RAYMOND O. TURNER
She said she didn't go out with roughnecks, but that was before the Gusher blew in
THE couple GUSHER of months, worked then one over night around he didn’t Rodessa like a something the Cajun driller said, so he let him have one, smack on the button, and came back to East Texas. He stopped at Kilgore, found a room, then went out for something to eat. When he walked in this café and saw the blonde, he sucked in his breath and held it. No babe had ever made him do that before, just looking at her.
She was so blond her hair was almost whiteamazing rich white-yellow hair combed close over her head, then lying in a soft mass of curls on the back of her neck; and you could see it was the real thing—no drugstore business there. She stopped across the counter from the Gusher, and her eyes were wide-set and washed-green, about the color of a ripe gooseberry, and with an aloofness in them that reached right out and put you in your place before you had a chance to open your mouth.
The Gusher ordered, and watched her. The café was crowded—roughnecks drillers roustabouts, pipe-liners -and in his conventional khaki and leather jacket he was typical of these oil-field men. You could picture his tall, gangling frame tied high up in a quivering derrick, slamming drill pipe around as if he hated it and loved it at the same time—which he did, or he wouldn’t have been a roughneck. The girl went about her business gracefully and deftly, and he noticed there was no kidding her. She
treated them all right, but they consistently let her alone.
She was class, the Gusher saw that, so he decided to go easy. He waited three days before he spoke to her. Then he went in around four-thirty, before the rush of the daylight crews began, and he said to her, “I'll be waiting for you tonight when you get off.”
Her green eyes slid over him once, smooth as ice. and he knew then why they let her alone.
“I don’t go out with roughnecks,” she said.
He didn’t bat an eye.
“I’m not an ordinary roughneck. I’m Gusher Evans. Ask anybody about me.”
“Yes, I know. I still don’t go out with roughnecks.”
His white teeth flashed. Women liked the Gusher when he smiled; they liked his lean, dark face; but this girl stood cool and indifferent, and there was an edge to his voice when he persisted: “And I'll still be waiting tonight.”
He was there at seven. He parked his little roadster and walked over and stood in the fringe of the crowd that loafed in front of the café and the beer joint next door, and presently she came out. wearing a plain silk dress, her hair white in the light from the windows.
The Gusher stepped forward, and she hesitated at the sight of him. unsmiling, then a voice cut through the buzz of talk and the Gusher turned. A big. oguy in a dark suit was advancing across the sidewalk, and without another glance at the Gusher the girl allowed him to take her arm; and they got in a long shiny coupé at the curb and drove away.
Shortly, somebody said, “Nothin’ doin' there. Gusher.
That's spoke for.” and the Gusher, who looked around, said :
"Who’s the guy some geologist?” It wasn’t odd to him that this man knew him; men knew the Gusher all over the Texas oil fields. They knew him for his quick temper and his quicker fists; men bred to those qualities by the work they followed and the tempo of the life it begot.
“No,” answered the other. “He's a driller. Name of Salters.”
The Gusher sent a look down the street after the disappeared car and laughed, low in his throat. "Well,” he said, “there’s another day.”
SHE waited on him the next day, hx>king right through him as if nothing at all had happened, and he grinned a little and said. “It’s all right about last night, see. Rut I'll be waiting again tonight. And every night till this guy don’t show up. If it takes a year.”
She seemed to study him a moment, then with a small shrug moved off to relay his order. I íe waited that night, and the next. She pretended not to see him. but he knew she did all right.
The fourth day he said, “What are you going to do, marry the guy?”
“Is it any business of yours, roughneck?”
He nodded. “It is.”
Then that night the driller wasn’t there, and when the Gusher stepi>ed up to her she hesitated a moment, then kind of laughed and let him take her over to his car. They drove off and she told him which way to go. and he asked her name.
“Lee Mavis,” she said; and he didn’t know when he’d ever felt so good, riding along with her beside him.
She lived out on the edge of town w'ith her father, a grey-haired old man who said, "Evans? Oh, sure Gusher Evans. Heard tell o’ you.” And the Gusher saw he was crippled, one whole side of him. an arm and a leg withered shorter than his good ones. The old man saw his look and laughed wryly. "Pulled a derrick in on me,” he explained. "Up in Seminole—”
“Sure,” the girl interrupted swiftly, “everybody's heard of the Gusher. The best derrickman in Texas, they say. And the women are crazy after him !”
Her green eyes gleamed, but the Gusher let it pass because she was cutting off the old man. He suggested that he get some suds, and the old man said, “Fine, lad, fine !” so he got the beer, although he could see the girl wasn’t keen about it, and they sat and talked. Mostly, Mavis talked about the fields he’d been in and the men he’d known. With the second bottle his voice got thick, so the Gusher saw' why the girl hadn’t been keen on the beer ; and every time he got around to his disablement she adroitly switched the talk.
The Gusher didn’t stay too long. When he left, the girl followed him out on the porch, and he said, “When do we take in a dance or a show or something?”
She was a long time answering.
“Now look,” he said smoothly. “You like me. You don’t want to let on, but—”
“You’re the most conceited man I ever saw'!”
He shook his head. "No, it’s not that. I know you like me, that’s all. Tomorrow night?”
She tossed her blond head; then after a minute answered, “Saturday night, then!” and he laughed and left her*
THE GUSHER got a job. daylights, so he could have the evenings; and he bought a new suit. He paid fifty dollars for it, and Saturday night when he met Lee Mavis she didn’t recognize him at first. Then her eyes widened, the way they did, and she gave her funny little kind of laugh, looking him over but not saying anything, and he felt good.
They went out to a place on the Longview road. They didn’t drink, didn’t even talk much; just danced, or watched the crowd. She had on a black dress, and the Gusher w-as proud and kind of excited being with her. He didn’t hold her too close while they danced, but he wanted to press her firm, supple body hard against him. and feel her white-yellow hair on his cheek. He noticed a lot of guys eyeing her, but none of them tried to cut in. It was a good tiling.
She said she couldn’t stay out too late, on account of her dad. so they drove home through the cool fall night. A faint soft mistiness hung in the air; it sort of glistened with the light of the moon; and long silvery wisps of fog clung to the pines and in the low places. The Gusher drove awhile, then turned off on a side road and parked. The girl said. "I’d just as lief go on.”
“Afraid?” he asked.
Her full lips curled scornfully. “Of what?”
He pulled her over in his arms and kissed her. She didn’t kiss him back. He let her go and took her shoulders in his big hands. “Stop playing your little game,” he said fiercely, giving her a curt shake. "You feel the same way I do, and you know it! You’ve felt just like I have ever since that first time I talked to you.”
For a moment her green eyes blazed. She looked as if she’d hit him. Then with a little cry in her throat her arms came around his neck and she kissed him, long and hard, trembling against him. They sat that way a long time.
Finally he said huskily, ‘There’s no percentage in this.” She stiffened. “You don’t lose any time!”
He paid no attention. He said, “We can get married right away, can’t we?”
She gave him a funny, surprised look. Then she turned away, and presently she said in a slow, flat voice, “I wouldn’t marry a roughneck. Notany roughneck.” A hardness crept into her words. “I’d sling hash the rest of my life first. When I marry I want a real home, a decent way to grow old. What kind of a life is it following the booms, living in dirty little oil towns, in cheap rent houses, never owning even a chair of your own to sit in !” He was scowling. "Seven dollars a day’s not good enough for you then. You —”
"Sure, it’s good enough ! But do you make that every day? Na you work awhile, then shut down, or get bumped, and have to find another job. You work one field till it’s drilled up. then head for another. And where do you end up? Right back where you started - nowhere. With nothing. If you’re lucky, you’ve still got all your arms and legs.”
“Then I’ll get me a run—”
She smiled gently. “Who’d give you a job drilling. Gusher Evans? Nobody, or you’d have one ¿ready, long as you’ve been roughnecking. No, they want men they can depend on steady men. Your kind’s out of style. You belonged back in my dad’s day, swaggering through one boom after another, swigging the most liquor, swing-
ing the fastest punch, spending your pay as quick as you make it. But look at my dad now!” she said bitterly. “And that's the way you’ll wind up.” Her tone softened, took on a note of sadness. “Oh. even if he wasn’t crippled, dad would still be a bum. if I wasn’t here to support him.” “I see.” The Gusher’s voice was brittle. “I see! Now maybe somebody like Mr. Salters would suit you better.” Her eyes flared up. “I expect he would !” she retorted. The Gusher didn’t say another word, just took her home. When she got out her anger was gone, and she started to say something, but he drove right off and left her standing there. He went uptowm and stood around in front of the café, an ugly mood over him. He was standing there when the young driller, Salters, came in off a late tour and started into the café. He was about the Gusher’s age, collegiate-looking, like the young geologists that came on the job. The Gusher stopped him.
“Wait a minute,” he said smoothly. “I’d like to get a look at you.”
Salters swung around. He had a high and mighty look about him. the Gusher thought; like he might consider himself too good for the common variety of roughneck. But when the Gusher hit him he didn’t get up right awray. But then they seldom did, when the Gusher hit them.
rT'HE GUSHER stayed away from the café three days, then when he went in again the girl was gone. The proprietor said she’d left town. Out at her house, the neighbors told him Old Man Mavis had said something about getting down toward the Coast country for the winter, where it was warmer. Corpus and Samwhite were booming down there, and he’d thought he might get a job watching or something.
So the Gusher took out. He stayed a week in Corpus and couldn’t find any trace of them, then went over to Samwhite. The first café he walked into, there she was, behind the counter. Salters was sitting on a stool talking to her.
She was surprised to see him all right. Her eyes widened, the way he’d been remembering them, and something else came into them too, something he couldn’t make out; but she didn’t say a word. Salters just looked at him, cold like. The Gusher didn’t know what to say.
After a minute he turned to the driller. It hurt to say it, but he figured he was in a spot so he got it out: “I'm sorry for smackin’ you that night. I—”
Salters cut him dead. “It doesn’t make any difference.” The Gusher’s face reddened, but he controlled himself. He asked the girl, “Where’s your dad?” and when she’d told him he stalked out, wondering if Salters had come down here because the girl had, or if it was the other way around. He went over and chewed the fat with Mavis awhile, and the old man at least was glad to see him. That, he supposed dryly, was because they were two of a kind.
Looking around for a job, the Gusher found plenty of rigs running but all with full crews, and several days passed. He ate in the café where Lee Mavis worked, but she wouldn’t talk to him. He took it easy.
Then he ran into Dan Rowling.
“Gusher Evans!” greeted the wizened little contractor. “Say, you’re just the man I need. You working? I’ve got a young driller out here with not much of a crew, and I need a good man to help him out.”
Right away the Gusher saw a chance. Rowling was a substantial man; he’d worked for him at Refugio and knew the contractor liked him. And if he helped him out now and stuck with him, maybe the old man would give him a shot at a drilling job. It was worth a try.
“What I need,” explained Rowling on the way out, “is an old head on the job. The rig isn’t the best—I’m just getting it together—and you’ll see things you can fix up better. But the main thing, I want a man out here I know I can depend on in case of an emergency. Without a man like that, a driller is in a bad way.”
The Gusher’s blood sang. Strictly a boomer, was he? Maybe he’d show somebody a thing or two!
But when they reached the location, an outpost well off east of production, only a mile or so from town, and stepped up on the derrick floor, he saw it was all off. The driller was Salters.
Rowling said, “Salters, I’ve got you the best dang derrickman in the oil fields—Gusher Evans. With him around, all you have to worry about is the bit in that hole.”
In spite of his disappointment, the Gusher wanted to laugh. He could imagine how a superior lad like Salters must like that send-off. But the driller just looked him over as he might some boll-weevil beginner and said, “Fine. Whenever you’re ready, Evans.”
The challenge was there, though, plain enough. But Rowling didn’t appear to sense anything wrong, so the Gusher went off to the toolhouse and changed clothes.
The Gusher saw right off the spot he was in. Just because Rowling had charged him with the responsibility of helping to get the outfit running smoothly, didn’t give
him any illusions about his position. Salters was still the boss-man of the crew; the least trouble and the driller could send him right down the road without the contractor opening his mouth. That was the common law of the fields; besides, w-ith his reputation, Rowling probably would blame him anyway. And Salters would suspect he was pulling for a driller’s run with Rowling, all right. The fairhaired boy wouldn’t miss that trick.
Oh, it was neat—working for the only contractor in the game who might give him a shot at a drilling job within a reasonable time, and Salters had the axe over him !
Still they drilled ahead. Rowling in Corpus most of the time with his big rigs, and nothing happened. Yet there w'as a sense of waiting, and the Gusher was never the one to wait for trouble. So when he noticed the blow-out valve throttle needed an extension, he asked for the material to rig it up. seeing a chance to find out where he stood.
Salters didn’t even look at him. “That valve is all right,” he said with pompous carelessness. "We have a preventer, you know.”
The Gusher forced it, gently. “But what if the well blows out when your pipe’s out of the hole? Ik a nasty job trying to close that valve under a low floor like this with all hell busted loose.”
Salters turned then, a high, bright light in his eyes. “That shouldn't bother you, Evans,” he said directly. “I'm sure Rowling knows he can depend on you in any emergency. In the meantime, suppose you keep your suggestions until I ask for them. I believe I’m running this rig.”
There it was, face up. That extension was needed, and if he went over the driller’s head Rowling would suspect trouble surebut that wasn’t the thing now. The thing now, he had to swing on this smart college buck, that was all. Salters was waiting, alert, as if he’d figured it this way. But somehow the Gusher relaxed. “Okay, mister,” he grinned tightly. “Some other time maybe.”
Next, it got so bad, seeing the girl, Lee. every day, and her looking right through him like he didn’t exist, that the Gusher told her he had to see her.
“It’s no use, roughneck,” she said; but his eyes flamed up and he declared, “I’m not taking no for an answer. You don’t have a date with Salters every night.”
She tried to look past him, but his eyes held her and she seemed to tremble a little as the defiance ran out of her.
"All right,” she agreed. "Tomorrow night.”
He picked her up the next night and drove out to a knoll overlooking Samwhite. The town spread raw and ugly behind them, the lights of the field beyond blinking through the darkness. Off to the right, Rowling's rig was a pale pencil of light by itself.
“What’s the matter with you?” demanded the Gusher. “If you’re sore because of that night up in Kilgore. I'm sorry. And I apologized to Salters. I was just hot, that’s all. And jealous.”
“It’s all right, Gusher,” she said dully.
She stared out into the murk, a different nxxxl over her from any before. She small and forlorn, sitting there, harried; and it stirred him in a way he couldn’t define, and kept him silent.
Finally he pulled her around to face him. "Look—” he said. But he didn’t finish. He drew her to him, and for a minute she clung to him breathlessly, her bright head on his shoulder. But when he started to kiss her, she jerked fiercely away.
“Oh, I told you it was no use!” she cried wretchedly. “Why did you have to follow me down here? I told you how it wasand it won't change. I won't let it! Why don’t you let me alone?”
The Gusher was appalled before this outburst. He wanted to beg her to take it easy, to give him a little time, but then a great helplessness swamped him, infuriating him. “Okay!” he flung out. "I guess you can’t wait. I guess you couldn’t give a guy a chance to get going.”
“I’ll be an old woman before you’re a driller,” she said hopelessly. “I know it and so do you.”
His eyes flashed wildly. “Then why don’t you go ahead and marry your pretty driller now? He’s makin’ his twelve bucks a day. You can live in style! You can save up for that old age you’re worrying about ! And a bright, educated boy like him’ll be a toolpusher some day and then you'll be gettin’ up in the money. What I want to know is, what are you waiting on !”
“That’s what I want to know!” she shot right back.
THE GUSHER didn’t feel like getting drunk, or jumping the job. or kicking blazes out of some guy. He just felt sick. He went on to work next morning, and that day they picked up a sand. He was watching the ditch at the time and he reported gas, but Salters just laughed in his superior way and told him to hook the motors together.
“You’d better pump some heavy mud in that hole before you come out,” warned the Gusher.
The mud circulating through the hole was slightly bubbly as it emerged, but after the driller had looked at it he pronounced confidently, “Air bubbles. Let’s get at this Continued on page 47
Continued from page 9 -Starts on page 7
core. There’s not enough gas in this field to blow your hat off.”
The Gusher shrugged. He’d been roughnecking since he was fifteen and lying about his age, and he could smell and taste gas in drilling fluid better than he could have in his own food; but there was nothing further for him to do. Probably there was little pressure behind it anyway.
They proceeded to pull out the drill stem, Salters not replacing the removed pipe with mud as a precaution against gas pressure; and the Gusher, up in the derrick, forgot the matter, brooding over the girl, Lee. The sun was bright and hot, and the row of pipe standing upright in the derrick trembled in a stiff cross wind. Then it was all out, finally, and he tied back the drill thribble and took off his safety belt. He started to step on the waiting elevators, when suddenly he froze. They heard it down on the floor too, for Scull, the piperacker, shrilled out :
“She’s cornin’ out !”
A deep, ominous rumbling issued from the depths of the well. Even as they listened, transfixed, it mounted angrily, straining far down in the earth. It became a sullen, smothered crescendo, boiling up the three thousand feet of that hole then it shattered the open air, blasting up through the blocks the Gusher had been about to ride down, driving on up through the crown, a black fluid column thicker than a man’s body, splattering rocks and shale like machine-gun bullets.
The Gusher scurried down the ladder, protected by the racked pipe. He ducked under the edge of the floor, cursing Salters because there was no extension on that valve handle so they could get to it in the open. The blow-out ripped through the derrick like a geyser, showering the location with water and sand and rocks—but no discernible oil. Its roar filled the stillness of the surrounding brush; a queer sound, thick and dull, cushioned. But powerful. The Gusher yelled to the others, crouched behind the toolhouse, and though they could not hear, they came running. He knew there wasn’t a second to lose.
He traded a brief glance with Salters, and a mocking gleam showed in the driller’s eyes, and he thought: “Sure, wise guy ! This is my spot—thanks to you. And if I don’t produce it won’t make any difference who’s to blame—this outfit’ll be junk, and so will I as far as Dan Rowling’s concerned !”
THEN HE crawled in. The two floormen held his ankles, and he hung his long body in the cellar and strained at the valve which would shut off the gasser. Salters stayed out at the edge of the floor. The cellar was like a big caldron of boiling
sand and mud. Overhead, water and sand rained down by the ton and poured through the planks. The Gusher heaved and tore at the big wheel, fighting this unleashed force of the earth, gasping for breath, each turn closing the stubborn valve a fraction of an inch.
It was slow, maddening, painful work in cramped quarters. And then, after what seemed an hour, the valve stuck ! Dismay choked the Gusher. He bent his great strength to the wheel, but it wouldn’t budge. He struggled until he collapsed, momentarily spent and despairing.
The floormen started to scramble out. It was time to be getting out. There was gas spewing from that casing at their heads, inflammable; any instant a rock might set off a spark from the steel of the derrick and up she’d go. Up they’d all go! But the Gusher screamed soundlessly at them through the spume and slid into the cellar. Up to his bulging shoulders in muck and bubbling sand, he fought the big wheel, and they edged reluctantly over to give a hand. Salters was gone to safety. They saw that; the Gusher looked at Scull, and the pipe-racker spat contemptuously.
The valve moved again, minutely, and they hurled themselves against it with new strength. The well roared on, relentless, the casing a taut, alive thing disgorging its eruption. They tore out their hearts, the honest fear in their eyes mounting with the passing, excruciating minutes. Desperation grew in the Gusher; his struggle was frantic, terrible; and in the back of his mind he was remembering crazily all the booms he’d made, and all the drinking bouts and fine battles; and he thought of a girl with strange green eyes and whitevellow hair who wouldn’t marry any roughneck, wondering all the while if any second now he wouldn’t be blown to bits without ever knowing what hit him.
They were a long time in that hole. Long enough for half of Sam white to be tearing over the hill, in cars and afoot, drawn by the chill cry, “Blow-out!” and the sight of that wild well spouting over its gin pole.
Dan Rowling got there, and the evening and graveyard crews. Lee Mavis got there too, some way, her eyes wide and tense and the knowledge of all this deep and still in her woman’s heart, like a cold fear; the knowledge* of wild wells, of craters and fires, of twisted torn metal, and twisted torn bodies, of gas, and how it clings to a derrick, as it was clinging to this very one. waiting for the inevitable spark to send it up. an immense puff, not at all like the ordinary explosion, and of the shrivelled, charred things caught in it that seconds before had been men all that knowledge, for she had seen it - and she knew the Gusher was down under that floor, as.
abstractedly, she saw Salters outside, away from it; and then she saw the Gusher emerge, half-drowned, whipped, halfsobbing from exhaustion and defeat, the valve unclosed; and she was overcome with a wild desire to laugh, and to cry, thinking that was all.
People milled around, excited, expectant, and the Gusher dragged over to Rowling and gasped hoarsely, “She sanded up!” meaning the valve, and the contractor gave him a short glance and turned away, silent.
The Gusher didn’t blame him. What could you exited when a man had to stand there, helpless, and watch thirty or forty thousand dollars worth of his tools ruined?
Somebody shouted, “She’s drying up!” and the flow was thinning—fast. Quick minutes slipped by, and before their eyes the thing became as thin as steam, the noise of it changing to a dry, deep, hollow whooshing.
The Gusher watched it, sick with failure. It didn’t make any difference about Salters’ neglecting to fill up with mud— Rowling didn’t know about that anyway
the thing was, he had failed him. He should have made an issue of that extension regardless óf what happened. Out in the open they could have shut off this thing in no time.
He glanced at Salters, and the driller looked back, his eyes sardonic, unworried. Sure, he’d make out ! If he didn’t drill for one guy he’d drill for another.
Scull yelled, “She’s goin’ up, sure as hell !” and they moved farther back. The Gusher didn’t notice the girl, Lee. Then a startled murmur rose. A man shouted, and the girl’s face blanched. The Gusher had turned back to the rig.
He ran around to the other side of the derrick and flung himself at the preventer. He should have thought of it sooner ! Close those rams, and maybe when she caught fire the flow would be reduced to where they could get control of it and save the rig!
A kind of mad recklessness surged through him. What did he have to lose anyway but his hide! Everything else was going up in that blow—his driller’s job, his girl. He tore savagely at the handle.
A hush gripped the watchers. Everything seemed caught up and held taut, breathless, waiting for the explosion. Lee Mavis stood as if stricken. The flow was almost solid gas now. Then Dan Rowling could stand it no longer; he sprang forward
Scull too.....then the girl broke, running
toward the derrick, screaming the Gusher’s name.
It was Salters who caught her, yanked her back. She whirled on him fiercely, but he held her, his eyes averted, resigned with the knowledge that was plain enough for anybody. And then Rowling and Scull were dashing out again, as the Gusher turned it was all happening fast -then it came, a gigantic, absurdly soft flash of sound, a solid, vivid, enveloping flame, blinding—and the Gusher was hurtled headlong and into unconsciousness.
VWTIEN they’d finished with him, the docs said yes> the Qusher would pull through. The Gusher lay in Sam white’s emergency hospital, flat on his face, because that was the only way he could lie, swathed up like a mummy, with pain, hot and all-absorbing, spread over him like a heavy blanket; and then he remembered. He remembered his job, his sweet chances, gone, blown up with Rowling’s tools, and he remembered Lee Mavis and Salters-and then he yelled, bringing swjft agony to his tortured chest and quick footsteps to his bedside.
“I'm getting out of this place!” he gasped.
He meant it. To the devil with this joint and everything else; he was a boomer and he was overdue to be gone! He tried to raise his burned, bruised body, and the effort left him limp and sweating and helpless, and whoever it was by the bed grasped his hand. Knelt down beside him.
speaking softly, soothingly. It was the girl,
He stared at her a moment, then twisted a grin. “Glad you came,” he breathed. “Chance to tell you—go ahead and marry your pretty college-boy driller see— ’cause boomin’s my game! . . . You see?”
“I see. Gusher,” she said gently. Her eyes gazed at him through a film, the desperate anxiety gone from them at last, and she said, "I see. And that’s all right with me, mister. Driller, roughneck I don’t care what you are. You can be a bum if you want. Just get well, and wherever you go I go too. Do you see?”
There was another movement in the room then, and Dan Rowling said, “Young lady, you keep that fellow here. I need
him. Anybody that’s too dang tough for fire to kill. 1 reckon ought to make a good driller.”
The Gusher turned his head so he could see up. partly.
“Scull told me you wanted to rig up an extension on that valve. Gusher,” continued the contractor. “And that you warned Salters there was gas out there.”
There was more how they’d killed the fire, saving the rig, which they mightn't have been able to do if the Gusher hadn’t cut it down with the preventer then Rowling was gone. The Gusher looked at Lee Mavis. Her eyes were warm and rich with promise and pride: under their glow he could hardly feel any pain at all.
He kind of smiled at her.