THE CHURCH MILITANT
Outside the hut Mason led the way. The mist
had deepened into a white fog which seemed to
deaden all sound, so quiet was everything, so silent
the grim woods all around. It had settled so heavily
that it was almost impossible to see anything beyond
the edge of the trail. There was just a hazy
shadow, like a sudden depth of mist, to mark the
woodland borders; beyond this all was gray and
The dugout was built at the trail-side, a trail
which had originally been made for travoying logs,
but had now become the main trail linking up the
camp with the eastern world. The camp itself—No. 1,
the main camp—was further in the woods to
the west, a distance of nearly a mile and a half by
trail, but not more than half a mile through the
woods. It was this short cut the two men took
now. They talked as they went, but in hushed
tones. It was as though the gray of the fog, and
the knowledge of their mission weighed heavily,
inspiring them with a profound feeling of caution.
"You've not had any real trouble before?"
Chepstow asked. "I mean trouble such as would
serve you with a key to what is going on now?"
"Oh, we've had occasional 'rackets,'" said Mason
easily. "But nothing serious—nothing to guide us
in this. No, we've got to find this out. You see
there's no earthly reason for trouble that I know.
The boys are paid jolly well, a sight better than I
would pay them if this was my outfit. The hours
are exacting, I admit. This huge contract has
caused that. It's affected us in most every way,
but Dave is no niggard, and the inducement has
been made more than proportionate, so there's no
kick coming on that head. Where before axemen's
work was merely a full eight hours, it now takes
'em something like nine and ten, and work like the
devil to get through even in that time. But their
wages are simply out of sight. Do you know,
there are men in this camp drawing from four to
five dollars a day clear of food and shelter? Why,
the income of some of them is positively princely."
"What is it you think is on foot?" Chepstow
demanded, as he buttoned his coat close about his
neck to keep out the saturating mist. Then, as his
companion didn't answer at once, he added half to
himself, "It's no wonder there's fever with these
Bob Mason paid no heed to the last remark.
The fever had lost interest for him in the storm-clouds
he now saw ahead. Hitherto he had not
put his thoughts on the matter into concrete form.
He had not given actual expression to his fears.
There had been so little to guide him. Besides, he
had had no sound reason to fear anything, that is
no definite reason. It was his work to feel and understand
the pulse of the men under him, and it
largely depended on the accuracy of his reading
whether or not the work under his charge ran
smoothly. He had felt for some time that something
was wrong, and Betty's story had confirmed
his feeling. He was some moments before he answered,
but when he did it was with calm decision.
"Organized strike," he said at last.
Tom Chepstow was startled. The words "organized
strike" had an unpleasant sound. He
suddenly realized the isolation of these hill camps,
the lawless nature of the lumber-jacks. He felt that
a strike up here in the mountains would be a very
different thing from a strike in the heart of civilization,
and that was bad enough. The fact that the
tone of Mason's pronouncement had suggested no
alarm made him curious to hear his views upon the
"The reason?" he demanded.
The lumberman shrugged.
"Haven't a notion."
They tramped on in silence for some time, the
sound of their footsteps muffled in the fog. The
gray was deepening, and, with oncoming night,
their surroundings were rapidly becoming more
and more obscure. Presently the path opened out
into the wide clearing occupied by No. 1 camp.
Here shadowy lights were visible in the fog, but
beyond that nothing could be seen. Mason paused
and glanced carefully about him.
"This fog is useful," he said, with a short laugh.
"As we don't want to advertise our presence we'll
take to the woods opposite, and work our way
round to the far side of the camp."
"Why the far side?"
"The store is that way. And—yes, I think the
store is our best plan. Jules Lieberstein is a time-serving
ruffian, and will doubtless lend himself to
any wildcat scheme of his customers. Besides,
this singsong of the boys sounds suggestive to
"I see." Chepstow was quick to grasp the
other's reasoning. The singsong had suggested
nothing to him before.
Now they turned from the open and hastened
across to the wood-belt. As they entered its
gloomy aisles, the fog merged into a pitchy blackness
that demanded all the lumberman's woodcraft
to negotiate. The parson hung close to his heels,
and frequently had to assure himself of his immediate
presence by reaching out and touching
him. A quarter of an hour's tramp brought them
to a halt.
"We must get out of this now," whispered
Mason. "We are about opposite the store. I've
no doubt that buckboard will be somewhere around.
I've a great fancy to see it."
They moved on, this time with greater caution
than before. Leaving the forest they found the fog
had become denser. The glow of the camp lights
was no longer visible, just a blank gray wall
obscured everything. However, this was no deterrent
to Mason. He moved along with extreme
caution, stepping as lightly and quietly as possible.
He wished to avoid observation, and though the fog
helped him in this it equally afforded the possibility
of his inadvertently running into some one. Once
this nearly happened. His straining ears caught
the faint sound of footsteps approaching, and he
checked his companion only just in the nick of time
to let two heavy-footed lumber-jacks cross their
course directly in front of them. They were talking
quite unguardedly as they went, and seemed
absorbed in the subject of their conversation.
"Y're a fool, a measly-headed fool, Tyke," one of
them was saying, with a heat that held the two men
listening. "Y'ain't got nuthin' to lose. We ain't
got no kick comin' from us; I'll allow that, sure. But
if by kickin' we ken drain a few more dollars out of
him I say kick, an' kick good an' hard. Them as is
fixin' this racket knows, they'll do the fancy work.
We'll jest set around an'—an' take the boodle as it
The man laughed harshly. The shrewdness of
his argument pleased him mightily.
"But what's it for, though?" asked the other, the
man addressed as "Tyke." "Is it a raise in wages?"
"Say, ain't you smart?" retorted the first speaker.
"Sure, it's wages. A raise. What else does folks
"Cut it. You ain't no sort o' savee. You ain't
got nuthin' but to set around——"
The voice died away in the distance, and Mason
turned to his companion.
"Not much doubt about that. The man objecting
is 'Tyke' Bacon, one of our oldest hands. A
thoroughly reliable axeman of the real sort. The
other fellow's voice I didn't recognize. I'd say he's
likely one of the scallywags I've picked up lately.
This trouble seems to have been brewing ever since
I was forced to pick up chance loafers who floated
Chepstow had no comment to make, yet the
matter was fraught with the keenest interest for
him. Mason's coolness did not deceive him, and,
even with his limited experience of the men of these
camps, the thing was more than significant. Caution
became more than ever necessary now as they
neared their destination, and in a few moments a
ruddy glow of light on the screen of fog told them
they had reached the sutler's store. They came to
a halt in rear of the building, and it was difficult to
estimate their exact position. However, the sound
of a powerful, clarion-like voice reached them
through the thickness of the log walls, and the
lumberman at once proceeded to grope his way
along in the hope of finding a window or some
opening through which it would be possible to distinguish
the words of the speaker. At last his
desire was fulfilled. A small break in the heavy
wall of lateral logs proved to be a cotton-covered
pivot-window. It was closed, but the light shone
through it, and the speaker's words were plainly
audible. Chepstow closed up behind him, and both
men craned forward listening.
Some one was addressing what was apparently a
meeting of lumber-jacks. The words and voice were
not without refinement, and, obviously, were not
belonging to a lumberman. Moreover, it struck
the listeners that this man, whoever he be, was not
addressing a meeting for the first time. In fact
Mason had no difficulty in placing him in the calling
to which he actually belonged. He was discoursing
with all the delectable speciousness of a
regular strike organizer. He was one of those products
of trade unionism who are always ready to
create dissatisfaction where labour's contentment is
most nourishing to capital—that is, at a price. He
is not necessarily a part of trade unionism, but
exists because trade unionism has created a market
for his wares, and made him possible.
Just now he was lending all his powers of eloquence
and argument to the threadbare quackery
of his kind; the iniquity of the possession of wealth
acquired by the sweat of a thousand moderately
honest brows. It was the old, old dish garnished
and hashed up afresh, whose poisonous odors he
was wafting into the nostrils of his ignorant audience.
He was dealing with men as ignorant and hard
as the timber it was their life to cut, and he painted
the picture in all the crude, lurid colors most effective
to their dull senses. The blessings of liberal
employment, of ample wages, the kindly efforts
made to add to their happiness and improve their
lives were ignored, even rigorously shut out of his
argument, or so twisted as to appear definite sins
against the legions of labor. For such is the
method of those who live upon the hard-earned
wages of the unthinking worker.
For some minutes the two men listened to the
burden of the man's unctuous periods, but at last
an exclamation of disgust broke from the lumberman.
"Makes you sick!" he whispered in his companion's
ear. "And they'll believe it all. Here!"
He drew a penknife from his pocket and passed the
blade gently through the cotton of the window.
The aperture was small, he dared not make it bigger
for fear of detection, but, by pressing one eye close
up against it, it was sufficient for him to obtain a
full view of the room.
The place was packed with lumber-jacks, all with
their keenest attention upon the speaker, who was
addressing them from the reading-desk Tom Chepstow
had set up for the purposes of his Sunday
evening service. The desecration drew a smothered
curse from the lumberman. He was not a religious
man, but that an agitator such as this should stand
at the parson's desk was too much for him. He
scrutinized the fellow closely, nor did he recognize
him. He was a stranger to the camp, and his
round fat face set his blood surging. Besides this
man there were three others sitting behind him on
the table the parson had set there for the purposes
of administering Holy Communion, and the sight
maddened him still more. Two of these he recognized
as laborers he had recently taken on his
"time sheet," but the other was a stranger to him.
At last he drew back and made way for his companion.
"Get a good look, parson," he said. Then he
added with an angry laugh, "I've thought most
of what you'll feel like saying. I'd—I'd like to
riddle the hide of that son-of-a-dog's-wife. We did
well to get around. We're in for a heap bad time,
Chepstow took his place. Mason heard him
mutter something under his breath, and knew at
once that the use of his reading-desk and Communion
table had struck home.
But the sacrilege was promptly swept from the
parson's mind. The speaker was forgotten, the
matter of the coming strike, even, was almost forgotten.
He had recognized the third man on the
table, the man who was a stranger to Mason, and
he swung round on the lumberman.
"What's Jim Truscott doing there?" he demanded
in a sharp whisper.
"Who? Jim Truscott?"
For a second a puzzled expression set Mason
frowning. Then his face cleared. "Say, isn't that
the fellow who ran that mill—he's a friend of—Dave's?"
But the other had turned back to the window.
And, at that moment, Mason's attention was also
caught by the sudden turn the agitator's talk had
"Now, my friends," he was saying, "this is the
point I would impress on you. Hitherto we have
cut off all communication of a damaging nature to
ourselves with the tyrant at Malkern, but the time
has come when even more stringent measures must
be taken. We wish to conduct our negotiations
with the mill-owner himself, direct. We must put
before him our proposals. We want no go-betweens.
As things stand we cannot reach him,
and the reason is the authority of his representative
up here. Such obstacles as he can put in our way
will be damaging to our cause, and we will not
tolerate them. He must be promptly set aside,
and, by an absolute stoppage of work, we can force
the man from Malkern to come here so that we
can talk to him, and insist upon our demands.
We must talk to him as from worker to fellow
worker. He must be forced to listen to reason.
Experience has long since taught me that such is
the only way to deal with affairs of this sort.
Now, what we propose," and the man turned with a
bow to the three men behind him, thus including
them with himself, "is that without violence we
take possession of these camps and strike all work,
and, securing the person of Mr. Mason, and any
others likely to interfere with us, we hold them safe
until all our plans are fully put through. During
the period necessary for the cessation of work, each
man will draw an allowance equal to two-thirds of
his wages, and he will receive a guarantee of employment
when the strike is ended. The sutler,
Mr. Lieberstein here, will be the treasurer of the
strike funds, and pay each man his daily wage.
There is but one thing more I have to say. We
intend to take the necessary precautions against
interference to-night. The cessation of work will
date from this hour. And in the meantime we will
put to the vote——"
Chepstow, his keen eyes blazing, turned and
faced the lumberman.
"The scoundrels!" he said, with more force
than discretion. "Did you hear? It means——"
The lumberman chuckled, but held up a warning
"They're going to take me prisoner," he said.
Then he added grimly, "There's going to be a
warm time to-night."
But the churchman was not listening. Again
his thought had reverted to the presence of Jim
Truscott at that meeting.
"What on earth is young Truscott doing in
there?" he asked. "He went away east the night
I set out for these hills. What's he got to do with
that—that rascally agitator? Why—he must be
one of the—leaders of this thing. It's—it's most
Chepstow's puzzlement did not communicate
itself to Mason. The camp "boss" was less interested
in the identity of these people than in the
strike itself. It was his work to see that so much
lumber was sent down the river every day. That
was his responsibility. Dave looked to him. And
he was face to face with a situation which threatened
the complete annihilation of all his employer's
schemes. A strike effectually carried out might be
prolonged indefinitely, and then—
"Look here, parson," he said coolly, "I want
you to stay right here for a minute or so. They
aren't likely to be finished for a while inside there.
I want to 'prospect.' I want to find that buckboard.
That damned agitator—'scuse the language—must
have come up in it, so I guess it's near
handy. The fog's good and thick, so there's not a
heap of chance of anybody locating us, still——"
he paused and glanced into the churchman's alert
eyes. "Have a look to your gun," he went on
with a quiet smile, "and—well, you are a parson,
but if anybody comes along and attempts to molest
you I'd use it if I were in your place."
Chepstow made no reply, but there was something
in his look that satisfied the other.
Mason hurried away and the parson, left alone,
leant against the wall, prepared to wait for his return.
In spite of the plot he had listened to, the
presence of Jim Truscott in that room occupied
most of his thoughts. It was most perplexing.
He tried every channel of supposition and argument,
but none gave him any satisfactory explanation.
One thing alone impressed its importance on his
mind. That was the necessity of conveying a
warning to Dave. But he remembered they—these
conspirators—had cut communications. Mason
and probably he were to be made prisoners.
His ire roused. He blazed into a sudden fury.
These rascals were to make them prisoners. Almost
unconsciously he drew his gun from his
pocket and turned to the window. As he did so
the sound of approaching footsteps set him alert
and defensive. He swung his back to the wall
again, and, gun in hand, stood ready. The next
moment he hurriedly returned the weapon to his
pocket, but not before Mason had seen the attitude
and the fighting expression of his face, and it set
"I've found the buckboard," he said in a whisper.
Then he paused and looked straight into the
churchman's eyes. "We're up against it," he
went on. "Maybe you as well as myself. You
can't tell where these fellows'll draw the line.
And there's Miss Betty to think of, too. Are you
ready to buck? Are you game? You're a parson,
I know, and these things——"
"Get to it, boy," Chepstow interrupted him
sharply. "I am of necessity a man of peace, but
there are things that become a man's duty. And
it seems to me to hit hard will better serve God and
man just now than to preach peace. What's your
Mason smiled. He knew he had read the parson
aright. He knew he had in him a staunch and
loyal support. He liked, too, the phrase by which
he excused his weakness for combat.
"Well, I mean to do this sponge-faced crawler
down, or break my neck in the attempt. I don't
intend to be made a prisoner by any damned
strikers. This thing means ruin to Dave, and it's
up to me to help him out. I'm going to get word
through to him. I understand now how our letters
have been intercepted, and no doubt his have been
stopped too. I'm going to have a flutter in this
game. It's a big one, and makes me feel good.
What say? Are you game?"
"For anything!" exclaimed the parson with eyes
"Well, there's not a heap of time to waste in
talk. I'll just get you to slip back to the dugout.
Gather some food and truck into a sack, and a
couple of guns or so, and some ammunition. Then
get Miss Betty and slip out. Hike on down the
trail a hundred yards or so and wait for me. Can
you make it?"
"And you?" he asked.
"I'm going to get possession of that buckboard,
and—come right along. The scheme's rotten, I
know. But it's the best I can think of at the moment.
It's our only chance of warning Dave.
There's not a second to spare now, so cut along.
You've got to prepare for a two days' journey."
"Nothing. Miss Betty's good grit—in
"Game all through. How long can you give
"Maybe a half hour."
"Good. I can make it in that."