“Just as soon as I can put another boom over the rapids, Stell,” he promised, “I’ll put a cook on the job. I’ve got to sail a little close for a while. With this crew I ought to put a million feet in the water in six weeks. Then I’ll be over the hump, and you can take it easy. But till then—”
“Till then I may as well make myself useful,” Stella interrupted caustically.
“Well, why not?” Benton demanded impatiently. “Nobody around here works any harder than I do.”
And there the matter rested.
ONE WAY OUT
That was a winter of big snow. November opened with rain. Day after day the sun hid his face behind massed, spitting clouds. Morning, noon, and night the eaves of the shacks dripped steadily, the gaunt limbs of the hardwoods were a line of coursing drops, and through all the vast reaches of fir and cedar the patter of rain kept up a dreary monotone. Whenever the mist that blew like rolling smoke along the mountains lifted for a brief hour, there, creeping steadily downward, lay the banked white.
Rain or shine, the work drove on. From the peep of day till dusk shrouded the woods, Benton’s donkey puffed and groaned, axes thudded, the thin, twanging whine of the saws rose. Log after log slid down the chute to float behind the boomsticks; and at night the loggers trooped home, soaked to the skin, to hang their steaming mackinaws around the bunkhouse stove. When they gathered in the mess-room they filled it with the odor of sweaty bodies and profane grumbling about the weather.
Early in December Benton sent out a big boom of logs with a hired stern-wheeler that was no more than out of Roaring Lake before the snow came. The sleety blasts of a cold afternoon turned to great, moist flakes by dark, eddying thick out of a windless night. At daybreak it lay a foot deep and snowing hard. Thenceforth there was no surcease. The white, feathery stuff piled up and piled up, hour upon hour and day after day, as if the deluge had come again. It stood at the cabin eaves before the break came, six feet on the level. With the end of the storm came a bright, cold sky and frost,—not the bitter frost of the high latitudes, but a nipping cold that held off the melting rains and laid a thin scum of ice on every patch of still water.
Necessarily, all work ceased. The donkey was a shapeless mound of white, all the lines and gear buried deep. A man could neither walk on that yielding mass nor wallow through it. The logging crew hailed the enforced rest with open relief. Benton grumbled. And then, with the hours hanging heavy on his hands, he began to spend more and more of his time in the bunkhouse with the “boys,” particularly in the long evenings.