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The Valley of the Giants (Chapter18)

2006-08-22 19:50

  Chapter XVIII

  George Sea Otter, summoned by telephone, came out to Freshwater, the station nearest the wreck, and transported his battered young master back to Sequoia. Here Bryce sought the doctor in the Cardigan Redwood Lumber Company's little hospital and had his wrecked nose reorganized and his cuts bandaged. It was characteristic of his father's son that when this detail had been attended to, he should go to the office and work until the six o'clock whistle blew.

  Old Cardigan was waiting for him at the gate when he reached home. George Sea Otter had already given the old man a more or less garbled account of the runaway log-train, and Cardigan eagerly awaited his son's arrival in order to ascertain the details of this new disaster which had come upon them. For disaster it was, in truth. The loss of the logs was trifling——perhaps three or four thousand dollars; the destruction of the rolling-stock was the crowning misfortune. Both Cardigans knew that Pennington would eagerly seize upon this point to stint his competitor still further on logging-equipment, that there would be delays——purposeful but apparently unavoidable——before this lost rolling-stock would be replaced. And in the interim the Cardigan mill, unable to get a sufficient supply of logs to fill orders in hand, would be forced to close down. Full well Pennington knew that anything which, tends to bring about a shortage of raw material for any manufacturing plant will result inevitably in the loss of customers.

  “Well, son,” said John Cardigan mildly as Bryce unlatched the gate, “another bump, eh?”

  “Yes, sir——right on the nose.”

  “I meant another bump to your heritage, my son.”

  “I'm worrying more about my nose, partner. In fact, I'm not worrying about my heritage at all. I've come to a decision on that point: We're going to fight and fight to the last; we're going down fighting. And by the way, I started the fight this afternoon. I whaled the wadding out of that bucko woods-boss of Pennington's, and as a special compliment to you, John Cardigan, I did an almighty fine job of cleaning. Even went so far as to muss the Colonel up a little.”

  “Wow, wow, Bryce! Bully for you! I wanted that man Rondeau taken apart. He has terrorized our woods-men for a long time. He's king of the mad-train, you know.”

  Bryce was relieved. His father did not know, then, of the act of vandalism in the Valley of the Giants. This fact strengthened Bryce's resolve not to tell him——also to get the fallen monarch sawed up and the stump blasted out before an operation should restore his father's sight and reveal to him the crowning cruelty of his enemy.

  Arm in arm they walked up the garden path together.

  Just as they entered the house, the telephone in the hall tinkled, and Bryce answered.

  “Mr. Cardigan,” came Shirley Sumner's voice over the wire.

  “Bryce,” he corrected her.

  She ignored the correction,

  “I——I don't know what to say to you,” she faltered.

  “There is no necessity for saying anything, Shirley.”

  “But you saved our lives, and at least have a right to expect due and grateful acknowledgment of our debt. I rang up to tell you how splendid and heroic your action was——”

  “I had my own life to save, Shirley.”

  “You did not think of that at the time.”

  “Well——I didn't think of your uncle's, either,” he replied without enthusiasm.

  “I'm sure we never can hope to catch even with you, Mr. Cardigan.”

  “Don't try. Your revered relative will not; so why should you?”

  “You are making it somewhat hard for me to——to——rehabilitate our friendship, Mr. Cardigan. We have just passed through a most extraordinary day, and if at evening I can feel as I do now, I think you ought to do your share——and help.”

  “Bless your heart,” he murmured. “The very fact that you bothered to ring me up at all makes me your debtor. Shirley, can you stand some plain speaking——between friends, I mean?”

  “I think so, Mr. Cardigan.”

  “Well, then,” said Bryce, “listen to this: I am your uncle's enemy until death do us part. Neither he nor I expect to ask or to give quarter, and I'm going to smash him if I can.”

  “If you do, you smash me,” she warned him.

  “Likewise our friendship. I'm sorry, but it's got to be done if I can do it. Shall——shall we say good-bye, Shirley?”

  “Yes-s-s!” There was a break in her voice. “Good-bye, Mr Cardigan. I wanted you to know.”

  “Good-bye! Well, that's cutting the mustard,” he murmured sotto voce, “and there goes another bright day-dream.” Unknown to himself, he spoke directly into the transmitter, and Shirley, clinging half hopefully to the receiver at the other end of the wire, heard him—— caught every inflection of the words, commonplace enough, but freighted with the pathos of Bryce's first real tragedy.

  “Oh, Bryce!” she cried sharply. But he did not hear her; he had hung up his receiver now.

  The week that ensued was remarkable for the amount of work Bryce accomplished in the investigation of his father's affairs——also for a visit from Donald McTavish, the woods-boss. Bryce found him sitting in the private office one morning at seven o'clock.

  “Hello, McTavish,” he saluted the woods-boss cheerfully and extended his hand for a cordial greeting. His wayward employee stood up, took the proffered hand in both of his huge and callous ones, and held it rather childishly.

  “Weel! 'Tis the wee laddie hissel,” he boomed. “I'm glad to see ye, boy.”

  “You'd have seen me the day before yesterday——if you had been seeable,” Bryce reminded him with a bright smile. “Mac, old man, they tell me you've gotten to be a regular go-to-hell.”

  “I'll nae deny I take a wee drappie now an' then,” the woods-boss admitted frankly, albeit there was a harried, hangdog look in his eyes.

  Bryce sat down at his desk, lighted his pipe, and looked McTavish over soberly. The woods-boss was a big, raw-boned Scotsman, with a plentiful sprinkling of silver in his thick mane of red hair, which fell far down on his shoulders. A tremendous nose rose majestically out of a face so strong and rugged one searched in vain for aught of manly beauty in it; his long arms hung gorilla-like, almost to his knees, and he was slightly stooped, as if from bearing heavy burdens. Though in the late fifties, his years had touched him lightly; but John Barleycorn had not been so considerate. Bryce noted that McTavish was carrying some thirty pounds of whiskey fat and that the pupils of his fierce blue eyes were permanently distended, showing that alcohol had begun to affect his brain. His hands trembled as he stood before Bryce, smiling fatuously and plucking at the cuffs of his mackinaw. The latter realized that McTavish was waiting for him to broach the object of the visit; so with an effort he decided to begin the disagreeable task.

  “Mac, did Moira give you my message?”

  “Aye.”

  “Well, I guess we understand each other, Mac. Was there something else you wanted to see me about?”

  McTavish sidled up to the desk. “Ye'll no be firin' auld Mac oot o' hand?” he pleaded hopefully. “Mon, ha ye the heart to do it——after a' these years?”

  Bryce nodded. “If you have the heart——after all these years——to draw pay you do not earn, then I have the heart to put a better man in your place.”

  “Ye was ever a laddie to hae your bit joke.”

  “It's no good arguing, Mac. You're off the pay-roll onto the pension- roll——your shanty in the woods, your meals at the camp kitchen, your clothing and tobacco that I send out to you. Neither more nor less!” He reached into his desk and drew forth a check. “Here's your wages to the fifteenth. It's the last Cardigan check you'll ever finger. I'm terribly sorry, but I'm terribly in earnest.”

  “Who will ye pit in ma place?”

  “I don't know. However, it won't be a difficult task to find a better man than you.”

  “I'll nae let him work.” McTavish's voice deepened to a growl. “You worked that racket on my father. Try it on me, and you'll answer to me——personally. Lay the weight of your finger on your successor, Mac, and you'll die in the county poor-farm. No threats, old man! You know the Cardigans; they never bluff.”

  McTavish's glance met the youthful master's for several seconds; then the woods-boss trembled, and his gaze sought the office floor. Bryce knew he had his man whipped at last, and McTavish realized it, too, for quite suddenly he burst into tears.

  “Dinna fire me, lad,” he pleaded. “I'll gae back on the job an' leave whusky alone.”

  “Nothing doing, Mac. Leave whiskey alone for a year and I'll discharge your successor to give you back your job. For the present however, my verdict stands. You're discharged.”

  “Who kens the Cardigan woods as I ken them?” McTavish blubbered. “Who'll swamp a road into timber sixty per cent. clear when the mill's runnin' on foreign orders an' the owd man's calling for clear logs? Who'll fell trees wi' the least amount o' breakage? Who'll get the work out o' the men? Who'll——”

  “Don't plead, Mac,” Bryce interrupted gently. “You're quite through, and I can't waste any more time on you.”

  “Ye dinna mean it, lad. Ye canna mean it.”

  “On your way, Mac. I loathe arguments. And don't forget your check.”

  “I maun see yer faither aboot this. He'll nae stand for sic treatment o' an auld employee.”

  Bryce's temper flared up. “You keep away from my father. You've worried him enough in the past, you drunkard. If you go up to the house to annoy my father with your pleadings, McTavish, I'll manhandle you.” He glanced at his watch. “The next train leaves for the woods in twenty minutes. If you do not go back on it and behave yourself, you can never go back to Cardigan woods.”

  “I will nae take charity from any man,” McTavish thundered. “I'll nae bother the owd man, an' I'll nae go back to yon woods to live on yer bounty.”

  “Well, go somewhere, Mac, and be quick about it. Only——when you've reformed, please come back. You'll be mighty welcome. Until then, however, you're as popular with me——that is, in a business way——as a wet dog.”

  “Ye're nae the man yer faither was,” the woods-boss half sobbed. “Ye hae a heart o' stone.”

  “You've been drunk for fifteen days——and I'm paying you for it, Mac,” Bryce reminded him gently. “Don't leave your check behind. You'll need it.”

  With a fine show of contempt and rage, McTavish tore the check into strips and threw them at Bryce. “I was never a mon to take charity,” he roared furiously, and left the office. Bryce called after him a cheerful good-bye, but he did not answer. And he did not remain in town; neither did he return to his shanty in the woods. For a month his whereabouts remained a mystery; then one day Moira received a letter from him informing her that he had a job knee-bolting in a shingle mill in Mendocino County.

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