The General Manager
: The Man From The Bitter Roots
Jennings and Woods were now sworn enemies and the stringing of the wires
became a matter of intense interest, as this was the test which would
prove the truth or fallacy of Jennings' cantankerous harping that the
cross-arms were too light.
In isolated camps where there is no outside diversion such tests of
opinion become momentous matters, and the present instance was no
exception. Mrs. Jennings, too, had
taken sides--her husband's,
naturally--and the anti-Jennings faction was made to realize fully the
possibilities for revenge which lie within the jurisdiction of the cook.
The alacrity with which Jennings's bride stepped into Toy's shoes
convinced Bruce that the Chinaman had been correct in his assertion, but
he was helpless in the circumstances, and accepted the inevitable, being
able for the first time to understand why there are wife-beaters.
Jennings had opined that his bride was "lasty." She looked it. "Bertha"
stood six feet in her moccasins and lifted a sack of flour as the weaker
of her sex toy with a fan. She had an undershot jaw and a nose so
retrousse that the crew asserted it was possible to observe the
convolutions of her brain and see what she had planned for the next
meal. Be that as it may, Bertha had them cowed to a man, with the
possible exception of Porcupine Jim, whose hide no mere sarcasm could
penetrate. There was general envy of the temerity which enabled Jim to
ask for more biscuits when the plate was empty. Even Smaltz shrank
involuntarily when she came toward him with her mouth on the bias and a
look in her deep-set eyes which said that she would as soon, or sooner,
pour the steaming contents of the coffee-pot down the back of his neck
than in his cup, while Woods averred that "Doc" Tanner who fasted forty
days didn't have anything on him.
Nobody but Jennings shared Bertha's hallucination that she could cook,
and he was the recipient of special dishes, such delicacies as
cup-custard, and toast. This in no wise added to Jennings's popularity
with the crew and when Bruce suggested as much to the unblushing bride
she told him, with arms akimbo and her heels well planted some three
feet apart, that if they "didn't like it let 'em come and tell her so."
Bertha was looking like a gargoyle when the men filed in for supper the
night before the stringing of the wires was to begin. The fact that men
antagonistic to her husband dared walk in before her eyes and eat,
seemed like bravado, a challenge, and filled her with such black
resentment that Bruce trembled for the carpenter when she hovered over
him like a Fury, with a platter of bacon.
Woods, too, felt his peril, and intrepid soul though he was, seemed to
contract, withdraw like a turtle into his flannel collar, as though
already he felt the sizzling grease on his unprotected pate.
Conversation was at a standstill in the atmosphere charged with Bertha's
disapproval. Only Porcupine Jim, quite unconscious, unabashed, heaped
his plate and ate with all the loud abandon of a Berkshire Red.
Emboldened by the pangs of hunger a long way from satisfied, John
Johnson tried to "palm" a fourth biscuit while surreptitiously reaching
for a third. Unfortunately John was not sufficiently practised in the
art of legerdemain and the biscuit slipped from his fingers. It fell off
the table and rolled like a cartwheel to Bertha's feet.
"Shan't I bring you in the shovel, Mr. Johnson?" she inquired in a tone
of deadly politeness as she polished the biscuit on her lip and returned
it to the plate.
John's ears flamed, also his neck and face. The honest Swede looked like
a sheep-killing dog caught in the act. He dared not answer, and she
"There's three apiece."
"Mrs. Jennings, I haven't put the camp on half-rations yet." Bruce was
mutinous at last.
The bride drew herself up and reared back from the waist-line until she
looked all of seven feet tall. The row of short locks that hung down
like a row of fish-hooks beneath a knob of black hair seemed to stand
out straight and the window rattled in its casing as she swarmed down on
"Look a here, young feller, I don't need no boss to tell me how much to
Jennings protested mildly:
"Now don't you go and git upset, Babe."
"Babe" turned upon him savagely:
"And don't you go to takin' sides! I'm used to livin' good an' when I
think what I give up to come down here to this hole--"
"I know 'taint what you're used to," Jennings agreed in a conciliatory
Smaltz took this occasion to ostentatiously inspect a confection the
upper and lower crusts of which stuck together like two pieces of
"Looks like somebudy's been high-gradin' this here pie."
The criticism might have touched even a mild-tempered cook; it made a
demon of Bertha. She started around the table with the obvious intention
of doing Smaltz bodily harm, but at the moment, Porcupine Jim, whose
roving eye had been searching the table for more food, lighted upon one
of the special dishes set before Jennings' plate.
It looked like rice pudding with raisins in it! If there was one
delicacy which appealed to James's palate more than another it was rice
pudding with raisins in it. He arose from the bench in all the pristine
splendor of the orange-colored cotton undershirt in which he worked and
dined, and reached for the pudding. It was a considerable distance and
he was unable to reach it by merely stretching himself over the table,
so James, unhampered by the rules of etiquette prescribed by a finical
Society, put his knee on the table and buried his thumb in the pudding
as he dragged it toward him by the rim.
Without warning he sat down so hard and so suddenly that his feet flew
up and kicked the table underneath.
"Leggo!" he gurgled.
For answer Bertha took another twist around the stout neck-band of his
"I'll learn you rough-necks some manners!" she panted. "I'll git the
respect that's comin' to a lady if I have to clean out this here camp!"
"You quit, now!" He rolled a pair of wild, beseeching eyes around the
table. "Somebudy take her off!"
"Coward--to fight a woman!" She fell back with a section of James's
shirt in one hand, with the other reaching for his hair.
He clapped the crook of his elbow over his ear and started to slide
under the table when the special Providence that looks after Swedes
intervened. A long, plump, shining bull-snake took that particular
moment to slip off one of the log beams and bounce on the bride's head.
She threw herself on Jennings emitting sounds like forty catamounts tied
in a bag. The flying crew jammed in the doorway, burst through and never
stopped to look behind until they were well outside.
"Hy-sterics," said the carpenter who was married--"she's took a fit."
"Hydrophoby--she must a bit herself!" Porcupine Jim was vigorously
massaging his neck.
The bride was sitting on the floor beating her heels, when Bruce put his
head in the door cautiously:
"If there's anything I can do--"
Bertha renewed her screams at sight of him.
"They is--" she shrieked--"Git out!"
"You don't want to go near 'em when they're in a tantrum," advised the
carpenter in an experienced tone. "But that's about the hardest one I
Jennings, staggering manfully under his burden, bore the hysterical
Amazon to her tent and it remained for Bruce to do her work.
"That's a devil of a job for a General Manager," commented John Johnson
sympathetically, as he stood in the doorway watching Bruce, with his
sleeves rolled up, scraping assiduously at the bottom of a frying-pan.
Bruce smiled grimly but made no reply. He had been thinking the same
Bruce often had watched an ant trying to move a bread-crumb many times
its size, pushing with all its feet braced, rushing it with its head,
backing off and considering and going at it again. Failing, running
frantically around in front to drag and pull and tug. Trying it this way
and that, stopping to rest for an instant then tackling it in fresh
frenzy--and getting nowhere, until, out of pity, he gave it a lift.
Bruce felt that this power-plant was his bread-crumb, and tug and push
and struggle as he would he could not make it budge. The thought, too,
was becoming a conviction that Jennings, who should have helped him
push, was riding on the other side.
"I wouldn't even mind his riding," Bruce said to himself ironically, "if
he wouldn't drag his feet."
He was hoping with all his heart that the much discussed cross-arms
would hold, for when the wires were up and stretched across the river he
would feel that the bread-crumb had at least moved.
When Bruce crossed to the work the next morning, the "come-along" was
clamped to the transmission wire and hooked to the block-and-tackle.
Naturally Jennings had charge of the stretching of the wire and he
selected Smaltz as his assistant.
All the crew, intensely interested in the test, stood around as
Jennings, taciturn and sour and addressing no one but Smaltz, puttered
about his preparations.
Finally he cried:
The wire tightened and the slack disappeared under Smaltz's steady pull.
The carpenter and the crew watched the cross-arm anxiously as the strain
came upon it under the taut wire. Their faces brightened as it held.
Smaltz looked at Jennings quizzically.
"You ain't heard me tell you yet to stop," was the snarling answer.
"Here goes, then." Smaltz's face wore an expressive grin as he put his
strength on the rope of the block-and-tackle, which gave him the pull of
a four-horse team.
Bruce heard the cross-arm splinter as he came up the trail through the
Jennings turned to Woods and said offensively:
"Old as you are, I guess I kin learn you somethin' yet."
The carpenter's face had turned white. With a gesture Bruce stopped his
"Try the next one, Jennings," he said quietly.
Once more the slack was taken up and the wire grew taut--so taut it
would have twanged like a fiddle-string if it had been struck. Jennings
did not give Smaltz the sign to stop even when the cross-arm cracked.
Without a word of protest Bruce watched the stout four-by-five splinter
and drop off.
"There--you see--I told you so! I knowed!" Jennings looked triumphantly
at the carpenter as he spoke. Then, turning to the crew: "Knock 'em
off--every one. Now I'll do it right!"
Not a man moved and for an instant Bruce dared not trust himself to
speak. When he did speak it was in a tone that made Jennings look up
"You'll come across the river and get your time." His surprise was
genuine as Bruce went on--"Do you imagine," he asked savagely, trying to
steady his voice, "that I haven't intelligence enough to know that
you've got to allow for the swaying of the trees in the wind, for the
contraction and expansion of heat and cold, for the weight of snow and
sleet? Do you think I haven't brains enough to see when you're
deliberately destroying another man's work? I've been trying to make
myself believe in you--believe that in spite of your faults you were
honest. Now I know that you've been drawing pay for months for work you
don't know how to do. I can't see any difference between you and any
common thief who takes what doesn't belong to him. Right here you quit!
Vamoose!" Bruce made a sweeping gesture--"You go up that hill as quick
as the Lord will let you."