Highball Logger

Juggling two giant logs a minute, eight hours a day, is something. And when a man’s in love —


Highball Logger

Juggling two giant logs a minute, eight hours a day, is something. And when a man’s in love —


DILL BOURKE felt lower and darker than a mud hen’s basement. He stood, six feet of him, upon the high logging railway trestle that jutted from a wooded shoreline far out over the lower end of Siwash Lake, and stared unseeing at the loading dock with its engineer’s leverhouse, towering spar-tree and bracing cables.

For the tenth time that early morning his gaze returned to a boomyard that should have been full of floating brown logs, and wasn’t; and for the tenth time his heart hit bottom sickeningly.

“That’s the only thing could beat us,” he muttered. "No logs.”

That was Dill Bourke’s job—loading logs: heading the six-man crew that with the help of modern machinery hoisted from lake waters to railroad flat cars the great fir and cedar sticks earlier bunched in brown islands and towed down by company tug from Mountain Logging's main camp ten miles uplake.

It was a highball job, to highball in the woods meaning to hit a dizzy clip. Young as he was—rated a mere kid by the old-timers—Dill Bourke had earned the name of being a highball loader and to be that you had to be able to lead a crew and plan as well as work.

Dill had planned, had lain awake nights planning—plans that included Sherry Lennon—and now, with the big prize almost within his grasp, disaster loomed.

For you couldn’t load logs you didn’t have, and there it was before him. Empty water.

The fat engineer in greasy work rompers was waiting beside his cable-wrapped drums and bristling hand levers. As Dill Bourke reached him, Lardy jerked his head shoreward and pointed with an oil can. “Early visitors, kid,” he grunted.

Bourke stopped, and looked shoreward. Slowly he gulped. Sherry Lennon’s bright slacks were coming along the trestle.

Sherry Lennon’s slacks, because invariably accompanied by sweet Sherry herself, always had made Dill Bourke feel the luckiest man in the world. This time they didn’t. Sight of them made him feel definitely uncomfortable.

“That’s the pay-off,” he told the engineer. “The very morning I’m set for a showdown on logs, Lennon brings his daughter on the job!”

There it was; Sherry Lennon was not alone. Her approaching rhythmic slenderness at first had loosed within him a familiar glad glow. But sight of the rugged figure stalking behind her along the narrow pedestrian catwalk that followed the trestle's length, clinging like an endless, uneven shelf halfway down the water-stained pilings, gave Dill Bourke all the devilish inspiration he needed.

The idea came suddenly, and in that flash of illumination everything was just as suddenly clear—those sly looks between Lardy and Lennon during the camp boss’s infrequent visits to the loading dock, Lennon’s unusual silence during those visits, and now—no logs.

For camp boss Dutch Lennon not only was father of the girl Dill Bourke was bent on marrying, but was holder of the log-loading record Dill Bourke, with the help of a good crew, was bent on busting—both within a week. Getting married depended on copping that record, and, while Dutch Lennon had shown no objection to the marriage of his daughter, loss of a west coast log-loading record he had held for years was something else again.

That had been Dill Bourke’s sudden idea, and it fitted like a nail in wood. He was so certain of it that he blurted it aloud to Lardy. He hadn’t exactly meant to, but within a short minute following its birth, and fed by his earlier chagrin and disappointment, the idea had grown up and boiled over into hot speech. It was helped some by the remark Lardy made, his mild blue eyes crinkling a bit at the corners, as Dutch Lennon stopped halfway along the trestle, pointing out and explaining things to daughter Sherry.

“Maybe,” the fat leverman suggested, a placating tinge of tease in his voice, “the boss don’t figure you’re man enough to bust that record without special inspiration, kid. Maybe he figures Sherry might be it.”

Bourke jerked up. “There’s only one thing I want from Lennon,” he snapped. “That’s logs. He promised them for this morning.”

“The fallers and buckers are talking strike up the lake.


“There’s no strike,” Bourke cut in. He blurted it then: "We won’t get those logs, Lardy. Not with Lennon holding the record.”

The fat leverman didn’t try to answer that one. He just stared. Lardy was an old-timer, had worked with Lennon, was pally with him, but that didn’t change the setup now. Below them in the boomyard floated only enough brown logs for half a day’s loading—five hundred maybe. Beyond, lake waters winding narrowly back into Vancouver Island’s mountain interior were bleakly empty of company tug or log tow.

"That’s strong meat, son,” Lardy counselled gently then.

“A month’s highball on a loading dock isn’t exactly a soft dish either,” Bourke reminded him. “And I’m not telling you something I wouldn’t tell Lennon. Because this is the morning I tell him.”

Again Lardy was slow in answering. “You’ve got a good job, kid,” he said at last. “And that love nest on Halcyon Heights—about finished, ain’t it?”

“I’m not worried about a job,” Dill told him. “With that record tied to our belt I can get a job anywhere. I’ve got only one worry—that's logs. There's one man stopping them.” He nodded at the figure along the trestle. “That’s Lennon.”

THERE it was again. The leverman was stumped. A good egg, old Lardy, and a whale of an operator: but all he had to do was wheel those drums of his. It was different when you had to shoulder the weight of the crew. There’d been plenty of kidding at first. This try at cracking Lennon’s record by a young crew had made even Lardy chuckle. Again Bourke recalled those sly grins passing between Lardy and Lennon. But the fat engineer had stepped on it, had done his share. The tally total now told the story, and Lardcan knew it, for part of the leverman’s job was to mark the tally, every log, every car, every trainload of big sticks that left the dock to be hauled to tidewater below.

There’d been plenty of talk in the camps too. Older crews had had a shot at Lennon’s famous record, a record known wherever big timber moved, from Glacier Inlet south to Oregon. For years the startling total for a month had stood, but in two more days now—two more eight-hour shifts run without a hitch or stagger—there’d be a new record, and with the standing offer of two weeks off for the crew, at full pay, tied to its tail. Dutch Lennon had kept clear of the job. Bourke odd times had wondered about that. Now, with a clear win in sight, the joker in the deck appeared. No logs.

Dutch Lennon had reached the near end of the long catwalk. He preceded daughter Sherry down ten feet of caulk-chewed ladder to the floating gangway, lashed to smooth piling, where boom men stored their lines and axes. There Sherry waited. Lennon stalked the gangway’s thirty-foot length to a second ladder leading up to the loading dock.

On the loading dock above, that jutted wider than the trestle to carry leverhouse and working platform, Dill Bourke waited. There was no need of words. That empty water in the boom did all the talking necessary.

On the log floor below, shock-haired Pete Rand saw Dill Bourke waiting, and slowly straightened. The leverman saw, and turned abruptly to his maze of drums and cables. Sudden silence fell as Dutch Lennon’s rugged head and shoulders shoved over the platform edge.

The camp boss drew himself up slowly, mouth and eyes steady under a lowered hat brim. Bourke still waited. At water level below, Pete Rand balanced, motionless, on a lazily-moving log. For seconds there was no sound but the impatient slap-slap of waves and a faint whistle wail somewhere down beyond bristling treetops toward the sea. A deep, waiting silence. The fact that he had told Sherry to wait below proved that Dutch Lennon had sensed the setup.

Boss and head-loader eyed each other. Boot caulks chewed planking as Dill Bourke spaced chunky feet. His stiff duck pants, stagged off in a ragged fringe below the knee, pulled tightly against straight, long legs; arms bare to the shoulders were half-tensed in readiness. Dutch Lennon was relaxed—but hard, and no mistake. Every angle of his big frame showed it.

Dill Bourke spoke: “Any logs coming down?”

Lennon’s weathered eyes moved to include the others, Lardy with his background of drums and levers, second-loader Holt waiting, gloves in hand, at his car-end, Pete Rand with only his jaws moving gently, the two boom men leaning on their pikes. The boss’s experienced eyes flicked over the layout as if contemplating what his answer might mean to them all. Abruptly his gaze returned to Bourke; his mouth twisted.

“No,” he said.

Pete Rand turned away and spat in disgust. Holt kicked a piece of bark aside with a sudden reflex action. Lardy just stood, that dumb, shiny pan of his with no more expression than a turnip’s uncle, the way he always had looked at Lennon late when Bourke was watching him. There was something between these two. Bourke was sure of that now.

“That’s not good enough, Lennon,” he said softly. His hands moved up and rested in casual readiness on his belt. “There’s no shortage of logs uplake. You’re the first boss I ever knew who wouldn’t shoot square with—”

He stopped short at a sound back of Lennon. His gaze jerked to a blond head that appeared suddenly at platform level. Hands fell to his sides; tense muscles relaxed. With one full breath he steadied himself.

“We’ll talk later,” he said, and went past Lennon to the ladder top.

IN SILENCE he guided Sherry Lennon down the ladder, across the floating platform and up the far ladder to the catwalk. Her feet moved in a quick patter of rubber on weathered wood before him. He was silent until they reached the shoreline.

“Stubborn little devil, aren’t you?” he said then. “I asked you never to come here.”

Dusty sneakers and bright slacks flashed beside him as she tried to keep pace. “I—I’m sorry, Dill. I came to take the car back; and anyway I had to see you. The fireplace man can’t go ahead till he knows about the damper.” 

“H’m,” he said. “And what else?”

She hesitated. “Dad was home for a bedroll—said he’d be staying right on the job for severed days. He seemed worried.” Blue eyes searched his, gave him a sudden feeling of acute misery that crowded all rancor from his mind.

He couldn’t trust himself to speak right then. Her hand was on his arm, on one of its fingers a glowing spark of fire—a warm hand, soft, comforting.

“What’s it all about, Dill?” she asked gently. “Is it this record business that’s making you so—so—?” She stopped. “Dill,” she pleaded, “what does it matter—all this? A record isn’t worth cracking up over. Let’s just chuck it all and get married, Dill. Huh?”

The sweet nearness of her brought a return of that warm, melting glow. Right now a dangerous glow. It would be so easy just to coast along, let the tough stuff slide for a change. His mouth tightened. Sure, and be just a rut-rat like so many of them, a company cog always in the same spot on the wheel. Not for him! Fighting or logging, you had to hit it up, highball it, get in first lick.

Hadn’t he proved that already? Hadn’t he Lennon’s record all but whipped? Hadn’t he picked off the smartest girl and built the smartest little home on the Upper Island? Highball stuff had done it—bearing down in the tough spots, going the ordinary plugs one better.

This marriage business was no different. He’d seen plenty of it. Kids ducking round a corner to get married, like going to a movie or a masquerade dance, memory of it lasting about as long. That melting glow that bothered him now was the cause of all that. Easy to take, sure, but packed with just that danger. He fought it off and turned.

“We’ve settled all that before,” he said. “We’re having no bargain-rush wedding.” He managed a grin. “A trip we’ll remember, and all the trimmings for you, Punkin. You rate it, and you’re having it. That goes.” He swallowed slowly. “First, I need that record. Everything depends on that.”

She sighed. “All right, Dill. It’s only that you’re so—different lately. You talk as if everything’s against you—the Company—Dad. It’s not them, Dill. It’s you. This mad idea of beating the loading record always on your mind. It seems somehow as if—”

She turned and stood gazing back at the towering spar tree with its web of bracing cables, the bark-littered dock, the string of cars awaiting their timber loads. “What can there be about just that,” she asked, “to change you so?”

He was silent. At the line of cars parked in the shade beneath tall second-growth fir, she faced him.

“I’ve always minded my own business, Dill. Dad never talks logging, but—I’m not a child. If I hadn't happened along, you and Dad would have fought just now. Why, Dill?”

He gazed at his own oil-stained fingers. “Just—stuff. Highball logging.” He forced a grin. “On an office job they’d call it nerves I guess. With increased speed there’s more danger, chance of spilling a load on someone down below at tidewater because of a blunder at our end. Juggling two big logs in every sixty seconds of an eight-hour day is something. Then figure that highball clip for a month of twenty-six days, with any minute something liable to go haywire. There’s no denying it gets you some.” 

He took her hand, with one grimy finger touched the spark of fire banded there. “You know why I want that record, Sherry. To me you’re worth a million times all of it.”

“I wonder.” A moment she looked far out over wind-darkened lake waters, and he felt a vague uneasiness. They’d had a lot of fun together, never any arguments, but here was something puzzling, a new and serious Sherry. “Don’t fight with him, Dill,” she pleaded. “It’s so easy to, if you don’t understand him. He won’t give an inch, Dill. He came up the hard way in the woods, and words aren't his way of explaining anything. You’ve always got along with him, but now neither of you understands the other, or even tries to. You can’t expect him to swallow the things you said. After all, he's the boss. Won’t you give it all up—for me, Dill?”

“No,” he said. “I’m doing it for you.”

“Dill.” Her voice was low, choked with feeling. “Dill, you said he wasn’t shooting square.” Her eyes met his, moist eyes now. “He’s rough; you could call it hard maybe, but—I’ve always thought my Dad was square, Dill.”

“He is,” Dill said gruffly. “Forget it.”

Those eyes were hard for him to face. She shook her head. “Not when you could say that about him—before his men. I couldn’t forget. Not ever, Dill." She swallowed slowly. “That is, unless you had a reason.”

HE LOOKED away. He could hear her breathing, sense that vague, familiar perfume about her. Where earlier he had churned inwardly, now he felt suddenly hollow and sick. He hadn’t bargained on this. He wanted to take her in his arms, make her forget the whole miserable business. He could let the whole record deal slide, let Lennon have his loading record, forget all about it himself. Right then he might have, but her eyes halted him and the feeling passed.

“Reason? All right,” he said shortly, “you asked for it. He’s been scarce around the loading dock ever since we started chasing the old record—his old record.”

She regarded him calmly. “Perhaps,” she suggested, “he wants it to be all your own. He’s funny some ways, and I’ve told you he isn’t used to explaining things. It’s his way. He wouldn’t ever mention it to you, but he wouldn’t want the company men to think he’d been coaching you, coddling you—future son-in-law idea. You wouldn't go for that yourself, Dill.”

“It isn’t that,” he said. A moment he hesitated, then told her about the shortage of logs. “We highball like madmen a month,” he ended. “The company benefits from it all by increased output; then, with the bonus in sight it happens. No logs.”

She started to speak, her face white. “Wait,” he said. “It’s not only us I have to think of, Sherry. Pete Rand figures on taking his kid for those two weeks to Kamloops, to visit his wife in sanatorium. Ole Nuberg’s been goading a bad foot for days, cursing the pain every step and high-balling with the rest of us. It means plenty to all of them. As head-loader, either I get action on logs today or we’ve plowed through all this nerve strain for nothing.”

“And you blame Dad. Without proof you accuse him—” 

“I have all the proof I need.”

She drew a long, slow breath. “I haven’t. Until I have—” She twisted quickly at a finger.

While he still stared dully at what lay in his palm, she was gone. Yellow dust settled around him. He continued to stare, stunned. Minutes later he shivered as a cloud passed over the sun; the breeze from the lake was suddenly chill, waters dark and cold.

Striding dockward, filled with a cold hopelessness that numbed his very thoughts, he saw Dutch Lennon approaching along the trestle. Here, at least, was something tangible to combat, something cold and hard like that torturing throb inside him. He’d settle things with Lennon right now. Whatever the mysterious thing was that had come between them, had cost him Sherry, there was one quick way of settling it.

Or was there? For the first time in his active young life, Dill Bourke was thinking fight and getting no response from himself. With Sherry gone what did anything else matter anyhow? Lennon could have his record and his job. That meant he had no quarrel with Lennon. If he wanted trouble he could have it, but the fight within Bourke had died with the disappearance of that yellow dust cloud.

There was no fight in Dutch Lennon’s voice either as they met on the dock. The tone of his voice left Bourke more agape even than what he said, for there was a paternal tinge to it that Bourke had never known before. Sympathetic almost. “Two-day tie-up for strike vote. Shut ’er down,” Lennon said, and passed on.

In the leverhouse Dill Bourke found a silent, sober-faced crew. Lardy was working shut the big glass window beside the operator’s seat overlooking the work dock, as he did each day at quitting time. Frenchy Gruard, lean face dark under the knitted skullcap that was an inseparable part of him, was gnawing absently at a venison sandwich cadged from his lunch bucket, Holt changing from heavy caulked boots to brown elastic-side slippers for the car trip home. Ole Nuberg massaged a bare, swollen foot and cursed softly in Swedish.

Lardy turned, deadpan as always. “Well, kid, there goes your record. See Lennon?” Bourke nodded slowly. “We’ve got a half day’s logs,” Lardy went on. “We’d need a full day’s quota tomorrow to make the grade and with a strike vote coming off there ain’t a chance of gettin’ ’em. It’s this new union outfit on the prod again. The camp won’t vote strike, but there it is.” He grinned slyly. “This is one thing you can’t blame Dutch for anyhow. You know where a camp push stands when there’s strike talk.” Bourke did know. Such a position was covered by a strict rule in most camps. If the men’s committee decided to call a strike vote the bosses must stand aside till it was taken. Even if Lennon had wanted to get logs for them there was nothing he could do now.

But Bourke was through worrying about Dutch Lennon. Talk of logs and the record had started his pulses throbbing with life again. Seeing the dejected crew had reminded him of other reasons why they must have that record. Thought of Pete Rand’s wife waiting to see Pete and the kid and sight of that swollen foot of Ole’s, had done it. Couldn’t be done, Lardy claimed.

Bourke spoke. “We’ll get logs,” he said shortly. "We’ve come too far now to turn back. We’re going to highball through and cop that record.” It was for Lardy’s special benefit that he added, "I guess we can manage without Lennon’s kind of help.”

“We won’t get nowhere. Not with that new strike committee,” Lardy grunted. “Shutdown Smith wouldn’t stand for a keg of homebrew workin’, let alone—” 

"Bunk,” Bourke cut in. "We’re all union, and unions are for the men.” He stepped to the phone box and jangled three rings for the camp uplake. It felt good now that he’d decided. Action had always been his game, and this promised plenty. "Only one day’s logs needed,” he added, waiting. "Mightn’t hit such a run of uniform timber again in years. They’ll see it our way. They’d better.”

But somehow the strike committee didn’t. Following three minutes of arguing, cajoling and pleading with Shutdown Smith, Bourke blew up.

“Why, you garlic-guzzling potlicker!” he shouted. "Get off there and give me a white man. Put Chris Hanson on.”

He talked with Hanson and hung up. "There’s a thousand logs up there pointed this way just itching to be towed, and Hanson’s got help enough to hold off Smith’s crowd till the tug skipper gets ’em started.’’ Pacing the heavy plank floor, he rolled a smoke, looked at it, threw it from him, and grinned in anticipation. "Chris says they'll be our funeral once they’re down at this end. There’ll be trouble with that mob sure, he says. Let ’em come. We’ll show ’em. Time they learned to settle their union feuds in town where they belong instead of horning in here on the one day that means everything to us.” 

“You won’t get away with loadin’ them logs, kid,” Pete Rand stated. “It boils down to a case of do battle with them birds or take the layoff. I'd say layoff.” 

"Me, I can do wit’ a layoff.” Nuberg grinned wryly. "I got one foot’s been on strike now a week.”

Bourke stopped abruptly and stared from the doorway. A layoff. The sensible thing all right. That’s what they all needed. He suddenly realized that he was very tired of juggling ninety-pound loading tongs—tired of everything. Sherry—he swallowed as he thought of her—was right. What was the sense of it all? Working like fools, and for what? Here was their layoff ready-made. Pete Rand could go to Kamloops, Ole would get that foot in shape. He’d go to Sherry and tell her what a fool he’d been. They’d be married, take their trip. After all, what was a log-loading record compared with—

Record! Something inside him began slowly to churn again. There was the sticker. Lennon and the others would have the laugh then. Two days to go, and licked. Just a rut-rat looking for an easy out. Taking orders from a—

He turned, strode suddenly to Lardy’s window and shot it open. He kicked Holt’s boots across to him.

"We’re loading those logs,” he announced, "and by tonight the tug’ll be here with more. It may mean a battle, and if it does we’ll show those fly-by-nights who’s running this country!”

He grabbed heavy gloves, slapped the leverman smartly across his ample rump and grinned joyously at thought of physical conflict sure to follow.

“On your horse, you Lardcan!” he exhorted. "Start tossing sticks. High-ball’er, boys!”

A WARMING sun rolling next morning over a fringe of fog bank that clung to wooded hills, viewed a peaceful scene at the foot of Siwash Lake. Five men resting from guard duty that had lasted through the night were sprawled asleep upon the loading dock. Near by a steam tug, lazy smoke plume curling from its lone funnel, was moving out from the boom edge on its return trip uplake.

Its sharp, echoing whistle whoop of departure roused Dill Bourke. He sat up, waved a cheerful farewell to the skipper, and grinned sleepily at the pleasing picture that lay below him. Where, at the completion of yesterday’s loading, the boom yard had been empty, now it was crowded with trim, brown logs.

"Holt!—Ole!—Hi-hi!” He roused them rudely in turn, jeered at their groans. "Rollout! This is the day! Eight hours to go and the jackpot’s ours!”

Gingerly Ole Nuberg stood up. “Hey! —das foot’s better,” he said, surprised. "Sleeping in’t my boots done it. Feels now yost like a piece of vood.”

“It’s seven-thirty,” Bourke said. "Lardy will be here any minute. Leaving him out of this guard deal was smart; you need to be fresh to juggle those drums.” He grinned. "Take a look at those logs, gents! Still there. Where are all your raiders, Peter?”

"Don’t crow,” Pete Rand said. "I’ve seen these messes before. It’s my bet there’ll be a baker’s battalion of them birds here chasin’ trouble before the day’s an hour old.”

“Bunk,” Bourke ridiculed. “Heads up. Here’s Lardy.”

Lardy lived next door to Lennon’s, down in the valley. Bourke wondered, with a sudden empty surge that made him suddenly weak, whether Lardy might have seen Sherry.

They hit a fast loading clip throughout the morning. Tongs bit into logs, hoisted them high, slammed them on waiting cars. An interruption occurred at ten o’clock when they were visited by a strike committee of six men. Their ferret-faced spokesman was backed by a great yellow-head named Borger, fired six months earlier from Camp One for preaching strike. On Bourke’s curt refusal to shut down the outfit, they left.

"They’re too quiet, them birds.” Pete Rand spat reflectively. “I don’t like the look of things nohow. Did you see that shrimp? Regular evil eye.”

At noon the engine crew came for loaded cars and replaced them with a new string of empties, sliding them along past the loading dock farther out to where the trestle ended abruptly over open water. With the head car spotted at the loading platform, the driver drew his panting lode clear of the car string and tossed out six lunches, ordered by Bourke from below.

"There y’are, kid, and good luck to you,” he grinned. “Mob of roughnecks rode us up from below. Thirty-odd, but you’ll likely get a chance to count ’em for yourselves before the day’s out. Being allowed an extra day to clear logs out was the only reason they let us come through. Tried to argue about it at that. Big Borger’s one of ’em. Hard looking crew.” He jiggered the throttle and grinned again at Bourke. “Hope you’re in training, Highball.”

They ate. Weariness was upon them, but Bourke finished and at once rose. “No time for shuteye,” he decreed. "We can’t battle thirty roughnecks and be in shape to go on loading logs. We’ve got to be smart.” He jerked his head toward the floating gangway. "There’s one quick way of handling them in a bunch. Seeing the committee grouped there on the float this morning brought the hunch. We’ll have to hustle.”

The others stared as Bourke indicated the ladder leading down from the catwalk. "With loaded cars blocking the trestle they’ve got to come this way,” he explained. “We’ll corral that whole mob on this gangway, slick as a Swede can scoff a steak.” He whirled. “Pete, you and Lardy rig blocks and a line to those three old pilings out there in deep wrater. Holt, cut the float lashings and moor it instead with light rope. The whole tiling’s just too simple, but it may work!”

A slow grin of anticipation grew on Pete Rand’s weathered face. “Brother,” he promised, “if this brain baby of yours works we’ll sure have the laugh on those committee-meeting loggers! ’’

THEY WERE back loading an hour when they discovered the first filed chain link. A loaded car was ready for its crown log. Deftly juggling foot and hand levers that controlled to a hairbreadth the great tong pairs, Lardy deposited the giant fir stick, turned it slowly to a sure seat on the pyramid’s peak. One at each car end, Bourke and Holt scaled side logs to loose tongs. There was a sharp snap. 


Bourke yelled warning and hurtled clear as the brown pyramid collapsed like light. Logs thundered in a mad avalanche from the car, careened across the deck and plunged with a wild pooming and thrashing to the water below.

“Holt!” Bourke was back in the brown dust cloud, eyes searching. He sagged with relief as Holt answered him from his refuge astraddle the crown log of a loaded car beyond. Chagrined at loss of a load that must be deducted, Bourke signalled Lardy to clear away.

It was then they found it. Beneath tangled logs a loose steel end appeared. A bunk chain running the width of the car to connect wedge-shaped “cheese-blocks” that supported the car’s timber tonnage, had parted. The broken link had been filed almost through.

Bourke straightened. “That happened on the way up,” he observed grimly. “Nice people old Boiler Bill hauled from below this morning. Check all cars, Pete. Frenchy, give him a hand.”

Lardy waddled from the leverhouse bearing sledge and a handy temporary repair link, or “coldshut,” designed for just such emergencies. The link was inserted in the chain and rivetted. “Fifteen away, blast it,” the leverman grunted, and fumbled a pencil from back of his ear to make the tally change. The crew members headed for their work spots.

“Hold ’er!” Pete Rand returned with Frenchy Gruard from checking along the string. “There’s seven other cars farther back got the same dose,” he reported. “And if Frenchy ain’t all out in his countin’ we got exactly two coldshut links on hand.”

“Dat’s ri’,” Frenchy said. “Two.” 

“What!” With a sudden surging anger, Bourke swung upon the leverman.

“Whope, son,” Lardy said calmly. “Coldshuts was ordered. The boss was bringin’ ’em from Camp Three.” He paused. “They’ll be in Dutch Lennon’s car.”

Bourke brought up, stock still. “Sherry took the car back,” he said, and halted speech.

Sherry! He felt again that sudden deep pang that had tortured him during those few seconds during the day when he had allowed himself to think. He still tried to convince himself that Sherry going from him as she had was not real, but that tiny gold circlet tucked there in his watch pocket was a constant reminder. It all came flooding back upon him now—his own stubborn stand, the hurt in her eyes. That was what had brought the repeated urge to let everything go and find her, an urge he had smothered only by a desperate drive at the work that required all of his wits. Now, for the want of a few coldshuts, they were stalled—unless he could find Sherry. And to ask a favor of her seemed just too much. What did it matter now anyway? The devil with it!

He turned to signal Lardy to shut down, and instead was brought up short at what he saw below him. During the moment’s respite from work Ole Nuberg was still busy. Crouched on a log end, boot in hand, he was holding one bare, swollen foot under chill lake waters.

“The Swede’s about all in,” Pete Rand said quietly. “He’s going to need a layoff, bonus or no bonus.” He shrugged. “With no coldshuts it looks like it’s no bonus.” 

“We’ll have coldshuts,” Bourke said, and moved.

Delay in connecting the private company telephone line with the main system was maddening. Sherry, they said, was not at home, had gone with the car. He rang again for the operator. “Listen, Patsy,” he yelled, “find Sherry, will you? She’s in town—somewhere... Sure there’s a reward, but highball it, huh?” 

Minutes were hours, and at last he heard Sherry’s voice. Quickly he explained about the coldshuts, rattling instructions that he didn’t realize were too blunt until the receiver at the other end banged up hard. He swallowed, grit his teeth, and shrilled again for the operator. “Make her talk to me, Patsy,” he pleaded. “Tell her I’ll agree to anything she thinks—anything!”

He heard the soft burr on the wire as she rang, voices far off; then the operator’s voice came again. “She’s not there now.” As he groaned, she added, “Just as well, Dill. Strike pickets are stopping all cars at the foot of Mountain Trail.”

Dully he thanked her. He hung up, stood staring for long minutes out over the water, then forced himself to move. Before he could get back on the job the phone jangled. It was the operator again.

“Say, Dill, who’s hurt up there?” 

“Nobody’s hurt,” he said. “Why?” 

“Don’t kid me,” she came back. “It’s all over town. Sherry’s gone with the ambulance. Spike Jensen driving. They just did the lower hairpin turn on two wheels and an eyebrow.”

“Yeah? Thanks, pal!” He felt his eyes open wide; he felt like shouting. For the first time in days that old glow of gladness was there. A bit shaky perhaps, a little uncertain yet, but singing its way through his veins, back where it belonged.

He pictured that ambulance wheeling through a staring picket line. Sherry crouched inside clutching those precious coldshuts.

“The little devil,” he whispered softly, and grinned.

HE WAS at the road end when they came through in a cloud of yellow dust, siren screaming. She was in his arms, quivering.

“Oh, Dill, we just passed some men! They’re coming here!”

“I know, Punkin,” he said. “We’re expecting them. Better stick here with that outfit, Jensen,” he ordered the driver and headed Sherry along the trestle. “You’ll have to stay,” he explained. “Those rowdies will be plenty peeved.”

“Oh, Dill—”

“Let ’em be. They can’t stop us now.” He retrieved a pikepole lying there so that one of the approaching mob might not get it, and faced her. “Hearing your voice again was all I needed, Punkin. Right now I could lick ten roughnecks, or,” he suddenly grinned, “even shake hands with your old man. In spite of general grief we’ve had a real highball day. Two more hours loading will crack that record and—” He turned at an ominous sound onshore. His grip on her arm tightened, and he suddenly sobered.

A silent, straggling man mob was approaching from the woods, those in front at the moment stalling to allow others to overtake them. There were more of them than he had expected—forty maybe. That they meant business this time was plain. Some carried steel rail spikes that made a vicious weapon when thrown, others had stout clubs chosen en route.

Bourke sized them up quickly. They were mostly big men, some of whom he knew—reckless renegades from camps up and down the coast, ignorant of real labor issues but always spoiling for trouble. They came steadily on amid a strange, threatening silence.

Bourke hurried Sherry down the ladder at the end of the catwalk, across the floating gangway and up the other ladder to the loading dock. A final check at the gangway had shown him everything in readiness.

“Stay in Lardy’s shack,” he told her, “and watch the fun.” He fought back a sudden doubt that began to pound in his own mind, and sprang to his position on the loading platform, ready.

The loading crew was carrying on a semblance of work when the invaders arrived. The man procession, headed by the big yellowhead, Borger, filed along the catwalk, reached the first ladder and scrambled confidently down it to the floating gangway, tossing clubs and rail spikes down ahead of them with a ringing clatter.

As they had done in the morning, the leaders paused on the gangway till all the group had assembled. The ferret-faced man glanced quickly over the layout—loaded cars along the trestle above, the high loading dock, the adjacent boom yard with its slender boundary of rim-logs joined end to end.

Watching him from the loading dock above, Bourke felt a quick excitement. Blood suddenly began pounding through his veins. His scheme at first had sounded good, later had looked good, but what if something went haywire now?

He made a final, fleeting check, and calmed. Pete Rand and the others, armed with pikes, were casually working single logs along the boom edge. Holt was at his station near the catwalk ladder, flattened between the rails under loaded cars, axe and pike handy. It was Holt’s job to cut the temporary rope mooring they had rigged in place of the steel cable lashings that formerly had held the float against pilings. Good old Holter!

He turned back. The first invader was scaling the ladder. A swift glance at Lardy to make sure he was ready, a fleeting glimpse of Sherry Lennon standing back of him, pale, large-eyed, and Bourke stepped to the ladder top, axe in hand.

“Stand clear!” he yelled, and swung the axe.

One smashing blow sent the loosened ladder with its clinging occupant crashing down upon the crowd below. There was a yell. Missiles flew. A flying rail spike stung Bourke’s shoulder as he dropped his axe and grabbed a long-handled pike. He caught a flash of Holt’s axe descending, saw rope moorings part and dropped his hand sharply in signal.

There was a roar as Lardy’s engine responded with a chattering burst of power. Lakeward, a steel line that ran outward from Lardy’s spare drum to the three pilings in open water, then back to the gangway, lifted into view from beneath the water surface. It tightened with a jerking shiver. With a lurch the gangway came free of the dock.

The surprise was complete. It was over before the visitors knew it. Pushing pikes of the boom men, bending under their vicious thrusts, helped the gangway’s momentum. On the gangway itself, cursing men rushed for the remaining ladder and were met by Holt’s jabbing pike. Others clutched futilely at smooth dock pilings as Lardy’s engine chattered to full speed. Men jostled and clung to each other to retain slippery footing as the raft sank by the nose and sluiced water over scrambling feet.

Scant seconds—then they were clear, well out over dark, menacing depths.

“We’ve got no time to be fishing city tourists from icy water,” Bourke shouted after them. “If any man tries to swim to the boom he’ll be handled plenty rough.” Several of the scrambling mob who looked as if they might have been about to try it, eyed the three men waiting there with pikes and decided against it.

They were well out, nearing the old pilings, moving at brisk speed, when Bourke turned. “Let ’em drift, Lardy,” he yelled. “Then lift those logs and make ’em fly! Ole!—grab a sledge and shove coldshuts in those filed bunk chains. Two hours to go. Highball’er, boys !”

IT WAS then it happened—just one of those things. With decks cleared for action, with crew members in the groove and the first log on its way, the simple, unpredictable, intervened.

Bourke heard the quick cry of alarm from the raft, and spun about. Below, on the floating log floor, Pete Rand cursed sharply. Far out beyond the boom, freed from brisk engine pull, the gangway’s heavy momentum had carried it against the lone pilings. As it struck, man figures were jostled rudely forward to one corner.

The float sank sharply there. One man went off; others sprang to his aid. The loaded gangway wobbled, tilted abruptly with the sudden shift of weight, and backed from under them. A dozen men floundered, shouting, in icy water.

Lardy cut his engine. “The boats! Frenchy, grab that—”

“Boats—nothing!” Bourke roared it. “Load logs! Who started this thing? Who filed those links? Let ’em soak!” He was jubilant. His simple little scheme had worked. With the visiting mob neatly disposed of, a highball clip for two short hours would put them over the top. Two short hours on the end of a mad month of it, of logs to load and all in the clear!

Lardy obeyed his order. Dutifully, the engine chattered. As a second log was placed Bourke managed a glimpse lakeward. In spite of everything, all the trouble they had caused, he felt deep relief at seeing the last man being hauled from chill waters.

Then, as tongs were coasting back he heard their shout: “Man missing!”

“Bunk!” he snapped at Lardy. “It’s a gag. Keep ’em whirling.”

Lardy chopped his power. “It’s no gag,” he said quietly in the sudden silence. “Big Borger’s yella head ain’t there.” 

There was a wild scramble then. Dill Bourke never could quite remember all that happened. Thoughts flashed through the roaring torrent of his brain like confused, leaping salmon. He glimpsed Sherry’s face at the leverhouse window. Beyond her those levers and drums that must be kept whirling now were still! He suddenly found it a great effort even to stand. All the weariness that had been piling up somewhere within him for days now swept through him in a flood.

He fought it off and lurched forward. Once he had decided, strength returned. Floating logs in the boom bobbed madly with his passage; Frenchy had the motor started as Bourke landed in the small boat, already tearing at the laces of his boots.

His second dive located Borger; but three more were needed to free him from the tangled loop of cable that held him. Then they were back on the boom, Ole Nuberg working respiration on Borger, Lardy bellowing to Jensen onshore to bring the ambulance pulmotor.

At intervals then there were surges of black fog. Somehow, Bourke knew, Dutch Lennon was there, with Murchie the big Super. Once he saw Sherry’s anxious face.

Then, above him he caught a glimpse of tong pairs hanging still and empty against the sky. Empty. Where was everyone? Pete? Lardy !

In the half light of the swaying ambulance the fog lifted and he saw someone there. He had been still semiconscious when they put him in, yet too dead weary to protest. As wheels bit into gravel on a long curve he put out a groping hand.

“Dill—Oh, Dill!” It was Sherry beside him. She was crying.

“Hey, Punkin.” His own speech sounded queer, was hardly more than a croak. He sat up slowly, waiting till he was sure of his voice. “Who shoved me in this highball hack? Where the—?”

“No, Dill. You’re to rest.” Small hands were holding him down.

“Rest!” He laughed, his mind cleared now, and sat up suddenly. “What kind of a frameup is this—shoving me in the company bones wagon? Where’s Borger?” 

“He’s all right. They wrapped him in hot blankets. They—”

“Good. I hope they smother him.” He shook his head groggily, looked about him. “Hey, wait a minute! What time is it? Are they loading logs?”

“Not any more.” She had his hand in both of hers. “Dill! I nearly forgot! You made it, Dill. You made a new record, only—” She stopped. “First you’ve got to promise you won’t—murder anybody.” 

“Me? Not me! Cross my black heart—” He stared. “But a new record!”

“Dad and Lardy did it—and the man at the lower boom camp.” She reeled it off breathlessly. “There always seemed to be something happen near the last to—to queer things, and the crews always blamed the Company, so this time Dad and Lardy made sure. They had to keep it secret, but—”

She paused. “They gypped the tally,” she explained. “From the very start. Fifteen logs a day. And fifteen logs times twenty-six days is—”

“—a good half day’s logs,” he cut in. “And that’s what we needed.” As the full force of it registered, he swallowed hardly. “Why—why the sweet-scheming, doubledealing old Siwashes!” A jolting thought struck him. “Where are they?” he asked suddenly. “Your dad and Lardy?”

“They’ve gone on. In Mr. Murchie’s car. They’ll be waiting at the—Dill!” she broke off in quick alarm, “you can’t get up; you’re dressed in Lardy’s overalls.” 

“Waiting at the hospital. I know,” he finished it for her. “Oh, no, sweetheart.” Blankets flew as he plunged to the glass slide ahead. “Hold ’er, Jensen.”

BEFORE the car was quite stopped in its cloud of yellow dust he was out and around at the wheel. “You’re too rough a driver for me,” he told the surprised Jensen. “I’m a sick man. Give me all the dough you got. It’s only a mile to town.” 

He boosted a protesting Sherry to the seat beside him and swung into a narrow side road cutting across to the main Island highway.

“Dill, what are you doing?” she cried. “You can’t—”

“Oh, yes I can.” The needle on the dash climbed as he threaded through a patch of burnt stumps and swung into a long straightaway. “I’m not staying in this country tonight,” he decreed. “Not with those two old hellions piling it on. I’ve been a crinkle-finned chump! I’ll wire your old man tonight and tell him so, but there’ll be no personal apology for two weeks. We’ve earned it—we’re taking it. Only seventy miles to that Seattle boat and, Star Eyes, you’re as good as on our honeymoon.” His throttle foot went down.

“But, Dill,” she wailed, “I can’t go like this! Slacks! And you—Dill! Look at you!”

“I’d sooner look at you.”

“But—but you always wanted a big wedding!”

“Just so you wouldn’t ever forget it,” he countered, eyes held on the road. “You won’t,” he promised. “I’ve always wanted to drive an ambulance, and here we are. Find that siren button and lean hard on it—that is,” he added, “if you’re coming along on my honeymoon.”

“Oh, Dill, I—” The siren screamed.

He gave her free hand a quick squeeze. “Hang onto your trousseau, Mrs. Bourke,” he grinned. “When we hit the hard surface we’re really gonna highball!”