SHORT STORIES

Yoke-Mates

ARCHIE P. McKISHNIE August 1 1909
SHORT STORIES

Yoke-Mates

ARCHIE P. McKISHNIE August 1 1909

Yoke-Mates

ARCHIE P. McKISHNIE

HILLBRIGHT, oil-king and oil-prospector, turned from the pleasant retrospect of a forest of “chugging” derricks to let his probing eyes rest on Whipple, who had just told him some uncomplimenary things about himself.

“Joel,” he said, quietly. “You've just about accused me of stealing $15,000 of your money. You forget that you came to me and urged me to take that money and speculate with it in your interests.”

“And your own,” inteirupted the other man, “don’t forget that.”

“I’m not forgetting it. I haven’t forgotten it.” Hillbright’s thin lips smiled and he rubbed his hands together. “Joel,” he asked, “what would you have done with that $15,000, supposing I had refused to take it?”

Whipple shrugged his shoulders and did not answer.

“You see,” said Hillbright, “somebody was going to get that money.

I knew that, so I did not hesitate about taking it. I’ve been fair with you, though ; if those Dayton leases proved dead ones, you may know that I lost thousand for thousand with you, but, of course, you don’t believe that.”

Whipple was gazing across the wide fields of towering derricks. The smell of crude petroleum filled the air. All about the great oil-tanks the ground was black and greasy with crude oil. He turned slowly and looked at Hillbright.

“You’ve got a knack of smoothin’ things over, all right,” he said, grimly. “I reckon the oil business makes a man greasy and smooth in more ways than one. Maybe you don’t know just what the loss of that money means to me, but that don’t matter, not now. You ask me what Tm goin' to do and I’ll tell you, I’m goin’ to get away from this State of Ohio as quick as God’ll let me. What I’ve got t’ say in partin’ with you don’t concern money matters exactly. I’m not a man that wants t’ howl because I’ve been whipped. The thing that pinches the wust now is this. I consider that I’ve been done, and done proper—an’ by a man I thought was my friend. Don’t you speak now, Tommie, just listen till I’m through. I came to you with all the money I had in the world, except a little that I couldn’t get hold of—I’m glad now I couldn’t get hold of it—and I trusted that money to you. Well, it’s gone, an’ all I have for it is your word that you dropped as much more yourself. I don’t believe that anv more than I believe that expression on your face is genuine. If I trusted you, Hillbright, more than any one man has a right to trust another, the reason for it dates back further than your life or mine. Maybe heredity has somethin’ to do with. it,. Your father and mine were better men than you and me are. They were friends, too. Fought together in the war and trusted one another as men do only once in a long while. I’m remindin’ you of these things, because I’m ashamed of myself for the confidence I put in you. If I only had to fight memory I’d have an easy time, as far as rememberin’ you in the old way is concerned ; but you see, Tommie, I’ve got to whip it out of my blood. It’s goin’ to take time to do that.”

Hillbright was pacing up and down the oil-browned earth. The fingers of the hands locked behind his broad back were working nervously. His heavy face wore an expression hard to fathom.

Whipple continued, “If I’m a quitter, it’s because it ain’t in my nature t’ stay in the game. I hate all this just as much as you love it. My likin’ is for the big woods an’ the open. I have more respect for God’s animals born wild than man-animals trained wild. I’m goin’ into a big free country where there’s scope for me, Tommie, I’m goin’ to Canada and take up a homestead.”

Hillbright’s face reddened, “Joel,” he said, “you mustn’t go away with the thought that I cheated you, in your head. Come over to my office and I will dispel it right now.”

Whipple drew back and his chin squared combatively. “I don’t see how that’s goin’ to mend things,” he said, simply. “You don't suppose I’d take that money from you, do you? If 1 go away thinkin’ that you’ve skinned me good and hard, that’s my business. I’m no baby, I’m goin’ to hope, that’s all. I just want to warn you, and that’s more than you did for me. Of all mean snakes in the grass, that I naturally hate, I hate the rattler least, because he gives warnin’. When I have fleeced you, same as you have fleeced me—we’ll be good friends again. Don’t you ever get rid of the idea that Joel Whipple ain’t layin’ for you, and if he don’t get you sooner or later, it won’t be his fault. You see, it’s some hard to have to come down to your level, but it’s got to be did. Goodbye, Mr. Snake Hillbright—I’ve rattled.” Whipple thrust his hands in his pockets and walked slowly away. Hillbright sat down on a coil of rope and gazed away across the forest of towering derricks.

The fires beneath the two huge caldrons, threw a ruddy glow to the tree-tops and flashed onward to bronze the sky, which had darkened to the just-before-dawn ebony A long, gaunt figure seated on a stump against the log wind-break, arose, stretched himself lazily and with a great dipper proceeded to empty the contents of the larger kettle into a smaller one. The sweet smell of boiling maple sap drifted out in a haze of white and the hickory log beneath the kettles parted with a snap, throwing up a million sparks towards the heavens. A shaggy collie dog, started by the sound, arose, took in the situation with a glance, turned twice about, then curled himself up to snooze again.

“Lucky beggar, you are, Jack,” laughed the man. “Bein’ a dog, you kin sleep all night ; bein' a man, I have t’ watch tlv syrupin’ down. Must be nigh mornin’, though, and Joel will be cornin’ afore long. Then I'll have my turn.”

All things happen quickly in the wild. Llardly had the white glow of dawn streaked the sky before the gold red of the rising sun broke through the tree-fringe and awoke the alreadv stirring bush-life to vigorous manifestation. Birds piped and squirrels chattered. A spotted-breasted highholder flew to a stub close beside the fires and proceeded to grub his breakfast from its decayed wood. The dog arose once more, yawned hugely and shook off the balance of his sleepiness. Down across the woodland he had caught the sound of a voice, directing old Bright, the ox. “Gee, there, old clumsy-legs, d’ye want to upset that barrel of sap?”

“Hello. Joel,” called the man by the kettles, as Bright’s white sides flashed into view between the trees, “thort you was never coinin’.”

“Had to bring in this sap I gathered last night, and get it bil in’ before it soured. Take. How’s she coinin’?”

“Fine an’ hunky. Must be five gallon syruped down this bilin’.”

“That’s fine, haven’t had a run of sap like this for the last five years. It’s been a great spring for sugarmakin*. What d’ye suppose is the matter with that ox? He keeps turnin’ his head about all the time and wavin’ his off ear as though he was flirtin’ with a Jersey.”

“He misses his mate. Joel; he ain’t used t’ bein' hitched up without Buck beside him. Where did you leave that Buck ?”

“Left him chewin’ his cud beside the strawstack. Why?”

“Did you shet th’ gate on him ?”

“\\ ell, now, I don’t remember ; what if I didn’t?”

“Well, if you didn't you kin look fer him along here any time, that’s all. You can't keep them two critters apart without tyin’. There, what did I tell you?” A long moo came through the bush and something was heard crashing through the trees.

Bright lifted his dewy nose and sent an answering call. “By gum !” cried Whipple, “that’s some strange, isn’t it?”

“You see, they think a lot of each other, same’s some people do,” reasoned Jake, reaching for his overcoat.

“Jake,” said Whipple, dryly, “don't you be foolish. Oxen air friendly because they don’t try and do one another. People can’t be. because they do do one gnother.” Having delivered this piece of sage advice, Whiople proceeded to empty the barrel. Chancing to glance up, he noted the puzzled expression on Jake’s face. “Don’t suppose you have ever been done up good and proper by anybody, have you?” he asked, the wrinkle between his brows deepening.

“Can’t say’s I have,” Jake answered. “Have you ?”

“Have I? You just bet I have.” Whipple slashed the pail viciously into the yellow sap, “And by a friend, too.” His eye fell on the oxen, now standing side by side. “Almost a yoke-mate, Jake,” he finished. “It don t cost anything to make friends, but—it always costs something to lose ’em.” Whipple bent and picked up a glowing coal in his horny fingers and laid it on the bowl of his pipe, “And if two men have been sorter yoke-mates, as it were, it seems pretty hard to understand how one could jest naturally fleece the other—eh?”

“Wel], I don't know, seems to be if they’re yoke-mates, same as Buck and Bright here, it would come some natural fer 'em to try ’n do it. Them oxen are everlastingly at it. Just t'other night Buck crowded inter Bright’s stall and cleaned up on his corn., while Bright was out at th’ water-trough ; but, th’ next day Bright et Buck’s turnips up slick and clean. Them two keep on good terms by keepin’ even on the thievin’, seems to me that’s a pretty good rule fer men to follow.” Jake tramped oft" through the bush toward the clearing and Whipple, having emptied the barrel, sat down by the fire, puffing his pipe dreamily.

Just below the sugar shanty a spring gushed and danced along. It flowed from between two great maples and neither Whipple nor Jake, his hired man, had ever learned its source. For some reason, its song seemed livlier and louder than ever this March morning. Whipple caught himself listening and wondering what a great find such a spring would be to the oil-men in the Ohio fields, to whom the water in drilling operations was so much of a necessity. Somehow he had been thinking of the past very much of late. He lifted his head and sniffed the breeze. “No petroleum smell in that, please God,” he murmured. “Just wood and leaves an’ water, an’ that’s all th’ smell I’m wantin’.” He bent and drew a fresh log up close under the kettles. Then with an augur in hand and spiles in pocket, he turned toward the great ridge of maples, to tap more trees.

Coming back across the ridge, Whipple discovered a minx-track in the snow, leading into a thick slump of whiplike saplings. He had noticed that clump of tiny shoots before and had wondered what had caused this peculiar freak of nature ; for all about it were trees of mature growth. He passed around the thicket and could not discern where Air. Minx had come forth. He must be in there still, and minxskins being worth money, Whipple determined to find out if he had holed up. With some difficulty he entered the thicket and in its very centre he discovered something that made J::s eyes brighten. In the centre ot the thicket rested a little pond of water. It was so clear that the roots three feet below its surface stood out like blue veins on white flesh. The water kept revolving slowly and in the middle of the pond a little whirlpool had formed. Whipple came forth laboriously at last, his face working. “Right here is where I lay my plans to get Tommie Hilbright,” he said, as gently as though he were breathing a prayer.

That night Take packed his carpet-bag. and took the trail for Sarnia. He was leaving for Ohio State and he had instructions of which he and Whipple alone knew. Next day two Indians from the reserve came down and silently took charge of the sugar-making. Whipple, too, had important business to transact. The day following Jake’s departure he hnched the oxen to the sleigh and it was three days before he returned. He had taken away a barrel containing maple syrup, he returned with a barrel containing something else. It was past midnight when he drove up the lane to the big log house. At the stable he held a low-whispered argument with the oxen and after manv promises succeeded in working them, by decrees, down the lane and into the bush. There he passed the sugar-fires in a white circle and after much trouble brought up among the giant trees on the ridge. The sapling-thicket stood before him.

The first, streaks of dawri were painting the skies when Whipple stabled his wearv oxen. He gave them each such a feed of yellow corn, as thev had never before received.

Then he passed into the silent house and went to bed. For the first time in five years he was experiencing a feeling of real, wholesome, comfortable joy. He lay looking out of the window at the growing light for a long while. “Oxen are darned queer critters,” he murmured. “But they are darned staunch yoke-mates. They’re that, cause they even things up with one another,” Then he fell asleep and dreamt of Hillbright.

Ten days after Jake’s departure, an Indian brought Joel Whipple a letter, it was the first letter of any kind he had received since he.had been in the new country. Whipple opened the letter with clumsy, trembling fingers.

“Dear Joole,” he read, “I have bin in the Ohio oil-fields for nearly i week. I found Air. Hillbright all hunky-dory, when I told him that our spring was that iley the cows wouldn’t drink the water, he got a map and studied it and then he ups and said he was coming back with me, says he wants to see you awful bad cause you were boys together. I guess we have played our cards all right. You doctor the spring right away. We will be there about the 20th day of April.

Jake Twigg.”

Whipple unyoked the cattle and started toward the bush on a half run. There was work to do. He had just remembered that to-day was the 20th of April.

That afternoon Whiple, saw in hand, was trimming the little appleorchard, about his home, when Jake and a tall, broad-shouldered man turned up the lane toward the house. The spring day was alive with sunshine and sweet twitters of nesting birds. A warm sweet-smelling mist hung above the newly ploughed field. Only occasionally did the breeze from the south bring on its wings the faintest scent of crude oil. Whipple went forward to greet the new arrivals.

“Well of all things, if it ain’t Tommie,” he said, holding out his hand. Hillbright took it and as those two looked into one another’s faces each saw an expression of genuine gladness.

“I’ve been wanting to find you for years, Joel." said the oil-king. “I thought you must have got lost.”

“How d’ye like my place?” asked Whipple, proudly.

“Fine, Joel, fine. Man, I don’t blame you for wanting to get into a country like this. How much land do you own?” Perhaps Hillbright’s sharp eyes narrowed ever so little as he asked the question. If so Whipple did not notice it apparently.

“I own two hundred acres,” he answered. “Cost me $2,500.

Hillbright smiled slowly, “Any rattle-snakes here, Joel?” he asked, his eyes twinkling.

“Jest one, and you want t’ watch that feller,” answered Whipple. “No, Tommie, I ain't forgot a promise I made ; not much.”

“Then you still think?” —commenced Hilbright.

“That I was hooked by a yokemate? You bet I do, but when my horns get a leetle stouter I’m goin’ to hook back, Tommie. Howsomever we won’t talk about that. Come in and we’ll get somethin’ t’ eat.”

“Joel,” said Hillbright, after dinner, “Jake has told me all about that spring of yours, and I’ll confess it was more than mere friendship brought me here. Of course, I wanted to see you because there is something—but that can wait. Tell me just where is this property of yours located on this map?”

Whipple dried his hands on the dish towel and leaned over the map of Ontario, which Hillbright spread out on the table.

“Let me see, just you pint me out Sarnia,” he said.

Hillbright put his pencil mark on Sarina, “Well I’m right about here,” directed Whipple, taking the pencil and making a little cross on the paper.

“Which would make you about thirty or thirty-five miles northwest by east, of Sarnia, say it does look as though you were in it.”

“In it,” cried Whipple, “you bet I’m in it, right in clover here, Tommie, right in clover.”

Hillbright arose, “You don’t mind my taking a stroll about your farm, do you, Joel?” he asked, “I want to see that bush of yours. You go right on with your tree-trimming. I know this is your busy season. I’ll be back in a couple of hours.” From the barn, Joel and Jake watched the big man climb the hill to the mapleridge. Then they shook hands.

“You’ll pay him back in his own coin, I reckon,” whispered Jake.

“Am I in it! Oh, just am I? laughed Whipple, “Jake, I’m too danged smart for a farmer ; I ort to have studied law.”

It was nearly evening when Hillbright rejoined Whipple in the orchard. Coming up the lane, he had passed the oxen, who with wonderment in their mild eyes were vainly striving to get rid of a nasty oily taste in their mouths. Hillbright smiled as he noticed their wrinkled noses and apparent disgust.

“Your oxen seemingly don’t like the taste of that spring down yonder.” he laughed, when Whipple asked him what he thought of the place. “It’s too bad it’s not good water, Joel.”

“I don’t know what’s the matter with that water,” lied Joel, taking a chew of Canada twist. “If that spring was only sweet it would put one thousand dollars extra value on this place.”

Hillbright sat down at the root of an apple-tree. “Joel,” he said abruptly, “I’m going to be fair with you. You think I fleeced you once and maybe you think I’d do it again, but I’m going to make that impossible,

I want to know just what you are willing to take for this two hundred acres of land.”

Whipple’s saw dropped with a twang. This was certainly better than he had expected. He was quick with his answer. “I’ll take $32,500.” he said so suddenly that Hillbright started.

“That’s a rattling long price,” he returned with meaning.

Joel’s eyes twinkled. “Just leave that word rattle out of the conversation please,” he grinned.

Hillbright drew forth his checkbook. “Old friend,” he smiled, “I’m going to pay you that price.” He filled in a check for $32,500, and standing up, handed it to bewildered Joel. “I’m going now to send Jake to Sarnia,” he said. “I want to wire for three drilling outfits at once,” Whipple went on with his pruning and kept an eye on the lane. Soon he say Jake walk quickly away. '

“He’s going to get some drillin’ outfits, is he?” he chuckled, “Oh, my, isn’t this good. Isn’t this just too good, Joel, you rattler,” he laughed, “You are goin’ to show this old yoke-mate 0’ yourn that you are smart, real right-down smart.”

While awaiting the arival of the drilling outfits, " was much away. Ele took long walks and there was not one land-owner in the district that did not get to know him. Often at night when he and Whipple sat before the door smoking and talking over old times, he would catch a look of almost pity in the eyes of the man who had sold him the bush farm at a “rattling” long price.

At last the long-looked-for outfits arrived and Joel prepared to have his crowning joy at Hillbright’s expense. “I’ll jest let him draw a few blanks, like he let me one time,” he told himself. He fully expected that Hillbright would drill in the vicinitv of the spring and when the first derrick was erected in a low swampy spot nearly half a mile lower down, he began to wonder at the foolishness of mankind. “Hillbright’s a bigger ninnie than I thought him,” he told Jake. “Gosh, just you wait till he finds out how I’ve fleeced him.”

But a great surprise was in store for Whipple. Tliree weeks after that chugging, pounding drill had started to bite its way into the bowels of the earth, something happened that set the whole countryside agog with excitement and the world knew for the first time that another of Canada’s hidden resources had been discovered. One morning Hilbright, who had been much with the drillers of late, came to where Whipple was packing up his farming utensils and said,' “We’ve struck a gusher.” Whipple dropped the piece of machinery on the floor and gazed at the oil-king open-mouthed. “In five years this is going to be one of the biggest oil fields in the world,” went on Hillbright, confidently. “That wasn’t such a rattling long price you asked, after all, Joel.”

Jake came out scratching his head and looking his surprise. “Then you struck ile,” he gasped.

Hillbright nodded, “There’s a lake of it under here,” he declared. Y hippie sat down weakly on^the barn floor and took his head in his hands.

“It sarves me right,” he almost sobbed, “it sure sarves me right. I salted that spring so's to fool you, and here you haven’t been fooled at all. I sold millions of dollars’ worth t’ you for $32,500. Oh, by gosh. 1 havn't bit you any at all. You've beat me at my own game, Tommie.”

Hillbright bent and lifted the huddled form from the floor ; then he led him out into the sunshine. “Joel,” he said, “I don’t want you to think that I was fooled any from the start. We oil men don’t look for oil in springs, we have a surer method of locating the amber fluid. I've been chasing greasy, vellow-green oil for greasy, yellow green-backs too long to be fooled by surface indications, even if they were genuine. You see I went further and found what I expected to find. We will build a town right here and we’ll call it Petrolia, in commemoration of that barrel I found in the spring thicket.”

Whipple groaned. ‘T didn’t want to fleece you only for one thing,” he wailed. ‘T can’t get rid of th’ idea that you did me, Tommie—and me and you good yoke-mates at that. I simply wanted to even things upso's that we could be yoke-mates again.”

“God bless us,” laughed Hillbright, “don’t I know? And now I’m going to fix that right here. After you had left the Ohio fields, I thought I would spend a few thousands in your interests in sinking those dusters a little deeper—those dry-holes, you remember, you held me accountable for. Well, I did it and as a result, brought in four of the best paying wells in the district. Those wells are yours and mine, because I really did sink dollar for dollar with you in the enterprise—and they have been pumping up money for you and me for three years or more. Your earnings from those wells to date amount to just exactly $32,500; so in reality, Joel, I paid you your own money for the deed of this two .hundred acres.”

Whipple gasped. “Well, I never,” he said. “An’ here for five years I’ve been blamin’ you for my loss of $15,000. Well it sarves me right, an’ now I’m going to ask your pardon, Tommie, and sneak up further into the country. I can’t leave Canada.”

“But you can’t very well go now, Joel,” smiled Hillbright, “You see you and I are partners again. When you were shaking hands with yourself for getting even with me, I was out leasing land. You musn t forget that I still had $32,500 of your money and this with as much more of my own (has made you and I practically owners of this big field.

Whipple looked at the speaker in amazement. “You don’t mean to say, that right in the face of my tryin’ to play you dirt, you went out and helped make me a fortune, do you?” he gasped.

“Well,” laughed Hillbright, “call it what you will. I certainly tried to look after your interests. I’ve got a bunch of leases and deeds here in your name, anyway. You stand to make dollar for dollar with me in this interprise, so I guess we’re even.”

Slowly, hesitatingly Whipple held out his hand. “Would you take it, old yoke-mate?” he asked, tears streaming down his cheeks. ^

“Old yoke-mate, you can. just bet I will.” cried Hillbright, and just inside the door Jake Twigg threw his hat to the ceiling and danced a hornpipe 011 the barn-floor.

IN my course I have known, and according to my measure have co-operated with gveat men and I have never yet seen any plan which has not been mended by the observations of those who were much inferior in understanding to the person who took the lead in the business. Bacon