Samuel Merwin.

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A Tale Of The Pine Country

By Samuel Merwin

New York: Doubleday, Page & Company


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PROLOGUE - The Young Man at the Stern

A THICK, wet night on the southwest coast of Lake Michigan a dozen
years ago; a wind that sweeps over the pitching lake and on over the
dim white beach with a rush that whirls the sand up and away. Trees are
bending up there on the bluff. The sand and the rain are in the air - or
do we feel the spray from yonder line of breakers, a hundred yards away?

And deep in a mudhole on the lonely road that skirts the bluff - the four
horses, fetlock-deep in the sticky clay, straining forward like heroes,
the members of the student crew in their oilskins throwing their weight
on the wheels of the truck - is the Evanston surf-boat.

The driver has pulled his sou’wester hat down on his neck behind and
swung the U. S. L. S. S. lantern on his arm; he stands beside the
forward wheel, cracks his long whip and swears vigorously.

“Hold on a minute, boys,” he calls over his shoulder; and he must shout
it twice before he is heard. “Whoa, there! Stand back! Now, boys, get
your breath and try it together. When I call - - - Now. All ready! Let
her go!”

The men throw themselves on the spokes, the horses plunge forward under
the lash of the whip. A moment of straining - an uncertain moment - then
the wheels turn slowly forward, the horses’ feet draw out with a sucking
sound, and the boat rolls ahead. The driver unbuttons his oilskins at
the waist and reaches beneath an under coat for his watch. They have
been out two hours; distance covered, two miles. Before him is darkness,
save where the lantern throws a yellow circle on the ground; behind
him is darkness, save for the white boat, the little group of panting,
grunting men, and, a long mile to the southward, the gleaming eye of
the Grosse Pointe lighthouse, now red, now white. But somewhere in
the darkness ahead, somewhere beyond the white of the breakers, a big
steamer is pounding herself to pieces on the bar. So he buttons his coat
and shifts the reins and swears at the horses. He seems to swear easily,
this young fellow; but he is thinking of the poor devils on the big
steamer, lashed to the mast perhaps, if the masts are still standing;
and he is wondering how many of them will ever ship again.


A huge bonfire lighted up beach and breakers. Around it huddled a motley
crowd, students in rain-coats or sweaters, sober citizens and residents
of the north shore, fishermen, and all the village loafers. But the
students were in the majority and were making most of the noise. It was
they who had built the fire, raiding fences and wood-yards to send up
a blaze that should tell the poor fellows out yonder of the warmth and
comfort awaiting them on shore - if they should ever get in through the
surf. They were cheering, too, giving the college yells and shouting
out inspiriting messages - as if any noise below the sound of a gun or
a steam fog-horn could hope to be heard over the roar of the lake! But
this was a great occasion and must be made the most of.

Of course no such body of students could act in concert without a
recognized leader; and the young man who claimed the honour could be
distinguished at a glance. Now issuing orders to the foragers, now
mounting the pile to adjust with a flourish the top barrel and to pour
out the last can of kerosene, now heading the war-dance around the
crackling fire or leading the yells with an improvised baton, always in
evidence, as busy and breathless as though his labours had an aim - was
a long-faced, long-legged student. He wore a cap that was too small to
hide his curly chestnut hair. His face was good-natured, if flushed with
the responsibilities of his position. His rain-coat thrown aside, he
stood attired in a white sweater with a wide-rolling collar, and a pair
of striped trousers that fitted close to his nimble legs.

“Hi, there! Here they come!”

A small boy was shouting. He had been stationed on the bluff; and now
he was sliding down, using his trousers as a toboggan on the steep clay.
“Here they come!”

The news spread. “Here they come!” was passed from mouth to mouth. Those
who had gone out of the firelight, in order to get a glimpse of the
hulk that stood out dimly against the horizon, now came running back and
joined their voices to the cheer that was rising.

Yes, they had come. A Coston signal was burning up on the bluff; and
half a hundred pair of legs were running up the beach to lend a hundred
hands in getting a ton and more of surf-boat down the ravine road. The
tall young man led the way, thanks to the nimble legs, and called over
his shoulder as he ran:

“This way, boys! Everybody this way!”

The horses were taken out in a hurry and led off to the nearest barn.
Long ropes were rigged to the back axle, “everybody” laid hold, and
then, with the crew men still hanging to the spokes and the young driver
leaning back on the tongue to guide the forward wheels, the surf-boat
went bumping and lurching down the road. With a rush and a cheer she
went, as if the fever of the waiting crowd had got into the wheels, as
if the desperate hands of the half-drowned men out yonder were hauling
them on - impatiently, madly, courageously hauling them on.

On down the beach, the broad wheels plowing through the sand; on toward
the breakers that came running to meet them: into the water with a
splash and a plunge, until ankles were wet and knees were wet - then
a halt. The eight young men in oilskins bustled about the boat, their
yellow coats and hats glistening in the firelight; and the crowd stood
silent at the water’s edge, looking first at them and then at the
black-and-white sea out yonder - and an ugly sea it was. But in a moment
the confusion resolved into harmony. The eight men fell into place
around the boat, lashed on their cork jackets, laid hold of the
gunwales, ran her out into the surf, tumbled aboard - and the fight was

It was a fight that made those young fellows set their teeth hard as
their backs bent over the oars. They did not know that this storm had
strewn the coast with wrecks; they did not know that the veteran crew at
Chicago had refused to venture out in their big English life-boat. And
they did not care. Too young to be prudent, too strong to be afraid,
these youngsters fought for the sake of the fighting; and they loved it.
So they worked through the surf with never a thought of failure, with
never a thought that the white waves might beat them back; and they
shook the water out of their eyes and watched Number Two, who was
pulling stroke to-night, and went in to win. And all the while the young
man standing erect in the stern, swinging the twenty-foot steering-oar,
was swearing, letting out a flow of language that would, as Number Two
said afterward, have made a crab go forwards. It was plain that he was
enjoying it, too.

The fire was sinking; the drizzle was cold and penetrating. The little
groups down on the hard sand near the water were tired of straining
their eyes into the blackness. The moment of enthusiasm was past. The
surf-boat had slipped away like a dream - a moment of tossing against the
sky, a glimpse of set faces, a shout or two over the pounding surf, then
the lead-black lake with its white flecks, the lead-black sky, and the
spot of deeper black where the steamer lay. A shivering fellow brought
an armful of driftwood from a dry nook and threw it on the fire. The
idea was good and the others took it up. Soon the flames were leaping up

And now what more natural than a song! The bleached-out bones of a
forty-ton lumber schooner lay curving up from the sand; here mounted a
student, he of the white sweater and long legs, and the others crowded

“All right, Apples; let her go!”

And they sang out merrily there, with the glare of the fire in their wet
faces and the wildness of the lake in their throats:

“Oh, my name is Captain Hall, Captain Hall!”

A rush of wind carried the next words down the beach; but the last lines
came out strong:

“Hope to - - - you go to Hell!

Hope to - - - you’re roasted well!

Damn your eyes!”

“Hi-yi!” - it is the small boy again. “There she is! There she is!”

“Where, boy?”

“Out there - off the breakwater! There - see!”

Again the straining eyes, again the lead-black of the sky and water. Is
that the boat, that speck of white away out, or is it a whitecap? Now
it is gone. Has the boat dropped into a hollow of the sea? Who knows! A
white speck here, another there, white specks everywhere! “Boy, you’re

“Sure he’s dreaming. They haven’t been gone twenty minutes. What’s the
matter with you!” Yes, it is only twenty minutes; and there is a weary,
bitter hour yet for the poor devils before they may set foot on land.
Another song is the cry; and more wood - heap her up! Again Apples
mounts his grim perch - the head- and footstone of half a dozen forgotten
sailors - and marches the “Grand Old Duke of York” up the hill, and
marches him down again; and when he was up he was up, up, up; and when
he was down he was down, down, down; and when he was only half way up he
was neither up nor down; and the rain thickens; and the smoke and flames
run along parallel to the sand, so fierce is the wind; and the
poor devils out yonder call up what prayers they may have known in
childhood - and lucky the sailor who remembers how those prayers used to

There is more singing and more watching; then, after a long while, the
boat is sighted. She is coming in from the north, making full allowance
for the set of the surf. As she works slowly nearer they can make out
the figure of the steersman and the huddled lot of crew men and sailors.
The fire is renewed again and a shout goes up. She hovers outside the
line of surf, then lifts on a roller and comes swiftly in to the sand,
so swiftly that the oars must be hauled in with a rush, and the crew
must tumble out, waist-deep, and catch the gunwales and heave her
forward before the wave glides back.

There is one man in the stem, rolling about between the feet of Number
Two. Even in that uncertain light, and bedraggled as he is, it is plain
that his dress is of a different quality from that of the sailors.
Bareheaded he is, and one can see the white in his hair and the wrinkles
on his smooth-shaven face. It seems, too, that he wants the physique of
his companions, most of whom are able, for all the exposure, to spring
out without assistance. The steersman, who has been watching him with
some anxiety, leans over and helps him out, and then, swinging him on
his shoulders, carries him pickaback up out of the water and toward the
fire. Word goes around that this is the owner of the steamer.

“Here, Jack,” calls Apples, bobbing up close at hand, “you’re to go up
to the house on the bluff. They are making coffee for all the boys. Let
me give you a hand.”

The steersman makes no reply, but, as his burden protests that he can
walk, lets him down, and each young man takes an arm. In a few moments
they are all, rescuers and rescued, in a hospitable kitchen drinking
black coffee and crowding, with steaming clothes, about the range. The
steersman drinks a second cup at a gulp and looks around for his men. He
is not joining in the talk, for a heavy responsibility rests on him, but
his eyes have the blaze of excitement in them and his square jaw is set
hard. His white, drawn face shows that the work is telling.

“Come on, boys,” he says quietly. “Time for the next trip.”

Quiet falls on the room that was just now loud with talk. It continues
while the crew men toss down their coffee, hastily retie their cork
jackets, and file out into the night. The sailors have been exultant
over their rescue; but now they are reminded of the comrades out yonder,
and they fall into moody silence.

But after all, it is a great thing to be alive when one has been
clinging to a rope in a desperate sea with ugly thoughts to face. At any
rate, these men seemed to find it so; for, after a time, when doubtless
the white surf-boat was bobbing far out, one of the hundred white flecks
on the black lake; when doubtless the poor fellows who had to wait, old
Captain Craig with them, were still cursing and praying - and one of them
had wept foolish tears when they parted - they fell back into talk. The
drama had reached but the second act, and no one could say if it was
to be a tragedy, but the warm kitchen and the plentiful coffee, and the
thoughtless talk of the half-dozen students who had followed them in,
were not to be resisted. Within half an hour the banter and jokes were
flying fast.

The elderly man, whose name was Higginson, was sitting close to the
range, wrapped in a blanket. He found Apples at his elbow and spoke to

“What crew is this?”

“The Evanston crew.”

The man nodded and was silent, but after a few moments he spoke again.

“Who was that young man in the stem? Is he the Captain?”

“No, the Captain is sick. He is Number One.”

“What is his name?”

“Halloran - Jack Halloran.”

CHAPTER I - Mr. G. Hyde Bigelow

In a mahogany office high up in a very high building sat Mr. G. Hyde
Bigelow. An elaborate building it was, with expensive statuary about the
entrance, with unusually expensive mosaic floors on all of the fifteen
or more stories. A dozen elevators were at Mr. Bigelow’s service, and a
dozen uniformed elevator boys to bow deferentially whenever he granted
his brief presence in the necessary actions of going up to his office or
coming down from his office - boys that were fond of remarking casually
when the great man had stepped out, “That’s G. Hyde Bigelow.” A very
expensive building, in fact, such as best comported with his dignity.

For Mr. Bigelow was a rising man; and the simple inscription on the
ground-glass door, “G. Hyde Bigelow & Company,” already stood in
the eyes of a small quarter of the financial world of Chicago for
unqualified success. If a syndicate was to be floated, if a mysterious
new combine was to be organized, what so important to its success as the
name of G. Hyde Bigelow somewhere behind the venture - what so necessary
in the somewhat difficult task of making it plain that paper is gold,
that water is a solid, as the indorsement of G. Hyde Bigelow & Company?
If Bigelow invested largely in Kentucky coal lands, what more reasonable
than an immediate boom in Kentucky coal - and that men should speak
sagely on the street of the immense value of the new mines? If Bigelow
went heavily into the new-style freighters that were to revolutionize
the lake-carrying trade, what more natural than a rush in “new
freighters,” and who could know if the Bigelows should unload rapidly on
an inflated market? But the great man is speaking!

Before him, on the mahogany desk, were spread some papers - vastly
important papers, or they could never have penetrated to the Presence to
take up time of such inestimable value. “Time is money” is a phrase that
had been heard to fall from the Bigelow lips. Perhaps some one else had
coined this phrase years before; perhaps Mr. Bigelow himself might even
vaguely remember hearing it: what matters it! Did not old phrases
fall new-minted from his lips? Did not the minor earths and moons
and satellites that revolved about the Bigelow sun recognize in each
authoritative Bigelow utterance an addition to the language? And were
there ever such jokes as the Bigelow jokes?

Before him were the papers; beside him, in a broad-armed, leather-backed
mahogany chair, sat the junior partner, the “Company” of Bigelow &
Company, Mr. William H. Babcock. A youngish man was Mr. Babcock; a very
well dressed man with a shrewd, somewhat incredulous eye; a man who
speaks cautiously, is even inclined to mumble in a low voice; and who
finds his worth and caution recognized as a useful, if secondary,
part of the importance of Bigelow & Company. Lacking in the audacious
qualities of his senior, it would seem, but shrewd, very shrewd - not a
man given to unnecessary promises or straight-out declarations. And if
Mr. Babcock had a phrase, a creed, locked securely away in the depths
behind that quiet face, it was “Business is Business.” Business _was_
business to Mr. Babcock; and he had hopes, even a fair prospect, indeed,
of himself rising to a point where Time should be Money, thanks to
the aid of the Bigelow name. And in the part of those depths where the
thinking was done, the thought lurked, that if the time should ever come
when Business-is-Business and Time-is-Money should be combined in his
career (and everything about him tended to combination), Chicago would
be too small for William H. Babcock.

The papers were before Mr. Bigelow, and the great brain was grappling
with them; it being Mr. Babcock’s part to weed out details and trouble
Mr. Bigelow only with the broader facts.

“And now, Mr. Babcock,” said the head of the firm, “how are we to arrive
at this?”

Mr. Babcock leaned forward and mumbled a few sentences with the air of a
man habitually afraid of being overheard and caught. Mr. Bigelow’s brow
drew together, in such a state of concentration was the massive brain.
History has not recorded the subject of these documents; whether it
was Kentucky Coal or New Freighters, or the booming town of Northwest
Chicago, or suburban street-railways, or one of the dozen or more
growing interests that absorbed at this time the attention and some of
the money of G. Hyde Bigelow & Company (to say nothing of the money of
the Bigelow followers), we may never know. For at the moment when the
Bigelow brows were knitted the closest, when the questions raised by
the papers were about to attain a masterly and decisive solution, an
office-boy entered the room - a round-eyed boy so awed by the Presence
that he was visibly impatient to deliver his message and efface
himself - a boy who was habitually out of breath.

“Lady t’ see y’u, sir.”

Mr. Bigelow turned with some annoyance. How often had his subordinates
instructed this boy to demand the card of every visitor and to lay it
silently on the mahogany desk. But, on the other hand, Mr. Bigelow made
it a point to rise above petty annoyances.

“Well, boy, what is the name?”

“Sh’ wouldn’ give ‘t, sir.”

The great man’s expression changed slightly; it was as if he had
suddenly remembered something. He turned to the desk and fingered the
papers for a moment.

“We will take up this matter after lunch, Mr. Babcock.”

He spoke a shade more pompously than was his wont in dealing with his

Mr. Babcock bowed and went out. Then Mr. Bigelow turned to his
stenographer, who was clicking away by the window.

“Miss Brown, I wish you would go out to the files and look up all the
Pine Lands correspondence for me.”

The stenographer laid aside her work and went out.

And now Mr. Bigelow, once more bland and gracious, turned to the boy who
was holding fast to the bronze door-knob.

“Here, boy, you may show the lady in.”

Having said this, he bent over a letter and was so busy that he seemed
not to hear the woman enter. For some moments she stood there by the
closed door. Once she coughed timidly; and even that failed to reach the
attention of the much-absorbed man. But at last the letter was laid down
and Mr. Bigelow turned.

“Sit down,” he said, motioning to the chair that Mr. Babcock had just
now vacated.

But the woman, it seemed, preferred to stand. “Why have you come here?”

“I think you know why I have come.”

Mr. Bigelow took up the letter again and regarded it closely. A great
many thoughts apparently were passing through his mind - thoughts not
of Kentucky Coal and New Freighters, but of a stately suburban home of
granite completed within the year; of a certain Mrs. Bigelow who was
rising rapidly toward the social leadership of her suburb, and was
carrying Mr. G. Hyde Bigelow into circles that he, with all his prestige
of a sort, could hardly have penetrated alone; of a certain dignified,
comfortable, downright conservative suburban church, where the Bigelow
money and judgment, new as they were in such surroundings, were
undoubtedly earning a place; and, lastly, of certain small Bigelows. Of
all these things thought Mr. Bigelow.

“Well,” he said at length, without raising his eyes, “what is it now?
What do you want?”

“If I had only myself to think of,” began the woman, speaking in a low
voice and with noticeable effort, “I should never come near you. But I
_have_ others to think of, and I think you have, too. I have not come
for money. If I could do it, I should like to bring every cent you have
given me and throw it in your face.”

Rather unpleasant words these - unpleasant to Mr. Bigelow, at least.
Indeed, they seemed quite to disturb him, to drive him even toward
something that in a man of smaller reputation might have been called

“See here,” he burst out, wheeling around, “how long is this going to
keep up? How many years more must I support you in idleness? There is a
limit to this sort of thing.”

It may be that this was not so much brutality as sagacity. It may be
that Mr. Bigelow had in mind certain steps that might relieve him from a
situation which was growing more and more annoying and disagreeable, and
that this was one of the steps. For such words as these - such a blaze
of righteous anger - should be very hard to answer in a man’s own office;
hard at least for an unknown woman before the great G. Hyde Bigelow.
Even if the woman had come with vague notions that she was acting within
her rights, that the law which had severed her life from the life of
this man so long ago would support her now - what was she, after all, but
an unfortunate woman standing before a great man?

But there was a curious expression in her eyes: perhaps she was more
resolute than he supposed; perhaps simply she had reached a point in
wretchedness where such words fail of an impression.

“When I told you I should never come to your office, I did not know how
you would take advantage of me. I should not have come even now if I
could have helped it. I don’t know if it will interest you to hear that
I have not had enough to eat this week.”

She was mistaken; Mr. Bigelow was interested. Indeed, he was beginning
to recover himself and to look down on the ill-dressed woman before him
from the proper altitude of G. Hyde Bigelow. As he looked down he told
himself that he was quite calm, that he was standing frankly and firmly,
as became him, on his proper footing as a prominent citizen. And such a
sight as this, an ill-dressed woman standing in this mahogany office
and talking about starvation, was really shocking. He felt that he
must dismiss her, must rid himself of her; but on the other hand he was
really touched by her distress. Mr. Bigelow leaned back in his chair and
half closed his eyes.

“How long has this been going on?” he asked, in a voice that showed
signs of leading up to something further.

She gave him a puzzled, indignant flash of her eyes and replied in the
same low voice:

“It is more than fourteen years.”

More than fourteen years - think of it! For fourteen years this woman
had been suffering for an error of judgment, the mistake of two deluded
years, the mistake of giving her life to the wrong man, and now had even
faced starvation because of it. So mistakes are punished in this world.
Mr. Bigelow, on his part, looking down from his great altitude, was
running over these fourteen years and recalling the mistakes of his own
that had brought this annoying visit upon him. He had been soft-hearted;
he saw it plainly enough now. In his effort to do right, to comply
voluntarily with certain nominal requirements which a less honourable
man would have easily evaded; in his effort to be kind to a foolish
young woman - and a very young woman indeed she had been at first - to
humour her childish notions of the facts of this real world - his
impulses had carried him too far, and she, of course, had taken
advantage of him. He should have known better.

“Hum! More than fourteen years,” he repeated, still sitting in his chair

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Online LibrarySamuel MerwinThe whip hand : a tale of the pine country → online text (page 1 of 15)