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

adhesive plaster.

"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

orange undergarment.

"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

ever see."

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

thing himself.

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

belligerent advance.

"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."