A Mountain Woman and Other Stories HTML version
A Michigan Man
A PINE forest is nature's expression of solemnity and solitude. Sunlight, rivers, cascades,
people, music, laughter, or dancing could not make it gay. With its unceasing
reverberations and its eternal shadows, it is as awful and as holy as a cathedral.
Thirty good fellows working together by day and drinking together by night can keep up
but a moody imitation of jollity. Spend twenty-five of your forty years, as Luther Dallas
did, in this perennial gloom, and your soul -- that which enjoys, aspires, competes -- will
be drugged as deep as if you had quaffed the cup of oblivion. Luther Dallas was counted
one of the most experienced axe-men in the northern camps. He could fell a tree with the
swift surety of an executioner, and in revenge for his many arboral murders the woodland
had taken captive his mind, captured and chained it as Prospero did Ariel. The resounding
footsteps of Progress driven on so mercilessly in this mad age could not reach his
fastness. It did not concern him that men were thinking, investigating, inventing. His
senses responded only to the sonorous music of the woods; a steadfast wind ringing
metallic melody from the pine-tops contented him as the sound of the sea does the sailor;
and dear as the odors of the ocean to the mariner were the resinous scents of the forest to
him. Like a sailor, too, he had his superstitions. He had a presentiment that he was to die
by one of these trees, -that some day, in chopping, the tree would fall upon and crush him
as it did his father the day they brought him back to the camp on a litter of pine boughs.
One day the gang-boss noticed a tree that Dallas had left standing in a most
unwoodmanlike manner in the section which was allotted to him.
"What in thunder is that standing there for?" he asked.
Dallas raised his eyes to the pine, towering in stern dignity a hundred feet above them.
"Well," he said feebly, "I noticed it, but kind-a left it t' the last."
"Cut it down to-morrow," was the response.
The wind was rising, and the tree muttered savagely. Luther thought it sounded like a
menace, and turned pale. No trouble has yet been found that will keep a man awake in the
keen air of the pineries after he has been swinging his axe all day, but the sleep of the
chopper was so broken with disturbing dreams that night that the beads gathered on his
brow, and twice he cried aloud. He ate his coarse flap-jacks in the morning and escaped
from the smoky shanty as soon as he could.
"It'll bring bad luck, I'm afraid," he muttered as he went to get his axe from the rack. He
was as fond of his axe as a soldier of his musket, but to-day he shouldered it with
reluctance. He felt like a man with his destiny before him. The tree stood like a sentinel.
He raised his axe, once, twice, a dozen times, but could not bring himself to make a cut in
the bark. He walked backwards a few steps and looked up. The funereal green seemed to