IN THE DEAD OF NIGHT
It was sundown in the Red Sand Valley. The
hush of evening had settled upon Malkern, and its
calm was only broken by the droning machinery of
the mills. The sky was lit by that chilly, yellow
afterglow of sunset which, eastward, merges into
the gray and purple of twilight. Already the long-drawn
shadows had expanded into the dusk so
rapidly obscuring the remoter distance. Straight
and solemn rose spires of smoke from hidden chimneys,
lolling in the still air, as though loath to leave
the scented atmosphere of the valley below. It
was the moment of delicious calm when Nature is
preparing to seek repose.
Two women were standing at the door of Dave's
house, and the patch of garden surrounding them,
so simple, so plain, was a perfect setting for their
elderly, plainly clad figures. Dave's mother, very
old, but full of quiet energy, was listening to the
gentle complaint of Mrs. Chepstow. She was listening,
but her gaze was fixed on the distant mills,
an attitude which had practically become her
settled habit. The mill, to her, was the end of the
earth; there was nothing beyond.
"I am dreadfully worried," Mrs. Tom was saying,
the anxious wrinkles of her forehead lifting her
brows perplexedly. "It's more than six weeks
since I heard from Tom and Betty. It's not like
him, he's so regular with letters usually. It was
madness letting Betty go up there. I can't think
what we were doing. If anything has happened to
them I shall never forgive myself. I think I shall
go down and talk to Dave about it. He may
know something. He's sure to know if they are
The other slowly withdrew her gaze from the
mills. It was as though the effort required to do so
were a great one, and one she reluctantly undertook.
The pivot of her life was her boy. A pivot upon
which it revolved without flagging or interruption.
She had watched him grow to a magnificent manhood,
and with all a pure woman's love and wonderful
instinct she had watched and tended him as she
might some great oak tree raised from the frailest
sapling. Then, when his struggles came, she had
shared them with him with a supreme loyalty, helping
him with a quiet, strong sympathy which found
expression in little touches which probably even he
never realized. All his successes and disasters had
been hers; all his joys, all his sorrows. And now,
in her old age, she clung to this love with the pathetic
tenacity of one who realizes that the final
parting is not far distant.
Her furrowed face lit with a wonderful smile.
"I cannot say for sure," she said. "There are
times when Dave will not admit me to the thoughts
which disturb him. At such times I know that
things are not running smoothly. There are other
times when he talks quite freely of his hopes, his
fears. Then I know that all is well. When he
complains I know he is questioning his own judgment,
and distrusts himself. And when he laughs
at things I know that the trouble is a sore one, and
I prepare for disaster. All his moods have meaning
for me. Just now I am reading from his silence,
and it tells me that much is wrong, and I am wondering.
But I do not think it concerns Betty—and,
consequently, not your husband; if anything were
wrong with her I think I should know." She
smiled with all the wisdom of old age.
Mrs. Tom's anxiety was slightly allayed, but her
curiosity was proportionately roused.
"Why would you know—about Betty?" she
The older woman's eyes were again turned in the
direction of the mill.
"Why—why?" She smiled and turned to the
churchman's wife. "It would produce a fresh mood
in my boy, one I'm not familiar with." Then she
became suddenly grave. "I think I should dread
that mood more than any other. You see, deep
down in his heart there are passionate depths that
no one has yet stirred. Were they let loose I fear
to think how they might drive him. Dave's head
only rules just as far as his heart chooses."
"But Betty?" demanded Mrs. Tom. "How is
"Betty?" interrupted the other, humorously eyeing
the eager face. "The one great passion of
Dave's life is Betty. I know. And he thinks it is
hopeless. I am betraying no confidence. Dave
hugs his secret to himself, but he can't hide it from
me. I'm glad he loves her. You don't know how
glad. You see, I am in love with her myself, and—and
I am getting very old."
"And—does Betty know?"
Dave's mother shook her head and smiled.
"Betty loves him, but neither understands the
other's feelings. But that is nothing. Love belongs
to Heaven, and Heaven will straighten this
The old woman's eyes turned abruptly in the
direction of the mill. There was a curious, anxious
look in them, and a perplexed frown drew her
brows together. One hand was raised to hold the
other woman's attention. It was as though something
vital had shocked her, as though some sudden
spasm of physical pain had seized her. Her
face slowly grew gray.
Three people passing along the trail in front of
the house had also stopped. Their eyes were also
turned in the direction of the mill. Further along
a child at play had suddenly paused in its game to
turn toward the mill. There were others, too, all
over the village who gave up their pursuits to listen.
"The mills have stopped work!" cried Mrs.
But Dave's mother had no response for her. She
had even forgotten the other's presence at her side.
The drone of the machinery was silent.
Dawson was interviewing his employer in the
latter's office. Both men looked desperately
worried. Dave's eyes were lit with a brooding
light. It was as though a cloud of storm had
settled upon his rugged features. Dawson had
desperation in every line of his hard face.
"Have you sent up the river?" demanded Dave,
eyeing his head man as though he alone were
responsible for the trouble which was upon them.
"I've sent, boss. We've had jams on the river
before, an' I guessed it was that. I didn't worrit
any for four-an'-twenty hours. It's different now.
Ther' ain't bin a log come down for nigh thirty-six
"How many men did you send up?"
"Six. Two teams, an' all the gear needed for
breakin' the jam."
"Yes. You're sure it is a jam?"
"Ther' ain't nothin' else, boss. Leastways, I
can't see nothin' else."
"No. And the boom? You've worked out the
"Clean right out. Ther' ain't a log in it fit to
Dave sat down at his desk. He idled clumsily
for some moments with the pen in his fingers. His
eyes were staring blankly out of the grimy window.
The din of the saws rose and fell, and the music for
once struck bitterly into his soul. It jarred his
nerves, and he stirred restlessly. What was this
new trouble that had come upon him? No logs!
No logs! Why? He could not understand. A
jam? Dawson said it must be a jam on the river.
He was a practical lumberman, and to him it was
the only explanation. He had sent up men to find
out and free it. But why should there be a jam?
The river was wide and swift, and the logs were
never sent down in such crowds as to make a thing
of that nature possible at this time of year. Later,
yes, when the water was low and the stream slack,
but now, after the recent rains, it was still a torrent.
No logs! The thought was always his nightmare,
and now—it was a reality.
"It must be a jam, I s'pose," said Dave presently,
but his tone carried no conviction.
"What else can it be, boss?" asked the foreman
His employer's manner, his tone of uncertainty,
worried Dawson. He had never seen Dave like
Then a look of eager interest came into his eyes.
He pointed at the window.
"Here's Odd," he said. "And he's in a hurry."
Dawson threw open the door, and Simon Odd
lumbered hurriedly into the room. He seemed to
fill up the place with his vast proportions. His
face was anxious and doubtful.
"I've had to shut down at the other mill, boss,"
he explained abruptly. "Ther' ain't no logs.
Ther've been none for——"
"Thirty-six hours," broke in Dave, with an impatient
nod. "I know."
"You know, boss?"
The master of the mills turned again to the
window, and the two men watched him in silence.
What would he do? This man to whom they
looked in difficulty; this man who had never yet
failed in resource, in courage, to meet and overcome
every obstacle, every emergency that harassed
a lumberman's life.
Suddenly he turned to them again. In his eyes
there was a peculiar, angry light.
"Well?" he demanded, in a fierce way that was
utterly foreign to him. "Well?" he reiterated,
"what are you standing there for? Get you out,
both of you. Shut this mill down, too!"
Simon Odd moved to the door, but Dawson remained
where he was. It almost seemed as if he
had not understood. The mill was to be shut down
for the first time within his knowledge. What did
it mean? In all his years of association with Dave
he had seen such wonders of lumbering done by
him that he looked upon him as almost infallible.
And now—now he was tacitly acknowledging defeat
without making a single effort. The realization,
the shock of it, held him still. He made no
move to obey the roughly-spoken command.
Suddenly Dave turned on him. His face was
"Get out!" he roared. "Shut down the mill!"
It was the cry of a man driven to a momentary
frenzy. For the time despair—black, terrible despair—drove
the lumberman. He felt he wanted to
hit out and hurt some one.
Dawson silently followed Odd to the door, and
in five minutes the saws were still.
Dave sat on at his desk waiting. The moment
the shriek of the machinery ceased he sprang to his
feet and began pacing the floor in nervous, hurried
strides. What that cessation meant to him only
those may know who have suddenly seen their
life's ambitions, their hopes, crushed out at one
single blow. Let the saws continue their song, let
the droning machinery but keep its dead level of
tone, and failure in any other form, however disastrous,
could not hurt in such degree as the sudden
silencing of his lumberman's world.
For some minutes he was like a madman. He
could not think, his nerves shivered from his feet to
the crown of his great ugly head. His hands were
clenched as he strode, until the nails of his fingers
cut the flesh of the palms into which they were
crushed. For some minutes he saw nothing but
the black ruin that rose like a wall before him and
shut out every thought from his mind. The cessation
of machinery was like a pall suddenly burying
his whole strength and manhood beneath its paralyzing
But gradually the awful tension eased. It could
not hold and its victim remain sane. So narrow
was his focus during those first passionate moments
that he could not see beyond his own personal loss.
But with the passing minutes his view widened,
and into the picture grew those things which had
always been the inspiration of his ambitions. He
flung himself heavily into his chair, and his eyes
stared through the dirty window at the silent mill
beyond. And for an hour he sat thus, thinking,
thinking. His nervous tension had passed, his
mind became clear, and though the nature of his
thoughts lashed his heart, and a hundred times
drove him to the verge of that first passion of
despair again, there was an impersonal note in
them which allowed the use of his usually clear
reasoning, and so helped him to rise above himself
His castles had been set a-tumbling, and he saw
in their fall the crushing of Malkern, the village
which was almost as a child to him. And with the
crushing of the village must come disaster to all his
friends. For one weak moment he felt that this
responsibility should not be his—it was not fair to
fix it on him. What had he done to deserve so
hard a treatment? He thought of Tom Chepstow,
loyal, kindly, always caring and thinking for those
who needed his help. He thought of the traders
of the village who hoped and prayed for his success,
that meant prosperity for themselves and
happiness for their wives and children. And these
things began to rekindle the fighting flame within
him; the flame which hitherto had always burned
so fiercely. He could not let them go under.
Then with a rush a picture rose before his mind,
flooding it, shutting out all those others, every
thought of self or anybody else. It was Betty,
with her gentle face, her soft brown hair and tender
smiling eyes. Their steady courageous light shone
deep down into his heart, and seemed to smite him
for his weakness. His pulses began to throb, the
weakened tide of his blood was sent coursing
through his veins and mounted, mounted steadily
to his brain. God! He must not go under. Even
now the loyal child was up in the hills fighting his
battles for him with——
He broke off, and sprang to his feet. A terrible
fear had suddenly leapt at his heart and clutched
him. Betty was up there in the hills. He had not
heard from the hill camps for weeks. And now
the supply of logs had ceased. What had happened?
What was happening up there?
The lethargy of despair lifted like a cloud. He
was alert, thrilling with all the virility of his manhood
set pulsing through his veins. Once more
he was the man Dawson had failed to recognize
when he ordered the mills to be closed down.
Once more he was the man whose personal force
had lifted him to his position as the master of
Malkern mills. He was the Dave whom all the
people of the village knew, ready to fight to the
last ounce of his power, to the last drop of his blood.
"They shan't beat us!" he muttered, as he
strode out into the yard. Nor could he have said
of whom he was speaking, if anybody at all.
It was nearly midnight. Again Dawson and
Simon Odd were in their employer's office. But
this time a very different note prevailed. Dawson's
hard face was full of keen interest. His eyes were
eager. He was listening to the great man he had
always known. Simon Odd, burly and unassuming,
was waiting his turn when his chief had
finished with his principal foreman.
"I've thought this thing out, Dawson," Dave
said pleasantly, in a tone calculated to inspire the
other with confidence, and in a manner suggesting
that the affair of the logs had not seriously alarmed
him, "and evolved a fresh plan of action. No
doubt, as you say, the thing's simply a jam on the
river. If this is so, it will be freed in a short time,
and we can go ahead. On the other hand, there
may be some other reason for the trouble. I can't
think of any explanation myself, but that is neither
here nor there. Now I intend going up the river
to-night. Maybe I shall go on to the camps. I
shall be entirely guided by circumstances. Anyway
I shall likely be away some days. Whatever is
wrong, I intend to see it straight. In the meantime
you will stand ready to begin work the
moment the logs come down. And when they
come down I intend they shall come down at a
pace that shall make up for all the time we have
lost. That's all I have for you. I simply say, be
The man went out with a grin of satisfaction on
his weather-beaten face. This was the Dave he
knew, and he was glad.
Simon Odd received his orders. He too must
be ready. He must have his men ready. His mill
must be asked to do more than ever before when
the time came, and on his results would depend a
comfortable bonus the size of which quite dazzled
the simple giant.
With his departure Dave began his own preparations.
There was much to see to in leaving everything
straight for his foremen. Dawson was more
than willing. This new responsibility appealed to
him as no other confidence his employer could
have reposed in him. They spent some time together,
and finally Dave returned to his office.
During the evening inquirers from the village
flooded the place. But no official information on
the subject of the cessation of work was forthcoming,
nor would Dave see any of them. They were
driven to be content with gleanings of news from
the mill hands, and these, with the simple lumberman's
understanding of such things, explained that
there was a jam on the river which might take a
day, or even two days, to free. In this way a panic
in the village was averted.
Dave required provisions from home. But he
could not spare the time to return there for them.
He intended to set out on his journey at midnight.
Besides, he had no wish to alarm his old mother.
And somehow he was afraid she would drag the
whole truth of his fears out of him. So he sent a
note by one of the men setting out his requirements.
His answer came promptly. The man returned
with the kit bag only, and word that his mother
was bringing the food down herself, and he smiled
at the futility of his attempt to put her off.
Ten minutes later she entered his office with her
burden of provisions. Her face was calmly smiling.
There was no trace of anxiety in it. So carefully
was the latter suppressed that the effort it entailed
became apparent to the man.
"You shouldn't have bothered, ma," he protested.
"I sent the man up specially to bring those things
His mother's eyes had a shrewd look in them.
"I know," she said. "There's a ham and some
bacon, biscuit, and a fresh roast of beef here. Then
I've put in a good supply of groceries."
"Thanks, dear," he said gently. "You always
take care of my inner man. But I wish you hadn't
bothered this way."
"It's no sort of trouble," she said, raising her
eyes to his. Then she let them drop again.
"Food don't need a lumberman's rough handling."
The smile on Dave's face was good to see. He
"I'd better tell you," he said. "You know,
His eyes lingered fondly on the aged figure.
This woman was very precious to him.
"Yes, I know." There was the very slightest
flash of anxiety in the old eyes. Then it was gone.
"I'm going up the river to find things out."
"That's what I understood. Betty is up there—too."
The quiet assurance of his mother's remark
brought a fresh light into the man's eyes, and the
blood surged to his cheeks.
"Yes, ma. That's it—chiefly."
"I thought so. And—I'm glad. You'll bring
her back with you?"
"Good-bye, boy." His simple assurance satisfied
her. Her faith in him was the faith of a
The man bent down and kissed the withered, upturned
She went out, and Dave turned to the things she
had brought him. She had thought of everything.
And the food—he smiled. She was his mother,
and the food had the amplitude such as is characteristic
of a mother when providing for a beloved
He must visit the barn to see about his horses.
He went to the door. Opening it, he paused.
Standing there he became aware of the sound of
approaching wheels. The absence of any noise
from the mills had made the night intensely silent,
so that the rattle of wheels upon the hard sand
trail, though distant, sounded acutely on the night
air. He stood listening, with one great hand
grasping the door casing. Yes, they were wheels.
And now, too, he could hear the sharp pattering of
horses' hoofs. The sound was uneven, yet regular,
and he recognized the gait. They were approaching
at a gallop. Nearer they came, and of a sudden
he understood they were practically racing for
He left the doorway and moved out into the
yard. He thought it might be the team which
Dawson had sent out returning, and perhaps bringing
good news of the jam on the river. He walked
toward the yard gates and stood listening intently.
The night was dark, but clear and still, and as he
listened he fancied in the rattle of the vehicle he
recognized the peculiar creak of a buckboard.
Nearer and nearer it came, louder and louder the
clatter of hoofs and the rattle of wheels. The gallop
seemed labored, like the clumsy gait of weary
horses, and the waiting man straining could plainly
hear a voice urging them on.
Suddenly he thought of the gates, and promptly
opened them. He hardly knew why he did so. It
must have been the effect of the pace at which the
horses were being driven. It must have been that
the speed inspired him with an idea of emergency.
Now he stood out in the road, and stooping,
glanced along it till the faint light of the horizon
revealed a dark object on the trail. He drew back
and slowly returned to the office.
The man's voice urging his horses on required
no effort to hear now. It was hoarse with shouting,
and the slashing of his whip told the waiting
man of the pace at which he had traveled. The
vehicle entered the yard gates. The urging voice
became silent, the weary horses clattered up to the
office door and came to a standstill.
From the doorway Dave surveyed the outfit.
He did not recognize it, but something about the
man climbing out of the vehicle was familiar.
"That you, Mason?" he asked sharply.
"Yes—and another. Will you bear a hand to
get him out?"
Dave went to his assistance, wondering. Mason
was busy undoing some ropes. Dave's wonder increased.
As he came up he saw that the ropes
held a man captive in the carryall.
"Who is it?" he inquired.
"Jim Truscott—whoever he may be," responded
Mason with a laugh, as he freed the last rope.
"Ah! Well, come right in—and bring him
But Mason remembered the animals that had
served him so well.
"What about the 'plugs'?" He was holding
his captive, who stood silent at his side.
"You go inside. I'll see to them."
Dave watched Mason conduct his prisoner into
the office, then he sprang into the buckboard and
drove it across to the barn.