sudden? Why to-night?" </P> <P> Her inquiring glance turned from one to the other. </P> <P> Dave made no hurry to reply. He was watching the play of the strong, eager young face. The girl's directness appealed to him even more than her beauty. To-night she looked very pretty in a black clinging gown which made her look almost fragile. She seemed so slight, so delicate, yet her whole manner had such reserve of virile force. He thought now, as he had often thought before, she possessed a brain much too big and keen for her body, yet withal so essentially womanly as to be something to marvel at. </P> <P> The girl became impatient. </P> <P> "Why wasn't I told? For goodness' sake don't stand there staring, Dave." </P> <P> "There's no secrecy exactly, Betty," the lumberman said, "that is, except from the folks in the village. You see, anything likely to check our work, such as fever up in the camps, is liable to set them worrying and talking. We didn't mean to keep it from you&mdash;&mdash;" </P> <P> "Yes, yes," the girl broke in. "But why this hurry? Why to-night?" </P> <P> And so she forced Dave into a full explanation, which alone would satisfy her. At the end of it she turned to her uncle, who had stood quietly by enjoying the manner in which she dictated her will upon the master of the mills. </P> <P> "It's an awful shame you've got to go, uncle, especially while you've got all the new church affairs upon your hands. But I quite see Dave's right, and we must get the boys well as quickly as possible. We've got to remember that these mills are not only Dave's. They also belong to Malkern&mdash;one might almost say to the people of this valley. It is the ship, and&mdash;and we are its freight. So we start at midnight. Does auntie know?" </P> <P> Instantly two pairs of questioning eyes were turned upon her. That coupling of herself with her uncle in the matter had not escaped them. </P> <P> "Your Aunt Mary knows I am going some time. But she hasn't heard the latest development, my dear," her uncle said. "But&mdash;but you said 'we' just now?" </P> <P> Dave understood. He knew what was coming. But then he understood Betty as did no one else. He smiled. </P> <P> "Of course I said 'we,'" Betty exclaimed, with a laugh which only served to cloak the resolve that lay behind it. "You are not going alone. Besides, you can physic people well enough, uncle dear, but you can't nurse them worth&mdash;worth a cent. School's all right, and can get on without me for a while. Well?" She smiled quickly from one to the other. "Well, we're ready, aren't we? We can't let this interfere with our view of the mill." </P> <P> Her uncle shook his head. </P> <P> "You can't go up there, Betty," he said seriously. "You can't go about amongst those men. They're good fellows. They're men. But&mdash;&mdash;" he looked over at Dave as though seeking support, a thing he rarely needed. But he was dealing with Betty now, and where she was concerned, there were times when he felt that a little support might be welcome. </P> <P> Dave promptly added his voice in support of his friend's protest. </P> <P> "You can't go, little Betty," he said. "You can't, little girl," he reiterated, shaking his shaggy head. "You think you know the lumber-jacks, and I'll allow you know them a lot. But you don't know 'em up in those camps. They're wild men. They're just as savage as wolves, and foolish as babes. They're just great big baby men, and as irresponsible as half-witted schoolboys. I give you my word I can't let you go up. I know how you want to help us out. I know your big heart. And I know still more what a help you'd be&mdash;&mdash;" </P> <P> "And that's just why I'm going," Betty snapped him up. That one unfortunate remark undid all the impression his appeal might otherwise have made. And as the two men realized the finality of her tone, they understood the hopelessness of turning her from her purpose. </P> <P> "Uncle dear," she went on, "please say 'yes.' Because I'm going, and I'd feel happier with your sanction. Dave," she turned with a smile upon the lumberman, "you've just got to say 'yes,' or I'll never&mdash;never let you subscribe to any charity or&mdash;or anything I ever get up in Malkern again. Now you two dears, mind, I'm going anyway. I'll just count three, and you both say 'yes' together." </P> <P> She counted deliberately, solemnly, but there was a twinkle in her brown eyes. </P> <P> "One&mdash;two&mdash;three!" </P> <P> And a simultaneous "Yes" came as surely as though neither had any objection to the whole proceeding. And furthermore, both men joined in the girl's laugh when they realized how they had been cajoled. To them she was quite irresistible. </P> <P> "I don't know whatever your aunt will say," her uncle said lugubriously. </P> <P> "It's not so much what she'll say as&mdash;as what may happen up there," protested Dave, his conscience still pricking him. </P> <P> But the girl would have no more of it. </P> <P> "You are two dear old&mdash;yes, 'old'&mdash;sillies. Now, Dave, the mills!" </P> <P> Betty carried all before her with these men who were little better than her slaves. They obeyed her lightest command hardly knowing they obeyed it. Her uncle's authority, whilst fully acknowledged by her, was practically non-existent. Her loyalty to him and her love for both her guardians left no room for the exercise of authority. And Dave&mdash;well, he was her adviser in all things, and like most people who have an adviser, Betty went her own sweet way, but in such a manner that made the master of the mills believe that his help and advice were practically indispensable to her. </P> <BR><BR><BR>
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