The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 3 (June 1, 1938.)
The names of people in this story are wholly imaginary, though the incidents referring to some of the employees as being refugees from the Law are true. In the early days the remoteness of some of the mills made it quite possible for “wanteds” to hide in seclusion for many months.
John Kay was the owner of a large tract of country in the North Island of New Zealand. It could be counted one of the best areas of bush in the province, abounding with rimu, totara, matai, kahikatea, and in some places, valuable kauri. The land was fairly flat so hauling was at minimum expense.
John Kay worked his bush with a system. Before any milling timber was touched, the area calculated to supply sufficient milling for six to nine months was under-scrubbed, the small trees also being cut down.
At suitable times a chain-wide ring around the under-scrubbed portion of the bush was fired so that when the proper season for burning came, the fire would not affect the standing bush.
In a few years’ time there was sufficient grass to combine farming with his milling activities, Kay believing by these methods to prevent the spread of noxious weeds—always so evident where trees had been felled—and thus enhance the value of the land, whereas before it had timber value only.
The mill was situated as near as possible—consistent with safety—to the homestead and workers’ dwellings and, with an eye to the future, the latter were built so that when the time came they could be converted into farm buildings.
Including the bush and hauling hands, employment was found for about sixty persons, and generally, they were a happy lot. In addition, there was the mill manager, an accountant, and a clerk, who lived at the homestead with Kay and his daughter, Cushla. The latter was a bright, vivacious brunette twenty years of age. She knew as much about timber as anyone at the mill and was also an adept at the typewriter. Consequently when business was very brisk, she assisted in the office, thus relieving William Jasper, the clerk.
William Jasper, who it was thought had seen better days, was about forty years of age, and somewhat portly as to body. He had a pleasant, open face, and invariably had a jolly smile. He was absolutely conscientious and thorough in his work and his behaviour generally was all that could be desired; nor was he lacking in courage, as events will show. But what Cushla liked most in him was his love for the beauty which Nature had supplied with a lavish hand in the surroundings of their bush home.
The accountant, John Wynder, who had been with them for about three months, was a tall, broad-shouldered man and handsome — although he sometimes wore a sinister and hard expression which betokened ill to any who opposed him. Cushla often wondered as did her father what had made a man of Wynder's undoubted ability and address seek employment away in the backblocks. He was cultured, and his knowledge of a great variety of subjects added to the many pleasant after-dinner discussions.
“A clever man that, but I can't understand what brought him here,” remarked Kay to his daughter one page 33 evening. “Don't you go giving your heart away to the gentleman, although,” he added reflectively, “he does seem to have money besides his wages. Joseph Hawkins and the men don't seem to care for him much. As for me, Sam Higgins is the only man in the crowd I can't stand. There's something about that oily brute that makes me think he is a foreigner, and I've seen Wynder in close conversation with him on one or two occasions. Shouldn't think there was much in common between those two. That's the worst of being so far away from civilisation—with a business like this, I mean—which requires the very best staff one can obtain, yet naturally one wonders why men of Wynder's stamp have applied for the job.”
“Well, dad, you have a first-class manager anyhow. Loyalty and honesty simply radiate from his grey eyes, although his face is so sombre,” said Cushla.
“I grant all that, and we are lucky, but honest old Hawkins would be left if it came to a matter of balance sheets and finance. Hawkins knows what timber every log will cut and will work his flitches to the minimum waste. His accurate measuring and selection of timber required for orders has made the business what it is, but his work would be wasted if we hadn't efficiency in the office.”
It must not be thought that it was all work and no play at Kay's Mill. Nobody knew better than the owner the difficulty of obtaining trained labour for his business. He paid the highest wages, yet it was essential to occupy the men's time in the long summer evenings and on Saturdays and Sundays. Games, especially cricket were, therefore, encouraged. Under the instruction of Jasper two tolerably good elevens met every week-end, and for those who did not care for cricket a billiard room with two tables was at the men's disposal. A large swimming pond was made by constructing a dam in the small stream running nearby; a decent library was installed and by permission of the Government a Savings Bank was opened. There was also a Post Office, operated by Jasper.
It was sixty miles to the nearest Bank and though motor-cars were a great luxury—Kay bought one as he thought it too grave a danger to keep more than one week's wages about. There was certainly a telephone, and although a party line lessened to a degree the remoteness of civilisation, the trip to town was made every week. Jaques Martin, whose character was without blemish, had courage combined with physical proportions which made him a most suitable person for the lonely drive there and back; added to this he was an engineer and thus was capable of dealing with any mechanical failures on the journey.
Cushla Kay thought for a change she would ride along the road and meet Jaques Martin coming back, but instead she met a very handsome young man on a tired horse which was also weighted with two well-filled saddle bags. He raised his hat, drew rein, and asked Cushla if he was on the road to John Kay's mill.
“I'm Mr. Kay's daughter,” she answered, turning her horse round. “You are on the right road and the mill is only a mile further on. I wasn't going anywhere in particular so I'll ride back with you.”
“I'm afraid I can't go out of a walk—my poor old gee is done—so I hope your father won't set me off to the North again before Ginger has a good rest and a feed.”
“Oh, we're not as bad as that. Travellers are very rare, but when they do come they're looked after,” answered Cushla.
“Mr. Kay is a great friend of my father's and I dare say you have heard him speak of Max Kingswell?”
“I should say so, he handles all our timber in Auckland,” replied Cushla. “I'm always typing letters to him—and so you are his son?”
“Yes, Miss Kay. My name is Lynn Kingswell and I've come all this way to look for a job.”
“Good gracious! if Dad does employ you I'll have to teach another raw recruit.”
“I won't mind that, Miss Kay, the only thing I might want is to be a recruit too long,” Lynn said smilingly.
They met John Kay at the office door. He looked somewhat surprised at seeing his daughter approaching with a young man. However, she did not give her father any time for questions.
“This is the son of your great friend, Mr. Kingswell,” Cushla announced.
“Great Scott! and you've ridden the whole way? Cushla, take his horse down to the stable and tell Jack to look after it well—here, hold on, let's page 34 page 35 have those two saddle-bags off first. You look as though you have come to stay a few days and you're as welcome as the flowers in spring.”
“I hope, Mr. Kay, I've come for more than a few days,” replied Lynn, and he drew a letter from his inside pocket and handed it to Kay.
“That'll keep until we go to the house,” said Kay. “Come along, you'll want something to eat, a bath and a change,” and he led the way. While Kingswell was changing Kay opened his friend's letter. It read:
“Dear Old Friend,
I am sending Lynn along to you with a hope that you can find him something to do about that big mill of yours. I have two reasons; in the first place he seems to lack an outlet in the city for his surplus energy—and there is little doubt that such an outlet would be found in a timber mill. But it is not only for physical reasons I have sent him. He has passed quite a number of examinations and holds a diploma for accountancy; his knowledge of timber extends only to measuring up, classing, and variety.
“He has been helping me for the last twelve months at the timber yards, where, as you know, I handle the greater part of your output.
“You may smile when I tell you my second reason. For some time I have been troubled about you and Cushla so far away, surrounded, as it were, by a fairly mixed gang, and though the majority may be loyal and would stand by you, there are bound to be some whose characters are very questionable and who have sought the seclusion of the way backs until things blow over. I am sure it requires a watchful eye. Lynn, although my son, I can say with truth is absolutely reliable. His knowledge of accountancy may be useful to you, and if my surmises—gathered from possibilities only—by chance prove correct, you will not regret listening to an old friend's suggestion. Don't think I am butting in, old chap, but I have recalled that some months ago it was reported that a very dangerous criminal had landed in the city. He came from London by the ‘Aotea,’ but in some way had escaped arrest. It was thought that he was in Australia. This person is described as a well-educated man, tall and dark, and he came out as Colonel Biddix.
“There are also one or two criminals of a lower type who are wanted for burglary. All the information I could get about them was that one was a dark, foreign-looking man. You are noted the province over for your predilection to helping lame dogs over styles. Look out that some of these lame dogs don't turn round and bite. Fortunately Lynn has a good knowledge of character—he was a member of the Mounted Police for two years in Australia. If he warns you, take his advice. Of course, there may be no occasion to do so, but seeing how you are situated I would not be much of a friend if I had not acted as I have done. Lynn knows his job—if you give it to him—which is to protect you and yours if necessary. Your sincere friend, Max Kingswell.”
Kay did not know how to take his friend's letter and was a little inclined to resent it as unwarrantable interference. However, on more mature reflection he decided that there must be something at the back of his friend's mind which made the warning necessary. Acting on impulse he handed the letter to Lynn who, after glacing through it, returned it with a smile.
“It does seem as though dear old dad had your interests at heart, doesn't it?” remarked Lynn. “Of course it now rests with you if I go or stay, but from what I gathered from dad your work keeps you employed in the bush. Your manager is fully employed at the mill and judging from the amount of timber you are turning out, your clerks must be well occupied. There appears room for the employment of a hand who may be useful in any capacity.”
“I believe you are right, Lynn. I cannot ignore your father's letter and there is room for an extra hand. Supposing I give you a sort of roving commission, leaving it to you to find from the manager, foreman, and Mr. Wynder, the accountant, where your services are required. You can always fall back on the timberyard for something to do when not wanted elsewhere. You will live with us and have your own room—you won't find the life so bad, as I have a fine lot of men. I, myself, come in contact mostly with the men working in the bush as the contour of the country allows us to run the trams close up to the logs and it takes me no time to run down to the scene of operations.” Kay turned at the sound of a cough: “Hello, Cushla, didn't notice you come in. Let me formally introduce you to Mr. Lynn Kingswell now in my employment, so I hope you two will be friends.”
“I sincerely hope so,” said Lynn.
“And I don't see any particular reason why we should not be,” replied Cushla with a smile.
“Cushla, what about your taking Kingswell over and introducing him to Mr. Jasper, Wynder, and Hawkins?”
“All right, dad,” agreed Cushla. Then, “Come along, Lynn.”
Chatting brightly as she went Cushla led the way. Presently, they came within speaking distance of Jasper, who turned at their approach.
“Hello, Mr. Jasper,” greeted Cushla. “Let me introduce Mr. Lynn Kings-well, the son of a great friend of my father's.”
“How do you do, Mr. Kingswell,” replied Jasper. “You're from the city?”
“Yes, Mr. Jasper. My dad couldn't do anything with me so sent me out into the country to reform.”
“Well,” said Jasper, “you have come among beautiful surroundings as you can see—and which my worthy boss is devastating year by year.”
“Notwithstanding that the beautiful trees are the means of supplying his livelihood, his heart nearly breaks at every log that comes in,” put in Cushla.
“Not quite as bad as that, Miss Kay, but you have admitted the sacrilege of destroying the beauties God has given us and which cannot be replaced.”
Cushla changed the subject and asked if Mr. Wynder was in his office.
“Yes, Miss Kay. You'll find him buried in papers, ledgers, and other books of all descriptions.”
Cushla knocked at the door and entered, followed by Lynn.
A man looked up at them.
“Mr. Wynder,” said Cushla. “I've brought Mr. Lynn Kingswell to make your acquaintance. Father has taken him on as a rouse-about.”
Both men acknowledged the introduction. Then: “Just what are the duties assigned to you, Mr. Kings-well?” asked Wynder.
“To help generally when and where my services, may be required,” replied Lynn. “I've had a varied experience both in New Zealand and Australia.”
“A sort of rolling stone that gathers no moss?” suggested Wynder.
“That, of course, remains to be seen,” Lynn answered, looking straight at Wynder. “Anyhow it seems by your surroundings I might be of some use to you.”
“No thanks. When two men tackle a one-man job they generally get in one another's way. Don't you think so, Miss Cushla?”
“I think, Mr. Wynder,” she answered, “that you have a terrible lot to do, and if it gets behind it'll take no end to pull up, but you always seem to like work. We are keeping you back.”
“I'm sure Mr. Kingswell and I will be friends,” said Wynder.
He remained standing after Lynn and Cushla left his office. “Now I wonder what the game is,” he thought to himself. “And what is the great idea of Kay employing a man like this. There's something in the wind and I must be careful. He does not look like a young man one could take liberties with.”
The moment Lynn saw the manager he liked him. There was something in his manner which attracted confidence. A straight look in the eye as he shook hands or spoke. Not a very big man, but wiry and muscular—a man that one could rely on in a pinch, was Lynn's mental summing up, as he and Cushla took their leave. When they were outside Cushla asked Lynn whom he liked best.
“Why, Hawkins,” he answered. “And there's something about Jasper I like.”
“What about Mr. Wynder, Lynn?”
“I don't know he is a fine stamp of a man, but I should think he would be a bit awkward if he were angry or took a set on anyone; but I've no doubt he is splendid with the books, which after all is what your father employs him for. Thank you very much for the introductions. I understand we all meet again at dinner. In the meantime, if you'll excuse me, I will step down to the swimming pool you spoke of—a dip would be just the thing.”
(To be continued).