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Trail of the Axe, The

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<SPAN NAME="chap29"></SPAN> <H3 ALIGN="center"> CHAPTER XXIX </H3> <H4 ALIGN="center"> THE END OF THE STRIKE </H4> <P> When the master of the mills faced the men again he hardly knew what to expect. He could not be sure how they would view his action, or what attitude they would adopt. He had considered well before provoking the sallow-faced giant, he had measured him up carefully; the thing had been premeditated. He knew the influence of physical force upon these men. The question was, had he used it at the right moment? He thought he had; he understood lumbermen, but there were more than lumbermen here, and he knew that it was this element of outsiders with whom he was really contending. </P> <P> The fallen man's pistol was on the ground at his feet. He put a foot upon it; then, glancing swiftly at the faces before him, he became aware of a silence, utter, complete, reigning everywhere. There was astonishment, even something of awe in many of the faces; in others doubt mingled with a scowling displeasure. The thing had happened so suddenly. The firing of the shot had startled them unpleasantly, and they were still looking for the result of it. On this point they had no satisfaction. Only Dave knew&mdash;he had reason to. The arm hanging limply at his side, and the throb of pain at his shoulder left him in no doubt. But he had no intention of imparting his knowledge to any one else yet. He had not finished the fight which must justify his existence as the owner of the mills. </P> <P> The effect of his encounter was not an unpleasant one on the majority of the men. The use of a fist in the face of a gun was stupendous, even to them. Many of them reveled in the outsider's downfall, and contemplated the grit of their employer with satisfaction. But there were others not so easily swayed. Amongst these were the man's own comrades, men who, like himself, were not real lumbermen, but agitators who had received payment to agitate. Besides these there were those unstable creatures, always to be found in such a community, who had no very definite opinions of their own, but looked for the lead of the majority, ready to side with those who offered the strongest support. </P> <P> All this was very evident in that moment of silence, but the moment passed so quickly that it was impossible to say how far Dave's action had really served him. Suddenly a murmur started. In a few seconds it had risen to a shout. It started with the fallen giant's friends. There was a rush in the crowd, an ominous swaying, as of a struggle going on in its midst. Some one put up a vicious cry that lifted clear above the general din. </P> <P> "Lynch him! Lynch him!" </P> <P> The cry was taken up by the rest of the makeshifts and some of the doubters. Then came the sudden but inevitable awakening of the slow, fierce brains of the real men of the woods. The awakening brought with it not so much a desire to champion their employer, as a resentment that these men they regarded as scallywags should attempt to take initiative in their concerns; it was the rousing of the latent hatred which ever exists in the heart of the legitimate tradesman for the interloper. It caught them in a whirlwind of passion. Their blood rose. All other considerations were forgotten, it mattered nothing the object of that mutiny, all thought of wages, all thought of wrongs between themselves and their employer were banished from their minds. They hated nothing so badly as these men with whom they had worked in apparent harmony. </P> <P> It was at this psychological moment that the final fillip was given. It came from a direction that none of the crowd realized. It came from one who knew the woodsman down to his very core, who had watched every passing mood of the crowd during the whole scene with the intentness of one who only waits his opportunity. It was Bob Mason in the buckboard. </P> <P> "Down with the blacklegs! Down with the dirty 'scabs'!" he shouted. </P> <P> In a moment the battle was raging. There was a wild rush of men, and their steel implements were raised aloft. "Down with the 'scabs'!" The cry echoed and re´┐Żchoed in every direction, taken up by every true lumberman. A tumult of shouting and cursing roared everywhere. The crowd broke. It spread out. Groups of struggling combatants were dotted about till the sight suggested nothing so much as a massacre. It was a fight of brutal savagery that would stop short only at actual slaughter. It was the safety-valve for the accumulated spleen of a week's hard drinking. It was the only way to steady the shaken, drink-soaked nerves and restore the dull brains to the dead level of a desire to return to work and order. </P> <P> Fortunately it was a short-lived battle too. The lumber-jacks were the masters from the outset. They were better men, they were harder, they had more sheer "grit." Then, too, they were in the majority. The "scabs" began to seek refuge in flight, but not before they had received a chastisement that would remain a sore memory for many days to come. Those who went down in the fight got the iron-shod boots of their adversaries in their ribs, till, in desperation, they scrambled to their feet and took their punishment like men. But the victory was too easy for the lumber-jacks' rage to last. Like the wayward, big-hearted children of nature they were, their fury passed as quickly as it had stirred. The terror-stricken flight of those upon whom their rage had turned inspired in them a sort of fiendish amusement, and in this was perhaps the saving of a terrible tragedy. As it was, a few broken limbs, a liberal tally of wounds and bruises were the harvest of that battle. That, and the final clearing out of the element of discontent. It was victory for the master of the mills. </P> <P> In less than ten minutes the victors were straggling back from their pursuit of a routed foe. Dave had not moved. He was still standing beside the fallen giant, who was now recovering consciousness from the knock-out blow he had received. They came up in small bands, laughing and recounting episodes of the fight. They were in the saving mood for their employer. All thoughts of a further strike had passed out of their simple heads. They came back to Dave, like sheep, who, after a wild stampede, have suddenly refound their shepherd, and to him they looked for guidance. And Dave was there for the purpose. He called their attention and addressed them. </P> <P> "Now, boys," he said cheerfully, "you've got nicely rid of that scum, and I'm going to talk to you. We understand each other. We've worked too long together for it to be otherwise. But we don't understand those others who're not lumbermen. Say, maybe you can't all hear me; my voice isn't getting stronger, so I'll just call up that buckboard and stand on it, and talk from there." </P> <P> Amidst a murmur of approval the buckboard was drawn up, and not without tremendous pain Dave scrambled up into the driving-seat. Then it was seen by both lumbermen and those in the buckboard that he had left a considerable pool of blood where he had been standing. </P> <P> Betty, with horror in her eyes, turned to him. </P> <P> "What is it?" she began. But he checked her with a look, and turned at once to the men. </P> <P> "I'm first going to tell you about this strike, boys," he said. "After that we'll get to business, and I guess it won't be my fault if we don't figger things out right. Here, do you see this fellow sitting here? Maybe some of you'll recognize him?" He pointed at Jim Truscott sitting in the carryall. His expression was surly, defiant. But somehow he avoided the faces in front of him. "I'm going to tell you about him. This is the man who organized the strike. He found the money and the men to do the dirty work. He did it because he hates me and wants to ruin me. He came to you with plausible tales of oppression and so forth. He cared nothing for you, but he hated me. I tell you frankly he did this thing because he knew I was pushed to the last point to make good my contract with the government, because he knew that to delay the output of logs from this camp meant that I should go to smash. In doing this he meant to carry you down with me. That's how much he cares for your interests." A growl of anger punctuated his speech. But he silenced them with a gesture and proceeded. His voice was getting weaker, and a deadly pallor was stealing over his face. Chepstow, watching him, was filled with anxiety. Betty's brown eyes clung to his face with an expression of love, horror and pity in them that spoke far louder than any words. Mason was simply calculating in his mind how long Dave could keep up his present attitude. </P> <P> "Do you get my meaning, boys?" he went on. "It's this, if we don't get this work through before winter I'm broke&mdash;broke to my last dollar. And you'll be out of a billet&mdash;every mother's son of you&mdash;with the winter staring you in the face." </P> <P> He paused and took a deep breath. Betty even thought she saw him sway. The men kept an intense silence. </P> <P> "Well?" he went on a moment later, pulling himself together with an evident effort. "I'm just here to talk straight business, and that's what you're going to listen to. First, I'll tell you this fellow's going to get his right medicine through me in the proper manner. Then, second and last, I want to give you a plain understanding of things between ourselves. There's going to be no rise in wages. I just can't do it. That's all. But I'm going to give each man in my camp a big bonus, a nice fat wad of money with which to paint any particular town he favors red, when the work's done. That's to be extra, above his wages. And the whole lot of you shall work for me next season on a guarantee. But from now to the late fall you're going to work, boys, you're going to work as if the devil himself was driving you. We've got time to make up, and shortage besides, and you've got to make it up. I don't want any slackers. Men who have any doubts can get right out. You've got to work as you never worked in your lives before. Now, boys, give us your word. Is it work or&mdash;&mdash;" </P> <P> Dave got no further. A shout&mdash;hearty, enthusiastic&mdash;went up from the crowd. It meant work, and he was satisfied. </P> <P> The next few minutes were passed in a scene of the wildest excitement. The men closed round the buckboard, and struggled with each other to grip the big man's hand. And Dave, faint and weary as he was, knew them too well to reject their friendly overtures. Besides, they were, as he said, like himself, men of the woods, and he was full of a great sympathy and friendliness for them. At last, however, he turned to Chepstow. </P> <P> "Drive back to the dugout, Tom," he said. "Things are getting misty. I think&mdash;I'm&mdash;done." </P> <BR><BR><BR>
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