MacNutt suddenly struck his head a
violent blow with his clenched fist and swore.
He and Joe sat before the fire smoking a final pipe
before turning in, and the gurgle of the water under
the banks was music to their ears, for it meant that
the logs were travelling free by night.
“What’s the matter?” Joe asked,
“I ought to be kicked!”
cried the foreman in tones of bitter self-condemnation.
“I’m a saphead. I got no more sense
than a hen. McCane blew that dam on us.
What’s to hinder his blowing the other when
he’s finished sluicing his drive? He may
be through now.”
“By heavens, Mac!” Joe
ejaculated, appalled by the prospect. With the
late season’s start and the delays which had
already occurred such an occurrence would be a calamity.
“By heavens Mac, we can’t let him get
away with it again! We can’t afford to take
a chance. We’ve got to be sure he
MacNutt scowled at the fire, biting
his pipe stem. “I can’t think of but
one way out,” said he. “We’ve
got to put a guard on that dam, and if it comes to
a case they must have the nerve to make good.”
“Just what I say. If any
one starts monkeying with it they must stop him with
lead if they have to. Of course you’ll be
held responsible for such an order.”
Joe’s mouth hardened. “Mac,”
said he, “this is make or break with me.
I’ve got to get these logs out. Pick one
man and I’ll go with him myself.”
“Don’t do that,”
MacNutt dissuaded. “The boys will look after
it all right. You better keep out.”
“No, I’ll go,” said
Joe with determination. “You need every
hand on the drive. I won’t ask any man
to do what I won’t do myself. Pick your
man and fetch him in here. We ought to start
MacNutt arose and left the tent.
In five minutes he returned with a little, brown-faced
riverman, Dave Cottrell by name. Joe was surprised.
He had expected the foreman to choose Cooley, Haggarty,
or one of the noted “bully-boys.”
Cottrell was an excellent riverman, active as a squirrel
and ready to take any chances, but extremely quiet
and self-effacing. He was never in a row, had
no chums, and, apparently, no enemies. He minded
his own business and avoided notice. Such speech
as he essayed was brief and to the point.
“Now Dave,” said the foreman,
“we think McCane may blow this dam on us.
Mr. Kent is going down to see that it ain’t done,
and he wants a man with him. How about you?
Of course this ain’t what you were hired for.”
“That’s all right,” said Cottrell.
“You understand,” said
Joe, “that we’re going to protect the dam
at all costs. Can you shoot?”
“Some,” said Cottrell, and MacNutt chuckled
“Then get ready,” Joe ordered. “We’ll
start in half an hour.”
“C’rect,” said Cottrell, and departed
to roll his blanket.
Blankets and food for two days were
made into packs. The outfit owned two rifles,
one belonging to Joe, the other to the foreman, who
gave it to Cottrell. The little riverman tested
the action, filled the magazine, and shouldered his
“Now if you’re ready we’ll be goin’,”
Straightway he took the lead and the
command. Joe found himself relegated to a subordinate
position, compelled to follow one who seemed to possess
the eyesight and easy movement of a nocturnal animal.
The riverman had discarded his spiked boots and taken
to moccasins. His gait was the bent-kneed amble
of the confirmed woods-loafer. It was not pretty,
and it looked slouchy and slow; but it carried him
along at a tremendous rate. Now and then he paused
and waited for the young boss, but made no comment.
They left the river and took to the bush, following
a course presumably known to Cottrell. They crossed
swamps and wormed through alder swales, coming out
again on pine and hardwood ridges. Joe was hopelessly
lost and bewildered. He had no idea of the direction
in which they were going.
“You’re sure you’re heading right?”
“Why, of course,” said Cottrell, surprised
at the question.
About two o’clock in the morning he halted by
a little creek.
“We better take a spell,”
he said. “You ain’t used to this,
but the travellin’ will be better from now on.”
Joe was glad to sit down. His
legs ached, and he was torn by limbs and briers; but
besides the purely physical fatigue was that which
comes of travelling an unknown route without the faintest
idea of how much of it you are covering. He stretched
himself out with his back to a log. Cottrell
built a fire and hung a little pail over it. When
the water boiled he made tea, and they ate. Afterward
they smoked. Warmed and weary, Joe began to nod.
“We better be gettin’ on,” said
Once more they plunged into the forest,
but it was more open and, as the riverman had foretold,
the going was easier. Gradually the stars paled
in the east, and a faint gray light succeeded.
Then came the rosy streaks of dawn. Cottrell
halted and held up his hand. Faint in the distance
sounded the measured music of an axe.
“We’re in time,” said Cottrell.
They came out on the river and on
McCane’s rear. Cottrell led the way back
into the bush and when they emerged again it was at
the dam. The dam pond was brown with logs, and
they were being sluiced through in a great hurry.
A crew of unkempt, tousled rivermen manned the booms
and kept the sticks hustling. Rough Shan McCane
stood on the boom by the water-gate directing operations,
and his profane urgings came to them above the sound
of the water. As they stood on the bank, rifles
under their arms, one of the men caught sight of them
and pointed. Immediately they became the nucleus
of all eyes. McCane came ashore accompanied by
half a dozen of his crew. He walked up to the
“What do yez want?” he demanded.
“When will you be sluiced through?” Joe
“What business is that of yours?” growled
the rough one.
“You know what business it is
of mine,” Joe answered. “My drive’s
coming down. And I’ll tell you something
more, McCane, we’re going to camp right here
till it does. I warn you now don’t
try to wreck this dam!”
“Wreck the dam, is it?”
said McCane innocently. “For why should
we wreck the dam?”
“I suppose you don’t know
that the one above went out and hung my drive for
a week,” said Joe with sarcasm.
“Is that so?” said McCane
with mock sympathy. “Well, well, ye do be
in hard luck. What’s the guns for?
Deer is out o’ season. Yon’s a pretty-lookin’
rifle, now. I’ll bet it cost ye somethin’.
Let me have a look at it.”
He stretched out his hand casually,
and suddenly leaped. His hand fastened on the
rifle barrel. Instantly Cottrell’s weapon
sprang to a level.
“Drop that, McCane!” snapped
the little riverman. “You men keep back
there, or I’ll onhook her into you.”
Rough Shan looked into the ominous
tube and slowly released his grip. “Don’t
ye get gay wid that gun!” he warned. “I
could have ye jailed for pointin’ it at me.”
The little man’s bright eyes
twinkled behind the sights. “If she went
off as she’s pointin’ now you wouldn’t
know what happened,” he announced gravely.
Joe backed up alongside him.
“We’re not looking for trouble,”
said he, “but the man who tries any funny business
with that dam will get hurt. Go ahead with your
sluicing, or my drive will be down on top of you.”
“Will it?” said McCane.
“Then, let me tell ye this, young felly, it’ll
stop till I get through. I’ll sluice when
I please.” Behind him his men growled angrily.
He shook his fist and roared, forth a flood of blasphemy.
To Joe’s utter amazement it
was answered by Cottrell. The little man’s
language was fairly blood-curdling. His words
snapped and crackled with venom. Such a “cursing
out” had never been heard along the Wind.
Finally his voice cracked.
“Burn our camp, would ye?”
he croaked hoarsely in conclusion. “Hang
our drive, would ye? Blow a dam on us, an’
think for to do it again! The man that takes
a stick of powder near it will never draw his pay.
See them birds!”
Fifty yards away two woodpeckers clung
to the bark of a tree, hopping and tapping in search
of the worms that were their food. Dave Cottrell’s
rifle swung to his shoulder. Two reports followed,
spaced inappreciably by the jangle of the magazine
action. Two mangled masses of bloody feathers
fell from the tree. The little man regarded the
unkempt crew with evil eyes.
“Lemme see one o’ ye make
a bad move!” he challenged, and there was death
in his voice.
Not a man made a move, bad or otherwise.
Cottrell chose a spot overlooking the packed logs
and the sliding water of the sluiceway. There
he sat down, rifle on knees, and smoked. He had
apparently talked himself out, for he answered Joe’s
remarks with customary brevity.
In half an hour McCane quit sluicing.
He and his crew came ashore and lit their pipes, lounging
in the sun. The men from the rear came in and
the whole camp rested. This continued all day.
It was evident that McCane had a purpose in view.
With the fall of night Joe and Cottrell moved down
on the dam. The stars gave an intermittent light.
The banks were deep in shadow, but objects could be
made out on the river.
“You better lie down and get
some sleep,” Dave advised his boss. “Then
you can spell me later. They won’t touch
the dam till their logs is through, likely, but they
may try to do us up.”
Joe rolled up in his blanket and presently
slept. The fires of the camp died down.
Save for the deep roar of rushing water the night was
About twelve o’clock three stones,
thrown simultaneously, whizzed out of the darkness.
Two missed Cottrell’s head by a few inches; the
third, thrown short, struck Joe’s shoulder a
glancing blow as he lay in his blanket.
As he woke with a startled cry Cottrell’s
rifle spat a rod of flame into the dark. The
man fired three shots and paused. A stick cracked
in the bushes. Instantly he fired twice more
at the sound, and listened. The camp was astir.
Men poured out cursing in three languages. Through
the babel Cottrell tried to make out the sound of
footsteps. Failing, he fired once more, on general
“Stop it, Cottrell!” cried
Joe. “We don’t want to kill any one.”
“If one o’ them rocks
had hit my head it would have killed me,”
snarled Cottrell. “I’ll put the fear
o’ God in their rotten hearts!” He shoved
in fresh cartridges savagely.
“I think you’ve put it
there now,” Joe commented as the row subsided.
“But don’t shoot at their camp, or they’ll
start shooting back. They must have a gun in
Boom! The roar of a shotgun shattered
the silence, and the shot pellets pattered against
the logs and stones. Boom! the second barrel spoke.
“Damn scatter-gun!” said
Cottrell with contempt, and fired one shot. The
crowd stampeded for cover as the bullet whined a foot
above their heads. “It’s all right I
held high,” he explained. “It’d
be just my darn luck to get one o’ them little
shots in the eye. Now they won’t do no more
This prediction proved correct.
The night passed without further incident. With
daylight McCane’s cook appeared and made up his
fire. Later the crew crawled out of their dingy
tents. A few washed at the river; but most made
no attempt at a toilet. They sat on the ground
and wolfed down their food. With the last mouthful
they reached for tobacco.
“Red McDougals, Callahans, and
Charbonneaus a dirty bunch,” said
Cottrell. The little man had sluiced himself with
icy water from top to toe in the gray of the dawn,
and was now frying slices of pork strung on green
twigs above a small fire. “Some day the
small pox will do a good job for ’em. Look
at them scratch their backs against the rocks.
Ugh!” His disgust was too deep for words.
McCane emerged from his tent and Cottrell cursed him
“What have you got against the
man?” asked Joe reaching for a slice of bread.
“He beat up a chum of mine once,”
Cottrell replied, “a little feller about my
size that had no chance agin him. I’ll get
him yet for that. I wish t’ God he’d
made a move yesterday, an’ I’d ‘a’
blowed his head off!”
“Now, look here, Dave,”
said Joe, “we’re here to protect the dam,
and that’s all. I won’t have any
feud mixed up with it.”
“I ain’t mixin’
it,” said Cottrell. “I’m just
prayin’ he’ll have the nerve to walk out
to the sluice gate with a stick of powder in his hand
or even a bulge in his shirt.”
But McCane and his crew lay around
camp. Nobody went out on the booms or touched
a log. The Kent drive would soon be running into
their rear, and this meant confusion as well as delay.
Joe finally left Cottrell on the dam and walked down
to the camp.
“See here, McCane,” said
he, “you’ve got to get your logs out of
my way. You can’t hang me up like this.”
McCane leered up at him insolently
from where he lay stretched on the ground, resting
comfortably against a log.
“Can’t I? Not a log
goes through till I’m good an’ ready.”
“But you’ve got no right”
Joe began hotly, and paused as he saw the living sneer
in the other’s eyes. He realized that argument
was worse than useless and went back to his position.
There he awaited the coming of MacNutt and his own
crew, wondering what had delayed them.
MacNutt had been delayed for a few
hours by a small jam, but finally he ran into the
logs of McCane’s rear. He reached the dam
at the head of a dozen indignant “bully-boys,”
and he and Joe tackled McCane.
“You’ve got to move your logs,”
Joe told him again.
“Not till I get ready,” McCane answered
“You think you’ll hang
our drive, do you?” said MacNutt. “Well,
you won’t. You get your crew out on them
booms at once and go to sluicing.”
McCane merely grinned.
“Get at it!” cried the foreman furiously,
and took a step forward.
Rough Shan did not yield an inch.
“If you want a fight you can
have it quick,” said he. “Me men have
quit me. I can’t pay their wages; I’m
hung up meself.”
“That’s a poor lie,” said MacNutt.
“Ask them,” returned McCane.
“If ye will step out here I’ll beat the
face off of ye!”
MacNutt ignored the challenge and
questioned the men. They backed up Rough Shan’s
statement surlily. Convinced that they were lying
but unable to prove it, Joe and MacNutt held council.
They had to get their logs through, and the only way
to do it was to sluice McCane’s first, and charge
him with the time.
“A lot of good that will do,”
said Joe. “He’ll let us sluice them
and then hang us up somewhere again.”
“Not if I can help it,”
said MacNutt. “I think I can work a game
on him. Act as if you were good and sore.”
They returned to Rough Shan.
“Your men say they won’t
work,” said Joe. “We’ll do your
sluicing for you, but you’ll pay us for it.”
“Like hell I will,” said
Rough Shan. “I’ll sluice me own logs
when I get a fresh crew.”
“You want to hang us up, do
you?” cried Joe, finding no difficulty in simulating
anger. “You can’t do it. My men
will pitch the whole bunch of you into the pond if
I give them the word. I’ll put your logs
through. MacNutt, start the sluicing.”
“I warn ye to let my logs alone,”
said Rough Shan. “I’ll hold ye responsible
for every stick that goes through the chute.”
“All right,” said Joe, and turned away.
The sluicing began at once. MacNutt
issued private instructions to Cooley and Cottrell.
They started upstream, where they were shortly joined
by ten more. There they picked up a peakie, and
laboriously portaged the heavy boat through the woods
well out of sight of the dam, setting it in the water
below. With another trip they brought augers,
boom-chains and shackles, and a manilla rope.
Embarking they ran downstream two miles.
At that point the river ran past the
mouth of a backwater, an old channel, now an almost
currentless little lake, reedy, with shores of floating
bog and bottomed with ooze of unknown depth. The
water ran into it sluggishly, and drained out half
a mile below over muddy shallows. Logs once ensnared
in this backwater could be taken out only at the cost
of much time and labour.
The dozen, working at speed, constructed
a boom of logs shackled end to end. This they
strung slantwise across the stream. One end was
moored to the lower side of the backwater’s
inlet; the other to the opposite bank upstream.
Thus logs coming down were deflected to the backwater.
Six men with pike poles manned the boom, walking to
and fro on the precarious footing, shoving the logs,
as they came down, toward the slough. The others
saw them safe inside. Dave Cottrell sat in midstream
in the peakie, a rifle across his knees, watching
The work proceeded merrily, for the
rivermen enjoyed the trick. Late in the afternoon
half a dozen of McCane’s crew hove in sight.
When they saw the boom and comprehended its meaning
they ran forward to cut its moorings.
“You get back there!”
yelled Cottrell, raising his rifle. As they paid
no attention to him he fired. The bullet cut dirt
at the toes of the foremost. “I’ll
drop one of ye next time,” Cottrell warned them,
his eyes glued to the sights.
They halted and cursed him.
“When I count twenty I’m
goin’ to start shootin’ the hats off of
ye,” said Cottrell. “If I was on
shore I could do it easy, an’ hurt no one.
Out here the water jiggles the boat, an’ I may
go high or low. One two three
He began to count. At “ten”
they gave back; at “fifteen” they were
in full retreat.
McCane, when the news was brought
to him, ran out on the booms, his face working with
rage. Profanity spewed from his mouth in a steady
“You’ll bring every log
out o’ that backwater or I’ll know why,”
he thundered. “A dirty trick!”
“Dealin’ with you we’re
dirty every time from now out, and you can tie to
that,” MacNutt told him. “Every log
in your drive is goin’ into that backwater if
she’ll hold them. You’ll get them
out yourself, or train beavers to do it for you.
You stinkin’, lowdown Mick, you’ve been
givin’ us dirt all winter. Here’s
where we get square. Now get off o’ these
booms, or I’ll bash in your head with a peavey.
If I say ’sic ’em’ to the boys you
know what’ll happen. You won’t have
camp nor crew nor nothin’ in ten minutes, an’
you’ll spend the summer in a hospital, like
enough. I’m sick of you! Get
McCane’s courage was beyond
question, but the odds were against him. Twenty
hardened fighters, every one of whom thirsted for a
chance to trample on his face with caulked boots,
crowded up behind MacNutt. His crew, rough and
tough as they were, were outnumbered, and Kent’s
men were picked “bully-boys” with a score
“All right,” said he.
“You hear me, MacNutt I’ll
get even with you an’ Kent. It’s
comin’ to both of ye. The woods ain’t
big enough for me an’ you now.”
“Bah!” said MacNutt, and spat.
McCane went ashore. MacNutt shut
down the sluicing with darkness. In the morning
it began again. That day saw McCane’s entire
drive packed in the backwater. He was helpless
to prevent it.
Kent’s logs slid down merrily
into the free current, and Rough Shan and his wild
crew cursed the rear out of sight as it swept around
a bend below. Then they went at the tedious task
of extricating their own drive from the backwater.
Rough Shan the next day put Callahan in charge and
departed, as he said, to see about supplies, for his
grub was running low.