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The River-Boss
by [?]

“Obey orders if you break owners” is a good rule, but a really efficient river-boss knows a better. It runs, “Get the logs out. Get them out peaceably if you can, but get them out.” He does not need a field-telephone to headquarters to teach him how to live up to the spirit of this rule. That might involve headquarters.

Jimmy was such a river-boss. Therefore when Mr. Daly, of the firm of Morrison & Daly, unexpectedly contracted to deliver five million feet of logs on a certain date, and the logs an impossible number of miles up river, he called in Jimmy.

Jimmy was a small man, changeless as the Egyptian sphinx. A number of years ago a French comic journal published a series of sketches supposed to represent the Shah of Persia influenced by various emotions. Under each was an appropriate caption, such as Surprise, Grief, Anger, or Astonishment. The portraits were identically alike, and uniformly impassive.

Well, that was Jimmy. He looked always the same. His hair, thick and black, grew low on his forehead; his beard, thick and black, mounted over the ridge of his cheek-bones; and his eyebrows, thick and black, extended in an uninterrupted straight line from one temple to the other. Whatever his small, compact, muscular body might be doing, the mask of his black and white imperturbability remained always unchanged. Generally he sat clasping one knee, staring directly in front of him, and puffing regularly on a “meerschaum” pipe he had earned by saving the tags of Spearhead tobacco. Whatever you said to him sank without splash into this almost primal calm and was lost to your view forever. Perhaps after a time he might do something about it, but always without explanation, calmly, with the lofty inevitability of fate. In fact, he never explained himself, even to his employers.

Daly swung his bulk back and forth in the office chair. Jimmy sat bolt upright, his black hat pendant between his knees.

“I want you to take charge of the driving crew, Jimmy,” said the big man; “I want you to drive those logs down to our booms as fast as you can. I give you about twenty days. It ought to be done in that. Sanders will keep time for you, and Merrill will cook. You can get a pretty good crew from the East Branch, where the drive is just over.”

When Daly had quite finished his remarks, Jimmy got up and went out without a word. Two days later he and sixty men were breaking rollways forty-five miles up-stream.

Jimmy knew as well as Daly that the latter had given him a hard task. Twenty days was too brief a time. However, that was none of his business.

The logs, during the winter, had been piled in the bed of the stream. They extended over three miles of rollways. Jimmy and his crew began at the down-stream end to tumble the big piles into the current. Sometimes only two or three logs would rattle down; at others the whole deck would bulge outward, hover for a moment, and roar into the stream like grain from an elevator. Shortly the narrows below the rollways jammed. Twelve men were detailed as the jam crew. Their business was to keep the stream free in order that the constantly increasing supply from the rollways might not fill up the river. It was not an easy business, nor a very safe. As the “jam” strung out over more and more of the river, the jam crew was constantly recruited from the men on the rollways. Thus some of the logs, a very few, the luckiest, drifted into the dam pond at Grand Rapids within a few days; the bulk jammed and broke and jammed again at a point a few miles below the rollways, while a large proportion stranded, plugged, caught, and tangled at the very rollways themselves.