S. Weir (Silas Weir) Mitchell.

Far in the forest, a story online

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go backward and calmly consider the joy, and the
fading of it, and even Paul the father. No, not yet.
There would come a time when she could do this
thing and must. She fairly well understood Bessy
Preston, and was quite honest in her self-dealings.
Some memorial debts gather awful usury ; others
are mysteriously settled by time.

" Paul, you treat that gun like a baby," she cried.

He looked up, well pleased. " Oh, he's the nicest
man I just ever "

She shook her head, put a finger on her lips, and
then pointed to the cabin, whence came suddenly
the words,—

"Ach, das ist schon. I have finished the laurels.
"Will not you enter and observe ?"

She gathered up her work, and, smiling, went in.
" Thank you. How exquisite ! You have re-
touched my work. How much better it looks !"

" No, I let it alone. I am quite honest to say
it is good. Where does mine end, and where is
yours ?"

" There,— just there."


" No." And he laughed merrily. " No, we do
never know where one's work begins and where one
other's joins it. That is so of life. Ach, I get
mystic, as is our friend Philetus ; and that puts in
my mind to say that I would like to take Paul up
the river. They are going to try to break the great
jam which is now from last April." He always
asked leave in his proud, courteous way when he
desired to have Paul with him, — which was often.
At times she said no. The boy's hours of lessons, at
which she worked harder than Paul himself, were
resolutely to be adhered to, and she was as firm in
regard to what Riverius asked as she would have
been with any less friendly person. He never
urged or repeated a request, and took yes or no
with quiet acceptance.

" If he will get double lessons to-morrow, he may
go. I suppose it will be an interesting thing to see."

" Yes, and there are logs of yours and of mine in
the jam. Philetus and Kinsman will be there to
help, and I suppose that fellow Rollins and his
men. It will be well worthy to see. Wherefore
will you not also go ?"

She hesitated, and by this time Paul had joined
them and given very eagerly the required pledge.
" Oh, do go, mother!" he said. "¥e will take
you up in the dug-out. You needn't be the least
afraid," he added, seriously. " Mr. Riverius he can
pole right well. You never will let me pole you,
and Phil says I'll be as good as Ike Rollins before
long. Do come."

She said she would go. Of late her youthful


enterprise was returning, and a more wholesome
curiosity, which for a long while had seemed to be
utterly dead.

" Then we will lunch on the way," said Paul.
" We can't lose any time. I know the key to that
jam. I was all over it last week." Riverius smiled
at the lad's little display. The jam was the worst
known for years, and had defied thus far the skill
of the oldest lumbermen. Another year would
make it serious, and the accumulation of spring
logs would add to the difficulty. " We may have to
walk back, mother. If it breaks, the river will be

" I can walk," she said. " It is not over five or
six miles."

" Yes, and mostly ox-roads." The boy ran about,
hastened Becky, and was perched on the fence with
his basket and the rifle before Riverius and Mrs.
Preston were ready. Then he shouted, " I'll bale
her out," and was off" down the slope to the swift


Presently Riverius and Mrs. Preston joined Paul
at the river. Twigs, ferns, and dry moss were put
in the bottom of the long dug-out. Mrs. Preston
sat down in the middle. They pushed carefully
out a few yards from shore. It was not her first
experience of a pirogue or dug-out, but in her days
of sorrow and anxiety she had often felt on the
verge of nervousness and hesitated with a timidity
not natural to her to put herself where her nerves
might be tried. Now she recognized with joy that
she had recovered her youthful freedom from fear
and could simply give herself up to the happiness
of an idle hour. Idle it was and happy. A dug-
out, or, as it is at times called in Maine, a pirogue,
is merely a long log hollowed out by the axe and
sharpened at stem and stern. There is no keel,
and the inexperienced man who can even stand up
in it when afloat must be rare, so that a lumber-
man is apt to say, " Got to be born in a py-rogue,
and not squint none, and git your hair parted in
the middle." But two skilful polesmen upright
at bow and stern in this frail vessel i3 as pretty
a sight as can be seen. And now the woman
watched with pleasure the alert lad in the bow,
heard the quick click of the ash-poles against the
sides of the boat, and saw the water whirl by as
with rhythmic precision the gleaming poles struck


on the bottom and drove the rocking dug-out up
the stream. Hand over hand they were brought for-
ward swiftly amid rapid words from bow to stern.
"To left, Paul. Swing her. Round the rock. Quick,
look out. That's it. Snub her, snub her, Paul.
Now let her have it." On either side the hills rose,
as yet little scathed by the axe, but touched here
and there with anticipative autumn tints. Pines,
black and white birches, cherry, poplar, a great
and glorious show of nature's varied handiwork,
fled by as it were in moving, shifting masses. How
delicious it was, the faint sense of peril, the assur-
ance of security in the slim well-built figure in the
bow, sharply conning the river ahead, decisive and
with a proud look of responsibility in his strong
young face ! The thought came over her that,
whatever might be his lot, — and she by no means
meant these woods to be its limit, — the present
education in limb and mind was of the best for his

Riverius had taken kindly to the river ways, but
he was as yet far less skilful than the young bow-
man, although his greater power was felt in the
energy imparted to each forward dart of the boat
as the rattling iron-shod poles struck the rocky
bottom. About two miles up they turned aside to
avoid a deep current, and passed into comparatively
shallow water, around an island skirted with willows
and thickly wooded with hickories and the gum-
tree, already kindling with prophecy of the glories
of October. The water was quick and the rapids
somewhat turbulent. " Now look sharp, mother,"


said Paul, " and sit still. This is the worst." Of
a sudden the canoe was checked short midway
in its powerfully-urged upward course. Biverius
cried, " Hold her, hard, hard," and there was a
splash behind Bessy Preston, scarce heard amidst
the watery tumult, whilst the dug-out rocked dan-
gerously. She saw Paul holding the boat with all
his force, the pole quivering in the fierce rush of
water. She knew at once, with a little scare, that
they had narrowly escaped going over. She did
not stir, having the rare faculty of growing calm
in danger. " What is it, Paul ?" she said. He
did not reply: he was looking anxiously astern.
" All right," said a voice, a little distant. " Drop
her carefully." Paul's face lit up, and almost foot
by foot he let the dug-out drop back, saying, as he
did so, " He's all right. Caught his pole." Then,
as they floated into quieter water, " Oh, mother !
there isn't a man on the Alleghany would have
dared to do that. Glad I was looking back."

" What was he doing, Paul ? Is he safe ?"

" Oh, yes, he's safe. Why, just at the end of
the push, mother, your pole is apt to catch be-
tween rocks ; and if you hold on you go over, and
the boat too. You must let the pole go. You see,
he isn't quite up to it; and so when he held on a
bit too long, and he knew what was coming, he
just fell backwards out of the dug-out quietly ,
and, mother, he never looked behind him. If he
had hit a rock he might have been killed."

" Ah," she said, " I see."

By this time Riverius was ashore, laughing, and


wringing out his moustache, and shaking himself
like a great Newfoundland.

" You have cut your head," said Mrs. Preston.

" Yes ; I could not see back of me. It will stop
bleeding in a moment. Find me a dry puff-ball,
Paul." The boy came back with it and watched
Riverius crush it and finally bind it on his temple
with his handkerchief. " I picked up the pole," said
Paul. He said nothing of the little feat, one which
few boatmen care to practise in a rocky rapid. 1
He had learned that personal allusions or expres-
sions of his boy hero-worship were ungraciously
received, and Mrs. Preston spoke only a few words
of question. Wet clothes and a cut head were
small affairs in the woods, and perhaps also she
did not quite as fully realize as did Paul either the
quick unselfish courage or the great risk of the ad-
venture. They pushed out anew, Riverius saying,
" Shall you have any fear ? I was clumsy."

"I? Certainly not."

However, they took another channel, and Rive-
rius was pretty dry when they came near the jam.
The boat was pulled far up into the wood and tied
to a tree. Then they followed a trail along shore,
climbed up through alder thickets and sturdy laurel-
bushes, and at last found themselves on a bluff some
thirty feet above the stream. Here were Philetus,
Consider Kinsman, and Anson Vickers. Rollins
and a dozen or two of his wood-gang were busy
coiling and untangling ropes. Axes and log-hooks

1 The author has seen it done on just such an occasion.


lay about, and the men in high hob-nailed boots
and the universal red shirt were moving to and
fro. Then there was a consultation between Phi-
letus, Consider, Vickers, and a few others. There
was much talk and some difference of opinion. As
the new-comers joined the group, Consider turned
and pulled Philetus's sleeve.

" It's the Madam, and Ryverus, and Paul. Ryve-
rus he's had a wettin'. He couldn't of fell out of
the dug-out : he'd of upsot her. Never knowed a
furriner any good in a canoe."

Rollins nodded in a familiar way.

"What's the difficulty?" said the German, mov-
ing up to the group.

" Guess the same there was always," returned

" It don't sway none," said Consider. " It's the
wust jam I ever see."

"Has any one been out on it lately?" asked
Riverius, taking no apparent notice of Rolling's
abrupt manner. He knew how these jams change.

" Ben on it ?" replied Rollins. " I've lived on
it, almost. Ain't I got five thousand logs in it,
clean marked all, and a heap of 'em water-soaked?"

" There's two keys to that 'ere jam," said Con-

" No, there ain't ; there's one," returned Vickers,
" and a bad one. Seed it yesterday."

" Where is it ?" said Paul, incautiously.

" Don't you go to speak to yer betters," replied
Ance, sharply.

" My betters ?"


" Come here," called Mrs. Preston. "Now keep
quiet. This is not a boy's business."

" But I know where the key is."

" Keep quiet. Do you hear me ?"

He was silent.

Rollins grinned, and the German drew himself

" Well, it's settled at last," said Rollins. " Ance
will go down on the jam. Some of you will carry
a rope to him. Here, get the end through the
pulleys. Now stir around. When Ance sings
out, ' Pull,' let her have it. Here, two of you
cross, and two stay below by yon pine. Once it
starts, keep 'em a-goin', and look smart for broken

Riverius took out a field-o;lass and be^an to sur-
vey the great jam. For a half-mile above where
they stood, the narrowed stream was partially
dammed by an inconceivably confused mass of vast
brown logs. The force of the wild rush of water,
now at rather unusual height of flood from recent
rains, was seen in an occasional heave of some
great trunk or heard in numberless creaking,
crunching sounds. Here and there at times a
spurt of yellow water shot in air. Now and then
there were, at places chiefly midway in the jam,
local disturbances, logs rolling over one another,
and then quiet, as the vast energies at work in
the pent-up river reached the limit of their power
to crush or compress the tangle of logs. Lower
down the shore, great tree-trunks standing at every
conceivable angle, or piled one on the other, so


weighted the accumulated mass as to make in many
places an almost solid dam, through which the
prisoned water struggled, or over which it dashed
high in sheets of amber-yellow foam loaded with
the ground bark from this huge crush of chafed
and grinding pines. A good deal of timber had
by degrees been started from the lower end of the
blockade, and thousands of logs of black birch,
pine, cherry, and hickory sent adrift, to be gathered
at the booms far below. But above the point now
in question there was a vast, almost motionless,
tangle of pines. Somewhere in it was the key, as
the lumbermen call it. There might be but one,
there might be several ; and the decision as to this
point is in a measure experimental. As to the
present case, it was possible that the single key of
the jam was at the place where Ance had decided
it to be, some thirty feet above the lower limit of
the anchored mass. Here an uprooted pine with
most of its great limbs still whole had become in
some way arrested, its weighted roots being firmly
stayed against the underlying rocks and its top
looking up stream. Against its first strong limb
a cut pine log of unusual size and length had
caught, and, forced down by the current and cum-
bered by gathering logs, had also been weighted
down to the bottom. Thus the two made an angle,
and on and about them other logs had caught, and,
with uprooted saplings and trunks great and small,
had made a firm barrier. This was continually
strengthened by arriving masses of timber, which,
driven down, heaved up, and crossed in wild con-


fusion, had at last blocked the entire stream. Of
course there were within the crush of logs a multi-
tude of lesser keys ; but, the mass once started by
rupture of one of its greater stays, it was possible
that the smaller anchors would be torn loose in
the violent rush of the unprisoned waters.

Opinions varied as to whether Ance was correct.
At all events, the work was to be done from below.
With this obstacle cleared away, they would know
if, as Ance contended, it was the main key to the
jam. He sat down, looked to see if the great
nails in his boots were sharp, rose up, and, tighten-
ing his belt, took an axe, felt its edge, and walked
away on what he well knew to be an errand of
immense danger. Riverius turned to Paul.

" I am going on to the jam above, to see if Con-
sider is ri^ht."

" I wouldn't, sir," said Paul. He well knew the

" Oh, there is time enough. Just fire your rifle
when they begin. I will not go far."

Mrs. Preston was about to speak, but he was
now walking away, and she hesitated to call after
him, — she hardly knew why.

"Paul's got to look sharp," Rollins had said.
"There won't be much time to lose." Paul
capped his rifle and stood ready, not liking it, and
anxiously following with his eyes the retreating
figure. Meanwhile, Ance alertly leaped from log
to log, conscious that all eyes were on him. Then,
looking up, he shouted, " It's sprung a bit here
eence yesterday." The men following with a rope


collected about him. Then one climbed the great
pine log and as far up as possible knotted it se-
curely on the end of the rough trunk. " Ready !"
cried Ance. Gradually the gang on the bluff a
little lower down the stream tightened the rope,
the pulleys creaking, while the men on the jam
made rapidly for the shore. Ance looked up, and,
leaning over, struck blow on blow below the water-
line. At last he cried, " Now let her have it," and
stepped back. The huge trunk, released, sprang
forward violently, aided by the pull of a score of
vigorous men on the bluff. " Quick, Ance !" they
called. "He's done it. Quick! Go it, Ance!"
The woodman leaped from log to log, won the
safer shore, caught at branch and tree-trunk, and
swung himself breathless to the bluff top. "Knowed
I'd do it/' he said.

As Ance took his station on the jam, Paul raised
his rifle, lowered it as the first axe-blow rang on
the jam below, and cried out, in terror, " I've
dropped the cap !"

"Run, run!" said his mother. "Run up the
bank ! run !" Paul shot away at the word, and
Mrs. Preston turned to Rollins.

" Mr. Riverius is on the jam above. Call to
Ance to wait. Please do, and quickly;" for the
axe-blows fell now to right, now to left. " Stop
the men. Don't let them pull."

Rollins said, " It's too late. Guess he'll git off.
Got as good a show as Ance, anyway," and then,
in a lower voice, to the men at the rope, " Some
folks is awful valuable."


Bessy Preston heard, and, hearing, flushed. She
turned aside a moment to hide her risen color.
Some flush from the head, some from the heart.
She did not ask now whence came the red signal,
but found it impossible to speak again to Rollins.
The sneer was coarse, and struck like a base bludg-
eon. She took it proudly, not answering as the
sallow round-shouldered man would have wished.
To say a word more was not so much to humble
herself as to humble Riverius. She had caught
the faint grin on those stolid faces. It seemed
but a jest of peril to them, and how they took
Rollins's words was plain. " He must abide it,"
she muttered, instinctively realizing the German's
pride and his dislike of obligation. The next mo-
ment, with a prayer of thankfulness, she saw him
on the bluff a hundred yards beyond, with Paul
at his side. He had failed to find an easy access
to the place he desired to reach, and, rightly guess-
ing that he would be given scant time, and hear-
ing no shot, had turned back from almost certain
death. Never more than at that moment had
Bessy Preston felt glad of the temperament which
grew calm in peril. Never before had she been
so tested. For a moment she had had the wild
impulse to appeal to the men. It would have an-
swered ; she knew her power ; but the price, — the
price ! Now she turned to look, at ease for the
time. The great pine log bent over, the men
hauled fiercely, slacked the rope and hauled again,
aiding it as it sprang towards them. Of a sudden
the vast stem of pine, feeling the immense pressure,


gave way, the pulling gang of men rolled laughing
on the ground, and instantly the nearer logs broke
loose. Then there was a pause, a strange stir, far
and near, sounds of fierce jostle, crush and grind,
and at last a sudden and violent commotion as the
whole mass of huge logs broke up and began to
sweep by with indescribable tumult, now stayed a
second, now off again. The physical consequences
of the gigantic forces set free were such as none
could predict. Amidst roar and crash and crunch
and strange shrieking grinding notes of the fury
of intense frictions, a forest of logs fled past.
Trunks forty feet long shot out here and there,
straight up in air, and- fell shattered on the mass
below them. White and yellow jets of tortured
water dashed up to half the height of the bluff
from a churned mass of foam thick and spumy
with the shed sap and ground bark. With destruc-
tive fury the great whirling logs smote the shores
and swept as with a scythe the trees along the
banks, and so with the dead and living things of
the wood fled madly downward, carrying ruin to
left and right.

After one wild hurrah, even the loggers rested
silent on their axe-helves or log-hooks. The terror
or sublimity of the sight held Elizabeth Preston
breathless, and for the time did her good service
by dwarfing or overpowering all other feelings.
Then she heard Rollins remark, " There's a lot of
them logs busted, and mostly mine's in the thick
of it." Philetus stood intensely realizing through
his hearing alone the well-known thing he could


not see, and by his side Consider Kinsman, bearing
nothing, was at intervals describing in his habitual
way the chaotic scene. " Jerusher, but there's a
log went nigh thirty feet out of water. Busted,
by George ! Never seed nothin' like it." And he
pulled his friend's ear gently, as a conventional sign
of desire to know what his own lost sense failed to
give. Philetus understood, and faced him, speak-
ing with distinct articulation, " It's like the damned
broke loose, Con. It's like the devils on a spree.
Them trees has souls. All things has bodies, but
there is a spiritual body. Hear 'em yell. Hear
'em howl."

Mrs. Preston turned to listen. He was at his
strangest. Philetus rarely indulged her so freely
with his fragmentary phrases of half meanings, and
was really addressing only his friend. Something
about her was apt to bring him down to lower
levels. Now the pair as they gazed or listened
interested her greatly. "It is terrible," she said.

" And it were all set for to be," returned Phile-
tus. " When them trees was little sprouts it were
to be, and they growed, and growed, and here they
be tormented like. An' men '11 live in 'em when
they're houses and not know."

" You should have been a preacher," said Ei-
verius at his side.

Phil was too far on his way to be stopped by the
laughing tone of the German's remark.

"Preacher?" he said. "I ain't no more a
preacher than the Lord lets me be. Them logs is
preachin' now. You just listen to them."


"It's a good deal like a camp-meeting," said
Kiverius, — " about as chaotic, and about as reason-

" I'm not ag'in' camp-meetin's. When you meets
them thar logs in heaven, you'll know better."

Riverius smiled. " Well, it's not very clear to
me at present. I can wait. I hope that boom will
hold. What does Rollins say ?"

They were now alone on the cliff, the logs float-
ing tranquilly by them in thousands, now pausing,
now set in motion by a dozen busy men who leaped
with agility from one rolling log to another, push-
ing this and holding that trunk, a manly and ex-
citing spectacle.

Presently Consider touched the sleeve of Rive-
rius. The German, who by this time understood
the man, followed him apart and waited. The
deaf woodman hesitated. At last he said, " Ance
is come back." It was useless to speak, and Rive-
rius merely nodded. " He don't like you, sir; and
Rollins he ain't forgave you, nuther, about that


" Ef I was you, sir, I'd git away from here till
them fellers simmers down a bit."

Riverius shook his head. "I? Not I." A look
of scorn crossed his face; but he took the wood-
man's hand, to show that he thanked him, and
turned away.

" Don't skeer more nor a rattlesnake," said Con-
sider. " Well, I done my dooty. And Phil don't
love him, nuther. It's queer. Guess ef Myry


Richmond didn't think sech a heap of him, Phil
would 'a' liked him better. He's pizen jealous.
That's his eyes. Phil ain't one as likes to be
looked down on, nuther, and he hadn't oughter

The danger indicated did not disturb Eiverius
for a moment. He had been among bullets in his
youth, and the open-air life of the woods has
always a remarkable power to keep men free from
nervous sense of risks. Presently he went away
to walk home with Paul and his mother. The in-
fluence of an unusual excitement made them silent,
and they moved thoughtfully through the darken-
ing wood-spaces, and by dusk reached the cabin.
She, at least, had more than enough to think over
to make her grateful for the absence of talk.


The next day Riverius went again over to Olean,
across the New York line, and was gone a week,
about some of the machinery for the mill, at which
Philetus and Consider had been working steadily.
It was now ready for the saw and gearing, the
natural dam above it having been raised and
strengthened. To leave annoyed Riverius; it was
like declining a challenge ; but he was too proud
to stay merely because of any possible opinion, and
it was but for a week.

The day before his return, Paul sat under a tree
at his lessons, his mother near him, her work in her
lap. Miriam had come over for a call, and the
small maid was, as usual, busy teasing, attracting,
or caressing Paul. Now she was pelting him with

" Oh, can't you quit?" he said. " You're worse
than vulgar fractions."

Next she was behind him, tickling his neck with
a straw.

" Hang the flies !" said Paul. " Oh, it's you.
Now you let me alone, and when I've done we'll
build a dam."

The child preferred more instant attention to
so remote a prospect. " I'll help you," she said.
" Tell Phely 'bout 'rithmetic."


" One and one makes bother," cried Paul.

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Online LibraryS. Weir (Silas Weir) MitchellFar in the forest, a story → online text (page 6 of 17)