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The Valley of the Giants (Chapter10)

2006-08-22 19:47

  Chapter X

  For many years there had been installed in Cardigan's mill a clock set to United States observatory time and corrected hourly by the telegraph company. It was the only clock of its kind in Sequoia; hence folk set their watches by it, or rather by the whistle on Cardigan's mill. With a due appreciation of the important function of this clock toward his fellow-citizens, old Zeb Curry, the chief engineer and a stickler for being on time, was most meticulous in his whistle-blowing. With a sage and prophetic eye fixed upon the face of the clock, and a particularly greasy hand grasping the whistle-cord, Zeb would wait until the clock registered exactly six-fifty-nine and a half——whereupon the seven o'clock whistle would commence blowing, to cease instantly upon the stroke of the hour. It was old Zeb's pride and boast that with a single exception, during the sixteen years the clock had been in service, no man could say that Zeb had been more than a second late or early with his whistle-blowing. That exception occurred when Bryce Cardigan, invading the engine room while Zeb was at luncheon, looped the whistle-cord until the end dangled seven feet above ground. As a consequence Zeb, who was a short, fat little man, was forced to leap at it several times before success crowned his efforts and the whistle blew. Thereafter for the remainder of the day his reason tottered on its throne, due to the fact that Bryce induced every mill employee to call upon the engineer and remind him that he must be growing old, since he was no longer dependable!

  On the morning following Bryce Cardigan's return to Sequoia, Zeb Curry, as per custom, started his engine at six-fifty-eight. That gave the huge bandsaws two minutes in which to attain their proper speed and afforded Dan Kenyon, the head sawyer, ample time to run his steam log-carriage out to the end of the track; for Daniel, too, was a reliable man in the matter of starting his daily uproar on time.

  At precisely six fifty-nine and a half, therefore, the engineer's hand closed over the handle of the whistle-cord, and Dan Kenyon, standing on the steam-carriage with his hand on the lever, took a thirty-second squint through a rather grimy window that gave upon the drying-yard and the mill-office at the head of it.

  The whistle ceased blowing, but still Dan Kenyon stood at his post, oblivious of the hungry saws. Ten seconds passed; then Zeb Curry, immeasurably scandalized at Daniel's tardiness, tooted the whistle sharply twice; whereupon Dan woke up, threw over the lever, and walked his log up to the saw.

  For the next five hours Zeb Curry had no opportunity to discuss the matter with the head sawyer. After blowing the twelve o'clock whistle, however, he hurried over to the dining-hall, where the mill hands already lined the benches, shovelling food into their mouths as only a lumberman or a miner can. Dan Kenyon sat at the head of the table in the place of honour sacred to the head sawyer, and when his mouth would permit of some activity other than mastication, Zeb Curry caught his eye.

  “Hey, you, Dan Kenyon,” he shouted across the table, “what happened to you this mornin'? It was sixteen seconds between the tail end o' my whistle an' the front end o' your whinin'. First thing you know, you'll be gettin' so slack an' careless-like some other man'll be ridin' that log-carriage o' yourn.”

  “I was struck dumb,” Dan Kenyon replied. “I just stood there like one o' these here graven images. Last night on my way home from work I heerd the young feller was back——he got in just as we was knockin' off for the day; an' this mornin' just as you cut loose, Zeb, I'll be danged if he didn't show up in front o' the office door, fumblin' for the keyhole. Yes, sirree! That boy gets in at six o'clock last night an' turns to on his paw's job when the whistle blows this mornin' at seven.”

  “You mean young Bryce Cardigan?” Zeb queried incredulously.

  “I shore do.”

  “'Tain't possible,” Zeb declared. “You seen a new bookkeeper, mebbe, but you didn't see Bryce. He aint no such hog for labour as his daddy before him, I'm tellin' you. Not that there's a lazy bone in his body, for there ain't, but because that there boy's got too much sense to come bollin' down to work at seven o'clock the very first mornin' he's back from Yurrup.”

  “I'm layin' you ten to one I seen him,” Dan replied defiantly, “an' what's more, I'll bet a good cigar——a ten-center straight——the boy don't leave till six o'clock to-night.”

  “You're on,” answered the chief engineer. “Them's lumberjack hours, man. From seven till six means work——an' only fools an' hosses keeps them hours.”

  The head sawyer leaned across the table and pounded with the handle of his knife until he had the attention of all present. “I'm a-goin' to tell you young fellers somethin',” he announced. “Ever since the old boss got so he couldn't look after his business with his own eyes, things has been goin' to blazes round this sawmill, but they ain't a-goin' no more. How do I know? Well, I'll tell you. All this forenoon I kept my eye on the office door——I can see it through a mill winder; an' I'm tellin' you the old boss didn't show up till ten o'clock, which the old man ain't never been a ten o'clock business man at no time. Don't that prove the boy's took his place?”

  Confused murmurs of affirmation and negation ran up and down the long table. Dan tapped with his knife again. “You hear me,” he warned. “Thirty year I've been ridin' John Cardigan's log-carriages; thirty year I've been gettin' everythin' out of a log it's possible to git out, which is more'n you fellers at the trimmers can git out of a board after I've sawed it off the cant. There's a lot o' you young fellers that've been takin' John Cardigan's money under false pretenses, so if I was you I'd keep both eyes on my job hereafter. For a year I've been claimin' that good No. 2 stock has been chucked into the slab-fire as refuge lumber.” (Dan meant refuse lumber.) “But it won't be done no more. The raftsman tells me he seen Bryce down at the end o' the conveyin' belt givin' that refuge the once-over——so step easy.”

  “What does young Cardigan know about runnin' a sawmill?” a planer-man demanded bluntly. “They tell me he's been away to college an' travellin' the past six years.”

  “Wa-ll,” drawled the head sawyer, “you git to talkin' with him some day an' see how much he knows about runnin' a sawmill. What he knows will surprise you. Yes, indeed, you'll find he knows considerable. He's picked up loose shingles around the yard an' bundled 'em in vacation times, an' I want to see the shingle-weaver that can teach him some tricks. Also, I've had him come up on the steam carriage more'n once an' saw up logs, while at times I've seen him put in a week or two on the sortin' table. In a pinch, with a lot o' vessels loadin' here at the dock an' the skippers raisin' Cain because they wasn't gettin' their cargo fast enough, I've seen him work nights an' Sundays tallyin' with the best o' them. Believe me that boy can grade lumber.”

  “An' I'll tell you somethin' else,” Zeb Curry cut in. “If the new boss ever tells you to do a thing his way, you do it an' don't argue none as to whether he knows more about it than you do or not.”

  “A whole lot o' dagos an' bohunks that's come into the woods since the blue-noses an' canucks an' wild Irish went out had better keep your eyes open,” Dan Kenyon warned sagely. “There ain't none o' you any better'n you ought to be, an' things have been pretty durned slack around Cardigan's mill since the old man went blind, but——you watch out. There's a change due. Bryce Cardigan is his father's son. He'll do things.”

  “Which he's big enough to throw a bear uphill by the tail,” Zeb Curry added, “an' you fellers all know how much tail a bear has.”

  “Every mornin' for thirty years, 'ceptin' when we was shut down for repairs,” Dan continued, “I've looked through that winder, when John Cardigan wasn't away from Sequoia, to watch him git to his office on time. He's there when the whistle blows, clear up to the time his eyes go back on him, an' then he arrives late once or twice on account o' havin' to go careful. This mornin', for the first time in fifty year, he stays in bed; but——his son has the key in the office door when the whistle blows, an'——”

  Dan Kenyon paused abruptly; the hum of conversation ceased, and silence fell upon the room as Bryce Cardigan strolled in the door, nodded to the men, and slid in on the bench to a seat beside the head sawyer.

  “Hello, Dan——hello, Zeb,” he said and shook hands with each. “I'm mighty glad to see you both again. Hello, everybody. I'm the new boss, so I suppose I'd better introduce myself——there are so many new faces here. I'm Bryce Cardigan.”

  “Yes,” Zeb Curry volunteered, “an' he's like his daddy. He ain't ashamed to work with his men, an' he ain't ashamed to eat with his men, nuther. Glad you're back with us again, boy——mighty glad. Dan, here, he's gittin' slacker'n an old squaw with his work an' needs somebody to jerk him up, while the rest o' these here——”

  “I noticed that about Dan,” Bryce interrupted craftily. “He's slowing up, Zeb. He must have been fifteen seconds late this morning——or perhaps,” he added “you were fifteen seconds earlier than the clock.”

  Dan grinned, and Bryce went on seriously: “I'm afraid you're getting too old to ride the log-carriage, Dan. You've been at it a long time; so, with the utmost good will in the world toward you, you're fired. I might as well tell you now. You know me, Dan. I always did dislike beating about the bush.”

  “Fired!” Dan Kenyon's eyes popped with amazement and horror. “Fired—— after thirty years!” he croaked.

  “Fired!” There was unmistakable finality in Bryce's tones. “You're hired again, however, at a higher salary, as mill-superintendent. You can get away with that job, can't you, Dan? In fact,” he added without waiting for the overjoyed Dan to answer him, “you've got to get away with it, because I discharged the mill-superintendent I found on the job when I got down here this morning. He's been letting too many profits go into the slab-fire. In fact, the entire plant has gone to glory. Fire-hose old and rotten——couldn't stand a hundred- pound pressure; fire-buckets and water-barrels empty, axes not in their proper places, fire-extinguishers filled with stale chemical—— why, the smallest kind of a fire here would get beyond our control with that man on the job. Besides, he's changed the grading-rules. I found the men putting clear boards with hard-grained streaks in them in with the No. 1 clear. The customer may not kick at a small percentage of No. 2 in his No. 1 but it's only fair to give it to him at two dollars a thousand less.”

  “Well,” purred Zeb Curry, “they don't grade lumber as strict nowadays as they used to before you went away. Colonel Pennington says we're a lot o' back numbers out this way an' too generous with our grades. First thing he did was to call a meetin' of all the Humboldt lumber manufacturers an' organize 'em into an association. Then he had the gradin'-rules changed. The retailers hollered for a while, but bimeby they got used to it.”

  “Did my father join that association?” Bryce demanded quickly.

  “Yes. He told Pennington he wasn't goin' to be no obstructionist in the trade, but he did kick like a bay steer on them new gradin'-rules an' refused to conform to 'em. Said he was too old an' had been too long in business to start gougin' his customers at his time o' life. So he got out o' the association.”

  “Bully for John Cardigan!” Bryce declared. “I suppose we could make a little more money by cheapening our grade, but the quality of our lumber is so well known that it sells itself and saves us the expense of maintaining a corps of salesmen.”

  “From what I hear tell o' the Colonel,” Dan observed sagely, “the least he ever wants is a hundred and fifty per cent. the best of it.”

  “Yes,” old Zeb observed gravely, “an' so fur as I can see, he ain't none too perticular how he gets it.” He helped himself to a toothpick, and followed by the head sawyer, abruptly left the room—— after the fashion of sawmill men and woodsmen, who eat as much as they can as quickly as they can and eventually die of old age rather than indigestion. Bryce ate his noonday meal in more leisurely fashion and at its conclusion stepped into the kitchen.

  “Where do you live, cook?” he demanded of that functionary; and upon being informed, he retired to the office and called up the Sequoia meat-market.

  “Bryce Cardigan speaking,” he informed the butcher. “Do you ever buy any pigs from our mill cook?”

  “Not any more,” the butcher answered. “He stung me once with a dozen fine shoats. They looked great, but after I had slaughtered them and had them dressed, they turned out to be swill-fed hogs——swill and alfalfa.”

  “Thank you.” Bryce hung up. “I knew that cook was wasteful,” he declared, turning to his father's old manager, one Thomas Sinclair. “He wastes food in order to take the swill home to his hogs——and nobody watches him. Things have certainly gone to the devil,” he continued.

  “No fault of mine,” Sinclair protested. “I've never paid any attention to matters outside the office. Your father looked after everything else.”

  Bryce looked at Sinclair. The latter was a thin, spare, nervous man in the late fifties, and though generally credited with being John Cardigan's manager, Bryce knew that Sinclair was in reality little more than a glorified bookkeeper——and a very excellent bookkeeper indeed. Bryce realized that in the colossal task that confronted him he could expect no real help from Sinclair.

  “Yes,” he replied, “my father looked after everything else——while he could.”

  “Oh, you'll soon get the business straightened out and running smoothly again,” Sinclair declared confidently.

  “Well, I'm glad I started on the job to-day, rather than next Monday, as I planned to do last night.”

  He stepped to the window and looked out. At the mill-dock a big steam schooner and a wind-jammer lay; in the lee of the piles of lumber, sailors and long-shoremen, tallymen and timekeeper lounged, enjoying the brief period of the noon hour still theirs before the driving mates of the lumber-vessels should turn them to on the job once more. To his right and left stretched the drying yard, gangway on gangway formed by the serried rows of lumber-piles, the hoop-horses placidly feeding from their nosebags while the strong-armed fellows who piled the lumber sat about in little groups conversing with the mill-hands.

  As Bryce looked, a puff of white steam appeared over the roof of the old sawmill, and the one o'clock whistle blew. Instantly that scene of indolence and ease turned to one of activity. The mill-hands lounging in the gangways scurried for their stations in the mill; men climbed to the tops of the lumber-piles, while other men passed boards and scantlings up to them; the donkey-engines aboard the vessels rattled; the cargo-gaffs of the steam schooner swung outward, and a moment later two great sling-loads of newly sawed lumber rose in the air, swung inward, and descended to the steamer's decks.

  All about Bryce were scenes of activity, of human endeavour; and to him in that moment came the thought: “My father brought all this to pass——and now the task of continuing it is mine! All those men who earn a living in Cardigan's mill and on Cardigan's dock——those sailors who sail the ships that carry Cardigan's lumber into the distant marts of men——are dependent upon me; and my father used to tell me not to fail them. Must my father have wrought all this in vain? And must I stand by and see all this go to satisfy the overwhelming ambition of a stranger?” His big hands clenched. “No!” he growled savagely.

  “If I stick around this office a minute longer, I'll go crazy,” Bryce snarled then. “Give me your last five annual statements, Mr. Sinclair, please.”

  The old servitor brought forth the documents in question. Bryce stuffed them into his pocket and left the office. Three quarters of an hour later he entered the little amphitheatre in the Valley of the Giants and paused with an expression of dismay. One of the giants had fallen and lay stretched across the little clearing. In its descent it had demolished the little white stone over his mother's grave and had driven the fragments of the stone deep into the earth.

  The tremendous brown butt quite ruined the appearance of the amphitheatre by reason of the fact that it constituted a barrier some fifteen feet high and of equal thickness athwart the centre of the clearing, with fully three quarters of the length of the tree lost to sight where the fallen monarch had wedged between its more fortunate fellows. The fact that the tree was down, however, was secondary to the fact that neither wind nor lightning had brought it low, but rather the impious hand of man; for the great jagged stump showed all too plainly the marks of cross-cut saw and axe; a pile of chips four feet deep littered the ground.

  For fully a minute Bryce stood dumbly gazing upon the sacrilege before his rage and horror found vent in words. “An enemy has done this thing,” he cried aloud to the wood-goblins. “And over her grave!”

  Presently, smothering his emotion, he walked the length of the dead giant, and where the top tapered off to a size that would permit of his stepping across it, he retraced his steps on the other side of the tree until he had reached a point some fifty feet from the butt—— when the vandal's reason for felling the monster became apparent.

  It was a burl tree. At the point where Bryce paused a malignant growth had developed on the trunk of the tree, for all the world like a tremendous wart. This was the burl, so prized for table-tops and panelling because of the fact that the twisted, wavy, helter-skelter grain lends to the wood an extraordinary beauty when polished. Bryee noted that the work of removing this excrescence had been accomplished very neatly. With a cross-cut saw the growth, perhaps ten feet in diameter, had been neatly sliced off much as a housewife cuts slice after slice from a loaf of bread. He guessed that these slices, practically circular in shape, had been rolled out of the woods to some conveyance waiting to receive them.

  What Bryce could not understand, however, was the stupid brutality of the raiders in felling the tree merely for that section of burl. By permitting the tree to stand and merely building a staging up to the burl, the latter could have been removed without vital injury to the tree——whereas by destroying the tree the wretches had evidenced all too clearly to Bryce a wanton desire to add insult to injury.

  Bryce inspected the scars on the stump carefully. They were weather- stained to such an extent that to his experienced eye it was evident the outrage had been committed more than a year previously; and the winter rains, not to mention the spring growth of grasses and underbrush, had effectually destroyed all trace of the trail taken by the vandals with their booty.

  “Poor old Dad!” he murmured. “I'm glad now he has been unable to get up here and see this. It would have broken his heart. I'll have this tree made into fence-posts and the stump dynamited and removed this summer. After he is operated on and gets back his sight, he will come up here——and he must never know. Perhaps he will have forgotten how many trees stood in this circle. And I'll fill in the hole left by the stump and plant some manzanita there to hide the——”

  He paused. Peeping out from under a chip among the litter at his feet was the moldy corner of a white envelope. In an instant Bryce had it in his hand. The envelope was dirty and weather-beaten, but to a certain extent the redwood chips under which it had lain hidden had served to protect it, and the writing on the face was still legible. The envelope was empty and addressed to Jules Rondeau, care of the Laguna Grande Lumber Company, Sequoia, California.

  Bryce read and reread that address. “Rondeau!” he muttered. “Jules Rondeau! I've heard that name before——ah, yes! Dad spoke of him last night. He's Pennington's woods-boss——”

  He paused. An enemy had done this thing——and in all the world John Cardigan had but one enemy——Colonel Seth Pennington. Had Pennington sent his woods-boss to do this dirty work out of sheer spite? Hardly. The section of burl was gone, and this argued that the question of spite had been purely a matter of secondary consideration.

  Evidently, Bryce reasoned, someone had desired that burl redwood greatly, and that someone had not been Jules Rondeau, since a woods- boss would not be likely to spend five minutes of his leisure time in consideration of the beauties of a burl table-top or panel. Hence, if Rondeau had superintended the task of felling the tree, it must have been at the behest of a superior; and since a woods-boss acknowledges no superior save the creator of the pay-roll, the recipient of that stolen burl must have been Colonel Pennington.

  Suddenly he thrilled. If Jules Rondeau had stolen that burl to present it to Colonel Pennington, his employer, then the finished article must be in Pennington's home! And Bryce had been invited to that home for dinner the following Thursday by the Colonel's niece.

  “I'll go, after all,” he told himself. “I'll go——and I'll see what I shall see.”

  He was too wrought up now to sit calmly down in the peace and quietude of the giants, and digest the annual reports Sinclair had given him. He hastened back to the mill-office and sought Sinclair.

  “At what hour does the logging-train leave the Laguna Grande Lumber Company's yard for our log-landing in Township Nine?” he demanded.

  “Eight a.m. and one p.m. daily, Bryce.”

  “Have you any maps of the holdings of Pennington and ourselves in that district?”

  “Yes.”

  “Let me have them, please. I know the topography of that district perfectly, but I am not familiar with the holdings in and around ours.”

  Sinclair gave him the maps, and Bryce retired to his father's private office and gave himself up to a study of them.

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