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The Valley of the Giants (Chapter5)

2006-08-22 19:42

  Chapter V

  No man is infallible, and in planning his logging operations in the San Hedrin watershed, John Cardigan presently made the discovery that he had erred in judgment. That season, from May to November, his woods-crew put thirty million feet of logs into the San Hedrin River, while the mill sawed on a reserve supply of logs taken from the last of the old choppings adjacent to Squaw Creek. That year, however, the rainfall in the San Hedrin country was fifty per cent. less than normal, and by the first of May of the following year Cardigan's woods-crew had succeeded in driving slightly less than half of the cut of the preceding year to the boom on tidewater at the mouth of the river.

  “Unless the Lord'll gi' us a lot more water in the river,” the woods- boss McTavish complained, “I dinna see how I'm to keep the mill runnin'.” He was taking John Cardigan up the riverbank and explaining the situation. “The heavy butt-logs hae sunk to the bottom,” he continued. “Wie a normal head o' water, the lads'll move them, but wi' the wee drappie we have the noo——” He threw up his hamlike hands despairingly.

  Three days later a cloud-burst filled the river to the brim; it came at night and swept the river clean of Cardigan's clear logs, An army of Juggernauts, they swept down on the boiling torrent to tidewater, reaching the bay shortly after the tide had commenced to ebb.

  Now, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and a log-boom is a chaplet of a small logs, linked end to end by means of short chains; hence when the vanguard of logs on the lip of that flood reached the log-boom, the impetus of the charge was too great to be resisted. Straight through the weakest link in this boom the huge saw-logs crashed and out over Humboldt Bar to the broad Pacific. With the ebb tide some of them came back, while others, caught in cross- currents, bobbed about the Bay all night and finally beached at widely scattered points. Out of the fifteen million feet of logs less than three million feet were salvaged, and this task in itself was an expensive operation.

  John Cardigan received the news calmly. “Thank God we don't have a cloud-burst more than once in ten years,” he remarked to his manager. “However, that is often enough, considering the high cost of this one. Those logs were worth eight dollars a thousand feet, board measure, in the millpond, and I suppose we've lost a hundred thousand dollars' worth.”

  He turned from the manager and walked away through the drying yard, up the main street of Sequoia, and on into the second-growth timber at the edge of the town. Presently he emerged on the old, decaying skid-road and continued on through his logged-over lands, across the little divide and down into the quarter-section of green timber he had told McTavish not to cut. Once in the Valley of the Giants, he followed a well-worn foot-path to the little amphitheatre, and where the sunlight filtered through like a halo and fell on a plain little white marble monument, he paused and sat down on the now almost decayed sugar-pine windfall.

  “I've come for a little comfort, sweetheart,” he murmured to her who slept beneath the stone. Then he leaned back against a redwood tree, removed his hat, and closed his eyes, holding his great gray head the while a little to one side in a listening attitude. Long he sat there, a great, time-bitten devotee at the shrine of his comfort; and presently the harried look left his strong, kind face and was replaced by a little prescient smile——the sort of smile worn by one who through bitter years has sought something very, very precious and has at length discovered it.

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