Fiction

DON’T CALL ME MISTER

The greenhorn teacher was too clumsy to sling hash so what chance did he have to make the grade as a logger?

ARTHUR MAYSE August 15 1948
Fiction

DON’T CALL ME MISTER

The greenhorn teacher was too clumsy to sling hash so what chance did he have to make the grade as a logger?

ARTHUR MAYSE August 15 1948

DON’T CALL ME MISTER

ARTHUR MAYSE

YOU’D think Kay Elliot would be surprised when I told her Mister Morgan, the schoolteacher, had come back to work on our claim for the summer, but she just said “Oh?” and started to make out another time sheet.

“He got off the Loggers’ Hearse at the beach camp this morning,” I said. “He’d been took in a blackjack game and he had an awful hang-over. That’s what Skyline Bill Hillier says, anyhow!”

“The word is taken, not took,” Kay Elliot said, “and you shouldn’t repeat gossip, Neis.”

Kay is a little thing with smooth black hair and a skin that doesn’t tan or even sunburn. She’s the only lady timekeeper in the Glory Hole country and my pop says she was born to be an old maid. But she used to like Mr. Morgan, even if he was an awful sissy.

I watched her adding overtime. After a spell I asked her, “How many Sundays in last month?”

She skipped her pencil from one line of figures to the next and said, “Four.”

“Well,” I told her, “you’ve just put that fireman down for five.”

Her pencil stopped for a second. The tips of her ears got pink, and I decided maybe she was more interested in Mr. Morgan being back in camp than she let on. But Kay just said, “Neis, shouldn’t you be in the commissary? The speeder will be up from the beach soon.”

“That’s what I’m waiting for,” I said. “I want to see what job they signed the schoolmarm out on.”

She didn’t take any more notice of me. I was still roosting on the edge of her desk when the big speeder we call the Galloping Goose rattled in. I’d expected Mr. Morgan to be riding in the cab, but he was outside with the new rigging men and section hands the hiring agency had sent up. Rain dripped off his hat and he was sneezing into a white handkerchief.

I watched him tramp in with his suitcase in one hand and a brand-new packsack on his shoulder. He’s tall and thin as one of those herons you see on the flats at low tide and even in town shoes his feet are big enough for two men and a boy. Maybe Skyline Bill Hillier had been laying it on when he said Mr. Morgan had a hang-over, but he sure did look miserable.

Kay Elliot didn’t pay him any attention till the rest of the new men had turned in their agency slips. Then she said, “Papers?” just as if she’d never seen him before in her life and he sneezed again into his handkerchief and fished in his pockets for the envelope.

Kay unfolded the blue slip and as she looked at it her face sort of stiffened. “Are you certain the agency hasn’t made a mistake?” she asked him

“Quite certain,” he told her.

“But this—” Kay said and it was the first time I ever saw her look flustered. “Surely you could have taken a job with more—more dignity!”

Standing in front of her desk, Mr. Morgan looked a lot different than he used to in our company school. It wouldn’t have surprised me a bit if he’d started to shuffle his feet.

“After all,” he said, “I worked my way through university as a waiter—”

“This isn’t university,” Kay fold him in a voice sharp as an icicle, “and they aren’t called waiters here.” She jabbed the blue slip onto her filing spike and said, “They’re called flunkies, Mr. Morgan. Go find the bedmaker. Then report to the cookhouse.”

SPARK CHASING is my regular summer job, but when there’s no fire hazard pop makes me help in the commissary. There weren’t any customers this time of day though, so I ducked out and headed across the siding for the train dispatcher’s shack where Mr. Morgan stayed when he was teaching school. He wasn’t there and I thought maybe he’d gone to get something for his cold. Then I saw him mooching along the catwalk that runs in front of the single men’s bunkhouses.

There were fourteen beds in the end bunkhouse. The boys who worked steady for the company had theirs rigged with shelves behind and girl pictures and calendars on the wall. Skyline Bill Hillier had a double deck of shelves and a blown-up photo of him tending hook on Side Seven, looking mighty big and important.

Number thirteen was the only bed not taken. Mr. Morgan hung his coat and hat behind it.

“Why aren’t you bunking at the dispatcher’s?” I asked him. “Why’d you sign on as a flunky? How come you’re back here anyhow, Mr. Morgan?” He took a leather shaving kit out of the suitcase and looked around for a place to put it. There wasn’t any, so he dropped it on the cot. What with his big ears and bony face, he looks kind of like Fred Astaire in the movies. He smiles the same way too, crooked and slow.

“I’ll deal with your questions in order,” he said. “First, Neis, I came back to be a logger, not a teacher. As such I belong down here. Second, the only job open to me was as a waiter—a flunky. Third, I wish to recover my self-respect.” His paleblue eyes started to water and he gave a sneeze that near lifted the top off his head. Then he said, “Have I made my situation clear?”

“No,” I told him. “Flunkying isn’t logging and how would that make you feel different about yourself?”

“Miss Elliot raised the same point in her last letter,” he said. “She considers logging a low occupation.”

“She gets that from her old man,” I said. “He was Camp Three timekeeper till his stomach ulcers got too much for him. There never was a timekeeper didn’t hate loggers—my pop says it runs in their blood.”

Mr. Morgan took a new oilskin tobacco pouch out of his pocket and started rolling a cigarette. He said, “I wasn’t a success here as a teacher or an individual. Do you think you could fell me why?” I could tell him easy enough, but I didn’t like

to, maybe because I’d started feeling sorry for him. Still, he’d asked me and he was waiting for an answer.

“Remember your first day in camp?” I said. “How you were walking home from school ahead of us kids when a skeleton car started to roll? You remember how you ran over and tried to set the brake?”

He wasn’t doing so well with the cigarette—he’d torn the paper and lost most of his tobacco on the floor. “Yes,” IK* said. “1 remember distinctly. And painfully.”

“Okay,” I said. “Anyone in a logging camp can brake a car. Even the women in the married quarters can do that.”

“But I couldn’t,” Mr. Morgan said. His voice was quiet, as if he was thinking hard. “So I lost face with my pupils at, the start. Is t hat it ?”

“Not just with the kids,” I told him. “It got all over camp how the brake handle knocked you down. Skyline Bill Hillier near put his jaw out laughing when he told Kay about it. that night.”

“I see,” Mr. Morgan said. “There were other occasions, I suppose.”

“Plenty,” I said. “You took too much sass in school for another thing.”

The greenhorn teacher was too clumsy to sling hash so what chance did he have to make the grade as a logger?

“What should I have done?” Mr. Morgan asked.

“What old Miss Perkins used to do,” I told him. “When we started cutting up, sent us out to trim a switch. Then there was the Saturday night you took Kay Elliot dancing and Skyline Bill horned in on you. You ought to have asked him outside. He’d have licked you, but no one would have thought worse of you.”

“I see,” Mr. Morgan said again, slow and thoughtful. “Thank you, Neis. You’ve confirmed what 1 already sus|>ected. I’ll ask you one more question. Do you think 1 can reinstate myself?”

“Not by flunkying, you can’t,” I said.

He unbuckled bis new packsack and hauled out a pair of calked boots. They were new like all his rigging, with twelve-inch tops and fancy fais»* tongues and the soles had the longest calks I ever did see. Long calks are fine on t in1 booms down at tidewater, but. in the woods they’ll break a man’s neck they pick up bark chunks and are worse ( han no nails at all.

But the way Mr. Morgan was smiling at me, 1 didn’t have the heart 'o tell him so. I just said, “You won’t have much use for boots in the cookhouse.”

“If I intended to stay in t la* cookhouse,” he said, “I wouldn’t; have spent twenty-five dollars on these.”

“No,” I said, “I guess not.” It was hard not to like the dude. I said, “I remember one flunky we had here. He was always dropping things. One day he dropped a platter of eggs at breakfast and poured a dish of hot stewed rhubarb over a t rainman’s head at dinner. Next morning he was working on the steel gang.”

Mr. Morgan chewed on that for a minute. Then he said, “I’ll remember that, Neis. Unethical . . . but effective.”

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'There was one other thing I wanted to find out. “Look,” I said, “did you really get took at blackjack on the boat and come ashore with a hang-over?” “The word is taken,” he told me.

I said, “If you’re fixing to be a logger the word is took.”

“I stand corrected again,” he said. “I was took. Do one thing for me, will you, Neis?”

“Maybe,” I said.

“My name is Jim. Don’t call me ‘mister.’ ”

“When people start calling you by your first name,” I said, “you’ll know you’ve made the grade, Mr. Morgan!”

NEXT DAY pop sent me back to spark chasing on Side Seven, where Skyline Bill Hillier tends hook. It was the kind of logging Bill likes—big stuff, mostly fir and he could keep the logs coming in to the skeleton cars at a highball clip. Skyline Bill is a big, solid dude with curly red hair and a gold front tooth that shows most of the time in a grin.

He razzed me all the way out on the speeder about being just a fair-weather logger. But when the signalman threw his gloves away that afternoon and lit out for campsquawkingaboutspeed-up, Bill sent me in to blow whistles for the crew and I got over being sore at him.

I was squatting on a stump with the electric whistle bug in my fist when Skyline Bill flipped his gloves for a “stop.” T shot the signal to the engineer on the donkey and he slacked the lines. Bill and a couple of his chokermen started running; I looked where they were headed and there was Mr. Morgan picking himself out of the brush.

The seat was ripped out of his new blue denims and I could see he was wearing those cruisers with the oversize calks. Bill marched him up to my stump.

“Keep an eye on him, kid,” Bill told me. “Don’t for Pete’s sakes let him out of your shadow.” He flashed his gold tooth in a grin, and stared at Mr. Morgan. “Sehoolmarm,” he said, “the last dude tried that went south in a box. You’d betterstick to peelin’ spuds in the cookhouse—it’s safer!”

I waited till Bill had gone then I asked Mr. Morgan, “What kind of fix did you run yourself into this time?” He gave me a sickly smile. “It was nothing, really,” he said. “One of the wire ropes began to move as I was climbing over it.”

“The word is lines, not ropes,” I told him, wondering how anyone could be that much of a stump rancher and stay alive. “And if Bill hadn’t stopped the turn, that line would have tossed you higher than a kite.”

Things get around fast in a camp. By dinnertime everyone knew how Mr. Morgan had sashayed out while he was off duty to watch Side Seven logging and got the seat snagged out of his pants by the haulback. The boys ribbed him plenty, but he kept the smile pasted on his face while he clumped around in his white apron with grub from the kitchen.

He spilled a jug of milk that meal.

I tried to catch his eye, but he was mopping up the mess with his apron. When he straightened, he looked so innocent you’d have sworn it was just an accident.

He really did me proud next morning —tripped over his feet with a coffeepot in each hand. At suppertime he dropped a dish of peaches into Skyline Bill’s lap and knocked another jug of milk off the table as he grabbed for the dish. I noticed the cook watching him from the kitchen doorway with his

white hat tipped back. The cook was muttering to himself; about one more time, I figured, and the schoolmarn would be a cinch for the steel gang.

He wasn’t waiting on table next evening. I gobbled my supper and scooted off to his bunk house. He was all by himself there, sitting on his cot.

“It worked, eh?” I said, feeling pretty pleased with myself. Then I noticed he was packing his suitcase.

“Worked?” Mr. Morgan said. “I’m afraid I don’t understand.”

“You’ve stumble-footed yourself out of the cookhouse,” I said.

“And out of a job,” he told me. “I’ve been fired, Neis. I’m leaving on tonight’s steamer.”

I’d never once thought things would take that turn, even if he had been laying it on sort of thick.

“I guess maybe you overdid it,” I said, not feeling quite so smart.

“Overdid it?” He sounded puzzled. “I assure you, it was a sheer accident.” “What was?” I asked him, just as puzzled as he was by this time.

“My dropping half a pig on the cook’s head while we were unloading the—uh—mulligan car.”

“Those other things that happened to you,” I said. “Were they all accidents too?”

“Of course,” he said. “Your advice was well-meant, Neis, but I couldn’t bring myself to take it.”

“You didn’t need it,” I told him. “I can see that now, Mr. Morgan!”

I still thought I might be able to fix things. My mother is real fond of Kay Elliot. She says Kay is the most ladylike girl in camp and I figured if Kay asked her, ma would go to work on pop and coax him to give Mr. Morgan another chance. But Kay wouldn’t even talk about him and when the speeder headed down from the beach, Mr. Morgan was on her.

You can bet Skyline Bill Hillier was on hand to see him leave. I guess the last thing Mr. Morgan heard was Bill braying at him from the porch of the timekeeper’s shack.

ANYBODY would swear Skyline jTm. Bill was getting paid by the board foot, the way he lit into his job. Pop is all the time saying we’ll be scraping Bill out of the slash some day, but speed-crazy or not, he’s still the best hooker on our claim. He’d got a new signalman, so he shooed me back to chasing sparks and we were so busy 1 didn’t have time to even think about the sehoolmarm.

Monday noon, Bill sent me over to the spring by Branch Three for drinking water. I’d filled one of the crew’s canvas bags and was starting on the other when the brush crackled behind me and someone said, “Hello, Neis.”

I twisted around. Even when I saw those outsize calk boots and him standing in them, I couldn’t quite believe it.

“For Pete’s sake!” I said. “What the heck are you doing back here?”

“At the moment, “Mr. Morgan said, “I’m employed on the steel gang, helping lay a new railway spur.”

“But you were sent down,” I said. “That was my understanding too,” he said, “but the day after I reached the city, I was recalled.” He gave me his pleasant, slow grin and said, “So here 1 am again and I must say I regard this job as a promotion.”

“Well,” I said, “you sure can take it. I hope your luck is better this time, Mr. Morgan.”

I finished filling the water bag. When I pulled out, he was slopping water into a bucket. I was glad I’d got there first-—the steel gang was going to have plenty of mud with their coffee.

It didn’t make sense to me and pop couldn’t dope it out either. He

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grumbled about what’d happen if he pushed a camp the way those numbskulls ran the hiring agency, but he let Mr. Morgan stay on.

He lasted almost a week this time. Then a handcar got loose from him and banged down the spur till she hopped the tracks and made the powdermonkey’s horse run away with five cases of explosives blasting on the sled. That was after Mr. Morgan had already nearly derailed our Four-Spot locomotive by leaving a switch open and dropped a sledge on the steel-gang straw boss’ foot.

Skyline Bill Hillier thought it was the best joke he’d run into for a coon’s age. He even argued with pop to keep Mr. Morgan around just for laughs, but pop wasn’t in any joking mood.

“Can’t do it, Bill,” he said and frowned down at the grade. “That long-eared stump rancher has ten toes on each foot and the Lord must have rigged him with his hands turned backwards. He’s worse to have around than all the plagues of Egypt.”

He slapped his gloves a couple of times on his leg, the way he does when he has to say something he doesn’t much want to. Then he said, “Bill, you know I let a man do his job as best he can. But Fve been thinking you ought to take yours a mite easier. Way you’ve been cracking the whip on Side Seven, men will soon be thinking twice before they sign for Salmon River. It does a camp no good to get that sort of reputation.”

“Sure,” Bill told him. “I’ll ease up on ’em, Bergman, if you want it that way.”

He didn’t, though. I think in spite of what pop had told him, he still thought the best way to get ahead was to snake the logs out faster than any other hook tender in the country. The very next day, two of his chokermen hauled off their gloves and beat it down the grade.

That night I went down to watch the Loggers’ Hearse come in. There was Mr. Morgan, stumbling over his feet down the gangplank. This time, darn if the agency hadn’t sent him up as a chokerman!

If pop had been there, he’d have chased Mr. Morgan right back onto the steamer. As it was, pop didn’t even know he was on the claim till after breakfast next morning, when Kay Elliot had already made out a new time sheet for him.

What with Side Seven being shorthanded again, pop was fit to blow his safety valve anyway. He said short and sharp to Skyline Bill Hillier “If those pen-pushers wish him off on me once more, so help me, I’ll go down myself and beat their skulls in with a chair leg. But since he’s here, I guess we have to let him work out his fare. Bill, I’m making you a present of him. Take him away.”

Bill started to holler, but pop just said, “When I warn a man about speedup I expect him to heed me. Anyway, you like a joke, so here’s one for you.” He tramped back toward the office, chewing on his big cornsilk-colored mustache and looking happier than he had since those Side Seven chokermen walked off. As the speeder started up, I saw Kay Elliot watching us from the timekeeper’s shack. She was wearing new green slacks and it seemed to me she was smiling.

“Listen, Kid,” Skyline Bill said in my ear, “I can’t put the schoolmarm where he has to touch rigging. It’d be murder. How about letting him chase sparks while you shoot signals again? liven that hayfoot can’t get himself hurt sitting on a stump with a bucket!”

I could toll from his voice he was mad as blazes. That wasn't so good, because when Bill gets mad he’s even more

reckless than usual, and when a hooker takes chances on a show like we were on, a lot of things can go haywire.

SKYLINE Bill kept the logs kiting in from the pile so fast that my fingers got cramps from squeezing the whistle bug and by lunchtime we’d had to signal twice for more empty cars.

The pile we were yarding from was the biggest on the spur, pretty near three thousand logs in her. She was built high with a down-grade lean and I knew just by the way our old donkey engineer kept squinting at her while he drank his coffee that he didn’t like the look of her any better than the rest of us did. But that was the hook-tender’s worry and we kept our mouths shut.

All except Mr. Morgan, who was sitting beside me with his lunch in his lap. After a while he said in his mild voice, “I don’t pretend to know anything about logging, of course. But I’ve always understood that one can’t undercut the base of a pyramid indefinitely.”

The engineer lifted his nose out of his coffee. “What he means in English,” he said to Skyline Bill, “is if you keep hauling logs off the face of that pile, she’s coming down on your fool head.” “Like the devil she is,” Bill told him. Our rigging slinger said, “Like the devil she ain’t!” He threw his coffee can into the slash and his gloves after it. “She can land on your head, mister. Not on mine!”

He started in to get his time. For a minute I thought Bill would take after him down the grade. Then he turned on Mr. Morgan and his face was near as red as his hair.

“Look,” he said. “You’re here for one thing. That’s to chase sparks Before you start tellin’ me how to rur my job, better learn to keep your feel untangled.”

He jammed his hat on the back of hi; head and tramped off.

I could feel trouble coming, right in my bones. Maybe Skyline Bill hadn’t taken any heed of what Mr. Morgan said about undercutting a pyramid. All the same, though, I noticed when we went back to work that he was giving his chokermen more time to get in the clear. Even at that, we were blowing for empties again by three o’clock and the boys’ tongues were near hanging out from the heat and the highball pace.

Away down the spur, I saw sunlight flashing on the Galloping Goose’s tin cab. That would be pop coming up on his rounds. Right away I started to feel better. When pop saw how Skyline Bill was throwing the rigging around, he’d straighten him out soon enough!

There was someone in the speeder cab with pop, but at that distance I couldn’t make out who it was. Still with my head turned, I heard Bill yell “go ahead” and squeezed my whistle bug. The mainline flipped tight. There was a low, long groan from the pile. Bill shot me a “stop” and I clicked the bug almost before he yelped. But the logs kept right on coming and other logs were rolling and shifting above them. From where I stood, it looked like the whole pile was fixing to let go.

There was only one quick way off that pile—along a timber stick that slanted into the slash. The chokermen were running down it. Bill crouched to the side, letting them get first into the clear. The fourth man was barely off when the timber stick rolled and tilted and the logs above spilled over.

Skyline Bill did the only thing a guy can do when he can’t run and a mess of forty-foot logs are dropping on himHe jumped feet first into a hole in the pile.

The logs stopped rolling and the bark dust settled. We picked ourselves from

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behind the stumps and wherever else we’d dived for shelter and waited to see if Bill would come crawling out, or at least sound off to let us know he was alive. But there was only the wind in the green timber across the valley and now and then a rumble from the pile as more logs stirred.

“Well, boys,” one of the chokermen said real solemn and slow, with his hat in his hand, “It’s a lesson to us all. It shows what happens when a dude gets highball-happy.”

Mr. Morgan said, “I feel we should try to recover him.”

The chokerman spat, then looked at Mr. Morgan where he stood on a down sapling, skinny and tall, with his big sunburned ears sticking out on either side of the blue bandanna he’d tied around his hair.

“Okay, schoolmarm,” the chokerman said. “You recover him.”

That timber stick the boys had run down was standing almost on end now. Mr. Morgan stumbled toward it. When he got to it, he pried the bark chunks off his boot soles, then flopped his long arms as far around the stick as they’d go and started to climb. His knees stuck out like a grasshopper’s and his feet were turned edgeways and those long calks we’d laughed at took him up almost as good as a high-rigger’s irons. But every yard he made, the pile let loose with another rumble.

He shinnied clear to the top of the stick, then squinted around.

“I see him!” he shouted down to us. “He’s directly below me. 1 think—” But he didn’t have a chance to tell us what he thought, because the timber stick made a jiggly half roll and he tumbled into the hole after Skyline Bill.

I HEARD one gosh-awful squall from away down inside the pile. Right behind me, someone screamed kind of like a soprano echo. It was Kay Elliot. She’d ripped a leg out of her new green slacks running through the brush. Her eyes were round and she had both hands to her mouth and she didn’t look like she was even related to our ladylike old-maid timekeeper.

Pop must have brought her out with him on the speeder, because 1 could hear him cussing his way toward us. “It's all my fault,” Kay whispered in

a shaky voice. “I’m to blame. Oh, I’ve killed him!”

“You?” I said. “You didn’t have a thing to do with it.”

“That’s what you think!” Pop snapped at me. His face was red and lie was all out of puff, but he still had wind enough to holler, “All right. Don’t stand gawking. Get a line down to them.”

But before anyone could do anything, there was a stir right at the base of the pile and a head poked from between the logs like a mouse’s out of its hole.

“If someone will just give me a little assistance,” Mr. Morgan called to us.

Pop ran over and hauled him out through the slot between the logs, then reached in again and skidded Skyline Bill through by the scruff of his neck.

“There was a tunnel of sorts among the lower logs,” Mr. Morgan told us in his mild voice. “I was able to drag him along it . . . Why, Miss Elliot! I didn’t expect to see you here.”

“You’re all right, Jim?” she asked him, quavery and anxious. “You aren’t hurt?”

“Of course not,” he told her and limped over and patted her shoulder. “Minor contusions and a sprained thumb only, my dear.”

The pile gave another long groan. More logs spilled off the top. The whole shebang seemed to settle and I saw the gap pop had dragged them through close so you couldn’t have slid a sheet of paper between the sticks.

“Some fools are born lucky,” pop said and wiped the sweat off his forehead.

Skyline Bill was groaning too, where they’d laid him on the ground. He had a lump on his head and he’d lost his gold front tooth, but he didn’t look to he hurt except for that. But he kept saying, “Not on my hack, boys . . . not on my back. Roll me over!”

“You keep still till the doc gets here,” pop told him.

“1 can’t,” Bill said between groans. “That farmer landed on me from twenty foot up. He countersunk them widow-makin’ calks of his in my seat!” Pop told the chokermen, “Turn him over.” He told Bill, “You’ve been needing a set of calks planted there for quite some time. 1 call it a judgment on you.”

Mr. Morgan was patting Kay’s back now and she was crying against his shoulder. Pop stared at them and growled into his mustache, “What I get for hiring a woman!”

“What happened, pop?” I asked him. “What’d she do?”

“Do?” Pop said. “Every time I canned him, she phoned an order down to the agency hiring him hack.”

“Because she wanted him to be a logger?” I asked.

“Because she didn’t.” Pop ran a hand through what’s left of his hair. “She wanted him (o go to summer school at the university like he’d planned and get a couple more fancy letters after his name so she’d be marrying a doctor of something-orother. When he turned up here in spite of her, she figured she’d give him such a taste of logging he’d never want to see the woods again.”

“He’s okay,” I said. “I guess he’s sort of a hero, saving Skyline Bill’s life like that, eh?”

Pop grunted and tugged at his mustache so I wouldn’t see he was grinning. “Probably just another accident, Neis,” he said. He called to Mr. Morgan, “Jim, you can comfort her on your own time. You’re still on the company’s.”

The queer, happy look on Mr. Morgan’s face puzzled me. Then all of a sudden I got it. My pop had called him by his first name. ★