Chapter XXX
 

The success of Bryce Cardigan's plan for getting Ms rails down from Laurel Creek depended entirely upon the whimsy which might seize the crew of the big mogul that hauled the last load of logs out of Cardigan's redwoods on Thursday afternoon. Should the engineer and fireman decide to leave the locomotive at the logging-camp for the night, Bryce's task would be as simple as turning a hose down a squirrel-hole. On the other hand, should they run back to Sequoia with the engine, he and Ogilvy faced the alternative of "borrowing" it from the Laguna Grande Lumber Company's roundhouse; and that operation, in view of the fact that Pennington's night watchman would be certain to hear the engine leaving, offered difficulties.

Throughout the afternoon, after having sent his orders in writing to the woods-boss, via George Sea Otter (for he dared not trust to the telephone), be waited in his office for a telephone-call from the logging-camp as to what action the engine-crew had taken. He could not work; he could not think. He only knew that all depended upon the success of his coup to-night. Finally, at a quarter of six, Curtis, his woods-boss rang in.

"They're staying here all night, sir," he reported.

"House them as far from the log-landing as possible, and organize a poker-game to keep them busy in case they don't go to bed before eight o'clock," Bryce ordered. "In the meantime, send a man you can trust--Jim Harding, who runs the big bull-donkey, will do--down to the locomotive to keep steam up until I arrive."

He had scarcely hung up, when Buck Ogilvy came into the office. "Well?" he queried casually.

"Safe-o, Buck!" replied Bryce. "How about your end of the contract?"

"Crowbars, picks, shovels, hack-saws to cut the rails, lanterns to work by, and men to do the work will be cached in your lumber-yard by nine o'clock, waiting for the rails to arrive."

Bryce nodded his approval, "Then I suppose there's nothing to do but get a bite of dinner and proceed to business."

Buck insisted on keeping an engagement to dine with Moira, and Bryce agreed to call for him at the Bon Gusto restaurant. Then Bryce went home to dine with his father. Old Cardigan was happier than his son had seen him since the return of the latter to Sequoia.

"Well, sonny, I've had a mighty pleasant afternoon," he declared as Bryce led him to the dinner-table. "I've been up to the Valley of the Giants."

Bryce was amazed. "Why, how could you?" he demanded. "The old skid- road is impassable, and after you leave the end of the skid-road, the trail in to Mother's grave is so overgrown with buckthorn and wild lilac I doubt if a rabbit could get through it comfortably."

"Not a bit of it," the old man replied. "Somebody has gone to work and planked that old skid-road and put up a hand-railing on each side, while the trail through the Giants has been grubbed out and smoothed over. All that old logging-cable I abandoned in those choppings has been strung from tree to tree alongside the path on both sides. I can go up there alone now, once George sets me on the old skid-road; I can't get lost."

"How did you discover this?" Bryce demanded.

"Judge Moore, representing the new owner, called round this morning and took me in tow. He said his client knew the property held for me a certain sentimental value which wasn't transferred in the deed, and so the Judge had been instructed to have the skid-road planked and the forest trail grubbed out--for me. It appears that the Valley is going to be a public park, after all, but for the present and while I live, it is my private park."

"This is perfectly amazing, partner."

"It's mighty comforting," his father admitted. "Guess the new owner must be one of my old friends--perhaps somebody I did a favour for once--and this is his way of repaying. Remember the old sugar-pine windfall we used to sit on? Well, it's rotted through, and bears have clawed it into chips in their search for grubs, but the new owner had a seat put in there for me--just the kind of seat I like--a lumberjack's rocking-chair made from an old vinegar-barrel. I sat in it, and the Judge left me, and I did a right smart lot o' thinking. And while it didn't lead me anywhere, still I--er--"

"You felt better, didn't you?" his son suggested.

John Cardigan nodded. "I'd like to know the name of the owner," he said presently. "I'd like mighty well to say thank you to him. It isn't usual for people nowadays to have as much respect for sentiment in an old duffer like me as the fellow has. He sort of makes me feel as if I hadn't sold at all."

Buck Ogilvy came out of the Bon Gusto restaurant with Moira, just as Bryce, with George Sea Otter at the wheel of the Napier, drove up to the curb. They left Moira at her boarding-house, and rolled noiselessly away.

At nine o'clock they arrived at Cardigan's log-landing and found Jim Harding, the bull-donkey engineer, placidly smoking his pipe in the cab. Bryce hailed him.

"That you, Jim?"

"You bet."

"Run up to Jabe Curtis's shanty, and tell him we're here. Have him gather his gang and bring two pairs of overalls and two jumpers-- large size--with him when he comes."

Harding vanished into the darkness, and Buck Ogilvy climbed up into the cab and glanced at the steam-gauge. "A hundred and forty," he announced. "Good enough!"

Presently the woods-boss, accompanied by thirty of his best men, came down to the log-landing. At Bryce's order they clambered aboard the engine and tender, hanging on the steps, on the roof of the cab, on the cowcatcher--anywhere they could find a toe-hold. Harding cast aside the two old ties which the careful engine-crew had placed across the tracks in front of the drivers as additional precaution; Buck Ogilvy cut off the air, and the locomotive and tender began to glide slowly down the almost imperceptible grade. With a slight click it cleared the switch and slid out onto the Cardigan lateral, swiftly gathering speed. A quarter of a mile down the line Buck Ogilvy applied the brakes and eased her down to twenty miles per hour.

At the junction with the main line Buck backed briskly up into the Laguna Grande woods, and coupled to the two loaded flat-cars. The woods-gang scrambled aboard the flats, and the train pulled out for Sequoia. Forty minutes later they rumbled down Water Street and slid to a grinding halt at the intersection of B Street.

From the darkness of Cardigan's drying-yard, where they had been waiting, twenty picked men of the mill-crew now emerged, bearing lanterns and tools. Under Buck Ogilvy's direction the dirt promptly began to fly, while the woods-crew unloaded the rails and piled them close to the sidewalk.

Suddenly a voice, harsh and strident with passion, rose above the thud of the picks and the clang of metal.

"Who's in charge here, and what in blazes do you mean by cutting my tracks?"

Bryce turned in time to behold Colonel Seth Pennington leap from an automobile and advance upon Buck Ogilvy. Ogilvy held a lantern up to the Colonel's face and surveyed Pennington calmly.

"Colonel," he began with exasperating politeness, "--I presume you are Colonel Pennington--my name is Buchanan P. Ogilvy, and I am in charge of these operations. I am the vice-president and general manager of the N.C.O., and I am engaged in the blithe task of making a jump-crossing of your rails. I had hoped to accomplish this without your knowledge or consent, but now that you are here, that hope, of course, has died a-bornin'. Have a cigar." And he thrust a perfecco under the Colonel's nose. Pennington struck it to the ground, and on the instant, half a dozen rough rascals emptied their shovels over him. He was deluged with dirt.

"Stand back, Colonel, stand back, if you please. You're in the way of the shovellers," Buck Ogilvy warned him soothingly.

Bryce Cardigan came over, and at sight of him Pennington choked with fury. "You--you--" he sputtered, unable to say more.

"I'm the N.C.O.," Bryce replied. "Nice little fiction that of yours about the switch-engine being laid up in the shops and the Laurel Creek bridge being unsafe for this big mogul." He looked Pennington over with frank admiration. "You're certainly on the job, Colonel. I'll say that much for you. The man who plans to defeat you must jump far and fast, or his tail will be trod on."

"You've stolen my engine," Pennington almost screamed. "I'll have the law on you for grand larceny."

"Tut-tut! You don't know who stole your engine. For all you know, your own engine-crew may have run it down here."

"I'll attend to you, sir," Pennington replied, and he turned to enter Mayor Poundstone's little flivver.

"Not to-night, at least," Bryce retorted gently. "Having gone this far, I would be a poor general to permit you to escape now with the news of your discovery. You'd be down here in an hour with a couple of hundred members of your mill-crew and give us the rush. You will oblige me, Colonel Pennington, by remaining exactly where you are until I give you permission to depart."

"And if I refuse--"

"Then I shall manhandle you, truss you up like a fowl in the tonneau of your car, and gag you."

To Bryce's infinite surprise the Colonel smiled. "Oh, very well!" he replied. "I guess you've got the bulge on me, young man. Do you mind if I sit in the warm cab of my own engine? I came away in such a hurry I quite forgot my overcoat."

"Not at all. I'll sit up there and keep you company."

Half an hour passed. An automobile came slowly up Water Street and paused half a block away, evidently reconnoitering the situation. Instantly the Colonel thrust his head out the cab window.

"Sexton!" he shouted. "Cardigan's cutting in a crossing. He's holding me here against my will. Get the mill-crew together and phone for Rondeau and his woods-crew. Send the switch-engine and a couple of flats up for them. Phone Poundstone. Tell him to have the chief of police--"

Bryce Cardigan's great hand closed over the Colonel's neck, while down Water Street a dark streak that was Buck Ogilvy sped toward the automobile, intending to climb in and make Pennington's manager a prisoner also. He was too late, however. Sexton swung his car and departed at full speed down Water Street, leaving the disappointed Buck to return panting to the scene of operations.

Bryce Cardigan released his hold on Pennington's neck. "You win, Colonel," he announced. "No good can come of holding you here any longer. Into your car and on your way."

"Thank you, young man," the Colonel answered, and there was a metallic ring in his voice. He looked at his watch in the glare of a torch. "Plenty of time," he murmured. "Curfew shall not ring to- night." Quite deliberately he climbed into the Mayor's late source of woe and breezed away.

Colonel Pennington did not at once return to his home, however. Instead, he drove up to the business centre of the town. The streets were deserted, but one saloon--the Sawdust Pile--was still open.

Pennington strode through the bar and into the back room, where a number of poker-games were in progress. For a moment he stood, his cold, ophidian glance circling the room until it came to rest on no less a personage than the Black Minorca, an individual with whom the reader has already had some slight acquaintance. It will be recalled that the Black Minorca led the futile rush against Bryce Cardigan that day in Pennington's woods.

The Colonel approached the table where the Black Minorca sat thumbing the edges of his cards, and touched the cholo on the shoulder. The Black Minorca turned, and Pennington nodded to him to follow; whereupon the latter cashed in his chips and joined his employer on the sidewalk. Here a whispered conversation ensued, and at its conclusion the Black Minorca nodded vigorously.

"Sure!" he assured the Colonel. "I'll fix 'em good and plenty."

Together Pennington and the Black Minorca entered the automobile and proceeded swiftly to the Laguna Grande Lumber Company's mill-office. From a locker the Colonel produced a repeating rifle and three boxes of cartridges, which he handed to the cholo, who departed without further ado into the night.

Twenty minutes later, from the top of a lumber-pile in Cardigan's drying-yard, Bryce Cardigan saw the flash of a rifle and felt a sudden sting on his left forearm. He leaped around in front of the cowcatcher to gain the shelter of the engine, and another bullet struck at his feet and ricocheted off into the night. It was followed by a fusillade, the bullets kicking up the freshly disturbed earth among the workers and sending them scurrying to various points of safety. In an instant the crossing was deserted, and work had been stopped, while from the top of the adjacent lumber-pile the Black Minorca poured a stream of lead and filthy invective at every point which he suspected of harbouring a Cardigan follower.

"I don't think he's hurt anybody," Buck Ogilvy whispered as he crouched with Bryce beside the engine, "but that's due to his marksmanship rather than his intentions."

"He tried hard enough to plug me," Bryce declared, and showed the hole through his sleeve. "They call him the Black Minorca, and he's a mongrel greaser who'd kill his own mother for a fifty-dollar bill."

"I'd like to plug him," Buck murmured regretfully.

"What would be the use? This will be his last night in Humboldt County--"

A rifle shot rang out from the side of B Street; from the lumber-pile across the street, Bryce and Ogilvy heard a suppressed grunt of pain, and a crash as of a breaking board. Instantly out of the shadows George Sea Otter came padding on velvet feet, rifle in hand--and then Bryce understood.

"All right, boss," said George simply as he joined Bryce and Ogilvy under the lee of the locomotive. "Now we get busy again."

"Safe-o, men," Ogilvy called. "Back to the job." And while Bryce, followed by the careless George Sea Otter, went into the lumber-yard to succour the enemy, Ogilvy set an example to the men by stepping into the open and starting briskly to work with a shovel.

At the bottom of the pile of lumber the Black Minorca was discovered with a severe flesh-wound in his right hip; also he was suffering from numerous bruises and contusions. George Sea Otter possessed himself of the fallen cholo's rifle, while Bryce picked the wretch up and carried him to his automobile.

"Take the swine over to the Laguna Grande Lumber Company's hospital and tell them to patch him up," he ordered George Sea Otter. "I'll keep both rifles and the ammunition here for Jules Rondeau and his woods-gang. They'll probably be dropping in on us about two a.m., if I know anything about Colonel Pennington's way of doing things."