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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » Scott Burton and the Timber Thieves » CHAPTER II
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Scott’s first impression was that this was the biggest man he had ever seen. He almost filled the doorway and the crown of his Stetson brushed the frame. His keen eye took in the interior of the cabin in one swift glance as he entered and then focused steadily on Scott, who had risen smiling to greet him.

“Mr. Burton, I presume?” he said, smiling pleasantly and extending a cordial hand. “My name is Graham. Glad to see you.”

“I am afraid that I am trespassing on your property, your provisions and your good nature,” Scott explained, “but I did not know what else to do.”

“Wasn’t anything else to do,” Mr. Graham said as he hung his hat carefully on a nail. “If you have just cooked supper enough for three I shall not say a word.”

Scott involuntarily glanced toward the door.

Mr. Graham noticed the look. “Oh, there isn’t anybody with me,” he laughed, “that’s just the way I feel. Had lunch with a cracker to-day. Maybe you don’t know what that means yet, but you soon will.”

“Well, I wasn’t expecting two men to supper,” Scott laughed, “but I think there is plenty for all three of us.”

Scott started to get another cup and plate, but Mr. Graham had already gotten them for himself and took the seat opposite. He had never seen a man who looked more like his ideal of a woodsman, or one whom he had liked better at first sight. They had not been together five minutes and yet Scott felt as though he had known this big man for months.

“I had word from Washington that you would be down here,” Mr. Graham explained, “but I did not know just when you would come. I had a trip to make and thought I would get it in before you arrived. Found out at the postoffice that you had beaten me to it. What do you think of my hang-out here?”

“It’s a wonder!” Scott exclaimed enthusiastically. “I was just thinking before you came that I would not mind waiting here for you for a week or two.”

Mr. Graham was evidently pleased with his enthusiasm. “Don’t blame you, I feel pretty much that way myself. I ran on to it by chance one time and it took my fancy so that I decided to fix it up for my summer headquarters. I like it so well now that I stay here nearly all the time.”

“You fixed it up?” Scott exclaimed incredulously.

“Sure,” the big fellow grinned, immediately divining his thoughts. “Thought some woman did it, did you?”

Scott admitted it rather sheepishly.

“Yes,” Mr. Graham confessed, “I am somewhat of a lady myself when it comes to a love of flowers and beauty. I dawdle around out there in the yard a good share of my spare time. Not many ‘movies’ around here to distract a fellow’s attention.”

And so they talked till the meal was finished, the dishes washed, and the dishrag hung on its proper nail; for Mr. Graham was as orderly in the house as he was in the yard. Then they settled down in the steamer chairs on the porch and gazed in silence for a few minutes at the line of islands shimmering in the moonlit bay. It was like a scene from a fairy tale.

Mr. Graham broke the spell with a sigh. “I could look at a thing like that all night, but I suppose you are burning up to know something of this peculiar job to which they have assigned you.”

Scott admitted that he was rather curious.

“Well, I’ll try to tell you the whole story. The trouble started about two years ago. The Quiller Lumber Company had bought a big bunch of pine and cypress timber up near the edge of the big swamp. They are a small concern and do not have a very large crew. Of course, that means slow work and easy checking for us. Their slowness came to be a standing joke with the ranger up there who looks after the scaling. He used to say in his diary every now and then, ‘Quiller got down another tree to-day.’

“They had been at it about six months when the foreman came down to see me. ‘Have you noticed anything peculiar about our scale?’ he asked. ‘Noticed there has not been much to scale,’ I told him. ‘That’s just it,’ he said, ‘checked up on the stumps any?’ I explained to him that we seldom did that till a considerable quantity had been cut.

“‘Well, I have,’ he said, ‘and more than half of the stuff we have cut ain’t there.’

“He went on to tell me that he had had a night watchman on the boom for two weeks and tried in every way to check the thing up, but the logs kept disappearing just the same. A lot of his niggers got superstitious about it and quit the job.”

“How do they handle their logs?” Scott asked.

“Skid them down to the edge of the big swamp on high wheels and shove them into a bag boom. Then they raft them and float them out into the river.”

“Do they keep them in the boom long?” Scott was thinking again of the story of the sunken logs.

“Oh, they are not in the bottom of the swamp if that is what you are driving at. Murphy has prodded the bottom of that pond with a pike pole a dozen times.”

“Is there a channel through to the river or can they take them out anywhere?”

“I’ve hunted all over there myself and I cannot find a place where they could take them out except through that one channel.”

“I suppose you have had that channel watched?”

“Watched, I had Murphy hidden up there on a point of land for a month and the logs disappeared out of the boom right along just the same.”

“Are you sure that Murphy is all right?”

“Murphy, why, he thinks more of the Service than the Secretary of Agriculture does. No, sir, it is not graft, I am sure of that; but I would give a good deal to know what it is.”

“Do they disappear before or after you scale them?”

“Did go both before and after. We scale them all in the woods now before they put them in the boom, but they are going out of the boom just the same.”

There was a long pause while both men frowned unseeing across the beautiful lagoon. Scott was thinking of the ranger who had been the leader of the sheep gang in the West and wondering how he could best get a check on Murphy. Mr. Graham had long ago gotten past the point where he could think about it logically at all.

“Has the thing been going on ever since?” Scott asked.

“For two solid years,” Mr. Graham answered peevishly. “I have put about half my time on the pesky thing and Murphy hangs around there like a baited bulldog. The foreman is almost crazy about it. He has all but accused the ‘’gators’ of eating the logs.”

“I suppose they take some rafts out occasionally?”

“Sure. They have been taking them out right along. Have speeded up considerably during the past year.”

“Ever check up the delivery of those logs?”

“Many a time, and so has the company. Check to the dot with the scale in the rafts.”

“If you are scaling in the woods you are getting paid for all they cut, aren’t you?”

“Yes, the company is paying all right. They howl and checkscale a lot, but they pay.”

“Then why is the Service interested in it? They are not losing anything by it.”

“No, they are not losing anything on this scale, but it is hurting our other sales and giving the forest a bad name. We do not like to have a thing like that going on under our very noses. Besides, it gets on a fellow’s nerves. I tried my best on it. Hated to give it up, but had to confess myself licked at last. Then I asked the office for help and you are the result.”

“Some result,” Scott grunted. “I am not a professional detective. I just stumbled on to that sheep graft out there by chance, and now look what it’s gotten me into. I had never been to Florida and was glad enough to come down, but there is a fat chance of my solving this mess. It looks about as clear as mud.”

“That’s about the way it looks to me,” Mr. Graham nodded, “about as clear as mud. But all of us here are hypnotized now. We have been mooning over the thing so long that we cannot see straight any more. We may be walking all over some clue which will be perfectly clear to a stranger with an unfogged mind. Don’t give up before you start, man.”

“I’m not giving up,” Scott exclaimed, “far from it. Now that I have come all the way down here I simply have to put the job through, but I’m going to steer clear of these detective jobs in the future. They are too uncertain. Too much depends on luck.”

“Well, here’s wishing you luck,” said Mr. Graham, rising; “we’ll give you all the help we can, and grunt for you. Let’s go to bed, and to-morrow we’ll ride out and have a look at the arena.” He paused for a moment at the porch railing. “Isn’t that fine? You can just imagine old Ponce de Léon threading his way along that beach looking for the Fountain of Youth four hundred years ago, and I’ll bet he stopped and sampled that very creek.”

This historical touch gave the country a new interest to Scott.


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