DISASTER AT THE MILL
Night closed in leaden-hued. The threat of
storm had early brought the day to a close, so that
the sunset was lost in the massing clouds banking
on the western horizon.
Summer was well advanced, and already the luxurious
foliage of the valley was affected by the
blistering heat. The emerald of the trees and the
grass had gained a maturer hue, and only the darker
pines resisted the searching sunlight. The valley
was full ripe, and kindly nature was about to temper
her efforts and permit a breathing space. The
weather-wise understood this.
Dave was standing at his office door watching
the approach of the electric storm, preparing to
launch its thunders upon the valley. Its progress
afforded him no sort of satisfaction. Everybody
but himself wanted rain. It had already done him
too much harm.
He was thinking of the letter he had just received
from Bob Mason up in the hills. Its contents were
so satisfactory, and this coming rain looked like undoing
the good his staunch friends in the mountain
camps had so laboriously achieved.
While Mason reported that the fever still had the
upper hand, its course had been checked; the epidemic
had been grappled with and held within
bounds. That was sufficiently satisfactory, seeing
Chepstow had only been up there ten days. Then,
too, Mason had had cause to congratulate himself
on another matter. A number of recruits for his
work had filtered through to his camps from
Heaven and themselves alone knew where. This
was quite good. These men were not the best of
lumbermen, but under the "camp boss" they
would help to keep the work progressing, which, in
the circumstances, was all that could be asked.
A few minutes later Dave departed into the
mills. Since the mill up the river had been converted
and set to work, and Simon Odd had been
given temporary charge of it, he shared with Dawson
the work of overseeing.
As he mounted to the principal milling floor the
great syren shrieked out its summons to the night
shift, and sent the call echoing and re�choing
down the valley. There was no cessation of work.
The "relief" stood ready, and the work was passed
on from hand to hand.
Dave saw his foreman standing close by No. 1,
and he recognized the relief as Mansell. Dawson
was watching the man closely, and judging by the
frown on his face, it was plain that something was
amiss. He moved over to him and beckoned him
into the office.
"What's wrong?" he demanded, as soon as the
door was closed.
Dawson was never the man to choose his words
when he had a grievance. That was one of the
reasons his employer liked him. He was so rough,
and so straightforward. He had a grievance now.
"I ain't no sort o' use for these schoolhouse
ways," he said, with the added force of an oath.
Dave waited for his next attempt.
"That skunk Mansell. He's got back to-night.
He ain't been on the time-sheet for nigh to a
"You didn't tell me? Still, he's back."
Dave smiled into the other's angry face, and his
manner promptly drew an explosion from the hot-headed
"Yes, he's back. But he wouldn't be if I was
boss. That's the sort o' Sunday-school racket I
ain't no use for. He's back, because you say he's
to work right along. Sort of to help him. Yes,
he's back. He's been fightin'-drunk fer six nights,
and I'd hate to say he's dead sober now."
"Yet you signed him on. Why?"
"Oh, as to that, he's sober, I guess. But the
drink's in him. I tell you, boss, he's rotten—plumb
rotten—when the drink's in him. I know
But Dave had had enough.
"You say he's sober—well, let it go at that.
The man can do his work. That's the important
thing to us. Just now we can't bother with his
morals. Still, you'd best keep an eye on him."
He turned to his books, and Dawson busied himself
with the checkers' sheets. For some time both
men worked without exchanging a word, and the
only interruption was the regular coming of the
tally boys, who brought the check slips of the lumber
Through the thin partitions the roar of machinery
was incessant, and at frequent intervals the
hoarse shouts of the "checkers" reached them.
But this disturbed them not at all. It was what
they were used to, what they liked to hear, for it
told of the work going forward without hitch of
At last the master of the mills looked up from a
mass of figures. He had been making careful calculations.
"We're short, Dawson," he said briefly.
"Short by half a million feet," the foreman returned,
without even looking round.
"How's Odd doing up the river?"
"Good. The machinery's newer, I guess."
"Yes. But we can't help that. We've no time
for installing new machinery here. Besides, I can't
spare the capital."
Dawson looked round.
"'Tain't that," he said. "We're short of the
right stuff in the boom. Lestways, we was yesterday.
A hundred and fifty logs. We're doing better
to-day. Though not good enough. It's that
dogone fever, I guess."
"What's in the reserve?"
"Fifteen hundred logs now. I've drew on them
mighty heavy. We've used up that number twice
over a'ready. I'm scairt to draw further. You see,
it's a heap better turning out short than using up
that. If we're short on the cut only us knows it.
If we finish up our reserve, and have to shut down
some o' the saws, other folks'll know it, and we
ain't lookin' for that trouble."
Dave closed his book with a slam. All his recent
satisfaction was gone in the discovery of the
shortage. He had not suspected it.
"I must send up to Mason. It's—it's hell!"
Dave swung round on his loyal assistant.
"Use every log in the reserve. Every one,
mind. We've got to gamble. If Mason keeps us
short we're done anyway. Maybe the fever will
let up, and things'll work out all right."
Dave flung his book aside and stood up. His
heavy face was more deeply lined than it had been
at the beginning of summer. He looked to be
nearer fifty than thirty. The tremendous work and
anxiety were telling.
"Get out to the shoots," he went on, in a sharp
tone of command he rarely used. "I'll see to the
tally. Keep 'em right at it. Squeeze the saws,
and get the last foot out of 'em. Use the reserve
till it's done. We're up against it."
Dawson understood. He gave his chief one
keen glance, nodded and departed. He knew, no
one better, the tremendous burden on the man's
Dave watched him go. Then he turned back to
the desk. He was not the man to weaken at the
vagaries of ill fortune. Such difficulties as at the
moment confronted him only stiffened his determination.
He would not take a beating. He was
ready to battle to the death. He quietly, yet
earnestly, cursed the fever to himself, and opened
and reread Mason's letter. One paragraph held
his attention, and he read it twice over.
"If I'm short on the cut you must not mind too
much. I can easily make it up when things
straighten out. These hands I'm taking on are
mostly 'green.' I can only thank my stars I'm
able to find them up here. I can't think where they
come from. However, they can work, which is the
great thing, and though they need considerable discipline—they're
a rebellious lot—I mean to make
It was a great thought to the master of the mills
that he had such men as Bob Mason in his service.
He glowed with satisfaction at the thought, and it
largely compensated him for the difficulties besetting
him. He put the letter away, and looked over the
desk for a memorandum pad. Failing to find what
he required, he crossed over to a large cupboard at
the far corner of the room. It was roomy, roughly
built, to store books and stationery in. The top
shelf alone was in use, except that Dawson's winter
overcoat hung in the lower part. It was on the top
shelf that Dave expected to find the pad he wanted.
As he reached the cupboard a terrific crash of
thunder shook the building. It was right overhead,
and pealed out with nerve-racking force and
abruptness. It was the first attack of the threatened
storm. The peal died out and all became still
again, except for the shriek of the saws beyond the
partition walls. He waited listening, and then a
strange sound reached him. So used was he to the
din of the milling floor that any unusual sound or
note never failed to draw and hold his attention. A
change of tone in the song of the saws might mean
so much. Now this curious sound puzzled him. It
was faint, so faint that only his practiced ears could
have detected it, yet, to him, it was ominously plain.
Suddenly it ceased, but it left him dissatisfied.
He was about to resume his search when again
he started; and the look he turned upon the door
had unmistakable anxiety in it. There it was again,
faint, but so painfully distinct. He drew back, half
inclined to quit his search, but still he waited,
wondering. The noise was as though a farrier's
rasp was being lightly passed over a piece of well-oiled
steel. At last he made up his mind. He
must ascertain its meaning, and he moved to leave
the cupboard. Suddenly a terrific grinding noise
shrieked harshly above the din of the saws. It culminated
in a monstrous thud. Instinctively he
sprang back, and was standing half-inside the cupboard
when a deafening crash shook the mills to
their foundations. There was a fearful rending and
smashing of timber. Something struck the walls of
the office. It crashed through, and a smashing
blow struck the cupboard door and hurled him
against the inner wall. He thrust out his arms for
protection. The door was fast. He was a prisoner.
Now pandemonium reigned. Crash on crash followed
in rapid succession. It was as though the
office had become the centre of attack for an overwhelming
combination of forces. The walls and
floor shivered under the terrific onslaught. The
very building seemed to totter as though an earthquake
were in progress. But at last the end came
with a thunder upon the cupboard door, the panels
were ripped like tinder, and something vast launched
itself through the wrecked woodwork. It struck
the imprisoned man in the chest, and in a moment
he was pinned to the wall, gasping under ribs bending
to the crushing weight which felt to be wringing
the very life out of him.
A deadly quiet fell as suddenly as the turmoil
had arisen, and his quick ears told him that the saws
were still, and all work had ceased in the mill. But
the pause was momentary. A second later a great
shouting arose. Men's voices, loud and hoarse,
reached him, and the rushing of heavy feet was significant
of the disaster.
And he was helpless, a prisoner.
He tried to move. His agony was appalling.
His ribs felt to be on the verge of cracking under
the enormous weight that held him. He raised his
arms, but the pain of the effort made him gasp and
drop them. Yet he knew he must escape from his
prison. He knew that he was needed outside.
The shouting grew. It took a definite tone, and
became a cry that none could mistake. Dave
needed no repetition of it to convince him of the
dread truth. The fire spectre loomed before his
eyes, and horror nigh drove him to frenzy.
In his mind was conjured a picture—a ghastly
picture, such as all his life he had dreaded and shut
out of his thoughts. His brain suddenly seemed to
grow too big for his head. It grew hot, and his
temples hammered. A surge of blood rose with a
rush through his great veins. His muscles strung
tense, and his hands clenched upon the imprisoning
beam. He no longer felt any pain from the crushing
weight. He was incapable of feeling anything.
It was a moment when mind and body were charged
with a maddening force that no other time could
command. With his elbows planted against the
wall behind him, with his lungs filled with a deep
whistling breath, he thrust at the beam with every
ounce of his enormous strength put forth.
He knew all his imprisonment meant. Not to
himself alone. Not to those shouting men outside.
It was the mills. Hark! Fire! Fire! The cry
was on every hand. The mills—his mills—were
He struggled as never before in his life had he
struggled. He struggled till the sweat poured from
his temples, till his hands lacerated, till the veins of
his neck stood out like straining ropes, till it seemed
as though his lungs must burst. He was spurred
by a blind fury, but the beam remained immovable.
Hark! The maddening cry filled the air. Fire!
Fire! Fire! It was everywhere driving him,
urging him, appealing. It rang in his brain with
an exquisite torture. It gleamed at him in flaming
letters out of the darkness. His mill!
Suddenly a cry broke from him as he realized the
futility of his effort. It was literally wrung from
him in the agony of his soul; nor was he aware that
he had spoken.
"God, give me strength!"
And as the cry went up he hurled himself upon
the beam with the fury of a madman.
Was it in answer to his prayer? The beam gave.
It moved. It was so little, so slight; but it moved.
And now, with every fibre braced, he attacked it in
one final effort. It gave again. It jolted, it lifted,
its rough end tearing the flesh of his chest under his
clothing. It tottered for a moment. He struggled
on, his bulging eyes and agonized gasping telling
plainly of the strain. Inch by inch it gave before
him. His muscles felt to be wrenching from the
containing tissues, his breathing was spasmodic
and whistling, his teeth were grinding together.
It gave further, further. Suddenly, with a crash,
it fell, the door was wrenched from its hinges, and
he was free!
He dashed out into the wreck of his office. All
was in absolute darkness. He stumbled his way
over the debris which covered the floor, and finally
reached the shattered remains of the doorway.
Now he was no longer in darkness. The milling
floor was all too brilliantly lit by the leaping flames
down at the "shoot" end of the No. 1 rollers. He
waited for nothing, but ran toward the fire. Beyond,
dimly outlined in the lurid glow, he could
see the men. He saw Dawson and others struggling
up the shoot with nozzle and hose, and he put
his hands to his mouth and bellowed encouragement.
"Five hundred dollars if you get her under!" he
If any spur were needed, that voice was sufficient.
it was the voice of the master the lumber-jacks
Dawson on the lead struggled up, and as he
came Dave shouted again.
"Now, boy! Sling it hard! And pass the
word to pump like hell!"
He reached out over the shoot. Dawson threw
the nozzle. And as Dave caught it a stream of
water belched from the spout.
None knew better than he the narrowness of the
margin between saving and losing the mills. Another
minute and all would have been lost. The
whole structure was built of resinous pine, than
which there is nothing more inflammable. The
fire had got an alarming hold even in those few
minutes, and for nearly an hour victory and disaster
hung in the balance. Nor did Dave relinquish his
post while any doubt remained. It was not until
the flames were fully under control that he left the
lumber-jacks to complete the work.
He was weary—more weary than he knew. It
seemed to him that in that brief hour he had gone
through a lifetime of struggle, both mental and
physical. He was sore in body and soul. This
disaster had come at the worst possible time, and,
as a result, he saw in it something like a week's
delay. The thought was maddening, and his ill
humor found vent in the shortness of his manner
when Dawson attempted to draw him aside.
"Out with it, man," he exclaimed peevishly.
Dawson hesitated. He noticed for the first time
the torn condition of his chief's clothes, and the
blood stains on the breast of his shirt. Then he
blurted out his thankfulness in a tone that made
Dave regret his impatience.
"I'm a'mighty thankful you're safe, boss," he said
fervently. Then, after a pause, "But you—you got
the racket? You're wise to it?"
Dave shrugged. Reaction had set in. Nothing
seemed to matter, the cause or anything. The mill
was safe. He cared for nothing else.
"Something broke, I s'pose," he said almost indifferently.
"Sure. Suthin' bust. It bust on purpose. Get
The foreman's face lit furiously as he made his
Dave turned on him. All his indifference vanished
in a twinkling.
"Eh? Not—not an accident?"
In an access of loyal rage Dawson seized him by
the arm in a nervous clutch, and tried to drag him
"Come on," he cried. "Let's find him. It's
With a sudden movement Dave flung him off,
and the force he used nearly threw the foreman off
his feet. His eyes were burning like two live coals.
"Come on!" he cried harshly, and Dawson was
left to follow as he pleased.