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The Rainy Day Railroad War by Holman Day

 

THE RAINY DAY RAILROAD WAR

By Holman Day

1906

[Illustration: Cover]

[Illustration: Frontispiece]

CHAPTER ONE—THE TRYING-OUT OF ONE RODNEY PARKER, ASSISTANT ENGINEER
CHAPTER TWO—THE WHIM THAT PROJECTED THE FAMOUS “POQUETTE CARRY RAILROAD”
CHAPTER THREE—ENGINEER PARKER GETS FINAL ORDERS FOR “THE LAND OF THE GIDEONITES.”
CHAPTER FOUR—IN WHICH THE DOUGHTY “SWAMP SWOGON” ASTONISHES SUNKHAZE SETTLEMENT
CHAPTER FIVE—HOW COLONEL GIDEON WAS BACKED DOWN FOR THE FIRST TIME IN HIS LIFE
CHAPTER SIX—IN WHICH “THE CAT-HERMIT OF MOXIE” CASTS HIS SHADOW LONG BEFORE HIM
CHAPTER SEVEN—HOW “THE FRESH-WATER CORSAIRS” CAME TO SUNKHAZE
CHAPTER EIGHT—THE LOCOMOTIVE THAT WENT SWIMMING AND THE ENGINEER WHO WAS STOLEN
CHAPTER NINE—UP THE WINDING WAY TO THE “OGRE OF THE BIG WOODS.”
CHAPTER TEN—THE WANGAN DUEL
CHAPTER ELEVEN—THE BEAR THAT WALKED LIKE A MAN
CHAPTER TWELVE—THE STRANGE “CAT-HERMIT OF MOXIE”
CHAPTER THIRTEEN—THE BEAR OF THE BIG WOODS “BAITED” AFTER HIS OWN FASHION
CHAPTER FOURTEEN—HOW RODNEY PARKER PAID AN HONEST DEBT
CHAPTER FIFTEEN—THE DAY WHEN POQUETTE BURST WIDE OPEN
CHAPTER SIXTEEN—THE PACT THAT OPENED RODNEY PARKER'S PROFESSIONAL FUTURE

 

THE RAINY DAY RAILROAD WAR

CHAPTER ONE—THE TRYING-OUT OF ONE RODNEY PARKER, ASSISTANT ENGINEER

All at once the stump-dotted, rocky hillside became clamorous and animated. From the little shacks sheathed with tarred paper, from the sodded huts, from burrows sunk into the hillside men suddenly came popping out with shrill cries.

Three men, shouldering surveying instruments, stopped in their tracks on the freshly-heaped soil of a new railroad embankment, and gazed up at the hillside. The railroad skirted its foot and the sudden activity on the slope was in full view. “Your lambs seem to be blatting around the fodder-rack once more, Parker,” observed the man who lugged the transit. He was a thin, elderly man and his tone was somewhat satirical.

The men were running toward a common center, uttering cries in shrill staccato and sounding like yelping dogs.

Parker drove the spurs of his tripod into the soft soil and stared up at the hillside, his tanned brow puckering with apprehension.

“I don't think there's much of the lamb to that rush,” observed the third man; “they sound to me more like hyenas after raw meat.”

“It will be Dominick they'll eat, then,” said the elderly man.

“I'm afraid you put the Old Harry into 'em last week when you took their part and straightened out Dominick's bill of fare,” he went on. “They probably think they can get quail on toast now if they yap for it.”

“I believe in letting dagoes fight it out among themselves,” announced the third man with much derision. “Helping one of 'em is like picking a hornet out of a puddle. You'll get stung while doing it.”

The men on the hillside had knotted themselves into a jostling group before the door of a long, low structure sheathed with tarred paper like the shacks. In the sunshine an occasional glint flashed above their heads.

“Yes, their stingers are out,” remarked the elderly man drily. “If they've got Dominick cornered in that eating camp I'm thinking this will be the day that he'll get his——whatever it is, they've laid up for him.”

“He promised me there should be no more weevils and no more spoiled meat,” cried the one who had been addressed as Parker, a young man whose earnest face now expressed deep trouble. “As matters were going, those Italians were half starved and doing hardly half a day's work in nine hours. Their padrone was putting the food rake-off into his own pocket.”

“I'm not backing up Dominick,” said the other. “But when you took the men's part and laid down the law to him on the grub question you gave them their cue for general rebellion. Ten chances to one the padrone has done as he agreed. I reckon you scared him enough for that. Now they're probably around with knives looking for napkins and sparkling red wine. I tell you, Parker, you're inviting trouble when you go to boosting up what you call the oppressed multitude.”

“That's a pretty hard view to take of the world and the people in it, Mr. Searles,” replied the youth. “There ought to be a bit of merit and encouragement in a man's going out of his way to right a wrong.”

“Well, Parker, I'm hired as construction engineer on the P. K. &R. railroad system and I've worked for the road a good many years and found that I get along best when I am attending strictly to my own business in my own line. I told you at the time you butted into that dago row you were laying up trouble either for yourself or for some one else—and I guess it's some one else.”

A series of pistol shots popped smartly on the hillside, the reports partly muffled by the thin walls of the shack. The cries of the men outside became shrieks. The next instant the side wall bellied outward and then burst asunder. A man came hustling through the opening, evidently self-propelled, for he struck lightly on his feet and began to run down the steep hill. A soiled canvas apron fluttered at his waist. Stones rained after him. The knot of men at the door scattered like quicksilver and howling runners pursued him.

Probably fear helped him as much as agility, for he kept well ahead of the rout, leaped a low fence at the bottom of the hill, scurried across a little valley and came floundering up the soft soil of the railroad embankment, scrambling toward the little group of engineer.

“It's Dominick,” said Searles. “There seems to be a little more work cut out for you in your side line of philanthropist.”

“I do it whatta you say,” screamed the man as his head came over the edge of the embankment. “Nice! Good! All good to eat. But they want mucha more—too mucha!”

He struck himself repeated blows on the breast with one fist and pointed with the other hand at the men who came swarming up the side of the graded road bed.

“You coma look—look to the nice br-read, meat all good, beer—plenty much to eat, dr-rink!” the padrone gasped in appeal, as he circled about Parker to put him between the rioters and himself.

The men who came after, screaming and cursing, jerking their arms above their heads, rolling back their lips from their yellow teeth, were apparently so many lunatics whose frenzy was not to be stayed. But undisciplined natures whose excesses spring from lack of self control are all the more ready to respond to the masterful control of others.

First of all the men recognized in Parker the champion who had won their first rights from the padrone.

They stopped their shrill vituperation and, crowding about him, began to bleat their explanations and appeals. But he threw out his arms, pushed them back a safe distance from the panting Dominick and roared them into silence, brandishing his fists, as he would have quelled a noisy school.

When they understood that he wished them to be quiet they were silent, all leaning forward, their eyes shining, their lips apart, their fists clinched as tho they were holding their tongues in leash by that means, their dark, brown faces alight with wistful, almost palpitating eagerness. The regard they fixed on his face was baleful in its intentness.

“Looka what they do,” yelled Dominick rushing to his side. He had stripped his sleeve back from his arm. Blood was trickling from a knife gash.

Then the tumult broke out again from the crowd. Two men leaped forward shaking their hats in their hands and screaming assertions and pointing quivering fingers at bullet holes in the crowns.

“Shut up!” barked the young man. The presence of the satiric and unsympathetic old engineer nerved him to settle the dispute, if he might. The hint from the other that he had been meddling in what was outside his business gave him an uncomfortable sense of responsibility.

“About face and back to the camp,” he shouted. “I will look at your dinner and we shall see!”

They hesitated a moment, but he went among them, pushing them down the bank.

He followed with the padrone behind the jabbering throng, and the two engineers came along at his earnest request.

“Mr. Searles,” said Parker after a little while, as they walked side by side, “being an older and wiser man than I am you are probably right in suggesting that I did wrong in interfering in this affair at the outset. But,” he half-chuckled, “I am going to lay the blame on my professor in sociology. He set me to thinking pretty hard in college and I guess I haven't been out from under his influence long enough to get hardened into the selfish views of my fellowman.”

There was earnestness under his smile.

“My boy,” said the elder, “I am not blaming you for what you have done for the poor devils. But I have been all for business in my life. Business hasn't seemed to mix well with philanthropy. I haven't dared to think of what I ought to do. I have thought only of what I had to do, to earn a living for my family.”

“Well,” said Parker, “if the P. K. &R. folks decide that I've been meddling in matters that are none of my business I have no family to suffer for my indiscretion—but I have prospects and I know that a discharged man is worse off than a man who has started.”

The elder man patted Parker's arm.

“As it stands now—and I'm speaking as a friend, young man, and not as a captious critic—you have set this Italian camp all askew by giving them countenance in the first place. They haven't any regulators in their heads, you see! When you're feeding charity to that kind of ruck you've got to be careful Parker, that they don't trample you down when they rush for the trough.”

The young man walked along up the hillside in silence. But just as they arrived in front of the long camp the scowl of puzzled hesitation disappeared from his forehead.

“As old Uncle Flanders used to say,” he muttered, “'When a man sticks his finger into a tight knot-hole he'd better pull it out mighty quick, before it swells, even if he does leave some skin on the edges.'”

The men halted and grouped themselves about the door. Their eager looks and nudgings of each other showed plainly that they expected their champion to take up their cause against the padrone once more.

Dominick prudently halted at a little distance.

“You go look for yourself, Sir Engineer,” he shouted; “on the kettle, in the table all about and you see whatta I feed to those beasts when I try to satisfy.”

The men retorted in shrill chorus leaping about and gesticulating till their joints snapped.

Parker resolutely pushed through the throng without trying to understand what they were saying to him and slammed the door in the faces of the few who attempted to crowd in with him. Those who anxiously peered through the windows saw him examine the food set out on the table for the noon meal, lift the covers from the stew pans on the rusty stove and then pass into the little building behind the main camp. The great stone ovens for the bread-baking were located there.

When at last he came out he faced them with grim visage, squared the shoulders that had borne many a football assault and called to Dominick.

“Go inside,” he said, “and coax those two helpers of yours out of those ovens. They couldn't understand my Italian. Tell them that they are safe. Let the padrone through, men! Do you hear?”

The crowd sullenly parted and Dominick trotted up the lane they left, hastening with apprehensive shruggings of his shoulders.

“Go about your work,” said Parker, clutching his arm a moment as the padrone hastened past. “I can see it isn't your fault this time.”

“Now, men,” he cried, turning to the throng, “few words and short so that you may all understand. Dominick's dinner is good. Good as any in the line boarding camps. I'm going to eat here. You come in and eat too.”

A mumbling began among them and immediately it swelled into a jabbering chorus as the few who understood translated his words to the others.

He leaped down off the muddy stoop and strode among them, cuffing this one and that of those malcontents who were noisiest.

“That young man certainly understands dago nature,” muttered Searles to the other engineer. “A club, good grit and a hard fist will drive them when a machine gun wouldn't.”

“I stood up for you when you were not used right,” shouted the young man. “He has given you what I told him to give you—what you asked for. Go in there and get it.”

He knew who the ring-leaders in the mutiny were and he drove those into the camp first. The others followed. In five minutes they were all at their places at table munching quietly. Another man, even with equal determination, might have not succeeded. But the greediest grumbler among them understood that this young man had first been as valiant to secure their rights as he was now ready to curb their rebellion.

In his own heart he was loathing this role of arbiter and mentor. His first interference had come out of his natural sense of justice. He had pitied this herd of men who had been so helplessly appealing against their wrongs.

As he stood at one end of the room now and gazed at them, he realized with a little pang of self-reproach that his latest exploit had been prompted by as much of a desire to set himself right with the company as to square the padrone's critical case.

Later, when they were trudging down the hill together Searles said with a little touch of malice,

“For a philanthropist, Parker, you seem to relish rough-house about as well as any one I ever saw, I've heard for a long time that football makes prizefighters out of college boys—so much so that they go looking for trouble. Is that so?”

“I wish you'd let the matter drop, Mr. Searles,” said the young man. “I'm thoroughly ashamed of the whole thing.”

“Well, I was going to say,” went on the elderly man, “that civil engineers in these days get just as good wages without being shoulder-hitters. You'll get along faster on the peace basis.”

That was Parker's reflection two days later when he was in the room of the chief engineer of the P. K. &R. system, at the company's general offices.

“By the way,” said the chief, after his subordinate had finished his regular report, “Mr. Jerrard wishes to see you.”

Jerrard was general traffic manager and chief executive.

The young engineer went slowly down the long corridor, apprehension gnawing at his heart. He huskily muttered his name to the clerk at the grilled door and was admitted. He fairly dragged his feet along the strip of matting that led to the general manager's private office. It was like the Bridge of Sighs to him.

“Parker, eh?” repeated the general manager, whirling in his chair and letting his eyeglasses drop against his plump “front elevation,” as Parker whimsically termed it in his thoughts, even in this moment of his distress.

Jerrard gazed at him for a little while, a rather curious expression in his eyes under their shaggy gray brows, then whirled back to his desk and scrabbled among his papers. He drew forth a sheet of memoranda, gave Parker another shrewd glance and inquired:

“Is it true, sir, that you have been interfering in the padrone system of the construction department?”

“I suppose what I did might be termed that, tho I wasn't intending to be meddlesome, Mr. Jerrard.”

“Nothing in general instructions, was there, to lead a cub assistant in the engineering corps to revise a boarding house bill of fare?”

“No, sir.”

“I find it further mentioned that you were back next day and herded about seventy-five Italians into a victualling camp as you would drive steers to a fodder rack. Don't you know that we reserve that sort of business for a squad of police?”

“Mr. Jerrard,” said the young man, recovering some of his self-possession tho his tone was apologetic, “since I have been on the road I saw what happened once when the police came with their clubs and revolvers. There was a free fight and two men were killed. I thought I saw a chance for one man to arbitrate a little difficulty—and arbitration is pretty highly recommended in these days by good authorities. When I found that arbitration didn't make things stay put I meddled once more in order to undo my first mistake—if we may call it that. It probably was a mistake, looked at officially. But you see—” his voice faltered a little, for the manager was surveying him with rather a hard look in his eyes, “I hoped that putting the padrone into line on his food question would prevent a strike; when I drove the men to table I had only the interests of the road at heart, for the strike was then fairly on.”

“Well,” said the manager, a bit of a smile at the corners of his mouth, “you certainly were not thinking very hard of your own interests when you went into that rabid gang.”

“I can see that I made a botch of it generally, Mr. Jerrard. I will save you the trouble of requesting my resignation.”

But as he bowed and turned Jerrard spoke sharply.

“Not so fast, young man,” he said. “As the executive of the P. K. &R, system it wouldn't be exactly official and proper in me to approve your judgment in that matter of the Italians; but as a man—plain man, now, you understand,—I know grit when I see it and—” he dropped his bluff stiffness got out of his chair and came along and squeezed Parker's muscular arm, “you've got a brand of it that I admire. Yes, I do. No mistake! But that is just between you and me. That is simply my own personal opinion. I don't believe the directors relish the idea of gladiators in the engineering corps. Just respect this little private hint of mine hereafter please.”

He surveyed the young man with twinkling and appreciative eyes.

“Parker,” he said, “once in a while there comes up in the railroad business a demand for a man who has brains and spunk and muscle all rolled up in one bundle. I haven't tested you out yet on the first named but the chief engineer speaks in your behalf. The last two you certainly have. There's the story of a man who was going home late at night and picked up what he thought was a kitten and found it to be a pole-cat. It was good judgment to set it down again mighty sudden. But the skin was worth something and he resolved to have the skin to pay for the damage. Now President Whittaker and myself have been up in the north woods this season—among the big game, you understand. We picked up what we thought was a kitten. It has turned out to be something else. But we are not going to drop it.”

The young engineer was looking at him with puzzled gaze.

“You don't understand a bit of it, do you?” laughed the traffic manager. “Well, I can't explain the thing just yet. I'll simply leave it this way today: Do you want to take a pole-cat and skin it for us? I don't mean by that that it's a job that any enterprising young man should be ashamed or afraid of. It's a job in your line. It's something of close personal interest to the president of this system and myself. It is going to take you away into the big woods. Do you want it—yes or no?”

The engineer hesitated only a moment.

“I'll take it,” he said simply.

“That's the boy!” cried Jerrard. His tone was so enthusiastic that Parker's instinct told him that this bluff offer was another test of his readiness in an emergency and had succeeded.

The manager put his hand against his shoulder and gently pushed him out of the office.

“Get ready for a cold winter out of doors and practice your tongue on the names To-quette Carry' and 'Colonel Gideon Ward' until you are not afraid of the sound of them.”

With a chuckle he shut the door on the astonished young man, but opened it again before Parker had moved from the mat outside.

“Don't be worried, my boy, because I cannot explain the whole situation today.” There was kindly reassurance in his tones. “You'll make out all right, I'm sure of that.” A queer little smile puckered the corners of his eyes and his voice again became teasing. “The idea is, you've taken a contract to do up the Gideonites of the Wilderness in a lone-handed job. But I think you're good for the trick.” He shut the door again.

CHAPTER TWO—THE WHIM THAT PROJECTED THE FAMOUS “POQUETTE CARRY RAILROAD”

Weeks passed before Rodney Parker got any more light on the matter in which he had blindly given his word.

He understood this silence better when the situation was set before him at last. There are some projects that captains of industry dilate upon with pride. But big men are cautious about letting the world know their whims. And whims that lead to exasperating complications that no business judgment has provided for, do not form pleasant topics for conversation or publicity.

Many railroad projects have been launched, some of them unique, but never before was enterprise conceived in just the spirit that gave the Poquette Carry Railway to the transportation world. There have been railroads that “began somewhere and ended in a sheep pasture.” The Poquette Carry Road, known to the legislature of its state as “The Rainy-Day Railroad,” is even more indifferently located, for it twists for six miles, from water to water, through as tangled and lonely a wilderness as ever owl hooted in.

Yet it has two of the country's railroad kings behind it and at its inception some very wrathful lumber kings were ahead of it, and the final and decisive battle that was fought was between the champions of the respective sides—an old man and a young one.

The old man had all the opinionated conservatism of one who despises new methods and modern progress as “hifalutin and new-fangled notions.” The young man, fresh from a school of technology and just completing an apprenticeship under the engineers of a big railroad system, had not an old-fashioned idea.

The old man came roaring from the deep woods, choleric, impatient of opposition, and flaming with the rage of a tyrant who is bearded in his own stronghold for the first time. The young man advanced from the city to meet him with the coolness of one who has been taught to restrain his emotions, and armed with determination to win the battle that would make or break him, so far as his employers were concerned.

Jerrard was the avant-courier of this novel railroad. Jerrard had been traffic-manager of the great P. K. &R. system for many years, and when he grew bilious and “blue” and very disagreeable, the doctor told him to go back into the woods so far that he would not think about tariff or rebates or competition for two months.

Jerrard chose Kennegamon Lake. A New England general passenger-agent whom he had met at a convention told him about that wilderness gem, and lauded it with a certain attractiveness of detail that made Jerrard anxious to test the veracity of New England railroad men, whose “fishin'-story” folders he had always doubted with professional scepticism.

The journey by rail was a long one, and it afforded leisure for so much cogitation that when Jerrard napped he dreamed that the ends of his nerves were nailed to his desk back in the P. K. &R. general offices, and that as he proceeded he was unreeling them as a spider spins its thread.

When he left the train at Sunkhaze station he was still worrying as to whether the assistant traffic-manager would be able to beat the O. &O. road on the grain contract. In thinking it over about a month later it occurred to him that he had dropped all outside affairs right there on that station platform.

In the first place the mosquitoes and black flies were waiting. He had never seen or felt black flies before. He would have scouted the idea that there were insects no bigger than pinheads that in five minutes would have his face streaming with blood.

“They do just love the taste of city sports,” said the guide. “We old sanups ain't much of a delicacy 'long side of such as you. Here, let me put this on.” He daubed the white face of the city man with an evil-smelling compound of tar and oil.

Jerrard's mind was rapidly freeing itself from transportation worries. Then came the long paddle across Spinnaker Lake, with only the unfamiliar insecurity of a canoe beneath him, and after that the six-mile Poquette carry.

By this time Jerrard had forgotten the P. K. &R. entirely.

The canoe and duffel went across the carry slung upon a set of wheels. Jerrard rode in the low-backed middle seat of a muddy buck-board.

The wheels ran against boulders, grated off with indignant “chuckering” of axle-boxes, hobbled over stumps and plowed through “honey-pots” of mud.

“For goodness' sake,” gasped Jerrard, holding desperately to the seat, “why don't you get into the road?”

The driver, a French-Canadian turned and displayed an appreciative grin.

“Eet ban de ro'd vat you saw de re,” he explained, pointing his whip to the thoroughfare they were pursuing.

“This a road?” demanded Jerrard, with indignation.

“Oui, eet ban a tote-road.”

“I never heard of this kind before,” ejaculated Jerrard, between bumps, “but the name 'road' ought not to be disgraced in any such fashion. How much of it is there?”

“Sax mal'.”

“Six miles! All like this?”

“Aw-w-w some pretty well, some as much bad.”

“Well, I don't know just what you mean,” muttered Jerrard, “but I fear I can imagine.” After what seemed a long interval, and when Jerrard, dizzied by the bumps and the curves, believed that the end must be near,—for six miles are but an inconsiderable item to the traffic-manager of a thousand-mile system,—he asked how far they had come. The driver looked at the trees. “Wan mal', mabbee, an' some leetle more.” The railroad man opened his mouth to make a discourteous retort reflecting on the driver's judgment of distances, but just then one of the rear wheels slipped off a rock. It came down kerchunk. Jerrard bit his cheek and his tongue. After that he sat and held to his seat with a hopeless idea that the end of the road was running away from them.

Half-way through the woods he bought two fat doughnuts and a piece of apple pie at a wayside log house. He munched his humble fare with a gusto he had not known for years. The jolting, the shaking, the tossing had started his sluggish blood and cleared his business-befogged brain. His food was spiced with the aroma of the hemlocks, and when they took to the road again he began to hum tunes.

[Illustration: Then he fell to chuckling 049-050]

Then he fell to chuckling. And when a smooth stretch suffered him to unclasp his cramped hold, he slapped his leg mirthfully. He was thinking what President Whittaker of the P. K. &R. would be saying in two weeks.

President Whittaker was a rotund, flabby man, whom long indulgence in rubber-tired broughams and double-springed private cars had softened until he reminded one of a fat down pillow.

“Jerrard,” he had said, at parting, “if you find good fishing I'll follow you in two weeks. I need a little outdoor relaxation myself.”

Jerrard sent an enthusiastic letter right back by the tote-road driver. He took the word of his guide about the fishing in prospect. In his new and ebullient spirits he felt that he could hardly wait two weeks for the spectacle—Whittaker in the middle seat of a buck-board, on that six-mile carry road. And when the day came, Jerrard, now bronzed, alert and agile walked out over the Poquette Carry, paddled down to Sunkhaze, and received his superior with open arms.

The unconsciousness of the corpulent Whittaker as he left the train, spick and span in tweed and polished shoes appealed to Jerrard's sense of the ludicrous so acutely that the president, following the baggage-laden guide down to the shore of the lake, stopped and looked at his friend with puzzled gaze.

“I say, Jerrard, you seem to be in a good humor.”

“Nothing like the ozone of the forest to make you sparkle,” chuckled the traffic-manager.

It is unnecessary to describe the incidents of the trip across the lake, the apprehensive flinching of the fat president whenever the canoe lurched, and his fear of breaking through the bottom of the frail shell.

But when they were well out on the carry road in the buckboard, Jerrard, gazing on the indescribable mixture of reproach, horror, pain and astonishment that the president's face presented laughed until Whittaker forgot dignity, cares and fears, and laughed, too.

Two days later, as they were eating their lunch beside the famous spring in the north cove of Kennemagon Whittaker stretched himself luxuriously on the gray moss, and said;

“Jerrard, it's an earthly paradise! I never had such fishing, never saw such scenery. I want to come here every summer. I'd like to buy a tract here. But that six-mile drive—O dear me! It makes me shiver when I think I've got to bump back over it in two weeks.”

That evening one Rowe, a timber-land exploring prospector, whose employment was locating tracts for the cutting of pulp stuff, stopped at the camp and accepted hospitality for the night. After supper the three lay in their bunks and chatted, while the guide pottered about the household tasks.

“Much travel over the Poquette Carry?” asked Whittaker.

“Good deal,” said Rowe. “It's the thoroughfare between the West Branch and Spinnaker, you know. All the men for the woods leave the train at Sunkhaze, boat it across Spinnaker, and walk the carry at Poquette. All the supplies for the camp come that way, too. They bateau goods up the river from the West Branch end of the carry.”

“Why doesn't some one fix that road?” asked the president. “Looks to me as if they had brought rocks and thrown them into the trail just to make it worse.”

“It's all wild lands hereabouts,” explained the prospector. “The county commissioners lay out the roads and the landowners are supposed to build them, but they don't. Timber-land owners don't like roads through their woods, anyway.”

“I see they don't,” replied Whittaker dryly. “What did you pay, Jerrard, for having your canoe and truck carried across?”

“Fifteen dollars for the duffel, and four dollars each for the guide, myself and you.”

“How's that for a tariff?” laughed the president. Then he took out his pencil and book and put a series of interrogations to Rowe. At the close he pondered a while, and said to Jerrard:

“According to our friend here, at least five thousand men cross that carry each year, making ten thousand through fares one way. Supplies—pressed hay, grain, foodstuffs and all that sort of freight—from ten to fifteen thousand tons. Then there's the sportsman traffic, which could be built up indefinitely if there were suitable transportation conveniences here. Say, Jerrard, do you know there's a fine place for a six-mile narrow-gage railroad right there on Poquette Carry? You and I didn't come down here looking up railroad possibilities, but really this thing strikes me favorably. Slow time and not very expensive equipment, but think what a convenience! It will also give you and me an excuse to come down here summers, eh?” he added, humorously.

“We'll establish a colony here on Kennemagon,” suggested Jerrard, half in jest, “and start a land boom.”

“Seriously,” went on Whittaker “the more I talk about that little road the more I am convinced it would pay a very good dividend. You and I can swing it. We can use some P. K. &R. rails, fix up one of those narrow-gage shifters they used on the grain spur, and have a railroad while you wait. If we only clear enough to pay our own passage twice a year we'll be 'doing fairly well. And I'll be willing to pass dividends for the sake of riding from Spinnaker to the West Branch on a car-seat instead of a buckboard. Say, Rowe,” he went on, jocosely, “I suppose they'll have a mass-meeting and pass votes of thanks to Jerrard and myself if we put that project through, won't they?”

Rowe squinted his eye along the sliver he was whittling. “I don't know of any one specially that's hankering for railroad-lines round here,” said he.

“You don't mean to tell me that abomination of stones and muck-holes suits the public, do you?”

“I know the folks I work for don't want to have it a mite smoother than it is. They're the public that's running this part of the world.”

“Here's a brand-new thing in transportation ideas, Jerrard!” cried the president of the P. K.

“Nothing strange about our side of it,” said the prospector. “The people I work for own more than a million acres of timber land for feeding their pulp-mills, and the more city sports there are hanging round on the tracts and building fires, the more danger of a big blaze catching somewhere. And railroads bring sports. You don't hear of any lumbermen grumbling about the Poquette carry.”

“I should say, then, this section should have a little enterprise shaken into it,” said Whit-taker, tartly. This promised opposition promptly fired his modern spirit of progress.

After he and his manager had returned to their duties in the city, the surprising word began to go about the district that next year there would be a railroad across Poquette carry. When the rumor was traced to Rowe, he found himself in for a good deal of rough badinage for allowing two city sportsmen to “guy” him.

The postmaster at Sunkhaze was a subscriber to a daily paper, every word of which he read. One day, among the inconspicuous notices of “New Corporations,” he found this paragraph:

“Poquette Carry Railway Company, organized for the purpose of constructing and operating a line of railroad between Spinnaker Lake and West Branch River. President, G. Howard Whittaker; vice-president and general manager, George P. Jerrard; secretary and treasurer, A. L. Bevan. Capital stock $100,000; $5,000 paid in.”

After the postmaster had read that twice, he strode out of his little pen. Men in larrigans and leggings were huddled round the stove, for the autumn crispness comes early in the mountains. The postmaster's eye singled out Seth Bowers, the guide.

“Say, Seth,” he inquired, “wa'n't your sports last summer named Whittaker and Jerrard—the men ye had in on the Kennemagon waters?”

“Yes.”

“Well, you boys listen to this,” and the postmaster read the item with unction.

“Looks 's if they were going ahead, and as if there wasn't so much wind to it, after all,” observed one of the party.

“That Poquette Carry road hasn't been touched by shovel or pick for more than three years, and I don't believe that Col. Gid Ward and his crowd ever intend to hire another day's work on it. Colonel Gid says every operator and sport from Clew to Erie goes across there, and if there's any ro'd-repairin' all hands ought to turn to an' help on the expense.”

“This new railroad idea ought to hit him all right, then,” remarked Seth, the guide.

“Well,” remarked the postmaster, “I'd just like to be round—far enough off so's the chips and splinters wouldn't hit me—when some one steps up and tells Col. Gid Ward that a concern of city men is going to put a railroad in across his land—that's all!”

“Gid Ward has always backed everybody off the trail into the bushes round here” said Seth. “But he's up against a different crowd now.”

“Do ye think, in the first place, that Colonel Gid is going to sell 'em any right o' way across Poquette?” asked the postmaster. “He owns the whole tract there.”

“Oh, there's ways of getting it,” replied Seth. “Let lawyers alone for that when they're paid. If Gid don't sell, they can condemn and take.”

In a week a portion of Seth's prediction concerning lawyers was verified.

Mr. Bevan, tall and thin and sallow, stepped off the train at Sunkhaze. He was a prominent attorney in one of the principal cities of the state, and served as clerk of this new corporation.

When he heard that Col. Gideon Ward was fifty miles up the West Branch, looking after a timber operation on Number 8, Range 23, he borrowed leggings, shoe-pacs and an overcoat and hastened on by means of a tote-team.

A week later, silent and grim and pinched with cold, he unrolled himself from buffalo-robes and took the train at Sunkhaze. The postmaster and station-agent gave him several opportunities to relate the outcome of his negotiations, but the attorney was taciturn.

The first news came down two week later by Miles McCormick, a swamper on Ward's Number 8 operation. The man had a gash on his cheek and a big purple swelling under one eye. When a man of Ward's crew came down from the woods marked in that manner, it was not necessary for him to say that he had been discharged by the choleric tyrant who ruled the forest forces from Chamberlain to Seguntiway. The only inquiry was as to method and provocation.

“He comes along to me as I was choppin',” related Miles to the Sunkhaze postmaster, “and he yowls, 'Git to goin' there, man, git to goin'!' 'An',' says I, 'sure, an' I'll not yank the ax back till it's done cuttin'.' An' then he” Miles put his finger carefully against the puffiness under his eye, “he hit me.”

“Was there a tall stranger come up on the tote-team two weeks or so ago?” asked the postmaster.

“There were,” Miles replied, listlessly, and intent on his own troubles.

“Hear anything special about his business?”

“No. The old man took the stranger into the wangun camp, where it was private, and they talked. None of us heard 'em.”

“And then the stranger went away, hey?” “Oh, well, at last we heard the old man howlin' and yowlin' in the wangun camp and then he comes a-pushing the tall stranger out with such awful language as you know he can. An' he says to the stranger, 'Talk about charters and condemning land till ye're black in the face, I say ye can't do it; and every rail ye lay I'll tie it into a bow-knot. An' I'll eat your charter, seals and all. An' I'll throw your engine into the lake. An' how do ye like the smell of those?' When he said it he cracked his old fists under the stranger's nose. An' the stranger gets into the team and goes away. So that's all of it, and none of us knowed what it meant at all.”

The postmaster darted significant glances round the circle of faces at the stove, and the loungers returned the stare with interest.

“What did I tell ye?” he demanded.

“Just as any one might ha' told that lawyer,” said a man, clicking his knife-blade.

CHAPTER THREE—ENGINEER PARKER GETS FINAL ORDERS FOR “THE LAND OF THE GIDEONITES.”

The long autumn passed and winter set in. Snow fell on the carry and the big sleds jangled across. Men went up past Sunkhaze settlement into the great region of snow and silence, and men came down—bearded men, with hands calloused by the ax and the cross-cut saw.

But Col. Gideon Ward's well known figure was not among the passengers on the tote-road. The upgoing men were bound for his camps, and were inquiring as to his whereabouts; the downgoing men stated that he was roaring from one log-landing to another, driving men and horses to make a record-breaking season, and so busy that he would not stop long enough to eat.

Hearing the discussion of the traits and deeds of this woods ogre, the stranger might readily believe him as terrifying as the celebrated “Injun devil”—and as much a creature of fiction.

But each of the messengers that Ward sent down to the outer world bore unmistakable sign that this ruler of the wilderness was in full possession of his autocracy. This talisman was one of the most picturesque features of Ward's reign over the “Gideonites,” as his men were called all through the great north country.

He never intrusted money to woodsmen, for he deemed them irresponsible; he found that writings and orders were too easily mislaid. Therefore, whenever he sent a messenger to town or a man down the line with a tote-team for goods, he scrawled on his back with a piece of chalk the peculiar hieroglyph of crosses and circles that made up the Gideon Ward “log-mark.” This mark was good for lodging and meals at any tavern, was authority for the transfer of goods, and procured transportation for the man whose back was thus inscribed.

When Colonel Ward sent a crew of men into the woods he marked the back of each one in this fashion, as if the employees were freight parcels. The exhibition of that chalk-mark and the words “Charge to Ward” were enough. And such was the fear of all men that the chalk-mark was never abused.

Furthermore, on each grand spring settling day most of the dollars that circulated in the region came through the hands of Col. Ward. This fact naturally increased the deference paid him.

“A railroad?” sneered one man, just down from Number 4 camp. “A railroad across Poquette? Across Gid Ward's land, spouting sparks and settin' fires and hustlin' in sports? Well, you don't see any railroad-buildin' goin' on, do you?”

There was certainly but one reply to this.

“And ye won't see any, either. Gid Ward just bellowed once at that lawyer, and he ran away, ki-yi! ki-yi! You'll never hear any more railroad talk.”

He expressed the public opinion, for even Seth, the guide, regretfully came to the conclusion that the tyrant of the West Branch had “backed down” the city men by his belligerent reception of their emissary.

But soon after the first of January the postmaster's daily paper brought some further news. The state legislature had assembled in biennial session that winter. In the course of its reports the newspaper stated that the “Po-quette Carry Railway Company,” a corporation organized under the general law, had brought before the railroad commissioners a petition for their approval of the project, and that a day was appointed for a hearing.

“The city men had the sand, after all,” was his admiring comment. “They don't propose to start firing till they get all their legal ammunition ready, and that's why they've been waitin'. We're goin' to see warm times on the Spinnaker waters.”

For that matter the daily newspaper brought to snow-heaped Sunkhaze intelligence of “warm times” at the hearing. The legal counsel and lobbyists who represented the puissant timber interests of the state protested against allowing this railroad corporation to acquire any rights across the wild lands.

It was pointed out that a dangerous precedent would be established; that forest fires would be sure to originate from the locomotive's sparks, and that the Poquette woods were the center of the great West Branch timber growth.

The counsel for the incorporators said that his clients realized this danger, and anticipated that this objection, a potent one, would be made. They were willing to show their liberal intent by binding themselves to run their trains only in rainy or “lowery” weather, or when the ground was damp. In times of dangerous drought they would suspend operations.

“The Rainy-Day Railroad,” as it was nicknamed immediately, excited considerable hilarity at the state-house and in the newspapers.

The matter was fought out with much animation. The counsel for the railway made much of the fact that these timber owners had fought the very reasonable state tax that had been imposed on their vast and valuable holdings. He drew attention to the needs of the sportsman class, that was spending much money in the state each year, and declared that unless they were treated with some courtesy and generosity, they would go into New Brunswick.

But those deepest in the secrets of the very vigorous legislative fray knew that the timber-land owners feared more results that they advanced in their arguments against the charter.

For some years there had been rumors that extensive capital was ready to tap a certain big railway and afford a shorter cut to the sea. Such a cut-off would mean opening great tracts of woodland to the steam horse—and where the steam horse goes there go settlers. The timberland owners had found that settlers do not wait for clear titles, but squat and burn and plant until evicted, and eviction by course of law means expense and damage.

To be sure, the Poquette Carry line appeared on the surface to be so innocent that to allege against it the great whispered scheme seemed ridiculous. Therefore the counsel of the timber barons did not bring out in the committee-room hearings all they suspected, for fear that they would be laughed at.

So the Poquette Carry Road got what it asked for at last, the opposition daring to put forward only its slight pretexts. But the timber interests retired growling bitterly, and angrily apprehensive. They could not understand that big men are sometimes actuated by whims. Here they saw the controllers of the great P. K. &R. system behind this insignificant project in the north woods. They gave these shrewd railroad men no credit for ingenuousness. And the resolve that was thereupon made at secret conclave of the timber men to fight that first encroachment on their old-time domains and rights was a stern and a bitter resolve. The knowledge of it would have mightily astonished—might have daunted effectually a certain young engineer who was just then learning from Manager Jerrard the details of his new commission.

In the end, late in March, Whittaker and Jerrard found themselves with a charter and a location approved by the state railroad commissioners, permitting them to build a six-mile railroad across Poquette Carry; to carry passengers, baggage, express and freight, but with the limitation that when the state land-agent should think the condition of drought dangerous and should so notify the company, the road should cease to run any trains until rain wet down the woods.

The location was taken by right of eminent domain, and all the provisions of the law were complied with. No settlement for the damage caused to Colonel Ward through the loss of his land was possible, altho the railroad company made liberal offers, and he was finally left to pursue his remedy in the courts.

Up to this time Jerrard had kept his negotiations with young Parker a private matter between the two of them, even as he had kept some of the annoying legislative details away from his superior.

“What engineer can you send down there and handle the thing for us?” asked President Whittaker, when Jerrard informed him that all the legal details had been settled. “I want some one who knows enough to get the line going in season for our August trip—and above all to keep still. I don't want to hear a word about it till I get out of a canoe at Poquette Carry next summer. Here we want to build a wheelbarrow road, and I have been having hard work to convince some of our bankers that I'm not planning a coup against the Canadian Pacific. Bosh!”

“These timber-land owners started most of that foolishness,” said Jerrard. “But speaking of a man, there's Rodney Parker.”

“Never heard of him.”

“He's been with the engineers two years on the Falls cut-off's new work. I can't think of any one else who will suit us as well.”

“'Tisn't going to take any very wonderful man to build this road,” the president snapped, rather impatiently.

A smile crept into the wrinkles about Jerrard's shrewd eyes.

“Whittaker,” said he, “there's a side to our railroad enterprise that neither you nor I appreciated at first. I've been getting some points from our counsel, who had a talk with Bevan, When we were up at the lake, you remember something that Rotre said about the timber-land owners not especially hankering for a railroad at the carry. Well, Bevan says the land there is owned by a man named Ward—Col, Gideon Ward, one of the big lumber operators of that section. From Bevan's account, Ward must be something like a cross between a bull moose and a Bengal tiger, Bevan went up to see him. He thought he could make a deal for the right of way, and thus would not be obliged to bother with condemnation proceedings and stir up talk and all that. Devan declares that getting a charter is one thing but the building of that road will be another.”

“We've got the law—”

“Law gets very thin when you step over the line into an unorganized timber township. They tell me that old Ward comes pretty near making his own laws, and makes them with his fists or a club or else through his gang that they call 'The Gideonites' in that country.”

“Your Parker, is he—”

“I've got him out in my room. I've been talking with him. Better have him step in here.”

The president pushed his desk button, and the messenger hastened on his errand.

“Parker,” explained the traffic manager, “doesn't look any more savage than a house cat. But he's the man who went down into the camp of those Italians at the Fall's cut-off when they were having their bread squabble, and he backed the whole gang into the camp and made them sit down at the table. Of course, we hope we shall need only an engineer and not a warrior at Poquette, and we trust that Ward will be tractable and all that; but, Whittaker, if we're going to build that road, and are not to be backed down in such a way that we'll never dare to show our faces before the grinning natives at Sunkhaze then we need to send along a chap like—”

“Mr. Parker!” opportunely announced the boy, at the door.

Parker seemed tall and angular and rather awkward. The brown of out-of-doors was upon his skin. His eyelids dropped at the corners in rather a listless way, but the eyes beneath were gray and steady. He was young, not more than twenty-five, so Whittaker judged at his first sharp glance.

“Do you think you can build that road that Jerrard has been telling you about?” asked the president, briskly.

“I think so, sir.” Parker spoke with a drawl.

“You understand what the plan is?”

“Mr. Jerrard has explained quite fully.”

“Are you afraid of bears and owls?” The president spoke jocosely, but there was a significant tone in his voice.

“I don't think I should spend much time climbing trees,” replied Parker, smiling.

“Do you understand that the man we send must take the whole undertaking on his own shoulders? Neither Mr. Jerrard nor myself cares to think about the matter, even.” “I'll be glad to be instructed, sir.” “You'll have instructions as to limit of construction cost per mile, authority to draw on us as you need money, and the road must be in operation by the middle of July. Now Jerrard speaks well of your qualifications. What do you think?” “I am ready to accept the commission, sir.” “You'll have to get away at once, Parker,” said Jerrard. “You must get construction material and supplies across Spinnaker before the ice breaks up. You can depend on the most of April for ice.”

“I can start when you say the word.” “We shall rush material. Suppose you start to-morrow morning?” “I'll start sir.”

He left the room when he was informed that his instructions would await him that evening.

“Jerrard,” said the president, gazing after the young man, “your friend isn't an especially pretty frog but I'll bet he can jump more than once his length.”

CHAPTER FOUR—IN WHICH THE DOUGHTY “SWAMP SWOGON” ASTONISHES SUNKHAZE SETTLEMENT

Two days afterward Parker ate his supper at the Sunkhaze tavern and spent the evening going over the schedule of material that was following him by freight, its progress over connecting lines hastened by all the “pull” inspired by the P. K. &R.'s bills of lading.

The next morning, even while the frosty sun was red behind the spruces, he had arranged with the station agent for side-track privileges, and then questioned that functionary regarding local conditions.

“I need twenty or more four-horse teams,” said Parker. “What's the best way to advertise here?” “I reckon you can advertise and advertise,” replied the station agent, “but that's all the good it'll do you. Colonel Gid Ward has about every spare team in this county yardin' logs for him this winter.”

“What does he pay?”

“Thirty-five a month for a span o' hosses, and hosses and man kept.”

“I'll pay forty-five and feed.”

“I shouldn't want to be the man that went up on Gid Ward's operations and tried to hire his teams away!” growled the agent. “You can't hire any one round here for an errand of that kind.”

“I'd go myself if I thought I could get the horses,” said Parker.

“I'd advise you to save yourself a fifty-mile ride up the tote-road,” the agent counseled. “Even if Ward didn't catch you, you'd find that no man would da'st to leave there. Furthermore, you've only got a little, short job here, scarcely worth while.”

The logic of the reply impressed Parker.

He could not spare the time anyway, to travel far up into the woods in quest of horses. His material must be conveyed across Spinnaker Lake in some other way.

“How far is it up the lake to Poquette?” he asked the agent.

“Sixteen miles.”

An hour later Parker, after a tour of inspection, had settled his problem of transportation in his own mind. His plan was ingenious.

There were half a dozen men available in Sunkhaze, and more were arriving daily, straggling down from the woods or roaring in fresh from the city, hurrying on the way up.

The postmaster owned a hardwood tract, and Parker set his little crew at work chopping birch saplings and fashioning from them huge sleds, strongly bolted. As for himself, he entered into a contract with the local blacksmith, threw his coat off and went to work on some contrivances, round which the settlement's loungers congregated from dawn till dark the next day, watching the progress and wondering audibly “what such a blamed contraption was goin' to turn out to be.”

Parker kept his own counsel. At the end of two days, with the assistance of the blacksmith, he had remodeled four ox-cart tires. Each tire was spurred with bristling steel spikes, bolted firmly. In reply to his telegram, “Rush loco, all equipments and coal,” the little narrow-gage engine arrived, at the tail of the procession of flat cars, loaded with materials of construction.

By this time Parker's crew had been increased to a score of laborers, and he had picked up three yokes of oxen and four horses from the few pioneer farmers who lived near Sunkhaze. With tackle and derrick the locomotive was swung upon a specially constructed sled, and the spurred tires were set upon its drivers. Then the great idea locked in Parker's head became apparent to the population of Sunkhaze.

[Illustration: Then the great idea Frontispiece]

“Gorry!” said the postmaster. “If that young feller hain't got a horse there that'll beat anything that even Colonel Gid Ward himself ever sent across Spinnaker Lake!”

Amid the utmost excitement of the spectators, the “engine on runners” was “snubbed” down the steep hill and eased out upon the road leading to the lake. Two hours' work with levers and wedges had adjusted the machine until the spurred wheels had the requisite “bite” upon the ice.

At dark on the day of the “launching” Parker gazed off across the level of the lake, and said to his men:

“To-morrow, boys, the Spinnaker Lake Air-Line Railroad will run its first train to Po-quette Carry. No freight this time. I want to lay out my landing up there. So all aboard at nine o'clock. Three cars,” he said, pointing to the new sleds, “and a free ride for all of you, with my compliments.”

An honest cheer greeted his jocular announcement, and that evening all the Sunk-haze male population assembled round the stove in the post-office to discuss the matter. When the evening was yet young, a red-faced, red-whiskered man, snow-shoes on his back and fresh from the up-country trail, came and warmed himself, listening with interest to the lively discussion.

“So that's what that thing is down on the lake?” he said, at last. “'Twas dark when I came by, and I swan if it didn't scare me. Want to know if that's the engine we've been hearin' about up our way?”

His tone was significant.

“Where ye from, stranger?” asked one of the loungers.

“Number 7 cuttin'.”

“Oh, one of Gid Ward's men?”

“Yes.”

“Say, has Ward heard about the railroad preparations?” inquired the postmaster. This query had been propounded with eagerness to every new arrival from the woods for the past three days.

“Yes.”

The interest of the men quickened, and they crowded round the newcomer.

“What does he say?”

“He hain't said anything special yet, so I heard,” replied the man. “Hain't done anything but swear so far, so they tell me.”

“Has he—has he started to come down?”

“Feller from up the line telephoned across the carry that a streak of fur, bells and brimstone went past his place, and so I should judge that Colonel Gid is on the way down,” drawled the man.

“An' he'll come across that lake in the morning,” said the postmaster, jabbing his thumb over his shoulder, “scorchin' the snow and leavin' a hot hole in the air behind him.”

The door opened and Parker came in to post his letters. The crowd gazed on him with new interest and with a certain significance in their glances that caught his eyes. The postmaster noticed his mute inquiry, and remarked:

“News from the interior, Mr. Parker, is that you prob'ly won't have any ice in Spinnaker to-morrow to run your engine on.”

“Why?” demanded the young man, with some surprise. The postmaster's sober face hid his jest. Parker surveyed wonderingly the grins curling under the listeners' beards.

“Oh, Colonel Gid Ward is comin' across in the mornin' and it's reckoned he'll burn up the ice.”

A cackle of laughter came from the assemblage.

“There's plenty of room on Spinnaker for both of us, I think,” Parker replied, quietly.

“Better hitch your engine,” suggested one of the group. “She's li'ble to take to the woods and climb a tree when she hears old Gid. And you can hear him a good way off, now I can tell you.”

The postmaster knuckled his chin humorously.

“Wal, you'll hear him 'bout the same time you see him. Five years ago he was arrested down to the village for drivin' through the streets lickety-whelt without bells. Run over two or three people, first and last. Gid said he'd give 'em bells enough, if that's what they wanted. He began collecting bells all the way from a cow-bell down. At last accounts he had about two hundred on his hoss and sleigh, and was still addin'. Now he makes every hoss on the street run away. The men wish they'd let him alone in the first place. He'll prob'ly want your engine-bell when he sees it to-morrow.”

Another cackle from the crowd.

Parker left without answering, and went to his dingy little room in the tavern. He did not doubt that the timber-land owners, beaten in their earlier and formal opposition, were inciting the irascible old colonel to pit might against right. The young man went over his papers once more, carefully and methodically posted himself as to his rights and powers, and then slept with the calmness of one who knows his course and is prepared to follow it.

The next morning all the male population of Sunkhaze settlement surveyed with rapt interest the preliminaries of getting up steam under the “Swamp Swogon,” as one of the guides had humorously nicknamed the little locomotive.

Suddenly a bystander leveled his mittened hand above his eyes and gazed up the long trail across the lake. The road was “brushed out” by little bushes set along at regular intervals.

Away off on the distant perspective a dot was advancing. It resolved itself into horse and sleigh. Puffs of vapor from the steaming animal indicated the urgent precipitancy of its speed.

“I reckon that'll be Colonel Gideon Ward!” called the man who had just observed the team.

Parker, busy with his gages and oil-can, gave one look up the road and went on with his labors. In a few moments the jangling beat of many bells throbbed on the frosty air. As if answering a challenge, the locomotive's escape valve shot up its hissing volume of steam.

“We are very nearly ready, gentlemen!” called Parker. He gave an order to his volunteer fireman, and suggested that intending passengers get aboard the sleds.

“I'll sound the whistle,” said he. “There may be some still waiting up at the store.”

The whistle shrieks were many and prolonged. The horse, speeding down the lake, was only a few rods away. He stopped, crouched, and dodged sidewise in terror. An old man stood up and began to belabor the frightened animal.

He was a queer figure, that old man, in the high-backed, high-fender sleigh. On his head was a tall peaked fur cap, with a barred coon tail flopping at its apex. A big fur coat, also covered with coon tails, made the man's figure almost Brobdingnagian in circumference. It was Colonel Gideon Ward.

CHAPTER FIVE—HOW COLONEL GIDEON WAS BACKED DOWN FOR THE FIRST TIME IN HIS LIFE

Above the purple knobs on his cheekbones Colonel Gideon Ward's little gray eyes snapped malevolently. He roared as he lashed at his trembling horse. The animal dodged and backed and stubbornly refused to advance on the strange thing that was pouring white clouds into the air and uttering fearful cries.

At last the horse reared, stood upright and fell upon its side, splintering the thills. Several of the men ran forward, but before the animal could scramble to its feet Ward leaped out, tied its forelegs together with the reins, and left it floundering in the snow. Then he came forward with his great whip in his hand. The crowd drew aside apprehensively, and he tramped straight up to the locomotive.

“What do ye mean,” he roared, “by having engines out here to scare hosses into conniptions? Take that thing off this lake and put it back on the railroad tracks up there where it belongs!” He shook his fists over his shoulder in the direction of the distant embankment.

“You will observe,” said Parker, blandly, “that there is some twenty inches difference between the gage of the wheels and the gage—”

“I don't care that”—and Colonel Ward snapped the great whip—“for your gages and your gouges! Take that engine off this ro'd.”

“I don't care to discuss the matter,” returned Parker, quietly. “I am busy about my own affairs—too busy to quarrel.”

“There's no use of me and you backin' and fillin'!” shouted the old man. “You know me and I know you. You think you're goin' to tote your material up over this lake and build that railroad across my carry at Poquette?”

“Yes, that's what I am going to do.”

Ward shot out his two great fists.

“Naw, ye ain't!” he howled.

Parker turned and consulted his steam-gage and water indicator. Then he rang the bell.

“All aboard!” he shouted. “First train for Poquette.”

A nervous little laugh went round at his quiet jest, and twoscore men boarded the sleds. For the first time in his roaring, reckless and quarrelsome life Colonel Gideon Ward found himself in the presence of a man who defied him scornfully and facing an obstacle that promised ridiculous defeat.

The titter of the crowd spurred his rage into fury. He took his whip between his teeth, and grasping the hand-rods, was about to lift himself into the cab. Parker put his gloved hand against the old man's breast.

“Not without an invitation, Colonel Ward,” he said. “Our party is made up.”

“Don't want to ride in your infernal engine!” bellowed Ward, “I'm goin' to hoss-whip you, you—”

“Colonel Ward, you know the legal status of the Poquette Carry Railroad, don't you?”

“I don't care—”

“If you don't know it, then consult your counsel. You are on the property of the Poquette Railroad Company. I order you off. There's nothing for you to do but to go.”

Eyes as fiery as Ward's own met the colonel. The pressure on his breast straightened to a push. He fell back upon the snow.

The next moment Parker pulled the throttle. The spike-spurred driving-wheels whirred and slashed the ice and snow until the “bite” started the train, and then it moved away up the long road, leaving Ward screaming maledictions after it.

“Well,” panted the fireman, “that'll be the first time Colonel Gid Ward was ever stood round in his whole life!”

“I'm sorry to have words with an old man,” said Parker, “but he must accept the new conditions here.”

“This is new, all right!” gasped the fireman, with an expressive sweep of his hand about the little cab.

Parker was watching his new contrivance with interest. His steering-gear was rude, being a single runner under the tender with tiller attachment, but it served the purpose. The road was so nearly a straight line that little steering was necessary.

The snow on the lake road was solid, and the spikes, with the weight of the engine settling them, drove the sleds along at a moderate rate of speed. The problem of the lake transportation was settled. When Parker quickened the pace to something like twelve miles an hour, the men cheered him hoarsely.

The trip to Poquette was exhilarating and uneventful. Parker left his fireman to look after the “train,” and accompanied by an interested retinue of citizens, tramped across the six miles of carry road on a preliminary tour of inspection.

He returned well satisfied.

The route was fairly level; a few détours would save all cuts, and the plan of trestles would do away with fills. With the eye of the practised engineer, Parker saw that neither survey nor construction involved any special problems. Therefore he selected his landing on the Spinnaker shore, and resolved to make all haste in hauling his material across the lake.

When the expedition arrived at Sunkhaze at dusk, the postmaster brought the information that Colonel Ward had stormed away on the down-train with certain hints about getting some law on his own account. He had sworn over and over in most ferocious fashion that the Poquette Carry road should not be built so long as law and dynamite could be bought.

For two days Parker peacefully transported material, twenty tons a trip and two trips a day. On the evening of the third day Colonel Ward arrived from the city, accompanied by a sharp-looking lawyer. The two immediately hastened away across the lake toward Poquette.

Parker had twenty men garrisoned in a log camp at the carry, and had little fear that his supplies would be molested. It was hardly credible, either, that a man with as extensive property interests as Colonel Ward possessed would dare to destroy wantonly the goods of a railroad company in the strong position of the Poquette road. However, Parker resolved to make a survey at once, in order to put the swampers at work chopping trees and clearing the right of way.

When he left the cab of his engine the next forenoon at Poquette, he saw the furred figure of Colonel Ward in front of his carry camp a sort of half-way station for the timber operator's itinerant crews. The lawyer was at his elbow.

Parker ignored their presence.

A half-hour later the young engineer had established his Spinnaker terminal point, and was running his lines. Still no word from the colonel, who was tramping up and down in front of the camp. Parker's whimsical fancy pictured those furs and coon tails as bristling and fluffing like the hair of an angry cat.

[Illustration: Appearance of an enraged Polar bear 078-100]

The young man wondered what card his antagonists were preparing to play. He found out promptly when he ordered his swampers to advance with their axes and begin chopping down the trees on the right of way. At the first “chock” ringing out on the crisp silence of the woods Ward came running down the snowy stretch of tote-road, presenting much the same appearance as would an up reared and enraged polar bear. The lawyer hurried after him, and several woodsmen followed more leisurely.

“Not another chip from those trees! Not another chip!” bawled the colonel. The men stopped chopping and looked at each other doubtfully.

“We've been told to go ahead here,” said the “boss.”

“I don't care what yeh've been told. You all know me, don't you?” Ward slapped his breast. “You know me? Well, I say stop that chopping on my—understand?—on my land.”

Parker, who was in advance of the choppers with his instruments, heard, and came plowing through the snow. He found Colonel Ward roaring oaths and abuse, brandishing his fists, and backing the crew of a dozen men fairly off the right of way. Ward's own band of “Gideonites” stood at a little distance, grinning admiringly.

Parker set himself squarely in front of the old man, elbowing aside a woodsman to whom the colonel was addressing himself. The young engineer's gaze was level and determined.

“Colonel Ward,” he said, “you are interfering with my men.”

The answer was a wordless snarl of ire and contempt.

“There's no mistaking your disposition,” continued Parker. “You have set yourself to balk this enterprise. But I haven't any time to spend in a quarrel with you.”

“Then get off my land.”

“Now, see here, Colonel Ward, you know as well as I that my principals have complied with all the provisions of law in taking this location. This road is going through. I am going to put it through.”

“Talk back to me, will you? Talk to me! ni—I'll—” Ward's rage choked his utterance.

“Certainly I'll talk to you, sir, and I am perfectly qualified to boss my men. Go ahead there, boys!” he called.

“A moment, Mr. Parker,” broke in the suave voice of the lawyer. “I see you don't understand the entire situation. Briefly, then, Mr. Ward has a telephone-line across this carry. You may see the wires from where you stand. I find that your right of way trespasses on Colonel Ward's telephone location. In this confusion of locations, you will see the advisability of suspending operations until the matter can be referred to the courts.”

“There is room for Colonel Ward's telephone and for our railroad, too,” he retorted. “If we are compelled to remove any poles, we'll replace them.”

Of course Parker did not know that the telephone-line was, in fact, only Colonel Ward's private line, and after the taking by the railroad was on the location wholly without right. But that was a matter for his superiors, and not for him.

“Another point that I fear you have not noted. Colonel Ward's telephone wires are affixed to trees, and your men are preparing to cut down these same trees in clearing your right of way. You see it can't be done, Mr. Parker.”

There was an unmistakable sneer in the lawyer's tones. Parker's anger mounted to his cheeks.

“I'm no lawyer,” he cried, “but I have been assured by our counsel that I have the right to build a railroad here, and I reckon he knows! I've been told to build this railroad and, Mr. Attorney, I'm going to build it. I've been told to have it completed by a certain time, and I haven't days and weeks to spend splitting hairs in court.”

“No, I see you're not much of a lawyer!” jeered the other. “Mr. Parker, you may as well take your plaything,” pointing to the engine, “and trundle it along home.”

“We'll see about that!” Parker snatched an ax from the nearest man. “Mr. Lawyer, you may go back to the city and fight your legal points with the man my principals hire for that purpose, and enjoy yourself as much as you can. In the meantime I'll be building a railroad. Men, those trees are to come down at once.” He began to hack at a tree with great vigor.

The choppers, encouraged by his firm attitude, promptly moved forward and began to use their axes.

“The club you must use, Colonel, is an injunction,” advised the crestfallen lawyer after he had watched operations a few moments. Ward was swearing violently. “I'll have one here in twenty-four hours.”

The irate lumberman whirled on his counsel.

“Get out of here!” he snarled. “Your injunction would prob'ly be like the law you've handed out here to-day. You said you'd stop him, but you haven't.”

“There's no law for a fool!” snapped the attorney.

“Get along with your law!” roared Ward. “I was an idiot ever to fuss with it or depend on it. 'Tain't any good up here. 'Tain't the way for real men to fight. I've got somethin' better'n law.”

He shook his fists at Parker. “Better'n law!” he repeated, in a shrill howl. “Better'n law!” he cried again. “And you'll get it, too.”

At first the engineer believed that Ward was about to rally his little band at the carry camp, but the old man turned and stumped away. His lawyer tried to interpose and address him, but the colonel angrily shoved him to one side with such force that the attorney tumbled backward into the snow.

“Get out my horse!” the colonel screamed, as he advanced toward the camp.

A helper precipitately backed the turnout from the hovel. Ward leaped into the sleigh, pulled his peaked fur cap down over his ears, and took up the reins and big whip. He brandished his great fist at the little group he had just left.

“Better'n law!” he shouted again. “That for your law!” and he struck his rangy horse with a crack as loud as a pistol-shot.

The animal leaped like a deer, fairly lifting the narrow sleigh, and with tails fluttering from his fur robes, his cap's coon tail streaming behind, away up the tote-road went Gideon Ward on his return to the deep woods, the mighty din of his myriad bells clashing down the forest aisles. At the distant turn of the road he hooted with the vigor of a screech owl, “Better'n law!” and disappeared.

“Your client doesn't seem to be in an especially amiable and lamb-like mood this morning,” said Parker.

The lawyer dusted the snow from his garments.

“Beautiful disposition, old Gid Ward has!” he snarled. “Left me here to walk sixteen miles to a railroad-station, and never offered to settle with me.”

“You forget the 'Poquette and Sunkhaze Air-Line,” Parker smiled. “You are free to ride back with us when we go.”

“No hard feelings, then?” asked the lawyer.

“I'm not small-minded, I trust,” returned Parker. The lawyer looked at the self-possessed young man with pleased interest. This generous attitude appealed to him.

“Do you realize, young man,” he inquired, “that old Gideon Ward never had a man really back him down before?”

“I don't know much about Colonel Ward personally, except that he has a very disagreeable disposition.”

“You've made him just as near a maniac as a man can be and still go about his business. There'll be a lot of trouble come from this. Hadn't you better advise your folks to call it off? They haven't the least idea, I imagine, what a proposition you are up against.”

“I shall keep on attending to my business,” Parker replied. “If any one interferes with that business, he'll do so at his own risk.”

“I am afraid you are depending too much on your legal rights and on the protection of the law. Now Gideon Ward has always made might right in this section. He is rough and ignorant, but the old scamp has a heap of money and a rich gang to back him. I tell you, there are a lot of things he can do to you, and then escape by using his money and his pull.”

“From what I have seen of the old man's temper, I am prepared to put a pretty high estimate on his capacity for mischief; but on the other hand, Mr. Attorney, suppose I should go back to my people and say I allowed an old native up here in the woods to back me off our property? I fear my chances for promotion on the P. K, and R. system would get a blacker eye than I shall give him if he ever shakes his fist under my nose again. Have all the people up here allowed that old wretch to browbeat and tyrannize over them without a word of protest?”

“Oh, he has been whaled once or twice, but it never did him any good. For instance, a favorite trick of his is to make every one flounder out of a tote-road into the deep snow. He won't turn out an inch. Most of the men he meets are working for him or selling him goods, and they don't dare to complain. However, one teamster he crowded off in that way broke two ox-goads on the old man. But that whipping only set him against other travellers more than ever.

“Another time Ward got what he deserved down at Sunkhaze. A man opened a store there and put in a plate-glass window, being anxious to show a bit of progress. There's nothing old Ward hates so much as he does what he calls 'slingin' on airs,' When he drove down from the woods and saw that new window he growled, 'Wal, it seems to me we're gettin' blamed high-toned all of a sudden!' He got out, rooted up a big rock and hove it right through the middle of that new pane of glass the only pane of plate glass Sunkhaze ever saw. Well, the storeman tore out and licked Ward till he cried. Storeman didn't know who the old man was till after it was all over. Neither did old Gid know how big that storeman was till he saw him coming out through that broken glass. Otherwise both might have thought twice.

“Ward boycotted and persecuted him till he had to sell out and leave town. He has persecuted everybody. His wife has been in the insane asylum going on ten years; his only girl ran away and got married to a cheap fellow, and his son is in state prison. The boy ran away from home, got into bad company, and shot a policeman who was trying to arrest him. If you are not crazy or dead before he gets done with you, then you'll come out luckier than I think you will.”

With this consoling remark the lawyer plodded up to the camp, to wait until it should be time to start down the lake.

As Parker toiled through the woods that day he reflected seriously on his situation. He fully appreciated the fact that Ward's malice intended some ugly retaliation. The danger viewed here in the woods and away from the usual protections of society seemed imminent and to be dreaded.

But the young man realized how skeptically Whittaker and Jerrard would view any such apprehensions as he might convey to them, reading his letter in the comfortable and matter-of-fact serenity of the city. He knew how impatient it made President Whittaker to be troubled with any subordinate's worry over details. His rule was to select the right man, say, “Let it be done,” and then, after the manner of the modern financial wizard inspect the finished result and bestow blame or praise.

Parker regretfully concluded that he must keep his own counsel until some act more overt and ominous forced him to share his responsibility.

That evening, as he sat in his room at the tavern, busy with his first figures of the survey, some one knocked and entered at his call, “Come in!”

CHAPTER SIX—IN WHICH “THE CAT-HERMIT OF MOXIE” CASTS HIS SHADOW LONG BEFORE HIM

It was the postmaster who appeared at Parker's invitation to enter. That official stroked down his beard, tipped his chair back, surveyed the young man with the solemnity of the midnight raven and observed:

“I hear you and Colonel Gid had it hot and tight up to Poquette to-day.”

“There was an argument,” returned Parker, quietly.

“I don't want to be considered as meddlin' with your affairs, Mr. Parker, but I've known Gid Ward for a good many years, and I want to advise you to look sharp that he doesn't do you some pesky mean kind of harm.”

“I have been warned already, Mr. Dodge.”

“Yes, but you don't seem to take it to heart enough. Or if you do, you don't show it. That was the reason I was afraid you didn't realize what a man you have to deal with.”

“He seems to me like a blustering coward. Your really brave and determined men don't make so much talk.”

“Oh, Gid Ward has tried his usual game of scare with his mouth, and it didn't work. He won't come again at you that way in the open right way. But”—the postmaster brought his chair down on its four legs and leaned forward to whisper—“he'll come again at you in the dark, and it's then that he's dangerous.”

“Of course I needn't tell you, Mr. Dodge, that I do not propose to be backed down and driven out of this section by a man like that. I dare say he is planning mischief, but I have my work to do here, and I shall keep on as best I can.”

“I admire your spunk, young man,” said the postmaster, heartily, “and I hope you'll come through this all right. But I have felt it my duty to see that you were warned good and solid. I know how Gid Ward got his start in life—and by as mean a trick as ever a man put up.

“His brother Joshua Ward, enlisted for the war in the sixties. Bachelor, Joshua was. He was going with one of the Marshall girls in Carmel, and the thing was settled final. Hows'ever, Josh went away to the war without getting married, because he allowed that if he got killed, an unmarried girl wouldn't have to take last pickings of the men, like a widow would. Mighty kind, square, good-hearted chap that Josh Ward now I can tell ye! Thought of others first all the time. He owned a mighty nice place that his aunt had willed to him. She liked Josh, but hated the sight of Gid, same's every one else did.

“Before Josh went away he deeded his farm and everything to that Marshall girl. Told her that if he came back they would get married, and it would be all right. If he didn't come back, he wanted her to marry a good man, and told her that the farm would make a home for them and help her to get the best kind of a husband. As I told you, that Joshua Ward was as good as wheat.

“For a year that Marshall girl heard from Josh regularly, and then the papers reported that he was killed in a big battle, and from then to the end of the war—two years or more—there wasn't a word from him or of him. Meanwhile Gid laid his plan. The Marshall girl had an idea that if she married Gid—though he wasn't her style—it would please Josh, for then the place would stay in the family. She mourned for Josh terribly, but Gid was right after her all the time, and there she was with a farm on her hands, and so she finally up and married him.

“In Joshua Ward's case it happened, as it did in hundreds of other cases, where the poor chaps weren't important enough to be heard about or from. He was just captured instead of killed, and went from Libby to Andersonville, from Andersonville to Macon, and when Lee surrendered he came home, thin's a shadow, shaking with ague and with eyes bigger than burnt holes in a blanket. Pitiful figure he was, I tell you. I was running a livery business in Carmel village then, and Josh hired me to take him out to the farm.

“I broke the thing to him on the way. Made my throat ache, now I tell you, Mr. Parker. Made my eyes smart and the fields and sky look blurry to see that poor wreck, with everything gone, and know that the hog that had stayed to home was enjoying it all.

“And what made me, as a man, despise Gid Ward more was the fact that he had been colonel of a state regiment in old militia days, boosted there by a gang that trained with him, and as soon as war broke out and the regiment was mustered in he resigned like a sneak, and couldn't be touched by a draft.

“Josh always was a quiet chap. He humped over a little more when I told him, and looked thinner, and I had to help him more when he got out at the farm than I did when he got aboard at the stable. He allowed he'd go to the farm just the same. Said he didn't have any money, or any other place to go, and he guessed 'twas his home, anyway.

“Mr. Parker, I haven't got the language to tell ye how that woman looked when she came to the door and saw me helping Josh out to the ground. No sir, I don't want to think of it—how she sank right down in that doorway, and her head went over sidewise and her eyes shut and—and her heart stopped, I guess.”

The postmaster blew his nose and snapped his eyes and cleared his throat with difficulty. Parker had forgotten his figures.

“Gid came round the corner of the house, seeing the team drive up, and what do you suppose he said when he saw his brother back from the grave, as you might say? He looked him over, not offering to shake his hand, and then he says, 'Well, living skelington, it's goin' to cost something to plump you out again, ain't it?'

“When I saw the look on Josh's face at that, I'd have hauled off and cuffed Gid's head up to a pick, swan if I wouldn't, but the Marshall girl—excuse me, Mis' Ward—came tearin' down the path, and threw her arms round Josh's neck and cried, 'O my poor brother!' And I came away.

“It was too much for me. My eyes were so full that I run against a tree, and pretty near took a wheel off.

“Wal, Josh stayed, and as soon as he was able he took a-hold of farm-work, and things went along for a time all quiet. One evening Josh was sitting out at the corner of the house, smoking as usual, and meditatin' in the way he had, when Gid came along and sat down on the door-stone.

“''Bout time to have a business understanding, ain't it, Josh?' Gid asked.

“'Yes, perhaps it is,' said Joshua.

“'Well then, ye'll answer a fair question. If ye continue to stay here, where's the money for your board comin' from?'

“'Board?' says Josh.

“'Yes, board! You don't reckon to run a visit over three months, do ye?'

“'Why, I didn't think there'd be any question of this sort between us, Gid.'

“'Business is business. If you'd had more business to you, you wouldn't be a pauper now.'

“'A pauper!'

“'That's what I said. You deeded this place to Cynthy Marshall, didn't ye? Well, she has deeded it to me. 'Tain't much of a husband that don't have his property in his own name.'

“'But see here, Gideon, you know why I deeded this property. You know how matters have come out. Between brothers in such a case there should be no such thing as stickin' to the letter of deeds.'

“'Nearer the relatives be to ye, closer you ought to follow the law,' snapped Gid, 'or else ye'll get cheated worse than by a stranger!'

“'He didn't seem to be takin' any of that to himself.'

“'I've been thinkin' I'd give half the place to Cynthy as a weddin' present, and we could—'

“'Why, you've given it all to her, hain't ye?'

“Josh had to say yes, of course. Never was any hand to argue his own rights.”

“'Well, she has given it to me and it was hers to give. Now, I say, can ye pay board?'

“'I haven't any money, Gid.'

“'Well, then, ye'll have to get a job somewhere. I don't need a hired man just now. Ye won't starve, Josh. The gov'ment will take care of soldiers,' he sneered. Then he got up and went into the house.

“That's the way it was told to me by Joshua Ward himself, Mr. Parker,” concluded the postmaster. “He had to get out. He didn't have any money to fight in law. He didn't want to stir up the thing on poor Cynthy's account. And he was ashamed to have the whole world know how mean a man he had for a brother.”

“What has become of this Joshua?” asked the young man, his heart hot with new and fresh bitterness against this unspeakable tyrant of the timber country.

“Josh did what so many other heart-broken men have done. He went into the woods, on an island in Little Moxie, built a cabin, has his pension to live on, and has become one of those queer old chaps such as you will find scattered all the way from Holeb to New Brunswick. There's old Young at Gulf Hagas, and the Mediator at Boarstone, and a lot like them. They call Joshua the 'cat hermit of Moxie.'

“They say he's got cats round his place by the hundred. Spends all his time in hunting meat and catching fish for 'em. Well, most everybody is cranky about some notion or others, whether it's in the city or in the woods, and I reckon that Josh has a right to keep cats if he wants to. No one ever sees him out in civilization now. Cynthy's in the asylum. Most people think it's just the trouble of the thing preying on her mind. And then again, I guess that Gid wasn't ever any too good to her. Hard case, ain't it, Mr. Parker?” The postmaster's voice trembled.

“It's as sad a story—as anger-stirring a story as I ever listened to, Mr. Dodge,” replied the young man, passionately. “I cannot understand how a scoundrel of that style should have been allowed to stamp roughshod over people without a champion arising in some quarter. It is small wonder that he has come to think that he can run the universe. He needs a lesson.”

“There's no doubt about his needin' the lesson,” replied the postmaster. “But for years half the wages that are paid out in this section have come through the hands of Gideon Ward. Laboring men with families to support and the traders have to stand in with him or be side-tracked. I don't know as Gid ever did a real up-and-down crime, any more than what I've been telling you—and some men in the world would be mean enough to gloss all that over, saying that it's only right to look out for number one first of all. But I tell ye honestly, Mr. Parker, Gid would have to do something pretty desperate and open to have the prosecuting officers of this county take it up against him. Now you can understand the width of the swath he cuts in these parts. Where would the witnesses come from? He owns his men, body and soul.”

Parker's forehead wrinkled doubtfully.

“What do you think will be his next move in regard to me?”

“I can't make a guess, but you need smellers as long as a bobcat's and as many eyes as a spider.” With this cheering opinion expressed, the postmaster went away.

There was no more work for Parker on his plans that night.

The grim pathos of the story that he had heard haunted him. This pitiful tragedy in real life stirred his youthful and impressionable sensibilities to their depths.

Despite his brave outward demeanor during his tilt with the ferocious old man he had feared within himself. He possessed no gladiatorial spirit and did not relish fray for the sake of it. But he did have accurate notions of right and wrong, of the justice of a cause and of manliness in standing for it. He had exhibited that trait many times to the astonishment of those who had been deceived by his quiet exterior. In this instance his employers had put a trust into his hands. He had resolved to go through with his task. But now there was added another incentive—a very distinct determination to give Gideon Ward at least one check and lesson in his career of wholesale domination.

A queer grief worked in his heart and a wistful tenderness moistened his eyes as he thought upon that injured brother, living out his wrecked life somewhere in the heart of those great woods about him. Perhaps there was a bit of prescience in the warmth with which he dwelt on the subject, for Fate had written that Joshua Ward was to play an important part in the life of Rodney Parker.

He went to sleep with the sorrow of it all weighing his mind, and his teeth gritting with determination as he reflected on Gideon Ward and his ugly threats.

CHAPTER SEVEN—HOW “THE FRESH-WATER CORSAIRS” CAME TO SUNKHAZE

In the morning Parker's foreman was waiting for him in the men's room of the tavern. It was so early that the smoky kerosine lamp was still struggling with the red glow of the dawn.

“Mr. Parker,” said the foreman earnestly, “have you go it figured what the old chap is goin' to do to us?”

“That is hardly a fair question to put to me Mank,” said the engineer, pulling on his mittens. “You knew him up this way better than I. Now you tell me what you expect him to do.”

But the foreman shook his head dubiously.

“It'll never come at a man twice alike,” he said.

“Sometimes he just snorts and folks just run. Sometimes he kicks, sometimes he bites, sometimes he rears and smashes things all to pieces. But the idea is, you can depend on him to do something and do it quick and do it mighty hard. We've known Gideon Ward a good many years up this way and we've never seen him so mad before nor have better reason for being mad. The men are worrying. I thought it right to tell you that much.”

“Well, I'm worrying, too,” said Parker. He tried to speak jestingly, but the heaviness of the night's foreboding was still upon him and the foreman detected the nervousness in his voice. The man now showed his own depression plainly.

“I was in hopes I could tell the men that you could see your way all free and clear” he said.

“Then the men are worrying?”

“That they are, sir. A good many of us own houses here in Sunkhaze and there's more than one way for Colonel Gideon Ward to get back at us. Several of the boys came to me last night and wanted to quit. I understand that the postmaster has been talking to you and he must have told you some of the things that the old man done and hasn't been troubled about, either by his conscience or the law. You see what kind of a position that puts us in.”

“You don't mean that the crew is going to strike, or rather slip out from under, do you, Mank?” asked Parker, struck by the man's demeanor.

“Well, I'd hardly like to say that. I ain't commissioned to put it that strong. But we've got to remember the fact that we'll probably want to live here a number of years yet, and railroad building won't last forever. Still, it's hardly about future jobs that we're thinking now. It's what is liable to happen to us in the next few days. It will be tough times for Sunkhaze settlement if the Gideonites swoop down on us, Mr. Parker.”

The engineer threw out his arms impetuously.

“But I'm in no position, Mank, to guarantee safety to the men who are working for the company,” he cried. “It looks to me as tho I were standing here pretty nigh single-handed. If I understand your meaning, I can't depend on my crew to back me up if it comes to a clinch with the old bear?”

“The boys here are not cowards,” replied the foreman with some spirit. “They're good, rugged chaps with grit in 'em. Turn 'em loose in a woods clearing a hundred miles from home and I'd match 'em man for man with any crowd that Gid Ward could herd together. I don't say they wouldn't fight here in their own door yards, Mr. Parker. They'd fight before they'd see their houses pulled down or their families troubled. But as to fighting for the property of this railroad company and then taking chances with the Gideonites afterward—well, I don't know about that! It's too near home!” Again the foreman shook his head dubiously. “As long as you can reckon safely that the old one is goin' to do something, the boys thought perhaps you'd notify the sheriff.”

But Parker remembered his instructions. Reporting his predicament to the sheriff would mean sowing news of the Sunkhaze situation broadcast in the papers.

“It isn't a matter for the sheriffs,” he replied shortly. “We'll consider that the men are hired to transport material and not to fight. We can only wait and see what will happen. But, Mank, I think that when the pinch comes you will find that my men can be as loyal to me, even if I am a stranger, as Ward's men are to the infernal old tyrant who has abused them all these years. I'm going to believe so at any rate.”

He turned away and started out of doors into the crisp morning. “I'm going to believe that last as long as I can,” he muttered.

“It'll help to keep me from running away.”

He found his crew gathered in the railroad yard near the heaps of unloaded material for construction. The men eyed him a bit curiously and rather sheepishly.

“I know how you stand, men,” he said cheerily. “I don't ask you to undertake any impossibilities. I simply want help in getting this stuff across Spinnaker Lake. Let's at it!”

His tone inspired them momentarily.

They were at least dauntless toilers, even if they professed to be indifferent soldiers.

The sleds or skids were drawn up into the railroad yard by hand and loaded there. Then they were snubbed down to the lake over the steep bank. On the ice the “train” was made up.

Even Parker himself was surprised to find what a load the little locomotive could manage. He made four trips the first day and at dusk had the satisfaction of beholding many tons of rails, fish-plates and spikes unloaded and neatly piled in the yarding place at the Spinnaker end of the carry.

Between trips, while the men were unloading, he had opportunity to extend his right-of-way lines for his swampers and attend to other details of his engineering problem.

'Twas a swift pace he set!

He dared to trust no one else in the cab of the panting “Swamp Swogon” as engineer, and rushed back from his lines when the fireman signalled with the whistle that they were ready for a return trip. It may readily be imagined that with duties pressing on him in that fashion Parker had little time in which to worry about the next move of Colonel Ward. And the men worked as zealously as tho they too had forgotten the menace that threatened in the north.

In three days fully half the weight of material had been safely landed across the lake.

But on the evening of the third day Parker was more seriously alarmed by the weather-frowns than he had been by the threats of Gideon Ward himself.

The postmaster presaged it, sniffing into the dusk with upturned nose and wagging his head ominously.

“I reckon old Gid has got one more privilege of these north woods into his clutch and is now handlin' the weather for the section,” he said. “For if we ain't goin' to have a spell of the soft and moist that will put you out of business for a while, then I miss my guess.”

It began with a fog and ended in a driving rainstorm that converted the surface of the lake into an expanse of slush that there was no dealing with.

Parker's experience had been with climatic conditions in lower latitudes and in his alarm he believed that spring had come swooping in on him and that the storm meant the breaking up of the ice or at least would weaken it so that it would not bear his engine.

But the postmaster, who could be a comforter as well as a prophet of ill, took him into the little enclosure of his inner office and showed him a long list of records pencilled on the slide of his wicket.

“Ice was never known to break up in Spinnaker earlier than the first week in May,” said Dodge, “and this rain-spitting won't open so much as a riffle. You just keep cool and wait.”

At the end of the rain-storm the weather helped Parker to keep cool. He heard the wind roaring from the northwest in the night. The frame of the little tavern shuddered. Ice fragments, torn from eaves and gables, went spinning away into the darkness over the frozen crust with the sound of the bells of fairy sleighs.

When Parker, fully awakening in the early dawn, looked out upon the frosty air, his breath was as visibly voluminous as the puff from an escape-valve of the “Swogon.” With his finger-nail he scratched the winter enameling from his window-pane, and through that peep-hole gazed out upon the lake. The frozen expanse stretched steel-white, glary and glistening, a solid sheet of ice.

“There's a surface,” cried Parker, in joyous soliloquy, “that will enable the Swogon to haul as much as a P. K. &R. mogul! Jack Frost is certainly a great engineer.”

He at once put a crew at work getting out more saplings for sleds. In two more trips, with his extra “cars” and with that glassy surface, he believed that every ounce of railroad material could be “yarded” at the Po-quette Carry. When the sun went down redly, spreading its broad bands of radiance across ice-sheeted Spinnaker, the Swogon stood bravely at the head of twenty heavily loaded sleds. The start for the Carry was scheduled to occur at daybreak.

The moon was round and full that evening, and Parker before turning in went out and remained at the edge of the lake a moment, looking across Spinnaker's vast expanse of silvery glory.

“You could take that train acrost the lake to-night, Mr. Parker,” suggested the foreman, who had followed him from the post-office. “It's as light as day.”

“Do you know,” admitted the young man, “I just came out with the uneasy feeling, somehow, that I ought to fire up and start out. I suppose the old women would call it a presentiment. But the men have worked too hard to-day to be called out for a night job. With a freeze like that we haven't got to hurry on account of the weather.”

The foreman patted his ears briskly, for the night wind was sweeping down the lake and squalling shrewishly about the corners of buildings in the little settlement. Suddenly the man shot out a mittened hand, and pointed up the lake.

“What's that?” he ejaculated.

Parker gazed. Far up Spinnaker a dim white bulk seemed to hover above the ice. It was almost wraith-like in the moonlight. It flitted on like a huge bird, and seemed to be rapidly advancing toward Sunkhaze.

[Illustration: A dim white hulk seemed to hover 117-140]

“If it were summer-time and this were Sandy Hook,” said Parker, with a smile, “I should think that perhaps the cup-race might be on.”

“I should say, rather, it is the ghost of Gid Ward's boom gunlow,” returned the man, not to be outdone in jest. “He's got an old scow with a sail like that.”

Both men surveyed the dim whiteness with increasing interest.

“Are there any ice-boats on the lake?” inquired the engineer.

“I never heard of any such thing hereabouts.”

“Well, I have made that out to be an iceboat of some description. And with that spread of sail it is making great progress.” Parker rolled up his coat collar and pulled down his fur cap. A feeling of disquiet pricked him. “I think I'll stay here a little while and watch that fellow,” he said.

“So will I,” agreed his employé.

The approaching sail grew rapidly. Soon the craft was to be descried more in detail. Under the sail was a flat, black mass. And now on the breeze came swelling a chorus of rude songs, the melody of which was shot through with howls and bellows of uproarious men.

“Trouble's coming there, Mr. Parker!” gasped the foreman, apprehensively. “The wind behind 'em an' rum inside 'em.”

“Ward's men, eh?” suggested the engineer.

“That they are! The Gideonites! They can't be anything else.”

“Get our men together!” Parker cried, clapping his gloved hands. “Rout out every man in the settlement.”

The foreman started away on the run, banging on house doors and bawling the cry:

“Whoo-ee! All up! Parker's crew turn out! All hands wanted at the lake!”

In the excitement of the moment Mank did not question the command nor pause to reflect that he might be calling his neighbors into trouble that they would not relish.

CHAPTER EIGHT—THE LOCOMOTIVE THAT WENT SWIMMING AND THE ENGINEER WHO WAS STOLEN

In a few moments the bell of the little chapel was sending its jangling alarm out over the village. Doors banged, men burst out of the houses and poured down to the lake shore, buttoning their jackets as they ran.

They required no explanation. Ever since the incident at Poquette some such irruption of Ward's reckless woods hordes had been anticipated. But this tempestuous night arrival under sail, this sudden and terrifying descent appalled the newly awakened men.

The craft was now close to shore, and was making for the stolid Swogon and its waiting sleds. The stranger's method of construction could now be distinguished, A good half-score of tote-sleds had been lashed together into a sort of runnered raft The sail was the huge canvas used in summer on Ward's lake scow.

As the great boat swung into the wind, a jostling crowd of men poured out on the ice from under the flapping sail. Each man bore a tool of some sort, either ax, cant-dog, iron-shod peavey-stick, or cross-cut saw; and the moonshine flashed on the steel surfaces. It was plain that the party viewed its expedition as an opportunity for reckless roistering, and spirits had added a spur to the natural boisterous belligerency of the woodsmen.

Most of Parker's crew had brought axes, and now as he advanced across the ice toward the locomotive, his men followed with considerable display of valor.

'A giant whiskered woodsman led the onrush of the attacking force; and the gang interposed itself between the railroad property and its defenders.

“Hold up there, right where ye are, all of ye!” the giant shouted.

“What is your business here?” demanded the young man.

“Are you that little railro'd chap that thinks he's runnin' this end of the country on the kid-glove basis?” roared the big man. He swung his ax menacingly.

“My name is Parker,” replied the engineer. “That is my property yonder. You will have to let my men pass to it.”

The giant looked squarely over the engineer's head into the crowd of Sunkhaze men.

“You all know me,” he cried, “an' if ye don't know me ye've heard of me! I reckon Dan Connick is pretty well known hereabouts. Wal, that's me. Never was licked, never was talked back to. These men behind me are all a good deal like me. I know the most o' you men. I should hate to hurt ye. Your wives are up there waitin' for ye to come home. Ye'd better go.”

But the crowd made no movement to retreat. Parker still stood at their head.

“Ye'd better go!” bellowed Connick. “Understand? I said ye'd better go. Go an' mind your business, an' if ye do that, not a man in my crew will step a foot on the Sunk-haze shore. But if ye stay here and meddle, then down come your houses and out go your cook-stoves. You know me! Get back on shore.”

A tremendous roar from his men emphasized his demand.

“If ye want these hearties loose up there, ye can have 'em in about two minutes!” he cried, threateningly.

The Sunkhaze contingent rubbed elbows significantly, mumbled in conference, and scuffled slowly toward the shore.

“Are you going to back down, men?” Parker shouted.

“We've got wives an' children an' houses up there, mister,” said a voice from the crowd, “an' it's a cold night to be turned out-o'-doors. We know these fellers better'n what you do.”

“But, men,” persisted Parker, “they won't dare to sack your village. Such things are not done in these days. The law—”

“Law!” burst from Connick, jeeringly. “Law! Law!” echoed his men, with mocking laughter.

“Why,” yelled Connick, “there ain't deputy sheriffs enough in this county to round us up once we get acrost the Poquette divide! There ain't a deputy sheriff that will dare to poke his nose within ten miles of our camps.”

“That's right, Mr. Parker,” agreed one of the Sunkhaze crowd. “Once a crew burnt a smokin'-car when they were comin' up from—”

“No yarns now, no yarns now!” Connick thrust himself against the Sunkhaze men and roughly elbowed them back. “Get on shore an' stay there.”

Parker was left standing alone on the ice. His supporters scuffled away, muttering angry complaints, but offering no resistance. When the giant woodsman returned after hastening their departure, he was faced by the young man, still defiant. Connick cocked his head humorously and looked down on the engineer. Under all the big man's apparent fierceness there had been a flash of rough jocoseness in his tones at times. Parker saw plainly that he and his followers viewed the whole thing as a “lark,” and entertained little respect for their adversaries.

“Connick, I warn you—” Parker began; but the giant chuckled, and said, tauntingly:

“'Cluck, cluck!' said the bear.

“I want to say to you, sir, that you are dealing with a large proposition if you propose to interfere with this railroad property. My backers—”

“'Bow-wow!' said the fish.” The woodsman cried the taunt more insolently, and yet with a jeering joviality that irritated Parker more than downright abuse would have done.

He started toward his engine, but Connick put out his big arm to interpose.

“Poodle,” he said, “I've got a place for you. I'm the champion dog-catcher of the West Branch region.” He reached for Parker's collar, but Parker ducked under his arm, and as he came up struck out with a force that sent the astonished giant reeling backward. Fury and desperation were behind the blow.

“Wal, of all the—” gasped Connick, pushing back his cap and staring in astonishment. His men laughed.

“I'll wring your neck, you bantam!” he bawled; and he came down on Parker with a rush.

On that slippery surface the odds were with the defensive. Moreover, Parker, having an athlete's confidence in his fists, suddenly responded to the instincts of primordial man. He leaped lightly to one side, caught the rushing giant's foot across his instep, and as Connick's moccasined feet went out from under him, the young engineer struck him behind the ear. He fell with a dismal thump of his head on the ice, and lay without motion.

But Parker's panting triumph was shortlived. As he stood over the giant, gallantly waiting for him to rise, he discovered that the rules of scientific combat were not observed in the woods. A half-dozen brawny woodsmen leaped upon him, seized him, threw him down, tied his arms and legs with as little ceremony as if he were a calf, and tossed him upon the ice-boat.

Connick had risen to a sitting posture, and viewed the struggle with mutterings of wrath while he rubbed his bumped head.

He scrambled up as if to interfere, but as his antagonist had by this time been disposed of, he roared a few sharp orders, and his willing crew set at work. Men with axes chopped holes a few feet apart in a circle about the engine. There were many choppers, and although the ice was three feet thick, the water soon came bubbling through. As soon as a hole was cut, other men stuck down their huge cross-cuts and began to saw the ice.

All too soon Parker, craning his neck where he lay on the ice-boat, heard an ominous buckling and crackling of ice, and saw his faithful Swogon disappear below the surface of the lake, her mighty splash sending the water gushing like a silvery geyser into the moonlight. The attached sleds, loaded with the rails and spikes and other material, followed like a line of huge, frightened beavers seeking their hole.

“There,” ejaculated Connick, wiping the sweat from his brow, “when that hole freezes up the Poquette Carry Railro'd will be canned for a time, anyway. Now three cheers for Colonel Gid Ward!”

The cheers were howled vociferously.

He pointed to the men of the settlement, who were now joined by their wives and children, and were watching operations from the bank.

“Three cheers for the brave men and the sweet ladies o' Sunkhaze!”

Loud laughter followed these cheers. The people on the shore remained discreetly silent.

“Three groans for the Poquette Railro'd!”

The hoarse cries rang out on the crisp night wind, and at the close one of those queer, splitting, wide-reaching, booming crackles, heard in the winter on big waters, spread across the lake from shore to shore.

“Even the old lake's with us!” a woodsman shouted.

Connick and his men had finished what they had come to Sunkhaze to do. They climbed aboard the huge ice-craft. The sheet was paid off, and with dragging peavey-sticks instead of centerboard to hold the contrivance into the wind, the boat moved away on its tack across the lake.

“Say good-by to your friend here!” Connick bellowed. “He says he thinks he'll go with us, strange country for to see.”

“Tell inquirin' admirers that his address in futur' will be north pole, shady side,” another rough humorist added.

The men on the shore did not reply. They understood perfectly the uncertain temper of “larking” woodsmen. There had been cases in times past when a taunting word had turned rude jollity into sour hankering for revenge.

The bottle began to go about on the sleds, and the refrain of a lumberman's chorus, with its riotous, “Whoop fa la larry, lo day!” came floating back to Sunkhaze long after the great sail had merged itself with the silvery radiance of the brilliant surface of the lake.

“Apparently there's other folks as have new schemes of travellin' acrost Spinnaker Lake,” observed the postmaster, breaking a long silence in the group of spectators. “Wal, I did all I could to post him on what he might expect when Gid Ward got his temper good an' started. It's too bad to see that property dumped that way, tho.”

“Ain't Gid Ward ever goin' to suffer for any of his actions?” demanded Parker's foreman, disgustedly.

“What are we goin' to do?” bleated another man.

“I'll write a letter to the high sheriff,” said the postmaster, and then he added, bitterly, “an' he'll prob'ly wait till it's settled goin' in the spring, same's he did when we sent down that complaint about Ward's men wreckin' Johnson's store. An' by that time he'll forget all about comin'. Talk about kings and emperors! If we hain't got one on West Branch waters, then you can brand me for a liar with one of my own date stamps.”

Parker maintained grim silence as he lay on the sled. No one spoke to him. The men were too busy with songs and rough jests over the business of the evening. The engineer would not confess to himself that he was frightened, but the wantonness and alacrity with which the irresponsible men had destroyed valuable property impressed him with ominous apprehension of what they might do to him. He wondered what revenge Connick was meditating.

It was a strange and tedious ride for the young man. The woodsmen sat jammed so closely about him that he could see only the frosty stars glimmering wanly in the moonlight. When the songs and the roaring conversations were stilled for a moment, he could hear the lisp of the runners on the smooth surface and the slashing grind of the iron-clad peavey-sticks.

Although the bodies of his neighbors had kept the cold blast from him, he staggered on his numb feet when they untied his bonds at Poquette and ordered him to get off the sled. Connick came along and gazed on the young man grimly while they were freeing him.

“Aha, my bantam!” he growled.

Parker braced himself to meet a blow. He felt that the giant would now take satisfactory vengeance for the discomfiture he had suffered before his men at Sunkhaze. Connick raised his hand, that in its big mitten seemed like a cloud against the moon, and brought it down. The young man gathered himself apprehensively, but the expected assault was merely a slap on his shoulder—a slap with such an unmistakable air of friendliness about it that Parker gazed up into the man's face with astonishment. Now he was to experience his first taste of the rude chivalry of the woods, a chivalry often based on sudden whim, but none the less sincere and manly—a chivalry of which he was to have further queer experience.

“My bantam,” said the big man, admiringly, “faith, but that was a tidy bito' footwork ye done down at Sunkhaze.” Good-humored grins and rueful scowls chased one another over his face, according as he patted Parker's back or rubbed the bump on his own head. “Sure, there's a big knob there, my boy. There's only one thing that's harder than your fist, an' that's Spinnaker ice.”

Parker attempted some embarrassed reply in way of apology, for this magnanimity of his foe touched him. The giant put up a protesting hand.

“Ye sartin done it good, my little man, an' I'm glad to know ye better. But Colonel Gid Ward, sure he lied about ye, or I'd never called ye names at Sunkhaze.”

“You didn't expect that man to tell the truth about me, did you?” Parker demanded.

“Why, he said ye was a little white-livered sneak that wouldn't dare to put up your hands to a Sunkhaze mosquito of the June breed, an' that ye were tryin' to come in here an' do business amongst real men. I couldn't stand that, I couldn't!”

“But my business—my reasons for being here—my responsibilities!” cried Parker. “I see he must have lied about that part of it.”

“Ah, I don't know anything about your business, nor care!” Connick growled. “I only know there's something about a Poquette railro'd in it. But all that's between you and Gid Ward. You can talk that over with him.”

“Do you mean to tell me that you and your men have destroyed that railroad property without having any special grudge against the project?”

“Why, railro'ds ain't any of our business,” the giant replied, with his eyes wide open and frank.

“What are you—slaves?” Parker cried, angrily. In addition to his lesson in woods' thivalry he was getting education regarding the irresponsibility of these unconventional children of the wild lands.

The taunt did not seem to anger the men.

“This railro'd is Gid Ward's business,” said Connick. “We work for Gid Ward, He owns the Poquette land, don't he? He said he didn't want any railro'd there. He told us to come down an' dump the thing. We come down, of course it's been dumped. You can fix that with him. But you're a good little fighter, my man. He didn't tell the truth about you.”

The young man groaned. The ethics of the woods were growing more opaque to his understanding.

“I'll introduce myself more formal,” said the woodsman, apparently with affable intent to be better acquainted with this young man who had shown that he possessed the qualities admired in the forest. “My name is Dan Connick, and these here are my hearties from Number 7 cuttin'.” He waved his hand, and the nearest men growled good-humored greetings.

“Well, Mr. Connick,” said Parker, dryly, “I thank you for the evening's entertainment, and now that you have done your duty to Colonel Ward I suppose I may return to Sunkhaze.” His heart sank as he thought of the poor Swogon weltering in the depths of the lake.

“Oh, ye've got to come along with us!” beamed Connick. “Colonel Ward has sent for ye!”

CHAPTER NINE—UP THE WINDING WAY TO THE “OGRE OF THE BIG WOODS.”

“I have no further business with Colonel Ward at this time,” protested Parker, amazed at Connick's refusal to release him. “Wal, he says you have, an' them's our orders. The men that work for Gid Ward have to obey orders.”

“Your Colonel Ward has already injured me enough,” exclaimed Parker, bitterly, “without dragging me away into the woods fifty or a hundred miles from my duty! I'll not see any more of him.”

“Oh, but ye will, tho!” Connick was grinning, but under his amiability his tones were decisive. “I don't know what he wants to talk with you about, but I reckon it's railroad. We here can't do that with ye. So ye'll have to come along. But we all think you're a smart little man. Ain't that so, hearties?”

The men growled gruff assent.

“Ye see, ye're pop'lar with us,” Connick went on. “Ye can be as friendly with us as tho we was your brothers, but ye don't want to try any shenanigan trick like dodgin' away. We've been told to take you to Number 7 camp, and to that camp ye're goin'. So understandin' that we'll move. There's a snack waitin' here for us at the carry camp, and then for the uptrail.” The men moved along, taking Parker with them in the center of the group.

“How far is it to Number 7?” the young man inquired, despondently.

“They call it fifty miles from the other end of the carry. Ye needn't walk a step if ye don't want to. There's a moose sled an' plenty of men to haul ye.”

After a breakfast of hot beans, biscuits and steaming tea at the camp, the procession! moved. Parker was wrapped in tattered bunk blankets and installed in state on a long, narrow sledge. He was given the option of getting off and walking whenever he needed the exercise to warm himself.

The march was brisk all that day, for the brawny woodsmen followed the snowy trail unflaggingly. After the six miles of the carry tote-road, their way led up the crooked West Branch on the ice. There were detours where the open waters roared down rough gorges fast enough to dodge the chilling hand of Jack Frost; there were broad dead waters where the river widened into small lakes. Parker was oppressed by the nervous dread of one who enters a strange new country and faces a danger toward which a fate stronger than he is pressing him.

At noon they ate a lunch beside a crackling fire which warmed the cooked provisions they had brought from the carry camp.

Parker walked during the afternoon to ease his cold-stiffened limbs. Toward dusk the party left the river and turned into a tote-road that writhed away under snow-laden spruces and hemlocks, coiled its way about rocky hummocks, and curved in “whip-lashes” up precipitous hillsides. There was not a break in the forest that stretched away on either hand.

Late in the evening they saw in a valley below them a group of log huts, their snowy roofs silvered by the moonlight. Yellow gleams from the low windows showed that the camp was occupied.

“That's the Sourdanheunk baitin'-place,” Connick explained, in answer to a question from his captive. “One o' Ward's tote-team hang-ups an' feedin'-places.”

The cook, a sallow, tall man encased in a dirty canvas shroud of an apron, was apparently expecting the party. More beans, more biscuits, more steaming tea—and then a bunk was spread for Parker. His previous night of vigil and his day spent in the wind had benumbed his faculties, and he speedily forgot his fears and his bitter resentment in profound slumber.

The next morning the cook's “Whoo-ee!” called the men before the dawn, and they were away while the first flushes presaged the sunrise. It seemed that day that the tortuous tote-road would never end. Valley succeeded to “horseback” and “horseback” to valley. Woods miles are long miles.

Parker's railroad eye and engineer's discernment bitterly condemned the divagations of the wight who wandered first along that trail and imposed his lazy dodgings on all who might come after him. The young man amused himself by reflecting that the tote-road was an excellent example of the persistence of human error, and in these and other philosophical ponderings he was able to draw his mind partially from its uncomfortable dwellings on the probabilities awaiting him at the hands of Gideon Ward.

The sun was far down in the west and the road under the spruces was dusky, when a singular obstacle halted the march. A tremendous thrashing and crashing at one side of the road signaled the approach of some large animal. A network of undergrowth hid the identity of this unknown, and the men instinctively huddled together and displayed some uncertainty as to whether they should remain or run. But the suspense was soon over, for the nearer bushes parted suddenly and out upon the tote-road floundered an immense moose, his bulbous nose wagging, his bristly mane twitching, his stilted fore legs straddled defiantly.

The next moment a great bellow of laughter went up from the crowd.

“The joke's on us!” cried a woodsman, who had been among the first to retreat.

“Hullo, Ben Bouncer!” Connick shouted.

“What do you mean by playin' peek-a-boo with your friends in that manner?”

The moose uttered a hoarse whuffle.

“This is Ben Bouncer, the mascot of Number 7 camp,” the foreman announced. He pushed Parker to the front rank of the group. “He won't hurt ye,” he added. “He has got used enough to men to be a little sassy, an' he's got colty on Gid Ward's grain, but he's mostly bluff.”

The engineer gazed on the moose with considerable interest, for the spectacle was entirely new.

“Ben went to loafin' round 7 camp early this winter. He yarded down here two miles or so. You understand, of course, that a moose picks out a good feedin'-place in winter, when the deep snows come, a place where he can reach a lot of twigs and yards there, as they call it in the woods.”

“When the snow got crusty and scraped his legs, Ben seemed to have a tired fit come over him, and began to come closer an' closer to the horse hovels to steal what loose hay he could. No one round the camp wanted to hurt him. After a time we all became sort of interested in him, and toled him up to the camp by leavin' hay an' grain round where he could get at it. You can see what a big fat fellow we've made of him. Our feedin' him makes the colonel mad, for hay is worth something by the time ye get it in here to camp. I bet if ye put it all together the colonel has chased him more'n forty miles with a bow whip.

“He was goin' to shoot Ben, but the boys got up on their ear and made it known that if he killed the camp mascot they'd throw up their jobs. An' if you know anything about a woods crew you'd know it's the little things that they get the maddest about. An' now whenever the colonel comes round he takes it out in chasin' Ben with a whip. Ben just lopes round in a circle of a mile or two, and comes back lookin' reproachful, but still perfectly satisfied with Number 7 as a winter residence. The boys think a lot of Ben. Ben thinks a lot of the boys. But the colonel is sp'ilin' his temper some with that bow whip. I reckon why Ben jest come out there lookin' so savage was because he thought old Ward was comin' up to camp.”

The moose finished his critical survey of the group, snorted, and then thrust himself out of sight in the bushes.

“If we ever have any serious fallin' out with Colonel Gid it's like to be over that moose,” drawled a man.

“To judge by the moose, we must be near Number 7 camp,” Parker suggested.

“Just over the hossback,” was the laconic answer.

Parker was soon looking down on it from the hilltop. There were two long, low main camps—one for the sleeping quarters of the men, the other crowded with long, roughly made tables, at which they ate, The space that separated the camps was roofed and had one side open to the weather. This shelter was called the “dingle,” and contained the camp grindstone and spare sled equipment.

At a little distance was a small camp containing the stores, such as moccasins, larigans, leggings, flannel shirts and mittens, all for sale at double the prices ruling in the city and for Colonel Ward's profit. The woods name for this store is the “wangan camp.”

The hour was still too early for the few men left at Number 7 to be in from the cutting. Only the cook and his helper, “the cookee,” were at the camp.

The cook came out and advanced to meet the new arrivals, having been attracted from his kettles and pans by the view-halloo they sent down from the hilltop.

“Colonel left word to lock him in the wangan,” reported the cook, rolling his bare arms more tightly in his dingy apron.

“Where is the colonel?” asked Connick.

“He's out at the log landin'. Be in at supper-time, so he said.” The cook eyed the captive with curiosity not unmixed with commiseration. “Has he been takin' on much?” he inquired of one of the men.

“Nope. Stiff upper lip—an' he licked Dan,” the man added, behind his palm.

“Sho!” the cook ejaculated, looking on Parker with new interest. “Ain't he worried by thinkin' of the colonel?”

“Naw-w! Says he'll eat him raw!” fabricated the men, enjoying the cook's amazement. “Says he's glad to come up here. Been hankerin' to get at Ward, he says.”

“Wal, you don't say!” The cook surveyed Parker from head to foot with critical inspection. This scrutiny annoyed the young man at last.

“Do I owe you anything?” He snapped.

“Heh—wal—blorh-h—wal, I hope ye don't!” spluttered the cook, retreating. “Land, ain't he a savage one?” he gasped, as he hastened back into his realm of pots. He transferred his news to the amazed cookee.

“They tell me,” he magnified, so as not to be outdone in sensationalism, “that this feller has licked every man that they've turned him loose on between here and Sunkhaze, an' now is just grittin' his teeth a-waitin' for the colonel.”

“Wal,” said the cookee, solemnly, “if the r'yal Asiatic tiger—meanin' Colonel Gid—and the great human Bengal—meanin' him as is in the wangan—get together in this clearin', I think I'd rather see it from up a tree.” And the two were only diverted from their breathless discussion of possibilities by the noisy arrival of Gideon Ward, clamoring for his supper.

[Illustration: Colonel Ward stamped in 149-174]

Parker had hardly finished in solitude his humble supper brought by the cookee, when there was a rattling of the padlock outside. Open flew the door of bolted planks, and Colonel Ward stamped in, kicking the snow from his feet with wholly unnecessary racket of boots. A hatchet-faced man, whose chin was framed between the ends of a drooping yellow mustache, followed meekly and closed the door. Parker rose with a confident air he was far from feeling.

Ward gazed on his prisoner a moment, his gray hair bristling from under his fur cap, his little eyes glittering maliciously. His cheek knobs were more irately purple than ever. He took up his cry where he had left it at Poquette Carry, and began to shout:

“Better'n law, hey? Better'n law! Ye remember what I said, don't yeh? Better'n law!”

The young man faced him.

“Colonel Ward, there's a law against trespass, a law against conspiracy, a law against riots and destruction of property, and a law against abduction. I promise you here and now that you'll learn something about those laws later.”

“Still threat'nin' me right on my own land, are yeh, hey?”

“I am not threatening. I am simply standing up for my rights as a citizen under the law.”

“Wal, I ain't here to argue law nor nothin' else with yeh. I've had you brought up here so's I can talk straight business with you. You've had a pretty tart lesson, but I hope you've learned somethin' by it. I've showed ye that a railro'd can't be built over Gideon Ward's property till he says the word. An' he'll never say the word. Ye're licked. Own up to it, now ain't ye?” Ward's voice was mighty with a conqueror's confidence.

“Not by any means. You have simply incurred the penalty of being sent to state prison. And while you're there I'll be building that railroad.”

Fury fairly streamed from Ward's eyes. He choked, grasped at his throat, writhed as if he were strangling, and stamped his foot until the camp shook. At last he recovered his voice.

“I'll pay ye for that! Now see here!” He jammed a paper into Parker's hands. “Sign that docyment, there an' now. Sign it an' swear ye'll stick by your agreement; 'cause if ye go back on it, may the Lord have mercy on your soul, for Gid Ward never will!”

Parker glanced at the crudely drawn agreement. It bound him as agent for his principals to withdraw all material from the Po-quette Carry, and abandon his railroad undertaking. It furthermore promised that he would make no complaint on account of damages to property or himself—admitting that he had been guilty of trespass.

Parker indignantly held the paper toward the colonel. The latter refused to take it.

“Sign it!” he roared. “Sign it, or you'll take your medicine!”

“Do you think I am a fool, Colonel Ward? Or are you one? I cannot bind my principals in any such manner. Furthermore, a signature obtained under duress is of no value in court. I claim that I am under duress.”

“You refuse to sign, then?”

“Absolutely. It would be easy enough to sign that paper and then go away and do as I like. But I am not going to lie to you even for a moment. The paper would be worthless in court.”

“It ain't a paper that's goin' into court,” Ward retorted. “It's a paper by which you agree to get out of here. It's you an' me. It just means that ro'd shan't be built.”

“Put into other words, I am to be scared out, and run back home and report that the road is impracticable?”

“There's no one else in the world but you that would be fool enough to start in here an' buck me!” Ward shouted.

“And therefore you think if I agree to leave, no one else will dare to undertake the thing? You do me too much honor, Colonel Ward. But I repeat, I shall not run away.”

“Don't you realize I have gone too far into this thing to pull back now? I warn you that I may have to do things I don't like to do in order to protect myself. I can't back out now—no, sir!”

“You shouldn't have started in, then!” Parker sat down and looked away as if the incident were closed. He slowly tore up the agreement and tossed the pieces on the floor.

This bravado made Ward choke.

“Stand right up, do you, an' threaten to put me into state prison?”

“You went into this with your eyes open. You must take the consequences. You are a business man, and are supposed to have arrived at years of understanding. This matter isn't like kicking over a mud house at school.”

“Look here, I've got every lumber operator in this section behind me in this matter. You hain't realized yet what you're up against.”

“If that is the case,” Parker replied, his eyes kindling, “I can see that this state is in for one of the big scandals of its history.”

Ward, who had been carried away by his passion and desire to intimidate, understood now how this admission would compromise men who would be ruined politically if any hint of such an illegal combination should be noised abroad.

When he had offered to defeat the actual construction of the road, he had been warned that he must take all the responsibility upon himself. He had willingly assumed it, for he was as proud of his reputation for savage obstinacy as other men are of popular credit for more noble attributes. Col. Gideon Ward had confidently boasted to his associates that he would prevent the building of the Poquette railroad. He would rather lose half his fortune than confess to them that he had been beaten by a youth.

Now his hardy nature shivered at the thought that not only might the youth win, but that he had the power to make the agent of the timber barons doubly execrated and an outcast among his own people. Ward was faced by the most serious problem of his life, and the uncomfortable reflection pricked him that he had allowed his anger to steal his brains.

“Young man,” said he, “I've been on earth a good while longer'n you have. I expect to stay some time yet And I expect to live right here in this section. You hain't got to live here. Now do you think Gid Ward can afford to be put on his back just yet? I know just who'd tromp on me, an' I know it better'n you. Now I tell you fair an' square you've got to give in.” He bellowed the word “got” and thunked his fist on his knee.

“There is no answer to that required from me, Colonel Ward.”

“All right, then. Come along, Hackett!” Ward commanded. “We'll give this critter a little time to figure this thing over, an' think whether he's got any friends that he'd like to get back to.” They went out and locked the door.

CHAPTER TEN—THE WANGAN DUEL

AFTER the fashion of any prisoner, Parker's initial impulse was to examine the place in which he was confined. At first, escape was in his mind. The more he pondered on the lawless performance of the old timber baron and on the wilful destruction of the company's property, the more eager he was to get to a telegraph instrument.

Nothing had been taken from his person. He had his huge, sharp, jack-knife. The door was strong and thick but he believed that if he attacked the wood vigorously he might be able to whittle out the lock.

There were wooden bars on the windows outside and within, rude protection against thieves who might want to ransack the stock of the wangan store. His stout knife would take care of them, too.

But after whittling vigorously at a bar for a few moments he stopped suddenly, shut his knife and rammed it into his pocket with an exclamation of sudden resolve.

He reflected that even if he got out of the camp that night, he was more than fifty miles from Poquette, the only point in that wilderness whose location was known to him. He was without food for a journey and had his weary way to make through Gideon Ward's own country.

“He has brought me here to bluster at me and frighten me into running away out of the section,” he reflected. “I'll stay and disappoint him.”

His own respect for law and order was still so strong within him that he feared no extreme measures. His honest belief was that the colonel, like most men who find they have picked up a brick too hot for them, would drop him in good time and allow him to return to his work.

In order to force the old man to this issue he determined to put on a bold front, defy his captor still more doggedly and in the end accept release under conditions of his own making. He felt that Ward was compromised and now to a certain extent in his power.

It was a decidedly comforting reflection, that, for a prisoner, and he tucked himself into the blankets of his bunk and went to sleep with his mind eased.

The cook's shrill morning call woke him and without rising he listened to the bustle of men preparing for the day's work. He heard the continuous rattle of tin dishes, the mellow rasp of axes on turning grindstones, the squeak of footsteps departing over the crisp snow and the squealing of the runners of sleds. And when all were gone, there was as yet only the faintest glimmering of the dawn against the window of the wangan camp.

The engineer was up and dressed when the key rattled in the door. Colonel Ward came first, “sipping” his tongue against his teeth in a manner that showed he had just finished breakfast. The morning light showed redly on his face as he came ill, and in that glow he seemed to be in more gracious spirit than on the evening before.

The man who had previously accompanied him, the man of the hatchet visage, followed at his heels bearing several tin dishes that contained breakfast.

“There ain't no intention here to starve ye nor use ye in any ways contrary to gen'ral regulations—that is, so fur as we can help,” began the colonel. “Of course, if you were a little more reasonable and bus'ness-like we could use you better. Hackett, set down the breakfast! Fall to, young man, and eat hearty jest as tho ye relished your vittles.”

It was evident that Colonel Ward was making desperate attempts to appear cordial.

He even endeavored to force a smile but it was hardly more than a ridging of his cheek muscles under his bristly beard. Parker imagined that he could hear the skin crackling at this unaccustomed facial twist. The struggle to appear cheerful was so grim that the engineer dreaded his antagonist in this new guise more than he did when he was brutally open in his warfare.

“Sit down, Hackett,” commanded the colonel. “Hackett's a friend o' mine—that is, in so far as I have friends, and he might as well be here to listen to what I have to say to you and what you have to say to me. There's northin' like a witness of transactions, Mr. Parker. Now you and me ain't got together right up to now. I'm allus pretty much fussed up by my bus'ness and kept cross-grained all the time by havin' to handle so many blasted fool woodsmen, and the man that meets me for the first time might natch-rally think I was uglier'n a Injun devil in fly-time—which I ain't, Parker, No, I ain't I want you and me should be good friends and bus'ness men together, which we ain't been so far, all on account of a misunderstandin'. Now, you're goin' to find me square and honest and open.”

Ward looked at the young man eagerly and waited as tho for some encouraging word.

“Even under the circumstances in which you have placed me, not only on my personal account but with my employers, by destroying their property,” said Parker, after pondering a moment, “I am ready to talk business with you if you are now ready to talk it.”

“Well, let's say that we can talk it all nice and friendly. Won't you say that you'll talk it all nice and friendly?” He had Hackett in the corner of his eye, as tho soliciting that individual to take careful note of the conversation.

“The fact is, Colonel Ward,” replied the engineer, “human nature isn't to be driven to and fro quite like an ox team. What I mean by that is, I might say, 'Go to, now! Be friends!'—say that to myself. But that wouldn't make me feel friendly—not in present circumstances. But I'm going to say to you that I'd like to be friends, and if you will start in now and show me some reason why we should be friends I'll give you my word to come more than half way.”

“Wal, that sounds reasonable and as much as any one can expect on short notice,” broke in Hackett, who sat straining his attention.

“You shut up, Hackett,” roared the colonel, who realized Parker's mental reservation better than his man Friday. “I'll show ye all in good time why we should be friends, Parker,” he went on, addressing the engineer. “But first of all I'll show ye how much it is goin' to hurt me to have that railroad built acrost Poquette. And when I show you that, then you'll understand what the trouble was that you and me didn't start in on the basis of good friends. I tell ye, Parker, it's a serious proposition for me and my associates. I can tell ye just why that road can't and mustn't be built.”

The old man straddled his legs, leaned forward and set his right forefinger into his left palm with the confident air of one who is prepared to prove his contentions.

“I say,” he went on, “that the road must not be built, and as a business man—”

“Colonel Ward,” broke in Parker, mildly yet firmly, “if that line of talk is what you are proposing to me I think I'd better tell you at the start that you'll have to take the question of whether the road must or must not be built to my employers. I have no right to enter upon any such discussion. Nothing will be gained. They have sent me to Poquette to build the road. I shall keep on with the work until my first orders are countermanded from our headquarters. And if you want them countermanded you'll be obliged to go to headquarters. It seems to me that ought to be pretty plain to you.”

The old man, his finger still boring his palm, sat for some moments and stared at the engineer. He tried to keep from scowling but his brows twisted into knots in spite of himself.

“You will keep on till orders are countermanded, hey?” he inquired grimly. “Ain't you got no commonsense nor reason to you?”

“It isn't a question of that, Colonel. It's at question of obeying my employers.”

The old man gave him another thorough looking-over and then whirled on Hackett.

“You go 'tend to something else,” he ordered bluffly. And after Hackett had closed the door on himself he again turned to his scrutiny of the young engineer.

“I ain't no great hand to beat about the bush, young feller,” he declared. “Now look at the position you're in. You might say, you're more than half queered already with your company. Your engine and all that collateral has been dumped into the lake—sayin' nothin' about how it happened. The main point is, it's there! And you're here! I ain't makin' any threats—not as yet—but you're here, and you can't gainsay that much. Now the idea is, with your stuff under water and you here, how long do you think it's goin' to be before you git to work ag'in?”

Parker made no reply.

“Needn't answer any question that you can't answer,” continued Ward. “And that's one that you can't answer. You tell me you've got to build that road. You're goin' to tell me that if you don't build it some one else will. Mebbe they will! Mebbe they will!” His eyes grew shrewd. “Mebbe I'll build it myself! I can say this much, that I'd rather build it than have outsiders come in here and git a foothold. There's too big interests in this region and owned by them that's alius lived here, my son, to have outsiders come in now and meddle. It's the very first run of potater bugs that you want to keep out of the garden. And the first run can be handled easier than the settlers after they have set up housekeeping. Now you see the point, I reckon! So the whole thing simmers down to this: I want to discourage them city fellers. It's a long arm they're reachin' down this way, and I won't have to tread on their fingers many times till they'll be mighty glad to pull back. It's only a side issue with them, and they won't let a side issue keep 'em awake too many nights when there's a way to get rid of the bother. When they are discouraged enough to be willin' to sell the charter and the stuff they've got on the spot—and under water,” he added with a wicked grin, “then I'll step in with the cash in my hand. I reckon we can handle our own railroad build-in' down this way. If I ain't got you discouraged already, young man, then I don't understand human natur' as well as I think I do. So now I want to hire you in the discouragin' business—you understand it fairly well. I need an assistant discourager. And here's my proposition! I'll give ye five thousand dollars bonus smack down in your fist and promise you in the name of the Lumbermen's Association a steady job. We're goin' to build three big dams along the West Branch and a four-mile canal cut-off at headwaters. You'll find work enough, if that's what you're lookin' for.”

“And you'll be looking for me to sell out your interests at my first opportunity,” said Parker.

“Ours is a different proposition—a different proposition,” blurted Ward earnestly. “Your men ain't got any right to be here on our own stamping ground—not as bus'ness men. We ain't goin' down where they are to bother them. They hadn't ought to be up here. If you leave 'em and come with us we'll consider that it's showin' that you understand what a square deal in bus'ness matters means. And furthermore,” he said with a certain air as tho he had reserved his trump card, “we'll make our trade in black and white for a ten years' contract at a third more wages than your railroad people are paying and tip you off regular on timber deals where you can make an extry dollar. I don't mind tellin' ye, Parker, that I've had ye looked up and I know that we ain't buyin' any gold brick.” This with a certain cordiality.

“I must say, Colonel Ward, that you have taken a rather peculiar method of getting me interested in your enterprises.” Parker's tone was a bit resentful, but the old man believed he could understand that resentment, and grew more cheerful and confident.

“You had to be discouraged,” chuckled the colonel. “Didn't I tell you that you had to be discouraged? Why, if you hadn't been shown what kind of a proposition you were up against you might have kept on thinkin' that the P. K. .R. railroad company was the biggest thing in the world. All young men want to work for the biggest folks. But I reckon by this time you have found out that Gideon Ward and the Lumbermen's Association come pretty near bein' lord of all they survey in this country. There, young man! The cards are down. Look at 'em! I'm pretty rough and I'm pretty tough and I play the game for all that's in me. But when it's over you won't find any cards up my sleeve nor down the back of my neck—and you can't always say that of your smooth city chaps.”

Parker sat with his elbows on his knees, looking down at the floor, his forehead wrinkled. He was a pretty sturdy young American in principles and conduct, but at the same time he had all of young America's appreciation of the main chance. And the main chance in these days lies along the road where the dollars are sprinkled thickest. He reflected that the building of the little bob-tail railroad had been tossed at him as a rather silly and secret escapade of two big men who were already half ashamed of the whole business. He realized that in their present frame of mind they would be inclined to close out the whole thing in disgust as soon as they received news of the destruction of the property.

When he got back to town he would simply remind them of a mutual failure to accomplish, and the history of such reminders is that they have been side-tracked in some places where their presence could not remind.

“You know there isn't goin' to be any hurry about your givin' up your present job—not till spring has got well opened and the ice is out of Spinnaker,” said Colonel Ward slyly, breaking in on the young man's meditations. “There's always a right time for re-signin' and we'll discover that time. But your five thousand will be put to your credit in Kenduskeag Bank the next day after you sign our papers, and your salary with us will begin the minute the ink is dry. You'll have double pay for a while, but I reckon you'll be earnin' it.” He chuckled once more.

Parker, surveying his red cheek knobs, his cruel gray eyes narrowed now in evil mirth, recollected with a photographic flash of memory of the details of that story the postmaster at Sunkhaze had told him. This was the same man who had coolly stolen wife and property from his own brother and then had jeered at him, probably with that same expression puckering about his evil, gray eyes. In the sudden revulsion of his feelings Parker wondered if he really had been tempted by the bait held out to him. At least, he had been weighing the chances. He remembered cases where other men who had stopped to weigh advantages had ended in becoming disloyal. He promptly forgot with a mental wrench the bribe that had been offered. It was a coaxing bait and he bravely owned that it had tempted for a moment. He was honest enough to own to himself that, offered by another, it might have won him—and he felt a little quiver of fear at the thought.

But when he pictured himself as the associate of this old harpy who sat leering at him, hands on his knees, and already swelling with a sense of proprietorship, he almost forgot his personal wrongs in the hot flush of his indignation on behalf of the cheated brother.

“That's a proposition that sort of catches ye, hey?” inquired Ward, misunderstanding the nature of the flush that sprung to Parker's cheeks.

“I'm going to be honest enough to say that it did catch me for a moment,” replied the young man.

“Oh, I know all about what temptation is to any men—especially a young man,” said the colonel blandly.

“But I'll bet you a hundred dollars to a toothpick you never knew what it was to resist temptation,” shouted Parker. “And I'm going to tell you now and here that I'd no more accept your offer and take a job with you than I'd poison myself with paris green.” He flung himself back in his chair and glared at his tempter with honest indignation.

For a little while Ward stared at him, open-mouthed. His surprise was greater, for he believed that he had landed his fish.

“And don't you make me any more offers. I've no use for them or for you, either,” cried the young man, his voice trembling.

“I've read about such critters as you be,” said the colonel slowly, “but it was in a dime novel and it was a good many years ago and I didn't believe it. I believe it said in the novel that the young man died young and went to heaven—the only one of his kind. P'raps I'm wrong and he didn't die—went to heaven jest as he stood in his shoes and co't and pants.”

Parker merely scowled back at the biting irony of this rejoinder.

“There's no dime novel or any other kind of a novel to this affair, Colonel Ward. I'm not especially fitted to be the hero of a book. Nor to be one of your hired men, either.”

“Then ye've made up your mind to straddle out your legs and play Branscome's mule, hey?”

“What was his special characteristic?”

The question was drawled coolly.

“He kicked when ye tried to drive him with a whip and he bit and squealed when ye tried to coax him along with sweet apples. So if ye won't neither lead nor drive, then out with it man fashion.”

“I simply demand my liberty.”

“And what be ye goin' to do with it?”

“That is my own affair.”

The two men sat and looked at each other a long time, the old man's choler rising the higher from the fact that it had been so long repressed. The young man's glance did not fall before this furious regard.

At last Ward quivered his fists above his head, stamped around the little room and went to the door.

“You've got a few hours to do a little more thinkin' in, and then you look out for yourself, for it's up to you, you—,” he slammed and locked the door and went away, cursing horribly.

CHAPTER ELEVEN—THE BEAR THAT WALKED LIKE A MAN

That in this age of law and order Gideon Ward meditated any actual violence to his person Parker found it hard to believe as he sat there in the “wangan” and pondered on his situation. He could not avoid the conclusion that at heart Colonel Ward was a coward. But sometimes circumstances that a brave man will not suffer to rule him will drive a coward into crime.

It was a long and dreary day for him.

From the window he saw Colonel Ward go scurrying away on a jumper, evidently bound for the choppings.

The cook and cookee surveyed his prison at a distance. They seemed to have no desire to come into close contact with a man of whom they had heard such sinister reports.

Hackett, who hung about camp, apparently to serve as general “striker” and man of all work, brought food at noon and left it without engaging in conversation.

Parker made a dull day of it.

After the chill dusk had fallen and he had stuffed his rusty little stove with all the wood it would hold, he heard the men returning.

A colloquy that occurred after supper interested him.

He heard Colonel Ward bellow at some one who was evidently advancing toward the wangan.

“Here you, Connick, where are you goin'?”

“Just to pass a word with the lad,” the man replied.

“Have you got your knittin'?” squalled Ward sarcastically. “There's no call for you to go passin' talk around that wangan camp, Connick. You come away from it.”

But when Connick spoke again it was evident he had not retired.

“It's only right to let him come into the men's camp for a bit this evening, Colonel Ward. There'll be a snatch or so of fiddlin' that he'll like, to cheer him up, and a jig and a song or so. I don't see the harm in mentionin' it to him, to find if he'd like to come. I'll answer for it that he's put back in his nest ag'in all right.”

“Who's runnin' this camp, me or you?”

“You're the man, sir.”

“Well, then, there'll be no invitin' out nor passin' talk. You men have nothin' to do with that chap in that wangan and you'll keep away from him or get your heads broken open. Do you hear what I say? Why don't you come away when I speak?”

“I'm not the man to disobey orders,” growled Connick. “But I'm a man as likes man's style. I've always done your biddin', Colonel Ward, and I done your biddin' when I brought him here. Now I've found him a lively young chap that I'm proud to know and tho I speak for myself alone I speak as a man that likes fair play, and I say it's dirty bus'ness keepin' him like a chicken in a coop, after you've had your bus'ness talk with him.”

“You infernal bundle of hair and rags, do you dare to stand there and tell me how to run my own affairs?” roared Ward, thoroughly incensed.

“Keep your bus'ness your own bus'ness for all I care,” Connick answered angrily. “But when it gits to be bus'ness that can't be backed up man-fashion then ye may find that day's wages don't buy the whole earth for ye.”

The reply was a bit enigmatical but Ward understood that it signified mutiny. He gasped a few times and then Parker heard Connick exclaim:

“Don't ye strike me with that sled-stake, Colonel Gideon, or it might be the worse for ye. I'll not bother your man in the wangan till I find out more about what you're doin' to him—but don't you hit me with that stick.”

Both men went back into the big camp, Ward furiously chewing the reflection that for the first time he had been bearded in his own camp.

Gideon Ward sat until midnight in his little pen off the main camp, poking his fire and meditating. He had reckoned that he was justified in proceeding to extremes with this young man, confident that in the end he would break his spirit and frighten him out of the woods. But he realized now with sinking heart that his violence had endangered all the political influence of the gigantic timber interests. The youth had a powerful weapon, and he, Gideon Ward, would be accused of furnishing it.

Perspiration dripped from under the old man's cap. He rasped his rough palms together nervously. At last he rose and tip-toed into the main camp. All the men were asleep, snoring with the lusty heartiness of a tired lumber crew. The colonel advanced cautiously to Hackett's bunk, and stirred that worthy with his finger until the man awoke. He beckoned, and Hackett followed him into the pen.

“Hackett,” said he, “yeh have worked for me a good many years.”

“Yes, colonel.”

“I've let yeh have money on a mortgage for one or two little favors yeh've done me.”

“Yes.”

Hackett began to grow pale.

“Now I'll lift that whole mortgage for another favor—an' don't get scared. I sha'n't ask yeh to do any more'n I propose to do myself.” Ward had noted the look of alarm on the man's face. “If we're both in it neither can say anything. I took yeh along with me last night and to-day so's yeh could hear how that young fool insults me on my own land.”

“I heard what he said, colonel, an' no man can blame ye for feelin' put out.”

Ward looked at him steadily for a moment.

“Listen to me. Few words when there's work to do: that's my motto. I've done the thinkin' part of this thing. What I want you for is to help on the work.”

The man stared with stupid inquiry.

“Hackett, here's my plan. You and I don't want to hurt that man. We can't afford to hurt him. But he's on my hands, an' he won't back down, an' it puts me in a hard place—a mighty hard place, Hackett. You heard what passed between us? Now he's got to be put out of this camp an' shoved where he can't blab this thing round about. Why, he's half got that fool of a Connick on his side already.

“The only thing, Hackett, is for you to take him across into that Tumble-dick camp an' keep him there—keep him there! Tie him to a beam and feed him like yeh would a pup. Keep him there till he weakens an' quits, or till I can think up some plan further. It'll give me time, Hackett.”

“'Tain't any extra sort of job for me, Colonel Ward!” grumbled Hackett “I've got to watch that critter day in an' day out, an' Tumble-dick camp is all o' twenty miles from here, or from any other camp, for that matter.”

“That's why I want him there, Hackett. We'll tie him on a moose sled, an' you start in an hour, whilst the men are still asleep. I'll break a window out of the wangan, an' on this crust there'll be no foot-tracks. It'll be thought he broke out and ran away—an' that'll be his own lookout.”

His voice became low and husky. “Yeh needn't hitch him too tight in Tumble-dick camp, Hackett, providin' you hide the most of his clothes an' it looks like a storm comin' on. If he wants to duck out away from a good home into the woods, with grub an' fire twenty-five miles away, why, that's his own lookout.”

The man licked his lips nervously.

“That ain't our liability, yeh knew.”

The man pondered.

“It's eight hundred for you, Hackett, an' always a good job with me as long as I hire men,” persisted Colonel Ward.

At last Hackett got up and struck his elbows against his sides.

“I'll do it!” he grunted.

Parker's first alarmed awakening was with a cloth about his neck, choking him so that his cry of fright rattled in his throat. He fought bravely, but two strong men are better than one who has struggled and gasped until he has only a trickle of air in his lungs. He was bound, his head muffled in a strip of torn blanket, and he was carried out into the night. He could not see his captors, but he knew that Ward was one of the assailants, because a hoarse command to Hackett had betrayed him.

After he had been dragged a distance Parker realized by a penetrating odor that he was near the horse hovels. There was a mumbled discussion between his captors as to whether he should be tied to the moose sled. It was decided that his arms should be left pinioned as they were, and Hackett growled:

“I won't tie him to the sled! I'll be needin' him on the steep pitches.”

As his arms were tied behind his back, when they put an old fur coat on him they pulled the sleeves of it on his legs and buttoned the coat behind. In spite of the bandage over his eyes, he easily recognized these operations, and then felt himself lifted upon the familiar moose sled. Several bags full of something were thrown on. With his ears strained for every sound that would give him any information, he heard some one approaching even before the two men, busy between camp and sled, were warned.

“Hark!” grunted the voice of Colonel Ward, at last. “Who's that movin' round back of the hoss hovel? Look out, Hackett! Throw something acrost the sled. He's comin' this way.” A moment after, his tones full of disgust, he snorted, “It's that infernal old moose! Here, hand me that ax!”

A hurry of feet, and then Parker heard the impact of a crushing blow and the muffled groan of a stricken animal. The ax blows continued, apparently dealt with fury, and in a few moments the old man creaked across the crust, dragging some heavy object.

“Here's your fresh meat, Hackett—two hind-quarters,” he panted. “Load it on.”

“The boys will be r'iled to find Ben here in the mornin'!” whined the other man.

“He won't eat any more grain f'r me!” the colonel boomed, wrathfully. “Then again, it will show that after Mister Railroad Man broke out of the wangan camp he killed the moose to get grub to last him for his trip, bein' afraid to tackle Gid Ward's camps. The boys will be ready to massacree him if they can lay hands on him, but,” his tones became ominously significant, “remember your lines now, man! Get away and I'll look after this end.”

Parker felt the loaded sled glide over the crust. He could hardly believe that these men meditated anything except a change in his place of imprisonment; but as the sled moved on and on, and in his helplessness he weighed the situation, he began to feel a vague fear of possibilities. He began to plan means of escape. When at last the sled went scaling down a long slope, he rolled off on the crust.

As he lay there, he expected every moment to hear the man shout an oath and return. When the hasty creaking of the footsteps died away, he knew that the lightened sled, following of its own momentum, had not betrayed him.

Hoodwinked and pinioned, it was no easy task to travel among the trees and across the slippery crust. As Parker scrambled along, he was tempted to cry out and appeal to the man to return. Now that his sudden panic of the flitting sled was over, the dull, cold fear of a helpless and abandoned man came upon him. But he clinched his teeth to keep back the cry that struggled to follow the man of the sled, and kept pushing on into the undergrowth.

At last he stopped and began to scrub his forehead against the rough bark of a tree, endeavoring to remove the bandage. After a time he worked it above his eyes, although it still bound his head like a turban.

He could see the crisp stars through the interlocking branches. He found the pole star. But as he had been unable to guess the direction his captor had taken in leaving the camp, the points of the compass mattered little in this wilderness, where all was strange.

Parker went on, reflecting uneasily that every step might be taking him directly back to Colonel Ward's camp. His grotesque garb hampered his movements. He lumbered along as awkwardly as a bear. After a time he came through some little spruces that whipped his face, and discovered a tote-road that had been long abandoned, for the bushes grew in it and the crust was unmarked.

He pondered a while. Then he shut his eyes, whirled until he dropped, scrambled up, and started away in the direction in which chance had faced him. He smiled as he thought upon this childless resource, but in that bewildering region he had at least been enabled to make up his mind quickly by the device.

The rosy light of the dawn touched him as he plodded along. His advance was slow, for the sleeves of the fur coat impeded free use of his legs. The day was clear and cold, with a stinging wind that tossed the roaring branches of the spruce-trees. The crust held firm. Parker's constrained arms were aching and his hands were numb. He jerked and twisted at the thongs until his wrists were raw, but the knots were too strong for him.

He had passed so many crossings and fork-ings of the bush-grown road that he gave up trying to keep the ramifications in mind for his use should he find it necessary to turn back. He now went on doggedly, choosing this way or that, as it chanced, hoping to hear a ringing ax or a hunter's gun or a teamster's shout somewhere in those solitudes.

In the late afternoon the road led him to an ice-sheathed stream. Here the way divided.

He took the road that led down-stream. It undoubtedly ended at a lake, thought he. Log-landings are on lakes. There would be men to release him from the torture of aching muscles and gnawing stomach. Parker would have welcomed the sight of Colonel Gideon Ward himself when that second night came through the trees.

It was beyond human endurance to walk farther, but Parker realized that if he lay down in that state of cold, weariness and hunger he would never rise again. He marshaled in his mind all the people, all the interests he had to live for; the parents who depended on him, a certain young girl who was waiting so anxiously for his return, his prospects in life. He did this methodically, as if he were piling fagots for a fire at which to warm himself. Then he mentally kindled the heap with the blaze of a mighty determination to live, and standing under a great spruce, he began to stamp about it and count aloud. Half a dozen times during that long night he staggered and fell, as if an invisible hand had struck him down. But the next moment, with a cry of “I'll stay awake!” he was up again and at his self-set task, mind, muscles and nerves centering in his one desperate resolve.

Then the dawn came peeping over the big spruces, and found him still at his grim gambols. He set forth once more down the road, slipping and stumbling, his body doubled forward. A few miles and a few hours more—it was the most he could hope for.

All at once his dull ears heard the zin-n-ng of a rifle-bullet close to his head; and almost immediately, as he ducked and rolled upon his back, the sinister shriek of another ball made it plain that he was the game aimed at. Two smart cracks at some distance indicated the location of the marksman.

Animal instinct is alike in brute and man. Parker leaped at the sound of the first bullet, fell, and rolled behind a snow-covered boulder. Had Ward or his minion tracked him? Were they now carrying out their desperate plan? The double report was proof that the man or men were determined on slaughter.

After a long time he dared to peer cautiously. At some distance down the tote-road an old man was crouching beside a moose sled. On the sled was the carcass of a deer. Parker realized that this old man must be a poacher.

An assassin sent after a man would not be wasting his ammunition on deer in close time.

The old man remained motionless, with the stolidity of the veteran hunter waiting to make sure. Torpor rapidly seized on Parker's mind. He shouted as best he could, but his voice was hoarse from hours of shouting into the vastness of the deserted woods. His faculties were growing befogged. He dared not exert himself enough to keep awake, for his rock was but a narrow bulwark. It seemed to be a choice of deaths, only.

At last he desperately leaped up and danced behind his protecting boulder, uttering such cries as he could. But he saw the old man throw his rifle up and take aim. Down he dropped, and the bullet sang overhead.

He realized then that his garb made him resemble some strange beast—a bear, perhaps—and he gritted his teeth as he pondered that this might be part of Gideon Ward's vindictive scheme. If he attempted to show himself long enough to convince the old man that he was human he would only be inviting the bullet.

Until his blurring senses left him he occasionally shouted or thrust up his head; but the old still-hunter was relentless, and evidently had not the clear vision of a youth. He was always ready with a shot.

At last, with tears freezing on his cheeks, Parker gave himself up to the fatuous comfort of the man succumbing to cold and hunger.

CHAPTER TWELVE—THE STRANGE “CAT-HERMIT OF MOXIE”

Afterward it seemed that he began to dream. Somber individuals were crushing his limbs between great rollers. Frisky little ghouls were sticking needles into him, and there were so many needles that it seemed that every inch of his skin was being tortured at the same instant.

[Illustration: Every inch of his skin was being tortured 197-224]

The agony grew intense. He was trying to cry out, and a giant hand was over his mouth. And when the pain became so excruciating that it did not seem as if nature could longer endure it, he opened his eyes.

A sludge-dish hooked to a beam shed its yellow glimmer of light upon a strange interior.

There was no more strange figure in the place than Parker himself. He was stripped and seated in a half-hogshead filled with water, from which vapors were rising. His first wild thought was that the water was hot and was blistering him. He screamed in the agony of alarm and strove to rise.

But hands on his shoulders forced him down again. These hands were rubbing snow upon him. Then the young man realized that his sensations were produced by icy cold water. Parker felt that cloths bound snow and ice to his ears and face.

A glance showed him that he was in a rude log camp. The chinked walls were bare and solid. The interior was spacious, and a big fireplace promised warmth.

The most astonishing of all in the place were its visible tenants—a multitude of cats. Some were huddled on benches, their assorted colors and markings composing a strange medley. Others stalked about the cabin. Many sat before the embers in the fireplace. A half-score were grouped about the hogshead and its occupant, with their tails wound round their feet, and were solemnly observing the work of reanimating the stranger. Here and there among taciturn felines of larger growth little spike-tail kits were rolling, cuffing, frolicking and miauing. For a moment the scene seemed a part of his delirium.

Parker turned round to survey his benefactor. He found him to be an old man, shaggy of beard and hair. A pointed cap of fur covered his head.

He was dressed in rough garb—belted woolen jacket, trousers awkwardly patched, leggings rolled above the knee, and yellow moccasins. Although he was the ordinary type of the woods recluse, there was kindliness in his expression, as well as a benignant gleam in his eye that was not usual.

“How d'ye feel?” he asked, solicitously.

“As if I were being pounded with mallets and torn by pincers.”

“All over?”

“Yes, all over!” snapped Parker, rather ungraciously.

“That's good,” drawled the old man, rubbing more snow briskly on the aching flesh. “I guess I'm goin' to save ye, down to the last toe.”

“If aches will do it I'm saved!” groaned the young man.

“I wouldn't 'a' gi' a copper cent for ye when I got ye here to camp,” the old man proceeded, “but I've done the very best I could, mister, to fetch ye round. I hope ye ain't a-goin' to complain on me,” he added, wistfully.

“Complain on you?” Parker demanded. “Do you think I owe myself a grudge for coming back to life?”

“I should like to ask ye a fair question,” said the old man.

“I'll answer any questions.”

“Be ye a game-warden?”

“No, sir, I am not.”

The honest ring of that negative was unmistakable. The old man sighed with relief.

“When I found ye done up in that co't I thought ye was a game-warden, sure.”

“Look here,” Parker demanded, with asperity, “did you sit there and blaze away at me with any suspicion that I was a human being?”

“Land bless ye, no!” cried the old man, with a shocked sincerity there was no doubting. “I never harmed any one in all my life. But I was feelin' so good over savin' ye that I had to have my little joke. I was out this mornin' as us'al, after meat for my cats. I have to work hard to keep 'em in meat, mister. I can't stand round and see my kitties starve—no, s'r! Wal, I was out after meat, an' was takin' home a deer when I see what any man, even with better eyesight than mine, would have called a brown bear trodgin' round a tree an' sharp'nin' his claws. What he was up to out of his den in such weather I didn't know, but of course I fired, an' I kept firin'. An' when at last I fired an' he didn't bob out any more, I crept up an' took a look. I thought I'd faint when I see what I see—a man in a buffl'ler co't wrong side to an' his head all tied up an' his arms fastened behind him. Land, if it didn't give me a start I Wal, I left my deer right there an' h'isted ye on my sled, and struck across Little Moxie for my camp here on the double-quick, now I can tell ye. Ye was froze harder'n a doorknob, but I guess I'm goin' to have ye out all complete. Lemme see your ears.”

He carefully undid the cloths, to an accompaniment of groans from Parker.

“They're red's pinys. No need to worry one mite, mister. Come out o' your water whilst I rub ye down. Then to bed with a cup o' hot tea, and hooray for Doctor Joshua Ward!”

“I might have known you were Joshua Ward when I noticed all those cats,” said Parker. So this was Colonel Gideon's brother! He was too weak and ill to feel or display much surprise at the meeting.

“Most every one hereabouts has heard o' me,” the old man admitted, mildly. “Some men have fast hosses, some men have big liberies, some men like to spend their money on paintin's an' statues. But for me, I like cats, even if they do keep me running my legs off after meat. Hey, pussy?” and he stooped and stroked the head of a huge cat that arched its back and leaned against his leg.

“Mr. Joshua Ward,” said Parker, grimly, “you'd probably like to know how I happened to be prowling round through the forest dressed up so as to play bear?”

“I was meditatin' that ye'd tell me by n' by, if it wa'n't any secret,” the old man replied, humbly.

“Well, I think you have a right to know. You possess a personal interest in the matter, Mr. Ward. I was tied up and sent away to be killed or to be turned out to die by a man named Colonel Gideon Ward.”

To Parker's surprise the old man did not stop in his rubbing, but said, plaintively, “I was almost afeard it might be some o' Gid's works, or, to say the least his puttin' up. He don't improve any as he grows older.”

“You have pretty good reason to know how much chance there is for improvement in Gideon Ward,” suggested Parker, bitterly.

“Fam'ly matters, fam'ly matters, young man,” murmured Joshua, reprovingly. “But I ain't tryin' to excuse Brother Gideon, ye understand. I'm afeard that when the time of trial does come to him, he will find that the hand of the Lord is heavy in punishment. I've had a good part of a lifetime, young man, to think all these things over in this place up here. A man gets near to God in these woods. A man can put away the little thoughts. The warm sun thaws his hate; the big winds blow out the flame of anger; the great trees sing only one song, and high or low, it's 'Hush—hush-h-h—hush-h-h-h!'“ The voice of the man softly imitated the soughing of the pines.

Parker stumbled to his bunk, his feet still uncertain, drank his tea, and slept.

The next morning, after the breakfast of bread and venison, the host said: “Young man, now that you have slept on your anger, I wish you'd tell me the story of your trouble with my brother Gideon. I know that he has been rough and hard with men, but many have been rough and hard with him. This is a country where all the men are rough and hard. But I fear that had it not been for the good God and these old hands of mine, my brother would be now little else than a murderer. Tell me the story.” His voice trembled with apology and apprehension.

Parker stated all the circumstances faithfully and impartially. At the conclusion Joshua's eyes glowed with fires that had not been seen in them for years. He struck his brown fist down on his rude table.

“Defying God's law and man's law to the disgrace of himself and all his name! And you had not been rough and hard to him,” he cried. “Bitter, bitter news you bring to me, Mr. Parker.”

There was a long pause, and at last Joshua Ward went on:

“Mr. Parker, that man is my own—my only brother, no matter how other people look at him. I have saved your life. Will you give me one chance to straighten this matter out?”

“You mean?”

“I mean that if Gideon Ward will pay for the damage he has done your property, ask your forgiveness as a man, and promise to keep away and let you alone, will you be charitable enough to let the matter rest?”

Parker pondered a while with set lips. It Cost a struggle to forego vengeance on that wretch, but many issues were involved, principally the early completion of the railroad and his consequent favor with his employers.

“Mr. Ward,” he declared, at last, “I came down here to build a railroad, not to get entangled in the courts. For your sake and the sake of my project I will give your brother an opportunity to make atonement on the conditions you name. I owe my life to you, and I will discharge part of my obligation in the way you ask.”

“Are you afraid to accompany me back to Number 7 camp?”

“No, sir!” In his turn Parker struck the table. “I am ready to go back there alone and charge that man with his crime, and depend on the manhood of his crew to stand neutral while I take him and deliver him over to the law. And that I will do if you fail in your endeavors.”

The old man was silent. He made no attempt to soften the young man's indignation or resolution. Parker noted that his lips tightened as tho with solemn, inward resolve.

During the remainder of his convalescing stay in the camp the subject of Gideon Ward was not broached again.

The hermit beguiled the hours with simple narratives of the woods, his cats on knees and shoulders. He had no complaints for the past or the present and no misgivings as to the future, so it appeared from his talk.

Parker came to realize that under his peculiar and, to the casual observer, erratic mode of life there was a calm and sound philosophy that he had cultivated in his retirement. He had the strange notions of those who have lived much alone and in the wilderness. An unkind critic would have dismissed him brusquely with the belief that his troubles had unbalanced his mind. But Parker saw beneath all his eccentricity, and as the hermit wistfully discoursed of the peace that the woods had given him the young man conceived both respect and affection for this strange character. His knowledge of Joshua's life tragedy pre-disposed him to pity. He was grateful for the tender solicitude the old man had shown toward him. At the end of his stay he sincerely loved the brother of his enemy.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN—THE BEAR OF THE BIG WOODS “BAITED” AFTER HIS OWN FASHION

On the third morning Parker was able to travel. Joshua Ward had brought the carcass of the slain deer across the lake on his sled, and the cats of Little Moxie were left to rule the island and feast at will until the return of the master.

On the day they set forth it was shortly after dark,—for they had proceeded slowly on account of the young man's feet, when Parker again looked down from the ridge upon Number 7 camp. If Colonel Gideon Ward was not there, they proposed to follow along his line of camps until they found him. Parker carried a shotgun with two barrels. The old man bore his rifle. They advanced without hesitation over the creaking snow, straight to the door of the main camp, and entered after the unceremonious fashion of the woods.

A hundred men were ranged on the long benches called “deacons' seats,” or lounged on the springy browse in their bunks. A man, with one leg crossed over his knee, and flapping it to beat his time, was squawking a lively tune on a fiddle, and a perspiring youth danced a jig on a square of planking before the roaring fire. The air was dim with the smoke of many pipes and with the steam from drying garments hung on long poles.

Connick removed his pipe when the door opened, and gazed under his hand, held edgewise to his forehead.

“Why, hello, my bantam boy!” he bawled, in greeting. “What did you break out o' the wangan and run away for?”

The fiddle stopped. The men crowded up from the bunks and deacons' seats. All were as curious as magpies. They gazed with interest on Parker's companion. But no one threatened them by look or gesture.

“Is Gideon Ward here?” inquired Joshua, blandly.

“Yes, I'm here!” came the answer, shouted from the pen at the farther end. “What's wanted?”

“It's Joshua!” called the brother. “I'll come in.”

“Stay where you are!” cried Gideon; and the next moment he came shouldering through the men, who fell back to let him pass.

The instant his keen gaze fell on the person who bore his brother company he seemed to understand the situation perfectly. There was just the suspicion of fear when he faced the blazing eyes of Parker, but he snorted contemptuously and turned to his brother.

“Wal, Josh,” he cried, “out with it! What can I do for you?”

“The matter isn't one to be talked over in public, brother,” suggested Joshua.

“I hain't any secrets in my life!” shouted Gideon, defiantly, as if he proposed to anticipate and discount any allegations that his visitors might produce.

“Ye don't refuse to let me talk a matter of business over with ye in private, do ye, Gideon?”

“Colonel Ward,” said Parker, stepping forward, “your brother is ashamed to show you up before these men.”

“Here, Connick, Hackett, any of you! Seize that runaway, and throw him into the wangan till I get ready to attend to him!” commanded Ward.

The men did not move.

“Do as I tell ye!” bawled the colonel. “Twenty dollars to the men—fifty dollars to the men who ketch an' tie him for me!”

Several rough-looking fellows came elbowing forward, tempted by the reward. Parker raised his gun, but Connick was even quicker. The giant seized an ax, and shouted:

“Keep back, all of ye! There's goin' to be fair play here to-night, an' it's Dan Connick says so!”

“Connick,” Gideon's command was almost a scream, “don't you interfere in what's none o' your business!”

“It's my business when a square man don't get his rights,” Connick cried, with fully as much energy as the colonel, “and that chap is a man, for he licked me clean and honest!”

A murmur almost like applause went through the crowd.

“Men,” broke in Parker, “I cannot expect to have friends here, and you may all be enemies, but I have come back, knowing that woodsmen are on the side of grit and fair dealing. Listen to me!”

In college Parker had been class orator and a debater of power. Now he stood on a block of wood, and gazed upon a hundred bearded faces, on which the flickering firelight played eerily. In the hush he could hear the big winds wailing through the trees outside.

Ward stood in advance of the rest, his mighty fists clinched, his face quivering and puckering in his passion. As the young man began to speak, he attempted to bellow him into silence. But Connick strode forward, put his massive hands on Gideon's shoulders, and thrust him down upon a near-by seat. The big woodsman, his rebellion once started, seemed to exult in it.

“One of the by-laws of this ly-cee-um is that the meetin' sha'n't be disturbed!” he growled. “Colonel Gid Ward, ye will kindly listen to this speech for the good of the order or I'll gag ye! You've had a good many years to talk to us in and you've done it. Go ahead, young man! You've got the floor an' Dan Connick's in the chair.” He rolled his sleeves above his elbows and gazed truculently on the assemblage.

“For your brother's sake,” cried the young engineer, “I offer you one more chance to listen to reason, Colonel Gideon Ward! Do you take it?”

“No!” was the infuriated shout.

“Then listen to the story of a scoundrel!”

[Illustration: Listen to the story of a scoundrel 216-246]

The men did listen, for Parker spoke with all the eloquence that indignation and honest sentiment could inspire. He first told the story of the wrecked life of the brother, and pointed to the bent figure of the hermit of Little Moxie, standing in the shadows. Once or twice Joshua lifted his quavering voice in feeble protest, but the ringing tones of the young man overbore his halting speech. Several times Connick was obliged to force the colonel back on the deacons' seat, each time with more ferocity of mien.

Then Parker came to his own ambitions to carry out the orders of his employers. He explained the legal status of the affair, and passed quickly on to the exciting events of the night on which he had been bound and sent upon his ride into the forest, to meet some fate, he knew not what. He described the brutal slaughter of the moose, and the immediate dismemberment of the animal. He noticed with interest that many men who had displayed no emotion as he described poor old Joshua's sufferings now grunted angrily at hearing the revelation concerning the fate of Ben, the camp mascot. This dramatic explanation of Ward's furious cruelty to the poor beast proved, curiously enough, the turning point in Parker's favor, even with the roughest of the crew. Then Parker described how he had been rescued and brought back to life by the old man whom Gideon Ward had so abused.

“And now, my men,” he concluded, “I am come back among you; and I ask you all to stand back, so that it may now be man to man—so that I may take this brutal tyrant who has abused us all, and deliver him over to the law that is waiting to punish him as he deserves.”

He leaped down, seized a halter, and advanced with the apparent intention of seizing and binding the colonel.

“Are ye goin' to stand here, ye hunderd cowards, an' see the man that gives ye your livin' lugged away to jail?” Gideon shouted, retreating. He glared on their faces. The men turned their backs and moved away.

He crouched almost to the floor, brandishing his fists above his head. “I've got ten camps in this section,” he shrieked, “an' any one of them will back me aginst the whole United States army if I ask 'em to! They ain't the cowards that I've got here. I'll come back here an' pay ye off for this!”

Before any one could stop him, for the men had left him standing alone, he precipitated his body through the panes of glass of the nearest window, and almost before the crash had ceased he was making away into the night Connick led the rush of men to the narrow door, but the mob was held them for a few precious moments, fighting with one another for egress.

“If we don't catch him,” the foreman roared, “he'll be back on us with an army of cut-throats!”

But when the crew went streaming forth at last, Colonel Ward was out of sight in the forest. Lanterns were brought, and the search prosecuted earnestly, but his moccasined feet were not to be traced on the frozen crust.

The chase was abandoned after an hour, for the clouds that had hung heavy all day long began to sift down snow; and soon a blizzard howled through the threshing spruces and hemlocks.

“It's six miles to the nearest camp,” said Connick, when the crew was again assembled at Number 7, “an' in order to dodge us he prob'ly kept out of the tote-road. I should say that the chances of Gid Ward's ever get-tin' out o' the woods alive in this storm wa'n't worth that!” He snapped his fingers.

“It is not right for us to come back here an' leave him out there!” cried the brother.

“He took his chances,” the foreman replied, “when he went through that window. There's a good many reasons why I'd like to see him back here, Mr. Ward, but I'm sorry to have to tell ye, ye bein' a brother of his, that love ain't one o' them.”

“I shall go alone, then,” said the old man, firmly.

“Brotherly love is worth respect, Mr. Ward,” Connick declared, “but I ain't the kind of man that stands idle an' sees suicide committed. Ye've done your full duty by your brother. Now I'm goin' to do my duty by you. You don't go through that door till this storm is over!”

The next day the wind raged on and the snow piled its drifts. Joshua Ward sat silent by the fire, his head in his hands, or stood in the “dingle,” gazing mournfully out into the smother of snowflakes. It would be a mad undertaking to venture abroad. He realized it and needed no further restraint.

But the dawn of the third day was crisp and bright. Soon after sunrise a panting woodsman, traveling at his top speed on snow-shoes, halted for a hasty bite at Number 7. He was a messenger from the camp above.

“Colonel Gid Ward was picked up yesterday froze pretty nigh solid!” he gulped out, between his mouthfuls. “I'm goin' down for a doctor,” and then he went striding away, even as Joshua Ward took the up-trail.

Parker spent all that day in sober thought, and then, forming his resolution, took passage on the first tote-team that went floundering through toward Sunkhaze. His departure was neither hindered nor encouraged.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN—HOW RODNEY PARKER PAID AN HONEST DEBT

The engineer found his little garrison holding the fort at the Poquette Carry camp—and confining their attentions wholly to holding the fort. Not an ax blow had been struck since his hurried departure.

“We didn't work no more,” explained one of the men, “because we'd give up all idea of seein you ag'in. Of course we reckoned that a new boss would prob'ly be comin' along pretty quick and we thought we'd wait and find out just what he wanted us to do.”

“Well, it will be the same old boss and the same old plan,” replied Parker curtly. The idea that the men had considered him such easy prey made him indignant. “You'll consider after this that I'm the Colonel Gideon Ward of this six-mile stretch here.”

“I reckon there won't be any real Gid Ward any more,” said the man. “Feller went through here last night, hi-larrup for 'lection, to git a doc for Gid. Seems he got caught out and froze up somehow—tho I never s'picioned that weather would have any effect on the old sanup. P'rhaps you've been hearin' all about how it happened? Feller wouldn't stop long enough to explain to us.” The man's gaze was full of inquisitiveness and the others crowded around to listen.

But with self-repression truly admirable Parker told them that he had no news to give out concerning Colonel Ward, of any nature whatsoever. He ordered the driver of the tote-team to whip up and rode away toward Sunkhaze, leaving the men gaping after him.

He observed the same reticence at the settlement, tho he was received with a demonstration that was something like an ovation.

Although his better sense told him that the men were justified in preserving neutrality at the time of the raid, yet he could not rid himself of the very human feeling of resentment because they had surrendered him so readily into the hands of his adversaries. But the chief influence that prompted silence was the fear lest details of his mishap and the reasons therefor would get into the newspapers to the annoyance of his employers.

“I am back and the work is going on just as tho nothing had happened,” he said to the men who crowded into the office of the tavern to congratulate him. “Matters have been straightened out and the less talk that's made the better.”

But the postmaster, presuming on more intimate acquaintance, followed him up to his room, where his effects had been carefully preserved for him.

“I reckoned you'd get back some time,” said Dodge. “I've predicted that much. But, I swanny, I didn't look for you to come back with your tail over the dasher, as you've done. That is, I didn't look for you to come that way not until that feller blew in here to telegraft for a doctor for old Gid. Then I see that it was him that was got done up instead of you. But speakin' of telegraftin', there ain't no word gone out from here as yit about the hoorah—not a word.”

“Do you mean that Sunkhaze has kept the Swamp Swogon affair and my kidnapping quiet?” demanded Parker, his face lighting up. He had been fearing what might have gone out to the world about the affair.

“A good many was all of a to-do to telegraft it to the sheriff and to your bosses,” said the postmaster calmly. “But it seemed better to me to wait a while. I says, 'Look here, neighbors, it's goin' to be some time before the sheriff can git his crowd together and git at Ward—and even then there'll be politics to consider. The sheriff won't move anyway till he gits the word of the Lumbermen's Association. And it'll probably happen by that time that the young man will show up here again. All we'll git out of it hereabouts is a black eye in the newspapers—it bein' held up that Sunkhaze ain't a safe place to settle in. And all that truck—you know! Furthermore, from things you've dropped to me, Mr. Parker, I knew you were playin' kind of a lone hand and a quiet game here. My old father used to say, 'Run hard when you run, but don't start so sudden that you stub your toe and tumble down.' So in your case I just took the responsibility and held the thing back.”

The postmaster's eyes were searching Parker's face for signal of approbation.

The engineer went to him and shook his hand with hearty emphasis.

“You've got a level head, Mr. Postmaster,” he said, delightedly. “We'll start exactly where we left off and so far as I am concerned the place will never get a bad name from me. In return for your frankness and your service to me, I'll give you a hint as to what happened to Colonel Ward. I know you won't abuse my confidence.”

When he had finished, the postmaster said earnestly, “Mr. Parker, however much old Gid Ward owes you, you owe Josh Ward a good deal more. He ain't a man to dun for his pay. But if he ever does ask you to square the account you won't be the man I take you for if you don't settle. If you feel that you owe me anything for the little service I've done you and your bus'ness, just take and add it to the Josh Ward account. Of all the men on earth I pity that man the most.”

There were tears in Dodge's eyes when he stumbled down the tavern stairs.

One cheerful moment for Parker had been when the postmaster informed him of Sunk-haze's equilibrium in the matter of news-monging But a more cheerful moment was when Mank, his foreman, standing with him on the ice above the submerged Swogon told him that a sandbar made out into the lake at that point and that the locomotive was probably lodged on the bar, only a little way below the surface.

When they had sawed the ice and sounded they found this to be true. As soon as a broad square of ice had been removed they saw her, all her outlines clear against the white sand. The sunken sleds were equally in evidence. It was not a diver's job, then, as Parker, in his worryings, had feared. On the thick ice surrounding the whole there was solid foothold for the raising apparatus and Parker's crew set at work with good cheer.

It was a cold, wet and tedious job, the grappling and the raising, but his derricks were strong and his rigging plentiful. Moreover, the water was not deep.

All the material that could not be recovered by the grapples was duplicated by means of quick replies to wired orders, and the work of transportation across the lake was successfully completed.

It was well into a warm May, and his men for the last week had been moving soil and building culverts before the case of Col. Gideon Ward was brought to Parker's attention in a manner requiring action. One evening just after dusk his foreman scratched on the flap of the engineer's tent, in which he was now living at Poquette.

“Come in!” he called.

The canvas was lifted and a man entered. Parker turned the reflector of his lantern on the visitor.

“Joshua Ward!” he exclaimed, as he started up and seized the old man's outstretched hand.

He led him to a camp-stool. They looked at each other for a time in silence. Tears trembled on Joshua's eyelashes, and he passed his knotted hand over his face before he spoke.

“Mr. Parker,” he said, tremulously, “I've come to bring ye money to pay for every cent's worth o' damage to property 'an loss o' time an' everything.” He laid a package in the young man's hand. “Help yourself,” he quavered. “I'm goin' to trust to your honesty, for I'm certain I can. Take what's right. Gid and I don't know anythin' about railroads an' what such things as you lost are worth. All we can do is to show that we mean to square things the best we can now. Gid's sorry now, Mr. Parker, he's sorry—sorry—sorry—poor Gid!” The old man sobbed outright.

“Did he—” The young man paused, half-fearing to ask the question.

Joshua again ran his rough palm across his eyes. Then, in dumb grief, he set the edge of his right hand against his left wrist, the left hand to the right wrist, and then marked a place on each leg above the ankle.

“All off there, Mr. Parker.” The old man bent his head into his hollowed palms. Tears trickled through his fingers. There was a long silence. The young man did not know how to interrupt that pause.

“I'm feedin' an' tendin' him like I used to when he was a baby an' I a six-year-old. He's at my camp, Mr. Parker. He don't ever want to be seen agin in the world, he says—only an old, trimmed, dead tree, he says. Poor old Gid! No matter what he's been, no matter what he's done, you'd pity him now, Mr. Parker, for the hand o' punishment has fell heavy on my poor brother.”

The engineer, truly shocked, stood beside Joshua, and placed his hand on the bowed shoulders.

“Mr. Ward,” he said, with a quiver in his voice, “never will I do anything to add one drop to the bitterness in the cup that has come to you and yours.”

“I told Gid, I told Gid,” cried the old man, “that you'd say somethin' like that! I had to comfort him, you know, Mr. Parker; but I felt that you, bein' a young man, couldn't make it too hard for us old men. He ain't the same Gid now. See here, sir!”

With tremulous hands he drew a paper from his pocket and handed it to Parker. It was a writing giving sole power of attorney to Joshua Ward. The old man pointed to a witnessed scrawl—a shapeless hieroglyph at the bottom of the sheet.

“Gid's mark!” he sobbed. “No hands—no hands any more! I feed him, I tend him like I would a baby, an' the only words he says to me now are pleasant an' brotherly words.

“An' more'n that, Mr. Parker, I'm on my way down to town. I've got some errands that are sweet to do—sweet an' bitter, too. There's new fires been lit in the dark corners of my poor brother's heart. I've got here a list of the men that Gideon Ward hain't done right by in this life,—that he's cheated,—an' a list of the widows of the men he hain't done right by, an' by that power of attorney he's given me the means, an' he says to me to make it square with them people if it takes every cent he's worth. It won't cost much for me an' Gid to live at Little Moxie, Mr. Parker—an' poor Cynthy—”

He looked into vacancy a while and was silent. Then he went on:

“We'll have our last days together, me an' Gid. All these years that I've lived alone up there the trees an' the winds an' the skies an' the waves of the lake have been sayin' good things to me. I told Gid about them voices. He has been too busy all his life to listen before now. But sittin' there in these days—sit-tin' there, always a-sittin' there, Mr. Parker! Nothing to do but bend his ear to catch the whispers that come up out o' the great, deep lungs o' the universe! He has been listenin', an'”—the old man rose and shook the papers above the head of the engineer—“God an' the woods have been talkin' the truth to my poor brother Gideon.”

The old man slept that night in Parker's tent and went on his way at morning light, and tho the engineer pressed back again into his hands, unopened, the packet that was proffered, and assured him that no harm should befall Gideon Ward through complaint or report for which he was responsible, Parker still felt that somehow there was a balance due old Joshua Ward on their books of tacit partnership in well-doing;—such was the honest faith, and patient self-abnegation of the good old man, who had endured so much for others' sake.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN—THE DAY WHEN POQUETTE BURST WIDE OPEN

Through the spring and the early summer Poquette Carry was an animated theater of action. Woodsmen, went up and woodsmen came down, and mingled with the busy railroad crews. All examined the progress of construction with curiosity, and passed on, uttering picturesque comment. Strange old men came paddling down West Branch from unknown wildernesses, and trudged their moccasined way from end to end of the line, as if to convince themselves that Colonel Gideon Ward really had been conquered on his own ground. Newspaper reporters came from the nearest city, and pressed Engineer Parker to make a statement “Gentlemen,” he said, with a laugh, “not a word for print from me. I was sent here to build this bit of a railroad quietly and unobtrusively. Circumstances have paraded our affairs before the public in some measure. Now if you quote me, or twist anything I may say into an interview, my employers will have good reason to be disgusted with me, as well as with the situation here. Furthermore, there are personal reasons why I do not wish to talk.”

Whether Parker's eager appeal had effect upon the reporters, or whether the timber barons influenced the editors, the whole affair of the sunken engine was lightly passed over as the prank of roistering woodsmen, and Colonel Ward was left wholly undisturbed in his retreat. Even the calamity that had befallen him was not mentioned except by word of mouth among the woodsmen of the region.

With self-restraint that is rare in young men, Parker still refused to talk about the matter even in Sunkhaze. When he first returned, a sense of chagrin at his discomfiture along with reasons that have been mentioned kept him silent, it is true, but now, with complete victory in his hands, he was sincerely affected by the misfortune that had overtaken his enemy.

The “Swamp Swogon,” now that it was running on its own rails and was hauling building materials along the crooked railroad, was renicknamed “The Stump Dodger.” Parker's chief pride in the road was necessarily based on the fact that it had been constructed without exceeding the appropriation, a fact that excused many curves.

Late in June the last rails were laid and the ballasting, such as it was, was well under way.

The “terminal stations,” as the engineer jocosely called them, were neat little structures of logs, and there was a log roundhouse, where the Stump Dodger retired in smutty and smoky seclusion when its day's toil was finished.

So the engineer prepared for the day of opening, and requested the state railroad commissioners to make their final inspection of the road. The three officials gravely travelled from end to end of the line in the secondhand P. K. &R. coach, the only passenger-car of the road, and after some jocular remarks, issued a certificate empowering the Poquette Carry Road to convey passengers and collect fares. Then, after a telegraphic conference with his employers, Parker announced the day for the formal opening of the road.

At first he had not intended to make any event of this. His idea had been that, after the commissioners authorized traffic, he would merely arrange a time-table instead of the irregular service of the construction days, and would start his trains, observing the care that had been promised in seasons of drought.

But his foreman of construction—none other than Big Dan Connick, who had chosen railroad work under Parker instead of the usual summer labor on the drive—came to him at the head of a group of men.

“Mr. Parker,” he said, “we represent the men who have been building this road. We represent also our old friends of the West Branch drivin' crew of a hundred men, who are twenty miles up-river and are hankerin' for a celebration. We represent all the guides between Sunkhaze and Chamberlain, and every man of 'em is glad that this carry has been opened up. The whole crowd respectfully insists that seein' as how this is our first woods railroad up here, it's proper to have a celebration. If ye don't have the official opening we shall take it as meanin' we ain't worth noticin'.”

There was no denying such earnestness as that nor gainsaying the propriety of the demand. Parker made his principals understand the situation. And the result was that they themselves set the opening date, and promised to be on hand with a party of friends.

The rolling-stock of the Poquette Railroad consisted of the Stump Dodger, four flat cars designed especially for the transportation of canoes and bateaux, three box cars for camp supplies and general freight, and the coach transplanted from the P. K. &R. narrow-gage.

Parker announced that on the opening day no fares would be collected, that the train would make hourly trips, and that all might ride who could get aboard.

Not to be outdone in generosity, the crew through big Dan Connick, declaring that they proposed to make all the preparations for the celebration free of charge—that is, they would accept no wages for their work.

They built benches on the platform cars and fitted up the box cars in similar fashion. They trimmed the Stump Dodger with spruce fronds till the locomotive looked like a moving wood-lot. Every flag in Sunkhaze was borrowed for the decoration of the coach, and then, in a final burst of enthusiasm, the men subscribed a sum sufficient to hire the best brass band in that part of the state.

“It took us some little time to wake up enough to know how much we needed a railroad acrost here,” said Dan, “but now that we're awake we propose to let folks know it. Them whose hearin' is sensitive had better take to the tall timber that day.”

Parker met his party at Sunkhaze station on the morning of the great occasion. They came in the P. K. &R. president's private car, that was run upon a siding to remain during the week the railroad men entertained their friends at their new Kennemagon Lake camp.

“I expect,” said Parker, as the little steamer puffed across sunlit Spinnaker toward Poquette, “that the men have arranged a rather rugged celebration for to-day; but I know them well, gentlemen, and I want to assure you that all they do is meant in the best spirit.”

As the steamer approached the wharf, tooting its whistle, there was an explosion ashore that made the little craft appear to hop out of the water. All the anvils of the construction crew had been stuffed with powder, and all were fired simultaneously with a battery current!

With a yell the shore crowd rushed to the side of the steamer. Dan was leading, his broad face glowing with good humor. Groups of cheering men clutched the squirming, protesting railroad owners and their friends, and bore them on sturdy shoulders to the waiting train. The band from its station on a platform car boomed “Hail to the Chief,” the engine whistle screaming an obligato.

Then the men swarmed upon the cars, crowding every corner, occupying every foothold—but with the thoughtful deference of the woods not venturing to encroach upon the privacy of the coach after they had deposited their guests there.

On the “half-way horseback,” so-called, Parker ordered the train halted, for he wished to show Mr. Jerrard an experiment in culvert construction, in which he took an originator's pride. The band kept on playing and the men roared choruses.

After the young engineer had bellowed his explanation in Jerrard's ear, and Jerrard had howled back some warm compliments, striving to make himself heard above the uproar, the two climbed the embankment and approached the coach. The band was quiet now.

“Speech!” cried some one, as Jerrard mounted the steps. He smiled and shook his head.

“Speech! Speech!” The manager turned to enter his car, still smiling, tolerant but disregarding. At a sudden command from Con-nick, men reached out on both sides of the train and clutched the branches of sturdy undergrowth that the haste of the construction work had not permitted the crews to clear entirely away.

“Hang on, my hearties!” shouted Dan.

Parker, when he mounted the steps, had given the signal to start, but when the engineer opened his throttle, the wheels of the little engine whirled in a vain attempt at progress. With a grade, a heavy load, and the determined grip of all these brawny hands to contend against, the panting Stump Dodger was beaten. Sparks streamed and the smokestack quivered, but the train did not start.

“Speech! Speech!” the men howled. “We won't let go till we hear a speech.”

Entreaties had no effect. First Jerrard, then Whittaker, then Parker, and after them all the guests were compelled to come out on the car platform and satisfy the truly American passion for a speech. And not until the last man had responded did the woodsmen release their hold on the trees.

“Who ever heard of a railroad being formally opened and dedicated without speeches?” cried Connick, as he gave the word to let go. “We know the style, an' we want everything.”

The guides served a lunch at the West Branch end of the line that afternoon, and while the railroad party was lounging in happy restfulness awaiting the repast, a big bateau came sweeping down the river, driven by a half dozen oarsmen. Several passengers disembarked at the end of the carry road, and were received respectfully yet uproariously by the woodsmen who had just arrived in a fresh train-load from the Spinnaker end.

Connick came elbowing through the press that surrounded them.

“Mr. Shayne,” he cried, “she's come, after all, hasn't she? Are you and your friends goin' to ride back on her across the carry? I tell you she beats a buckboard!”

The man whom he addressed smiled with some constraint, and exchanged glances with his companions.

“I guess we'll stick to our own tote-team as usual, Connick,” said another in the party, jerking his thumb at the muddy buckboard that was waiting.

“Oh say, now, ye've got to meet these here railroad fellers. They're your style—all business!” bawled Connick. “We ain't fit to entertain 'em up here, but you rich fellers are. Just come along. They'll be glad to see you. Bring 'em along, boys.”

The crowd obediently hustled the new arrivals toward Whittaker and his friends, disregarding the surly protests.

“Here's some of the kings of the spruce country, gentlemen!” big Dan cried, by way of introduction. “Here's Mr. Shayne, the great timber operator on the Seboois waters. Here's Mr. Barber of the Upper Chamberlain, an'—”

Several of the new arrivals began to deprecate this unceremonious manner of introduction, but the railroad men, recognizing their peers in the business world in these sturdy land barons, came forward with a hearty welcome.

Ten minutes later the timber kings were eating lunch, although with some embarrassment. Occasionally they eyed the railroad men, wondering if the memory of the stubborn legislative battle still lingered. But the railroad men constantly grew more affable.

“Gentlemen,” said Whittaker, at last, “we are not affected in this case by any interstate commerce regulations. Therefore, on behalf of myself and my associates, I should like to tender you annual passes over our new road. Of course the courtesy is a trifling one, but it will indicate that we shall appreciate your cooperation in turning your freight business our way. We'll save you at least two-thirds of the expense on the haul across Poquette.”

CHAPTER SIXTEEN—THE PACT THAT OPENED RODNEY PARKER'S PROFESSIONAL FUTURE

When one understood all that had gone before, the moment was an electric one for the future of the Poquette region.

In this apparently trivial offer the railroad king had formally offered the olive branch. He gazed at the lumber barons eagerly yet shrewdly.

It was evident that they had silently fixed on Shayne to reply.

After a moment Shayne began his answer, and as he had glanced from one to another of his companions, he evidently understood from their eyes that he had permission to speak for all. “Mr. Whittaker,” he said, with hearty frankness, “on behalf of myself and my associates I am going to make an earnest apology to you for the obstacles we threw in your way at the outset of this enterprise. But you must take into account the isolation of our lumbering interests and the jealousy we felt at the intrusion of outside men and capital. We feared what it might lead to. We have been doing business as our fathers did it, and we probably needed this awakening that the new railroad has given us. For now that it is built, we, as business men, see that the advantages it will afford us are desirable in every way. I speak for my friends here when I say that we are heartily glad you have beaten us.”

His tone was jocose yet sincere.

The men of business—railroad officials and lumber kings—broke out into a hearty laugh, the laugh of amity and comradeship. Shayne went on, more at his ease after that:

“Now we are going to afford you a proof that we mean what we say. We—this party right here—control fifty miles or more of timber country, reaching from here up to the West Branch on both sides, and extending as far inland. The river is broken by rapids and falls along this stretch. Our drives from up-country are sometimes held up a whole season when a bad jam forms in dry times. Every year in dynamiting these jams thousands of feet of logs are shattered. More are split on the ledges. We have agreed that we need a railroad. Considering our losses, we can afford to pay well for having our logs hauled to the smooth water. If you and your friends will finance and build such a road, we'll give you free right of way, turn over to you annually twenty million feet of timber for your log trains, and give you the haul of all our crews and camp supplies. Further than that, with spur tracks to lots now inaccessible by water, you can quadruple the value of our holdings and your own business at the same time. And this will be only the first link of a railroad system that we need all through the region. The thing has come to us in its right light at last, and we're ready to meet you half-way in everything.” He smiled. “We want the right sort of men behind the scheme, and you have plainly showed us that you are the right sort of men.”

President Whittaker thought a little.

“Gentlemen,” he said, at last, “I cannot give you a conclusive answer to-day, of course, but I can guarantee that no such offer as that is going to be refused by my associates and myself. Bring forward your proposition in writing. We'll come half-way, too, and be glad of the chance. If men and money can accomplish it, a standard gage road will be ready for your season's haul next year.”

He turned and touched Parker's shoulder.

“This young man,” he said, “will be our representative, with full powers to treat with you. Parker, are you ready for two years more in the wilderness? It's a big project, and your financial encouragement will be correspondingly big. I haven't said yet how thoroughly I appreciate your energy and loyalty and self-reliance in the matter of this little plaything of the past winter. I do not need to say anything, do I, except to urge you to take this new responsibility, and to add that your acceptance will encourage me to go ahead at once?”

Parker reached out his brown hand to meet the one extended to him.

“We also want to say to Mr. Parker,” went on Shayne, “that on our part we'll do more to assist him than we'd do for any other man you could place here. We have a little explanation to make to him and—”

“No explanations for me—if it's along the lines I apprehend, Mr. Shayne!” cried the young man, jokingly yet meaningly. He bent a significant look on the lumber king as he went forward to take his hand.

“Hush!” he murmured. “I keep my own counsels in business matters when I can do so without betraying the interests of my employers, and when they don't want to be bothered by my personal affairs.”

Shayne gave the engineer a long stare of honest admiration.

“Parker,” he gasped, “you never said a word? You're a——Here, give me you hand again!”

[Illustration: Parker give me your hand again 254-286]

A half hour later the lumbermen went across the Poquette Carry in a train made up of the engine and the coach—“the first real special train over the road,” Parker said.

Before the young engineer left for his summer vacation, he made a long canoe journey up into the Moxie section, ostensibly on a fishing expedition. He was gone ten days, a longer period than he had predicted to his assistant manager.

When he came down the West Branch one afternoon he helped Joshua Ward to lift a crippled man out of their canoe, and he carefully directed the helpers who carried the unfortunate person to the coach.

“I'm afraid the trip across the carry in a buckboard after the old manner would have been too rough for you, Colonel Ward,” remarked Parker, as the train clanked along under the big trees. “I think I was never more glad to offer modern conveniences to any traveller across this carry. You understand how deep my sincerity is in this, I am positive.”

“I understand everything better than I did, Parker,” returned Colonel Ward, feelingly, turning away wet eyes.

The astonishment in Sunkhaze settlement when the doughty ex-tyrant was borne through to the “down-country” train, accompanied by Parker and Joshua, was so intense that only the postmaster recovered himself in season to put a few leading questions. After the train had gone he announced the results of his findings to the crowd that clustered about him on the station platform.

“Near's I can find out,” he said, “that young Parker has been way up into the Moxie region an' found old Gid, and spent a week gettin' round him and coaxin' him to go 'long with him and Josh to the city, and be fitted to new hands and feet, that, so they tell me, is so ingenious a fellow can walk round and cut his own victuals and all that. Well, that will help old Gid a little. If the blamed old sanup could only be fitted out with a new disposition at the same time, we folks round here would be more pleased to see him, come back.”

“Postmaster,” cried Dan Connick, who had been one of those who bore the colonel from the landing in a chair, “don't you ever worry any more about a new disposition for Gid Ward. Those things come from the hand of God, and Colonel Gid has already been fitted out with the heart and soul of a man!”

“Then,” declared Dodge, gazing to where the smoke wreaths from the departing locomotive hung above the distant treetops, “I reckon we've just seen in bodily shape the passin' of the old in this section as well as the comin' of the new.”

THE END