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Through the green timber Bryce Cardigan strode, and there was a lilt in his heart now. Already he had forgotten the desperate situation from which he had just escaped; he thought only of Shirley Sumner's face, tear-stained with terror; and because he knew that at least some of those tears had been inspired by the gravest apprehensions as to his physical well-being, because in his ears there still resounded her frantic warning, he realized that however stern her decree of banishment had been, she was nevertheless not indifferent to him. And it was this knowledge that had thrilled him into song and which when his song was done had brought to his firm mouth a mobility that presaged his old whimsical smile--to his brown eyes a beaming light of confidence and pride.
The climax had been reached--and passed; and the result had been far from the disaster he had painted in his mind's eye ever since the knowledge had come to him that he was doomed to battle to a knockout with Colonel Pennington, and that one of the earliest fruits of hostilities would doubtless be the loss of Shirley Sumner's prized friendship. Well, he had lost her friendship, but a still small voice whispered to him that the loss was not irreparable--whereat he swung his axe as a bandmaster swings his baton; he was glad that he had started the war and was now free to fight it out unhampered.
Up hill and down dale he went. Because of the tremendous trees he could not see the sun; yet with the instinct of the woodsman, an instinct as infallible as that of a homing pigeon, he was not puzzled as to direction. Within two hours his long, tireless stride brought him out into a clearing in the valley where his own logging-camp stood. He went directly to the log-landing, where in a listless and half-hearted manner the loading crew were piling logs on Pennington's logging-trucks.
Bryce looked at his watch. It was two o'clock; at two-fifteen Pennington's locomotive would appear, to back in and couple to the long line of trucks. And the train was only half loaded.
"Where's McTavish?" Bryce demanded of the donkey-driver.
The man mouthed his quid, spat copiously, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and pointed. "Up at his shanty," he made answer, and grinned at Bryce knowingly.
Up through the camp's single short street, flanked on each side with the woodsmen's shanties, Bryce went. Dogs barked at him, for he was a stranger in his own camp; children, playing in the dust, gazed upon him owlishly. At the most pretentious shanty on the street Bryce turned in. He had never seen it before, but he knew it to be the woods-boss's home, for unlike its neighbours the house was painted with the coarse red paint that is used on box-cars, while a fence, made of fancy pointed pickets painted white, inclosed a tiny garden in front of the house. As Bryce came through the gate, a young girl rose from where she knelt in a bed of freshly transplanted pansies.
Bryce lifted his hat. "Is Mr. McTavish at home?" he asked.
She nodded. "He cannot see anybody," she hastened to add. "He's sick."
"I think he'll see me. And I wonder if you're Moira McTavish."
"Yes, I'm Moira."
"I'm Bryce Cardigan."
A look of fright crept into the girl's eyes. "Are you--Bryce Cardigan?" she faltered, and looked at him more closely. "Yes, you're Mr. Bryce. You've changed--but then it's been six years since we saw you last, Mr. Bryce."
He came toward her with outstretched hand. "And you were a little girl when I saw you last. Now--you're a woman." She grasped his hand with the frank heartiness of a man. "I'm mighty glad to meet you again, Moira. I just guessed who you were, for of course I should never have recognized you. When I saw you last, you wore your hair in a braid down your back."
"I'm twenty years old," she informed him.
"Stand right where you are until I have looked at you," he commanded, and backed off a few feet, the better to contemplate her.
He saw a girl slightly above medium height, tanned, robust, simply gowned in a gingham dress. Her hands were soiled from her recent labours in the pansy-bed, and her shoes were heavy and coarse; yet neither hands nor feet were large or ungraceful. Her head was well formed; her hair, jet black and of unusual lustre and abundance, was parted in the middle and held in an old-fashioned coil at the nape of a neck the beauty of which was revealed by the low cut of her simple frock. Moira was a decided brunette, with that wonderful quality of skin to be seen only among brunettes who have roses in their cheeks; her brow was broad and spiritual; in her eyes, large, black, and listrous, there was a brooding tenderness not untouched with sorrow-- some such expression, indeed, as da Vinci put in the eyes of his Mona Lisa. Her nose was patrician, her face oval; her lips, full and red, were slightly parted in the adorable Cupid's bow which is the inevitable heritage of a short upper lip; her teeth were white as Parian marble; and her full breast was rising and falling swiftly, as if she laboured under suppressed excitement.
So delightful a picture did Moira McTavish make that Bryce forgot all his troubles in her sweet presence. "By the gods, Moira," he declared earnestly, "you're a peach! When I saw you last, you were awkward and leggy, like a colt. I'm sure you weren't a bit good-looking. And now you're the most ravishing young lady in seventeen counties. By jingo, Moira, you're a stunner and no mistake. Are you married?"
She shook her head, blushing pleasurably at his unpolished but sincere compliments.
"What? Not married. Why, what the deuce can be the matter with the eligible young fellows hereabouts?"
"There aren't any eligible young fellows hereabouts, Mr. Bryce. And I've lived in these woods all my life."
"That's why you haven't been discovered."
"And I don't intend to marry a lumberjack and continue to live in these woods," she went on earnestly, as if she found pleasure in this opportunity to announce her rebellion. Despite her defiance, however, there was a note of sad resignation in her voice.
"You don't know a thing about it, Moira. Some bright day your Prince Charming will come by, riding the log-train, and after that it will always be autumn in the woods for you. Everything will just naturally turn to crimson and gold."
"How do you know, Mr Bryce?"
He laughed. "I read about it in a book."
"I prefer spring in the woods, I think. It seems--It's so foolish of me, I know; I ought to be contented, but it's hard to be contented when it is always winter in one's heart. That frieze of timber on the skyline limits my world, Mr Bryce. Hills and timber, timber and hills, and the thunder of falling redwoods. And when the trees have been logged off so we can see the world, we move back into green timber again." She sighed.
"Are you lonely, Moira?"
"Poor Moira!" he murmured absently.
The thought that he so readily understood touched her; a glint of tears was in her sad eyes. He saw them and placed his arm fraternally around her shoulders. "Tut-tut, Moira! Don't cry," he soothed her. "I understand perfectly, and of course we'll have to do something about it. You're too fine for this. "With a sweep of his hand he indicated the camp. He had led her to the low stoop in front of the shanty. "Sit down on the steps, Moira, and we'll talk it over. I really called to see your father, but I guess I don't want to see him after all--if he's sick."
She looked at him bravely. "I didn't know you at first, Mr. Bryce. I fibbed. Father isn't sick. He's drunk."
"I thought so when I saw the loading-crew taking it easy at the log- landing. I'm terribly sorry."
"I loathe it--and I cannot leave it," she burst out vehemently. "I'm chained to my degradation. I dream dreams, and they'll never come true. I--I--oh Mr. Bryce, Mr. Bryce, I'm so unhappy."
"So am I," he retorted. "We all get our dose of it, you know, and just at present I'm having an extra helping, it seems. You're cursed with too much imagination, Moira. I'm sorry about your father. He's been with us a long time, and my father has borne a lot from him for old sake's sake; he told me the other night that he has discharged Mac fourteen times during the past ten years, but to date he hasn't been able to make it stick. For all his sixty years, Moira, your confounded parent can still manhandle any man on the pay-roll, and as fast as Dad put in a new woods-boss old Mac drove him off the job. He simply declines to be fired, and Dad's worn out and too tired to bother about his old woods-boss any more. He's been waiting until I should get back."
"I know," said Moira wearily. "Nobody wants to be Cardigan's woods- boss and have to fight my father to hold his job. I realize what a nuisance he has become."
Bryce chuckled. "I asked Father why he didn't stand pat and let Mac work for nothing; having discharged him, my father was under no obligation to give him his salary just because he insisted on being woods-boss. Dad might have starved your father out of these woods, but the trouble was that old Mac would always come and promise reform and end up by borrowing a couple of hundred dollars, and then Dad had to hire him again to get it back! Of course the matter simmers down to this: Dad is so fond of your father that he just hasn't got the moral courage to work him over--and now that job is up to me. Moira, I'm not going to beat about the bush with you. They tell me your father is a hopeless inebriate."
"I'm afraid he is, Mr. Bryce."
"How long has he been drinking to excess?"
"About ten years, I think. Of course, he would always take a few drinks with the men around pay-day, but after Mother died, he began taking his drinks between pay-days. Then he took to going down to Sequoia on Saturday nights and coming back on the mad-train, the maddest of the lot. I suppose he was lonely, too. He didn't get real bad, however, till about two years ago."
"Just about the time my father's eyes began to fail him and he ceased coming up into the woods to jack Mac up? So he let the brakes go and started to coast, and now he's reached the bottom! I couldn't get him on the telephone to-day or yesterday. I suppose he was down in Arcata, liquoring up."
She nodded miserably.
"Well, we have to get logs to the mill, and we can't get them with old John Barleycorn for a woods-boss, Moira. So we're going to change woods-bosses, and the new woods-boss will not be driven off the job, because I'm going to stay up here a couple of weeks and break him in myself. By the way, is Mac ugly in his cups?"
"Thank God, no," she answered fervently. "Drunk or sober, he has never said an unkind word to me."
"But how do you manage to get money to clothe yourself? Sinclair tells me Mac needs every cent of his two hundred and fifty dollars a month to enjoy himself."
"I used to steal from him," the girl admitted. "Then I grew ashamed of that, and for the past six months I've been earning my own living. Mr. Sinclair was very kind. He gave me a job waiting on table in the camp dining room. You see, I had to have something here. I couldn't leave my father. He had to have somebody to take care of him. Don't you see, Mr. Bryce?"
"Sinclair is a fuzzy old fool," Bryce declared with emphasis. "The idea of our woods-boss's daughter slinging hash to lumberjacks. Poor Moira!"
He took one of her hands in his, noting the callous spots on the plump palm, the thick finger-joints that hinted so of toil, the nails that had never been manicured save by Moira herself. "Do you remember when I was a boy, Moira, how I used to come up to the logging-camps to hunt and fish? I always lived with the McTavishes then. And in September, when the huckleberries were ripe, we used to go out and pick them together. Poor Moira! Why, we're old pals, and I'll be shot if I'm going to see you suffer."
She glanced at him shyly, with beaming eyes. "You haven't changed a bit, Mr. Bryce. Not one little bit!"
"Let's talk about you, Moira. You went to school in Sequoia, didn't you?"
"Yes, I was graduated from the high school there. I used to ride the log-trains into town and back again."
"Good news! Listen, Moira. I'm going to fire your father, as I've said, because he's working for old J.B. now, not the Cardigan Redwood Lumber Company. I really ought to pension him after his long years in the Cardigan service, but I'll be hanged if we can afford pensions any more--particularly to keep a man in booze; so the best our old woods-boss gets from me is this shanty, or another like it when we move to new cuttings, and a perpetual meal-ticket for our camp dining room while the Cardigans remain in business. I'd finance him for a trip to some State institution where they sometimes reclaim such wreckage, if I didn't think he's too old a dog to be taught new tricks."
"Perhaps," she suggested sadly, "you had better talk the matter over with him."
"No, I'd rather not. I'm fond of your father, Moira. He was a man when I saw him last--such a man as these woods will never see again-- and I don't want to see him again until he's cold sober. I'll write him a letter. As for you, Moira, you're fired, too. I'll not have you waiting on table in my logging-camp--not by a jugful! You're to come down to Sequoia and go to work in our office. We can use you on the books, helping Sinclair, and relieve him of the task of billing, checking tallies, and looking after the pay-roll. I'll pay you a hundred dollars a month, Moira. Can you get along on that?"
Her hard hand closed over his tightly, but she did not speak.
"All right, Moira. It's a go, then. Hills and timber--timber and hills--and I'm going to set you free. Perhaps in Sequoia you'll find your Prince Charming. There, there, girl, don't cry. We Cardigans had twenty-five years of faithful service from Donald McTavish before he commenced slipping; after all, we owe him something, I think."
She drew his hand suddenly to her lips and kissed it; her hot tears of joy fell on it, but her heart was too full for mere words.
"Fiddle-de-dee, Moira! Buck up," he protested, hugely pleased, but embarrassed withal. "The way you take this, one would think you had expected me to go back on an old pal and had been pleasantly surprised when I didn't. Cheer up, Moira! Cherries are ripe, or at any rate they soon will be; and if you'll just cease shedding the scalding and listen to me, I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll advance you two months' salary for--well, you'll need a lot of clothes and things in Sequoia that you don't need here. And I'm glad I've managed to settle the McTavish hash without kicking up a row and hurting your feelings. Poor old Mac! I'm sorry I can't bear with him, but we simply have to have the logs, you know."
He rose, stooped, and pinched her ear; for had he not known her since childhood, and had they not gathered huckleberries together in the long ago? She was sister to him--just another one of his problems-- and nothing more. "Report on the job as soon as possible, Moira," he called to her from the gate. Then the gate banged behind him, and with a smile and a debonair wave of his hand, he was striding down the little camp street where the dogs and the children played in the dust.
After a while Moira walked to the gate and leaning upon it, looked down the street toward the log-landing where Bryce was ragging the laggard crew into some thing like their old-time speed. Presently the locomotive backed in and coupled to the log tram, and when she saw Bryce leap aboard and seat himself on a top log in such a position that he could not fail to see her at the gate, she waved to him. He threw her a careless kiss, and the train pulled out.
Presently, when Moira lifted her Madonna glance to the frieze of timber on the skyline, there was a new glory in her eyes; and lo, it was autumn in the woods, for over that hill Prince Charming had come to her, and life was all crimson and gold!
When the train loaded with Cardigan logs crawled in on the main track and stopped at the log-landing in Pennington's camp, the locomotive uncoupled and backed in on the siding for the purpose of kicking the caboose, in which Shirley and Colonel Pennington had ridden to the woods, out onto the main line again--where, owing to a slight downhill grade, the caboose, controlled by the brakeman, could coast gently forward and be hooked on to the end of the log-train for the return journey to Sequoia.
Throughout the afternoon Shirley, following the battle royal between Bryce and the Pennington retainers, had sat dismally in the caboose. She was prey to many conflicting emotions; but having had what her sex term "a good cry," she had to a great extent recovered her customary poise--and was busily speculating on the rapidity with which she could leave Sequoia and forget she had ever met Bryce Cardigan--when the log-train rumbled into the landing and the last of the long string of trucks came to a stop directly opposite the caboose.
Shirley happened to be looking through the grimy caboose window at that moment. On the top log of the load the object of her unhappy speculations was seated, apparently quite oblivious of the fact that he was back once more in the haunt of his enemies, although knowledge that the double-bitted axe he had so unceremoniously borrowed of Colonel Pennington was driven deep into the log beside him, with the haft convenient to his hand, probably had much to do with Bryce's air of detached indifference. He was sitting with his elbows on his knees, his chin in his cupped hands, and a pipe thrust aggressively out the corner of his mouth, the while he stared moodily at his feet.
Shirley suspected she knew what he was thinking of; he was less than six feet from her, and a morbid fascination moved her to remain at the window and watch the play of emotions over his strong, stern face. She told herself that should he move, should he show the slightest disposition to raise his head and bring his eyes on a level with hers, she would dodge away from the window in time to escape his scrutiny.
She reckoned without the engine. With a smart bump it struck the caboose and shunted it briskly up the siding; at the sound of the impact Bryce raised his troubled glance just in time to see Shirley's body, yielding to the shock, sway into full view at the window.
With difficulty he suppressed a grin. "I'll bet my immortal soul she was peeking at me," he soliloquized. "Confound the luck! Another meeting this afternoon would be embarrassing." Tactfully he resumed his study of his feet, not even looking up when the caboose, after gaining the main track, slid gently down the slight grade and was coupled to the rear logging-truck. Out of the tail of his eye he caught a glimpse of Colonel Pennington passing alongside the log- train and entering the caboose; he heard the engineer shout to the brakeman--who had ridden down from the head of the train to unlock the siding switch and couple the caboose--to hurry up, lock the switch, and get back aboard the engine.
"Can't get this danged key to turn in the lock," the brakeman shouted presently. "Lock's rusty, and something's gone bust inside."
Minutes passed. Bryce's assumed abstraction became real, for he had many matters to occupy his busy brain, and it was impossible for him to sit idle without adverting to some of them. Presently he was subconsciously aware that the train was moving gently forward; almost immediately, it seemed to him, the long string of trucks had gathered their customary speed; and then suddenly it dawned upon Bryce that the train had started off without a single jerk--and that it was gathering headway rapidly.
He looked ahead--and his hair grew creepy at the roots. There was no locomotive attached to the train! It was running away down a two per cent. grade, and because of the tremendous weight of the train, it was gathering momentum at a fearful rate.
The reason for the runaway dawned on Bryce instantly. The road, being privately owned, was, like most logging-roads, neglected as to roadbed and rolling-stock; also it was undermanned, and the brake- man, who also acted as switchman, had failed to set the hand-brakes on the leading truck after the engineer had locked the air-brakes. As a result, during the five or six minutes required to "spot in" the caboose, and an extra minute or two lost while the brakeman struggled with the recalcitrant lock on the switch, the air had leaked away through the worn valves and rubber tubing, and the brakes had been released--so that the train, without warning, had quietly and almost noiselessly slid out of the log-landing and started on its mad career. Before the engineer could beat it to the other switch with the locomotive, run out on the main track, let the runaway gradually catch up with him and hold it--no matter how or what happened to him or his engine--the first logging-truck had cleared the switch and blocked pursuit. There was nothing to do now save watch the wild runaway and pray, for of all the mad runaways in a mad world, a loaded logging-train is by far the worst.
For an instant after realizing his predicament, Bryce Cardigan was tempted to jump and take his chance on a few broken bones, before the train could reach a greater speed than twenty miles an hour. His impulse was to run forward and set the handbrake on the leading truck, but a glance showed him that even with the train standing still he could not hope to leap from truck to truck and land on the round, freshly peeled surface of the logs without slipping for he had no calks in his boots. And to slip now meant swift and horrible death.
"Too late!" he muttered. "Even if I could get to the head of the train, I couldn't stop her with the hand-brake; should I succeed in locking the wheels, the brute would be doing fifty miles an hour by that time--the front truck would slide and skid, leave the tracks and pile up with me at the bottom of a mess of wrecked rolling-stock and redwood logs."
Then he remembered. In the wildly rolling caboose Shirley Sumner rode with her uncle, while less than two miles ahead, the track swung in a sharp curve high up along the hillside above Mad River. Bryce knew the leading truck would never take that curve at high speed, even if the ancient rolling-stock should hold together until the curve was reached, but would shoot off at a tangent into the canyon, carrying trucks, logs, and caboose with it, rolling over and over down the hillside to the river.
"The caboose must be cut out of this runaway," Bryce soliloquized, "and it must be cut out in a devil of a hurry. Here goes nothing in particular, and may God be good to my dear old man."
He jerked his axe out of the log, drove it deep into the top log toward the end, and by using the haft to cling to, crawled toward the rear of the load and looked down at the caboose coupling. The top log was a sixteen-foot butt; the two bottom logs were eighteen footers. With a silent prayer of thanks to Providence, Bryce slid down to the landing thus formed. He was still five feet above the coupling, however; but by leaning over the swaying, bumping edge and swinging the axe with one hand, he managed to cut through the rubber hose on the air connection. "The blamed thing might hold and drag the caboose along after I've pulled out the coupling-pin," he reflected. "And I can't afford to take chances now."
Nevertheless he took them. Axe in hand, he leaped down to the narrow ledge formed by the bumper in front of the cabooses--driving his face into the front of the caboose; and he only grasped the steel rod leading from the brake-chains to the wheel on the roof in time to avoid falling half stunned between the front of the caboose and the rear of the logging-truck. The caboose had once been a box-car; hence there was no railed front platform to which Bryce might have leaped in safety. Clinging perilously on the bumper, he reached with his foot, got his toe under the lever on the side, jerked it upward, and threw the pin out of the coupling; then with his free hand he swung the axe and drove the great steel jaws of the coupling apart.
The caboose was cut out! But already the deadly curve was in sight; in two minutes the first truck would reach it; and the caboose, though cut loose, had to be stopped, else with the headway it had gathered, it, too, would follow the logging-trucks to glory.
For a moment Bryce clung to the brake-rod, weak and dizzy from the effects of the blow when, leaping down from the loaded truck to the caboose bumper, his face had smashed into the front of the caboose. His chin was bruised, skinned, and bloody; his nose had been broken, and twin rivulets of blood ran from his nostrils. He wiped it away, swung his axe, drove the blade deep into the bumper and left it there with the haft quivering; turning, he climbed swiftly up the narrow iron ladder beside the brake-rod until he reached the roof; then, still standing on the ladder, he reached the brake-wheel and drew it promptly but gradually around until the wheel-blocks began to bite, when he exerted his tremendous strength to the utmost and with his knees braced doggedly against the front of the caboose, held the wheel.
The brake screamed, but the speed of the caboose was not appreciably slackened. "It's had too good a start!" Bryce moaned. "The momentum is more than I can overcome. Oh, Shirley, my love! God help you!"
He cast a sudden despairing look over his shoulder downward at the coupling. He was winning, after all, for a space of six feet now yawned between the end of the logging-truck and the bumper of the caboose. If he could but hold that tremendous strain on the wheel for a quarter of a mile, he might get the demon caboose under control! Again he dug his knees into the front of the car and twisted on the wheel until it seemed that his muscles must crack.
After what seemed an eon of waiting, he ventured another look ahead. The rear logging-truck was a hundred yards in front of him now, and from the wheels of the caboose an odour of something burning drifted up to him. "I've got your wheels locked!" he half sobbed. "I'll hold you yet, you brute. Slide! That's it! Slide, and flatten your infernal wheels. Hah! You're quitting--quitting. I'll have you in control before we reach the curve. Burn, curse you, burn!"
With a shriek of metal scraping metal, the head of the Juggernaut ahead took the curve, clung there an instant, and was catapulted out into space. Logs weighing twenty tons were flung about like kindling; one instant, Bryce could see them in the air; the next they had disappeared down the hillside. A deafening crash, a splash, a cloud of dust--
With a protesting squeal, the caboose came to the point where the logging-train had left the right of way, carrying rails and ties with it. The wheels on the side nearest the bank slid into the dirt first and plowed deep into the soil; the caboose came to an abrupt stop, trembled and rattled, overtopped its centre of gravity, and fell over against the cut-bank, wearily, like a drunken hag.
Bryce, still clinging to the brake, was fully braced for the shock and was not flung off. Calmly he descended the ladder, recovered the axe from the bumper, climbed back to the roof, tiptoed off the roof to the top of the bank and sat calmly down under a manzanita bush to await results, for he was quite confident that none of the occupants of the confounded caboose had been treated to anything worse than a wild ride and a rare fright, and he was curious to see how Shirley Sumner would behave in an emergency.
Colonel Pennington was first to emerge at the rear of the caboose. He leaped lightly down the steps, ran to the front of the car, looked down the track, and swore feelingly. Then he darted back to the rear of the caboose.
"All clear and snug as a bug under a chip, my dear," he called to Shirley. "Thank God, the caboose became uncoupled--guess that fool brakeman forgot to drop the pin; it was the last car, and when it jumped the track and plowed into the dirt, it just naturally quit and toppled over against the bank. Come out, my dear."
Shirley came out, dry-eyed, but white and trembling. The Colonel placed his arm around her, and she hid her face on his shoulder and shuddered. "There, there!" he soothed her affectionately. "It's all over, my dear. All's well that ends well."
"The train," she cried in a choking voice. "Where is it?"
"In little pieces--down in Mad River." He laughed happily. "And the logs weren't even mine! As for the trucks, they were a lot of ratty antiques and only fit to haul Cardigan's logs. About a hundred yards of roadbed ruined--that's the extent of my loss, for I'd charged off the trucks to profit and loss two years ago."
"Bryce Cardigan," she sobbed. "I saw him--he was riding a top log on the train. He--ah, God help him!"
The Colonel shook her with sudden ferocity. "Young Cardigan," he cried sharply. "Riding the logs? Are you certain?"
She nodded, and her shoulders shook piteously.
"Then Bryce Cardigan is gone!" Pennington's pronouncement was solemn, deadly with its flat finality. "No man could have rolled down into Mad River with a trainload of logs and survived. The devil himself couldn't." He heaved a great sigh, and added: "Well, that clears the atmosphere considerably, although for all his faults, I regret, for his father's sake, that this dreadful affair has happened. Well, it can't be helped, Shirley. Don't cry, my dear. I know it's terrible, but--there, there my love. Do brace up. Poor devil! For all his damnable treatment of me, I wouldn't have had this happen for a million dollars."
Shirley burst into wild weeping. Bryce's heart leaped, for he understood the reason for her grief. She had sent him away in anger, and he had gone to his death; ergo it would be long before Shirley would forgive herself. Bryce had not intended presenting himself before her in his battered and bloody condition, but the sight of her distress now was more than he could bear. He coughed slightly, and the alert Colonel glanced up at him instantly.
"Well, I'll be hanged!" The words fell from Pennington's lips with a heartiness that was almost touching. "I thought you'd gone with the train."
"Sorry to have disappointed you, old top," Bryce replied blithely, "but I'm just naturally stubborn. Too bad about the atmosphere you thought cleared a moment ago! It's clogged worse than ever now."
At the sound of Bryce's voice, Shirley raised her head, whirled and looked up at him. He held his handkerchief over his gory face that the sight might not distress her; he could have whooped with delight at the joy that flashed through her wet lids.
"Bryce Cardigan," she commanded sternly, "come down here this instant."
"I'm not a pretty sight, Shirley. Better let me go about my business."
She stamped her foot. "Come here!"
"Well, since you insist," he replied, and he slid down the bank.
"How did you get up there--and what do you mean by hiding there spying on me, you--you--oh, you!"
"Cuss a little, if it will help any," he suggested. "I had to get out of your way--out of your sight--and up there was the best place. I was on the roof of the caboose when it toppled over, so all I had to do was step ashore and sit down."
"Then why didn't you stay there?" she demanded furiously.
"You wouldn't let me," he answered demurely. "And when I saw you weeping because I was supposed to be with the angels, I couldn't help coughing to let you know I was still hanging around, ornery as a book-agent."
"How did you ruin your face, Mr. Cardigan?"
"Tried to take a cast of the front end of the caboose in my classic countenance--that's all."
"But you were riding the top log on the last truck--"
"Certainly, but I wasn't hayseed enough to stay there until we struck this curve. I knew exactly what was going to happen, so I climbed down to the bumper of the caboose, uncoupled it from the truck, climbed up on the roof, and managed to get the old thing under control with the hand-brake; then I skedaddled up into the brush because I knew you were inside, and---By the way, Colonel Pennington, here is your axe, which I borrowed this afternoon. Much obliged for its use. The last up-train is probably waiting on the siding at Freshwater to pass the late lamented; consequently a walk of about a mile will bring you a means of transportation back to Sequoia. Walk leisurely--you have lots of time. As for myself, I'm in a hurry, and my room is more greatly to be desired than my company, so I'll start now."
He lifted his hat, turned, and walked briskly down the ruined track.
Shirley made a little gesture of dissent, half opened her lips to call him back, thought better of it, and let him go. When he was out of sight, it dawned on her that he had risked his life to save hers.
"Uncle Seth," she said soberly, "what would have happened to us if Bryce Cardigan had not come up here to-day to thrash your woods- boss?"
"We'd both be in Kingdom Come now," he answered truthfully.
"Under the circumstances, then," Shirley continued, "suppose we all agree to forget that anything unusual happened to-day--"
"I bear the young man no ill will, Shirley, but before you permit yourself to be carried away by the splendour of his action in cutting out the caboose and getting it under control, it might be well to remember that his own precious hide was at stake also. He would have cut the caboose out even if you and I had not been in it."
"No, he would not," she insisted, for the thought that he had done it for her sake was very sweet to her and would persist. "Cooped up in the caboose, we did not know the train was running away until it was too late for us to jump, while Bryce Cardigan, riding out on the logs, must have known it almost immediately. He would have had time to jump before the runaway gathered too much headway--and he would have jumped, Uncle Seth, for his father's sake."
"Well, he certainly didn't stay for mine, Shirley."
She dried her moist eyes and blushed furiously. "Uncle Seth," she pleaded, taking him lovingly by the arm, "let's be friends with Bryce Cardigan; let's get together and agree on an equitable contract for freighting his logs over our road."
"You are now," he replied severely, "mixing sentiment and business; if you persist, the result will be chaos. Cardigan has in a large measure squared himself for his ruffianly conduct earlier in the day, and I'll forgive him and treat him with courtesy hereafter; but I want you to understand, Shirley, that such treatment by me does not constitute a license for that fellow to crawl up in my lap and be petted. He is practically a pauper now, which makes him a poor business risk, and you'll please me greatly by leaving him severely alone--by making him keep his distance."
"I'll not do that," she answered with a quiet finality that caused her uncle to favour her with a quick, searching glance.
He need not have worried, however, for Bryce Cardigan was too well aware of his own financial condition to risk the humiliation of asking Shirley Sumner to share it with him. Moreover, he had embarked upon a war--a war which he meant to fight to a finish.
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