Bryce seated himself. “Well, we lumbermen are a low lot and naturally fond of dissipation,” he agreed. “I fear Miss Sumner’s Prohibition tendencies will be still further strengthened after she has seen the mad-train.”
“What is that?” Shirley queried.
“The mad-train runs over your uncle’s logging railroad up into Township Nine, where his timber and ours is located. It is the only train operated on Sunday, and it leaves Sequoia at five p.m. to carry the Pennington and Cardigan crews back to the woods after their Saturday-night celebration in town. As a usual thing, all hands, with the exception of the brakeman, engineers, and fireman, are singing, weeping or fighting drunk.”
“But why do you provide transportation for them to come to town Saturday nights?” Shirley protested.
“They ride in on the last trainload of logs, and if we didn’t let them do it, they’d ask for their time. It’s the way of the gentle lumberjack. And of course, once they get in, we have to round them up on Sunday afternoon and get them back on the job. Hence the mad-train.”
“Do they fight, Mr. Cardigan?”
“Frequently. I might say usually. It’s quite an inspiring sight to see a couple of lumberjacks going to it on a flat-car travelling thirty miles an hour.”
“But aren’t they liable to fall off and get killed?”
“No. You see, they’re used to fighting that way. Moreover, the engineer looks back, and if he sees any signs of Donnybrook Fair, he slows down.”
“Yes, indeed. The right of way is lined with empty whiskey bottles.”
Colonel Pennington spoke up. “We don’t have any fighting on the mad-train any more,” he said blandly.
“Indeed! How do you prevent it?” Bryce asked.
“My woods-boss, Jules Rondeau, makes them keep the peace,” Pennington replied with a small smile. “If there’s any fighting to be done, he does it.”
“You mean among his own crew, of course,” Bryce suggested.
“No, he’s in charge of the mad-train, and whether a fight starts among your men or ours, he takes a hand. He’s had them all behaving mildly for quite a while, because he can whip any man in the country, and everybody realizes it. I don’t know what I’d do without Rondeau. He certainly makes those bohunks of mine step lively.”
“Oh-h-h! Do you employ bohunks, Colonel?”
“Certainly. They cost less; they are far less independent than most men and more readily handled. And you don’t have to pamper them— particularly in the matter of food. Why, Mr Cardigan, with all due respect to your father, the way he feeds his men is simply ridiculous! Cake and pie and doughnuts at the same meal!” The Colonel snorted virtuously.
“Well, Dad started in to feed his men the same food he fed himself, and I suppose the habits one forms in youth are not readily changed in old age, Colonel.”