Homespun Tales HTML version

5. The Game Of Jackstraws
There was a roar of laughter at the old man's boast, but in a moment all was activity. The
men ran hither and thither like ants, gathering their tools. There were some old-fashioned
pick-poles, straight, heavy levers without any "dog," and there were modern pick-poles
and peaveys, for every river has its favorite equipment in these things. There was no
dynamite in those days to make the stubborn jams yield, and the dog-warp was in general
use. Horses or oxen, sometimes a line of men, stood on the river-bank. A long rope was
attached by means of a steel spike to one log after another, and it was dragged from the
tangled mass. Sometimes, after unloading the top logs, those at the bottom would rise and
make the task easier; sometimes the work would go on for hours with no perceptible
progress, and Mr. Wiley would have opportunity to tell the bystanders of a" turrible jam"
on the Kennebec that had cost the Lumber Company ten thousand dollars to break.
There would be great arguments on shore, among the villagers as well as among the
experts, as to the particular log which might be a key to the position. The boss would
study the problem from various standpoints, and the drivers themselves would pass from
heated discussion into long consultations.
"They're paid by the day," Old Kennebec would philosophize to the doctor; "an' when
they're consultin' they don't hev to be doggin', which is a turrible sight harder work."
Rose had created a small sensation, on one occasion, by pointing out to the under boss the
key-log in a jam. She was past mistress of the pretty game of jackstraws, much in vogue
at that time. The delicate little lengths of polished wood or bone were shaken together
and emptied on the table. Each jackstraw had one of its ends fashioned in the shape of
some sort of implement,--a rake, hoe, spade, fork, or mallet. All the pieces were
intertwined by the shaking process, and they lay as they fell, in a hopeless tangle. The
task consisted in taking a tiny pick-pole, scarcely bigger than a match, and with the bit of
curved wire on the end lifting off the jackstraws one by one without stirring the pile or
making it tremble. When this occurred, you gave place to your opponent, who
relinquished his turn to you when ill fortune descended upon him, the game, which was a
kind of river-driving and jam-picking in miniature, being decided by the number of
pieces captured and their value. No wonder that the under boss asked Rose's advice as to
the key-log. She had a fairy's hand, and her cunning at deciding the pieces to be moved,
and her skill at extricating and lifting them from the heap, were looked upon in
Edgewood as little less than supernatural. It was a favorite pastime; and although a man's
hand is ill adapted to it, being over-large and heavy, the game has obvious advantages for
a lover in bringing his head very close to that of his beloved adversary. The jackstraws
have to be watched with a hawk's eagerness, since the "trembling" can be discerned only
by a keen eye; but there were moments when Stephen was willing to risk the loss of a
battle if he could watch Rose's drooping eyelashes, the delicate down on her pink cheek,
and the feathery curls that broke away from her hair.