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What's the matter--sick?"

"Yah, ai baen hwick two days. Ai tank ai lack to hav doketer."

"All right, I'll send him up. What seems the matter?"

As they talked, Mrs. Field again chilled with the cold gray
comfortlessness of it all; to be sick in such a place! The strange
appearance of the man out of his grim corner was startling. She was glad
when they drove out into the woods again, where the clear sunshine fell,
and the pines stood against the blazing winter sky motionless as iron
trees. Her pleasure in the ride was growing less. To her delicate sense
this life was sordid, not picturesque. She wondered how Williams endured
it. They arrived at No. 8 just as the men were trailing down the road
to work after eating their dinner. Their gay-colored jackets of Mackinac
wool stood out like trumpet notes in the prevailing white and blue and
bronze green.

The boss and the scaler came out and met them, and after introductions
they went into the shanty to dinner. The cook was a deft young
Norwegian--a clean, quick, gentlemanly young fellow with a fine brown
mustache. He cleared a place for them at one end of the long table, and
they sat down.

It was a large camp, but much like the others. On the table were the
same cheap iron forks, the tin plates, and the small tin basins (for
tea) which made up the dinner set. Basins of brown sugar stood about.

"Good gracious! Do people still eat brown sugar? Why, I haven't seen any
of that for ages," cried Mrs. Field.

The stew was good and savory, and the bread fair. The tea was not all
clover, but it tasted of the tin. Mrs. Field said:

"Beef, beef, everywhere beef. One might suppose a menagerie of desert
animals ate here. Edward, we must make things more comfortable for our
men. They must have cups to drink out of; these basins are horrible."

It was humorous to the men, this housewifely suggestion.

"Oh, make it napkins, Allie!"

"You can laugh, but I sh'an't rest after seeing this. If you thought I
was going to say, 'Oh, how picturesque!' you're mistaken. I think it's
barbarous."

She was getting impatient of their patronizing laughter, as if she were
a child. They changed their manner to one of acquiescence, but thought
of her as a child just the same.

After dinner they all went out to see the crew working. It was the
biggest crew anywhere in the neighborhood, and they sat a long while and
watched the men at work. Ridgeley got out and hitched the team to a
tree, and took Field up to the skidway. Mrs. Field remained in the
sleigh, however.

Near her "the swamping team," a span of big deep-red oxen, came and went
among the green tops of the fallen pines. They crawled along their
trails in the snow like some strange machinery, and the boy in a blue
jacket moved almost as listlessly. Somewhere in the tangle of refuse
boughs the swampers' axes click-clocked, saws uttered their grating,
rhythmic snarl, and great trees at intervals shivered, groaned, and fell
with soft, rushing, cracking sweeps into the deep snow, and the swampers
swarmed upon them like Lilliputians attacking a giant enemy.

There was something splendid (though tragic) in the work, but the
thought of the homelessness of the men, their terrible beds, and their
long hours of toil oppressed the delicate and refined woman. She began
to take on culpability. She was partly in authority now, and this system
must be changed. She was deep in plans for change, in shanties and in
sleeping places, when the men returned.

Ridgeley was saying: "No, we control about thirty thousand acres of pine
as good as that. It ain't what it was twenty years ago, but it's worth
money, after all."

It was getting near to dark as they reached No. 6 again, and Ridgeley
drew up and helped them out and into the cook's shanty.

Mrs. Field was introduced to the cook, a short, rather sullen, but
intelligent man. He stood over the red-hot stove, laying great slices of
beef in a huge dripping-pan. He had a taffler or assistant in the person
of a half-grown boy, at whom he jerked rough orders like hunks of stove
wood. Some hit the boy and produced noticeable effects, others did not.

Meanwhile a triumphant sunset was making the west one splendor of purple
and orange and crimson, which came over the cool green rim of the pines
like the Valhalla March in Wagner.

Mrs. Field sat there in the dim room by the window, seeing that splendor
flush and fade, and thinking how dangerous it was to ask where one's
wealth comes from in the world. Outside, the voices of the men
thickened; they were dropping in by twos and fours, with teams and on
foot.

The assistant arranged the basins in rows, and put one of the iron forks
and knives on each side of each plate, and filled the sugar-basins and
dumped in the cold beans, and split the bread into slabs, and put small
pots of tea here and there ready for the hands of the men.

At last, when the big pans of toast, the big plates of beef, were placed
steaming on the table, the cook called Field and Ridgeley and said:

"Set right here at the end." He raised his arm to a ring which dangled
on a wire. "Now look out; you'll see 'em come sidewise." He jerked the
ring and disappeared into the kitchen.

There came shouts, trampling, laughter, and the door burst open and they
streamed in--Norwegians, French, half-breeds, dark-skinned fellows all
of them save the Norwegians. They came like a flood, but they fell
silent at sight of a woman, so beautiful and strange to them.

All words ceased. They sank into place beside the table with the thump
of falling sandbags. They were all in their shirt sleeves, but they were
cleanly washed, and the most of them had combed their hair; but they
seemed very wild and hairy to Mrs. Field. She looked at her husband and
Ridgeley with a grateful pleasure; it was so restful to have them on
each side of her.

The men ate like hungry dogs. They gorged in silence. Nothing was heard
but the clank of knives on tin plates, the drop of heavy plates of food,
and the occasional muttered words of some one asking for the bread and
the gravy.

As they ate they furtively looked with great curiosity and admiration
up at the dainty woman. Their eyes were bright and large, and gleamed
out of the obscure brown of their dimly lighted faces with savage
intensity--so it seemed to Mrs. Field, and she dropped her eyes upon her
plate.

Her husband and Ridgeley entered into conversation with those sitting
near. Ridgeley seemed on good terms with them all, and ventured a joke
or word, at which they laughed with terrific energy, and fell as
suddenly silent again.

As Mrs. Field looked up the second time she saw the dark, strange face
of Williams a few places down, and opposite her. His eyes were fixed on
her husband's hands with a singular intensity. Her eyes followed his,
and the beauty of her husband's hands came to her again with new force.
They were perfectly shaped, supple, warm-colored, and strong. Their
color and deftness stood out in vivid contrast to the heavy, brown,
cracked, and calloused pawlike hands of the men.

Why should Williams study her husband's hands? If he had looked at her
she would not have been surprised. The other men she could read. They
expressed either frank, simple admiration or furtive desire. But this
man looked at her husband, and his eyes fell often upon his own hands,
which trembled with fatigue. He handled his knife clumsily, and yet she
could see he, too, had a fine hand--a slender, powerful hand like that
people call an artist hand--a craftsmanlike hand.

He saw her looking at him, and he flashed one enigmatical glance into
her eyes, and rose to go out.

"How you getting on, Williams?" Ridgeley asked.

Williams resented his question. "Oh, I'm all right," he said sullenly.

The meal was all over in an incredibly short time. One by one, two by
two, they rose heavily and lumbered out with one last wistful look at
Mrs. Field. She will never know how seraphic she seemed sitting there
amid those rough surroundings--the dim red light of the kerosene lamp
falling across her clear pallor, out of which her dark eyes shone with
liquid softness, made deeper and darker by her half-sorrowful tenderness
for these homeless fellows.

An hour later, as they were standing at the door, just ready to take to
their sleigh, they heard the scraping of a fiddle.

"Oh, some one is going to play!" Mrs. Field cried, with visions of the
rollicking good times she had heard so much about and of which she had
seen nothing so far. "Can't I look in?"

Ridgeley was dubious. "I'll go and see," he said, and entered the door.
"Boys, Mrs. Field wants to look in a minute. Go on with your fiddling,
Sam--only I wanted to see that you weren't sitting around in
dishabill."

This seemed a good joke, and they all howled and haw-hawed gleefully.

"So go right ahead with your evening prayers. All but--you understand!"

"All right, captain," said Sam, the man with the fiddle.

When Mrs. Field looked in, two men were furiously grinding axes; several
were sewing on ragged garments; all were smoking; some were dressing
chapped or bruised fingers. The atmosphere was horrible. The socks and
shirts were steaming above the huge stove; the smoke and stench for a
moment were sickening, but Ridgeley pushed them just inside the door.

"It's better out of the draught."

Sam jigged away on the violin. The men kept time with the cranks of the
grindstone, and all hands looked up with their best smile at Mrs. Field.
Most of them shrank a little from her look like shy animals.

Ridgeley threw open the window. "In the old days," he explained to Mrs.
Field, "we used a fireplace, and that kept the air better."

As her sense of smell became deadened the air seemed a little more
tolerable to Mrs. Field.

"Oh, we must change all this," she said. "It is horrible."

"Play us a tune," said Sam, extending the violin to Field. He did not
think Field could play. It was merely a shot in the dark on his part.

Field took it and looked at it and sounded it. On every side the men
turned face in eager expectancy.

"He can play, that feller."

"I'll bet he can.



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