Sailor Equals Sucker
A sailor doesn't often run into squalls down a mine, but when he does—you've got a good story
F. O. REPPLIER
A SAILOR, EH?" Johnny Dickerman jumped. The question was more than pertinent. Sitting there with his elbows on the lunch counter, relaxing after his long day's
ride, he had been telling himself that here in this Rocky Mountain mining camp no one would ever think of calling him a sailor. He had been amusing himself with the reflection that if he were to tie an oar on his back and walk down the street outside, people would stop him to ask what he carried; congratulating himself with the thought that here he could forget he had ever seen a ship or sailed upon an ocean.
“Nice picture you got there, son.”
The occupant of the stool beside him, a fat man with a sun-reddened face that shone moistly in the lunch-room lights, nodded jovially at Johnny’s forearm. Johnny could have kicked himself as he realized that in his abstraction he had revealed the one label of the sea which he had been unable to discard—a mermaid and an anchor, tattooed above his wrist. Covering the picture with a jerk of his sleeve, he forced a smile and tried to speak casually.
“Thanks, I—it’s just a souvenir.”
“I’ll bet,” said the fat man dryly.
He turned on his stool and inspected Johnny frankly. “Don’t mind if I look at you, do you, son?” His voice was louder than need be. “It ain’t often we see a sailor here.”
Johnny winced. Sailor. The word grated on his nerves. Along the counter, heads turned in sudden curiosity.
“I’m not a sailor,” he declared.
“Oh, pardon me."
The fat man did not mean it. Johnny could not help remarking the expectancy that fell upon the lunch room. However, the waitress slid his dinner before him, and the sight of it, after his long fast, was a salve to his irritation.
“Say, son. You ever been to Honolulu?”
His neighbor’s voice, eager, disarming, caught Johnny off
his guard. He swallowed a bit of fried ham and grinned. “Sure. Four times.”
“Mow’d you get there, walk?”
There were chuckles from the customers.
“Swam,” said Johnny between bites, amiably.
The fat man chortled. “Oh, no, you’re not a sailor. Been
to Honolulu four times, but you’re not a sailor.”
It seemed good-natured, innocent, on the surface.
But it was not innocent,
Johnny knew. The fellow had seen him jerk down his sleeve.
“Come on, Salty.” He nudged Johnny in the ribs.
Out of the corner of his eye Johnny saw him wink largely at his audience.
“Loosen up. We’re all hillbillies here. Tell us about them brown babies out there at Wai-kee-kee.”
“I came in here to eat,”
“You sailors !” sighed the fat man clownishly. He wagged a finger. “Don’t you go to bein’ no rovin’ lover to our women, sailor.”
The lunch room roared.
Johnny knew why. He knew that, thanks to his fair hair and coloring, he looked younger than he was.
He also knew, much as he
hated it, the air of fresh-washed innocence that clung to him. He didn’t mind that part of it now, though. What he did mind was that a stranger should advertise to strangers a phase of his life he was anxious to put for ever from him. Sailor, sailor, sailor. The fat man was like a boxer, jabbing a spot that was already sore.
U VEN THEN, however, Johnny would have contained ■*-' himself had not the fat man nudged him a second time. “I’ve heard tell that sailors have a gal in every port. That ain’t right, Salty. You know it ain’t.”
“Isn’t it?” Johnny said. With his elbow he nudged back, and not gently.
He could hear the fat man grunt. For an instant his face was blank with surprise. Then the blood surged into it.
“Why, you—you young punk!”
The shove with which he accompanied the exclamation toppled Johnny off his stool. Instinctively he twisted, saving himself a dirty fall. As he landed on hands and knees he heard a crash behind him. He got up to see his dinner on the floor and the fat man sliding off his stool.
“Yow owe me a dinner,” said Johnny Dickerman.
Reassured by his quietness, the fat man said mincingly: “So nice of you to tell me.”
Johnny’s temper slipped a notch. “Either you buy me a dinner or you go down like I did, on the floor.”
He was aware of his rashness. Compared with the other man he was as a launch to a liner. The fat man laughed at him.
Johnny feinted, ducked, and closed with him. The waitress screamed, and knives and forks clattered down on plates, and boots scuffed on the floor. Johnny heard the sounds dimly. Writhing and grappling, he and the fat man staggered crazily a dozen steps and brought up against the counter.
There was a jangle of china, and a cry as of someone in pain. Johnny let go his hold. Straightening, he saw a youth with a blue bandana on his head capering strangely in the centre of the floor.
A youth? A girl. A girl attired mannishly in khaki shirt, whipcord riding breeches, and high laced boots. He had not known there was a girl among the customers. Belatedly, he came to a realization of what had happened. Her breeches, he saw, were steaming, wet. In their scuffle he and the trouble-maker had upset her coffee in her lap.
He stood wordless, abashed. Yet even so he had to smile when a bald-headed man with a handful of paper napkins approached her, got down on his knees and began dabbing at her solicitously. The customers, miners mostly, looked on in solemn interest. For Johnny the scene was a tableau, the three features of which were the girl, stiff-legged, pulling her breeches gingerly from her. the baldheaded man at his prayerful ministrations, and the solemn, goggling crowd. His smile became a grin. The girl looked up and saw.
“That’ll do, dad,” she said crisply to the man before her.
She continued to stand where she was, as she was, but Johnny did not think her funny now. Her eyes held steady on him. They were deep eyes, too rich in color to be called blue. Violet, they may have been.
"Well?” she said.
Recalled to his manners, Johnny flushed. “I’m sorry.” He felt that something more was indicated, “I hope you aren’t burned much.”
She suspected that, after his grin. “Do you often brawl this way in public places?”
Johnny blinked. “No, ma’m.”
“That’s fortunate; for the bystanders, at least.”
Johnny did not like the tone of the remark. He said bluntly: “This wasn’t all my fault. If this fellow here ...” He looked for the fat man, but the fat man was gone.
“Oh, yes, I know. It was his fault entirely. I’m not blind, as it happens.”
No, only small, Johnny thought. She was mad because he had dared to be amused. For all her mannish clothes and violet eyes she was just another Fay Morland, shallow and more than a little vain. He had been impressed for an instant; reacting now, he said: “Have it your way. No doubt you always do.”
She received it without altering her level gaze in any way. “You’re an exceedingly amiable young man.”
“I regret,” said Johnny, “that I can’t return the compliment.”
It was childish, but he could not help it. After his experience with Fay Morland he was in no mood to be humble with any woman. He turned with attempted nonchalance and resumed his stool.
“Come again with that order of mine,” he told the waitress. His voice sounded deflant in the silence of the
The waitress hesitated, and a man with a none too clean chef’s cap on his head edged her aside.
“Mister,” he said to Johnny in a thick German accent, “you haf made in here trouble enough alretty. Better you go some udder place to get your dinner.”
Johnny sat still. First the fat man, then the girl, then this fellow. He had made a hit here, certainly.
“You vant that ve should t’row you oudt?”
“I want that you should !”
The proprietor looked to his customers, to the girl. “I leaf it to Miss Dor’t’y. Vot you say, Fräulein, does he go or does he stay?”
It was shrewd of the proprietor. Johnny was on his feet at once, saying hurriedly: “You needn’t trouble the lady. Here.”
He slapped down a quarter to pay for a meal he had not eaten, and departed. He shivered as a wind from snowclad
peaks struck into him. Turning up his coat collar, he proceeded slowly up the street—a street that once had been gay with lights, with music from dance halls, with crowds and traffic. Lodeville had been a famous gold camp in its day. About him, unseen in the darkness, were the relics of its past—sodden mine dumps, rusting machinery, rotting homes. He had thought them romantic in the fading light of the afternoon; now they merely depressed him. A fine place he had picked in which to make a start, he told himself. And a fine start he’d made here.
WELL, BUT what of that? He woke next morning to find the Rockies rising splendid and incredible in the unfiltered sunlight, a stimulus and a relief after the flat and glittering expanses of the sea. The morning air was sweet and cool, free of the clammy, weighted quality he had come to know too well. As for the town, they had not lied to him out in Vancouver. Lodeville was coming back. Many of the houses had been patched and freshly painted. They had curtains in the windows, and geraniums growing bravely in tin cans. The gasoline pumps on the two principal comers were new, the streets here and there had been freshly repaired. The town had an air of looking forward that appealed to Johnny, who was trying to do the same.
The Black Prince might give him a job, a man told him. He pointed out the mine, a huddle of pine-slab buildings topping a ridge several hundred feet above the town. Johnny had had little practice at mountain climbing on shipboard. He was puffing hard when he arrived at the mine. Entering the office shack, he stopped short. Before him, sitting at a table where the light from a window fell full upon her, sat the girl of the night before. She was dressed as before in boots, breeches, shirt, and she was so deeply engrossed in making entries in a ledger that she did not know of his presence. She looked competent, there at her work. But attractive; she was delicately made, he saw. Yet she wasn’t a china doll.
“Good morning, ma’m,” said Johnny.
He thought she’d like the “ma’m,” hinting as it did at years and dignity. He thought she’d like his salutation, cheerily devoid of recognition or remembrance, as though she had left no imprint on his mind.
Her head came up. Her eyes—yes, they were violet— darkened. With a casualness to match his own she answered: “Good morning. What can I do for you?”
“I’d like to see the boss.”
“The boss is a busy man.” There was an authoritative, even a proprietary ring to the statement.
“Who is the boss. Don’t tell me he’s your father!” Johnny said.
“As it happens, he is.”
“Oh, oh,” Johnny murmured. “Well, I’ve enjoyed my climb. Wonderful view you have here. So long.”
“Just a minute. What did you come here for—a job?” “That was my innocent purpose.”
“Then why didn’t you say so?”
She got up and walked with an easy, long-legged stride across the room. Johnny could hear her murmuring to someone beyond. Returning, she said shortly: “Dad will see you.”
HER FATHER sat at a desk littered with blueprints and bits of rock—ore samples, probably. He greeted Johnny with a long look and a short question: “Ever
worked in a mine?”
“No, sir,” Johnny said.
Yet he got his job; he didn’t know why. When he came out into the shack the girl was again immersed in her work. “Thanks,” he said softly, passing her. But she did not look up.
He emerged into the sunlight to hear a whir and clank of machinery in the hoist shack before him, to see the ore bucket rise into the gallows frame, check, and spill its contents down a chute into a waiting tram car. He’d be helping to fill that bucket tomorrow, down there underground somewhere. He was off at last to a brand new start. He kicked at a loose rock, and turned as he heard a hail behind him.
From the office doorway the girl came striding toward him. It was the first concession she had made, really; she could just as well have stood and let him come to her.
“Dad wants me to tell you,” she announced, “that he’ll have no fighting here at the mine. You’ll have to get the chip off your shoulder.”
“Oh,” said Johnny, disappointed. “I”—he spoke in a rush—“I’m sorry about last night. Losing my dinner made me sore, I guess.”
Unexpectedly, the girl smiled. And Johnny discovered something. When she smiled she was another person, warm, animated, friendly.
“And I’m sorry. In my case it was the combination of hot coffee and seeing you laugh at me. You shouldn’t have done that.”
“I know,” said Johnny meekly.
Her lips quirked at their comers, and a glint of amusement danced brightly in her eyes. “Look here,” he said. “Did your father really send you after me?”
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“What a question ! Of course.”
“Of course what?”
“Of course he—didn’t.”
“Fine! Now we’re getting somewhere. My name is Johnny Dickerman and I’m mighty happy to meet you.”
She laughed. “Mine’s Dot Hagner. Since we’re doing so famously would you mind telling me something? Whatever brought you to Lodeville?”
Johnny was briefly thoughtful. He was tempted to confide the whole story; he had been wanting to tell it to someone.
But he answered simply: “Disillusionment, I guess.”
“Tut,” Dot Hagner said. “And you so young! Was she pretty?”
Johnny snorted. “She! There’s a woman for you. Nothing can happen to a man but there’s one of their sex at the bottom of it. I got sick of the job I had, playing housemaid to a ship.”
“Then you are a sailor?”
“No. I was. Deck hand, room and board and thirty a month. On a cruise ship.”
“Didn’t you like it? Going to sea, I mean?”
“For a while I did. Do you really want to hear about it?”
“I’d love to. Other people’s business fascinates me.”
“Well,” said Johnny, “I had a year of college, and then I went to sea because I had to get hold of a job. I strung along with it because it was the easiest thing to do. Then one cruise we had a girl aboard.” “Hah ! What did I tell you?”
“Uh—huh. Well, this girl and I got pretty chummy. She was lonesome, I guess; the passengers were a stodgy lot that cruise. I used to sit up by the boats with her and look at the moon. Her mother got wind of it just before we reached Hong Kong, and they left the ship”—Johnny snapped his fingers—“like that. I didn’t see her again until six months later. She lived in a million-dollar apartment and I was, to use her phrase, ‘a common sailor.’ She managed to rub it in.”
“And you quit the sea because of that?” Dot Hagner’s tone contained a shade of disapproval.
“No, not just because of that. The reason I fell so hard for her was because I was getting bored. She gave me a jolt I needed. I got a second one when I tried to get a job ashore. Nobody wanted a sailor. I shipped on again, finally. And, lady, that last cruise was a dozen too many!”
DOT THRUST her hands boyishly into her pockets and stared off at the successive waves of mountains, climbing toward the peaks of the Divide. Johnny wasn’t sure she did see. It was not easy to tell another what you felt, and why. It wasn’t shame, snobbishness, that had made him leave the sea, but distaste. He arrived at the point eventually where he simply could not go on, tolerating the patronizing questions of fatuous passengers, chipping paint, polishing brass, eating throwntogether food and sleeping in a stuffy bunk.
“But why did you come here to Lodeville?”
“That’s easy. I read in the paper about the mining revival in the West, and I heard about Lodeville in Vancouver.” “Well, I hope you’ll like it here. But mining’s hard work, and dangerous. Dad’ll start you as a mucker. That means shovelling, loading rock and ore into cars and tramming it to the hoist. It’s laborer’s work.”
“It’s a start,” said Johnny. “Are you intimating, by any chance, that I lack what it takes?”
“No, but I want you to know what you’re getting into. You don’t know anything about mining.”
“But you do, I see.” Johnny grinned.
Dot gave him a keenly probing glance. “You think I’m queer, don't you? I like mining, I may as well admit it. Partly because dad does, I suppose, but mostly because I’m built that way. There’s a thrill in it. Here’s this mine, for instance. Its owners took a million dollars out of it, and quit because the values were running thin and they ran into a horse in the vein at 500 feet and hadn’t sense enough to drift on through. After thirty years we came along. We sank a lot of money in dewatering and new equipment such as stamps, shaker tables, flotation, air compressors—” “Whoa!” Johnny begged. “Horse-inthe-vein, stamps, shaker tables, flotation— you’ve got me dizzy.”
Her face, utterly serious, relaxed. “You got me started. I forgot you were a sailor.” “Continue to forget it,” he told her. “I hate that word. For three years now every waterfront cheap John from Vancouver to Shanghai has been calling me sailor, hailing me as though I were a buddy. They’ve all wanted something—money. As far as I’m concerned, sailor equals sucker.”
“I understand.” Dot said quickly. She smiled at him, took her hands from her pockets and became briskly competent once more. “I’ve got to leave you now. I’m supposed to be working.”
“Do you always do what you’re supposed to?”
She was friendly but final. She nodded and went back up the slope, her slim legs carrying her without effort. When she had disappeared Johnny descended the hill, feeling confident that he was going to like Lodeville.
He was at the mine early next morning. The shift boss, to whom he reported, looked him over sourly and delivered him to the mercies of a man named Joe.
“So.” Joe greeted him. “The sailor boy,eh?”
“Make it Johnny,” suggested Johnny. “Me,” said Joe, “I’m callin’ you what I want.”
Vaguely, Johnny recalled that Joe had been among the lunch-room patrons who had witnessed his tangle with the fat man and his tiff with Dot. He took Johnny below in the bucket. Climbing in after Johnny, he rang the bell, gave an extra signal with his hand to the hoistman.
HE DAYLIGHT flicked out as they dropped—just that—down the shaft. When they stopped at the 500-foot station and Johnny climbed out, weak and shaking. it was to see Joe’s face, yellow in the light of their carbide lamps, regarding him sardonically.
After that there was an unfaltering current of conflict between them. In the stope where they set to work Joe kept ragging him, verbally and physically, the first by mocking at his efforts, the second by stepping on his toes and blundering against him as he worked. Johnny’s nerves were getting ragged when Dot Hagner came into the stope along toward the middle of the morning.
Johnny had not expected to see her underground. Yet she seemed quite at home. She carried a hand lamp that lighted her face from below, accenting it vividly, excitingly. While her father went on to inspect the work of the drillers she halted beside Jonny.
“Very well, thanks,” he told her. “I’m the best darn mucker you ever saw.” “That’s a little premature, it seems to me.”
“Not a bit,” Johnny turned to Joe. “Am I premature, Joe?”
As he knew it would, the question found Joe wanting. Discomfited, unable to pretend he understood, Joe stood helpless, glowering at him.
Johnny found his revenge sweet. “Joe
stands mute,” he said. “That proves it.”
He didn’t care that Joe would undoubtedly do what he could to get even. He put on a little show for Joe’s benefit, talking to Dot in intimate tones, saying things to make her laugh. Joe, who was young enough and good-looking enough in his dark, sultry fashion, stood by hostilely.
Unwittingly, Dot crowned the incident. She was taking her leave, her father having completed his inspection, when on impulse she produced a little foil-w'rapped package and dropped a coin-shaped bit of white candy into Johnny’s palm.
“To sustain you in your labors,” she informed him.
She picked her way familiarly over the litter in the stope. Johnny did not know he stood and watched her. Coincident with her disappearance someone slapped his hand violently, sending the bit of candy flying.
Joe’s face leered, Joe’s voice said nastily: “Yah! You’re the yella-haired boy, you are.”
Johnny heard the words, but he did not will the response the words called from him. His blow was backhanded; it was with his knuckles that he wiped Joe’s face. Joe dropped his shovel and came for him. As Joe’s hands gripped him Johnny heard a shout. Busily engaged as he was in defending himself, he thought no more of it until someone pinioned his arms from behind.
But no one pinioned Joe’s arms. Quick to capitalize his opportunity Joe brought the heel of one hand up hard against Johnny’s chin. The force of it made his head reel. Angered by the unfairness as well as the vigor of the blow, wanting only to rid himself of the arms that held him, Johnny bent, lifted their owner on his back, heaved, and flung him headlong.
He surged back to renew the fight. Joe fended him off, and hissed: “You fool!
That was the boss. You’ve hurt him.”
The stillness was what Johnny noticed then. The stillness, and then the faces, Dot’s among them, staring down. There on the floor of the stope, on the broken rock, lay her father. Johnny stood horrorstruck as Dot swept forward with a fluttery cry and knelt beside him.
She did not break down, and she did not lose her head. Looking up almost immediately, she gave orders to lift the injured man into the tram car in the stope. She kept behind, supporting his head, as they rushed the car along the tunnel to the hoist. It seemed impossible, uncanny to Johnny—that limp figure in the mine car, the blackness, the jets of flame on the miners’ caps, the wet rock walls so close about them, the taut, unrecognizable girl who had so recently been Dot Hagner.
Out at the station they would not let him help. When the bucket came down in response to the bell, Joe and the others got the boss into it. Refusing to let her father out of her sight, Dot got in after him, and herself jerked the bell wire. When the bucket vanished Joe turned to Johnny.
“I guess that washes you up. You better go back where you came from, mister.”
AT NOON Johnny went above ground and turned his back on the mine and ran down the hill. The boss had been taken to his room at the Mountain House; there was no hospital in town. Johnny entered the lobby, decked with deer and elk heads and ore specimens in cases, and requested the frowsy clerk to find out if Miss Hagner would see him.
Miss Hagner would not. Whether Dot had made it sound as blunt as the clerk did, Johnny could not tell. He waited an hour and tried again. This time the clerk settled his uncertainty. “She says there ain’t no use you waitin’ around.”
But Johnny could not swallow that. He pondered an instant. “Thanks,” he told the clerk. And for the clerk’s benefit he turned upon his heel.
When he returned a few minutes later he found the way clear. Leaping soundlessly up the stairs, he took up his wait in
the hall above. He had been there scarcely long enough to recover his breath when a door opened and Dot herself came out into the hall. She was not in her usual costume of shirt, breeches and boots. Instead she wore a simple wash dress that was better suited to a sick room. It made her softer, somehow. But there was nothing soft in her expression when she saw him standing there.
“I had to see you,” Johnny told her.
But without a word she walked past him down the hall. He had no choice but to hurry after her. He laid a hand upon her arm.
She whirled at his touch as though to face an attacker. “Take your hand off me !”
He was not prepared for the heat in it, for the revulsion, almost, in her eyes.
“Steady,” Johnny said.
“Steady! You’re a fine one to speak of steadiness. You might have killed my father. I don’t want to talk to you.”
Johnny had no comeback for that. He let her go. He realized how upset she was; he told himself presently that she had not meant what she had said, or the way she had said it.
At the mine next morning the shift boss seemed surprised to see him. “Son,” he said, “any guy that treats his boss like you done yesterday generally starts huntin’ him another job.”
“Does that mean I’m fired?” Johnny wanted to know.
“You catch on awful quick,” the shift boss stated.
Johnny suppressed the question that was on his tongue. By whose orders? he had been about to ask. It was superfluous, though. The boss would never have given an order like that. Dot, then. With her father laid low, she would have taken command. She had meant her words of yesterday.
As he returned to town Johnny’s mind hardened into a dull resentment that included Dot Hagner, the miners, and Lodeville generally. It never occurred to him that the shift boss might be acting on his own responsibility.
Getting another job proved difficult. Once more he was aware of the peculiar coolness that he had encountered when, as a sailor, he had hunted a job in offices of various cities. That he was being talked about he could not doubt. He was walking down Main Street one afternoon when a crowd of kids playing one-o’-cat in a vacant lot pointed him out to one another shrilly. “Barnacle Bill !” they shouted. “Barnacle Bill, Barnacle Bill-the-sailor.”
T_TE MADE his own job finally. Or circumstances made it for him. For weeks Lodeville had been in the grip of a drought. The stream that arced about the town and traversed the valley beyond had been reduced to a thread, and the town’s decrepit water system was proving inadequate. Johnny hit upon the idea of bringing water from a spring in the gulch above and selling it by the barrel. It was a stop-gap, of course, but it would serve to keep him, to show his independence to Dot Hagner and the town.
He saw Dot just once. They passed on the street, Dot afoot and Johnny driving the spavined old car that he had rented for a dollar a day. Although her father was back at the mine by then, she refused to see him and he pretended to be blind to her.
His water business did not last long. One forenoon rain began to fall—a thudding, sloshing rain that came down too hard to be absorbed, parched and eager though the ground was for it. Soon the dry washes that furrowed the hills were running inches deep, and the stream in the valley was a stream once more.
All day and all night the rain persisted. The stream, swelled by the run-off of a network of lesser streams in the hills beyond, became a river, a snarling brown torrent running bank to bank and rising ever higher. In company with half of Lodeville, Johnny came to stand on the sheltered platform of what had formerly
been White and Hawley’s Sampler and stare at it, fascinated. In spite of his months at sea he had never fully appreciated the force of water until then. The sea was so tremendous that he had taken it for granted. This newly created river, sweeping trees and boulders with it in its onward rush, he could not take for granted. There was a real and definite menace in it. It skirted the town to the east. There it was confined by the rise of the hills, but to the west the town stood but little higher than the present level of the water. If the stream overflowed it would flood the town, the stores, first, and then the homes.
The water was already above the bank in spots when a man came splashing through the rain. “The dam’s about to
go!” he shouted at them. “You better be gettin’ up the hill.”
The dam, as Johnny knew, meant the dam of the town reservoir, located in a tributary of the gulch less than a mile from Lodeville. The man replied impatiently to the questions put to him. Jim McKlosky had seen the dam. It was badly gutted, and the reservoir was so full it was spilling over.
“Get moving, can’t you?” the messenger barked.
They could. Fumbling up their coat collars, they plunged out into the wet, their ears cocked toward the canyon for a roar of advancing water. But a nearer sound halted them.
Twenty yards beyond, the stream was
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making its first kill. With a crackle of splintering wood the great barnlike structure of the Lucky Two mill split in half, the outer half toppled and fell. Here and there a timber thrust out of the brown moil of water as the stream carried the debris away. There at the bend the wreckage caught—and in a flash the stream built for itself a barrier it could not conquer.
Johnny shouted, seeing it. For it was plain what was due to happen. The point made by the bend was about to become an island. Across the neck of the point there was a well-defined depression, the result of placer operations conducted half a century before. The worked-over earth would yield readily to the stream’s assault.
As they watched, the earth did yield. A finger of water thrust out over it, widened and joined the stream below. Of itself that was not alarming. On the point that was becoming an island there was a house. A shack. In its doorway, staring in bewilderment, stood a woman and a child. The woman did not move as they shouted at her. She did not know that a dam in the hills above was about to dump a lake upon her.
TOHNNY FOUND himself out in the »I rain, sprinting with a dozen others. “Get boards—the mill—make a bridge.” The suggestion was not Johnny’s but he helped to carry it out. While most of the crowd stampeded to a point opposite the island, a few of them stopped at the ruins of the mill. Wrenching, tearing, they managed to free a scantling, a plank or two. As they came on with them, the crowd cheered. But the cheers soon turned to groans, for the planks, the scantling, were too short.
“Get some long ones,” someone said; but Johnny knew that would not do. Longer planks would sag too much, would dip into the stream as weight came upon them. If only he had a boat.
He had been a sailor, this was up his alley. A raft, that was it. But how to get a raft across that current? He couldn’t pole it; two men, three men could not pole it. A rope might help; but a rope heaved over to the woman would get them nowhere.
Suddenly he had it. He would use the propulsive power of the stream itself. “Here, you men!” His shout was a command. He had become calm in contrast with the rest. “Are there any carpenters in the crowd?”
He must have impressed the others. They stopped their chattering, their fruitless milling, and looked to him eagerly. They could see he had a plan. And they knew he’d been a sailor. “I want a raft,” he said, and they were with him to a man.
Hastily he picked a squad from among them and at the head of it ran back to the mill. They ripped up a section of loading platform and called it a raft. For a rope someone found a rusted wire cable. Needing something to use as a steering oar, Johnny picked up a ten-foot length of twoinch flooring.
He sent the rest ahead to drag the raft down opposite the island, and secured one end of the wire cable to an anchor bolt in the concrete engine base in what was left of the mill. Carrying the cable's free end, he arrived at the scene of action as soon as the raft. He bent the cable to the raft, had the raft launched into the stream.
As he took up his length of flooring he was conscious of the tension of the crowd— landsmen, trusting preparations which they did not fully understand. He could not suppress a glow of satisfaction at the thought that now, at last, they trusted him. It would not do to let them down. If the dam would hold he would not let them down. What he proposed was sound enough; he was merely applying the principle used in launching a lifeboat from a ship under way. In that case you had a long painter, led to a point well forward on the ship and clear of everything. As the lifeboat entered the water, towing at the end of it, you swung her outward, away
from the ship’s side, with your steering oar. Here the conditions were reversed, the water was moving and his boat, the raft, would be relatively still.
He stepped aboard the raft and shoved off with his makeshift oar. The raft plunged a little as the current caught it, but he braced his feet, thrust one end of his board into the water and, using a downstream corner of the raft as a fulcrum, swung the upper end of his plank inboard.
/^LUMSY AS it was, the raft answered, swinging out and across the stream. In the middle of the stream it checked, and Johnny had a bad moment during which he thought he had arrived at a balance of forces, and that the lead of his cable made too great an angle to the current. However, his cable had merely caught on a rock on the bank upstream. He pointed, and a man ran to it, kicked the cable clear.
This time the raft swung uninterruptedly to within a yard of the farther bank; the stream by now was a good fifteen yards across. There Johnny met a current that would not permit him to swing more. The woman and the child stood on the bank waiting for him, looking with frightened eyes across those three short feet of muddy water.
The three feet might as well have been a mile, for although a man might have jumped them without upsetting the raft or precipitating himself into the stream, for the woman and the child this was out of the question.
“Listen,” Johnny shouted above the noise of the water. “You’ve got to do just as I tell you, understand?”
The woman merely stared at him; he could only hope she wasn’t as stupid as she seemed.
“I’m going to toss one end of this board to you. When I do, you stand on it, before the raft swings away from you . . . Ready?”
He made one motion of lifting his board from the water and tossing the upper end ashore. The raft started swinging. Just in time, awkwardly, the woman stepped on the end before her. Johnny dropped down on his end, forcing it against the raft with every pound that was in him. A rusted nail caught on the boards of the raft and held.
“Allright. You and the kid. Come on!” he yelled.
But the madly rushing water, the narrowness of the plank, daunted the woman.
“Come on!” he yelled again. “Hurry.”
But still she would not.
“The dam up the gulch there is about to break. You want to be drowned?”
That pricked her. She raised her eyes to his, and he could see how the simple fear in them was submerged beneath a greater fear, beneath the dread his words conveyed to her. She looked fleetingly toward the gulch and then she turned, lifted the child in her arms and stepped out over the water.
Under the added weight, the raft sank until the stream washed freely over it. With glazed eyes the woman sank down in
the centre of it and clutched the youngster to her. At once the current swept them back, away from the island. Johnny had no need of his board. As they touched the inner bank the crowd gathered there in defiance of the danger, put out eager hands, lifting off his passengers. Johnny seized a hand and jumped off after them.
Only then did he become aware of a chuddering, swoshing rumble, proceeding from the canyon. Out of the mouth of it was rolling a wall of water as high as any wave he had ever seen.
One look at it was enough. He did not look again until, safe on high ground, he beheld it rushing on down the valley. The town was flooded. It rose out of a swirling lake that touched all but the
highest of the homes. The shack and the island from which he had taken the woman and the child were nowhere at all.
“Phew!” said Johnny to himself. He dragged the back of a hand across his forehead, and wished his knees felt surer
A hand fell on his arm, and there, looking up at him, was Dot Hagner.
“That was grand,” she said. “And you were grand, sailor.”
Sailor. She tried to make it flippant, but her lips were tremulous and her eyes were misty. He laid his hand on hers. And then he grinned, struck by the irony of things. He had tried to forget he’d been a sailor, yet it was because he had been a sailor that Dot was looking at him so.
Sailors were not suckers, after all.