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Trail of the Axe, The

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<SPAN NAME="chap23"></SPAN> <H3 ALIGN="center"> CHAPTER XXIII </H3> <H4 ALIGN="center"> THE RED TIDE OF ANARCHY </H4> <P> Betty and her uncle spent the next few hours in preparing for eventualities. They explored the storeroom and armory, and in the latter they found ample provision for a stout defense. There were firearms in plenty, and such a supply of ammunition as should be sufficient to withstand a siege. The store of dynamite gave them some anxiety. It was dangerous where it was, in case of open warfare, but it would be still more dangerous in the hands of the strikers. Eventually they concealed it well under a pile of other stores in the hopes, in case of accident, it might remain undiscovered. </P> <P> During their preparations several more stones crashed against the walls and the door of the building. They were hurled at longish intervals, and seemed to be the work of one person. Then, finally no more were thrown, and futile as the attack had been, its cessation brought a certain relief and ease of mind. To the man it suggested the work of some drunken lumber-jack&mdash;perhaps the man who had been so forcibly rebuffed by Betty earlier in the evening. </P> <P> It was one o'clock when Chepstow took a final look round his barricades. Betty was sitting at the table with a fine array of firearms spread out before her. She had just finished loading the last one when her uncle came to her side. She looked up at him with quiet amusement in her eyes. </P> <P> "I was wondering," she said, with just a suspicion of satire in her manner, "whether we are in a state of siege, or&mdash;panic?" </P> <P> But her uncle's sense of humor was lacking at the moment. He saw only the gravity of his responsibility. </P> <P> "You'd best get to bed," he said a little severely. "I shall sit up. You must get all the rest you can. We do not know what may be in store for us." </P> <P> Betty promptly fell in with his mood. </P> <P> "But the sick?" she said. "We must visit them to-morrow. We cannot let them suffer." </P> <P> "No. We must wait and see what to-morrow brings forth. In the meantime&mdash;&mdash;" </P> <P> He broke off, listening. Betty too had suddenly turned her eyes upon the barred door. There was a long pause, during which the murmur of many voices reached them, and the faint but distinct sound of tramping feet. The man's eyes grew anxious, his lean face was set and hard. It was easy enough to read his thoughts. He was weighing the possibilities of collision with these strikers, and calculating the chances in his favor. Betty seemed less disturbed. Her eyes were steady and interested rather than alarmed. </P> <P> "There's a crowd of them," said her uncle in a hushed voice. </P> <P> The girl listened for something which perhaps her uncle had forgotten. Sober, she did not expect much trouble from these people. If they had been drinking it would be different. </P> <P> The voices grew louder. The shuffling, clumping footsteps grew louder. They drew near. They were within a few yards of the building. Finally they stopped just outside the door. Instantly there was a loud hammering upon it, and a harsh demand for admittance. </P> <P> Neither stirred. </P> <P> "Open the door!" roared the voice, and the cry was taken up by others until it grew into a perfect babel of shouting and cursing. </P> <P> Betty moved to her uncle's side and laid a hand upon his arm. She looked up into his face and saw the storm-clouds of his anger gathering there. </P> <P> "We shall have to open it, uncle," she said. "That's&mdash;that's Tim Canfield's voice." </P> <P> He looked down into her eager young face. He saw no fear there. He feared, but not for himself: it was of her he was thinking. He wanted to open the door. He wanted to vent his anger in scathing defiance, but he was thinking of the girl in his charge. He was her sole protection. He knew, only too well, what "strike" meant to these men. It meant the turning of their savage passions loose upon brains all too untutored to afford them a semblance of control. Then there was the drink, and drink meant&mdash; </P> <P> The clamor at the door was becoming terrific. He stirred, and, walking swiftly across the room, put his mouth to the jamb. </P> <P> "What do you want?" he shouted angrily. "What right have you to come here disturbing us at such an hour?" </P> <P> Instantly the noise dropped. Then he heard Tim's voice repeating his words to the crowd, and they were greeted with a laugh that had in it a note of rebellion. </P> <P> The laugh died out as the spokesman turned again to the door. </P> <P> "Open this gorl-durned door, or we'll bust it in!" he shouted. And a chorus of "Break it in!" was taken up by the crowd. </P> <P> The parson's anger leapt. His keen nerves were on edge in a moment. Even Betty's gentle eyes kindled. He turned to her, his eyes blazing. </P> <P> "Hand me a couple of guns!" he cried, in a voice that reached the men outside. "Get hold of a couple yourself! If there's to be trouble we'll take a hand!" Then he turned to the door, and his voice was thrilling with "fight." "I'll open the door to no one till I know what you want!" he shouted furiously. "Beat the door in! I warn you those who step inside will get it good and plenty! Beat away!" </P> <P> His words had instant effect. For several seconds there was not a sound on the other side of the door. Then some one muttered something, and instantly the crowd took up a fierce cry, urging their leaders on. </P> <P> But the men in front were not to be rushed into a reckless assault, and a fierce altercation ensued. Finally silence was restored, and Tim Canfield spoke again, but there was a conciliatory note in his voice this time. </P> <P> "You ken open it, passon," he said. "We're talkin' fair. We ain't nuthin' up agin you. We're astin' you to help us out some. Ef you open that door, me an' Mike Duggan'll step in, an' no one else. We'll tell you what's doin'. Ther' don't need be no shootin' to this racket." </P> <P> The churchman considered. The position was awkward. His anger was melting, but he knew that, for the moment, he had the whip hand. However, he also knew if he didn't open the door, ultimately force would certainly be used. These were not the men to be scared easily. But Betty was in his thoughts, and finally it was Betty who decided for him. </P> <P> "Open it," she whispered. "It's our best course. I don't think they mean any harm&mdash;yet." </P> <P> The man reluctantly obeyed, but only after some moments' hesitation. He withdrew the bars, and as the girl moved away beyond the stove, and sat down to her sewing, he stepped aside, covering the doorway with his two revolvers. </P> <P> "Only two of you!" he cried, as the door swung open. </P> <P> The two men came in and, turning quickly, shut the rest of the crowd out and rebarred the door. </P> <P> Then they confronted the churchman's two guns. There was something tremendously compelling in Chepstow's attitude and the light of battle that shone in his eyes. He meant business, and they knew it. Their respect for him rose, and they watched him warily until presently he lowered the guns to his side. </P> <P> He eyed them severely. They were men he knew, men who were real lumber-jacks, matured in the long service of Dave's mills, men who should have known better. They were powerfully built and grizzled, with faces and eyes as hard as their tremendous muscles. He knew the type well. It was the type he had always admired, and a type, once they were on the wrong path, he knew could be very, very dangerous. </P> <P> "Well, boys," he demanded, in a more moderate tone, yet holding them with the severity of his expression. "What's all this bother about? What do you mean by this intolerable&mdash;bulldozing?" </P> <P> The men suddenly discovered Betty at the far side of the stove. Her attitude was one of preoccupation in her sewing. It was pretense, but it looked natural. They abruptly pulled off their caps, and for the moment, seemed half abashed. But it was only for the moment. The next, Canfield turned on the churchman coldly. </P> <P> "You're actin' kind o' foolish, passon," he said. "It ain't no use talkin' gun-play when ther' ain't no need whatever. It's like to make things ridic'lous awkward, an' set the boys sore. We come along here peaceful to talk you fair&mdash;&mdash;" </P> <P> "So you bring an army," broke in Chepstow, impatiently, "after holding a meeting at the store, and considering the advisability of making prisoners of my niece and me." </P> <P> "Who said?" demanded Tim fiercely. </P> <P> "I did," retorted Chepstow militantly. </P> <P> The promptness of his retort silenced the lumberman. He grinned, and leered round at his companion. </P> <P> "Well?" The parson's voice was getting sharper. </P> <P> "Well, it's like this, passon. Ther' ain't goin' to be no prisoner-makin' if you'll act reas'nable. Ther' ain't nuthin' up to you nor the leddy but wot's good an' clean. You've see to our boys who's sick, an' just done right by us&mdash;we can't say the same fer others. We just want you to come right along down to the camp. Ther's a feller bin shot by that all-fired skunk Mason, an' I guess he's jest busy bleedin' plumb to death. Will you come?" </P> <P> "Who is it?" </P> <P> The shortness of Chepstow's tone was uncompromising. </P> <P> The lumber-jack stirred uneasily. He glanced round at his companion. The churchman saw the look and understood. </P> <P> "Come on, Mike Duggan, out with it. I'm not going to be played with," he said. "Your mate doesn't seem easy about it. I suppose it's one of the ringleaders of your strike, and you want me to patch him up so he can go on with his dirty work. Well? I'm waiting." </P> <P> Duggan's eyes flashed. </P> <P> "Easy, passon," he said sharply. "The feller's name is Walford. You ain't like to know him fer sure. He's kind o' runnin' things fer us. He's hit in the shoulder bad." </P> <P> "Ah, it's that fellow who was speaking at your meeting. So he's got his medicine. Good. Well, you want me to fix him up?" </P> <P> The lumber-jacks nodded. </P> <P> "That's it," said Duggan cheerfully. </P> <P> Chepstow considered for a moment. Then he glanced over at Betty. Their eyes met, and his had a smile of encouragement in them. He turned back at once to the waiting men. </P> <P> "I'll help you, but on one or two conditions. I demand my own conditions absolutely. They're easy, but I won't change them or moderate them by a single detail." </P> <P> "Get to it, passon," said Canfield, as he paused. "Make 'em easy, an' ther' won't be no kick comin'." </P> <P> "You must bring the fellow here, and leave him with us until he is sufficiently recovered. Any of you can come and see him, if he's not too sick. Then you must give me a guarantee that my niece and I can visit the sick camp to tend the boys up there without any sort of molestation. You understand? You must guarantee this. You must guarantee that we are in no way interfered with, and if at any time we are out of this hut, no one will enter it without our permission. We are here for peace. We are here to help your sick comrades. Your affairs with your employers have nothing to do with us. Is it a deal?" </P> <P> "Why sure, passon," replied Duggan. And Tim nodded his approval. </P> <P> "It's folks like you makes things easy fer us," added the latter, with hearty good-will. "Guess we'll shake on it." </P> <P> He held out his hand, and Chepstow promptly gripped it. He also shook the other by the hand. </P> <P> "Now, boys," he said genially, "how about those others outside? How will you guarantee them?" </P> <P> "We'll fix that quick. Say, Mike, just open that door." Canfield turned again to Chepstow, while Mike obeyed orders. "I'll give 'em a few words," he went on, "an' we'll send right off for Walford. He's mighty bad, passon. He's&mdash;&mdash;" </P> <P> The door was open by this time, and the two men hurried out. Chepstow secured it behind them, and stood listening for what was to happen. He heard Canfield haranguing the crowd, and his words seemed to have the desired effect, for presently the whole lot began to move off, and in two minutes the last sound of voices and receding footsteps had died out. Betty drew a sigh of relief. </P> <P> "Uncle," she said, smiling affectionately across at him as he left the door and came toward the stove, "you are a genius of diplomacy." </P> <P> The man laughed self-consciously. </P> <P> "Well, we have gained a point," he said doubtfully. </P> <P> Betty let her eyes fall upon her sewing again. </P> <P> "Yes, we have gained a point. I wonder how long that point will hold good, when&mdash;when the drink begins to flow." </P> <P> "That's what I'm wondering." </P> <P> And their question was answered in less than twenty-four hours. </P> <BR> <P> Half an hour later the wounded strike-leader was brought to the hut. He was in a semi-conscious state, and a swift examination showed him to be in a pretty bad way. The bullet had ploughed its way through the shoulder, smashing both the collar-bone and the shoulder-blade. Then, though no vital spot had been touched, the loss of blood had been terrific. He had been left lying at the store ever since he was shot by Mason, with just a rough bandage of his own shirt, which had been quite powerless to stop the flow of blood. </P> <P> It took Chepstow nearly two hours to dress the wound and set the bones, and by that time the man's weakness had plunged him into absolute unconsciousness. Still, this was due solely to loss of blood, and with careful nursing there was no real reason why he should not make a satisfactory recovery. </P> <P> The rest of the night was spent at the sick man's bedside. Betty and her uncle shared the vigil in reliefs, and, weary work as it was, they never hesitated. A life was at stake, and though the man was the cause of all the trouble, or instrumental in it, they were yet ready to spare no effort on his behalf. With the parson it was sheer love of his duty toward all men that gave him inspiration. With Betty there may have been a less Christian spirit in her motives. All this man's efforts had been directed against the man she loved, and she hated him for it; but a life was at stake, and a life, to her, was a very sacred thing. </P> <P> The next day was spent between care for the sick at the fever camp and the wounded man in their own quarters, and the guarantee of the strikers was literally carried out. There were one or two visits to their sick leader, but no interference or molestation occurred. Then at sundown came the first warning of storm. </P> <P> Betty was returning to the dugout. She was tired and sick at heart with her labors. For both it had been a strenuous day, but it had found her strength out a good deal more than it had her uncle's. Ahead of her she knew there yet lay a long night of nursing the wounded man. </P> <P> It was a gorgeous evening. The fog had quite passed away. A splendid sunset lit the glittering peaks towering about her with a cloak of iridescent fire. The snow caps shone with a ruddy glow, while the ancient glaciers suggested molten streams pouring from the heart of them to the darkling wood-belts below. The girl paused and for a moment the wonder of the scene lifted her out of her weariness. But it was only momentary. The whole picture was so transient. It changed and varied with kaleidoscopic suddenness, and vanished altogether in less than five minutes. Again the mountains assumed the gray cold of their unlit beauties. The sun had gone, and day merged into night with almost staggering abruptness. She turned with a sigh to resume her journey. </P> <P> It was then that her attention was drawn elsewhere. In the direction of the lumber camp, in the very heart of it, it seemed, a heavy smoke was rising and drifting westward on the light evening breeze. It was not the haze of smoke from campfires just lit, but a cloud augmented by great belches from below. And in the growing dusk she fancied there was even a ruddy reflection lighting it. She stared with wide-open, wondering eyes. </P> <P> Suddenly a great shaft of flame shot up into its midst, and, as it lit the scene, she heard the shouting of men mingling with the crash of falling timber. She stood spellbound, a strange terror gripping her heart. It was fear of the unknown. There was a fire&mdash;burning what? She turned and ran for the dugout. </P> <P> Bursting into the hut, she poured out her tidings to her uncle, who was preparing supper. The man listening to her hasty words understood the terror that beset her. Fire in those forest regions might well strike terror into the heart. He held a great check upon himself. </P> <P> "Sit down, child," he said gently, at the conclusion of her story. "Sit down and have some food. Afterward, while you see to Walford, I'll cut through the woods and see what's doing." </P> <P> He accomplished his object. Betty calmed at once, and obediently sat down to the food he set before her. She even forced herself to eat, and presently realized she was hungry. The churchman said nothing until they had finished eating. Then he lit his pipe. </P> <P> "It's drink, I expect," he said, as though he had been striving to solve the matter during supper. "Likely they're burning the camp. We know what they are." </P> <P> Betty took a deep breath. </P> <P> "And if they're doing that here, what about the outlying camps?" </P> <P> She knew that such an event would mean absolute ruin to Dave, and again her terror rose. This time it was for Dave, and the feeling sickened her. </P> <P> Her uncle put on his hat. He had no answer for her. He understood what was in her mind. </P> <P> "Don't leave this place, Betty," he said calmly. "Redress Walford's wound the way I showed you. Keep this door barred, and don't let any one in. I'll be back soon." </P> <P> He was gone. And the manner of his going suggested anything but the calmness with which he spoke. </P> <BR> <P> Once outside, the terror he had refused to display in Betty's presence lent wings to his feet. Night had closed in by the time he took to the woods. Now the air was full of the burning reek, and he tried to calculate the possibilities. He snuffed at the air to test the smell, fearful lest it should be the forest that was burning. He could not tell. He was too inexperienced in woodcraft to judge accurately. In their sober senses these lumber-jacks dreaded fire as much as a sailor dreads it at sea, then there could be little doubt as to the cause of it now. The inevitable had happened. Drink was flowing, scorching out the none too acute senses of these savages. Where would their orgy lead them? Was there any limit that could hold them? He thought not. If he were inexperienced in the woodsman's craft, he knew these woodsmen, and he shuddered at the pictures his thoughts painted. </P> <P> As he drew nearer the camp the smoke got into his lungs. The fire must be a big one. A sudden thought came to him, and with it his fears receded. He wondered why it had not occurred to him before. Of course. His eyes brightened almost to a smile. If what he suspected had happened, perhaps it was the hand of Providence working in Dave's interest. Working in Dave's, and&mdash;&mdash; Perhaps it was the cleansing fires of the Almighty sent to wipe out the evil inspired by the erring mind of man. </P> <P> He reached the fringe of woods which surrounded the clearing of the camp, and in another few seconds he stood in the open. </P> <P> "Thank God," he exclaimed. Then, in a moment, the horror of a pitying Christian mind shone in his eyes. His lips were tight shut, and his hands clenched at his sides. Every muscle strung tense with the force of his emotions. </P> <P> In the centre of the clearing the sutler's store was a blazing pile. But it was literally in the centre, with such a distance between it and the surrounding woods as to reduce the danger of setting fire to them to a minimum. It was this, and the fact that it was the store where the spirits were kept, that had inspired his heartfelt exclamation. But his horror was for that which he saw besides. </P> <P> The running figures of the strikers about the fire were the figures of men mad with drink. Their shoutings, their laughter, their antics told him this. But they were not so drunk but what they had sacked the store before setting it ablaze. Ah, he understood now, and he wondered what had happened to the Jew trader. </P> <P> He drew nearer. He felt safe in doing so. These demented savages were so fully occupied that they were scarcely likely to observe him. And if they did, he doubted if he were running much personal risk. They had no particular animosity for him. </P> <P> And as he came near, the sights he beheld sickened him. There were several fights in progress. Not individual battles, but drunken brawls in groups; mauling, savaging masses of men whose instinct, when roused, it is to hurt, hurt anyhow, and if possible to kill. These men fought as beasts fight, tearing each other with teeth and hands, gouging, hacking, clawing. It was a merciless display of brute savagery inspired by a bestial instinct, stirred to fever pitch by the filthy spirit served in a lumber camp. </P> <P> At another point, well away from the burning building, the merchandise was piled, tossed together in the reckless fashion only to be expected in men so inspired. Around this were the more sober, helping themselves greedily, snatching at clothing, at blankets, at the tools of their craft. Some were loaded with tin boxes of fancy biscuits and canned meats, others had possessed themselves of the cheap jewelry such as traders love to dazzle the eyes of their simple customers with. Each took as his stomach guided him, but with a gluttony for things which can be had for nothing always to be found in people of unbridled passions. It was a sight little less revolting than the other, for it spoke of another form of unchecked savagery. </P> <P> Not far from this, shown in strong relief by the lurid fires, was gathered a shouting, turbulent crowd round a pile of barrels and cases. Three barrels were standing on end, apart from the rest, and their heads had been removed, and round these struggled a maddened crew with tin pannikins. They were dipping the fiery spirit out of the casks, and draining each draught as hurriedly as the scorching stuff could pass down their throats, so as to secure as much as possible before it was all gone. The watching man shuddered. Truly a more terrible display was inconceivable. The men were not human in their orgy. They were wild beasts. What, he asked himself, what would be the result when the liquor had saturated the brains of every one of them? It was too terrible to contemplate. </P> <P> The roar of the blazing building, the babel of shouting, the darkly lurid light shining amidst the shadows of surrounding woods, the starlit heavens above, the stillness of mountain gloom and solitude; these things created a picture so awful of contemplation as to be unforgettable. Every detail drove into the watching man's heart as though graven there with chisel and hammer. It was a hellish picture, lit with hellish light, and set in the midst of gloom profound. The men might have been demons silhouetted against the ruddy fire; their doings, their antics, had in them so little that was human. It was awful, and at last, in despair, the man on the outskirts of the clearing turned and fled. Anything rather than this degrading sight; he could bear it no longer. He sickened, yet his heart yearned for them. There was nothing he could do to help them or check them. He could only pray for their demented souls, and&mdash;see to the safeguarding of Betty. </P> <BR> <P> Betty heard her uncle's voice calling, and flung down the bars of the door. She looked into his ghastly face as he hurried in. She asked no question, and watched him as with nervous hands he closed and secured the door behind him. Her eyes followed his movements as he crossed to the stove and flung himself into a chair. She saw his head droop forward, and his hands cover his eyes in a gesture of despair. Still she waited, her breath coming more quickly as the moments passed. </P> <P> She moved a step toward him, and slowly he raised a drawn haggard face, and his horrified eyes looked into hers. </P> <P> "You must not leave this hut on any pretense, Betty," he said slowly. Then he raised his eyes to the roof. "God have pity on them! They are mad! Mad with drink, and ready for any debauchery. I could kill the men," he went on, shaking his two clenched fists in the air, "who have driven them&mdash;&mdash;" </P> <P> "Hush, uncle!" the girl broke in, laying a restraining hand upon his upraised arms. "One of them lies over there, and&mdash;and he is wounded. We must do what we can to help." </P> <BR><BR><BR>
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