FICTION

TIT FOR TAT

Two things an Indian seldom does— laugh, or forget. Scabby Lou didn’t forget, but he did laugh—last

THOMAS H. RADDALL April 1 1940
FICTION

TIT FOR TAT

Two things an Indian seldom does— laugh, or forget. Scabby Lou didn’t forget, but he did laugh—last

THOMAS H. RADDALL April 1 1940

HIS BAPTISMAL name—assuming that he had a baptism, which was doubtful—was Louis Gload, a common name among the MicMacs, but the people of Riverdale, high and low, knew him as Scabby Lou. The accident of smallpox in his childhood had given him the complexion of a nutmeg grater, and now that he was old and his round moon MicMac face had lost its fullness, the pitted skin had fallen into great folds and wrinkles that hung about his jowls and threw his high cheekbones into greater prominence.

His teeth had rotted to black stumps and gone, like the pine forests of his youth, and for lack of their backing his thin lips had shrunk inward against the gums. When he was displeased they formed a straight line under the flaring nostrils of his flat nose; when pleased, they would sneer back, exposing his blue gums and making way for his high cackle of a laugh.

When he looked you in the eye, which was not often, he would squint as though you were the sun itself; but mostly lie gazed to your right or left, his lifted lids revealing an eye as bright as any hawk's and as keen. His coarse black hair was parted in the centre and gathered into two thin and greasy braids tied together at their ends in an ordinary reef knot, which sawed with the movements of his head back and forth across the collar of his tattered mackinaw shirt. His invariable headgear was an incongruous derby of the vintage of the gay ’nineties, green with age and torn by the insertion and removal of many fishing flies. His shoulders were wide and his arms immensely long, enabling him to carry a quarter of moose meat for miles with ease; and his great gnarled hands hung as if suspended from the shoulders with strings, for he did not swing his hands when walking, but let them dangle at his knees like an ape.

He must have stood six feet in the upright bygone years, but now he shuffled along, stoop-shouldered, bent-kneed, toeing his worn moccasins inward in the Indian manner. But he was the best hunting guide in Pine County for all that, which means he knew the Rossignol like a book.

Pine County is the valley, you might say, of the Rossignol, most beautiful of all the Nova Scotia rivers, whose waters teem with trout and salmon, and whose banks in the timber country above Riverdale, are trod with the hoofs of a multitude of moose and deer. Scabby Lou knew the river from its source in the ridges of the South Mountain to tidewater below Riverdale, and he said without boasting that he knew every rock in it, having once paddled a new canoe down the whole stretch, including three sets of turbulent rapids, without suffering a scratch on the paint.

In the sporting season he waxed fat, guiding fishermen and hunters into the game areas up-river at five dollars a day—and tips. (If there were no cash-in-advance tips the parsimonious sportsman was apt to find the trout scarce or the moose reluctant.) He spent these earnings riotously in the fall, having a weakness for such ill-assorted things as gin and canned lobster, and possessing no wife or other domestic worry to smite his conscience. He seldom saved enough to keep him in tobacco till spring, so in winter he starved, as his forefathers had done before him, except when desperation made him brave the eye and wrath of the game warden and venture forth on his round-toed snowshoes to some spruce swamp where the moose were winter-yarded and where he could bowl over a fat fallow cow with his old Winchester. Then he would lug the meat of nights to his one-room shack on Injun Hill in the outskirts of Riverdale, where a collection of sorry hovels housed his brethren and certain poor whites as shiftless as themselves.

His fuel problem was more simple. His brethren rummaged the roadsides for straggling wire birch, which they hauled on hand sleds to their shacks; but Scabby Lou, less honest (or more bold?) than they, depended on Captain John Murchison’s sawmill yard. The yard lay invitingly on the river just below Injun Hill, and was always piled high with pine slabs and edgings, sawed in stove lengths, which Captain John sold in Riverdale at a dollar or so a wagonload. Many a bag of those convenient pine slabs went up Injun Hill of nights on the back of Scabby Lou. Everyone in Riverdale knew it. Nobody knew it better than Cap’n John, who had watched his slab piles shrink during many winters, and had seen his threats and warnings roll off the impassive old Indian as water from a duck.

So when he entered his yard one winter morning to find another hole torn in the slab pile and a trail of round-toed snowshoe tracks leading blatantly up the hill, he sat on the ravaged pile and began to think. At the end of his thinking he took a big slab and operated on it carefully with a brace and bit. In the hole he inserted two dynamite caps and filled the opening neatly with a whittled plug. He smeared the thing with mud to hide his handiwork, marked the slab unobtrusively and set it carelessly on the edge of the pile. And he went away rumbling deep in his chest.

IT WAS just a week later that young Peter Poster drove his ox wagon into the yard for a load of slabs, and Cap’n John went over to the pile with him. The slab was gone and many more with it. Cap’n John went to work with gusto helping Peter fill the wagon rack. Between armfuls they discussed the weather, with particular reference to the snow and the kind of sledding it was making in the woods.

“Gettin’ out quite a cut this winter, ain’t you, Cap’n?” said young Peter Foster.

Cap’n John heaved a mighty armload into the rack. ‘‘Middlin’,” he said. “ ’Bout a million feet o’ pine up to Spar Lake, an’ mebbe four-five thousand cord o’ pulpwood. ’Tain’t only a fleabite to what we used to cut in the old days, mind ye, but I s’pose it’s a sizable cut for these times. Ain’t much up-river to cut nowadays.”

“Was they ever?” queried Peter provokingly.

Old Cap’n John fixed him with a stern grey eye. “There was. When I was a pup jest about like you,” pausing a moment to let this sink in, “this here valley was solid white pine from the hills to the sea. An’ big slick stuff at that. Anythin’ a growed man could get his arms around was too blame small to cut, an’ the big stuff woulda smashed the saw-kerridges we use nowadays. They was ten mills, them days, atween here an’ the salt water, an’ all of ’em busy. Mine’s the only one left. Young feller, I kin remember when they was a grove of pine up there on Injun Hill as big round as sugar bar’ls an’ straight enough for spars. None o’ your mean, l’il, twisty cat pine—”

“Which reminds me,” said Peter, anxious for a cooler subject, “they was a rumpus up Injun Hill last night.” 

Cap’n John subsided like a slacked sail. “So?”

“Uh-huh. Seems like ol’ Scabby Lou blowed hisself up.” 

Cap’n John was smitten with remorse. “Wasn’t—wasn’t hurt, was he?”

Peter spat a brown and scornful stream against the sled runner. “Hurt? I guess not. I cert’nly guess not. You couldn’t hurt that scraggy ol’ cuss with a axe. No, sirree.” 

“What happened, Peter?” The carelessness of the Cap’n’s voice!

“Dunno rightly. Seems they was a big bang an’ the stove covers went out through the roof an’ Scabby Lou went out through the winder. All in a big cloud o’ sut. An’ he ain’t found his cookin’ pots sence. He come down to the village ’smornin’ blacker’n the ace o’ spades an’ madder’n a wet hen, a-beggin’ money for to buy a new stove. The game warden told him he better go tie up the ol’ one with hay wire on account of the Lord had put a cuss on moose meat so it exploded inside Injun cookin’ pots. An’ ol’ Miz Liza McCorkle went to the door to his knockin’ an’ like to had a fit when she see him standin’ there all sutty an’ bedraggled-like. ‘Beelzeboob!’ says she, an’ dray him off’n the stoop with a umberelly.” Peter opened his stained young lips and hooted at the memory.

A dog, a little flop-eared mongrel, ambled around the nearest lumber pile and viewed them with suspicion, cocking one absurd ear and lifting a forepaw. The dog turned his rough head to look backward, and the eyes of the two men followed.

“Mornin’,” said Scabby Lou.

“Mornin’,” said Peter and Cap’n John together.

Scabby Lou’s bright old eyes roved over the mill yard and came to rest on the fateful slab pile.

“Nice dog you got, Lou,” lied Cap’n John easily, taking in the other’s tousled appearance.

“Yeh,” admitted Lou impassively.

Young Peter Foster was nudging Cap’n John joyously, and aching obviously to burst into another and more enthusiastic hoot at the scarecrow before them. Cap’n John kicked him unobtrusively. “What breed is he, Lou?”

“Breed?” The old man wrinkled his pitted brows. “No breed. Jest Injun.”

Cap’n John made moist noises with his lips. “Come, pup, come nice ol’ pup,” slapping his freckled hands against his knees invitingly. The dog wagged a stubby tail but kept his distance.

“Come, puppy. Here, boy. Here, pup. What d’ye call him, Lou?”

“Yeah,” said young Peter, feeling obliged to get into the conversation somewhere. “What’s his name?”

“No name,” said Scabby Lou. “Jest Injun dog.”

Conversation languished. The old Indian stared over toward the burrowed slab pile as though it were a great, page of jumbled print that sharp and patient eyes might read.

“Tricks,” said young Peter with inspiration. “Kin yer daw'g do tricks?”

For answer the old man squatted on the wet heels of his moccasins and held out his knotty hands, palms upward. The dog came over and stood on his hind legs, weaving his forepaws a little for balance.

“De-be-ya." said Scabby Lou. The dog placed his left forepaw in the old man’s right hand, left it there a moment and withdrew it. weaving again for balance.

“A-puk-tik,” said Scabby Lou and the dog repeated with the other paw in Lou’s left hand. The old man straightened himself and Injun dog dropped back on all fours. “Tha’s all,” said Lou in his wooden voice.

“An’ not much, says I,” muttered Foster, and then noticing Captain Murchison’s surreptitious thumb-jerking at last. “Wal, guess I’ll have to be gettin’ along. Gotta go round by the blacksmith shop to get them oxen shod afore dinner.” He seized the near ox by the horn and got his sled squared away for the gate with many shouts of “Hoof!” “Gee!” and “Haw!” and presently squeaked cumbrously away down the snowy road.

There was a long silence in the mill yard. Cap’n John making a business of filling his pipe and the old Indian standing mute, hands at sides, puzzled eyes on the slab pile.

Then, “Mutchie!” (Lou’s tongue could never achieve Murchison.)

“Yes, Lou?” The Captain’s voice was guileless and gentle.

“Dam’ smart wood you got, Mutchie!” and the bedraggled old scamp shuffled out of the yard with never so much as a backward glance. Injun dog at his heels. Cap’n John collapsed weakly against the pile and laughed and laughed.

A SEAMAN-LUMBERMAN was Cap’n John Murchison, an amphibious type common enough in certain Nova Scotia communities which for many years brought drives of pine and spruce down the short singing rivers, sawed them into lumber in their little water mills, built them into tall ships and sailed them away to the four corners of the world. He left the actual logging operations to stocky Abel Freeman, an old-fashioned lumberman as able as his name and the Cap’n’s lieutenant of many years.

But the spring drives were always under the Cap’n’s personal supervision. He had a store of nautical tricks with anchors, ropes and winches that served him handily when warping great rafts of logs across the windy lakes at the head of the river; and while he was apt to refer to a peavy as a “handspike” and a pike pole as a “boat hook,” he could keep his nimble caulked feet on the upper side of the crankiest log in the drive. Very few of his river-hogs had ever seen Cap’n John “wet his necktie.”

When the river ice went out to sea and the lake began to move under the influence of warm spring rains, there was a stir in Riverdale, and fifty or sixty of the sturdiest men shouldered their peavies and blankets and travelled in stages to Cap’n John’s log-brows in the headwaters. Old men gathered in the blacksmith shop and “figgered” as usual that there was too much ice yet for river work, but Cap’n John believed in being early afoot. On the swollen torrent of the spring freshet the logs would ride cheaply to the mill, but delay meant hard and expensive scraping as the river dwindled under the summer sun. More than one delinquent drive had been left high and dry on the falls to await the full waters of another spring.

The wagons had rumbled away with the stores and gear, the cook and his satellite bull-cooks had gone, and the rivermen had followed in their wake. Cap’n John only lacked a “feller with a little learnin’ ” for timekeeper and wangan clerk. His nephew, young Alan Murchison, leaped at the chance. Who would not go a-driving with the aristocrats of the lumber business? River-driving is a caste in the Eastern woods. There was delay at Spar Lake, waiting for the lug cakes of shore ice to clear. The old men had been right for once, but as the rivermen only drew pay for actual working time, the Cap’n’s brow remained serene.

“I’m only out their grub an’ the cooks’ wages when delays like this occur,” he explained to young Alan. “It’s when things are balled up, with the whole gang working its head off and the logs not getting anywhere, that I begin to scratch my head.”

Alan grinned, “Sixty men at five dollars a day soon work up a big pay roll, eh?”

“Uh-huh. ’Course, I’ve got drivin’ costs on this river figgered out pretty well, Alan. I’ve brought a good few drives down the ol’ river in my time. Crossin’ the lakes is a mite ticklish if you get head winds, and even a follerin’ wind is apt to kick up a sea and bust your booms or wash the pulpwood out under ’em. Calms is best. That's why crossin’ the lakes is mostly night work. The wind usually goes down with the sun at this time o’ year. But the only real bad place on the river is the Sweatin’ Falls, which is a long rapids and full of big rocks where the logs jam up in spite of the devil. The old-time drivers gave it a good name. But jest below it is the best part of the whole river, a shallow gorge called the Gullet, where the water pours along smooth as a chute for three miles. It’s three miles that you don’t have to bother about; the only rocks in it form nateral wings that shear off the logs an’ keep ’em into the middle o’ the stream, ’thout so much as a poke from a channel-tender. Once you’ve reared your drive off’n the Sweatin’ Falls you can take your tents an’ outfit to the foot of the Gullet.”

“Without a look at the Gullet? Surely some logs catch there?”

“Nary a look and nary a log. Ain’t bin a jam in the Gullet in the memory o’ man. I follered it along once or twice behind my early drives, but never found a stick to lay peavy to. The rivermen say the Devil made the Sweatin’ Falls, but the Lord come along an’ stuck the Gullet right below to take the curse off.”

When the lake ice cleared, the rivermen hacked away the props from the great brows of logs and pulpwood which went thundering into the water and drove the spray high and wide. The drive was on. The beautiful reservoir of the Rossignol (a chain of lakes in which Spar Lake is a link) was crossed with varying fortunes in the way of winds and calms. The process of lake navigation, evolved by the first generation of seamen-lumbermen and unchanged in a hundred years, was simple and effective. The logs were gathered with booms into great rafts upon which the “headworks” were bolted solidly with hardwood pins. Each headworks held a big windlass with long iron handles, to the barrel of which was fastened one end of the long warping rope. At the other end of the warp was a heavy iron ship-anchor, the charge of the bateau-men with their heavy river boat, its seats and interior scarred and chewed by the caulks on their feet.

The boatmen would row ahead the length of the warp and heave the anchor overboard. Then the windlass on the headworks creaked under the thrust of brawny arms, the warp quivered and sang under the strain, and the raft moved slowly but surely under that strain up to the anchor, when the process was repeated. If there were musical inclinations on the headworks there would be chanting, to the accompaniment of the groaning windlass barrel and the hum of the taut rope and the grunting of the sweating windlass men.

“Oh, I’m inchin’ home,

Inchin’ home;

I’m inchin’ home—

Like an ol’ inch-worm.”

THEY came at last to the Narrows, whence the river dropped to Riverdale in a series of rapids and stillwaters beginning with the Sweatin’ Falls. Their smoke-stained tents were pitched beside the foaming falls, and the woods rang in the daylight hours with the lusty shouts of the river-hogs and the musical clank-clank of peavy hooks. There could be no doubt of the infernal origin of the Sweatin’ Falls. Long June days went by filled with strenuous effort from dawn till dark, while Cap’n John scratched his bristling grey head at the mounting pay roll and praised the Lord audibly for the saving grace of the Gullet below.

The last jam gave way with a grinding swoop that sent the river-drivers scrambling madly shoreward over a heaving up-ending tangle of wet logs, whooping and cheering at the top of their leather lungs, while the cookees and Alan and even Cap’n John capered happily on the bank.

It was a merry crew that “came and got it” at the supper tables that night. Cap’n John, a driver in every sense of the word, loaded up the heavy gear and sent the wagons off for the foot of the Gullet in the moonlight. They rattled out of sight over the old river road, a rough trail worn by four generations of caulked feet. The rivermen crept thankfully into the tents, pitched for the night on a wide natural meadow that ran beside the river for half a mile between the last roaring ledge of Sweatin’ Falls and the yawning mouth of the Gullet.

“This meadow,” observed Alan, treading the springy turf underfoot, “must be aflow in flood water.”

“ ’Tis pretty near river level,” admitted Cap’n John. “But I never knowed it to be more’n a little boggy. We used to come up here when I was a boy to cut the medder hay.”

Alan kicked a tuft of the coarse meadow hay. “Pretty tough feed.”

“Yeah. Horses won’t look at it, but creeters don’t mind. We couldn’t grow enough English hay to feed our cattle through the winter, an’ nobody ever heard of buyin’ baled hay them days.”

Alan paused in the tent door to drink in the beauty of the night. “Funny,” he mused. “You’d swear the river was going to overflow the meadow. Looks higher than it did at supper time.”

“It’s the moonlight on the water,” yawned Cap’n John from his blankets.

ALAN WAS the first in the camp to awake, and he came out of a vivid dream, in which he was floating over Sweatin’ Falls on a pike pole, into the stark realization that there was water in the tent and that it was seeping up through his brushwood mattress into his blankets. Cap’n John awoke at Alan’s call, and after much sleepy fumbling for a waterproof match box, struck a light.

“Judas Priest!” he said, as one perceiving miracles, “we’re awash.”

Awash they were. The beds were little islands in the eddies of a dark and increasing stream. Something drifted gently through the tent door, something that looked, in the dying flare of the match, uncannily like the young alligators Cap’n John once saw in the Mississippi delta. It was an eight-foot length of pulpwood.

The camp came to life with a yell, with a splashing of sock feet, with much profane tripping over tent ropes in the dark. Tousled figures in red flannel underwear waded frantically in and out of the tents, grabbing up blankets and chasing boots that bobbed merrily on the rising waters. The cook, a practical soul to whom it was just one more trial in a life of general cussedness, led the way to higher ground with a lantern in one hand and a gunny sack of bread in the other; and when he tripped over a submerged stump into the swirling black water, with the bread going one way and the lantern describing a yellow arc that ended in the flood like a suicidal firefly, the camp discovered that it still could laugh, and gave tongue.

The grey light of morning revealed a wide sea where the meadow had been, a sea of bobbing pulpwood that drifted hither and yon and came to rest, most of it, among the surrounding trees on the edges of the meadow. Cap’n John, after some puzzled gazing across the flood, sent the silent Abe Freeman to see what he could see in the Gullet.

“A plug in the Gullet?” he said in a bewildered voice as they watched Abe’s disappearing back. “It ain’t possible. But there ’tis. First time in the history o’ the Rossignol River. Didn’ we watch the last stick float away into the Gullet last night? An’ here ’tis all back again, the pulpwood anyway. Water flowin’ uphill.”

“For the first time in the history of the world,” said young Alan.

Abe was back in an hour, ejecting a mouthful of brown juice to make way for words. “They’s a plug, shore ’nough. On the first bend. The logs is piled up there monstrous high, like a dam a’most. That’s what’s backing up all this water. The pine, bein’ heavy, stayed mostly in the Gullet; but the pulpwood floated high, like so many straws, an’ spewed back outa the Gullet on this flood water.”

Cap’n John turned to the river drivers, busy drying sodden blankets in the sun. “Ahoy! Peavies an’ pike poles, boys. We’re goin’ to clear the Gullet.”

This was blind optimism, as they all realized when they viewed the “monstrous high” jam at close quarters and were deafened by the roar of the pent-up Gullet as it tumbled over the wedged logs.

"A feller could git out on it awright,” said the slow-spoken Abe, measuring the chances with an experienced eye, “and mebbe pick away till he got it started. But how’d he git ashore agin? When she goes, she’ll go quick, an’ there ain’t a man livin’ could get ashore quick enough. He’d go shootin’ along the Gullet with the logs like a bullet down a rifle bar’l.”

Horse sense, as Cap’n John acknowledged. “It’s a case for dynamite,” he said reluctantly. He had an ingrained distaste for blowing out log jams. It was, he always said, a "lubberly manner o’ drivin’.”

“Dynamite,” said Abe, “is a one-man job. I’ll do it.”

Cap’n John clapped his big freckled hands on the stocky foreman’s shoulders. “You blame ol’ sawed-off workhoss,” he grinned, grey eyes alight with the love that is passing woman’s, “I never asked any man to go where I wouldn’t go myself. I'm doin' this.”

“We’re both doin’ it,” said Abe, and went to the wagons for explosives.

Young Alan Murchison scrambled up the steep wall of the Gullet, where he had been sizing up the jam from the lower side. “Uncle John,” he asked curiously, "how do you build a fish weir?”

“I never build ’em,” said Cap’n John humorously. “It’s a sorta monopoly o’ the Injun hillers.”

“Well,” rather impatiently, “how do they make ’em?”

“How? Well, the Injuns build a sorta rail fence acrost the river in a shallows somewhere by wedgin’ posts among the rocks in the river bed an’ lashin’ saplin’s atween the posts. Then they fasten brushwood to the saplin’s, leavin’ an openin’ in the middle o’ the weir for their trap. The brushwood lets the water by, but forces the fish to go through the trap hole. The white men foller the same idee, but bein’ a trifle more enterprisin’ than the Injuns, they use wire nettin’ instead o’ brushwood.”

“It hasn’t occurred to you,” said Alan hesitantly, “that somebody’s fish weir might have caused this plug?”

The Cap'n thought this was good, and his great laugh boomed out. So the boy wanted to teach the old man to suck eggs?

He said, “In the first place, son, it’s agin the law to have an obstruction across the river in the salmon season—which is now. The only weirs on this river is set out in the fall to catch the seaward run of eels. Eels, d’ye see, is born in the salt an’ want to die in the salt water. It’s a law o’ natur’. They come up-river when they’re fingerlin’s, an’ they grow to full size—a whopping big size—in the fresh water; but when the fall rains come, the growed-up ones get what the preachers call a blind urge to hustle down to salt water for to spawn an’ die. An’ down they go, usually in the dark o’ the October moon, millions of ’em. The Injun hillers catch ’em in their weirs by the ton, an’ the fish merchants down to River Harbor buy ’em for the Boston market. The whites dismantle their weirs after the eel run is past for the sake o’ the wire mattin’. The Injuns, bein’ shiftless, an’ brushwood bein’ cheap, leave theirs to the winter floods. There’s never any left by spring. An’ in the second place, son, nobody’d ever put a weir in the Gullet when it’s so much easier to put one above or below it. Those steep banks, see? Alan, boy, you’re away off the track.”

“Maybe so.” All the Murchison stubbornness was in the boy’s tone. “With all that water pouring over the jam you can’t see what caused it. But tell me this: why is the Gullet plugged straight across? All the plugs I’ve seen so far were irregular tangles, logs piled here and there in the wildest confusion. This Gullet plug is straight as a string.”

Cap’n John shrugged and moved over to where Abe was dropping sticks of gelatine gingerly into his pocket.

“Take a-plenty,” grinned the Captain, stuffing a pocket full of the potent yellow cylinders and running his arm through a coil of fuse. “No use sendin’ a boy on a man’s errand, Abe.”

THEY took a peavy apiece and made their precarious way to the centre of the jam, while the rivermen held their breath on the bank. In some places they danced lightly over slippery logs with the sureness of caulked feet and the ease of long practice, in others they had to wade, feeling for solid footing with the peavies. After some experimental prying and poking in the heaped-up centre, they placed their charge and lit a long fuse and came leisurely ashore.

The watchers on the brink of the Gullet were aware of a newcomer in their midst—a shambling person in worn moccasins and torn bull’s-wool trousers, with a faded mackinaw shirt and an ancient derby hat.

“What you doin’ wit’ my eel wyer, Mutchie?” asked the voice of Scabby Lou.

“Your eel weir? Yours!” said Cap’n John in a tremendous voice.

“Yuh!” said Scabby Lou. “Mine!” He pointed to himself with a horny finger. They were enclosed at once in a ring of interested rivermen. To young Alan Murchison, standing on the edge of the circle, the old Indian seemed subtly different. He had straightened himself and was taller, staring Cap’n John in the eye without a trace of squinting, with a strange new dignity that belied the absurd hat and took no heed of the gaping rivermen. He seemed to have recaptured for a fleeting moment a vestige of his lost youth. He seemed no longer a shambling person.

“Hell’s bells!” Cap’n John’s voice shook with rage. “This is June, you maunderin’ ol’ lunatic, not October. D’ye mean to stan’ there an’ tell me you put an eel weir here in the Gullet three months afore the fall rains an’ spang in the middle o’ drivin’ time? You can’t do that on this river!” 

“What do I know ’bout reever, Mutchie?” asked the person who knew every rock in it. “When I am dry, I dreenk an’ let the res’ go by.”

“You can’t do this. Gummin’ up my drive this way!”

“So?” said Scabby Lou, calmly as before. “Do you own d’reever, Mutchie?”

“I,” said Cap’n John, choking back his rage and amazement as best he could, “I am goin’ to play the devil with you, you game-poachin’, fish-spearin’, wood-stealin’ ol’ mushrat! Puttin’ a weir across the river in the salmon run is agin the river laws. I’ll jail you for that, Scabby Lou!” 

“Mebbeso,”said the old Indian. “Bandy (Mr. Bantry, the Riverdale magistrate) tol’ me if feesh wyer is all way ’cross d’reever in salmon time it is agin law. How you goin’ show Bandy my wyer is all way ’cross, Mutchie? Under all thees log?” 

The Cap’n’s bluff was called, and he could only retort feebly, “Reg’lar sea lawyer, you are. Reg’lar sea lawyer.”

The dynamite went off with a sudden roar that hurled several soggy pine logs high in air and shook the big jam into swaying visibly, and in another moment the whole mass swept away down the Gullet in a shouting tumult of released water. Scattered bits of brushwood and birch saplings eddied to the surface of the flood and went down again like drowning men. The first and last log jam in that shallow canyon was gone.

“So you blowed out my eel wyer to let go your logs,” the old Indian said in his wooden voice. “You are a smart man, Mutchie.”

Cap’n John was mighty pleased with himself and showed it. “Mixin’ wood an’ dynamite,” he said distinctly, “is one of the best things I do, Scabby Lou.”

“Yuh,” said Scabby Lou unemotionally, and seeing from a corner of his keen eye that Abe Freeman was returning from the upper meadow, quietly withdrew.

“Well, Noah,” said Cap’n John jovially, “has the waters of the flood departed?” 

The phlegmatic Abe prepared for speech with his customary ejection of brown juice. “She shore has. Went out like a Bay o’ Fundy tide bore.”

The Cap’n grinned happily. “Them logs,” he declared, “went outa the Gullet like they didn’t figger to stop atween here an’ the mill boom.”

“Shore did,” agreed Abe calmly. “Barrin’ the pulpwood.”

The Cap’n’s smile faded before a monstrous thought. “Pulpwood?”

“Yeah," Abe spat again. “The pulpwood. They’s a good three hund’ed cord left high an’ dry on the medder.”

Captain John Murchison sank down upon the nearest stump. “Oh lord!” he groaned, “I mighta knowed that would happen. Three hundred cord, an’ a good two hundred ’way up among the trees, you can lay to that. How long’ll it take, Abe, to wrastle it back over that squidgy medder to the river?”

Abe considered. “We got to back every stick, an’ the medder’s a bog. Can’t use wagons. Take all o’ seven days.”

“Gosh A’mighty! Sixty drivers at five dollars a day is three hundred dollars a day. Seven days at three hundred.” Cap’n John sighed mightily, “is twenty-one hundred dollars.”

Abe nodded. “Blame wood ain’t wuth it,” he suggested. “Leave it be. No money in pulpwood, anyway.”

All the Highland blood of the Murchisons boiled in Cap’n John’s veins at the thought. “Avast!” he bellowed. “Jest set your sails aback, now, Abe, an’ heave to, you pig-headed old-timer. Can’t git rid o’ that old idee that anything smaller’n a sawlog is trash, kin you? Jest stop an’ figger what this pulpwood’s cost so far. I paid Zeke Cragg—the tight-fisted ol’ skinflint—two dollars a cord stumpage; cuttin’ an’ haulin’ to Spar Lake was four dollars, thanks to you—any other man couldn’t ha’ done it under five; an’ drivin’ it this far would be—lemme see—two dollars more. Eight dollars a cord. Three hundred cord at eight dollars is twenty-four hundred by my ’rithmetic.”

“Yeah?” said Abe grudgingly. “Well, it’s a tossup which way you’ll lose most, to my mind. You’re out the twenty-one hundred, that’s sure.”

“I am so,” admitted Cap’n John ruefully. He waved to the rivermen. “Peavies, boys. An’ ile up your backbones. We’re totin’ pulpwood for a week.”

Young Alan Murchison turned as they trudged away toward the meadow. “Why Uncle John,” he exclaimed, “look at that old Indian. He’s gone raving crazy.” Scabby Lou was standing in the rocky road to Riverdale, and he was using a white man’s gesture for the first time in his life. He had inserted a horny thumb in each ear, and he was waggling his long fingers in a derisive and irritating manner.

“Crazy,” uttered Cap’n John in a strangled voice. “Crazy like a fox. An’ speakin’ of crazy people, boy, I know a feller compared to which the County Lunatic Farm is a college professors’ boardin’ house. A right smart feller he is, too, in his own estimation. But he is paying twenty-one hundred cold hard dollars for a rackety ol’ stove a junk dealer wouldn’t ha’ spit at. He is so.”

Up on the meadow the first man started for the river with the first stick of pulpwood on his shoulder.