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Trail of the Axe, The

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<SPAN NAME="chap14"></SPAN> <H3 ALIGN="center"> CHAPTER XIV </H3> <H4 ALIGN="center"> THE MILLS </H4> <P> Dave obediently led the way out of the tally room to the great milling floor, and at once they were in the heart of his world. </P> <P> It was by no means new to Betty; she had seen it all before, but never had the mills been driven at such a pressure as now, and the sensation the knowledge gave her was one which demanded the satisfaction of optical demonstration. She was thrilled with a sense of emergency. The roar of the machinery carried with it a meaning it had never held before. There was a current of excitement in the swift, skilful movements of the sawyers as they handled the mighty logs. </P> <P> To her stirred imagination there was a suggestion of superhuman agency, of some nether world, in the yellow light of the flares which lit that vast sea of moving rollers. As she gazed out across it at the dim, distant corners she felt as though at any moment the machinery might suddenly become manned by hundreds of hideous gnomes, such as she had read of in the fairy tales. Yet it was all real, real and human, and Dave was the man who controlled, whose brain and eyes watched over every detail, whose wonderful skill and power were carrying that colossal work to the goal of success. As she looked, she sighed. She envied the man whose genius had made all this possible. </P> <P> Above the roar Dave's voice reached her. </P> <P> "This is only part of it," he said; "come below." </P> <P> And she followed him to the spiral iron staircase which led to the floor below. Her uncle brought up the rear. </P> <P> At ordinary times the lower part of the mills was given over to the shops for the manufacture of smaller lumber, building stuff, doors and windows, flooring, and tongue and groove. Betty knew this. She knew every shop by heart, just as she knew most of the workmen by sight. But now it was all changed. The partitions had been torn down, and the whole thrown into one floor. It was a replica of the milling floor above. </P> <P> Here again were the everlasting rollers; here again were the tremendous logs traveling across and across the floor; here again were the roar and shriek of the gleaming saws. The girl's enthusiasm rose. Her eyes wandered from the fascinating spectacle to the giant at her side. She felt a lump rise in her throat; she wanted to laugh, she wanted to cry; but she did neither. Only her eyes shone as she gazed at him; and his plainness seemed to fall from him. She saw the man standing at her side, but the great ungainly Dave had gone, leaving in his place only such a hero as her glowing heart could create. </P> <P> They stood there watching, watching. None of the three spoke. None of them had any words. Dave saw and thought. His great unimaginative head had no care for the picture side of it. His eyes were on the sawyers, most of them stripped to the waist in the heat of their labors in the summer night. To him the interest of the scene lay in the precision and regularity with which log followed log over the rollers, and the skill with which they were cut. </P> <P> Parson Tom, with a little more imagination, built up in his mind the future prosperity of their beloved valley, and thanked the Almighty Providence that It had sent them such a man as Dave. But Betty, in spite of her practical brain, lost sight of all the practical side of the work. As she watched she was living in such a dream as only comes once in a lifetime to any woman. At that moment her crown of glory was set upon Dave's rough head. All she had hoped for, striven for all her life seemed so small at the thought of him. And the delight of those moments became almost painful. She had always looked upon him as "her Dave," her beloved "chum," her adviser, her prop to lean on at all times. But no. No, no; he was well and truly named. He was no one's Dave. He was just Dave of the Mills. </P> <P> They moved on to a small doorway, and passing along a protected gallery they worked their way toward the "boom." The place was a vast backwater of the river, enlarged to accommodate millions of feet of logs. It was packed with a mass of tumbled lumber, over which, in the dim light thrown by waste fire, a hundred and more "jacks" could be seen, clambering like a colony of monkeys, pushing, prizing, easing, pulling with their peaveys to get the logs freed, so that the grappling tackle could seize and haul them up out of the water to the milling floors above. </P> <P> Here again they paused and silently gazed at the stupendous work going on. There was no more room for wonder either in the girl or her uncle. The maximum had been reached. They could only silently stare. </P> <P> Dave was the first to move. His keen eyes had closely watched the work. He had seen log after log fly up in the grapple of the hydraulic cranes, he had seen them shot into the gaping jaws of the building, he had seen that not an idle hand was down there in the boom, and he was satisfied. Now he wanted to go on. </P> <P> "There's the 'waste,'" he said casually. "But I guess you've seen that heaps, only it's a bit bigger now, and we've had to build two more 'feeders.'" </P> <P> Betty answered him, and her tone was unusually subdued. </P> <P> "Let's see it all, Dave," she said, almost humbly. </P> <P> All her imperiousness had gone, and in its place was an ecstatic desire to see all and anything that owed its existence to this man. </P> <P> Dave strode on. He was quite unconscious of the change that had taken place in Betty's thoughts of him. To him these things had become every-day matters of his work. They meant no more to him than the stepping-stones toward success which every one who makes for achievement has to tread. </P> <P> Their way took them up another iron staircase outside the main building. At the top of it was an iron gallery, which passed round two angles of the mill, and terminated at the three feeders, stretching out from the mills to the great waste fire a hundred yards away. From this gallery there was an inspiring view of the "everlasting" fire. It had been lit when the mill first started its operations years ago, and had been burning steadily ever since; and so it would go on burning as long as the saws inside continued to rip the logs. </P> <P> The feeders were three shafts, supported on iron trestle work, each carrying an ever-moving, endless bed on which the waste trimmings of the logs were thrown. These were borne upward and outward for a hundred yards till the shafts hung high above the blazing mass. Here the endless band doubled under, and its burden was precipitated below, where it was promptly devoured by the insatiable flames. </P> <P> For some moments they watched the great timber pass on its way to the fire, and so appalling appeared the waste that Parson Tom protested. </P> <P> "This seems to me positively wanton," he said. "Why, the stuff you're sending on to that fire is perfect lumber. At the worst, what grand fuel it would make for the villagers." </P> <P> Dave nodded his great head. He often felt the same about it. </P> <P> "Makes you sicken some to see it go, doesn't it?" he said regretfully. "It does me. But say, we've got a waste yard full, and the folks in Malkern are welcome to all they can haul away. Even Mary uses it in her stoves, but they can't haul or use it fast enough. If it wasn't for this fire there wouldn't be room for a rat in Malkern inside a year. Guess it's got to be, more's the pity." </P> <P> There was no more to be said, and the three watched the fire in silent awe. It was a marvelous sight. The dull red-yellow light shone luridly over everything. The mill on the one hand loomed majestically out of the dark background of night. The fire, over forty feet in height, lit the buildings in a curious, uncanny fashion, throwing grotesque and lurid shadows in every direction. Then all around, on the farther sides, spread the distant dark outline of ghostly pine woods, whose native gloom resisted a light, which, by contrast, was so insignificantly artificial. It gave a weird impression that had a strong effect upon Betty's rapt imagination. </P> <P> Dave again broke the spell. He could not spare too much time, and, as they moved away, Betty sighed. </P> <P> "It's all very, very wonderful," she said, moving along at his side. "And to think even in winter, no matter what the snowfall, that fire never goes out." </P> <P> Dave laughed. </P> <P> "If it rained like it's been raining to-day for six months," he said, "I don't guess it could raise more than a splutter." Then he turned to Tom Chepstow. "Is there anything else you'd like to see? You've got three hours to midnight." </P> <P> But the parson had seen enough; and as he had yet to overhaul the supplies he was to take up to the hill camps, they made their way back to the tally room. At the rollers on which Mansell was working Dave paused with Betty, while her uncle went on. </P> <P> They watched a great log appear at the opening over the boom. The chains of the hydraulic crane creaked under their burden. Dave pointed at it silhouetted against the light of the waste fire beyond. </P> <P> "Watch him," he said. "That's Dick Mansell." </P> <P> The pride in his tone was amply justified. Mansell was at the opening, waiting, peavey in hand. They saw the log dripping and swaying as it was hauled up until its lower end cleared the rollers. On the instant the sawyer leant forward and plunged his hook into the soft pine bark. Then he strained steadily and the log came slowly onward. A whistle, and the crane was eased an inch at a time. The man held his strain, and the end lowered ever further over the rollers until it touched. Two more whistles, and the log was lowered faster until it lay exactly horizontal, and then the rollers carried it in. Once its balance was passed, the sawyer struck the grappling chains loose with his peavey, and, with a rattle, they fell clear, while the prostrate giant lumbered ponderously into the mill. </P> <P> It was all done so swiftly. </P> <P> Now Mansell sprang to the foremost end and chalked the log as it traveled. Then, like a cat, he sprang to the rear of it and measured with his eye. Dissatisfied, he ran to its side and prized it into a fresh position, glancing down it, much as a rifleman might glance over his sights. Satisfied at length, he ran on ahead of the moving log to his saws. Throwing over a lever, he quickened the pace of the gleaming blade. On came the log. The yielding wood met the merciless fangs of the saw upon the chalk line, and passed hissing and shrieking on its way as though it had met with no obstruction. </P> <P> The girl took a deep breath. </P> <P> "Splendid," she cried. Well as she knew this work, to-night it appealed to her with a new force, a deeper and more personal interest. </P> <P> "Easy as pie," Dave laughed. Then more seriously, "Yet it's dangerous as&mdash;as hell." </P> <P> Betty nodded. She knew. </P> <P> "But you don't have many accidents, thank goodness." </P> <P> Dave shrugged. </P> <P> "Not many&mdash;considering. But you don't often see a sawyer with perfectly sound hands. There's generally something missing." </P> <P> "I know. Look at Mansell's arm there." Betty pointed at a deep furrow on the man's forearm. </P> <P> "Yes, Mansell's been through it. I remember when he got that. Like an Indian holds his first scalp as a sign of his prowess, or the knights of old wore golden spurs as an emblem of their knighthood, the sawyer minus a finger or so has been literally 'through the mill,' and can claim proficiency in his calling. But those are not the dangers I was figgering on." </P> <P> Betty waited for him to go on. </P> <P> "Yes," he said solemnly. "It's the breaking saw. That's the terror of a sawyer's life. And just now of mine. It's always in the back of my head like a black shadow. One breaking saw would do more damage cutting up this big stuff than it would take a fire to do in an hour. It would be the next best thing to bursting a charge of dynamite. Take this saw of Mansell's. A break, a bend out of the truth, the log slips while it's being cut. Any of these things. You wouldn't think a 'ninety-footer' could be thrown far. If any of those things happened, good-bye to anything or anybody with whom it came into contact. But we needn't to worry. Let's get in there to your uncle." </P> <BR><BR><BR>
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