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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Doctor: A Tale Of The Rockies - Chapter 8. Ben's Gang
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The Doctor: A Tale Of The Rockies - Chapter 8. Ben's Gang Post by :angiecook Category :Long Stories Author :Ralph Connor Date :May 2012 Read :868

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The Doctor: A Tale Of The Rockies - Chapter 8. Ben's Gang

CHAPTER VIII. BEN'S GANG

The harvest time in Ontario is ever a season of delightful rush and bustle. The fall wheat follows hard upon the haying, and close upon the fall wheat comes the barley, then the oats and the rest of the spring grain.

It was this year to be a more than usually busy time for the Boyle boys. They had a common purse, and out of that purse the payments on the mortgage must be met, as well as Dick's college expenses. For the little farm, with the profits from the mill, could do little more than provide a living for the family. Ordinarily the lads worked for day's wages, the farmers gladly paying the highest going, for the boys were famous binders and good workers generally. This year, however, they had in mind something more ambitious.

"Mother," said Dick, "did you hear of the new harvesting gang?"

"And who might they be?" asked his mother, always on the lookout for some nonsense from her younger son.

"Boyle and Fallows--or Fallows and Boyle, I guess it will be. Ben's starting with us Monday morning."

"Nonsense, laddie. There will be no reaping for Ben this year, I doubt, poor fellow; and, besides, I will be needing him for myself."

"Yes. But I am in earnest, mother. Ben is to drive the reaper for us. He can sit on the reaper half a day, you know. At least, his doctor here says so. And he will keep us busy."

"If I cawn't keep the two of you a-humpin', though you are some pumpkins at bindin', I hain't worth my feed."

"But, Barney," remonstrated his mother, "is he fit to go about that machine? Something might happen the lad."

"I don't think there is any danger, mother. And, besides, we will be at hand all the time."

"And what will two lads like you do following the machine all day? You will only be hurting yourselves."

"You watch us, mother," cried Dick. "We'll be after Ben like a dog after a coon."

"Indeed," said his mother. "I have heard that it takes four good men to keep up to a machine. It was no later than yesterday that Mr. Morrison's Sam was telling me that they had all they could do to follow up, the whole four of them."

"Huh!" grunted Dick scornfully, "I suppose so. Four like Fatty Morrison and that gang of his!"

"Hush, laddie. It is not good to be speaking ill of your neighbours," said his mother.

"It's not speaking ill to say that a man is fat. It's a very fine compliment, mother. Only wish someone could say the same of me."

"Indeed, and you would be the better of it," replied his mother compassionately, "with your bones sticking through your skin!"

It was with the spring crop that Ben Fallows began his labours; and much elevated, indeed, was he at the prospect of entering into partnership with the Boyle boys, who were renowned for the very virtues which poor Ben consciously lacked and to which, in the new spirit that was waking in him, he was beginning to aspire. For the weeks spent under Barney's care and especially in the atmosphere of the Mill household had quickened in Ben new motives and new ambitions. This Barney had noticed, and it was for Ben's sake more than for their own that the boys had associated him with them in their venture of taking harvesting contracts. And as the summer went on they found no reason to regret the new arrangement. But it was at the expense of long days and hard days for the two boys following the reaper, and often when the day's work was done they could with difficulty draw their legs home and to bed. Indeed, there were nights when Dick, hardly the equal of his brother in weight and strength, lay sleepless from sheer exhaustion, while Barney from sympathy kept anxious vigil with him. Morning, however, found them stiff and sore, it is true, but full of courage and ready for the renewal of the long-drawn struggle which was winning for them not only very substantial financial profits, but also high fame as workers. The end of the harvest found them hard, tough, full of nerve and fit for any call within the limit of their powers. It was Ben who furnished the occasion of such a call being made upon them. A rainy day found him at the blacksmith shop with the Mill team waiting to be shod. The shop was full of horses and men. A rainy day was a harvest day for the blacksmith. All odd jobs allowed to accumulate during the fine weather were on that day brought to the shop.

Ben, with his crutch and his wooden leg, found himself the centre of a new interest and sympathy. In spite of the sympathy, however, there was a disposition to chaff poor Ben, whose temper was brittle, and whose tongue took on a keener edge as his temper became more uncertain. Withal, he had a little man's tendency to brag. To-day, however, though conscious of the new interest centring in him, and though visibly swollen with the importance of his new partnership with the Boyle boys, he was exhibiting a dignity and self-control quite unusual, and was, for that very reason, provocative of chaff more pungent than ordinary.

Chief among his tormenters was Sam Morrison, or "Fatty" Morrison, as he was colloquially designated. Sam was one of four sons of "Old King" Morrison, the richest and altogether most important farmer in the district. On this account Samuel was inclined to assume the blustering manners of his portly, pompous, but altogether good-natured father, the "Old King." But while bluster in the old man, who had gained the respect and esteem that success generally brings, was tolerated, in Sammy it became ridiculous and at times offensive. The young man had been entertaining the assembled group of farmers and farm lads with vivid descriptions of various achievements in the harvest field on the part of himself or some of the members of his distinguished family, the latest and most notable achievement being the "slashing down and tying up" of a ten-acre field of oats by the four of them, the "Old King" himself driving the reaper.

"Yes, sir!" shouted Sammy. "And Joe, he took the last sheaf right off that table! You bet!"

"How many of you?" asked Ben sharply.

"Just four," replied Sammy, turning quickly at Ben's unexpected question.

"How many shocking?" continued Ben, with a judicial air.

"Why, none, you blamed gander! An' kep' us humpin', too, you bet!"

"I guess so," grunted Ben, "from what I've seed."

Sam regarded him steadfastly. "And what have you 'seed,' Mr. Fallows, may I ask?" he inquired with fine scorn.

"Seed? Seed you bindin', of course."

"Well, what are ye hootin' about?" Sam was exceedingly wroth.

"I hain't been talking much for the last hour." In moments of excitement Ben became uncertain of his h's. "I used to talk more when I wasn't so busy, but I hain't been talkin' so much this 'ere 'arvest. We hain't had time. When we're on a job," continued Ben, as the crowd drew near to listen, "we hain't got time fer talkin', and when we're through we don't feel like it. We don't need, to."

A general laugh of approval followed Ben's words.

"You're right, Ben. You're a gang of hustlers," said Alec Murray. "There ain't much talkin' when you git a-goin'. But that's a pretty good day's work, Ben, ten acres."

Ben gave a snort. "Yes. Not a bad day's work fer two men." He had no love for any of the Morrisons, whose near neighbours he was and at whose hands he had suffered many things.

"Two men!" shouted Sammy. "Your gang, I suppose you mean."

Suddenly Ben's self-control vanished. "Yes, by the jumpin' Jemima!" he cried, facing suddenly upon Sam. "Them's the two, if yeh want to know. Them's binders! They don't stop, at hevery corner to swap lies an' to see if it's goin' to ran. They keep a-workin', they do. They don't wait to cool hoff before they drink fer fear they git foundered, as if they was 'osses, like you fellers up on the west side line there." Ben threw his h's recklessly about. "You hain't no binders, you hain't. Yeh never seed any."

At this moment "King" Morrison himself entered the blacksmith shop.

"Hello, Ben! What's eatin' you?" he exclaimed.

Ben grew suddenly quiet. "Makin' a bloomin' hass of myself, I guess," he growled.

"What's up with Benny? He seems a little raised," said the "Old King," addressing the crowd generally.

"Oh, blowin' 'bout his harvestin' gang," said his son Sam.

"Well, you can do a little blowin' yourself, Sammy."

"Guess I came by it natcherly n'ough," said Sam. He stood in no awe of his father.

"Blowin's all right if you can back it up, Sammy. But what's the matter, Benny, my boy? We're all glad to see you about, an' more'n that, we're glad to hear of your good work this summer. But what are they doin' to you?"

"Doin' nothin'," broke in Sam, a little nettled at the "Old King's" kindly tone toward Ben. "He's blowin' round here to beat the band 'bout his gang."

"Well, Sam, he's got a right to blow, for they're two good workers."

"But they can't bind ten acres a day, as Ben blows about."

"Well, that would be a little strong," said the "Old King." "Why, it took my four boys a good day to tie up ten acres, Ben."

"I'm talkin' 'bout binders," said Ben, in what could hardly be called a respectful tone.

"Look here, Ben, no two men can bind ten acres in a day, so just quit yer blowin' an' talk sense."

"I'm talkin' 'bout binders," repeated Ben stubbornly.

"And I tell you, Ben," replied the "Old King," with emphasis, "your boys--and they're good boys, too--can't tie no ten acres in a day. They've got the chance of tryin' on that ten acres of wheat on my west fifty. If they can do it in a day they can have it."

"They wouldn't take it," answered Ben regretfully. "They can do it, fast enough."

Then the "Old King" quite lost patience. "Now, Ben, shut up! You're a blowhard! Why, I'd bet any man the whole field against $50 that it can't be done."

"I'll take you on that," said Alec Murray.

"What?" The "Old King" was nonplussed for a moment.

"I'll take that. But I guess you don't mean it."

But the "Old King" was too much of a sport to go back upon his offer. "It's big odds," he said. "But I'll stick to it. Though I want to tell you, there's nearer twelve acres than ten."

"I know the field," said Alec. "But I'm willing to risk it. The winner pays the wages. How long a day?" continued Alec.

"Quit at six."

"The best part of the day is after that."

"Make it eight, then," said the "Old King." "And we'll bring it off on Monday. We're thrashing that day, but the more the merrier."

"There's jest one thing," interposed Ben, "an' that is, the boys mustn't know about this."

"Why not?" said Alec. "They're dead game."

"Oh, Dick'd jump at it quick enough, but Barney wouldn't let 'im risk it. He's right careful of that boy."

After full discussion next Sabbath morning by those who were loitering, after their custom, in the churchyard waiting for the service to begin, it was generally agreed that the "Old King" with his usual shrewdness had "put his money on the winning horse." Even Alec Murray, though he kept a bold face, confided to his bosom friend, Rory Ross, that he "guessed his cake was dough, though they would make a pretty big stagger at it."

"If Dick only had Barney's weight," said Rory, "they would stand a better chance."

"Yes. But Dick tires quicker. An' he'll die before he drops."

"But ten acres, Alec! And there's more than ten acres in that field."

"I know. But it's standing nice, an' it's lighter on the knoll in the centre. If I can only get them goin' their best clip--I'll have to work it some way. I'll have to get Barney moving. Dick's such an ambitious little beggar he'd follow till he bust. The first thing," continued Alec, "is to get them a good early start. I'll have a talk with Ben."

As a result of his conversation with Ben it was hardly daylight on Monday morning when Mrs. Boyle, glancing at her clock, sprang at once from her bed and called her sons.

"You're late, Barney. It's nearly six, and you have to go to Morrison's to-day. Here's Ben with the horses fed."

"Why, mother, it's only five o'clock by my watch."

"No, it's six."

Upon comparison Ben's watch corresponded with the clock. Barney concluded something must be wrong and routed Dick up, and with such good purpose did they hasten through breakfast that in an hour from the time the boys were called they were standing in the field waiting for Ben to begin the day's work.

After they had been binding an hour Alec Murray appeared on the field. "I'm going to shock," he announced. "They've got men enough up at the thrashing, an' the 'Old King' wants to get this field in shock by to-morrow afternoon so he can get it thrashed, if you hustlers can get it down by then." Alec was apparently in great spirits. He brought with him into the field a breezy air of excitement.

"Here, Ben, don't take all day oiling up there. I guess I'm after you to-day, remember."

"Guess yeh'll wait till it's tied, won't yeh?" said Ben, who thoroughly understood Alec's game.

"Don't know 'bout that. I may have to jump in an' tie a few myself."

"Don't you fret yourself," replied Dick. "If you shock all that's tied to-day you'll need to hang your shirt on the fence at night."

"Keep cool, Dick, or you'll be leavin' Barney too far behind. You tie quicker than him, I hear."

"Oh, I don't know," said Dick modestly, though quite convinced in his own mind that he could.

"Dick's a little quicker, ain't he?" said Alec, turning to Barney.

"Oh, he's quick enough."

"Did you never have a tussle?" inquired Alec, snatching up a couple of sheaves in each arm and setting them in their places in the shock with a quick swing, then stepping off briskly for others.

"No," said Barney shortly.

"I guess he didn't want you to hurt yourself," he suggested cunningly to Dick. "When a fellow isn't very strong he's got to be careful." This was Dick's sensitive point. He was not content to do a man's work in the field, but he was miserable unless he took first place.

"Oh, he needn't be afraid of hurting me," he said, taking Alec's bait. "I've worked with him all harvest and I'm alive yet." Unconsciously Dick's pace quickened, and for the next few minutes Barney was left several sheaves behind.

"He's just foolin' with you, Dick," jeered Alec. "He wouldn't hurt you for the world."

Unconsciously by his hustling manner and by his sly suggestion of superiority now to one and again to the other, he put both boys upon their mettle, and before they were aware they were going at a racing pace, though neither would acknowledge that to the other. Alec kept following them close, almost running for his sheaves, flinging a word of encouragement now to one, now to the other, shouting at Ben as he turned the corners, and by every means possible keeping the excitement at the highest point. But he was careful not to overdrive his men. By a previous arrangement and without serious difficulty he had persuaded Teenie Ross, who had come to assist the Morrison girls at the threshing, to bring out a lunch to the field at ten o'clock. For half an hour they sat in the long grass in the shade of a maple tree eating the lunch which Dick at least was beginning to feel in need of. But not a minute more did Alec allow.

"I'm going to catch you fellows," he said, "if I've to take off my shirt to do it."

Dick was quick to respond and again set off at full speed. But the grain was heavier than Alec had counted upon, and when the noon hour had arrived he estimated that the grain was not more than one-third down. A full hour and a half he allowed his men for rest, cunningly drawing them off from the crowd of threshers to a quiet place in the orchard where they could lie down and sleep, waking them when time was up that there should be no loss of a single precious moment. As they were going out to the field Alec suggested that instead of coming back for supper at five, according to the usual custom, they should have it brought to them in the field.

"It's a long way up to the house," he explained, "and the days are getting short." And though the boys didn't take very kindly to the suggestion, neither would think of opposing it.

But in spite of all that Alec and Ben could do, when the threshers knocked off work for the day and sauntered down to the field where the reaping was going on, it looked as if the "Old King" were to win his bet.

"Keep out of this field!" yelled Alec, as the men drew near; "you're interferin' with our work. Come, get out!" For the boys had begun to take it easy and chatting with some of them.

"Get away from here, I tell you!" cried Alec. "You line up along the fence and we'll show you how this thing should be done!"

Realizing the fairness of his demand, the men retired from the field. The long shadows of the evening were falling across the field. The boys were both showing weariness at every step they took. Alec was at his wit's end. The grain was all cut, but there was still a large part of it to bind. He determined to take the boys into his confidence. He knew all the risk there was in this step. Barney might refuse to risk an injury to his brother. It was Alec's only chance, however, and walking over to the boys, he told them the issue at stake.

"Boys," he said, "I don't want you to hurt yourselves. I don't care a dern about the money. I'd like to beat 'Old King' Morrison and I'd like to see you make a record. You've done a big day's work already, and if you want to quit I won't say a word."

"Quit!" cried Dick in scorn, kindling at Alec's story. "What time have we left?"

"We have till eight o'clock. It's now just seven."

"Come on then, Barney!" cried Dick. "We're good for an hour, anyway."

"I don't know, Dick," said Barney, hesitating.

"Come along! I can stand it and I know you can." And off he set again at racing pace and making no attempt to hide it.

In half an hour there were still left them, taking two swaths apiece, the two long sides and the two short ends.

"You can't do it, boys," said Alec regretfully. "Let 'er go."

"Yes, boys," cried the "Old King," who, with the crowd, had drawn near, "you've done a big day's work. You'll hurt yourselves. You've earned double pay and you'll get it."

"Not yet," cried Dick. "We'll put in the half hour at any rate. Come on, Barney! Never mind your rake!"

His face looked pale and worn, but his eyes were ablaze with light, and but for his pale face there was no sign of weariness about him. He flung away his rake and, snatching up a band, kicked the sheaf together, caught it up, drew, tied, and fastened it as with one single act.

"We'll show them waltz time, Barney," he called, springing toward the next sheaf. "One"--at the word he snatched up and made the band, "two"--he passed the band around the sheaf, kicking it at the same time into shape, "three"--he drew and knotted the band, shoving the end in with his thumb. After him went Barney. One--two--three! and a sheaf was done. One--two--three! and so from sheaf to sheaf. It took them fifteen minutes to go down the long side. Dick, who had the inside, finished and sprang to his place at the outer side.

"Get inside!" shouted Barney, "let me take that swath!"

"Come along!" replied Dick, tying his sheaf.

"Fifteen minutes left, boys! I believe you're going to do it!" At this Ben gave a yell.

"They're goin' to do it!" he shouted, stumping around in great excitement.

"Double up, Dick!" cried Barney, carrying one sheaf to the next and tying them both together. Dick followed Barney's example, but here his brother's extra strength told in the race. Close after them came the crowd, Alec leading them, watch in hand, all yelling.

"Two minutes for that end, boys!" cried Alec, as they reached the corner. "You're goin' to do it, my hearties! You're goin' to do it!" They had thirteen minutes in which to bind a side and an end.

"They can't do it, Alec," said the "Old King." "They'll hurt themselves. Call them off!"

"Are you all right, Dick?" cried Barney, swinging on to the outer swath.

"All right," panted his brother, striding in at his side.

"Come on! We'll do it, then!" replied Barney.

Side by side they rushed. Sheaf by sheaf they tied together, Barney gradually gaining by the doubling process.

"Don't wait for me," gasped Dick, "if you can go faster!"

"One minute and a half, boys, if you can stand it!" cried Alec, as they reached the last corner. "One minute and a half, and we win!"

There remained five sheaves on the outer of Barney's two swaths, two on the inner of Dick's. In all, nine for Barney, six for Dick. The sheaves were comparatively small. Springing at this swath, Barney doubled the first two, the second two, the third two, and putting the last three together swung in upon Dick's swath where there were two sheaves left.

"Don't you touch it!" gasped Dick angrily.

"How's the time, Alec?" panted Barney.

"Half a minute."

Before he spoke, Dick flung himself on his last two sheaves, crying, "Out of the way there!" snatched his band, passing it around the sheaf, tied it, flung it over his shoulder, and stood with his hands on his knees, his breath coming in sobbing gasps.

For a few minutes the men went wild. Barney stepped to Dick's side, and patting him on the shoulder, said, "Great man, Dick! But I was a fool to let you!"

"That's what you were!" cried the "Old King," slapping Dick on the back, "but there's the greatest day's work ever done in these parts. The wheat's yours," he said, turning to Alec, "but begad! I wish it was goin' to them that won it!"

"An' that's where it is going," said Alec, "every blamed sheaf of it, to Ben's gang."

"We'll take what's coming to us," said Barney shortly.

"I told yeh so," said Ben regretfully.

"Why, don't you know it was for you I took the bet?" said Alec, angry that he should be balked in his good intention to help the boys.

"We'll take our wages," repeated Barney in a tone that settled the controversy. "The wheat is not ours."

"Then it ain't mine," said Alec, disgusted, remembering in how great peril his $50 had been.

"Well, boys," said the "Old King," "it ain't mine. We'll divide it in three."

"We'll take our wages," said Barney again, in sullen determination.

"Confound the boy!" cried the "Old King." "What'll we do with the wheat? I say, we'll give it to Ben; he's had hard luck this year."

"No, by the jumpin' Jemima Jebbs!" said Ben, stumping over to Barney's side. "I stand with the boss. I take my wages."

"Well, dog-gone you all! Will you take double pay, then? There's two days' good work there. And the rest we'll give to the church. Good thing the minister ain't here or he'd kick, too!"

"But," added the "Old King," turning to his son Sam, "after this you crawl into your shell when there's any blowin' bein' done about Ben's gang."

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