OLD - FASHIONED
The story of a loyalty which was without price
FROM THE top of the hill where David MacLean sat, the river was a silvery winding ribbon wreathed
in powder-blue morning mist, and the buildings of his sawmill like a jumble of small boxes. To the east, past the hills bathed in hazy purple shadows, lay the timber line, a dark smudge against the sun’s brightness.
Erom up there came the logs down the river in rafts a natural floatage for him.
No sound disturbed the stillness of the cool morning. No sharp blast of the whistle, no scream of the band saw, no rumble of the carriage bringing logs up the incline. For yesterday the last log had been sawed.
Early this morning David MacLean had made his way down the road and then up a scarcely distinguishable path, known to him alone, which led to this high bench. Up wrhere he was, the scrub pine hid him from view, and today of all days he wanted to In* alone. He wanted to think, undisturbed. In the eight years that he had built and run his sawmill he could count on one hand the times he had been up here on the bench. Once when Davey — laughing, adventuresome Davey - had been taken so suddenly. David never knew Wow long he had crouched up on the hillside that day wrestling with himself and wavering faith, until night fell and stars came out to stud a blue canopy of sky.
When he came.4down he had pushed headfirst through the door of their frame house, then slowly his eyes had lifted to Sara's. And what he saw there had made his own grief seem small. For a moment he had a clear vision that for men there is always work. For him there would be the mill. For Sara “Look, Sara, I’ve been thinking.” he had said earnestly.
“Well sell the mill It’s in good shape. We're bound to get a buyer quick. We’ll go where memories won’t always lx tearing at you. Sara, girl.”
But Sara had said, “No.
David, we’ll not leave the mill.” in a way that went clear through him. “It’s part of both of us.
We started our life here together and we must go on until we’ve accomplished what we set out to do. Davey will lx* here with us.
Always. 1 ’ll see him playing hide and seek around the lumber piles.
I’ll never look out of the door and glimpse you walking down toward the mill but I'll see him riding on your shoulder, so proud and gay. With his yellow hair like the sunlight Ño. David, we'll not be going. We’ll need our memories. They’ll warm our hearts when the days are cold.
And we will need to work hard harder than ever . . ." Her voice had broken and David had held out his arms.
Then there was the time when creditors had closed in and it looked as though nothing short of a miracle could spare the mill. But up here a plan had come to him. From out of nowhere, it seemed, yet the sawmill was saved.
Today he had come to say his last g(x>d-by. He sat there, a tall square figure, sandy-haired, lean-faced and firmjawed his shadowed eyes bleak as his thoughts went back and back to the very beginning when the mill down below' was as yet a dream.
NINE YEARS ago he had met Sara. She understood -Sara did. There weren’t many things she didn’t understand. Her hair was still a rich brown, pencilled here and there with white, and her eyes were a deep blue like Davey’s had been. She had a warm, friendly smile sometimes a tired smile, for mill life was hard on a woman. Hard
on men Ux>. but there was the future to buoy them up. When David’s eyes had first rested on Sara he had known at last that he had found someone he could tie to. Someone who would never let him down. His marrying lier had strengthened him motivated his life. And when he had found this location on the Orogrande River, the most ideal spot he had ever seen for a small mill, he had jumped at it.
“It isn’t going to be any bed of roses, Sara.” he had said solemnly as he told her of his hopes and plans. “It’s going to be work work and more work. I’ll be up at four and live in the morning, and there'll be days when I won’t be in bed until midnight. You’ll get lonely, and sometimes the dirt and noise of the machinery will like to drive you crazy.
"But down in that bend down there in that quiet water is a location that can't be beat. We won’t be driven out here, for it isn’t going to be any picnic bringing even a
twelve-section raft down the river. Only a small mill can operate here. A big company can’t operate with rafts of forty thousand feet. They need rafts three times that large, and they have to have steady, even water for them. This river is Ux> treacherous. We’ll be safe here, Sara.”
Sara had listened, and remembered that David had been frozen out of two mills when big companies had bought up the surrounding timber. And she had understood that longing in him had felt that terrible urgency —that need in him to succeed, to build what would endure.
“You can do it. David.” she had said. “1 know you can.” And neither of them had even dreamed of the dam—that vast, huge hydro-electric project of concrete and steel which would some day span the Orogrande and back the water up for many miles.
He had spent every cent he had in the world—everything
he could borrow'—added a planer, then a box mill. And just thirteen months after he had started work, the mill had sawn its first log. It was a wonderful day! He'd never forget how happy that day had been. For months before the mill began operating, on every occasion when he could be spared, he had combed the entire fruit region in the valleys below for box orders.
He remembered it all as if it were yesterday the hum of beehivelike activity, the laughter of the men. the joyousness of building and creating and seeing something substantial grow before his very eyes. What other kind of life was there for a man like him? A man used to open spaces. A man who loved a smooth, beautifully grained board a man who couldn’t leave a river.
Even being in the city for one day left him feeling stifled. Too many strange noises. He hankered for the whine of the planer, the noise of box shooks being loaded on trucks, against the background of the river's eternal roar. Something healing about coming back to the orderly running mill after a hectic day in town.
But times had not been good for part of those eight years, and it had been hard work collecting, financing, having enough money on hand to go into all the million places for it. Having enough left over for more logs, replacing old equipment, repairing, renewing. It had been a far tougher struggle than he had looked for. saddened too by the loss of Davey, yet slowly, almost imperceptibly, the mill had gained ground.
And then the big dam became a reality and the first big shovels had begun to bite into the hard, rocky ground at the dam site forty miles down the river.
David and Sara and some of the men from the mill had driven down the winding narrow road that led to the project, and watched in country fashion the circuslike magic of this new enterprise, but silence hung heavily over them all going home. Until David had spoken.
“You can lick a wild ornery river and get your logs down, if you study your river,” he had said. “You can build a mill even though there’s those who say it can’t be done on the little you have. You can trade your lumber for the things you need, and get by for a while when there isn’t any money in the country. You can lick all that, but you can’t lick a dam !”
THE APPRAISERS had come to the mill and gone, for the hydro-electric people had to make good to the people whose land they would flood. For days they had pried into every record, gone over every bit of mill machinery and equipment. Well, he didn't have anything to hide, but there was a lot of difference between selling a going mill
to someone who wanted it and getting what some office men from the city thought it was worth.
But after a time he had conquered his stunned incredulity and accepted the inevitability of the dam and the final losing of his mill site. He even got used to people talking so smoothly about him being indemnified. And in the months that followed he had begun to hopt' that he might work out some plan with the people building the dam. so he could stay on until its near completion. And after countless trips and endless hours of waiting, he had finally been able to see the chief engineer at the dam.
“You’re familiar with my lumber down here.” David had begun. “They’ve taken a good bit of it already. There isn’t any finer lumber than the product I turn out" losing diffidence as he went on. Talking about lumber somehow always made him come alive.
“I located up here about eight years ago. Some folks say I’ve got the finest small mill you can find anywhere. I've tried to make it that put everything I had and all I’ve made right back into it. 'Course I never figured then that some day I'd be flooded out. None of us did.’’
The engineer moved impatiently, then drew a map in front of him. “This your place? Up there?” indicating a dot. “Yes. Mr. Bankson,” David had answered.
“Just a question of time how long you’ll be there.” “I know that. It’s what I came to talk to you about. I want to stay on as long as I can. If I have a few' more years - say until a year of when the dam is finished I can set aside enough to move somewhere else.”
“What are you talking about. MacLean?” the engineer broke in. “You know you'll be indemnified for the loss of your mill site and machinery. After that you’re through, but you ought to realize enough to buy a little tract where you could raise chickens do something easy.”
David’s head jerked up and a deep anger shot through him. “Me? Raise chickens? I'm a mill man. Mr. Bankson. Lumbering, logging—it’s my life,” he said quietly. Then he smiled bitterly as he resisted an impulse to ask the famous engineer how' he’d like to retire and raise chickens.
Instead he said carefully, “You know as well as I do there’s been a lot of haggling and political manoeuvring about the amounts that will finally be paid to the folks who will have their land flooded. It isn’t going to be any gold mine. The people along the river have come to realize that already. And we aren’t kicking. We know it’s no use to law about it. But just take my case, for example. That money you spoke of will almost all go when I clear up my debts. Debts any man in business might have.
“There’s a mortgage on the mill machinery. Notes on the land other things I owe for. Even a small mill is a mighty
expensive proposition. And 1 don’t want to retire. I’m not an old man. All 1 want is a little extra time. A chance to make a little stake during that time.” He was speaking rapidly now. almost desperately, leaning forward in earnestness. He might not have another opportunity to talk to this man. He must make him understand.
"If you could just give me the assurance that 1 could stay until the near completion of the dam. I could make it.. You’ll be needing lumber here. I could furnish all you wanted. There’s mortbuilding everywhere and lumber prices are up. Then when you began to dam back the water I could move and go on in the work 1 love, just as you want to go on with yours.”
HE REMEMBERED all that now as he looked down at the river. Remembered driving home after he came out of the chief engineer’s office his lean brown workscarred hands tightening on the wheel as he tried to fight the hopelessness that swept over him. He couldn’t blame Bankson. It wasn’t his fault. He was being crowded too with a tremendous job on his hands. Even so, he had taken precious minutes of his time to explain carefully to David the system they must follow.
“Did you ask him about letting you stay on?” Sara could scarcely wait to question.
“It wasn’t in his power to grant it,” he had replied.
“But it would mean everything to us and so little to them.” she had caught back a half sob. “It isn’t fair! I know they won’t give us what the mill is worth. They ought to pay you for the years they’ll be robbing you of. We’re just to the point where you could begin paying off—instead of always out.”
"We can’t expect to be paid for our hopes or dreams— or our love of the land. Sara,” he reminded gently. “We’ve got to look at it their way too. It’s hard on the folks along the river, but there’s only a handful of us compared with the thousands who will be helped by the dam. Think of all the men working there of the Parren land the waters from the Orogrande will irrigate, so folks can have little farms and homes and make a living. We’ve got to consider all that."
“But you’ve your owm men, too, David. Men who have been w'ith you for years. Men with families.”
“I know. I know,” he repeated, his eyes on the floor. “David, you mustn’t give up. Why should you be pushed out now? You’ve got to fight. They'll lx* needing lumberall they can get. They won't close down this mill. They’ll turn it over to someone else. You’ll just be out again!” “I’m trying to find a way. Sara. I’m thinking, planning,” lie cried out to her. "No one know's better than you that my very life is bound up in the mill.”
Sara hadn't answered, and somehow an intangible barrier had grown up between them. He grew more silent, yet he worked harder than ever, and as he worked he thought of Sara. So much depended on her not thinking him a failure. He knew she'd never stop loving him. but he wanted her to have pride in him. That hard pride a woman feels when her man is able to ride over obstacles.
The sun was climbing higher in the sky. and as David felt its warmth he longed with every bit of him to be walking through the mill again. Always early in the morning, before anyone but the watchman, and perhaps the fireman, was stirring, every morning through the spring, summer and fall when they were sawing, his routine was the same. But how he loved every detail of it. He'd reach up on a ledge of the porch and take down his pet oil can. Then with it in his hand he'd walk slowly through the sawmill, taking a poke at a bearing now and then.
There wasn't a part of the mill he didn’t know how to handle. That used to bother lots of people. They expected a mill owner to be all dressed up and look like a town man. Occasional visitors looked odd when the workmen pointed him out as he rode the carriage or relieved the sawyer. * Yes. that’s Mr. MacLean, the owner." they’d say. David’s men never thought it unusual for him to help out here and there, loading box shooks. or shovelling sawdust in one of the huge fireboxes and then jumping over to set; how fast t he steam gauge went up.
Sometimes they laughed among themselves when David had more than the usual number of smudges on his face, but if an outsider laughed that was something else again. David knew all this in a dim sort of way. It was all so unimportant. The real thing was to keep the mill going— fill all the orders, see that the men were not only on the payroll, but busy, active and happy.
AS HE walked through the yard estimating the stock on hand and figuring out the day’s work, always the sweet coolness of the morning caught at him. Deeply he breathed in the woody fragrance of the lumber. Where else was there anything like it? He passed through the planing mill, then through the box mill over to the greenlumber piles. His hand rested caressingly on a board. No wonder his boxes and lumber sold! How free from pitch and other defects they were.
From there he’d go to the boiler room in the sawmill. If an army moved on its stomach, a mill ran by its boilers. David was proud of his boiler setting. It had taken him and a workman a full month to lay the bricks. He knew
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the men thought he was a crank about keeping the grates clean and the boilers free of dirt and sediment, but just the same, every morning like clockwork the boilers were blown off by the engineer.
“Morning, Bill,” he called as he passed by the fireman. “Any steam up yet?”
“Mow’d it go last night, Grimes?” he’d ask the night watch coming through on his last inspection.
“Fine, Mr. MacLean.” Grimes, too old for hard work, loved the responsibility of his job. “The rubbish pile began burning a mite too high in the night, and there was a right smart wind Mowin', but I got out the hose and took care of it in short order. Smelled the smoke soon as it started,” he spoke as modestly as his feeling of importance let him, and then vigorously he squirted an astonishing stream of tobacco juice at a two-by-four.
“You don’t say!” David would answer incredulously, trying hard to keep his eyes from crinkling. Then soberly, “That’s fine. Grimes. You know you’re the only watchman I ’ve ever had who really lets me sleep. I never worry about the mill when you’re on the job. Hope it isn’t too hot for you to sleep today. Looks like she’s bound to be a scorcher.” He went on under the mill framework a little embarrassed as he saw that familiar adoring look come into the night watch’s eyes. Something like the look of a faithful old spaniel.
David wras back at the house each morning a little before seven. Most of the time since he’d known about the dam he hadn’t felt hungry, but he’d try not to let on to Sara.
“Sure let you sleep this morning, didn’t I?” he’d smile at her.
Her eyes would rest gently on him as she nodded.
“You know, Sara, I hope none of the men ever catch me carrying my shoes and tiptoeing around in the morning. I would not be able to manage them any more. They’d take advantage of me,” he twinkled at her. This was the way they used to banter when things were happy.
After breakfast he’d hurry to his little office near the box mill, hustling like everything to get in telephone calls to various growers down in the valley before it was time for the mill to start.
His keen eyes rested for a moment on Thor Peterson, who stood near the green chain buckling on his leather apron. He was the best grader David had ever had. Fussed and worried as much as David did about everything. David loved to look at Thor and let his imagination wander back to the days when Vikings had sailed the unknown seas. They must have been tall, wide-shouldered, big-chested, hearty men like Thor.
“I’m short-handed today, Thor,” David said. “I may have to get you to run the planer and box mill and put Charlie on this job, with you keeping an eye on him. Think you can handle that big an order?”
"Sure, boss, sure,” the big man smiled. How these men loved small responsibilities, David thought. Like children they were, and again the desire came surging up in his breast to protect them—to take care of them.
It lacked just two minutes until starting time when he was back in the sawmill. It was almost time for the wheels to start moving—almost time for the whistle to blow. The same excitement which swept
over him every morning gripped him anew at this miracle. They said he'd never he able to build it with the money he had. and yet it was built. They said it couldn't be done on this river. You couldn't get the logs down, and yet down there in the quiet water they lay. He wondered if there was plenty of steam up. He'd skin Henry if the furnaces weren't going full blast. Half the battle was a good start in the morning.
He glanced at the river. It was going down. Time to let the boom out. He yelled loudly to the log man. "Hustle those logs so they’ll ht: up here when she’s ready to start !”
A slow, ixmderous noise began to fill the air. A deep rumble from the belly of the mill. Slowly, almost imperceptibly the wheels and shafts commenced fuming, the belts began travelling, then faster, little hy little they gained momentum. In less than a moment everything was going at full speed. The whistle blew a long, hoarse note. Almost at once the big head rig with the band saw tore through the outer bark of a huge log. Almost human, it seemed to watch the daws of the log turner jerk the log over to the other side. Boards were falling off on the rolls.
It ran. His mill ran. This was the life. In spite of everything the almost insurmountable odds he’d been up against—it ran !
SIX smoldering summer weeks had gone by. The paths to the mill were ankledeep lanes of gritty hot dust. And in the yard thousands upon thousands of extra feet of lumber were being piled in orderly tier after tier. As soon as the lumber was seasoned it would go to the box mill to be made up into shfxiks. Shooks for the lower fruitlands. Because after four lean years the growers were having a bumper crop, and elsewhere the yield was short. A wave of new enthusiasm had swept over the fruit farmers. It meant reduced mortgages, new shingles for houses, washing machines, new clothing to all. new hope.
Day by day a stream of orders poured in for boxes. Heath, the bookkeeper, worked overtime keeping up records. David himself filled in every place he could around the mill, working early and late, eating little, sleeping less. He instructed Heath to send in the overdue industrial insurance payments. A man on the payroll less than a day might topple over, and before he was out of the hospital his expenses would be more than $400. Things like that made the rate sky high. The men had to be paid every week. The loggers insisted booms be delivered e.o.d.. and of course there were the mortgage payments.
Three times David and Heath had gone out on the road trying to collect for some of the boxes he’d sold warehouses and growers a year ago. The fruit men showed David their receipts. His boxes had gone to many cities had even crossed the ocean to Liverpool. And yet the growers hadn't made anything. Not even enough left over to pay for the boxes the apples and pears and jieaches had been shipped in. This year, they told him. it would be different. At last they had a real crop. If David would only stand hy them . . .
And then one hot. breathless morning in late August. David had an urgent call from the people at the dam. For a few seconds after he had hung up the receiver he sat wondering—hoping scarcely daring to think what it was all about, and then he had jumped in his car and headed westward.
“We’re in a jam. MacLean.” the construction superintendent was saying an hour later. "One of those investigating committees is headed our way. You know how it is. Certain interests think too much money is being spent on dams and reclamation projects. We didn’t expect them until next week, but they’re coming here first. Changed their plans and are flying out. Keeping to schedule isn't enough for us. We want to show them we’re saving money by being ahead of that ; impress them with the speed and volume of our concrete
pouring. That takes lumber for forms. All we can get.
"We could have it shipped in by rail in a day or two, or we could have it trucked from Falls City by tomorrow, but that’s not today! We know what you’re cutting. Know you can handle this. Here’s the list of what we’ll need. Pull your men off their other jobs and put them on loading. If you want more trucks, we can furnish them. This lumber should start rolling in by early afternoon. We’ve got to have it !” The keen eyes of the small group of engineers were on him. David looked up to catch the searching scrutiny of the chief engineer, who so far had said nothing.
Rapidly he began checking over the specifications. Calculatingfiguring what was in his yard. Like the smoothly running machinery in his mill, his mind was cutting through every difficulty in the way of placing this order. It was his chance to make a trade with these men. so that he and he only would operate his mill until the last possible moment. He’d make that stake yet! Man alive! This deal alone, cash as it would be, would shove him far ahead. Then he could set aside his indemnity money to buy up that stand of timber far up the river.
Fifty thousand feet of dimension—but somehow the figures on the paper faded away and he saw orchards» Saw upturned faces watching trees in the springtime, throughout the summer—until the fall. There were lines on those faces. Somehow there was always apprehension. Fragrant pink and white blossoms might be ravaged overnight by frost or chilling rains. Always there was the fear of wind, of pests, of low prices. David saw the faces of women— brown, tired, a little bewildered. All these people linked together in their dependence on him. “If you’ll only stand by us, Dave,” they had said.
How could he have forgotten even for a few moments why he had allowed the stock in his yard to accumulate? A deep shame swept through him. His mouth tightened into a white line as he spoke, but his eyes were tortured.
"I can’t sell that lumber to you !”
"Why not?” the superintendent harked. "Don’t you know opportunity when it knocks? Or must it kick the door in?” "First decent apple crop in four years. You know that. I can’t let the growers down. I’ve been one of them too long. Maybe you don’t understand that.”
"Get more logs—saw more lumber—” “There isn’t time! You can’t put green lumber into boxes. Next week they’ll start coming for their shooks. The road will be thick with trucks.”
"We’ll (lay top prices—and more!”
“It isn't that. Heaven knows your order is the first real break I’ve had in years. But it might be dayspossibly weeks— before those fanners could round up other boxes. And in the meantime their crop would be ruined. Times haven’t been easy in this country, gentlemen. I know what those men are up against.”
HE HADN’T told anyone about it when he got hack to the mill. A fool, he’d be calk'd. Maybe he was. but he couldn’t help it. Yet he knew others would say, “Those fruit men won’t thank you for helping them out. It’ll be them thinking they're doing you a good turn buying your shooks, and in the end you’ll sweat blood trying to collect.”
That was the way he had ruined his chances for staying on. The irony of it swept over him as he sat there thinking. Thousands of extra feet of lumber in his yard. An opportunity to move it all in one big sweep. A chance to make himself and the mill so valuable to the dam that they’d want him to keep operating. It might be five years—even more if the high dam they were talking of now went through.
But there was one thing that had puzzled him. First, John Ferryman, a grizzled, weathered, but sharp-eyed old fruit farmer had come to him. "David.” he had said. “1 understand you turned down a mighty sweet older from the dam iust to
accommodate us.” How did he know? David stared back at him and wondered.
Then Hank Weatherby had drawled as he was fastening a chain over his load, "Dave, is it true that you’re agoin’ to lose your mill?”
“Dxiks like some of you know more about my business than I do myself.” David had countered. But it bothered him. especially when a few more of the fruit men spoke their minds about the dam and high-handed ways of doing business. First thing he knew the engineers down there would think he’d been talking. Trying to work up a little sympathy for himself.
Anyway, lie liad sawed the lumber up into shooks, and for days noise and dirt and disorder filled the air as trucks backed in and out. He had held his head high. He hadn’t been sorry for what he’d done. No sir. he’d do it right over again. Just to look at the faces of those farmers and sometimes their kids perched up on the seats beside them, made David know he was right.
Afterward he’d gone to Sara. Told her all about it. When he had finished she'd come over to him and taken his head in her arms and held it against her breast. And she’d smoothed back his hair as she said, “I’m glad you did it, Dave. Even if we lose everything, we’ve still got to live with ourselves.” That was all. but it swept away that tightness that had lain between them. Suddenly they were both laughing through their tears.
"You don’t feel old, do you, Sara?”
“Me? How could you even think of such a thing?”
“And I’m not either. Forty-eight isn’t old. We’ll start again somewhere else.” shrugging his shoulders as he sought to ease off that weariness that rode him night and day.
Then two weeks ago he had received his indemnity cheque. He’d paid up the mortgage, cleared up every bill. At least he could face the world free from debt. Yesterday the last of the logs which lay waiting in the bend had been sawed. In a few days he’d have disposed of all the lumber in his yard, and nothing would remain but to pack up and move away.
He must gather up his courage—make real that front he’d been putting on before Sara. Just a few moments more. Just another good-by to the scene below. All his life he’d remember it as it looked this morning. Like a picture.
Slowly he pkxided down the hill. Like a man in a dream, he crossed over to where some trucks were waiting. Without a word he began loading. Swiftly, urgently, his body bent back and forth. He worked as if it were food and drink and his very life depended on it. Noon came and he was dimly aware of Sara, but he kept on swinging boards high—letting them fall in orderly precision in the truck bottom. Gradually the mist in his mind cleared and he became conscious of new power—new life.
At two he stopped suddenly and went to the shower room rigged up under the mill. And as he cut through the yard, he knew with a steady sureness he had reached a new centre in himself.
His eyes were clear when he pushed open the kitchen door. "I’m free, Sara.” he said simply ‘T’ve tied myself up in knots for days. I’ve been moaning around like a dog with a sore paw. I’ve been selfish. All I’ve thought of was losing the mill—what it would mean. I failed to take into account that it had given me back plenty —far more than I’ve put in. I’ve had you. All this time you’ve stood with me. You’ve been tender and yet you’ve been strong.”
Her cheeks were wet as she looked at him.
“And there’s my men. They’ve taught me loyalty. Given me one of the best things in life for a man—friendship. I’ve had work. I've filled a need. I’ve lived. And yet I've been moping—just an old fool not able to see the good right under my nose. How do I know what’s ahead? And why should I care?
“Time comes when a man has to move on. He shouldn't kick. He ought to take it smiling —with his eyes wide open— Does all this make any sense to you, Sara?” he asked anxiously.
“Of course. David,” she said stoutly.
“There’s one thing more. It’s Bankson, the engineer. He’s in a tough spot too, with all the people he has to satisfy. No need for him to be worrying about me. Do you think it would be foolish for me to tell him that?”
“No, I don’t. It would relieve your mind. Dave.” she hesitated, "if it comes just right, ask him who’s taking over the mill.”
“I will, if it comes just right,” he said soberly.
“David, you’ve not eaten—” but he was gone.
"DANKSON turned as David stepped into his office. “ 'Bout time you're showing up,” he grumbled. “Almost
thought I’d have to send for you again.” As David looked his surprise he continued, “You know, MacLean, you’ve been making us a powerful amount of trouble!”
David shifted his hat uncomfortably. “Those farmers, stirred up about your losing out on your mill, have given us no peace for days. Been haunting our offices. And then their locals cracked down on the government.”
“Yes!” the engineer sputtered. “And when I say ‘cracked down’ 1 mean cracked down. When they commenced talking about writing off the high dam—well, that was enough. It’s no secret we’ve been banking on the high dam. We all want it.” Ferryman, Weatherby, Clawson—all the rest of them. They’d done this for him. A warm, rich feeling swept over David, yet his voice was troubled as he said, “How in the world did they ever find out? I never
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“Oddly enough,” Bankson replied, “I don’t believe you did either. If there was a leak, it must have come from this end.” He looked straight at David and his eyes were twinkling “You mean—”
"Well, I tell you, Dave, you made the other engineers pretty sore when you turned them down on that lumber, and I didn’t make much headway in promoting your cause. But it’s queer what a little pressure does, isn’t it?”
To save himself David couldn’t keep his jaw from dropping.
“But it wasn’t all philanthropy on my part. Right here in my desk I have plans for several hundred model cottages for the workmen. It's going to keep all of you mill
men humping to keep us supplied with what we’ll need. And the thing 1 couldn't figure out was why we should turn your mill over to someone else, when you’d been doing a swell job of running it as long as you had.”
It took a little while for David to understand. His heart was pounding as if he’d been running, until the noise of it was like the drumming of a huge piston in his ears. But as he listened to the man before him, he had to believe.
“Yes, that’s it. We’re leasing the mill back to you. You’re an old-fashioned fool —a product of the days when one man could deal with another without long contracts backed up with surety bonds. You speak a dead language, Dave, but it has been my language and it can be again.” He cleared his throat. “After the dam is
built—well, what’s the matter with buying the mill machinery back from us, putting it on a barge and towing it up to a new site and virgin timber? They’re going to need a heap of box shook when the new country starts producing fruit.”
David’s eyes were rivetted on Bankson yet in his mind he was seeing Sara, and his pulses leaped as he thought of the hard shining pride that would come to her face. He thought of his men as they’d stand in a circle about him. mouths ajar.
“What in thunderation do you think this is—a holiday?” he’d yell at them and they’d grin back happily. “Get to your jobs. The saws need filin’. Dollars to doughnuts the grates weren’t cleaned this morning. I’ll have a boom of logs come nightfall. Get steam up. We’re going places!”