: The Man From The Bitter Roots
Bruce paused in the blithesome task of packing six by eights to look at
the machinery which lay like a pile of junk on the river bank. Each time
he passed he looked at it and always he felt the same hot impatience and
burning sense of irritation.
The days, the weeks, months were going by and nothing moved.
Two months Jennings had named as the maximum of time required to set up
the machines a
d have the plant in working order. "We'll be throwin'
dirt by the middle of July," he had said, confidently, and it was now
close to the middle of September. The lost machinery was no longer an
excuse, as every piece had been recovered by grappling and diving, and
landed safely at the diggin's.
Twice the whole crew save Jennings had dragged a heavy barge fifteen
miles up the river, advancing only a pull at a time against the strong
current, windlassing over the rapids with big John Johnson poling like
mad to keep the boat off the rocks; sleeping at night in wet clothing,
waking stiff and jaded as stage horses to go at it again. Six days they
had been getting up, and a little over an hour coming down, while two
trips had been necessary owing to the low stage of the water, which now
made the running of a deeply loaded boat impossible. It had been a
severe test of endurance and loyalty in which none had fallen short and
no one among them had worked with more tireless energy than Smaltz, or
his erstwhile friend but present enemy, Porcupine Jim.
There was amazingly little damage done to the submerged machinery, and
when the last bit of iron was unloaded on the bank, the years which had
come upon Bruce in the weeks of strain and tension seemed to roll away.
Unless some fresh calamity happened, by September, surely, they would be
Now, as Bruce changed the lumber from the raw spot on his right shoulder
to the raw spot on his left shoulder he was wondering how much more of a
chance was due Jennings, how much longer he could hold his tongue. A
more extended acquaintance with his "practical man" had taught him how
easily a virtue may become a fault.
In his insistence upon solidity and exactitude he went beyond the point
of careful workmanship and became a putterer. He was the King of
Putterers. He could out-putter a plumber. And when he had finished it
was usually some unimportant piece of work that any man who handled
tools could have done as well in half the time.
Bruce had a favorite bush, thick, and a safe distance from the work,
behind which it was his wont to retire at such times as the sight of
Jennings puttering while the crew under him stood idle, became too much
for Bruce's nerves:
"He'd break the Bank of England!" Bruce would exclaim in a vehement
whisper behind the bush. "If he'd been on the pay-roll of Rameses II,
they'd have dug up his work intact. It's fierce! As sure as shooting I'm
going to run out of money."
Yet so long as Jennings was in charge, Bruce would not listen to
attacks upon him behind his back, and Jennings had succeeded in
antagonizing almost all the crew. With the same regularity that the sun
rose he and Woods, the carpenter, had their daily set-to, if over
nothing more important than the mislaying of a file or saw--no doubt
they were at it now.
Bruce sighed. It seemed eons ago that he had had time to watch the
kingfisher flying to his nest or the water-ousel ducking and teetering
sociably at his feet. They never came any more, neither they nor the
black bear to his service-berry bush and Old Felix had learned in one
bitter lesson how his confidence in man had been misplaced. Nothing came
any more but annoyances, trouble, and thinking of trouble. Bruce
wondered what was the matter with Toy. He had looked as grim and
forbidding at breakfast as a Chinese god of war.
But it was no time to speculate, with a load of lumber grinding into his
sore shoulder, so Bruce hurried on across the slippery foot-log and up a
steep pitch to see the carpenter charging through the brush brandishing
a saw as if it was a sabre.
"I want my 'time,'" he shouted when he saw Bruce. "Him or me has got to
quit. I won't work with that feller--I won't take orders from the likes
o' him! I never saw a man from Oregon yit that was worth the powder to
blow him up! Half-baked, no-account fakirs, the whole lot of 'em--allus
a hirin' for somethin' they cain't do! Middle West renegades! Poor white
trash! Oregon is the New Jersey of the Pacific coast; it's the Missoury
of the West. It ought to be throwed into some other state and its name
wiped off the map. That there Jennings has got the ear-marks of Oregon
printed on him like a governmint stamp. Every time I see that putterin'
web-foot's tracks in the dust it makes me hot. He don't know how to put
up this plant no mor'n I do and you'll find it out. If an Oregonian'd be
offered a job teachin' dead languages in a college he'd make a bluff at
doin' it if he couldn't write his own name. Why them 'web-feet'--"
"Just what in particular is the matter?" Bruce asked, as the carpenter
paused, not for want of verbal ammunition but because he was out of
"Matter!" panted Woods, "he's got us strainin' our life out puttin' up
them green four-by-eight's when they's no need. They'd carry a ocean
cable, them cross-arms would. Four-by-fives is big enough for all the
wire that'll be strung here. John Johnson jest fell out'n a tree a
liftin' and like to broke a lung."
"Do you feel sure that four-by-five's are strong enough?"
"Try it--that's all I ask."
"You'd better come back to work."
The carpenter hesitated.
"I don't like to quit when you need me, but," he waved the rip-saw in a
significant gesture, "if that Oregonian gives me any more back-talk I
aims to cut him up in chunks."
It was the first time Bruce had countermanded one of Jennings's orders
but now he backed Woods up. He had shared the carpenter's opinion that
four-by-five's were strong enough but he had said nothing, supposing
that Jennings was following precedent and knew what he was about. Woods,
too, had voiced a suspicion which kept rising in his mind as to whether
Jennings did know how to put up the machines. Was it possible that the
unimportant detail work which Jennings insisted upon doing personally in
order that it might be exactly right, was only a subterfuge to put off
as long as possible the day when the showdown must come? Was it in his
mind to draw his generous wages as long as he safely might then invent
some plausible excuse to quit?
Bruce was not a fool but neither was he apt to be suspicious of a person
he had no good reason to mistrust. He had made every allowance for
Jennings' slowness, but his bank account was rapidly reaching a stage
where, even if he would, he could no longer humor Jennings' mania for
solidity. Something had to move, and, taking Jennings aside, Bruce
told him so.
The look which darkened Jennings's face when his instructions to Woods
were countermanded surprised Bruce. It was more than chagrin, it
was--ugly. It prejudiced Bruce against him as all his puttering had
failed to do. The correctness or incorrectness of his contention
concerning the cross-arm seemed of less importance than the fact that
Bruce's interference had impaired his dignity--belittled him in the eyes
of the crew.
"Am I the constructin' ingineer, or ain't I? If I am, I'm entitled to
some respect." More than ever Jennings looked like a bear pouting in a
"What's your dignity got to do with it?" Bruce demanded. "I'm General
Manager, when it comes to that, and I've been packing cross-arms like a
mule. This is no time to talk about what's due you--get results. This
pay-roll can't go on forever, Jennings. There's an end. At this rate
it'll come quick. You know what the success of this proposition means to
me--my first, and, I beg of you don't putter any more; get busy and put
up those machines. You say that 50 horse-power motor has got to be
"One man can't work on that alone," Jennings interrupted in a surly
tone. "I can't do anything on it until that other electrician comes in."
"Get Smaltz to help you."
"Smaltz! What does he know. Him holding out for them four-be-five
cross-arms shows what he knows."
"Sometimes I think he knows a good deal more than he lets on."
"Don't you think it," Jennings sneered. "He don't know half as much as
he lets on. Jest one of them rovin' windjammers pickin' up a little
smatterin' here and there. Run a power-house in the Coeur d'Alenes.
Huh--what's that! This here feller that I got comin' is a 'lectrical
genius. He's worked with me on drudgers, and I know."
Glaring at the victorious carpenter who, being human, sent back a grin,
Jennings went to the power-house, mumbling to the last that
"four-be-five's" would never hold.
"I think I go now I think."
The old Chinaman at his elbow was dressed for travelling in a clean but
unironed shirt; and his shoes had been newly hobbed. His round, black
hat was pulled down purposefully as far as his ears would permit. All
his possessions were stuffed into his best overalls with the legs tied
around his waist and the pair of attached suspenders worn over his
shoulders so that at first glance he presented the startling appearance
of carrying a headless corpse pick-a-back.
Bruce looked at him in astonishment. He would as soon have thought of
thus suddenly losing his right arm.
The Chinaman's yellow face was impassive, his snuff-brown eyes quite
"I go now," he repeated.
"But Toy--" There are a special set of sensations which accompany the
announcement of the departure of cooks, Bruce felt distinctly when his
heart hit his boots. To be without a cook just now was more than an
annoyance--it was a tragedy--but mostly it was the Chinaman's
ingratitude that hurt.
"I go," was the stubborn answer.
Bruce knew the tone.
"All right--go," he answered coldly, "but first I want you to tell me
A flame of anger leaped into Toy's eyes; his whole face worked; he was
stirred to the centre of his being.
"She kick on me!" he hissed. "She say I no can cook!"
Instantly Bruce understood. Jennings's bride had been guilty of the one
unforgivable offense. His own eyes flashed.
"Tell her to keep out of the kitchen."
Toy shook his head.
"I no likee her; I no stay."
"Won't you stay if I ask you as a favor?"
The Chinaman reiterated in his stubborn monotone:
"She kick on my glub; I no likee her; I no stay."
"You're going to put me in an awful hole, Toy, if you go."
"She want my job, I think. All light--I no care."
Bruce knew him too well to argue. The Chinaman could see only one thing,
and that loomed colossal. He had been insulted; his dignity would not
permit him even to breathe under the same roof with a woman who said he
could not cook. He turned away abruptly and jogged down the trail with
the overalls stuffed with his possessions bobbing ludicrously on his
Heavy-hearted Bruce watched him go. If Toy had forgotten that he owed
him for his life he would not remind him, but he had thought that the
Chinaman's gratitude was deeper than this, although, it was true, he
never had thanked him or indicated in any way that he realized or
appreciated what Bruce had done. Nevertheless Bruce had believed that in
his way Toy was fond of him, that deep under his yellow skin there was
loyalty and a passive, undemonstrative affection. Obviously there was
none. He was no different from other Chinamen, it seemed--the white man
and his country were only means to an end.
Bruce would not have believed that anybody with oblique eyes and a
shingled queue could have hurt him so. Of the three men he had
befriended, two had turned the knife in him. He wondered cynically how
soon he would hear from Uncle Bill.