By Any Other name
HE WAS one of those who proclaim, in all the best hotels from Cairo to Maracaibo, the beauties, the virtues and advantages of the United States, and are never, never seen in the United States. He was born in Madrid of consular parents and educated in England and France; he had inherited a modest Philadelphia fortune; he lived by choice in Venice, in what he believed to be the palace of a defunct doge, and he called himself an American. His full name was Paul Foote Bunyan, the Footes being his mother’s people and the source of his inheritance; but after the legacy had fallen securely he abandoned the middle name for obvious reasons.
At the age of 12 Paul had dedicated himself to literature, and for many years his studies oscillated between the romantic novel and the cubist sort of poetry; at 22 he halted definitely at the short story, absorbing with zeal the verbal gymnastics of O. Henry, the neat plot gems of Maupassant, the foggy cynicism of the Russians; but when he came finally down to ink and pen Kipling was his god and the rest nowhere. He saw himself roaming the world in quest of the unusual incident, which he would wrap in flaming local color and button with crisp phrases and bring forth with the bland air of a magician plucking vivid little paper
fans from a borrowed hat. He came to America first, naturally, and finding the canvas very big indeed for the small brush of the short story, he decided to do the thing piecemeal, beginning with what he vaguely termed “The North.”
This decision brought him to Port Talbert, in mid-winter, aboard the little Norwegian steamer Vadso, timechartered in the pulp trade between Nova Scotia and United States ports. T h e Vadso offered no material to Paul’s calculating eve. The skipper
had a wife and family snugly installed in Brooklyn, N.Y., where his ship discharged most of her cargoes, and in the course of several long charters he had acquired American with a faultless Bush Terminals accent. Nothing ever happened, he said, and he thanked Gawd piously. The Vadso nosed into Port Talbert on a January morning, with the winter sun low on white shores and on the drift ice caught between the river and the incoming tide There were not many real floes, as Paul understood floes, but the surface of the little port was covered with a pale thick scum in which the rusty little Vadso plowed a hissing track.
“What’s that stuff?” demanded Paul.
“Anchor ice,” said the captain in a bored voice.
“Yeah. I dunno why they call it that. It’s a sorta mush that comes outa the river in zero weather an’ floats on the salt water.”
Port Talbert was small and unimpressive and extremely cold. There was a government wharf of stout creosoted piling and heavy plank, three or four wharves, smaller and much less substantial, belonging to fishery firms, a number of red wooden sheds, the gleaming aluminium-painted tanks of an oil company, the squat grey-walled red-roofed chalet of the railway station, and an assortment of houses, shops, and a pine clapboard hotel, all painted in contrasting colors now weathered to a sort of harmony, all crowding down the low hillsides to the water. The Vadso’s hoarse little siren sent up a white flutter of gulls from the water by the fish wharves, and a railway engine appeared from nowhere, shunting a long line of faded red freight cars along the water front to the government wharf. The Vadso, winches clattering, seamen running, skipper bellowing from the little bridge, dragged herself into the bollards against the river current. On the wharf a swarm of stevedores in mackinaws and woollen caps fell upon the boxcars, pried open the sliding doors with brutal peaveys and revealed tiers of cream-colored bales, stowed there by the Moose Head Pulp Company, a few miles up the river. The Vadso’s bosun and his men had taken her hatches off as soon as she picked up entry point. There was no waste time at Port Talbert.
“How do I get up to the mill?” asked Paul.
“Easy,” the captain said, and gestured with a t hirk-mittened hand toward the now idle shunter
You talk about harnessin’ Nature’s horsepower and then you have a bout with anchor ice on the rampage. It’s a humblin’ experience
standing in a cloud of steam on the siding. “They'll wait for a few empties an' then run ’em up to the mill for another load. They got a nice car they hitch onto the stern o’ the train. You'll see it. Just climb on that car, tell ’em who you are, an’ they’ll give you a ride up to the mill.”
PAUL had come prepared for his adventures in the north. He went down the gangplank muffled in several layers of duffle cloth, with a round beaver cap and beaver mittens, and a great fur-lined parka over all. Upon his feet was a pair of finnesko boots, recommended for the north by dreamy-eyed sporting goods salesmen in New York.
The stevedores were lost for a moment in admiration and astonishment. Visitors were rare in January. They wondered what Paul was advertising. Paul walked over to the train. The shunting crew spent their idle spells in luxury. In place of the usual freight train caboose, with its square red conning tower and cramped quarters and bare necessities, they used an old passenger car, discarded by the main line, and Paul took a seat in a long vista of faded green plush upholstery. The steam heat was full on. Paul lost no time in removing his hairy outer garments. There were voices at the far end of the car, in what had been the smoking compartment. He could hear exclamations, the slap-down of cards, the chink of small silver.
Presently the players emerged: an engineer looking
very fat with the bulk of sweaters and trousers under his blue denims, two brakemen pulling on mackinaws, mittens and ordinary cloth caps, and a man in a conductor’s blue uniform, the tunic spotted grey with cigarette ash, the stiff blue cap tipped at the back of a large round head. He was a large man all over, in fact, and he came down the aisle, ponderously, flapping a pair of huge red hands upon the seat backs as he passed, with the motions of a stranded seal.
He was quite genial. “Good day, sir,” he said, and looked hard at Paul’s costume.
“Nice day,” suggested Paul, looking hard at his. “Anything you want here, Mister?”
“Yes,” Paul said. “I want a ride up to the Moose Head pulp mill.”
“Oh! And who might you be, Mister?”
“The name’s Bunyan. Paul Bunyan.”
There was a peculiar silence, broken only by a snort from one of the brakemen at the far end of the car. Paul looked up and saw a remarkable change in the conductor’s large face. The geniality was gone. There were glints in his blue eyes. The red face was slightly purple.
“Listen, Mister, I got no time for comedy. What’s your name?”
“I told you. Paul Bunyan. B-U-N-Y-A-N.”
This time the brakemen and the engineer snorted together, and the engineer waddled off, chuckling, to his iron horse.
“Oh yeah?” the conductor said, and his voice was cold. “Where’s Babe?”
“Listen, fella. Don’t try to kid me. I want to know what you’re doin’ on my train, an’ quick!”
Mystified but still tactful Paul drew forth his letter of introduction to the Moose Head manager. The conductor read it carefully, inflating his closed lips.
“Humph!” he said, without friendship. “If you’re goin’ to see Sanderson—okay. Not that I’m s'posed to take passengers, mind ! It’s a favor to Sanderson.” He paused, and added darkly, “I wouldn’t try to put anything over on Sanderson if I was you, fella. Sanderson’s pretty smart, an’ got a short temper.”
THE train clanked out of the town and followed a frozen river. There were scattered farms and white fields and patches of pinewoods. At Moose Head the engine stopped with a jerk, and a ripple of booming
collisions passed down the train of empties to the green plush car at the rear.
“You’re there,” said the conductor.
Paul descended into the snow, a suitcase clutched firmly in each hand. A number of small wooden houses, all alike and painted red, stood in the whi(pness of snow between the railway tracks and the firWbods. The washing of the inmates, frozen stiff on the lines, swung like boards in the cold breeze. A large square house of white clapboards stood among bare apple trees to the right. There were one or two farms with stone-walled fields running back into the forest. A road wandered past the farms and the company houses and disappeared in a fringe of trees toward the river, accompanied by the railway spur. The mill lay there, invisible, but a great plume of steam hung in the thin morning sunlight like an ostrich feather, and there was a sound of water and the rumble of heavy machinery.
Half a dozen lumberjacks stood beside the train, talking to the engineer, and as Paul emerged they came to him through the trampled snow beside the railway line. They examined him cheerfully from the finnesko boots to the fur-lined parka howl, and they gazed earnestly at his thin eager face and the gold pince-nez. They were stocky men in mackinaws of many colors, and frieze trousers, and lumbermen’s rubbers.
“Honest to Gawd,” one said at last, “are you Paul Bunyan?”
“I am,” said Paul, wiping the sudden moisture from his warm glasses, “and I’ll thank you to show me the mill manager’s house.”
“Sanderson’s? Right up there. Right up there, Paul”they all pointed together to the white house among the apple trees “an’ we’ll go right along with you, Paul. You betcha life, Paul. Give us a hold o’ them suitcases, Paul.” They moved off in a group, regarding him with a huge and humorous interest. “Well, well, well!” they said. “Paul Bunyan!”
“Don’t tell me. Paul,” begged the man in the black whiskersand the green-and-black-checkered mackinaw —“don’t tell me this here is the year the rain comes up from China!”
The men guffawed. Paul wondered if they were drunk or merely mad. He had a weird feeling that he had stepped through some sort of looking glass.
“Say, Paul,” said the man in the red wool stocking cap, “where’s Babe?”
“Yeah, Babe,” they said. “Where’s Babe?”
“Babe?” said Paul, increasing his pace a little.
“ ’Spensive to feed, ain’t she, Paul?” Atul the gang roared.
Paul halted. “Isiok here,” he said, “I don’t know what you’re all bilking about. I’m not married: I have no lady friend named Babe. Not that it's any of your business,” he added boldly. They greeted this with a cheer. Other men were running up to join this impromptu welcome committee. They showered him with mad questions. The crunch of boots on the snow was the tramp of a growing and grinning army. It was a relief when they stopped at the foot of Sanderson’s steps and let him go in, flourishing his letter of introduction like a white flag.
THE hospitality of the Sandersons was famous in three counties. They did not bat an eyelash at the name which had so convulser! the lumberjacks. They received Paul not merely with ojien hearts but with ojien countenances. Paul settled back in the deepest parlor chair with a sigh of relief. He was back in the sane world again; and that evening he talked about his art. Young Julie Sanderson was there, sitting on a hassock almost at his feet, big-eyed, 17, and slightly breathless. (“An author? A real one? Mummy, how marvellous. Do keeji him till spring!”) And Mrs. Sanderson knitted by the fire, and Sanderson, in slijijiers and his oldest jacket, jiuffed a blackened corncob pijie with a bone mouthpiece, hearing all this talk of words and ink with interest, if not understanding.
“Now, let’s see, I’ve got four days,” Paul said at last.
“Five,” Sanderson said. “The Vadso sails again Thursday. Why don’t you stay over a trip? She’ll be back again in a fortnight.”
“I couidn’t trespass on your kindness so long,” Paul regretted. “The jxiint is, in five days I should be able to get material for two or three good stories of the Canadian woods. That’s all 1 want.”
“Well, it’s up to you, of course,” Sanderson said. “Where’d you advise me to sjjend my time?” asked Paul.
Sanderson sucked on the corncob and considered.
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Continued, from page 17
“You might hang around the mill a bit, I s’pose; but nothing ever happens there that doesn’t happen in a factory anywhere. Why not come upriver with me and visit the camps? We’re cutting pulpwood at Murphy’s Lakeemdash;about a 20-mile sleigh drive. Stay there till Wednesday, spend Wednesday night here with us, and catch the boat with the last pulp train on Thursday.”
“Splendid! That’s just fine! And now tell me something else; why do your men laugh when I mention my name?”
The Sandersons looked at each other then back to Paul. Their faces grew pink. They laughed, finally, just like the lumberjacks.
“I hope you’ll excuse our manners,” Sanderson said. “This is your first trip into the emdash;eremdash;the backwoods?” “It is.”
“Then you’ve never heard of your great namesake, Paul Bunyan? The Paul Bunyan?”
“Lord, no! Who’s he?”
“Well, I s’pose you might almost call him the patron saint of the lumberjack. Paul Bunyan’s a legend, a giant lumberjack who did all manner of astoundin’ things in the loggin’ line. I guess there really was a Paul Bunyan to start with, a big strappin’ Canuck who could lick any six men in his camp, and do more work besides. The tales spread and grewemdash;you know the way they do in a business like this, where men spend months together with nothing to do of an evening but spin yarns, and there’s a constant wandering from camp to camp as the seasons come and go. Over a space of 50 years Paul Bunyan’s become the symbol of anything preposterous in the lumber woods. Mean to say you’ve never heard of the circular river that flowed back to its source, so that Paul’s log drive went round an’ round, chasin’ its tail like a lousy pup? Never heard of the forest that grew down from thç' sky, an’ the way Paul lqgged it? Never heard of the winter of the blue snow? îver heard how Paul cut tjie Big •ojn Nova Scofeja to Nootka I? Nevèr. heard ofThe year the rain came up ^ lt;
“Ah, that familiar'gt; sound,”
Paul said. “BuT-iny educationes been conducted in tfie wrong channe see. Who’s Babe? ^r should T in front of you* wife and daughti “Perfectly all right,” Julie ¿aid. “Paul’s a r’arin’ tearin’ giant with a queer sense of humor, but he’s always a gentleman. Babe’s his ox. She’s blue, she measures 42 axe handles and a plug of chewing tobacco between the horns, and she eats six bales of hay at a time. Paul keeps a man there with a peavey, picking the bale wires out of her teeth.” “He’s out of date,” murmured Paul the Less. “An ox!”
“We use oxen here in Nova Scotia,” Julie said stoutly. “Besides Paul’s got machinery. He’s got a steam boiler so big that it takes three barrels to fill the water glass.”
Paul the Less considered that for a moment. “Y’know,” he mused, “it might be an idea to collect some of these legends, eh? They’re sort of amusing.” “Been done,” Sanderson said with scorn. “Books an’ books. Yarns pitched in every backwoods between here an’ the Pacific. Since the authors got hold of him Paul’s flown beyond a mere lumberjack’s imagination. A pity, y’ know. No disrespect to authors, of course. I mean ...”
“Authors have made him incredible?” Paul smiled.
“Sounds queer, eh? But that’s exactly what I mean.”
“I’m going to leave him severely alone,” said Paul the Less firmly.
HE RETURNED from the camp at Murphy’s Lake with a fat notebook and a fermenting head.
“Now I’ve got one more night,” he told Sanderson. “And if you don’t mind I’d like to spend it in the mill. A night shift’s more interesting, somehow, than a day shift. I’ve got a corking idea for the first yarn in my north woods series. Something in the Kipling manner, you knowemdash;trees, rivers, rocks, and things all talking away to each other. I’ll have the hillside moaning about the rape of the pines . . .”
“We don’t use pine. It’s spruce an’ fir.”
“And the river grumbling about having to carry the logs all those miles, and then supply all the power for mashing ’em up. I’ll have the grinding machines gnashing their grindersemdash; things like that, you know . . .”
“Grinders don’t gnash. They’re revolving stones. You put the wood in a cylinder and a hydraulic piston shoves the wood down against the stone an’ the fibres tear away.”
“And the faraway printing presses in New York roaring for more victim wood to print the news uponemdash;say! That’s a good line, isn’t it? Roaring for ...”
“Our pulp goes into tissue paper an’ emdash;eremdash;paper like that.”
“Of course, the critics’ll say I’m playing the sedulous ape to Kipling, as if Kipling invented allegory. But I’ve got a good answer to that. It’s the family belief we’re descended from John Bunyan, no less. I’ll point out that my style’s just another step from ‘Pilgrim’s Progress.’ ”
THE mill was a rambling two-story structure of wood painted red, the monotonous red, weathered to a cheerless pink, which seems endemic to Canadian sheds, stores, barracks, and freight\cars. The Moose Head Company had been running for 30 years, a .great age as pulp mills go. The roof was covered with tarred felt, and a number of ventilators protruded like a crop of big zinc mushrooms, pouring vàpQT into the frosty air. It stood on the west bank of the river, partly on rock-fill, partly on piles over what had opee been the bed of the river itselfemdash; a shadow canyon littered with waterworn" boulders. The river flawed now through the mill and out the tailrace, a deep gutter which poured into the natural be'd several hundred yards below. To the north, above the mill, the bolted logs and plank apron and rock-fill of the dam stood like a wooden wall, rising level with the mill roof and running straight across to the steep east bank. The wooden water gates leaked slightly, and the dribble had covered the plank apron with an array of icicles and fluted white folds, strange and beautiful in the glitter of the electric lights strung along the dam top. Below the mill, and like it built partly on piling over the old river bed, were a pair of sheds for the storage of pulp, and a small red shack for the scaler who measured pulpwood flowing into the mill yard all day on farmers’ sleds. The mill yard was artificial ground, part of the old river bed filled with rock and earth. Pulpwood was stacked there in orderly brown piles, with alleys between for the yard crew, and coal smoke writhed faintly from the chimney of a little forge. Beyond these the west bank rose gently through Sanderson’s orchard, past Sanderson’s comfortable house, and formed the long low ridge from which the company’s little red houses sent up their little blue wisps of wood smoke. The mill
Continued on page 24
Continued from page 22
looked very snug in the hollow of the
river, sheltered from the keen north
wind by the high wooden bulk of the
dam and its 40 feet of impounded
Sanderson took Paul into the mill, a brightly lit place of noise and steam and moist warmth, and introduced him to Seward Gompers, the big night boss.
“Mister Runyan’s spendin’ the night with you, Sew. He’s a writer. Show him the works an’ spin all the yarns you know. What about anchor ice tonight?”
Sew shrugged his immense blue flannel shoulders. “Clear sky. Two below. Breezin’ up from the nor’west. All the makin’s.”
“Watch it, Sew, eh?”
“Yeah. You bet.”
“Just what,” asked Paul, “is this anchor ice?”
Sanderson laughed. Sew Gompers laughed. Sanderson said, “Wish we knew. Scientific blokes call it ground ice, ’cause it forms on the bottom of streams. It’s mighty queer stuff. Usually makes on a clear night -like thiswith a temperature ’round zero an’ a bit of wind. Never forms where the surface is frozen that’s why we like to see a good thick coat on the mill pond but. just above the pond is a long stretch of rapids, too rough to freeze. That’s where our anchor ice comes from. What is it? Well, it grows on the bottom, like a fungus, grey stuff, soft an’ spongy-lookin’. Grows there all night. Masses of it. At the first crack of daylight it lets go an’ comes down with the stream—all that area of bottom givin’ up its anchor ice like the sea givin’ up its dead. Some floats on the surface an’ turns to real ice—contact with the air, d’ye see; stuff like white clinkers— the rest is in suspension, turnin’ the river to a sort of cold grey soup. The dam stops it, an’ it gathers, with more cornin’ from behind all the time.
“In a short time the pond’s plugged like a sausage between the surface ice an’ the bottom of the river. Now if you’re lucky, which means if the temperature an’ the amount of daylight are out of tune, the stuff flows through your penstock gratin’s an’ keeps your turbines spinnin’ - - an’ incidentally keeps a channel open through the heart of the pond. You don’t get full power, of course —the stuff’s like clotted cream—-but at least it’s flowin’, an’ il’ you can keep anchor ice movin’ you’ve got nothin’ to worry about. The trouble comes when the temperature’s just so an’ the sunlight’s just so enough to start those masses of anchor ice off the bottom but not enough to keep it fluid. The stuff fills your pond an" then the whole thing jellies suddenly -like that!” He snapped his fingers. “When that happens you’ve got to hustle your crew onto the dam an’ get the water gates upspill the whole thing over the dam—an’ thank the Lord if it goes quietly. I’ve heard of it turnin’ so thick it wouldn’t flow through a six-foot gate. Rut that’s never happened here.”
He and Gompers knocked on wood.
“What happens to your mill while this is going on?” asked Paul.
“Nothin’,” Gompers said. “She stops; that’s all. Your gratin’s, penstock, an’ wheel pits is plugged same as a churn full o’ butter.”
“Sh! And then?”
“Then,” Gompers took up the thread, “you got to wait fer the sun to git higher. Clear day it may be a matter o’ two three hours. Cloudy day, prob’ly noon afore she lets go.”
“Just that,” said Sanderson. “When the light’s strong enough your anchor ice suddenly turns fluid again. You
see it flowin’ through the penstock gratin’s, instead of just gummin’ ’em up. Your water wheels begin to turn. Then you get up on the dam, drop your gates, let the pond come to a workin’ head, thank God, and go on with the day’s work. It only happens half a dozen times a winter on the average.”
“D’you mean to tell me,” Paul said incredulously, “this pale thin January sunlight can melt that stuff-—a big pond stuffed from top to bottom— through a foot or two of solid surface ice?”
“Melt’s not the word,” Sanderson explained patiently. “ ’Tisn’t heat does it. It’s light—radiation—call it what you like—anything but heat. In the first place light starts it off the bottom. An’ light turns it back to a mush that’ll flow instead of jellyin’. Don’t ask me why.”
Paul cocked his thin face.
“Look here, you’re not kidding me about all this? I mean it doesn’t make sense.”
“ ’Course it doesn’t. But believe me, Paul, I don’t joke about anchor ice. I’ve got nothin’ but respect for it. It’s uncanny. You shove a dam across a river; the newspapers give off lyrics about ‘harnessin’ Nature’s wild horsepower’; the turbines hum an’ you feel pretty swell. Then you have a bout with anchor ice on the rampage, an’ where’s your bloomin’ harness? It’s a humblin’ experience.”
“Well,” Paul said slowly, scanning their faces carefully through his pincenez, “kidding or not, it’ll be interesting to see what the morning brings forth. I might as well tell you, though, I don’t believe a word of it.”
Paul went all over the mill—saw house, grinder room, screen room, wetmachine room, boilerhouse, machine shop, carpenter’s shop, all contained within the sprawling pink structure, all under the one tarred felt roof. He made copious notes, and at midnight he sat with Sew Gompers and half a dozen others eating lunch amid the shavings of the carpenter’s shop in the second story. Paul absorbed Mrs. Sanderson’s sandwiches and a pint thermos of coffee with enjoyment in these midnight surroundings, absorbing as well a conversation that ranged all the way from pulp to moose hunting and full of a drawling humor that he itched to get on paper. Afterward he sat and dozed on the carpenter’s bench, with his back against the wall. It was warm there, the air heavy with a boiler-room smell of hot steam pipes and the scent of new shavings. The rumble and clack of the mill made a powerful lullaby.
TOWARD daylight he wakened and saw big Sew Gompers pulling on a mackinaw and mittens and a blue wool stocking cap that stood up on his round head like a nightcap. Hurriedly Paul donned the finnesko boots, the beaver cap and mittens, the heavy fur parka. In spite of them the cold gripped him painfully as they stepped from the steamy comfort of the grinder room into a night of brilliant stars. The snow creaked underfoot, and as they climbed the stairs of the fienstock to get upon the dam the frosty woodwork crackled like musketry. Paul thought it cold outside the mill door, but here on the dam, where the wind whistled over the pond ice and soughed in the pines of the east bank, the subzero temperature caught his breath. Below and behind him the mill lay half-obscured in a cloud of its own steam, weirdly lit by the blaze of windows and skylights. The dam, with its sparse string of electric bulbs reaching over to the dark east woods, seemed the loneliest place on earth. Looking north over the frozen pond, grey-white
under the stars, a long luminous plain between the woods, Paul found it easy to fancy himself on the edge of the Arctic. The wind made his eves water and the moisture froze on eyelashes and cheeks. He turned away, knuckling his eyes with the soft beaver mitten, and thought of a title, *‘The Breath of The North.” Tales grew out of phrases like that.
But now he saw a third figure on the dam, a dark figure in a mackinaw with a crude parka of discarded wet-machine felt drawn over it. The hood made him mysterious, a Hyperborean monk performing some queer rite above the penstock intake. The downward surge prevented the pond from freezing at that spot. The water looked black under the penstock lights. The dam tender at the top of the deep vertical gratings wielded a rake, a large wooden affair with iron teeth, thrusting the 20-foot handle up and down in the water monotonously.
“Makin’?” Sew Gompers asked.
The hooded face turned. Paul caught a flash of teeth in the electriclight.
“Yeah. Not much. Cornin’ steady, though.”
“Reckon we’ll have to spill?”
The hood wagged from left to right and back again. “Naw, she’s flowin’ awright. I’m jest scrapin’ fer ex’cise, mostly. Doggone cold up here.”
“Yeah,” Sew said.
They turned their faces east to look for the sunrise. The mill’s steam cloud, glowing like an incandescent gas, made it difficult to see beyond, but there was an unmistakable grey ness on the southeastern edge of the night, and the stars there had ceased to twinkle. The men stamped their feet and flogged their chests with swinging arms, and Sew and Paul each took a turn with the iron-toothed rake. The penstock gratings went under water to a depth of 35 feet. As the dripping rake handle emerged on each upward stroke a new skin of ice froze upon it and on their mittens.
“Why couldn’t you heat the gratings —make ’em hollow and put steam through ’em?” suggested Paul.
“We thought of all them things,” Gompers said. “You can’t melt a jelly three quarters of a mile long, averagin’ a quarter-mile wide an’ 30 or 40 foot deep—not by blowin’ steam through no gratin’, anyways. We can keep the gratin’s clear by rakin’, if she don’t turn gummy on us. If she starts gummin’ up, all hell’s steam wouldn’t make no difference.”
The stars were losing lustre fast. The eastern sky was a grey smear. The lights along the dam had a wan out all night look about them.
“How now?” Sew Gompers said.
The hooded man swept his rake up and down. They could hear the faint scroop of metal on metal under water. Gompers’ breath, frozen white on his stubbled cheeks and his great mustache, made him look like a patriarch.
“Awright,” said the hooded man.
Sew cocked an ear to the sounds of the mill. There was no falter in that medley of hums and rumbles.
“I guess,” he grunted, “we’re awright. Broad daylight now.”
IT WAS as if he said “Abracadabra!” The results were magical. The hooded man muttered something, began clawing furiously at the submerged gratings. Paul could see thick masses of pale mush coming up with the rake at every stroke. And suddenly the mill sounds dropped a note, two notes. The lights on the dam languished until the filaments glowed faintly red in the bulbs.
“Quick!” cried the hooded man. ‘‘Get the gates up!”
Gompers turned to rouse out the ¡ crew, but t hey w-ere pouring out of the j mill door now amid a sound of dying machinery and thudding up the peni stock stairs, pulling on mackinaws and mittens as they came.
There were 14 gatas in the dam. simple shutters of oak plank, sliding vertically in grooved timber beds, and all operated by hand. Gravity and the ’ suck of the river closed them readily ¡ enough once the props were knocked away. But getting them up was a very j different matter. The two main gates went to the full depth of the dam; with | them open the river could pass without check, for each was 12 feet wide and 40 deep. But they were hard to move, even with the heavy block and tackle suspended by beams across the gateposts, and time was precious.
“Nemmind the main gates,” bellowed Gompers. “Floodgates fust!”
The 12 floodgates were six feet wide and four deep. There was no hoisting ; gear. They had to be pried up with heavy wooden levers. The men scattered along the dam, snatching up the stout 12-foot maple levers. Gompers and four others—Paul among themthrust a lever under a slat of the nearest gate and threw their weight upon it together. The thick oak slat groaned. The gate gave not an inch. They stood up and flung themselves on the lever j again—-and again. All along the dam groups of earnest men were performing this quaint drill, with grunts, with i cries, “Ho! Hup! Heu! Now! Hup!” j —but the gates remained closed, or at most gave an inch or two.
“ ‘Slike try in’ to pull your foot outa mud,” grunted Sew Gompers. “Durn j stuff’s got the pond full a’ready. Now, ; boys! Ho! Hup!”
There came a cry from the penstock, and a chorus of alarmed shouts along the dam. Paul looked up and saw the pond ice swelling slowly upward. With the roar and tremor of an earthquake it j broke from the shores. They saw it lift j and buckle in the grey daylight.
“Run!” bellowed Gompers. Paul 1 caught a flying glimpse of men at the ¡ far end of the dam scrambling toward the woods on the east bank. The rttsl made for the penstock steps, carrying j him along with them. Behind came a i sound of great guns.
“Into the mill, quick!” roared Sew ! Gompers. They needed no urging. The last men slammed the big mill ! door as if pursued by demons. Paul j followed Sew through the grinder room . and upstairs past the carpenter’s shop ! to a small garret, level with the dam ! top. They rubbed frost and dirt from ! the single narrow window and in a panting silence watched the phenomenon of a frozen lake heaving its thick skin upward and sloughing it over a 40-foot dam. The stout 12 by 12 inch oak gateposts stood firm for a few moments, and the ice broke into great cakes that slithered over the plank topping and carried all else before them. The handrail went first, then the light poles and electric wires with their bulbs hanging like dead fruit. The ice cakes boomed and thudded over in a cataract of thick curds, the mysterious anchor ice itself. A cake slid over the penstock j and crashed into the wall of the mill. The whole place shook.
“Gorry,” Sew said. “I bin workin’ j here twenny year, an’ never seen ’er | ketch as quick as that. She was up an’ j over afore y’ could lift a gate.”
“What’s going to happen?” demanded Paul, watching a tangled mass of topping plank sail into oblivion in that Niagara of slush.
“Dunno, ’zackly—but it’ll be plenty. The river’s gotta go somewheres.”
The mill crew were all in the carpenter’s shop, peering curiously from the windows toward the dam. Some-
body walked across the shop and looked over the mill yard.
“Hey !” he cried.
There was a rush to look. The short wing dam above the yard was bulging in an amazing way. It was a flimsy affair of logs and plank. The mill had been designed by men who assumed a certain raising of the floodgates in the main dam when there was flood. The wing dam groaned, and crackled like a fire of sticks. They could hear its distress loud above the thunders from the main dam, where cakes of thick pond ice were dropping 40 feet to the rocks. Then abruptly the wing dam yielded. It seemed to throw up its hands to the morning sky—timbers, planks, logs flying upwards. A mass of curdled ice cream rolled down through the mill yard, bearing on its shoulders the ruins of the wing dam and a jumble of floes from the pond. Neat stacks of pulpwood toppled and went with it. The little wooden forge (locked against intrusions of the nightshift, a shift of pilferers and worse—the blacksmith belonged to the day crew) folded itself as a tent folds and vanished quietly in the mass. An empty freight car moved slowly eastward on invisible rails, waist-high in the icy grey stuff pouring like lava through the yard; it shivered, bobbed once or twice, then j floated clear and went sailing on the j flood.
PAUL looked forth at the main dam. Thick dribbles of anchor ice and a ! few cakes were still splattering over ! the top along the whole length of it. It resembled something he had seen only lately—yes, it was exactly like I the thick pulp vomited over the baffle boards of a grinder pit in the mill! From the high east bank a little knot of men, dark against the snow, watched it glumly.
“What happens if the main dam goes?” asked Paul.
“Then,” said the grim man Gompers, “we git a swell ride down to Port Talbert, like a wooden cherry in a seagoin’ sundae. We may git the ride anyhow, dam or no dam. I dunno what’s holdin’ the mill down.”
He shouted to his men, and they clattered down the stairs to the grinder room. The grinders stood in two long j rows, like rows of mechanical men,
: each with three heads, where the squat cylinders protruded from the frame; they were silent now, and the big stones were cooling. Some of the stones would crack, Gompers predicted I dourly, and all in all the monthly cost I sheet was going to look like a Rooshian j flag day, even if nothing else happened.
The big mill door was bulging in| ward, squirting water at the jambs.
! There were several inches of slush on j the grinder room floor already. In the wet-machine room, on the next level, there was nearly a foot. They shored up the heavy door with planks. OutI side, they could see the flood nearly level with the window sills.
There was a crash now, and peering through a crack in the pine partition Paul beheld an invasion of the saw house, ice cakes cruising gently over the saw tables, nosing among the barking machines. Gompers’ men labored hurriedly to brace the partition and its flimsy door, and to plug the opening of the wood conveyor. They waited, watchful. The doors held. The partition held. The flood outside remained at the level of the window sills. But water entered the long machine rooms through a hundred cracks in the walls and floors. By eight o’clock the water and anchor ice were knee-deep in the grinder room and level with the tables of the wetmachines. The nightshift withdrew once more to the carpenter’s shop on the zond floor. There was no steam
in the pipes from the flooded boilerhouse now. A dank cold crept up the stairs.
Peering from the windows, over the incredible new river to the west slope, they could see Sanderson standing in a group of men—the day crew, collars turned up against the morning cold, black-enamelled lunch tins clutched in mittened hands. Very remote and helpless they looked. People arrived to join them every minute. Moose Head had never seen anything quite like this. And as the morning grew, and the pulpwood laden sleds of the outlying farmers began to arrive with the first loads of the day, the road above and beyond the flood became jammed with sleds and steaming oxen and horses, while the snow about Sanderson’s house was trampled flat by a crowd of men, women, and children. They stared fascinated at a river flowing where no river had any business to flow, and at the old wooden mill, surrounded by rushing water and ice, shuddering on its piling over the original river bed, promising every minute to launch itself like a ship into the flood.
At 10 o’clock the first of the storage sheds gave up the struggle and sailed away. It voyaged magnificently for 200 yards and then struck a submerged object and folded its walls and lowered its roof, neatly and without haste, like a collapsible cardboard box. Half an hour later the second shed followed; it missed the fatal rock, slid over the bank, and foundered miserably in the swollen tailrace.
“Good thing we bin loadin’ a steamer,” Sew Gompers said, watching the debacle of the sheds. “S’pose they’d bin full o’ baled pulp—at twenny-fi’ dollars a ton! But then if they’d bin full o’ pulp they wouldn’t ‘a’ shifted so easy.”
“Ah, yes, the Vadso,” murmured Paul. “I’ll miss my passage after all.”
“We may fetch up with her in Port Talbert,” Sew reminded him.
“You don’t really think the mill’s in danger?”
“No, not o’ floatin’ away, anyhow. I was kinda worrit, first off, till I figgered what’d happen when the river poured over that cold ground. The snow in the yard, the outside walls o’ the mill— all that—was somewheres b’low zero when the wing dam bust. See? Now this anchor ice has a fashion o’ stickin’ to anythin’ it touches—’at’s why they give it that name—an’ if it gets afoul of somethin’ real frosty it’ll freeze there—turn to real honest to God ice. See what I’m cornin’ at? The river made a trough of ice ’tween the west slope an’ the mill wall as she come along. She’s slidin’ through the mill yard like a greased pig. ’At’s why the mill ain’t makin’ no more water. The outside wall’s a solid plaster of ice to the windasills. ’Course, them pulp sheds, an’ the forge, an’ the scaler’s shack never stood a chance, square in the road o’ that flood as they was. If you ever git to writin’ this thing, see?— The river made a channel o’ ice fer itself.”
“Yes,” Paul said.
“An’ put in that the night boss— that’s me—never got caught like that afore in 20 years, ’cause it’s the truth. She plugged the penstock gratin’s an’ spewed over the dam afore y’ could lift a gate. An’ say ...”
Paul pointed upward. “D’you see what I see?”
THE morning had gone. It was nearly noon. Outside, the sun was bright on the snow and the ramping river. Inside, the pulleys on the shafting through the carpenter’s shop were moving, with a fascinating slowness, but moving at last!
Continued, on page 28
Continued from page 26
Sew Gompers sprang to the stairs. “Hey! Down with you, boys! Shut the pressure off o’ them grinder pockets an’ let the stones run free. Quick now, afore everythin’ tears loose! The ice is lettin’ go!”
In the grinder room the men waded from machine to machine, like retrievers, knee-deep in slush. The shafting picked up speed, belts slatting all over the mill, flinging showers of spray and tinkling volleys of icicles. Within five minutes the machinery was rumbling and clattering with something like its old voice. And as the river elected thus to flow through the penstock again as a law-abiding stream, the flood through the mill yard shrank to the size of a brook in freshet, and through his pince-nez Paul saw the ice bed. The mill walls as high as the windows, the level of the yard, the slope of the west ridge, all were a stucco of hard-frozen slush. The yard had been swept clean of its stacks of pulpwood; the amphibious freight car was reposing absurdly on end in the tail race; the isolated shacks and sheds had vanished; but not a shovelful of snow had been removed, not a stone washed out of the spots left bare by the last drifting of snow, and through the glassy plaster the dead brown tufts of last year’s grass were visible, undisturbed by a four-hour avalanche of ice and water.
The day crew and a crowd of farmers and teamsters and lumberjacks came sliding, splashing, cheering down to the mill, like the Highlanders to the relief of Lucknow. Somebody pushed a bottle into Paul’s hand and he drank instinctively, realizing suddenly that he was colder than he had ever fancied in all his notions of the north. The liquid sent a trickle of fire through his protesting arms and legs. He drank more. His teeth rattled on the bottle neck. His fingers and toes awoke. And now Sew Gompers and his men made a sortie upon the dam, delicately. The receding water had left a parget of ice over the tom remains of the plank topping, and in the absence of a handrail a false step meant a plunge to the ice-covered boulders of the old river bed. The 12 by 12 gateposts and the eight by eight frame pieces had been snapped off flush with the topping in the great surge of the pond’s surface ice, an immense raft of unguessed tonnage with the force of the sharply rising river behind it. But the gates were still movable. They thumped off the ice crust and, with the full crowd straining and yelling at the levers, inch by inch the gates came up. And as the pond emptied they were able to shut the penstock gates and so halt the blindly whirring mill. The flow past the broken wing dam had dwindled to a mere trickle by that time, and what was left froze solid and was one with the great ice trough between the mill and Sanderson’s house.
SANDERSON, surveying the scalped dam, found Paul beside him. “Well,” Sanderson said grimly, “you’ve got a story, young fella, and I hope the public likes it more than I do.” Paul said nothing. HLs face was flushed. HLs eyes were slightly glazed.
“What’s the matter?” demanded the manager of Moose Head mills.
“Matter!” shouted Paul suddenly. “What a yarn, what a yam! A roaring river turns into a tapioca pudding in the space of minutes-—a blancmange in the snap of your fingers—a frozen lake heaves itself up and sluices its own ice over a dam just like a drive of logs— a pulp mill, a sane manufacturing proposition full of hard facts in the shape of machinery, a pulp mill, I say, becomes suddenly a stranded ark with
a Noah named Gompers and a hold half-full of cold mush, and a river flowing past the starboard quarter where the shore’s supposed to be! Four hours or so of that, and then the melting of the river pudding, again in a hurry—hey, presto!—with the temperature still somewhere under zero, the wind still blowing, and in fact nothing changed except a little pallid sunlight where the stars had been —the mill running again, willy-nilly, because the river quite on its own hook decides the mill shall run—hundreds, thousands for all I know, thousands of cords of pulpwood washed away, and a couple of shacks, and a pair of whacking big sheds, all gone without trace— but not a handful of snow removed, not a stone, not a blade of dead grass disturbed! What started it? The sun came up. What*stopped it? The sun came up a little farther.”
Paul’s voice rose to something just under a scream.
“Ah, yes! Kipling—Kipling could’ve done it! Kipling’d have the river and the dam chatting together like Christians, and the stars twittering bright remarks, and the sun putting in a heavy word or two at the last, and he’d call the whole thing ‘The River That Jumped Out Of Bed’ or something like that, and editors’d go into a delighted swoon at the mere thought of it. But, hell, Sanderson, can you see that yarn in print under a name like mine? Mine? I ask you!”
Sanderson shrugged. He did not care a hoot about Paul and his literary aspirations at that moment. He was estimating damage and replacement, and wondering if 11 good months could take the red out of January’s cost sheet.
“I tell you,” Paul said wildly, “I wish I’d stayed in Venice, or even—yes, or even in New York. A man’s selfconfidence is the only thing he’s got worth having. I came up here and lost mine, my faith in my own eyes, my very name! Ah, you people and your Paul Bunyan and your lunatic rivers and the rest of this mid-winter night’s dream! Mad! All northern people are a little mad, and some are madder than others. It comes of living too far down in the thermometer. You’ve only to read Norse mythology to see what frost does to men’s minds. Sanity’s a matter of latitude. Give me the latitude of Venice!”
, “Venice,” Sanderson answered sourly, “is north of Moose Head, I believe, according to latitude. I know because I’ve heard this North stuff before an’ it gives me a geographical pain. All you writin’ people begin to babble about the north the minute you cross the Canadian border—and how many ever get up there? Last year it was a lady author all the way from Seattle, rattlin’ away about the north—‘Our Lady of the Snows’ an’ all that stuff— as if Nova Scotia was Nova Zembla. Heaven knows why she came here. I don’t think she knew east from north, myself. But anyway I told her we were only halfway between the equator and the pole, that we’re south of Seattle as a matter of fact, and why didn’t she stay on her own side of the continent and go to Alaska if she wanted to see the north? She said they were selling household refrigerators in Nome these days, and anyway Alaska was full of tourists from California. Mad, hey? Why don’t you take a squint at an atlas? Why don’t you look up Paul Bunyan an’ ground ice in the ‘Encyclopaedia Britannica’? As a writer you ought ...”
Paul pulled himself together with an epigram. “The ‘Britannica,’ ” he said coldly, “which places Poet Laureate before Poetry, and Music next after Mushrooms, is not a fit guidebook to the arts.”