It was just a fool trick that Joe Barrett had taught his dog. But with a life and a love at stake, it paid off
THE summer woods drowsed in late afternoon hush as Joe Barrett and his black dog paused beside the road which twisted downward from the big house atop the hill. He saw that the road, ordinarily overgrown with grass, carried tire marks in its ruts. Realization came a little excitingly that the Maxwells were home again. Had Kathy come back too? And what did she look like now that she had grown up?
He could see blue smoke rising from the chimneys of the stark old mansion on the hill—the dream castle of a lumber king, with its spired corners and its gingerbread eaves. We'd have had one too. he thought, if dad had been smart instead of honest. I'd have been
born in a place like that. Below sprawled the town, with its ramshackle buildings and battered streets, the big sawmill wreathed in smoke and steam, and beyond it the blue bay, ruffled now by a breeze which seemed to stipple the surface with shimmering diamonds.
Joe Barrett sat on a rock, and the big Doberman settled contentedly at his feet. Joe fiddled with the dog’s soft ears, and figured that the thing had been timed pretty well. It had taken him nearly three weeks to finish the cruise of old Clyde Maxwell’s timber, and it had been hard work, for the show lay in sidehill country, mostly. The chore had been no easier because of that fool feeling that he, Joe Barrett, was in reality cruising his own timber—or timber at least half his own. Not that the report on that cruise would be screwy, for you can draw your wage and still be honest,
even though you hate your employer. And honestly hit him—hard.
But the thing had been timed well, because, by travelling hard since dawn, he had reached town Saturday night. That gave him Sunday to get his things together. Monday he could turn in his report, then pack his turkey and bid the town of Broken Axe good-by forever. The Maxwells’ return -he’d known for a month they were coming back—didn’t make any difference. It was simply proof that hard-bitten old Clyde Maxwell had outlasted him. Joe Barrett had never found a crack in the Maxwell shell until now.
Joe fumbled in the pocket of his flannel shirt for a cigarette, and suddenly he was aware that the black dog had tensed, was looking up the road. Joe looked that way too, but heard footfalls before he saw who made them.
“Down!” he said softly to the dog. A girl and a small boy rounded a turn in the road. They paused at sight of him in his brush clothes, a week’s stubble on
his face, the blanket roll at his feet. He was aware that he probably looked like an outlaw, and the Doberman’s size and manner wasn’t exactly encouraging. Joe Barrett pushed back his faded hat and called. “Hello, Kathy!”
She didn’t recognize him. Ten years, he realized then, made a whale of a difference. Certainly it had in Kathy Maxwell, although even as a pig-tailed little girl she had been pretty. Maybe his eyes were starved by too many long days and nights alone in the woods. Yet she was more than merely changed. She didn’t look as though she belonged in Broken Axe, had ever belonged here in fact.
The boy beside her was probably 12, and his brown features, although immature, were much like hers. Clyde Maxwell’s boy, a fine-looking kid too. This would be the baby brother who had become Kathy’s legacy when their mother died. Soon after, the Maxwells had given up the scrimshaw mansion on the hill and moved away. Ten years . . .
The boy was rigged out in khaki shirt and shorts, a red bandanna knotted at his throat. He had a straight-
brimmed hat, and carried a light pack on his slight shoulders. In one hand was an un jointed fishing rod, its lengths wrapped together.
The girl asked hesitantly, “Joe? Is it Joe Barrett?”
He grinned back at her.
“Klahowya, tillikum!" he greeted in Chinook. She cried out, laughing, and ran toward him with hands outstretched. The dog whined uneasily at this, not understanding. Yet, obediently, he kept down as Joe had commanded.
“Joe!” she exclaimed. “For heaven’s sake! Joe! After all these years.”
He took her slender fingers in his brown hands, his eyes hungry. They laughed together, and he fought against a desire to draw her close and press his bearded lips to her smooth cheek. Hell, he’d kissed her when they were kids! But she pulled away from him so quickly that he wondered if she’d read his mind. “This is Jimmy,” and she nodded toward the boy.
“Hi!” Jimmy acknowledged. His eyes were on the dog.
“What’s his name?” he asked in friendly curiosity. “Will he bite?”
Joe bent and touched the dog. “Up!” he said gently. Then, “Sit!” As the dog obeyed, Joe said, “His name is Dark Shadow. Yes, he’ll bite. But not his friends." His forefinger traced an old scar across the dog’s skull. “Wounded bear swiped him. But it gave me time to reload my gun.” The boy’s eyes widened a little, yet he said nothing.
“Jimmy’s going camping with some other boys for a few days,” said Kathy. Then, “Joe, can you come up to t he house for dinner tomorrow night? I’ve got a million things I want to ask you.”
He wagged his head reproachfully. “I could have answered them by letter, if you’d ever written as you promised you would.”
“I know,” she replied. “Forgot, I guess. So many things were happening; the world was so new and strange, and I was nearly 10. I thought I’d never see you again. But now we’re back, and this time we’ll stay. Does tomorrow night suit you? I’d like to prove that I can really cook! You used to say that I could stew huckleberries the best of anybody in the world!” Her eyes were dancing, yet he had a feeling that she was seeking the answer to questions which she alone knew.
The boy broke in restlessly, “Sis, I’m going on. The boys will be waiting for me.” He started off down the road, but with another look at Dark Shadow.
“I’ve got to go along with him,” she told Joe. “Will you be at the house tomorrow night?”
He shook his head. “Can’t. Just got back from this cruise, and there is a lot of work to be done before I have the report ready Monday.” No use telling her that he never expected to visit the big house on the hill. “Later, maybe. But thanks just the same.” He saw disappointment in her eyes, and added, “Maybe we could have a picnic by our pool. Monday afternoon, when I’m finished. There’s still trout in the creek. I’ll be the host this time^ broil ’em for you the way Í do in the woods. You'll find the place about the same, a little grown over, maybe, but not changed much.”
The dog muttered deep warning in his chest, and Joe Barrett looked up the road toward the big house. He saw Clyde Maxwell coming, walking with the aid of a cane, limping a little, but apparently still vigorous and hale. Joe Barrett felt, an awareness like an electric tingling, as he might have when confronted with some unexpected danger in the woods. Dark Shadow’s muttering became a growl, as though he sensed that his man-god did not like this newcomer; and Joe did not discourage him.
Clyde Maxwell stopped doubtfully 10 feet away. Kathy said, “You remember Joe? Joe Barrett?” Her father appraised Joe swiftly, then nodded.
“Of course.” Yet he did not offer to shake hands. Dark Shadow had risen and was poised tensely. “Pike Barrett’s boy. You’ve been doing some cruising for us. Harker said he expected you back any day.”
Joe thought, Well, so you remember Pike Barretf. Maybe you haven't forgotten what you did to him. And . what has Marker said about me? '
There was no wasted affection between Joe Barrett1 and Maxwell’s mill boss.
“Anxious (o get that report,” Maxwell went on. “Will you have it ready tomorrow, or Monday, by the
“Monday,” replied Joe. And, he thought a little exultantly, what a shock to you it's going to be!
The old man nodded, and said to the girl, “Well, are you ready, Katherine? 1 suppose Jimmy has gone on ahead. I’d like to have another word with him before he leaves.” /*;
She looked up at Joe and smiled, and went down the road with her father. Continued on page 44
Continued from page 21
Joe slipped the straps of his pack over his shoulders and stood watching until they vanished around a turn, and felt that he was more mixed up than he had ever believed he could be.
THE dog padded beside him as he moved across the road and through the scanty timber toward the little house beyond the town, where he and his mother had lived. Until her death, three years ago, he had sometimes surprised her standing at the window and looking upward at the Maxwell house on the hill; and although he pretended not to notice what she was doing, he knew what lay in her mind. It had been her dream to live in a house like that, instead of this thrifty little cottage at the edge of Broad Axe—not an unreasonable dream, either, because Pike Barrett and Clyde Maxwell had once been full partners, and one had ueen as poor as the other while they were trying to hang onto this timber empire they had daringly acquired. Broad Axe had been an Indian clam beach then, and Joe a baby. Destiny threw the dice, and Pike Barrett became poorer, while Clyde Maxwell became inordinately rich.
Swinging along through the scanty trees, Joe thought of Kathy, and was glad that he was not the creator of bad news but merely the bearer of it. The rain, old Pike Barrett had said, falls on the just and the unjust; and while a crooked trail may be longer, like all trails it has an ending at last. Yeah, thought Joe Barrett, and sour philosophy doesn't build scrimshaw mansions on a hill!
What was it about old Clyde Maxwell that his woods-trained eyes had noticed? Vigorous and apparently hearty—yet there was a greyness to his jowls, and a waxen pallor in his hands as they gripped that cane. Maybe a bum heart, and why not? Clyde Maxwell was well past 60. He’d never been an easy-goer like Pike Barrett, but he’d lasted longer because he was hard-shelled.
The little old house was clean and cold. It still retained the musty smell of trail clothes which have gathered the scent of many campfires. Still thinking of Kathy, Joe took a look in the bedroom glass, and winced at what he saw. The whiskers made him look like a bandit. He started the hot-water gadget, and fed Dark Shadow. Then he spent a luxurious hour cleaning himself up. That job done he brewed some coffee and got himself a snack from the grifb that remained in his outfit, and sat down to put his figures together. Long after midnight thunder aroused him. In the weird flare of lightning he saw Dark Shadow" crouched on the rug beside the bed, unafraid yet wary.
By Sunday night the chore was completed, and he wondered if he had
been so smart to refuse Kathy’s dinner invitation. Still, you can’t break bread with a man one day and break his heart the next. Joe Barrett was still glad he had been honest with old Clyde Maxwell, even though he hated him.
He was at the mill office right after the eight o’clock shift changed Monday morning. Harker, the mill boss, noted his smooth-shaven spruceness, the clean flannel shirt and khaki pants, the high-cut boots that creaked with newness. “Where’s the wedding?” he asked. “The boss,” he added, “is waiting in my office. What did the cruise show?” There was a trace of eagerness in his voice and on his taciturn face.
Joe Barrett said, “Why don’t you ask the Old Man? Harker, you can fix up my timecard. I’m quitting today.” Then he pushed open the door of the office and saw Clyde Maxwell sitting at Harker’s desk.
Maxwell gave him a tired look from beneath brows that were white and shaggy as an old buck’s muzzle. Joe tossed the clipped sheets on the desk, and Maxwell studied them, page by page. “Well,” he conceded at last, “you seem to have made a thorough report.”
“I’ve tried to,” Joe replied. “It looks as though you’re washed up. Your last stand of timber has 100% infestation of hemlock looper. When those bugs get through with your timber you might as well close down the mill.”
“Harker,” asked Maxwell, turning to the mill boss, “why didn’t you mention this before? You must have suspected that stand was infested.”
Harker shrugged. “How could I know? Barrett has done all our cruising.” He shot a glance at Joe and added, “I’ve a hunch he’s been waiting for this a long while.”
“That,” agreed Joe Barrett, “is straight as a plumb line. But Harker lies when he hints I’ve been holding out on him. I’ve called his attention to other infested timber stands along the coast—hell’s-fire, every outfit in this area has had trouble! But I didn’t know about this last stand of yours because this is the first time I’ve been in there for three years.”
Maxwell leaned back and drummed his fingers on the desk. “So you’ve held a grudge while taking my money—” he began, but Joe broke in hotly.
“Just a minute! You were Pike Barrett’s partner, and you swandangled him out of his share. When he borrowed money at the bank you bought up his notes on the sly, and when they fell due you had the bank refuse to extend them. So he went under, and you got the business. Sure, I’ve taken your money all these years, but I’ve given honest value for every dollar you paid me. I didn’t put the bugs in your timber, and if Harker had been halfway smart he’d have had me cruise this show long ago.”
Maxwell spread his bands. “It’s just Continued on page 46
Continued from page 44 as well that I came back. I had the feeling something was wrong; I should have suspected long ago. I’m not saying now that I regret your father had no business sense. Pike Barrett would have slipped somewhere else if that hadn’t happened to him.”
So Clyde Maxwell was still hardshelled. You couldn’t crack him.
“As for the infested timber,” Maxwell went on, “I can handle that. Within a week I’ll have it dusted by airplanes. That will kil! the bugs, and we’ll start logging the tract at once to salvage such trees as may have been killed.” He stood up and leaned toward Joe Barrett, implacable as ever.
“This game has gone far enough,” he concluded. “I’ve never lost a battle yet, and 1 don’t intend to. You can’t reach me, because you don’t know how!
“I know what lies in your mind, and I might trouble to make a defense if I cared about it. There are usually two sides to every question. Probably Pike Barrett never understood. No matter! Harker, of course, will fix up your time. I built Broad Axe, and I think I’ve still something to say about the town.”
Joe Barrett went out, thinking, what a day for a picnic! I’m on my way out of this town, and I should have gone a long while ago. He felt somewhat as he did when, as a boy, he was hunting ducks and a shotgun blew up in his face. It had been overloaded. It was noon when he reached the big upereek pool, and saw Kathy there with a tiny fire burning.
“I’ve been waiting,” she said gaily. “You promised me a mess of trout.” He saw that she wore what she could manage for trail clothes—an old skirt, a sweater with a ravelled cuff. She looked delectable, and he had an impulse to show her that he approved. Dark Shadow went over to her and nuzzled her hand. The dog seldom .showed affection, even to Joe Barrett; he was sober-minded and he had given allegiance to one master. Kathy made cooing sounds to him which Dark Shadow evidently liked.
“I can’t remember,” she said presently, “when you didn’t have a dog, Joe. They were always good dogs, too, weren’t they?”
“Yeah,” he agreed absently, “it all depends upon how you treat ’em. All dogs are good, if they’re handled right.” He felt confused again, thinking of what Clyde Maxwell had said. He saw Kathy had brought along a small bucket, and that it was half-filled with red huckleberries. “I promised you some trout, and I forgot to bring a rod. We’ll have to catch ’em Indianfashion, with a weir. Kathy,” he said, “I wish you had come back sooner!” “Joe!” Her voice was soft. She reached around the fire and patted the back of his hand.
“I mean quite a while ago,” he went on. “I thought by this time you’d surely have married.”
After a moment she said, “Joe, let’s build that weir. You never showed me how it was done. We’ll need some willow sticks, won’t we? And maybe a lot of rocks. I’ll help you.”
A little grey bird, a water ouzel, came flitting downstream, alighted on a broad boulder and teetered there uncertainly, as though ready to take off. Dark Shadow saw it and stood up in expectation. Joe laughed.
“That means good luck,” he declared. He sprung open his long-bladed knife and moved toward the clump of red willows which leaned over the clear pool. “We’ll build it here, Kathy,” and he indicated the lower edge of the still water. “When we’ve made a pen I’ll drive ’em downstream. Ought to round up some big ones.”
DARK SHADOW swung around, muttering. Joe looked and saw Clyde Maxwell standing there, swinging his cane.
“Katherine,” said Clyde Maxwell, “I thought I’d find you up at the house.”
“Why, dad,” she replied doubtfully, “I thought you’d have lunch downtown. If I’d known—”
“Lunch can wait,” he interrupted. “They telephoned from the camp that Jimmy was missing. Seems he got separated from the other boys yesterday.” He glanced briefly ab Joe Barrett, and added, “They’re not too worried, but they felt we should know. Harker has pulled some of the men out of the mill and they’ve made up a search party.” He pounded on the ground with his cane. “Jimmy knows enough to follow a creek downstream, because all of them run into a river or salt water, and that should bring him out. Anybody knows that!” He looked defiant. “Jimmy knew it. He’ll come out all right.”
Joe Barrett said, “Look, if there’s anything I can do!”
“We’ll make out,” Clyde Maxwell replied gruffly. “Coming, Katherine?” She went up to him and took hold of his hand. “Jimmy will be all right,” she said. “Good-by, Joe!” They moved off through the trees, not toward the big house on the hill but in the direction of town.
. Joe stood there a long moment after they had vanished, and at last said to Dark Shadow, “Hell! Let’s go home!” The dog trailed him obediently as they followed the dim trail. Joe folded the clasp knife and thought that somebody would be puzzled when they came by way of the pool and found the huckleberries and a burned-out fire. He still had his turkey to pack, and after that he had to decide what to do about the house where he and his mother had lived. Pike Barrett had lived there too, but often said that it belonged on a hill—that it should be a scrimshaw place with spired corners and gingerbread eaves. Joe Barrett thought so too, yet old Clyde Maxwell had some ideas of his own. It was like the old devil to stir up doubt; you get to doubting, and the first thing you know you are confused. Pike Barrett had been hornswoggled; he’d often said so, and his son couldn’t let himself entertain any doubts about that.
He’d lost, and there was nothing more to do here except wind up a few loose ends. There are some friends who decently deserve a good-by when you are pulling out of such a place as Broad Axe forever.
He went to bed fairly early that night, with his woods clothes wrung out and drying in the kitchen and Dark Shadow sleeping contentedly by the bed. The dog’s bawled challenge long after dark brought Joe out of his blankets.
“Down!” he commanded, for somebody was pounding at the door. “Just a minute,” he called, pulling on his clothes. The dog was up, pacing nervously around the room, muttering. Joe snapped on the light. “Whoa!” he told Dark Shadow. The Doberman sank obediently to the rug, but wmned his dissatisfaction. This didn’t make sense, strangers thumping about the place at night. Then Joe heard Kathy’s voice.
“Joe!” she called. “Please!” He opened the door and saw her, and behind her was Monk Sidell, the constable stationed at Broad Axe.
“Joe,” she said breathlessly, “I can’t stand it any longer. You’ve got to help ! ” “You mean Jimmy?” he asked. “I tried to, but your dad wouldn’t listen.” It sounded flat, yet he couldn’t think of anything else to say. Cont. on page 48
Continued from page 46 “She thought,” Monk Sidell, interposed, “that your dog might pick up the trail, Joe. We’ve plumb run out of other ideas. This will be the second night the boy has been gone.”
Joe Barrett slipped a suspender over his right shoulder. “Where’s your father?” he asked Kathy.
“At the camp,” she replied. “Joe, does it make any difference? He told me some things—”
Petulantly he broke in, “What sort of hellion do you take me for?” He slipped on his short cruiser jacket. “I don’t know if the dog can help much. He’s got sense, but this may need a miracle.” Dark Shadow whined. “He’ll need trail scent—an old shoe, maybe.” “Anything you say, Joe.” Her voice had the lift of relief. “We’ll stop by the house.”
They were booming along the highway at last, and Monk Sidell had his car wide open. In the back seat the dog crouched, shivering with nervousness, at Joe’s feet. In Joe’s lap was a small boot, and inside it a clean woollen sock. At times Joe pulled out the sock and let the dog sniff it. “That’s him,” Joe said, close to the dog’s ear. “Find him! Find!” Dark Shadow whined as though in understanding, and Kathy’s soft fingers explored his sleek head.
“Joe,” she breathed, “he seems to know!”
“We’ll see,” he retorted gruffly. “After all, he’s only a dog!” The car roared on, swaying, wheels drumming, long headlight beams slicing through the night. No use to tell her the truth, thought Joe. Two nights in the woods for a kid without grub or shelter was more than enough. There were a thousand risks—a broken leg, a twisted ankle, a fall over a cliff in the darkness. A hungry old cougar, shrewd enough to discover that the boy was young, helpless, alone, could not be ruled out, despite natural cowardice. Joe patted her hand and said, “I figure Dark Shadow is the best dog I ever had. At least the smartest. He’ll try.” And then up the road were waving flashlights signalling them to stop.
Men crowded around the car. “Any news?” asked Monk Sidell. A man opened the back door of the car and flashed his light inside.
“We’ve worked it out this far below the camp,” he said. “Found his trail along a creek. Seems like he crossed a ridge and started toward salt water.” Behind him old Clyde Maxwell stood silently in knee boots and a bulky mackinaw. He still carried his cane.
Joe got out, and Dark Shadow was beside him, staring around at the crowd. “Show me that track,” Joe ordered. “Rest of you keep behind.” He looked at Maxwell. “You can come with me if you can keep up. I’ll need somebody’s light.” To Kathy he said, “You stay here. We’ll send somebody out and let you know what luck we’re having. Be daylight in three hours.” They headed into the woods, one man leading, Joe and the dog following, while Maxwell limped along hurriedly.
THERE was a tough ridge after they had gone maybe a mile, then a sharp dip into a brushy canyon full of devil’s-club and salmon berry canes. By and by the man ahead stopped and held his light steady on a sand bar. Joe looked and saw imprints of a small foot. The kid hadn’t been far from the highway, yet he had remembered his instructions to stay to a creek and follow it downstream. The man with the light said to Joe, “We found this just before dark. Looked around below here, but there was no other sign.”
Joe thought, You damned fools! You’ve probably tramped all over and ruined the scent. He gave Dark Shadow
trail scent again and pointed to the track. The dog snuffled, then moved away, vanishing in the darkness.
Clyde Maxwell said sharply, “Why don’t you keep him on leash? How’ll we know where he is? A black dog can’t be seen 10 feet on a night like this!”
“I’m running this,” Joe told Maxwell. He pushed past the old lumberman and took the lead, flashing his light ahead, but Dark Shadow had disappeared. They went on, still holding to the stream, for it was likely that Jimmy had done the same. At last the dog shadowed out of the night, walked to Joe and whined, holding up a paw. Joe bent and turned over the pad. Blood welled from between the toes. He slipped out his knife, reached deep with point of the blade and his thumb, and Dark Shadow yiped in sudden pain. Joe straightened, holding what looked like a white thorn.
“Porcupine quill,” he announced. It was bad luck that the dog had to step on a porky quill at this time of all others, yet they were plentiful along creek courses where the bumbling wearers of the spiny armor had met death under the paws of some hungry wolverine. “Hie on!” he told Dark Shadow brusquely, and the Doberman limped away into the night again.
They kept going, still downstream. At ifregular intervals Dark Shadow came back, as though to reassure Joe Barrett that he was doing his best. The group moved silently, slowly, skirting windfalls and impassable salai thickets, and then they became aware at last that the darkness was thinning out, that the fog which lay in the coverts along the dank watercourse could now be seen. For half an hour they had seen nothing of the dog. Joe stopped at last, kneeling at a sand bar exposed by low water. Before him was the boy’s track, clear and sharp in the sand. Almost in the centre of it, too, was the mark of the dog’s foot. The sand also had the faint stain of fresh blood. That damned porky quill!
Old Clyde Maxwell, bending over Joe’s shoulder, made a queer sound, and Joe gave him a sharp glance.
“Easy,” he said, almost kindly. “The dog has the trail. It won’t be long.” And then all swung around at the muffled snap of a twig nearby. Dark Shadow, still favoring the injured foot, came twisting through the brush. Very carefully he carried a straightbrimmed little hat.
Clyde Maxwell gave a cry that jerked their nerves, but Joe Barrett snatched the hat from the dog’s jaws, held it quickly to his own face, pressing the sweatband against his cheek. It was moist and warm. Then to Clyde Maxwell he said huskily, “Your boy is near—and he’s alive!”
Dark Shadow looked up at him enquiringly for a moment, then turned and led off, more slowly this time. Two hundred yards farther they found him, a small figure backed against a big stump. Dark Shadow walked up to him, and looked back.
And then the boy was sobbing in old Clyde Maxwell’s arms and hysterically trying to make them understand. He seemed unhurt. “I’d been sleeping by a log,” he said, “and then I heard a noise and saw this big dog standing near. At first I thought he was a bear, and I backed away. But he came closer, then turned and looked back as though he wanted me to follow him. But I didn’t go, and then he jumped in and snatched the hat off my head.”
Joe stroked the dog’s head and thought that you never know—that even a fool trick you can teach your own dog, a little game, just for your own amusement and his, can pay off.
Monk Sidell, triumphant and excited, led the procession of cars that
raced with horns honking joyously back to Broad Axe in crisp morning air heavy with the sweetness of summer. Up front, Jimmy, snuggled between Monk and Clyde Maxwell, slept profoundly in his father’s arms.
Dark Shadow likewise drowsed in the back seat between Joe and Kathy, his head resting contentedly on Kathy’s lap; and he liked the feel of her soft fingers tickling him behind the ears. Joe looked at him and thought, So you're crazy about her too! By and by Kathy leaned over so she could make herself heard above the road noises and Monk Sidell’s blatting horn.
“Joe, you said you were going away.
I could have told you tonight that dad has fired Harker, that he wants you to take Harker’s job, if you will. But—I didn’t want to bribe you! Dad isn’t well, and he says that maybe lie was wrong; maybe he feels he’d like to make amends. Joe, you won’t take Dark Shadow away from me?”
He wondered if he looked as startled as he felt. Harker’s job? Joe knew lie was all mixed up again, yet her words and what lay in her eyes were an incredible truth that was like a shining spear of light stabbing deep inside him. He wondered whimsically whether he and Dark Shadow would like living in that scrimshaw mansion on the hill.