By early March the clearing had widened to four times its original size, reaching for rods back of the shanty; the air had become fragrant, spiced with the odour of fresh stumps and the great piles of logs stacked on the skidways.
At last the work of chopping ceased. Then began the ripping whine of saws and the wrenching clutch of cant hooks; loads of clean planks now came clattering up the rough road from the sawmill in the valley below—men cursed over wheels sunk over their hubs in mud—over broken axles and shifted loads.
The clearing had now become Holcomb’s home—if a square box provided with a door and a factory-made window can be called a home. In it he placed a cot bed and a stove, the remainder of its weather-proof interior being littered with blue prints, bills, and receipts. Before long these had resulted in the development of the skeleton of a pretentious main structure; its frame work suggesting quaint eaves and a broad piazza. At the same time a dozen other skeletons were erected about it, flanking a single thoroughfare leading to the road. This, too, had undergone a radical change. Before many weeks had passed the newly cut road lay smooth as a floor in macadam.
Strange men now appeared at Big Shanty on flying trips from Albany and New York—soulless looking men, thoroughly conversant with gas engines and lighting plants; hustling agents in black derby hats with samples, many of whom made their head quarters at Morrison’s, awaiting Holcomb’s word of approval. Most of these the trapper and the Clown treated with polite suspicion.
Wagon loads of luxuries then began to arrive—antique furniture, matchless refrigerators, a grand piano and a billiard table—cases of pictures and bundles of rare rugs. So great was the accumulation of luxuries at Big Shanty that little else was talked of.
“How much money do ye cal’late Sam Thayor’s got?” one of the prophets at Morrison’s would ask. The “Mr.” had been long since dropped from lack of usage.
“Goll—I hain’t no idee,” another would reply, “but I presume if the hull of it was dumped inter Otter Pond you’d find the water had riz consider’ble ’round the edge.”
During all this time Thayor had not once put in an appearance. He had left Holcomb, as he had promised, entirely in charge. Billy worried over the ever-increasing expenditure which had grown to a proportion he never dreamed of at the beginning, and was in constant dread of being asked for explanations—yet the vouchers he sent to New York invariably came back “O.K.’d” without a murmur or a criticism from the man who had told him to buy Big Shanty “as far as he could see.”
The only thing that caused the young superintendent any real anxiety, and one he had tried in vain to stop—was the sale of liquor to his men at Morrison’s. When pay-day came half of his gang were invariably absent for several days, including even his trustworthy and ever-to-be-relied-upon Freme Skinner, the Clown.