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Carnac's Folly, Complete By Gilbert Parker Characters: 11029

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04

Many a man behind his horses' tails on the countryside has watched the wild reckless life of the water with wonder and admiration. He sees a cluster of logs gather and climb, and still gather and climb, and between him and that cluster is a rolling waste of timber, round and square.

Suddenly, a being with a red shirt, with loose prairie kind of hat, knee-boots, having metal clamps, strikes out from the shore, running on the tops of the moving logs till he reaches the jam. Then the pike-pole, or the lever, reaches the heart of the difficulty, and presently the jam breaks, and the logs go tumbling into the main, while the vicious-looking berserker of the water runs back to the shore over the logs, safe and sound. It is a marvel to the spectator, that men should manipulate the river so. To him it is a life apart; not belonging to the life he lives-a passing show.

It was a stark surprise of the river which makes this story possible. There was a strike at Bunder's Boom-as it was called-between Bunder and Grier's men. Some foreman of Grier's gang had been needlessly offensive. Bunder had been stupidly resentful. When Grier's men had tried to force his hand also, he had resisted. It chanced that, when an impasse seemed possible to be broken only by force, a telegram came to John Grier at Montreal telling him of the difficulty. He lost no time in making his way northwards.

But some one else had come upon the scene. It was Luke Tarboe. He had arrived at a moment when the Belloc river crowd had almost wrecked Bunder's Boom, and when a collision between the two gangs seemed inevitable. What he did remained a river legend. By good temper and adroitness, he reconciled the leaders of the two gangs; he bought the freedom of the river by a present to Bunder's daughter; he won Bunder by four bottles of "Three Star" brandy. When the police from a town a hundred miles away arrived at the same time as John Grier, it was to find the Grier and Belloc gangs peacefully prodding side by side.

When the police had gone, John Grier looked Tarboe up and down. The brown face, the clear, strong brown eyes and the brown hatless head rose up eighteen inches above his own, making a gallant summit to a robust stalk.

"Well, you've done easier things than that in your time, eh?" John Grier asked.

Tarboe nodded. "It was touch and go. I guess it was the hardest thing I ever tried since I've been working for you, but it's come off all right, hasn't it?" He waved a hand to the workmen on the river, to the tumbling rushes of logs and timber. Then he looked far up the stream, with hand shading his brown eyes to where a crib-or raft-was following the eager stream of logs. "It's easy going now," he added, and his face had a look of pleasure.

"What's your position, and what's your name?" asked John Grier.

"I'm head-foreman of the Skunk Nest's gang-that's this lot, and I got here-just in time! I don't believe you could have done it, Mr. Grier. No master is popular in the real sense with his men. I think they'd have turned you down. So it was lucky I came."

A faint smile hovered at his lips, and his eyes brooded upon the busy gangs of men. "Yes, I've had a lot of luck this time. There's nothing like keeping your head cool and your belly free from drink." Now he laughed broadly. "By gosh, it's all good! Do you know, Mr. Grier, I came out here a wreck eight years ago. I left Montreal then with a spot in my lungs, that would kill me, they said. I've never seen Montreal since, but I've had a good time out in the woods, in the shanties in the winters; on the rivers in the summer. I've only been as far East as this in eight years."

"What do you do in the winter, then?"

"Shanties-shanties all the time. In the summer this; in the Fall taking the men back to the shanties. Bossing the lot; doing it from love of the life that's been given back to me. Yes, this is the life that makes you take things easy. You don't get fussed out here. The job I had took a bit of doing, but it was done, and I'm lucky to have my boss see the end of it."

He smiled benignly upon John Grier. He knew he was valuable to the Grier organization; he knew that Grier had heard of him under another name. Now Grier had seen him, and he felt he would like to tell John Grier some things about the river he ought to know. He waved a hand declining the cigar offered him by his great chief.

"Thanks, I don't smoke, and I don't drink, and I don't chew; but I eat-by gosh, I eat! Nothing's so good as good food, except good reading."

"Good reading!" exclaimed John Grier. "Good reading-on the river!"

"Well, it's worked all right, and I read a lot. I get books from Montreal, from the old library at the University."

"At what University?" struck in the lumber-king. "Oh, Laval! I wouldn't go to McGill. I wanted to know French, so I went to Laval. There I came to know Father Labasse. He was a great man, Father Labasse. He helped me. I was there three years, and then was told I was going to die. It was Labasse who gave me this tip. He said, 'Go into the woods; put your teeth into the trees; eat the wild herbs, and don't come back till you feel well.' Well, I haven't gone back, and I'm not going back."

"What do you do with your wages?" asked the lumber-king.

"I bought land. I've got a farm of four hundred acres twenty miles from here. I've got a man on it working it."

"Does it pay?"

"Of course. Do you suppose I'd keep a farm that didn't pay?"

"Who runs it?


"A man that broke his leg on the river. One of Belloc's men. He knows all about farming. He brought his wife and three children up, and there he is-making money, and making the land good. I've made him a partner at last. When it's good enough by and by, I'll probably go and live there myself. Anybody ought to make farming a success, if there's water and proper wood and such things," he added.

There was silence for a few moments. Then John Grier looked Tarboe up and down sharply again, noting the splendid physique, the quizzical, mirth-provoking eye, and said: "I can give you a better job if you'll come to Montreal."

Tarboe shook his head. "Haven't had a sick day for eight years; I'm as hard as nails; I'm as strong as steel. I love this wild world of the woods and fields and-"

"And the shebangs and grog-shops and the dirty, drunken villages?" interrupted the old man.

"No, they don't count. I take them in, but they don't count."

"Didn't you have hard times when you first came?" asked John Grier. "Did you get right with the men from the start?"

"A little bit of care is a good thing in any life. I told them good stories, and they liked that. I used to make the stories up, and they liked that also. When I added some swear words they liked them all the better. I learned how to do it."

"Yes, I've heard of you, but not as Tarboe."

"You heard of me as Renton, eh?"

"Yes, as Renton. I wonder I never came across you till to-day."

"I kept out of your way; that was the reason. When you came north, I got farther into the backwoods."

"Are you absolutely straight, Tarboe?" asked John Grier eagerly. "Do you do these things in the Garden of Eden way, or can you run a bit crooked when it's worth while?"

"If I'd ever seen it worth while, I'd say so. I could run a bit crooked if I was fighting among the big ones, or if we were at war with-Belloc, eh!" A cloud came into the eyes of Tarboe. "If I was fighting Belloc, and he used a weapon to flay me from behind, I'd never turn my back on him!"

A grim smile came into Tarboe's face. His jaw set almost viciously, his eyes hardened. "You people don't play your game very well, Mr. Grier. I've seen a lot that wants changing."

"Why don't you change it, then?"

Tarboe laughed. "If I was boss like you, I'd change it, but I'm not, and I stick to my own job."

The old man came close to him, and steadily explored his face and eyes. "I've never met anybody like you before. You're the man can do things and won't do them."

"I didn't say that. I said what I meant-that good health is better than everything else in the world, and when you've got it, you should keep it, if you can. I'm going to keep mine."

"Well, keep it in Montreal," said John Grier. "There's a lot doing there worth while. Is fighting worth anything to one that's got aught in him? There's war for the big things. I believe in war." He waved a hand. "What's the difference between the kind of thing you've done to-day, and doing it with the Belloc gang-with the Folson gang-with the Longville gang-and all the rest? It's the same thing. I was like you when I was young. I could do things you've done to-day while I laid the base of what I've got. How old are you?"

"I'm thirty-almost thirty-one."

"You'll be just as well in Montreal to-morrow as you are here to-day, and you'd be twice as clever," said John Grier. His eyes seemed to pierce those of the younger man. "I like you," he continued, suddenly catching Tarboe's arm. "You're all right, and you wouldn't run straight simply because it was the straight thing to do."

Tarboe threw back his head and laughed and nodded. The old man's eyes twinkled. "By gracious, we're well met! I never was in a bigger hole in my life. One of my sons has left me. I bought him out, and he's joined my enemy Belloc."

"Yes, I know," remarked Tarboe.

"My other son, he's no good. He's as strong as a horse-but he's no good. He paints, he sculps. He doesn't care whether I give him money or not. He earns his living as he wants to earn it. When Fabian left me, I tried Carnac. I offered to take him in permanently. He tried it, but he wouldn't go on. He got out. He's twenty-six. The papers are beginning to talk about him. He doesn't care for that, except that it brings in cash for his statues and pictures. What's the good of painting and statuary, if you can't do the big things?"

"So you think the things you do are as big as the things that Shakespeare, or Tennyson, or Titian, or Van Dyck, or Watt, or Rodin do-or did?"

"Bigger-much bigger," was the reply.

The younger man smiled. "Well, that's the way to look at it, I suppose. Think the thing you do is better than what anybody else does, and you're well started."

"Come and do it too. You're the only man I've cottoned to in years. Come with me, and I'll give you twelve thousand dollars a year; and I'll take you into my business.-I'll give you the best chance you ever had. You've found your health; come back and keep it. Don't you long for the fight, for your finger at somebody's neck? That's what I felt when I was your age, and I did it, and I'm doing it, but I can't do it as I used to. My veins are leaking somewhere." A strange, sad, faded look came into his eyes. "I don't want my business to be broken by Belloc," he added. "Come and help me save it."

"By gosh, I will!" said the young man after a moment, with a sudden thirst in his throat and bite to his teeth. "By gum, yes, I'll go with you."

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