Chapter XV. The "Cut-Off"
 

The meeting with Margaret Westcote was a great event in Lois' life. Hitherto, her lot had been somewhat of a lonely one, with no special girl friend to share her confidences. Her interests had always been so different from others that she was not looked upon by any as a boon companion. She often reasoned with them and asked why they should make selfish pleasure the principal motive of living when they could have more enjoyment by putting self last and others first.

With Margaret Westcote, however, it was different. She was after Lois' own heart, and the two were as one in their interests. Each supplied what the other lacked; one her vivaciousness, and the other her calmness of mind. Their friendship was not a growth but a fusing at the first meeting. They were now very much together, and Margaret took a keen interest in the work of getting the Christmas supplies ready for needy families.

Dick was delighted that this beautiful girl was so much at the house, and for the first time in his life he found Church work most interesting. He was always ready to help, but was generally in the way. It was quite evident that he was greatly in love with Margaret, though she on her part treated him as a mere boy and not as a lover. He could not seem to realise that she was an excellent judge of character, and preferred men who did things instead of spending their time in idleness. Lois understood the girl's feelings, and the truth began to dawn upon her that Jasper Randall was Margaret's ideal type of a man. One who could battle and overcome was the man who appealed to her. Whenever Jasper's name was mentioned Margaret's eyes would sparkle with animation, and she never tired of talking about him and the struggle he had made in life.

The week before Christmas Lois became more enthusiastic than ever with the work of getting the boxes ready to be sent to the various families. She longed to interest her father, and one morning before he left for his office she asked him if he would not do something for the families of the men who were working for him in the woods on the old Dinsmore Manor. She had never spoken to him about the letter he had written to Mrs. Bean, feeling sure that it would be of no avail. But she had learned through a letter from Betty that the choppers had not yet crossed the line, and for this Lois was thankful. Perhaps he did not intend to take the logs, she reasoned, but had written the letter during one of his cranky moods, with no intention of putting his threat into practice.

"Why should we send anything to country families?" her father asked her. "They earn good money, and why should we help them?"

"But there are some very poor families," Lois replied, "and I know they can hardly make a living. There is Mrs. Bean, for instance. She hasn't the bare necessities of life at times, and a present this Christmas would be a blessing to her."

"I can't help that," Mr. Sinclair angrily retorted. "It's none of my business if she is poor. Where would we be, I'd like to know, if we handed out to such people? Why, there are thousands of them."

It was in no happy frame of mind that Mr. Sinclair left the house and made his way down town. Reaching his office, he seated himself before his desk and spread out a somewhat soiled piece of paper. Over this he ran his finger until it stopped at a certain mark. "Camp Number One," he muttered. "Ha, ha! good timber there, and close to the line, too. Camp Number Two--much nearer the line," and his finger moved over the paper to another mark. "Camp Number Three, and over the border into the enemy's country, ha, ha! Good for five thousand. Pine timber, straight and clean as masts, and thick as hair on a dog's back. How they'll squirm, those country clogs, when they see their good logs floating down the river. But they're mine. The new line is right, for the best surveyor in the Province ran it. Fifty rods inside the old one, ha, ha! I expect they'll make a fuss and put up a big kick. But I'll fight them, and then we'll see what money will do."

A knock sounded upon the door, and three men entered with hats in their hands.

"Mr. Sinclair, I believe," the spokesman began.

"Yes, that's my name, and what can I do for you?" the lumberman replied.

"Well, you see," continued the other, "we've come to the city on purpose to have a talk with you about that line you had run between your land and ours."

"Well, and what about it?" snapped Sinclair.

"We've been appointed a committee to inform you that your men are cutting logs over the line, and are encroaching on the shore lots. They began day before yesterday."

"What, the men of Camp Number Three?"

"Yes."

"But that timber is mine," Sinclair replied. "I sent a surveyor there last summer and he found that the old line was wrong. A new one was run which gives me fifty rods off the rear of your shore lots."

"There must be some mistake, Mr. Sinclair," the countryman calmly returned. "Our forefathers received their lands as grants from the Crown after the Revolutionary War. A line was then run which separated the shore lots from that portion of land known as the 'Dinsmore Manor,' and there has been no dispute over it until now."

"Look here!" and Sinclair sprang to his feet. "I know my business and attend to it. You attend to yours. The new line is right and, by heavens, I'll stick to it!"

"We are attending to our business," the countryman replied, "and we'll show you, wealthy though you are, that you can't work any bluff game on us. But," and here he lowered his voice, "Mr. Sinclair, we don't want to quarrel. We came chiefly to tell you that your men in Camp Number Three are cutting the logs on the farm of a poor widow with several children. If you are a man of any heart you will see that the work is stopped at once."

"What, cease for a widow and her brood? Never! There is the Poor House--let her go there; and the Orphanage is the place for the kids if they are not old enough to work. Such people only injure a settlement, and you should be glad to be rid of them. So, gentlemen, as I have much business on hand, I wish to be alone."

"And you will do nothing to help that poor woman?" the three men asked as one.

"No, nothing. Do your best. If you wish to lose your farms, go ahead. Good day."

Christmas came on Thursday, and on Tuesday morning Mr. Sinclair informed Lois that he was going away and would not be back until the end of the week. It was during breakfast that he told her this, and Lois paused in the act of pouring his coffee.

"And you'll not be here for Christmas?" she asked in surprise.

"No. Christmas means nothing to me. I intend to visit my camps. I should have gone before, as no doubt the men are loafing. I am going to surprise them. They'll never expect to see me at this season of the year. The men'll want to take three days off, and I can't allow it. They always come back unfitted for work after their celebrations. They'll do nothing of the kind this year if they expect to work for me."

Lois knew only too well how useless it was to try to reason with her father when he had once made up his mind. She had learned from bitter experience in the past that the less she said the better it would be. Nevertheless, her heart was very sad at the change that had come over her father. Never before had he gone away fit Christmas time, and it was the one day in the year when he was more pleasant than usual. What would be the outcome of it all? she wondered.

That very morning as soon as breakfast was over Mr. Sinclair left for the scenes of his lumbering operations, about fifty miles from the city. He travelled with a horse and sleigh, and on the second day he reached Camp Number Two shortly after the men had finished their mid-day meal and were starting back to their work. No sooner had Sinclair entered the cabin than his eyes fell upon a man lying in one of the bunks.

"Hello, Stevens," he called to the foreman, "who is this taking life so easy, when the rest of us are struggling for our daily bread?"

"Oh, that is Robins, one of our best men," was the reply. "He took sick this morning, and I would have sent him to the shore at once only to-morrow will be Christmas Day and I thought he could wait until to-night when the teams will be going out, and----"

"Going out! Going out, are they?" Sinclair interrupted. "And who gave orders to quit on Christmas Day, I'd like to know?"

"We always quit on that day, sir," Stevens stammered. "It's been the custom for years, and I took it for granted----"

"Yes, that's just the trouble. You take too many things for granted. But I tell you this, Christmas is all nonsense. It breaks up the work, and the hauling season is none too long at the best. I'll have none of it. You'll work or quit, and that's the end of it."

"But what about Robins?" questioned the foreman, whose thoughts were travelling away to a little group of bright faces anxiously awaiting his home-coming for a jolly Christmas.

"Isn't there any spare team?" Sinclair asked.

"None to spare, sir. We've only the bob-sleds, and they're not much for a sick man to ride on. But," he added after a pause, "we were going to fix up something to-night, sir."

"Confound it all!" Sinclair exclaimed. "What are we going to do? I can't afford to let a double team go, and besides, it would mean a loss of two days. Let me see. How far is it to Camp Number Three?"

"Three miles if you go by way of the cut-off, but four if you go around. The cut-off hasn't been used much by the teams this winter, and it is little more than a foot-path."

"How far is it to the cut-off?" Sinclair asked.

"About two miles."

"Well, look here, Stevens. You drive me to that cut-off, and then get some one to take that sick fellow out with my rig. I'll walk the rest of the way to the camp, and stay there till you come for me."

When the cut-off had been reached, Sinclair started off on a brisk walk in the keen frosty air. He even felt quite young and cheerful as he moved forward. But the trail was rough, and his coat was very heavy, so after walking for some time he began to feel weary.

"This is a long trail," he muttered. "Confound that sick man! What business had he getting laid up and causing all this trouble."

Hardly had the words left his mouth before his foot struck the stump of a small tree, and with a cry of pain he sank upon the snow. Recovering himself he tried to walk, but so great was the agony when his right foot touched the trail that he groaned aloud.