Chapter XL
 

Next day Bryce Cardigan, riding the top log on the end truck of a long train just in from Cardigan's woods in Township Nine, dropped from the end of the log as the train crawled through the mill-yard on its way to the log-dump. He hailed Buck Ogilvy, where the latter stood in the door of the office.

"Big doings up on Little Laurel Creek this morning, Buck."

"Do tell!" Mr. Ogilvy murmured morosely.

"It was great," Bryce continued. "Old Duncan McTavish returned. I knew he would. His year on the mourner's-bench expired yesterday, and he came back to claim his old job of woods-boss."

"He's one year too late," Ogilvy declared. "I wouldn't let that big Canadian Jules Rondeau quit for a farm. Some woods-boss, that--and his first job with this company was the dirtiest you could hand him-- smearing grease on the skid-road at a dollar and a half a day and found. He's made too good to lose out now. I don't care what his private morals may be. He can get out the logs, hang his rascally hide, and I'm for him."

"I'm afraid you haven't anything to say about it, Buck," Bryce replied dryly.

"I haven't, eh? Well, any time you deny me the privilege of hiring and firing, you're going to be out the service of a rattling good general manager, my son. Yes, sir! If you hold me responsible for results, I must select the tools I want to work with."

"Oh, very well," Bryce laughed. "Have it your own way. Only if you can drive Duncan McTavish out of Cardigan's woods, I'd like to see you do it. Possession is nine points of the law, Buck--and Old Duncan is in possession."

"What do you mean--in possession?"

"I mean that at ten o'clock this morning Duncan McTavish appeared at our log-landing. The whisky-fat was all gone from him, and he appeared forty years old instead of the sixty he is. With a whoop he came jumping over the logs, straight for Jules Rondeau. The big Canuck saw him coming and knew what his visit portended--so he wasn't taken unawares. It was a case of fight for his job--and Rondeau fought."

"The devil you say!"

"I do--and there was the devil to pay. It was a rough and tumble and no grips barred--just the kind of fight Rondeau likes. Nevertheless old Duncan floored him. While he's been away somebody taught him the hammer-lock and the crotch-hold and a few more fancy ones, and he got to work on Rondeau in a hurry. In fact, he had to, for if the tussle had gone over five minutes, Rondeau's youth would have decided the issue."

"And Rondeau was whipped?"

"To a whisper. Mac floored him, climbed him, and choked him until he beat the ground with his free hand in token of surrender; whereupon old Duncan let him up, and Rondeau went to his shanty and packed his turkey. The last I saw of him he was headed over the hill to Camp Two on Laguna Grande. He'll probably chase that assistant woods-boss I hired after the consolidation, out of Shirley's woods and help himself to the fellow's job. I don't care if he does. What interests me is the fact that the old Cardigan woods-boss is back on the job in Cardigan's woods, and I'm mighty glad of it. The old horsethief has had his lesson and will remain sober hereafter. I think he's cured."

"The infamous old outlaw!"

"Mac knows the San Hedrin as I know my own pocket. He'll be a tower of strength when we open up that tract after the railroad builds in. By the way, has my dad been down this morning?"

"Yes. Moira read the mail to him and then took him up to the Valley of the Giants. He said he wanted to do a little quiet figuring on that new steam schooner you're thinking of building. He thinks she ought to be bigger--big enough to carry two million feet."

Bryce glanced at his watch. "It's half after eleven," he said. "Guess I'll run up to the Giants and bring him home to luncheon."

He stepped into the Napier standing outside the office and drove away. Buck Ogilvy waited until Bryce was out of sight; then with sudden determination he entered the office.

"Moira," he said abruptly, approaching the desk where she worked, "your dad is back, and what's more, Bryce Cardigan has let him have his old job as woods-boss. And I'm here to announce that you're not going back to the woods to keep house for him. Understand? Now, look here, Moira. I've shilly-shallied around you for months, protesting my love, and I haven't gotten anywhere. To-day I'm going to ask you for the last time. Will you marry me? I need you worse than that rascal of a father of yours does, and I tell you I'll not have you go back to the woods to take care of him. Come, now, Moira. Do give me a definite answer."

"I'm afraid I don't love you well enough to marry you, Mr. Ogilvy," Moira pleaded. "I'm truly fond of you, but--"

"The last boat's gone," cried Mr. Ogilvy desperately. "I'm answered. Well, I'll not stick around here much longer, Moira. I realize I must be a nuisance, but I can't help being a nuisance when you're near me. So I'll quit my good job here and go back to my old game of railroading."

"Oh, you wouldn't quit a ten-thousand-dollar job," Moira cried, aghast.

"I'd quit a million-dollar job. I'm desperate enough to go over to the mill and pick a fight with the big bandsaw. I'm going away where I can't see you. Your eyes are driving me crazy."

"But I don't want you to go, Mr. Ogilvy."

"Call me Buck," he commanded sharply.

"I don't want you to go, Buck," she repeated meekly. "I shall feel guilty, driving you out of a fine position."

"Then marry me and I'll stay."

"But suppose I don't love you the way you deserve--"

"Suppose! Suppose!" Buck Ogilvy cried. "You're no longer certain of yourself. How dare you deny your love for me? Eh? Moira, I'll risk it."

Her eyes turned to him timidly, and for the first time he saw in their smoky depths a lambent flame. "I don't know," she quavered, "and it's a big responsibility in case--"

"Oh, the devil take the case!" he cried rapturously, and took her hands in his. "Do I improve with age, dear Moira?" he asked with boyish eagerness; then, before she could answer, he swept on, a tornado of love and pleading. And presently Moira was in his arms, he was kissing her, and she was crying softly because--well, she admired Mr. Buck Ogilvy; more, she respected him and was genuinely fond of him. She wondered, and as she wondered, a quiet joy thrilled her in the knowledge that it did not seem at all impossible for her to grow, in time, absurdly fond of this wholesome red rascal.

"Oh, Buck, dear," she whispered, "I don't know, I'm sure, but perhaps I've loved you a little bit for a long time."

"I'm perfectly wild over you. You're the most wonderful woman I ever heard of. Old rosy-cheeks!" And he pinched them just to see the colour come and go.

John Cardigan was seated in his lumberjack's easy-chair as his son approached. His hat lay on the litter of brown twigs beside him; his chin was sunk on his breast, and his head was held a little to one side in a listening attitude; a vagrant little breeze rustled gently a lock of his fine, long white hair. Bryce stooped over the old man and shook him gently by the shoulder.

"Wake up, partner," he called cheerfully. But John Cardigan did not wake, and again his son shook him. Still receiving no response, Bryce lifted the leonine old head and gazed into his father's face. "John Cardigan!" he cried sharply. "Wake up, old pal."

The old eyes opened, and John Cardigan smiled up at his boy. "Good son," he whispered, "good son!" He closed his sightless eyes again as if the mere effort of holding them open wearied him. "I've been sitting here--waiting," he went on in the same gentle whisper. "No, not waiting for you, boy--waiting--"

His head fell over on his son's shoulder; his hand went groping for Bryce's. "Listen," he continued. "Can't you hear it--the Silence? I'll wait for you here, my son. Mother and I will wait together now-- in this spot she fancied. I'm tired--I want rest. Look after old Mac and Moira--and Bill Dandy, who lost his leg at Camp Seven last fall-- and Tom Ellington's children--and--all the others, son. You know, Bryce. They're your responsibilities. Sorry I can't wait to see the San Hedrin opened up, but--I've lived my life and loved my love. Ah, yes, I've been happy--so happy just doing things--and--dreaming here among my Giants--and--"

He sighed gently. "Good son," he whispered again; his big body relaxed, and the great heart of the Argonaut was still. Bryce held him until the realization came to him that his father was no more-- that like a watch, the winding of which has been neglected, he had gradually slowed up and stopped.

"Good-bye, old John-partner!" he murmured.

"You've escaped into the light at last. We'll go home together now, but we'll come back again."

And with his father's body in his strong arms he departed from the little amphitheatre, walking lightly with his heavy burden down the old skid-road to the waiting automobile. And two days later John Cardigan returned to rest forever--with his lost mate among the Giants, himself at last an infinitesimal portion of that tremendous silence that is the diapason of the ages.

When the funeral was over, Shirley and Bryce lingered until they found themselves alone beside the freshly turned earth. Through a rift in the great branches two hundred feet above, a patch of cerulean sky showed faintly; the sunlight fell like a broad golden shaft over the blossom-laden grave, and from the brown trunk of an adjacent tree a gray squirrel, a descendant, perhaps, of the gray squirrel that had been wont to rob Bryce's pockets of pine-nuts twenty years before, chirped at them inquiringly.

"He was a giant among men," said Bryce presently. "What a fitting place for him to lie!" He passed his arm around his wife's shoulders and drew her to him. "You made it possible, sweetheart."

She gazed up at him in adoration. And presently they left the Valley of the Giants to face the world together, strong in their faith to live their lives and love their loves, to dream their dreams and perchance when life should be done with and the hour of rest at hand, to surrender, sustained and comforted by the knowledge that those dreams had come true.

THE END