Scott Burton in the Blue Ridge by Cheyney, Edward G. (Edward Gheen)
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SCOTT BURTON IN THE BLUE RIDGE
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Stories by EDWARD G. CHEYNEY
SCOTT BURTON, FORESTER SCOTT BURTON ON THE RANGE SCOTT BURTON AND THE TIMBER THIEVES SCOTT BURTON, LOGGER SCOTT BURTON IN THE BLUE RIDGE
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[Illustration: JIMMY TRIED DESPERATELY TO STAY HIS TEAM.]
SCOTT BURTON IN THE BLUE RIDGE
E. G. CHEYNEY
Author of “Scott Burton, Forester,” “Scott Burton, Logger,” etc.
D. Appleton and Company New York :: 1924 :: London
Copyright, 1924, by D. Appleton and Company
Printed in the United States of America
I. Off to a New Job II. The Mystery of the Two Stores III. The Old Man’s Story IV. Old Jarred V. Hopwood VI. Scott Talks with the Agent VII. Scott Receives “Aid” from His Boss VIII. Scott Loses His Neutrality IX. Scott Makes Another Rescue X. Scott Meets Jarred XI. A Visit to Jarred’s Cabin XII. Scott Asks for Bids XIII. Foster Wait Demands the Contract XIV. Scott Makes a Trip to Washington XV. Scott Hears Some Rumblings of the Old Feud XVI. Scott Has an Interview with Sewall XVII. Hopwood Takes a Trip XVIII. Dick Turns Gentleman XIX. Hopwood Throws Away His Iron Hat XX. An Attempt at Arson XXI. Scott Finds the Still XXII. Hopwood Gets Jarred’s Promise XXIII. A Close Call XXIV. Scott Goes after the Marshal XXV. Hopwood Sends Foster a Message XXVI. Foster Revives the Feud XXVII. Scott Arrives at the Village XXVIII. The End of the Feud XXIX. Jarred and Sewall Meet
SCOTT BURTON IN THE BLUE RIDGE
OFF TO A NEW JOB
The ticking of the old grandfather clock in the neat little New England house was the only sound to break the stillness. So still it was that any one approaching the house could have heard the clock distinctly and would certainly have overlooked the silent figure in the old rocking-chair. But a man was sitting there, nevertheless, completely absorbed in his own thoughts.
An old gentleman appeared in the doorway and stood there for an instant before he saw him. Then his face lighted up.
“Hello, Scott! I thought you had gone out and I wanted to talk to you about your new assignment. Mother tells me that you have your sailing orders now.”
The son looked at him with a smile, but his face still wore a puzzled frown.
“Yes,” he said, “I have my sailing orders, but—”
“Good or bad?” his father interrupted anxiously. “You don’t look overjoyed with them.” The old man was really worried.
“I don’t know just what to think of them,” Scott frowned once more and opened the letter for the hundredth time. “They have assigned me to a timber sales job in the North Carolina mountains.”
“Well, that sounds good enough. They say that is a beautiful country and it is a place I have always wanted to see.”
“Oh, the country is all right,” Scott said brightening, “and I am crazy to go there, only I had my mind set on going back to my old place in the southwest.” And again he frowned. “It is not the country but the job that I am afraid of. Sometimes I am almost sorry that I caught those range thieves out there in Arizona.”
“Why, Scottie boy! If it had not been for that you would never be where you are in the Service to-day,” his father remonstrated proudly.
“Oh, I know that it made me solid with the Forest Service and gave me a chance at a supervisor’s job years before I would ordinarily have had one, but they have been using me as a sort of detective ever since. I was lucky enough to catch those timber thieves in Florida, but I am no sleuth and I’ll fall down on that job sooner or later.”
“But, Scott, I don’t believe this is detective work. I expect they have heard what a tremendous success you made of your own logging job last winter and want you to look after the logging work down there.”
“Yes,” Scott admitted, “I think you are partly right. But why transfer me down there when there are local men who understand those methods? Logging in New Hampshire and logging in North Carolina are very different propositions.”
“Maybe the local men cannot handle it and they know you can,” his father suggested proudly.
“Of course that’s what you think, dad,” Scott said affectionately, “and it may be what they think, but I am afraid that there is something else wrong.”
This rather gloomy conversation was broken up by Mrs. Burton, who had come to the doorway unnoticed. “Well, well, why worry over something you don’t either of you know anything about? Maybe we do not know what you are going to do in North Carolina, but we do know that you have to leave us in the morning and we don’t want to waste what time we have left worrying. Come on in to supper.”
Scott laughed. “All right, mother, you always say the sensible thing. I’ll bet there is nothing wrong with the supper no matter what may be the matter with the new job.”
So they went in to supper cheerfully enough and all three spent the evening poring very busily over the atlas, and trying to see what they could find out about the new country. Caspar, the little town where the headquarters were located, was not shown on the old map, but they found out a great deal about the country in general, and it was bedtime before they knew it.
“There,” Mrs. Burton exclaimed cheerfully as they said good night, “I am satisfied. I’d be willing to go to that country on any old kind of a job.”
Scott was not ordinarily given to worrying much and by the time his train pulled out of the quiet little Massachusetts village the next morning he was looking forward eagerly to seeing this new country and had forgotten all the imaginary troubles which the new work might bring.
His orders were to report direct to Caspar, but he had half a day between trains in Washington and took the opportunity to visit the Forest Service offices. He met a few friends and became personally acquainted with a number of men who had before that been to him only a name attached to the end of an official letter, but he learned nothing definite in regard to his new work. The chief of the particular branch in which Scott was employed was out of the office and the inspector who was to meet him in Caspar had already gone to North Carolina. That looked as though there must be something unusual there, but Scott resolutely refused to worry about it any more and settled down in the car seat to enjoy the scenery of Virginia, which was altogether new to him.
The little shanties scattered all through the country and the grinning black faces which crowded one end of the platform at every station reminded him of Florida, but the country itself was very different. Instead of the flat sand-plains covered with dense stands of yellow pine the train wound through rolling clay hills and hardwood forests until it lost itself in the foothills of the mountains just as the sun went down. Scott peered eagerly out of the car window until he could no longer see even the telegraph poles beside the track.
Morning found him at a junction point in the heart of the mountains. These mountains were not like the Rocky Mountains as he had known them in the southwest. There was none of that stark grandeur of the bare rocky slopes and flat-top mesas, but there was a peaceful beauty about them which reminded him more of the overgrown Massachusetts hills; soft green slopes towering above the valley to a surprising height, considering the low absolute altitude of the range. There was as much difference between the valley and the mountain peak as there usually was in the Rockies, but Scott remembered that the valleys in the Rockies were as high as many of these peaks.
A little branch line carried him down a narrow valley between what appeared to be flat-topped, unbroken ridges clothed in every kind of hardwood tree that Scott had ever heard of, and capped with a rim of dark green spruce which fitted over it like a black cape. Here and there a peak rose conspicuously above the level ridge.
“It must be great in those forests,” Scott thought, “and the views from those peaks ought to be worth seeing. I tell you there has got to be a lot of trouble in this job if I can’t enjoy myself in this country.”
He was trying to catch a glimpse of a particularly high peak which showed itself every now and then above the dark spruce ridge when the conductor called, “Caspar,” and Scott had to hurry to get his pack sack and suit case off the train at his headquarters.
THE MYSTERY OF THE TWO STORES
When the dinky little train pulled out and left Scott standing on the platform, he realized why he had not seen the town of Caspar from the car window. It consisted of a railroad station, two stores, four dwelling houses and another large, decrepit-looking building which could not easily be classified, and they were all on the other side of the railroad track from Scott’s position in the car. From that side of the train no one would have suspected the presence of a town anywhere in that vicinity. The mountain slope came down almost to the railroad track and the forest on that side was almost unbroken.
The station agent seemed quite interested at the sight of a stranger. He watched Scott for a minute and seemed to be studying him in his own slow way. Finally he seemed to decide that it would be safe to speak.
“Howdy! Stranger in these parts, be ye?” he drawled.
“Yes,” Scott said, “is there a hotel here or any place where a man can stay?”
“Reckon you can stay at the hotel. Ain’t no place else you could stay in this town and live.”
Scott thought at the time that that was a rather peculiar remark for any one to make, but when he found that the station agent also ran the hotel he charged it up to professional pride. When he saw the hotel he wondered how any one could have any professional pride in it.
The hotel turned out to be the nondescript building which stood, or rather sat, apart from the others at the end of the street. It was a large, rambling, barn-like structure a story and a half high. Half a dozen gables stuck up from the side of the roof. It looked very old and its first coat of paint had never been renewed. The ground around it was as bare as the weathered clapboarding. There was no sign of any attempt at beautifying either grounds or building. A rough picket fence separated it from the rest of the village, but just why no one could tell, for the ground inside the fence was, if anything, more barren than that outside. Altogether it was a forlorn-looking place.
The proprietor led Scott upstairs into a room large enough for a banquet hall. It looked even more desolate, if possible, than the outside of the house. It contained a bed covered with an old patch-work quilt and two boxes—one to serve as a chair and the other as a washstand (you could tell which was the washstand by the old tin basin half full of dirty water).
Scott looked around the room in dismay, but he had made up his mind that he would have to put up with it when he caught a sickening odor, as of a dead mouse, that apparently came from the closet. That he could not stand. He had heard of the touchiness of these people, and he did not want to offend them, especially as he would probably have to make the place his headquarters for some time. But he had to get out of there by some means.
“You haven’t any bedroom on the first floor, have you?” he asked, trying to conceal the disgust he actually felt. “I may be here a long time, and there may be a great many people coming to see me, and a ground-floor room would be much more convenient.”
“Shore, I reckon we can accommodate you,” the man said, and he led the way apathetically downstairs again.
He opened a door off the long back porch and stepped back to let Scott enter. It was a palace compared with the upstairs room. The furniture was old, but everything was there down to a rag carpet on the floor, and, moreover, everything looked clean.
“This will be fine,” Scott said as he glanced quickly about. “What time do you have dinner?”
“Twelve o’clock, most times, but there ain’t anything certain about it.” He paused at the door on his way out. “It ain’t none of my business, but you ain’t a U. S. marshal, be you?”
“No,” Scott laughed, “nothing like that. Why, are there many moonshiners around here?”
“I ain’t saying anything about moonshiners,” the man replied in the same dull tone. “I was just going to tell you that this was a mighty unhealthy country around here for the U. S. marshal.”
Scott did not know whether this was meant as a friendly warning or as a threat, and before he could ask anything more about it the man was gone. As he was not in any way connected with the United States marshal, he thought no more about it.
Left to himself, he began to examine the room more closely. It was clean all right, but the general effect of it was most grotesque. The high, carved head-board of the old walnut bed might have had a place in a medieval museum, but here in this room it looked out of place like everything else in it. When Scott’s eyes fell on the wall paper, he stood aghast. He counted thirty-seven different patterns, each a small square evidently taken from a country storekeeper’s sample book, and only a third of the wall was covered. The east window was heavily curtained with portières, lace curtains and a shade. Scott peeped out. It opened almost into the mountainside and no human habitation was in sight. The glass door opening on to the back porch—which was by far the most frequented part of the house—was not curtained at all. It was a queer place, but Scott had been in worse, and he decided that it would have to do.
He had been so interested in finding a place to stay that he had forgotten all about the man from the Washington office who was to meet him here. He went out to inquire for him. The dining room opened on to the porch next to his room and the kitchen was next to that.
The man was nowhere to be seen, but there were three women in the kitchen and they were feverishly discussing Scott’s probable business. Complete silence fell on them all when he appeared in the doorway.
“Pardon me,” he said. “Do you know whether Mr. Reynolds of the Forest Service has been here?”
The women looked at each other as though an important problem had been solved before any one answered.
Then one of the women answered with a question: “Are you Mr. Burton?”
“Yes,” Scott said.
“Mr. Reynolds left here this morning. He said that if Mr. Burton, the new supervisor, came to tell him he would be back to-night or to-morrow morning. I was looking for a much older man,” she added looking at him curiously.
“Well,” Scott laughed, “time will correct that.”
Scott noticed that these women were all sizing him up just as the station agent had done a little while before. He went back to his room, and looked in the glass to see what could be wrong. He could see nothing to attract attention. He tried to forget the occurrence and went out to see the town and surrounding country.
He wandered down the street, if the road between the two stores could be called a street, and wondered why there should be two stores in such a place. Judging from the unbroken forests on the mountain slopes he did not see where enough people could possibly come from to support any store at all.
On the porch of each store there was a small group of idlers holding down the dry-goods boxes, and Scott saw that they were sizing him up just as the women had done. Moreover, the stare of these men seemed to be distinctly unfriendly. It made him feel uneasy. He was glad when he had run the gauntlet of unfriendly stares, and was out in the open road with only the railroad station and the mountains before him. But he had one more examination to stand. The station agent was watching him from the corner of the platform. In fact, Scott caught him squatting down to get a better view of him even before he came out in the open. He resented this officious spying on his movements and turned aside into a mountain road which wound its way up a timber-covered slope.
“Heh!” Scott turned to see the man coming towards him at what was an unusual gait for him. “Didn’t buy anything at the store, did you?”
Scott looked at him indignantly for an instant, but he remembered again that he had to live with these people, probably for a long time, and did not want to offend them. “No,” he replied as pleasantly as he could. “Why?”
“I just wanted to know,” the man replied frankly. “But if you haven’t done it, don’t.” The man had evidently noticed that Scott had resented his interference and he walked away with considerable dignity without making any further explanation.
Scott started to call him back but changed his mind and continued his walk up the road. He wanted to get away from these inquisitive people for a while, and try to think things over. Fate, however, seemed to have decided otherwise. He had gone a little more than a quarter of a mile up the winding road through the heavy hardwood timber when he came to a little cabin set back only a few feet from the road behind the inevitable picket fence. An old man was sitting on the porch, and he sized Scott up with the same all-consuming curiosity, but his gaze seemed to be wholly friendly. There was none of that furtive animosity he had felt rather than seen in the groups down at the store.
“Howdy, stranger?” the old man greeted him pleasantly. “Be you the new supervisor?”
The old man’s manner was so evidently friendly, and his curiosity so frank that Scott warmed up to him at once.
“Yes,” he admitted cheerfully, “I’m the new supervisor.”
“Haven’t bought anything at the store yet, have you?” the old man continued in his friendly way.
There was that same question about the store and Scott stiffened for an instant, but he thought better of it. Maybe he could learn something from this old man.
“No,” Scott said, “I have not bought anything from the store. Tell me, why does everybody ask me that? I have not been in this town much more than half an hour and two people have already asked me if I have bought anything at the store. What is the meaning of it?”
The old man looked at him thoughtfully for a minute as though hesitating to answer the question. Then he answered slowly as though pronouncing final judgment:
“Because when you do buy anything from one of those stores, you might as well leave the town for all the good you’ll ever be able to do in this country,” and he turned as though to enter the house.
THE OLD MAN’S STORY
The old man’s statement seemed so ridiculous that Scott hesitated to believe it. He thought that the man must be making fun of him, but he recalled the station agent’s warning. There must be something in it. The whole community could not be conspiring just to play a joke on him. Before the old man reached the door he called him back.
“Just a minute, please. You are the second man to warn me not to buy anything at that store. Why shouldn’t I? What has buying at the store got to do with running a national forest? I can’t see the connection.”
The old man looked at him and smiled sarcastically. “Neither could the other two men who came here before you, and they both had to leave.”
Scott’s curiosity was now thoroughly aroused, and he determined to pump an explanation out of this man. He smiled winningly. “Then tell me the secret so that I shall not have to follow them.”
At his change of tone the old man’s sarcasm disappeared immediately. “Well, if that’s the way you look at it,” he said with all his old friendliness, “why, maybe I’ll try to tell you. You couldn’t tell those other fellows anything.”
“I would certainly appreciate it,” Scott said, as he settled himself down on the fence to listen. “I have come here to run this forest, and if that store down there has anything to do with it, I want to know about it.”
“Come in, come in,” the old man repeated hospitably. “It’s a long story, and you might as well sit down to listen to it.”
Scott gladly stepped inside the fence, and took a seat opposite his host on the porch. “By the way,” he said, “I thought I saw two stores down there in the village. Which one do you mean?”
“That’s just the point. If there was only one store there you could buy all you pleased, but if you buy anything from one of those stores now, the fellow who owns the other one would sure get you.”
“But can’t a man buy where he pleases in this country?” Scott asked indignantly. His spirit rebelled at any one dictating to him the way he should run what he considered to be his own business.
“Not and live in peace,” the old man answered sadly. “I’ll tell you the story, and then you can do as you please.
“You see the people here in the mountains don’t move around much. When a man gets used to these mountains he never wants to live anywhere else. The children don’t marry, and go off somewhere else to live; they just put up another shanty, and live close to home. The families stick close together, and form a kind of settlement. Most everybody in the settlement is kin to somebody else.
“The Morgans live in the settlement up on this side of the valley, and the Waits over there on the other side. They were good friends and getting along fine till the railroad come down the valley. They called old Zeb Morgan and old Foster Wait together to decide where the station ought to be. They got into a row over it somehow, and before anybody could interfere Foster had pulled a gun and shot Zeb through the heart. That was forty years ago. Well, it was a murder all right, and no excuse for it except Foster’s notorious temper. The sheriff took Foster off to jail, and that ought to have ended it. Would have ended it, too, if it had not been for Zeb’s half-witted brother Jim. Everybody knew Jim wasn’t exactly right in his head, but he worshiped Zeb, and when Zeb was shot he went plumb crazy, disappeared and nobody saw or heard of him for a week. Next thing anybody knew Jim had turned up in the middle of the Wait settlement and shot two of Foster’s brothers.
“Well, they should not have held the Morgans responsible for the actions of a crazy man, but they did, and the fight was on. The dead line was drawn down the middle of the village street, and every time a Wait stepped over that dead line, he had to duck Morgan lead, and the Waits were just as quick on the trigger on the other side. Every once in a while some one on one side or the other would get drunk and shoot across the line.
“It got pretty bad. All the kin folks got mixed up in it, and there was a funeral every two or three months. There has not been much shooting for the past five years. The Morgans got the worst of the scrap in the early days, and there’s only old Jarred and his two sons left of the direct descendants of Zeb. Unless you count his little granddaughter Vic. She’s the fightenest little wildcat in the whole bunch. Of course there are lots of relatives, but they had cooled off pretty much till this national forest business came along to stir them up again.
“But I most forgot the store. You see old Tom Wait had a store in the village before the trouble began, and it was all that was needed, maybe a little more, but of course after the trouble no Morgan would deal there. Been shot if he’d tried it. So Jarred’s boys had to start a store on the other side. That’s where the two stores come from. Buy anything from one of them, and you have all the other side of the mountain down on you. Now maybe you can see why I warned you.”
Scott sat in silence for a moment while the old man watched him curiously. He was dazed by what seemed to him an impossible situation. How could such a horrible state of affairs exist in the heart of a civilized country?
“Isn’t there any way of bringing the two families together and stopping this senseless fight?” Scott asked earnestly. “Surely they must see how it is hurting them both. Has any one ever tried to stop it?”
The old man shook his head sadly. “The Morgan boys might quit if they could find any way to do it. They know it is only a question of time till they will be killed. Three Morgans can’t hold out forever against a dozen Waits, and that is what it means because their kin folk are not going to stick by them much longer.”
“It would not be possible to persuade this man Jarred to give up the feud?” Scott asked.
The old man smiled sadly. “It’s clear you ain’t seen him, stranger. Old Jarred would give away anything he’s got except his pride, but it takes only one look at him to see that he’d never give up to an enemy.”
Scott sat for some minutes pondering this extraordinary situation, and the old man continued to watch him rather wistfully. Would he try to make peace between these warring factions, or would he ignore them, and be run out of the country as the other two had been?
When Scott looked up he smiled at the old man gratefully. “I don’t know what I can do to stop this thing. It is pitiful to think of that old man eaten up by his hatred, and holding out in his pride against the world. Maybe I cannot do anything to stop it, but I certainly do not want to do anything to stir it up. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate what you have told me. To whom am I indebted for this information and advice?”
“My name is Sanders. ‘Old man’ Sanders they call me.”
“And I take it that you are not mixed up in this feud on either side. Who else is not in it?”
“The station agent. He has to be neutral.”
“And how did you happen to keep out of it?” Scott asked.
“Because I am a Quaker,” the old man answered proudly, “and do not believe in fighting. And now,” he added with the same sad smile Scott had noticed several times before, “one of my daughters has married a Wait and the other a Morgan.”
Scott rose to go. “Well, Mr. Sanders,” he said earnestly, “I have almost as good a reason as you have for keeping neutral. I am certainly obliged to you for your advice, and I may need your help again. In the meanwhile I shall keep away from those stores, and try not to stir anything up.”
Scott walked slowly on up the mountain road with bent head, and when the old man had watched him out of sight he continued to gaze dreamily at the turn of the road where the young man had disappeared.
“He’s not a fool like the others, anyway,” he said aloud, “and I think he’ll stay here.”
Scott wandered on. He wanted to find a place where he could be alone and think.
Two miles farther up that same road a little log cabin stood back from the road about fifty feet behind its weather-beaten picket fence. The little yard, like most of the yards in that section of the country, was perfectly bare, and at first glance it seemed to be deserted. But if a member of the Wait settlement had tried to enter the yard, he would instantly have been aware of a very real presence.
Seated on the doorstep of the cabin, and so motionless that he might have been a part of it, was a man clad in a black sateen shirt and homespun trousers tucked into heavy Congress boots. Judging from the silvery whiteness of his hair he might have been eighty-five, but from the strong, stern lines of his thin, smooth-shaven face he might have been forty-five. There was no sign of nervousness. Not a finger moved and his eyes rested unwaveringly on a small clearing half a mile down the mountain where he could catch a glimpse of the road to the village.
A white flag waved for an instant in the clearing and the lines of his face relaxed. The sternness had given way to an expression of anticipation. The man’s eyes shifted from the clearing to the bend in the road just below the cabin. Other than that there was no movement. It would have taken a careful student to have discovered that an all-consuming curiosity was gnawing at this man’s heart. He seemed to be without a care in the world. Certainly no one could have guessed that he was suffering from a suspense which was almost unbearable.
Suddenly a slip of a girl, not more than thirteen years old, and small for her age, came running around the bend in the road. The brown of her sunburned legs twinkled in the patches of sunlight that came through the trees, and her blue-checked calico dress fluttered in the wind as she ran with unfaltering stride. It was not an impatient burst of speed at the end of a journey. She had been running steadily all the way from the village, almost two and a half miles away and nearly a thousand feet below.
At the sight of her the man arose and stretched his gaunt form to its full height. The coming of the child meant much to him, but he showed no sign of curiosity. She stopped before him with chest heaving and dark eyes aflame.
“He went to Wait’s,” she panted.
The lines in the old man’s face tightened, and he seemed to grow taller, but he made no answer.
“That was the man who came yesterday,” she continued furiously. “He bought a sack of tobacco at Wait’s this morning, and went up on the other mountain. The other one who came this morning didn’t go in nowhere. He ain’t much more than a boy.”
“Where is he?” the man asked sternly. “At the hotel?”
“No, he went there, but he only stayed a few minutes. Then he walked right through the village and started up this way. I passed him just out on the road.”
“Did he see you?”
“No,” she answered contemptuously. “I was in the brush, but he would not have seen me if I had run right by him. He was looking at the ground and frowning.”
The man turned the news slowly over in his mind before he answered.
“So the new supervisor is a young lad, is he?”
“And he did not go in anywhere,” the man continued meditatively. “What sort of looking man is he?”
“He’s two inches shorter than you are, grandpa, but he is heavy and strong,” she said confidently, with the air of one who is accustomed to gauge the physical builds of men. “He’s wearing one of them uniforms, and he’s dark and good looking.”
He gave the girl a quick, searching glance. “Well, don’t make friends with him yet, Vic. He has not gone into Wait’s, but he has not been in our store either. Let’s wait till we see what he is going to do.”
“Me make friends with one of those government men,” she burst out contemptuously. “They all of them side with the Waits. I’d spit in his face if he spoke to me.”
Her grandfather smiled approvingly. “Oh, I would not do that, Vic, not till he gives you some reason to. This one may turn out to be all right.”
“Then let him keep away from the Waits, if I have to be polite to him,” she snapped.
The old man took the girl tenderly by the shoulders, and looked at her earnestly. “You’re the best Morgan in the bunch, Vic, and we’ll have to stick together. The boys may stick by me, but they would give the whole thing up if they saw a good way out. You and old Jarred are the only ones left to uphold the honor of the family.”
The child shook the mass of black hair back from her face, and looked squarely into the old man’s eyes. The concentrated hatred and fury of three generations gave her the appearance of a witch. “Don’t you worry, grandpa. Let daddy and uncle Bob give up if they want to, but no Wait will ever cross the line while I am here to help you.”
Her grandfather patted her head proudly. “That’s the girl. I knew I could count on you, Vic. Now go in the house, and get some lunch. Then we’ll go down to the village again. I want to get a look at that handsome young man myself.”
Vic glared at him angrily. “I had to say that to tell you what he looked like. Let him go into the Wait’s store, and I’ll show you what I think of his looks.” She tossed her head defiantly and stalked into the house with great dignity.
The old man watched her go with a twinkle of pride in his eye and smiled affectionately. Then he turned away and looked sadly down into the valley. These were indeed sad times when the honor of the Morgans rested on a girl of thirteen, and an old man past sixty, but his gaunt frame straightened unconsciously at the thought, and his chin set all the harder. If the Waits thought that they could walk over him because he was old they were surely reckoning without their host.
While the old man and the child were pledging their everlasting hatred to the Waits, Scott Burton, with puzzled frown, was slowly climbing the mountain road to their cabin. He did not know the location of old Jarred Morgan’s cabin, and probably would have avoided it if he had, for he wanted to think this feud business over before he talked to any of them. Ignorant of how close he was to them, he turned into the woods less than a quarter of a mile below them and sat down with his back against the trunk of a great, wide-spreading beech tree. He was out of sight of the road, and he had purposely chosen the spot in the deep woods to be free from interruption.
So this was the simple little job which the Service had given him to complete before he went back to his old home in the southwest? Why did they always pick him out to unravel some mess? He had never had a job where he could really show what he could do. Always there had been some complication, something outside of the regular line of duty that had taken his whole time and attention. Never had he found himself in a position where he could devote himself to his technical work and show what he knew. Even when he had logged his own land he had found his operations hindered by the bully of the country who had tried to ruin him. His first impulse now was to write to the Service that he did not care to mix up in this mess at all. If they wanted him to go back to his old post, all right; otherwise, he would resign. He had made enough to live on out of his own logging operations, and he could make more the same way. He did not have to worry over these miserable feuds. Two men had already lost their reputations on this job and been run out of the country and....
Right there Scott lost all interest in that line of thought. Was he going to let them run him out of the country? His jaw set at the mere thought of it, and he knew that he would never leave till he had been completely beaten or was carried out in a wooden box. He dropped all idea of giving up the job and settled down to look it squarely in the face.
Just what was this problem anyway? The government owned a big tract of land here, and there was timber on it that was ready to be cut, and it was up to him as supervisor to sell it. It was located on both sides of the valley, part in Wait territory and part in Morgan. Two other men had already tried it, and had failed utterly before they had ever started because they had become involved in this everlasting feud between the Waits and the Morgans.
When he really thought about it, it did not seem to be such an impossible task. Why should he mix up in this feud at all? It looked as though old Foster Wait was to blame for starting it years ago, but it did not matter now who was originally to blame, they were both equally to blame for keeping it up all these years. He would put it up to them squarely that they had to forget the feud, and come together or he would have nothing to do with either of them. Just what could they have to do with it in any event? He did not think, from what he had seen of the country people there, that either family could scrape together enough money to buy the timber on a single acre. He did not see how they could influence the sale one way or the other, and he was not going to let them do it if they could.
When Scott had come to that somewhat Irish decision he felt better. It seemed almost as if the problem had been solved and he began to look about him. His eyes had been fixed absently on the ground all the time and his first upward glance revealed a sight that sent a cold shiver up his back.
A man was sitting on a log not six feet from him, and was staring at him with bright blue eyes. It was startling enough to find any one sitting so close to him when he had thought himself entirely alone, but it was really alarming when the man had a gun in his hand and a large piece of sheet iron on top of his head. At first Scott thought that he must be dreaming, and he blinked his eyes two or three times to try to dispel the illusion, but it would not dispel.
This was really a man. He looked much as other men save for a queer, dreamy look in his eyes, and he was dressed like other men except for his strange head gear. Instead of a hat he was wearing a strange contraption of wood and iron. On the bottom of a sheet of heavy iron about eighteen inches long and a foot wide he had nailed four pieces of wood in the form of a square. This he was wearing on his head like a senior’s mortar board.
All during Scott’s astonished examination, the newcomer sat staring at him without the slightest expression on his weather-beaten face. He was so still that he might have been a statue and his unwavering pose added to Scott’s feeling of his unreality. He finally, after several minutes of astonished silence, recovered sufficiently from the spell to exclaim “Hello.” He said it in a rather startled tone. It did not sound in the least like a friendly greeting, but it seemed to be altogether satisfactory to his visitor. The man’s face relaxed, and a friendly smile lighted it up. Scott was in hopes that he would remove the iron hat, but he did not.
“So you are the new supervisor,” the stranger remarked in a low, pleasing voice.
“Yes,” Scott replied a little stiffly, for he had not entirely recovered from his astonishment, and could not keep his eyes off the iron hat, “I’m the new supervisor. And who may you be?”
“I might be almost anybody,” the man smiled, “but I happen to be Hopwood.”
“Well, I’m sure I don’t know where you came from, Mr. Hopwood. You just seemed to appear on that log as if by magic, but I am glad to know you, all the same.”
“Not Mr. Hopwood,” the man said solemnly, “just Hopwood. Hopwood Wait.”
Scott looked at him with a new interest. So this was one of the Waits, the first one he had seen, and he wondered if the iron hat were a part of the family armor. It might have protected him from an airplane attack, but would have been of little use for anything else. He had understood that the Waits did not come over on this side of the valley. Could this man be scouting in enemy territory or had he come in hope of getting a pot shot at a Morgan? He decided to risk a question.
“Aren’t you in dangerous territory here?”
Hopwood shook his head slowly. “No, they all think I am crazy, but I have more sense than anybody else in the family. I can eat lunch with Jarred Morgan and supper with Foster Wait, and that’s more than anybody else can do,” he replied proudly.
“Then you don’t believe in this family feud?” Scott inquired eagerly.
Again Hopwood shook his head. “Why should I? They will all be killed if they keep it up. The cemetery is full of them now.”
“Do you think that they would give it up if they had a good chance?”
“What makes you think so?” This man might be able to give him some useful information even if he was crazy.
“Because they are scared,” Hopwood answered promptly. “Every one of them is scared except old Jarred and Vic. They don’t pay any attention to me and I hear them talk.”
“Then why don’t they give it up?”
“Because they are more scared to quit than they are to go on. If they should quit, old Jarred would kill them all, both Morgans and Waits.”
Scott thought for a moment. Old Jarred Morgan seemed to be the key to the situation if this man knew what he was talking about.
“Where could I find you if I should need you some time?” Scott asked. He thought he could see how this man might be very useful to him.
“Almost anywhere,” was Hopwood’s unsatisfactory answer.
Scott looked thoughtfully off through the woods a moment wondering what other useful information he could get out of this man, and when he looked back the man was gone.
SCOTT TALKS WITH THE AGENT
The disappearance of Hopwood had been so silent and so unexpected that Scott hardly knew whether it had not been a dream after all. He sat still for a moment to see whether he would come back, but, when he did not, he arose leisurely, and began to glance cautiously about him. He did not want to search because he thought that Hopwood must be behind a tree somewhere waiting to have the laugh on him. After all what difference did it make what had become of Hopwood? Scott felt that he had learned all that he could get out of him just now, and he had made up his mind what he wanted to do.
He glanced at his watch. It was a quarter of twelve, and he would be late for his dinner if he did not hurry. He was curious to know how Hopwood had disappeared so suddenly and where he had gone, but he struck out for the road without looking to the right or the left. Just as he reached it he saw the man of the iron hat stroll leisurely around a bend a little way up the mountain, apparently unconscious that he had acted peculiarly, and without a backward glance. The sight of him reminded Scott that he had not found out why this man wore his strange iron hat, and he made up his mind to ask some one the first chance he had.
When Scott reached the hotel after again running the gauntlet of stares in the village there were no signs of a meal in the very near future. The women were talking in the kitchen, but there was no sign of any hurry in spite of the fact that it was already fifteen minutes after the time they had announced for dinner. He went to his room and found it just as he had left it. Either he was expected to make his own bed or the women did not make them till afternoon. He decided to wait and see what would happen.
When the dinner bell finally rang, it was a quarter past one. Scott found himself alone with the station agent. The meal was about the worst he had ever seen. Great cubes of salt pork fat three inches square, boiled and transparent, that might have made an Eskimo’s mouth water, but were impossible for the uninitiated. Corn bread as dry as powder, a sickly looking gravy, and some gluey rice. At first Scott thought that he could not eat any of it, but what was he going to do? This was probably what he would have to eat for several weeks. There was no place to look for anything better. With a desperate look around the table to make sure that he had not overlooked any possibilities, he resolutely helped himself to the rice and the corn bread and waded in. He could swallow these things if he had to, but he could not bring himself even to try the salt pork.
He had been so disgusted with the meal that he had forgotten all about the station agent. Now he recalled that the gentleman had been rather offended at his actions in the morning, and that he had better try to make his peace with him now.
“Mr. Roberts, you probably thought me very ungrateful this morning, but I knew absolutely nothing of this feud here, and could not imagine what you meant.”
The agent answered rather stiffly. “None of the government men who have been here seem to want to know anything about it, but they all learn something about it sooner or later.”
“Well, I want to know all I can about it. Up the road this morning I met Mr. Sanders, and when he asked me that same question about buying at the stores I asked him to explain. He told me all he could about it, and then I realized what you meant. I really appreciate your kindness very much, and want to thank you for trying to warn me. I don’t believe there are many people around here who would have done it.”
The agent was evidently pleased with the apology and melted immediately. “No, I reckon there ain’t,” he said rather proudly. “Old man Sanders and I are about the only ones. The others are all in it up to their necks.”
“Now that I know about it, I am not going to get mixed up with either side. They will have to give up their feud and work together like other people if they want to get in the game.”
“They will never do that as long as old Jarred lives,” the agent answered confidently.
That familiar phrase reminded Scott of the strange man with the iron hat. “By the way,” he asked, “who is this man Hopwood?”
“He’s Foster Wait’s nephew. Foster’s father is the man who started the feud, you know. He had an awful bad temper, and they tell me that, when Hopwood was a little kid, old Foster hit him in the head with his cane and he’s been crazy as a loon ever since. Did you meet him at Sanders’ place?”
“No,” Scott replied, “I met him up in the woods.”
“Thought you might have met him at Sanders’,” the agent said. “His mother was old Sanders’ daughter. What did you think of his hat?”
“I was just going to ask you why he wears that thing,” Scott said with renewed curiosity.
“He thinks it will keep the devil away.” The agent was delighted with the opportunity to tell some one of the strange gossip of the country that he had collected in his ten years of residence. “You see when he grew up he saw that he was not like other people, and they had to give him some reason for it, so they told him there was a devil in him. He went right out and built that iron hat and has worn it ever since. Says he’s going to wear it till they give up the feud.”
“Doesn’t wear it at night, does he?” Scott asked. It was ridiculous, but it was so pathetic that he hated to laugh at it.
“No,” the agent answered seriously, “he doesn’t wear it at night, but he sleeps on his back with that thing on his chest.”
“He looked queer,” Scott said, “but he seemed to talk reasonably enough. He said just as you do that they will never drop the feud as long as old Jarred Morgan lives, but he says the others are all scared and would drop it if they could.”
“Sometimes I think he isn’t as crazy as they make out. They talk about him and in front of him as though he couldn’t understand anything, but he can tell you every word that they have said for the past five years.”
Scott thought for a minute. “Do you think it would be safe for me to make use of him or would that be considered as taking part with the Waits?”
“No, that would not tie you up with the Waits. Everybody talks to him, even old Jarred Morgan. They do not seem to consider him as belonging to the family, somehow. But you don’t want to be too sure about using him. If he happened to take a liking to you he will do anything for you, but if he did not like you this morning you’ll probably never see him again.”
“I don’t know whether he liked me or not,” Scott said thoughtfully. “He appeared on a log in front of me so suddenly that I did not see where he came from, and he got away again in the same way.”
“Oh, he moves like a shadow in the woods,” the agent exclaimed enthusiastically. “He has any Indian I have ever seen beaten three ways for woodcraft. He moves about so fast and so silently that a lot of folks around here think he is a spirit.” It was easy to see from the agent’s manner that he was not altogether clear on that point himself.
“Well,” Scott said, “I hope he likes me because it looks as though I won’t have very many friends around here.”
“You sure will not,” the agent remarked with decision. “You can make friends with half the people easy enough, but sure as you do the other half will hate you. If you don’t take up with either side, as you are planning on doing, likely as not they will all hate you.”
Scott sat for a moment dreamy eyed, considering this disagreeable dilemma. When he looked up Hopwood was standing in the doorway, calmly looking at him over the agent’s head. For a moment Scott was too astonished to speak. He wondered if Hopwood had been outside listening, and he thought of what the agent had said about this strange man being a spirit.
“Hello, Hopwood!” he exclaimed, and the agent almost jumped out of his chair.
Hopwood smiled an answer. “Is that red-headed man who came on the train yesterday your boss?” he asked, as though they had been talking for some time.
“Yes,” Scott admitted, “he is, in a way.”
“Well, _he’s_ joined the Waits,” Hopwood remarked.
The announcement almost stunned Scott. He stared wildly at Hopwood for an instant and then at the agent. “What makes you think so?” he asked dully.
There was no answer, and he found Hopwood had disappeared as suddenly as he had come.
The agent tiptoed to the door and looked cautiously up and down the porch. Hopwood was nowhere to be seen. He looked back at Scott and shook his head. “Gone completely. Well, whether he is man or devil, I reckon he is a friend of yours all right.”
“I guess he is,” Scott replied with a sickly smile, “but it does not look as though my boss thought much of me.”
SCOTT RECEIVES “AID” FROM HIS BOSS
Mr. Roberts went back to his office soon after Hopwood’s visit, and was evidently glad of the opportunity to get away. He had spoken derisively of those who thought that Hopwood was a spirit, but he had looked behind him nervously till he was well away from the house.
Scott scarcely noticed that he had gone. He sat with his chin dropped dejectedly on his chest, and stared across the table with unseeing eyes. If what Hopwood had said was true, his troubles there would be greatly increased even if his plans were not completely ruined. It seemed as though some evil genius had brought him to this place, and if he had he certainly must be laughing at the pickle his victim was in.
Scott was so disappointed that he felt almost ready to cry. With considerable difficulty, and the help of old man Sanders and the station agent, he had succeeded in posting himself fairly well on the ins and outs of this feud. After carefully considering the possibility of an alliance with one side or the other he had come to the conclusion that the only safe thing to do was to remain absolutely neutral. He felt confident that if he could keep away from any entangling alliance with either side, he could successfully carry on his work in spite of the feud and might even be able to get these old enemies to patch up their differences. He had still considered that a possibility even though every one said that the feud would never be dropped as long as old Jarred Morgan lived.
And now his superior officer had taken sides with the Waits and spoiled everything.
Scott determined to find Hopwood, learn where Mr. Reynolds was, and know the worst as soon as possible. One of them was right and the other wrong. They must at least get together and agree on a common policy.
So Scott started out in search of Hopwood. He felt sure that he could tell him where to find Mr. Reynolds. The iron hat was nowhere in sight, but Scott felt that he could not be very far away. Surely he would not have come to make such a statement as that and then disappear without waiting to give any explanation of it. Possibly he had gone to one of the stores.
He had started down the village street to investigate when he noticed a motionless figure sitting back of a pile of cordwood a little way back from the street. He instantly recognized Hopwood. Was he hiding from him and would he run away? Scott approached him rather cautiously, but Hopwood watched him calmly and showed no sign of retreating. He rather appeared to be waiting for him.
“Thanks for the warning you gave me,” Scott said as soon as he was near enough to him.
“I thought that you would be looking for me,” Hopwood replied with his usual disregard of preliminaries.
“What made you think that I would find you in this out-of-the-way place?” Scott laughed. “Why didn’t you stay at the hotel? I would have been glad to have had a visit from you.”
“The more people see me with you the less I’ll hear,” Hopwood answered cunningly.
Scott started at the flash of wisdom from a half-wit. “I guess you are right,” he replied earnestly. “Do you think we are safe here?”
“Oh, yes,” Hopwood replied confidently. “No one can see us here except from that one place, and no one else will go along that street for half an hour.”
Scott did not waste any time trying to find out how Hopwood knew that. There was something else that he was anxious to know. “Then maybe you can tell me, Hopwood, what makes you think Mr. Reynolds has joined the Waits?”
“He’s been up at the Waits’ nearly all day, and has just about promised them that you will give them the logging contract.”
“How do you know he did?” Scott asked incredulously. “You were with me part of the morning, and went up the other mountain when you left me,” he protested.
Hopwood only smiled.
“Where is he now?” Scott continued. He could not believe that Hopwood knew what he was talking about. Maybe he was mistaken. He hoped so.
“He is on his way down the mountain with Foster Wait,” Hopwood replied promptly. “He’ll be down here at the store in less than half an hour,” he added, as though he had noticed the doubt in Scott’s face.
“Then I guess I’ll wait here till he comes,” Scott said. “I don’t want to be seen now traipsing around the country with Foster Wait.
“He’ll have some job to make me give a logging contract to either of those gangs,” Scott muttered defiantly. Then, after a minute’s silence, “Do you think that either the Morgans or the Waits could carry out a logging contract if they did get it, Hopwood? Have they the money to do it?”
But there was no answer. Hopwood had disappeared again in his usual silent and mysterious fashion. Scott knew better now than to waste his time looking for him. He fell to brooding over this phase of the problem, and when he looked at his watch it was already ten minutes after the time which Hopwood had predicted for Mr. Reynolds’ arrival. Scott jumped to his feet and hurried out into the open. He was delighted to see Mr. Reynolds coming up the street alone and walked down to meet him.
Mr. Reynolds was a rather effeminate-looking man, over neatly dressed in the very latest cut of riding suit. He affected a rather bored manner. He waved an indolent greeting to Scott.
“Hello, there, Burton! I sure am glad to see you. I thought I was going to have to eat another meal in this beastly hole. Now I can probably finish up with you in time to catch the afternoon train.”
Scott wished that he had caught the train the day before but he did not dare to say so. Instead he said, “Think how long I shall have to eat here. Better stay awhile. Misery loves company, you know.”
“Well, I hope you get all the company you want, but it sure will not be mine if I can help it.”
“By the way,” Scott asked suddenly, “where did you get that cigarette?”
“Pardon me,” Mr. Reynolds exclaimed, as he fumbled apologetically in his pocket for the package, “but I was under the impression that you never smoked.”
“I don’t,” Scott replied. “I was only wondering where you bought them.”
“Oh, here at the store. They carry them, but they are a pretty bum brand.”
“Which store?” Scott insisted.
“The one on the left there. Hadn’t noticed there were two. What’s the big idea? You rooting for one of them?”
Scott knew that it would be useless to argue with this man. He evidently had no conception of the situation in the village and Scott did not think it worth while to try to explain. “No,” he replied, “I was just wondering which one I ought to deal with,” which was true enough.
“Well, if everything they sell is as rotten as their cigarettes you’d better try the other one. But come on up to the hotel so that I can go over things with you in time to catch that train. I think that I have things lined up here for you in pretty good shape.”
“How is that?” Scott asked. In spite of the harm this man had done him he could not help smiling at his unbounded conceit.
“Oh, I had a long talk with Foster Wait this afternoon, and fixed it up with him so that the Waits will take over the logging contract. There is a big family of them and the labor problem will be settled. No use in scouring the country the way those other fellows did when it can be handled so easily locally.”
“Didn’t sign them up, did you?” Scott asked the question as carelessly as he could, but he really waited breathlessly for the answer.
“No,” Mr. Reynolds answered pompously, “I could not very well go into all those details because I did not have the necessary forms with me. I only smoothed the way for you a little. Now that I have talked to them it will be no trick at all for you to get them to sign up and arrange all the details.”
“And,” Scott thought, “the details would have to include the hiring of an undertaker to sweep up the remains.” But to Mr. Reynolds he said nothing. The more he let this man talk the more certain he would be of getting rid of him on the afternoon train, and that was Scott’s one ambition now—to get rid of this man at the earliest possible moment.
They walked on up to the hotel and when they came out two hours later Scott was more than ever anxious to see him go. If this man had had anything to do with the business when the two previous supervisors had been run out of the country he could understand perfectly well how it happened. Scott had listened attentively and talked hardly at all.
As they approached the stores Scott saw a good-sized delegation assembled on the porch of each. The Waits looked smilingly elated. The Morgans glared angrily from across the way.
“Come on up and I’ll introduce you to these people now if I have the time.”
Scott was determined to avoid this but he did now know how to do it. If he refused, Mr. Reynolds would undoubtedly start an argument which the spectators could not help but understand. Fortunately the train was on time, something which rarely happened, and it whistled just in the nick of time.
As the train pulled out of the station, Scott watched it with a feeling of profound relief, but at the same time he half wished that he was on it. He was rid of Mr. Reynolds, but would he ever be able to get out of the mess into which this man had drawn him?
SCOTT LOSES HIS NEUTRALITY
When the train had disappeared Scott turned to find the station agent close behind him waiting for an opportunity to speak.
“I reckon Hopwood was right,” he said with his slow drawl.
“What makes you think so?” Scott asked, for he knew that Mr. Reynolds had not told him.
“Three of the Waits have already told me that they are going to get the logging contract,” he replied.
“Oh, they did, did they?” he exclaimed indignantly. Either Mr. Reynolds must have talked to a gathering of the whole clan or the news had spread like wild fire over the face of the mountain. “Well, they haven’t got it yet,” he snapped. “I guess I’ll have something to say about who gets that logging contract.”
“I asked them if you had told them and they said no, but your boss had, and you would have to do as he said.”
Scott’s teeth came together with a vicious snap. “They’ll see whether I have to or not.” He turned abruptly and walked across the tracks toward the Wait country. “No pair of whipcord riding breeches is going to tell me where to let a logging contract,” he muttered angrily to himself.
He did not know exactly why he had come in that direction. Possibly it was his natural tendency to go straight for his enemy. He did not even realize where he was going; he only realized that he was mad clear through and that he had better walk some of it off before he talked to anybody.
The forest came close down to the edge of the valley on this side and the road was arched over with the beautiful hardwood trees. Scott would have marveled at their size and beauty if he had not been too angry to notice them. The quiet solitude of the steep mountain road was well fitted to smooth a man’s ruffled temper and make him forget his troubles. Everywhere the gray squirrels were chasing each other around the trees in a never ending game of tag, and the birds were singing all over the woods.
Before Scott had gone very far he met two men riding down the mountain on horseback. They wore the regular uniform of that section, rough homespun trousers and a black sateen shirt, and carried long muzzle-loading rifles balanced across their saddle bows. They both grinned condescendingly at Scott and gave him a careless, “Howdy.”
He did not think it strange that he should meet two men, but when he met two more a little farther up and they greeted him in the same way he began to comprehend. These were the triumphant Waits on their way to town to celebrate their victory, and they were all laughing at him, laughing because they had overreached him and made terms with the boss that he would have to accept.
The thought maddened him, and by the time he had passed eight more he was so angry that he could hardly see the big fellow who brought up the rear of the last group of four. It would never do to start a row with them now before he was really ready, and yet it was all he could do to hide his fury and return their greetings casually.
The big fellow who had just passed turned in his saddle and looked at him inquiringly. “Weren’t looking for me, were you, sonny?” he called insolently in a rather thick voice.
Scott’s blood boiled at the tone and wording of the question. He did not dare look at the man and it almost choked him to answer calmly, “Not to-day.”
“Well, to-morrow will do,” the man called insolently. “You can find me home most any day.” And the others laughed at the retort.
Scott saw red for a minute and half turned, but he caught himself in time. He would not make much headway in handling this timber sale if he began with a fight in the public road on a somewhat doubtful pretext. If he did fight he ought to have a little better cause than that.
He did not meet any more of the offensive Waits and was beginning to cool off a little so that he could think calmly. Suddenly he stopped with a jerk and turned his startled gaze down the road in the direction all the bands had been traveling. What would be the outcome of this meeting in the village? He had met twelve men on the road and he had noticed eight more at the store when he came by. They were all armed and most likely there would be much drinking. Would they take this opportunity to wipe out the remnant of the Morgans?
He had never seen old Jarred Morgan nor had he ever spoken to any of the family, but right now his sympathy was with them. The picture which old man Sanders had drawn of that lonely old man and a slip of a girl holding the Morgan fort almost alone appealed to him. But what could they do against a gang of twenty? No matter how brave they were, they would be helpless.
Scott’s sense of fair play sent his fighting blood bounding through his veins. He turned resolutely and hurried down the mountain. He thought that he might be able to prevent that crime. He would help to protect that plucky pair if he possibly could, and he would not care what anybody thought about it. He did not admit it to himself, but probably the greatest incentive was the opportunity to fight these insolent Waits. He hurried on without a thought of the possible effects it might have on his plans. Every minute he half expected to hear the shot which would announce the beginning of the fight.
When he came out of the forest at the foot of the mountain, he was relieved to see that everything looked peaceful in the village. The station agent saw him coming and lounged out to the end of the platform to meet him.
“Well, they are all in town to celebrate,” he drawled.
“I guess they are, judging from the procession I met coming down the mountain,” Scott growled bitterly. “Do you think there will be any trouble?”
The agent looked at him curiously. “Oh, I don’t believe they will bother you any now. They think that you are their friend.”
Scott glared at the man indignantly. “I am not talking about myself. Do you suppose I care what that gang thinks of me? But it occurred to me that they might take this opportunity to catch the Morgans unprepared and clean up what is left of them.”
“Oh, you mean that kind of trouble?” and the agent seemed greatly relieved to find it out. “There won’t be any fight unless old Jarred comes to town.”
“There will not be any at all if I can prevent it,” Scott replied resolutely. “If there is any fight it will be a fair one and not a murder of one old man by a gang like that. I wish I could find Hopwood. You have not seen him, have you?”
The agent looked cautiously behind him and shook his head. “No, I haven’t seen him since noon, but that is no reason why he may not be sitting right here somewhere staring at us.”
Scott turned away. “Well, maybe I’ll run on to him. He seems to turn up somehow when he is wanted.”
He dreaded passing that crowd at the store and yet he would not have gone home any other way this afternoon for a hundred dollars. There would almost certainly be some impudent remarks and Scott was almost afraid to trust himself, but he made up his mind that he would not fight with them no matter what happened till he had tried to persuade them to drop the feud.
Purposely he kept out of sight behind some trees till he was not more than fifty yards from the store. Then bracing himself for the coming trial he walked casually out of the shadow. His eye took in the situation at a glance, but he could not understand it.
Two lonely men sat silent and sullen on the porch of the Morgan store. At least twenty crowded the porch of the store across the street, laughing and gibing at a burly giant who was dragging a young girl across the street by the hair. The girl’s head was bent down so that Scott could not see her face, but he could imagine her expression. She was not uttering a sound, but she was fighting with the fury of a wildcat.
Scott’s blood boiled at the sight of a man mistreating a girl in this way. Moreover, he recognized the man as the big fellow who had spoken to him so insolently up on the mountain. Even before he realized what he was doing he had covered the short distance and grabbed the man by the arm. He had been a boxer all his life and had won the heavyweight championship at college. He was calm now, as calm as he had ever been when he stepped into the ring. This man was almost twice his size, but he did not even notice it.
“Let go of that girl,” Scott commanded, and as he spoke he let go of the man’s arm. He had grabbed it only to attract the man’s attention. He knew that he could not hold this man in any such way and he was too good a fighter to hold on and be jerked off his balance. The steely ring in his voice was enough to hold any one’s attention now.
The man turned upon him furiously, but he did not let go of the girl. Evidently he had expected to see a Morgan, for when his eyes fell on Scott his mouth dropped open for a moment and he stared blankly.
“Did you hear what I said?” Scott insisted with suppressed fury.
A cunning leer came over the man’s sodden face. The spectators at the two stores listened breathlessly.
“Quick work to get sweet on her so soon. Get out of the way, sonny, and go get the papers ready for that logging contract.”
Quick as a flash Scott caught the big fellow a tremendous blow on the jaw with the flat of his hand. If the man had been sober he would have hit him with his fist, but he did not want to slug him when he was in that helpless condition, much as he deserved it. Even as it was, the slap was enough. The big man let go of the girl, stumbled, lost his balance and sprawled his length on the ground, where he lay groping helplessly for his gun and muttering curses.
The girl shook her long hair from her face and cast a look of furious hatred at the fallen foe. Her chest was heaving from the desperate, but futile, struggle. Turning slowly she swept a contemptuous glance over the spectators on both porches. “Cowards!” she snapped with all the concentrated contempt she could muster. She turned and walked slowly down the street with all the dignity of a queen.
Much to Scott’s astonishment not a man had moved a hand to interfere with him. He looked them over slowly to see if they were going to mob him, but nobody moved or spoke. When he had stood there long enough to avoid any appearance of running away, he cast a curious glance at the retreating figure of the girl who had so completely ignored her rescuer, and walked slowly away toward the hotel, trying to figure out what it could all mean.
As he turned the corner of the hotel he almost laughed aloud. He was thinking what the Waits must think of his friendship now.
SCOTT MAKES ANOTHER RESCUE
When Scott entered the hotel he was still thinking what it could all mean. Why were the men of both factions quietly looking on while a big burly drunkard dragged a child around the street by the hair? If the girl was a Morgan why had the Morgans let such an act go unchallenged? If she was a Wait why had not the rest of the gang protected her? He started. Perhaps it was the man’s own child. No matter. No man had a right to drag his own child around by the hair. Well, when the station agent came to supper he could probably explain things.
But the station agent did not come to supper and Scott ate the atrocious food in lonely state still trying to solve this mystery. In any event he had shown the Waits just how much they could count on his friendship and that was worth something. It was also some satisfaction to know that they were probably as much troubled as he was.
Alone in his room he pondered the problem for an hour without coming any nearer to a solution. Finally the suspense became unbearable. He determined to go to old man Sanders and see if he could offer any explanation. It was growing dusk when he went out and objects seemed a little indistinct in the distance. He glanced toward the place where Hopwood had been waiting for him in the afternoon, but there was no trace of him now.
Both stores apparently were deserted. Scott had not seen a soul when he turned into the road which led up to Sanders’ little cabin. He thought that he had never known the woods to be so silent. It seemed as though every living thing must have left the country. But there was a light in Sanders’ cabin. The full moon peeped at him over the trees behind the house. He knocked on the door and heard the old man shuffling across the floor to open it.
“Good evening,” Scott said as the door swung wide. “You see I have come back to you for advice pretty quick.”
“Come in, come in,” the old man said cordially. “Glad to see you.” He motioned Scott to one of the old-fashioned chairs. When they were comfortably seated he spoke again.
“You said you came here for advice. Let me give you a little before I forget it. It happens to be perfectly safe for any one to knock on my door at any time of the day or night, but don’t try it anywhere else. You would probably find yourself looking down the barrel of a gun if the dogs did not chew you up first. It is the custom in this country to stand outside the gate and shout.”
“Thanks,” Scott replied gratefully. “I am very anxious to learn the customs of this country. There seem to be some customs here I do not understand. That is what brought me up here to-night. What does it mean when a big bully of a man hauls a girl around the street by the hair while twenty others look on and do nothing?”
The old man straightened up in his chair. “What’s all this?” he asked sharply.
Scott explained as fully as he could and the old man listened breathlessly to every word. When Scott had finished his story the old fellow sank back in his chair with wrinkled brow.
“So that was how it happened,” he muttered to himself. “The girl has more sense than I thought she had.” Then he spoke aloud to Scott. “I heard a little something of this but I did not know that you had anything to do with it. It’s a wonder to me that you are here to tell it.”
Scott misunderstood him. “I admit it was a little hasty,” he replied with dignity, “but I am not ashamed of it.”
The old man laughed aloud. “No, no, you have nothing to be ashamed of. I am only surprised that Foster has not killed you before this. Be on your guard, for he will certainly try it.”
“Tell me about it,” Scott said. “What was going on? I could not make head or tail of it.”
Mr. Sanders thought for a moment. “Must have seemed queer to you. Would to anybody. You see Foster Wait, he was the big fellow, was drunk as he usually is when he has any excuse for it at all. He happened to see Vic Morgan there in the village and could not help poking some fun at her about the logging contract. They all love to tease her just to see her spit fire. She flew into a tantrum just as she always does, ran out to the middle of the street, which is the dividing line between Morgan and Wait territory, and told him what she thought of him and the whole Wait tribe. She said herself that she cursed Foster pretty bad.
“You see she felt safe because the Waits never come past the middle of the street. But, as I said, Foster was drunk and he reached over the line and grabbed her. Probably just wanted to spank the kid for a joke. Vic could not see the joke and bit his thumb. Hurt him pretty bad, I reckon, and made him mad. He has a terrible temper like his father. He grabbed her by the hair for a safe hold and then you came along.”
“But how could those men there at the Morgan store see a Wait treat a member of their family in any such way as that?” Scott protested.
“Because Jim don’t believe in keeping up the feud, and it makes him mad every time Vic stirs things up that way. Probably thought it served her right.”
“So that child is Vic. And she is the only supporter old Jarred has. Who is she, anyway?” Scott asked.
“She is the daughter of Jim Morgan there at the store, but she spends most of her time up on the mountain with her grandfather. She and the old man are great chums.”
“Just one more question,” Scott said, “or rather two more and then I’ll let you go to bed. Why didn’t any of the Waits interfere when I knocked their leader down? I did not know who he was or I might have been scared.”
“Because they don’t like him. He is a regular bully, and they were probably glad to see somebody stand up to him. Besides, they are expecting a good deal from you.”
Scott ignored the last remark. “And my last question. How did you find out about it so quickly?”
The old man hesitated an instant. “That is the part that puzzled me. Vic stopped in here and told me about it herself. That would not have surprised me because she usually tells me everything, but she asked me not to let her grandfather hear about it if I could help it. That is what astonished me. Ordinarily she would have gone to her grandfather on the run and wanted him to kill the whole tribe. He’ll try to do it too if he ever hears about this and his own tribe, too, for letting it happen. I think Vic must have realized that. Didn’t know the kid had so much judgment. She did not say anything about your rescuing her, either,” he mused.
Scott was thoughtful a minute. “Well, I certainly appreciate your help, Mr. Sanders. I think I understand it a little better now, but,” he added slowly, “I don’t think I shall ever understand how a father could sit still and see a drunken man treat his daughter like that.” And he arose to take his leave.
“Old Jarred wouldn’t understand it, either,” Mr. Sanders said, as he rose to show his guest to the door. “I wish you would help me to keep him from finding it out. The kid does not want him to know, and I like her.”
“So do I,” Scott replied. “She fought like a wildcat. I admire nerve in anybody. I admire the old man, too, for holding out alone against that big gang, and I am going to protect him all I can.”
He was out on the porch now, and the old man was standing in the doorway. “Good night, and thank you again.”
“Good night, and be careful,” the old man warned him. “Foster Wait is a dangerous man and he’ll never be satisfied till he gets his revenge for this insult. He won’t stop at anything and you must be on your guard all the time.”
“I’ll try to watch him,” Scott replied simply.
“Do that,” the old man called. “I’ve taken a fancy to you and I don’t want to see you shot for nothing.”
The door closed before Scott could reply and left him alone in the moonlight. He felt his loneliness then in that unfriendly country and was grateful to the old man for his help and his friendship. With a sigh he turned down the mountain road pondering on the strange story he had heard. He could see how the news of this encounter might mean the disruption of the whole Morgan faction if it were ever revealed to old Jarred, and the girl must have seen it too.
He was walking along slowly in this thoughtful mood when he was startled by the sight of an old white horse standing in a patch of moonlight in the middle of the road. He wore a bridle but no saddle, and his head was hanging low as though he were exhausted from hard riding.
Scott’s mind flashed to the old man’s warning against Foster Wait and he jumped behind a point in the bank beside the road. He was not a coward but he did not mean to be shot down by a madman without a struggle. He peeped cautiously through the bushes. At first he could see nothing, but as his eyes became more accustomed to the uncertain light he thought he recognized the body of a person lying under the horse’s muzzle. He watched it carefully for a moment. There was no sign of motion. Surely any one lying in wait for him would not have chosen such a peculiar form of strategy. He threw his caution to the winds and stepped out into the road.
The old horse raised his head and nickered. The raising of the horse’s head let the moonlight fall on the figure in the road and Scott clearly recognized it as a woman. He ran forward and there was Vic Morgan lying unconscious in the road. A small bundle of clothes lay beside her. Evidently she had fallen from the horse, but Scott could not tell how it happened. The faithful old horse was standing guard over her unconscious form; it would hardly have been his fault.
Scott felt her pulse. She wasn’t dead. One leg was twisted under her in an unnatural position. He straightened it out and the bone did not seem to be broken. He was uncertain whether to take her back to Sanders’ cabin or home to her father. It was not much farther to the village and he decided to take her there. He tied the bundle of clothes on his belt and led the horse over to the bank where he could get on.
When he started to pick the girl up she groaned and moved uneasily. He gathered the slight form in his arms and carried her over to the bank. Just as he slipped on to the back of the docile old horse with his clumsy burden the girl opened her eyes. She looked at him sleepily at first, but as consciousness came to her she started up with a violent jerk and stared at him wildly. She evidently did not realize what had happened or just where she was.
“Let go of me,” she commanded sternly, and before Scott realized what she was doing she had boxed his ears till they rang.
He held the wildly struggling little figure as best he could and tried to explain. “Listen, I found you unconscious in the road and I’m only trying to take you home.”
“Don’t you dare hold me,” she snapped angrily, and redoubled her struggles. “I don’t want you to take me home. I’d rather die here than have you touch me.”
Scott was so taken back and so indignant that he felt like dropping her in the road and leaving her, but he could not do that. He gritted his teeth and held her the more firmly. “Well, I am going to take you home, young lady, whether you like it or not, so you might as well stop struggling. You can go back in the road and die afterwards if you want to.”
After an even more violent struggle than before the child’s form suddenly collapsed, and she began to cry. This worried Scott far more than her struggles.
“Don’t cry,” he begged her. “Where are you hurt and how did it happen?”
For a while she was silent save for her sobbing and when she spoke it was not to answer his question. “If you’ve got to take me somewhere,” she said in an uncertain voice, “take me to grandpa.”
Scott stopped the horse and looked at her doubtfully. “Why?” he asked.
“Because I ran away from home and never want to see my father again,” she retorted defiantly. “And it’s none of your business,” she added promptly.
Scott hesitated but he remembered what Mr. Sanders had said about her spending most of her time with her grandfather, and after the events of the afternoon he did not blame her for wanting to run away from her father. “Where does your grandfather live?” he asked.
“Up the mountain,” she replied.
Scott turned the old horse around and he plodded slowly upward. The light was already out when they passed Mr. Sanders’ cabin and all was still. The girl did not deign to speak and Scott maintained a dignified silence. They had traveled almost a mile when the girl spoke suddenly.
“If you say anything to granddad about that fight this afternoon, I’ll kill you.”
Scott had already promised Mr. Sanders not to tell but there was something he wanted to know. “How were you hurt this evening?” he asked again.
“None of your business,” the child snapped.
“Then it may not be my business to keep your secret,” he retorted.
She was silent for a moment as though thinking it over. “The horse shied at a hound on the bank and I fell off,” she replied reluctantly.
“How did it hurt you?” Scott insisted.
Again there was a pause as though she was struggling with herself. “I have a knot on my head and my leg hurts,” she answered grudgingly.
Scott had found out what he wanted to know. “I promise not to tell,” he said.
She did not thank him. A hound barked on the left-hand side of the road. The horse stopped. She called to the hound and he stopped barking instantly.
“Let me down from here,” she commanded.
Scott could see no reason for holding her longer. He balanced her on the horse’s withers and slipped to the ground. He reached up to help her. She tried to avoid him but he caught her and it was well that he did, for when her foot touched the ground she uttered a sharp gasp and sank limply. He thought for a second that she had fainted.
“Call granddad,” she commanded in a voice pinched with pain.
“Hello, there,” Scott called.
There was a noise as of some one cautiously opening a door.
“Grandpa,” the child called weakly.
The door swung wide and the old man strode hurriedly across the yard. Scott was about to meet old Jarred Morgan.
SCOTT MEETS JARRED
Scott let the girl sit on the ground with her back against his knees and watched the famous old man coming to protect his own. He presented a striking figure striding along through the moonlight with hurried dignity. His tall, gaunt form was as erect as that of a man of twenty, and his step as springy. His ever present rifle hung comfortably across the hollow of his arm. He cast one keen glance of suspicion at Scott and knelt beside the girl.
“What is it, Vic?” he asked tenderly.
“I fell off old Dan,” she confessed sheepishly.
“Are you hurt?” he insisted anxiously.
“I have a knot on my head, and I twisted my leg,” she said.
“How under the sun did you come to fall off old Dan?” her grandfather asked, as he laid down his long rifle and gathered her tenderly in his arms. Scott stepped back a pace or two out of earshot.
“I was sitting on him sideways and he shied at a hound on top of the bank down below Sanders’.”
“And this gentleman?” he asked, looking Scott squarely in the eye.
“He found me in the road and brought me home,” she replied shortly.
The old man straightened up with his burden and bowed solemnly to Scott. “I thank you, sir.”
“I certainly am glad to have been of service to you,” Scott replied cordially. “I hope to have the pleasure of calling on you in a day or so if I may, so I will not intrude on you any longer at present.”
Jarred frankly looked him over from head to foot. “If you will be so kind as to wait till I have taken the girl in the house I would like to speak to you for a moment.”
“Certainly,” Scott answered politely. He liked the old man’s frank, straightforward gaze, but it did not seem to him that steady eye looked on him with much favor. Perhaps he was no more grateful than his granddaughter. In less than five minutes he came out again to join Scott. He came straight to the point.
“Sir, I am sorry that I could not invite you in, and I regret that I have to appear discourteous to a man who has rendered me the service you have.” Scott listened in silent astonishment and the old man continued. “I owe you a debt which I can never repay for the kindness you have shown my grandchild, but any man who aids my enemies can never be more to me than a creditor, as much as I would like to have it otherwise.”
Scott was astonished at the old man’s courtly manner and fine English. He did not learn till later that many of these mountaineers were descendants of the old Huguenot families who were driven out of France and had retained a wonderful purity of speech. He answered as earnestly as he could.
“I do not know what you mean, Mr. Morgan, unless you refer to the rumor that I am going to let the logging contract to the Waits.”
“You call it a rumor,” Jarred replied a little doubtfully. “It was reported to me as a fact, apparently a very widely known fact,” he added bitterly.
“I assure you that it is nothing more than a rumor and a false rumor at that. I have not spoken more than half a dozen words to a Wait since I came here.”
“That may all be true enough but did not your superior officer make the promise for you?” Jarred asked with a slight sneer.
The sneer angered Scott but he knew that it was justified under the circumstances.
“I, too, Mr. Morgan, have heard that Mr. Reynolds very rashly made some informal promises to the Waits in regard to that contract. All I can say is that he did it without conferring with me. I am entirely responsible for letting that contract and I do not feel myself in any way bound by what he may have said. I can assure you that there will be no contract let to either the Waits or the Morgans unless they will agree to forget their feud and take the contract together.”
Old Jarred looked him squarely in the eye for a minute before he replied. Then he held out his hand. “I beg your pardon,” he said with dignity. “You must charge my discourtesy to a mistake. I appreciate your frankness and I want to be equally frank. Under those conditions there will be no logging contract let here. Won’t you come in, sir?”
Scott had grasped the proffered hand eagerly. “Thank you, sir. I will not come in now because it is late and you will be busy with the little girl, but I would like to come up and talk things over with you to-morrow.”
“We’ll be glad to see you any time,” Jarred answered cordially.
“Good night, sir. I hope the little girl’s injuries are not serious.”
“She’ll be all right to-morrow, I think. And thank you again for helping her. Good night, sir.”
Scott turned down the mountain and left the old man standing in the moonlight looking after him. He liked old Jarred; he was a man and a gentleman. He did not wonder that he held the Waits at bay almost unaided. One man like that could overawe a whole tribe of cowards such as the Waits appeared to be.
And when Scott paused outside the hotel for a moment before going in, he glanced admiringly up at the silvered mountainside where that staunch old man was nursing his hate with such undaunted courage.
A VISIT TO JARRED’S CABIN
After breakfast the next morning Scott started back up the mountain. It was a beautiful morning. A light haze still lay like a blanket over the valley but the mountain ridges glistened in the sunshine. The woods seemed alive with birds everywhere he looked and many of them were new to him. It was the kind of morning that made a man feel as though he would never get tired, and Scott walked with a light step. The gloom of the night before had left him and everything seemed as bright as the mountain tops. He felt as though everything must come out all right.
As he passed the Sanders’ cabin the old man was sweeping off his little front porch. “Morning,” he called cheerfully, “going up to beard the lion in his den, are you?”
“Yes,” Scott said, “and I am not a bit scared either. I met him last night and I liked him. He seems like a real man.”
“Last night?” the old man repeated doubtfully.
“Yes, your little friend Vic fell off her horse down below here and hurt herself a little and I took her home.”
“Oh!” Mr. Sanders exclaimed as though some mystery had been solved. “That’s how it happened. I was wondering how you got into old Jarred’s house at night. Vic was not hurt bad, was she?”
“Not so bad but what she almost tore me up before I got her home,” Scott replied. And he told the old man what had happened.
“Sounds like Vic. So she was running away from home, was she? She’ll never go back either. I thought something would come of that row yesterday.”
Scott was puzzled. “How is that?” he asked.
“Jim let Foster grab her. She’ll never forgive him for that.”
“I see,” Scott said. “I can’t say that I blame her much, either.”
“Well,” the old man sighed, “it may be wrong to back the girl against her father, but I like Vic and there is no denying she is twice the man Jim is. She is just like her grandfather.”
“I liked him,” Scott exclaimed. “He told me right away last night that he never would give up the feud, but I liked him all the same.”
The old man opened his mouth as though to speak but changed his mind and closed it again. Then after a pause, “Well, stop in when you come down and tell me how Vic is. I’ll be anxious about her.”
Scott hurried on. At the Morgan gate he remembered Mr. Sanders’ advice and shouted before he entered. Old Jarred appeared almost instantly in the doorway. When he saw who it was, he stood the long rifle against the corner beside the door and called to Scott to come in. He met him halfway to the gate with extended hand.
“Come in, sir, come in, sir,” he repeated hospitably. “Vic is a little shy but I reckon she’ll be glad to see you.”
“She seemed anything but glad to see me when I picked her up last night,” Scott laughed. “I thought she was going to tear me up before I could get her home.”
Old Jarred chuckled. “Vic’s a fighter, she is. You see she had heard that rumor about the logging contract and she hates the Waits worse than I do. She feels right ashamed of herself this morning.”
“Well, she needn’t,” Scott said. “I understood why it was and admired her nerve.”
“If the Morgan men had half Vic’s nerve this feud might end,” old Jarred remarked bitterly.
“Why not drop it, anyway?” Scott asked. “I’ll wager there is not one of your worst enemies who would not admit that you did not do it because you were afraid. It seems such a pity to have it go on. It can end in only one way some day.”
Old Jarred stopped in the doorway and looked at him for a moment. Scott had not intended to broach the subject so suddenly and he half expected a burst of anger, but it did not come.
“Yes,” the old man answered sadly, “it can have only one ending. They will get me some day. But as I told you last night I shall never give it up; so let’s not discuss it.” He saw the disappointment in Scott’s face and laid a friendly hand on his shoulder. “I am sorry, my boy, for I know that you mean well. I suppose it does look to you like a wholly unreasonable thing, but you don’t know all the story. You are asking something that it is utterly impossible for me to do. So it is better to drop it.”
Scott could not hide his disappointment but he bowed his respect for the old man’s request. “I hope Vic was not badly hurt last night?” he asked.
Jarred smiled his gratitude. “No, no. Sprained her knee a little, but she is hobbling around this morning and will be all right in a day or so.”
The cabin into which Jarred led the way was a plain oblong structure built of logs. There was but one room which served as bedroom, dining room, living room and kitchen, but it was clean and everything seemed to be in order.
“Pretty neat for an old man’s den,” Jarred chuckled with evident pride. “Vic did that for me this morning in spite of her crippled knee.”
There was an uncertain thump on the back step and Scott turned to see Vic hopping in on one foot. She certainly looked like a different girl from the one he had struggled with the night before. She hopped toward him without embarrassment and held out her hand.
“I am sorry I acted so badly last night,” she said frankly. “I hope that you will forget it. I would have been in a pickle without you.”
Could this be the little wildcat he had picked up in the road the night before? Scott stared at her open-mouthed for a moment before he could find his tongue.
“I could not very well expect anything else when I picked you up and carried you off against your will,” he laughed, when he had finally recovered from his astonishment.
“She says she is going to stay with me now,” Jarred said. “Says she has had a row with her father and is not going back. I don’t know what the trouble is and I’m afraid to look it up for fear I might have to send her back.”
He put his arm affectionately around the child and it was plain to see where he would put the blame. She cast an apprehensive glance at Scott and he knew she was worrying about the promise she had extracted from him the night before. He relieved her mind at once.
“There are one or two things I would like to know before I go on with this timber sale, Mr. Morgan, and I think you can probably answer my questions better than any one else if you will.”
Jarred nodded. “I’ll be glad to help you all I can.”
“I have already told you,” Scott proceeded, “that I am not willing to give the contract to either the Waits or the Morgans unless they will take it jointly. I have heard—and heard it so often that I think it must be true—that Mr. Reynolds promised this contract to the Waits. Of course either of you has a right to bid on it if you want to, and I can’t stop you. I could turn either of you down even though you were the high bidder, but you can easily see in what a disagreeable position that would place me and I don’t want to do it.”
Jarred nodded his comprehension.
“Could either faction put up a bond of fifty thousand dollars as a guaranty?” Scott asked.
Jarred smiled sourly. “Five thousand would strain either of us considerable.”
“Then it will be simple enough,” Scott said. “The law requires that guaranty. But I want to be perfectly certain that it cannot be met.”
“You need not worry about that,” Jarred replied. “It would be altogether impossible.”
Scott felt relieved. Here would be an easy way to get out of the promise Mr. Reynolds had made the Waits. Probably he had not told them anything about the necessity for a bond.
“Then my next question, Mr. Morgan, is this. If an outsider takes that contract will the Waits and the Morgans work for him on the same job?”
“They will not,” Jarred replied decisively, and Vic bristled visibly at the mere thought of it. “Moreover,” Jarred continued, “no outsider will take the contract.”
“Why not?” Scott asked sharply. He had taken this as a threat and it made him bristle a little on his own part.
“Because none of them will touch it for fear of getting mixed up in this feud. They have tried that and no one would risk it.”
“It’s a wonder Mr. Reynolds would not tell me about that!” Scott exclaimed indignantly.
“You would not need to know it if you had followed his plan,” Jarred remarked ironically.
“Then I have one last question. Would the people here interfere with an outsider if he brought his own crew in here?”
“I would not,” Jarred replied promptly, “and I don’t think any of our people would. I can’t answer for the others.”
Scott rose to go. “I certainly appreciate your help, Mr. Morgan, and I feel that I can rely on what you say.”
“Don’t leave a man much chance to do anything,” Jarred said sympathetically.
“Not much,” Scott admitted, “but I am going to get that stuff logged if I have to do it myself.”
“Maybe you won’t always have this trouble,” Jarred said with a twinkle in his cold gray eye and a wink toward the child. “When I’m gone the rest of them will all let the feud drop.”
The child straightened suddenly and the blood rushed to her cheeks, but she caught sight of the twinkle and subsided again with exactly the same twinkle in her own.
Scott took his leave and when he rounded the turn in the road that shut off the view of the Morgan cabin the old man was still standing at the gate with his arm around the girl’s shoulders. To Scott they represented the last link which was holding the old feud together.
SCOTT ASKS FOR BIDS
The next morning a wave of astonishment quickly followed by another of indignation spread over the west mountain with almost incredible rapidity, and a corresponding feeling of relief and satisfaction settled on the family of the Morgans. Quite the reverse of the situation of the day before.
The sole cause of this momentous change was a small sign posted on the village bulletin board. It was couched in somewhat intricate legal language, but it said in effect that bids were now open for the logging contract and any one desiring to submit one must place it in the hands of the supervisor, along with a bond for fifty thousand dollars, within ten days. No one had seen either a Wait or a Morgan read it, but their knowledge of it was universal.
Single horsemen threaded their way along by-roads and paths on the west slope to meet others at cabins scattered here and there over the mountainside, and all these little groups finally assembled at the home of Foster Wait. That worthy gentleman was half intoxicated, as usual, and greeted each sullen new arrival with a detailed blustering account of what he was going to do to the man who had double-crossed him. They did not seem to take much stock in what he said (it looked as though they had perhaps heard that same kind of bluster from him many times before) and their apparent indifference drove him to wilder boasts.
Hopwood sat on the corner of the porch whittling a stick and apparently oblivious to all that was going on around him. He glanced occasionally from one of the group to another but the blank expression on his face never changed. The others paid no attention to him at all except when they wanted to know something. They seemed to be strangely inconsistent. They treated him as an idiot except when they wanted news, but they put implicit confidence in what he said.
“Where did you find this out, Hop?” one of the newcomers asked. It was Sewall Wait, the real leader of the Wait faction. Foster was the nominal ruler by inheritance, but Sewall furnished the brains which Foster lacked. He had to repeat the question before Hopwood seemed to understand.
“It is on the bulletin board in the village,” Hopwood answered in an expressionless tone.
“What did it say?”
Hopwood repeated the gist of the notice.
“Who read it to you?”
Hopwood seemed offended at the string of questions. He did not answer at once but seemed to think better of it. “Mr. Roberts,” he answered in the same dull tone.
Sewall turned towards Foster but came back again to Hopwood. “Where’s that man Reynolds?” he asked.
“Left on the train yesterday,” Hopwood answered promptly.
Sewall walked over to where Foster was raving for the benefit of two late comers. “What’s the use of bawling like a spanked kid?” he asked in a disgusted tone. “That is a formal request for bids posted in regular form by the U. S. Government, and if Hopwood has the lingo right it’s according to law. That man Reynolds is the fellow who made a sucker of you and he went home yesterday. I’m going home myself.”
“Going home?” Foster raved. “And let that little squirt of a supervisor rob us of the contract and probably give it to old Jarred Morgan? No, sir, we’ll go down there and teach him that he can’t trifle with the Waits. That contract is ours and I am going to make him give it to us.”
“And get your ears boxed for your trouble,” Sewall sneered as he walked to his horse. “Fighting the Morgans is one thing, but fighting the U. S. Government is something else.”
Foster was furious at the reference to his boxed ears and started after him with waving fists, but Sewall rode slowly out of the yard without so much as looking at him, and his three sons followed him.
Foster bawled threats and objurgations after them till they were far out of earshot and then returned to rail at the others. “Hopwood!” he shouted.
They all looked at the place where Hopwood had been sitting. It was vacant. Hopwood had disappeared in his usual sudden manner.
One by one the others tired of Foster’s futile raving and rode away till the hereditary leader of the family was left alone. The frenzy into which he had worked himself had sobered him and he looked after the last of his departing followers with anxious humiliation. He knew the trouble; it had happened before. He had talked too much and done too little. He would have to do something to reinstate himself and he owed the supervisor something anyway. This would be a good chance to kill two birds with one stone. He would have preferred some company but there was no chance of that now, and he prepared to go alone.
In the meanwhile Scott was sitting down in the hotel waiting. He knew that nothing could come of this advertisement either on the bulletin board or in the local papers where he had sent it, and he wanted to be about his business. He knew what he was going to do now and he was anxious to be at it, but he knew what a hubbub the news would make among the Waits and he did not want to appear to run away. He had to wait at least till he had seen Foster Wait. It would never do for them to come down and find that he had left the country as soon as he had posted the notice. His duty did not require him to stay there, but his pride did.
He sat on the front porch, from which point of vantage he could bring the whole village under his surveillance at once. He could see the little white square of his posted notice on the bulletin board at the other end of the street, and he watched it curiously to see if any one would read it. He saw two or three from the east slope stop there, and come on to the Morgan store in apparent good humor. No one at all came down from the Wait territory, and Scott was disappointed because they were the ones on whom he was anxious to note the effect.
One hour crawled slowly after another and he patiently watched the lights and shadows creeping over the mountain slopes as the sun rose higher in the heavens. It was after ten o’clock when Scott happened to glance to his right and started to find Hopwood sitting in an inconspicuous place on the end of the porch.
“Where under the sun did you come from, Hopwood?” he exclaimed.
Hopwood spread his hands in both directions as he always did to indicate that he came from everywhere.
“Foster is pretty mad,” he remarked casually.
“Have you seen him?” Scott asked anxiously.
Hopwood nodded. “I saw them all.”
“I suppose they were holding a big family powwow over it and will all be swarming down here after a while to find out what it means.” Scott chuckled at the discomfiture he was causing the Waits, for he had taken a distinct dislike to the whole tribe with the exception of Hopwood.
“No,” Hopwood remarked quietly, “they are not coming, but maybe Foster will get up the nerve to come down alone. He’ll pretty near have to or he will be done for.”
“What do you mean?” Scott asked. “I thought they always went in a gang.”
Hopwood shook his head. “Sewall would not back him up.”
“Who is Sewall?” Scott had never heard of him and he had gathered from what he had heard that Foster was the leader of the Waits.
“He’s the only Wait who has any brains,” Hopwood answered, and added naïvely, “except me.”
Scott glanced at him keenly but saw only the usual blank expression. “By George, Hopwood!” he exclaimed, “I believe you really have more brains than any of them. But what do you mean by saying that Foster will have to come?”
“He’s been saying so much about what he is going to do to you that he will have to do it or they will quit him,” Hopwood explained.
Scott rubbed his hands with satisfaction at the prospect of a meeting with Foster Wait alone.
“Are you sure he will come, Hopwood?”
Hopwood was silent a moment as though waiting for a message. “Yes,” he said confidently. “He’ll be here in about an hour. Don’t let him scare you. He’s a coward.”
“Going to try to scare me into it, is he?” Scott asked, but Hopwood had disappeared and left him to plan alone for his meeting with Foster Wait.
FOSTER WAIT DEMANDS THE CONTRACT
The news that Foster Wait had been boasting among his followers of the terrible things he was going to do to the supervisor and the possibility of his coming down alone to make good his threats gave Scott a new interest in the meeting. He had taken an instinctive dislike to the man at first sight, and everything he had seen and heard of him since had only served to intensify that feeling.
Foster was a much larger man than Scott, but Scott had not needed Hopwood’s warning to tell him that the giant was a coward. He had seen it and felt it. Probably his followers knew it, too, and maybe that was the reason they had refused to back him up. That was one of the things he had wanted to ask Hopwood, but the man of the iron hat always disappeared before he found out half that he wanted to know.
A man appeared suddenly at the end of the village and Scott watched him eagerly, but it proved to be only the mail carrier who had stopped to read the notice. A new notice on the Caspar bulletin board was in itself an event. The time dragged slowly by and still the expected visitor did not arrive. Could Hopwood have failed in his prophecy? He had the reputation of being infallible.
Things always happen when they are least expected, and Foster Wait had ridden his white horse halfway up the village street before Scott saw him. But even then the suspense was not over for the rider stopped at the store instead of coming straight to the hotel as Scott had hoped. Probably he had dropped in there to bolster up his nerve with a little more bragging, Scott thought. If so, he must have had a great deal of bragging to do, for ten minutes elapsed and he had not come out.
Finally some one came out of the store and started for the hotel. Scott was disappointed to see that it was not Foster but one of the boys who stayed at the store. The boy shuffled along slowly looking everywhere except at Scott, and plainly showing that his errand was not to his liking. He headed for the corner of the house as though he were going around to the back door but changed his course suddenly and edged along the front of the porch. His actions were so peculiar that Scott watched him keenly.
The boy finally came to a halt about ten feet away and looked the front of the house over carefully as though he had come to estimate the cost of a new coat of paint.
“Foster says he wants to see you at the store right away,” the boy gulped suddenly without looking at Scott.
Scott was so amused at the boy’s embarrassment that he almost forgot to be indignant at Foster’s message, but he stiffened a little as he realized the impertinence of the command.
“Tell Mr. Wait that I am at the hotel and will be glad to see him any time he cares to come,” Scott said with forced dignity.
“That’s what I told him,” the boy said, as he looked at Scott for the first time. And he seemed very much relieved. He hopped out of the gate and whistled all the way to the store.
Scott waited anxiously for the result of his message. He did not have to wait so long this time. Foster’s angry roar when he heard the boy’s message reached Scott at the hotel, and the next minute Foster lunged out of the door. Three men followed him out on to the store porch, but they stopped there and watched him clamber on to his big white horse. Another small group gathered in front of the Morgan store to see the show.
It was not over seventy yards from the store to the hotel and it would have been easier for Foster to walk, but he was not used to walking and he felt that he would be more impressive on his horse. He started from the store at a gallop but before he had covered the short distance he had slowed down to a walk. He drew up at the gate and scowled at Scott fiercely.
“When I tell people to come to me they come,” he blustered. He knew when he said it that it was the wrong thing to say but he could not help it.
Scott looked at him calmly. “It must be very convenient to have them so well trained,” he remarked.
“You will be trained, too, before I am through with you,” Foster blustered. “That’s what I came for.”
“Then maybe you better come in and have a seat, for it will probably take some time.” Scott pushed forward a chair and smiled at him tauntingly.
Foster hesitated. He felt that he was decidedly getting the worst of it and he was uncertain just how to proceed. He might force him down to the store at the point of his rifle, but he was a coward at heart and he feared the consequences. He slowly dismounted and swaggered up to the porch with all the braggadocio he could muster. Scott rose to meet him. Foster climbed the two steps to the porch and glared down at Scott from his superior height.
“I want to know what you mean by not giving us that logging contract?” he blustered fiercely.
“Won’t you be seated?” Scott said quietly, as he offered him a chair.
“I did not come here to sit down,” Foster growled angrily. “I came here to find out why you did not give us that logging contract.”
“Oh,” Scott said as though puzzled, “I understood you to say that you came to train me to come when you called.”
“I’ll do that, too, before I’m through with you,” Foster exclaimed, furiously. “Are you going to answer my question or will I have to beat it out of you?”
Scott looked him calmly in the eye a moment and smiled contemptuously. “You want to know why I did not give this contract to ‘us’? Just whom do you mean? Who is ‘us’? You forget that you are a stranger to me.”
Foster stared at him open-mouthed. Then the blood rushed to his already purple face, his neck swelled and his whole frame shook with the fury of his passion. His words were almost inarticulate. “You know me, you insolent hound. Everybody knows Foster Wait and a lot of ’em to their sorrow. Answer that question before I send you after old Jarred Morgan. I’ll teach you to insult a Wait!”
Scott knew of Foster’s furious temper and he had been doing his best to arouse it. He wanted him to fight and he knew that he would not do it except in a fit of passion. He knew his danger and he watched the man’s every move as he gave his temper one more prod.
“Talk sense, Mr. Wait, if you want an answer from me,” he sneered. “Threats do not scare me any more than they do old Jarred Morgan.”
Foster gave a roar of rage and threw forward his long rifle. He would undoubtedly have shot Scott as he had shot several other men when worked up to an uncontrollable passion, but Scott had been watching for just such a move.
He had already grasped hold of a short piece of pipe which he had leaned up against a pillar of the porch in case of emergency, and when Foster threw forward his rifle he struck the barrel with all his might. The unexpected blow knocked the weapon out of Foster’s hands, and the bullet went through the roof of the porch.
The suddenness of it all bewildered Foster for a moment and before he had fully recovered, Scott struck him a crushing blow on the jaw. The blow staggered him, but he quickly recovered his balance and threw himself upon Scott with the fury of a wild animal. He was usually a coward but now he was a crazy man, blinded by his passion, and did not realize what he was doing.
His enormous size and great reach gave him a decided advantage in one way but it was partially offset by Scott’s skill and coolness. If he should succeed in landing one of his terrific but wild swings or in grappling his opponent the fight could have but one ending. Scott’s only chance was to keep out of his reach and hammer him into submission. Foster fought with all the wild fury of a madman; Scott, with the coolness of a boxing master.
Again and again Scott landed blows which would have felled a smaller man. Some of them staggered this giant a little but most of them seemed to have no effect at all. Scott was handicapped by the necessity of keeping entirely out of his reach. A grazing blow on the side of his head warned him that if one of them should land squarely he would be done for.
In attempting to avoid one of Foster’s mad rushes Scott stepped off the edge of the porch and fell on his back on the ground. Instantly Foster jumped for his head with both hobnailed boots. For the fraction of a second Scott, stunned by the fall, saw this demon hovering over him, and the sight almost sickened him. But he recovered just in time to roll suddenly over out of reach and spring to his feet. Foster, dazed by the escape of his victim, tripped and fell. Scott could have jumped on the lumbering giant there on the ground but he had been taught to play the game fair. Moreover, he did not want this man to have any excuse. He wanted to thrash him as he had never been thrashed before and make him acknowledge it.
The men from both stores had edged up to the fence and almost forgotten the dead line in their excitement.
Scott let the giant scramble to his feet unmolested, and paid dear for his chivalry. He had counted on this man’s dissipation sapping his endurance. It was beginning to tell on him. His breath was coming in great choking gasps but his mountain training had made him tough. Moreover, he realized that his strength was waning, and with that knowledge his blind fury gave way to craft.
Scott had always boxed according to the rules of the ring, and he was taken entirely off his guard when Foster suddenly sprang some lumberjack tactics and landed his hobnailed boot squarely in his stomach. For a second everything turned black before him and he staggered like a drunken man. As in a haze he saw the giant spring forward to finish him off. With the instinct of the fighter, he side-stepped and the instant’s reprieve brought back his wandering senses and his wind.
When he saw the slight effect of his blows earlier in the fight he had devoted himself almost entirely to defense and saved his strength till Foster should be tired out. Now he took the offensive with all his power. He rained blow after blow on the gasping giant with bewildering rapidity and finally, seeing the man was almost exhausted, he threw every ounce of strength into a blow square on the point of his chin.
The big fellow staggered an instant and sank limply in a lifeless heap. Scott leaned panting against the fence. He was almost exhausted. Foster moved uneasily and raised himself groaning on one elbow.
“Are you through training me to come when you call?” Scott asked between his gasps for breath.
Foster rose slowly and wobbled towards the gate without a word. Not a word of sympathy came from his friends and they watched him clamber painfully on to his horse without offering any assistance. He rode slowly down the village street with drooping head, a thoroughly beaten man.
The two groups of men walked silently back to the stores and left Scott still leaning against the fence, weak and sick, but filled with a feeling of intense satisfaction.
SCOTT MAKES A TRIP TO WASHINGTON
Scott leaned wearily on the picket fence for a long time after the old white horse had carried Foster out of sight up the mountain road. He did not bear any trace of the fight on his face, but his body was sore and he was very nearly exhausted. He could not but smile as he stood there with heaving chest to think how far he had departed from the policy of strict neutrality which he had laid down for himself. But from the remarks which Hopwood had dropped that morning he doubted whether it would make very much difference to the Waits.
Well, it was done now, anyway, no matter what the Waits might think. He had shown them that he had no intention of running away, and he felt that he could now go about his own business without running the risk of being called a coward. As he turned toward the hotel he saw Hopwood leaning on the corner of the fence.
“Well, Hopwood, did you see the big fight?” he asked smilingly.
“That was a good job,” Hopwood replied soberly.
“Shall I have to fight all of the rest of the Waits now, Hopwood?” Scott asked a little anxiously. He did not want to waste any more time waiting for these people or fighting them.
Hopwood shook his head. “Sewall told him he would get his ears boxed again. They will be glad of it.”
“Listen, Hopwood. Is Sewall going to try to take the contract?” Scott asked earnestly.
“No,” Hopwood replied emphatically. “How could he? There is not that much money in the whole country.”
“I did not think there was myself but I wanted to make sure of it. Could you deliver a message for me, Hopwood?”
Hopwood looked up eagerly. Collecting news and carrying messages were things he liked best to do. He did not have to speak. Scott could see that he was more than willing.
“I have some business I want to attend to, Hopwood,” Scott continued, “and I’ll have to go away for a couple of days. If I go now it will look as though I have thrashed Foster and then run away. I want you to tell Foster Wait, or maybe it would be better to tell Sewall, if he is the real head of the family, that I am going away for three days but will be back here Saturday. You can tell the same thing to Jarred, too, so that they will all know it. Do you think that you have it straight now?”
Hopwood nodded gravely. “I always get messages straight,” he replied proudly. “You are sure you will be back Saturday?” He had taken a strange liking to this man who had treated him like a rational being and thrashed his surly uncle.
“Yes, Hopwood, I’ll certainly be here Saturday without fail, and,” he added, for he could see how the friendship pleased Hopwood, “I would like to see you again pretty soon after I get back.”
He might as well have saved himself the trouble, for Hopwood had gone to deliver his precious message. Scott sighed when he saw that the man was gone. He could not get used to his unexpected movements. He wasted no more thoughts on it now. The dinner bell rang, on time for once, and the station agent came in the gate.
“Hear you beat up Foster Wait,” he grinned.
“Yes,” Scott admitted. “He forced it on me but I was glad of the opportunity. Who told you?”
“One of the Wait boys told me, but that would have been unnecessary after I saw Foster.”
“I wonder what the Waits will think of it?” Scott asked. He was anxious to have some one back up Hopwood’s opinion.
“They are as tickled as you are,” the agent answered confidently. “He is always bragging, and none of them like him. He’ll probably have to quit the country after this.”
Scott was glad to hear it. That would leave him free to carry out his plans. He told the agent of the trip he was going to make, and spent the afternoon busily working over a bunch of legal-looking papers. Four o’clock found him on the afternoon train headed north, an impatient traveler.
Scott had not told any one where he was going. If he had said that he was going to Washington, they would have thought that he was running away as the other fellows had done. But he was going to Washington, and when he got there he lost no time in going to the Forest Service office and to the chief of his division.
Mr. Johns seemed very much surprised to see him back so soon. “Well, Burton,” he laughed, “I didn’t think that they could put the run on you, not so soon, anyway.” He laughed, but at the same time it was plain that he was disappointed.
“Well, they have,” Scott replied, “but I am going back.”
Mr Johns brightened at once. “That sounds better,” he said heartily.
“There are one or two things about that logging contract I want to make sure of,” Scott said. “As I understand it, those logs have been sold and we have contracted to have them delivered at a certain time.”
“That’s right,” Mr. Johns agreed. “It is rather an unusual thing to do, but we were forced to it in this instance or we could not have bought that piece of land for the forest at all.”
“And now,” Scott continued, “we are responsible for the delivery, and no one will take the logging contract.”
Mr. Johns frowned. “I thought that man Reynolds told me that he had arranged for the logging contract before he left.”
“Maybe he thought he had,” Scott replied bitterly, “but he hadn’t.”
“Don’t be bashful in saying what you think about him,” Mr. Johns urged. “He was a man we took on temporarily, and we’ve let him out again.”
“It is a good thing,” Scott said. “I think I should have killed him myself if he had stayed there. Do you know the situation down there, Mr. Johns?”
“No,” Mr. Johns replied, “I am beginning to think that I do not. Two men were sent there before you were. Both of them seemed to be getting along fine according to their reports, but one suddenly resigned and the other asked for a transfer. Neither of them gave a very satisfactory reason.”
Scott grinned. “I can tell you the reason. There is an A1 feud down there. Those fellows tied up with one party, and the other one ran them out of the country.”
Mr. Johns was intensely interested and insisted on knowing all the details. “But why not ignore both factions and give the contract to an outsider? That is altogether possible.”
“That’s what I thought,” Scott said, “but everybody knows of that feud, and no one will touch the contract for fear of getting mixed up in it.”
Mr. Johns rubbed his forehead in perplexity. “And unless we can deliver those logs on time we’ll lose our option on that piece of land. What are you going to do about it?” He looked at Scott helplessly.
“Resign like the rest of them,” Scott grinned.
“Oh, come now, Burton,” Mr. Johns remonstrated. “I did not expect that of you. You have the reputation of being resourceful and a fighter. You are not going to resign and let yourself be run out of the country at the first sign of trouble, are you?”
“Yes,” Scott replied firmly, “I’m going to resign but I’m not going to be run out of the country. I want to resign and take that logging contract myself.”
Mr. Johns looked at him a moment in open-mouthed astonishment. “Do you mean that?” he asked eagerly.
Scott nodded. “If it will be all right with you. I am going to put in my bid. I had some experience logging my own timber last winter, you know, and I’d be willing to spend my last dollar to beat that feud down there.”
His chief thought a moment. “It’s a bit irregular, and I’ll have to take it up with the forester, but under the circumstances I believe it can be done.”
The upshot of the matter was that Scott started back for North Carolina the next day with the assurance that if no one else made a satisfactory bid, his resignation would be accepted and he would be awarded the contract.
Three days before he had been hoping for some one to bid on that same contract; now he was praying with all his heart that no one would.
SCOTT HEARS SOME RUMBLINGS OF THE OLD FEUD
Scott stopped for a day in Asheville to make some business arrangements for starting the logging operations in case he was awarded the contract and then hurried back to Caspar. He found Hopwood, who had constituted himself his faithful follower, waiting for him in the corner of the hotel yard.
“I knew you’d come back,” Hopwood remarked in a tone of extreme satisfaction.
“Why?” Scott asked. “Did any one think that I was not coming back?”
Hopwood nodded. “They all said you had run away like all the others, and Foster has been taking most of the credit for it.”
Scott ground his teeth. “I suppose that will set him up in business again with the rest of the family.”
“A lot of them believed it, but now that you have come back he will probably have to leave the country himself. None of them will believe him now.”
“Well, tell them that I have come back, Hopwood, and I’ve come back to stay. They will find out before I am through that I am not very badly scared after all.”
“Has any one taken the logging contract?” Hopwood asked eagerly. “It would help me if I could predict it right,” he added wistfully.
Scott looked at him curiously a moment. The more he saw of Hopwood the harder it was for him to believe him an idiot. In any event it was perfectly clear that he was devoted to him and he decided to make him his confidant. It could not do him much harm if the man of the iron hat did not keep faith in this and it might make him a closer friend.
“Yes, Hopwood, some one has bid on it. You can safely predict that the logging will begin in ten days, for—but you must not publish this part of it—if no one else takes the job I am going to resign and take it myself.”
“Oh!” Hopwood exclaimed with a gasp of satisfaction. “I won’t tell them but you don’t know how much good it will do me to know that.” And without waiting to make his usual mysterious disappearance he walked quickly into the woods to carry the news of Scott’s return.
Scott was not surprised to find that no one had responded to his call for bids. He had found out in Asheville that there was practically no chance of any one showing any interest in it. He hoped no one would. He had to confide his plans to the station agent because he had to send a number of telegrams. Probably Caspar had never done such a business in telegrams before in all its existence, even when the feud was at its height.
For the next week Scott devoted all his time to a careful study of the area which was to be logged. From breakfast till supper-time every day he hiked over the mountains, running out the boundary lines, sketching the topography and tentatively locating the logging roads. This work led him through the territory and by the cabins of many of the Waits but he did not see any of them. They seemed to be sulking in their tents.
It seemed to Scott to be a strange country. Long straight slopes stretched unbroken to the high, level ridges. They were grooved every quarter mile or less with shallow draws and not far below the ridge in these draws were springs which sent tiny, crystal-clear streams of ice-cold water trickling down into the valley. The low places and also many of the higher slopes were covered with a solid mat of rhododendron and laurel, so thick that a man was obliged to break or cut his way through it. It was the densest growth he had ever seen outside of the cane brakes of Florida. The great masses of white flowers made a wonderful sight, but after he had tried to run a line through the stuff for a couple of days he could no longer see the flowers.
But the ridges were the strangest of all. They were narrow but straight and level, so level that the old Indian trails followed them rather than the valleys. And the big red oaks came right up to the top. Only at long intervals did the ridges dip to a low pass; otherwise, they stretched for miles as level as the floor and were clear of underbrush.
It was on one of these level, open trails that Scott had the scare of his life. He had been familiar with razorback hogs in Florida. He had seen one tear a hound to pieces one day and had learned to fear the animals as he feared nothing else in the forest. Tall, thin and capable of great speed, they were entirely different from any hogs he had ever seen at home. Their heads were half as long as their bodies, with large tusks and powerful jaws, and they were fearless. Once they had made up their minds to charge, nothing would turn them. One had to kill them or get out of the way.
One morning as Scott was going out to work he saw an old sow with a litter of very small pigs in a clump of bushes beside the trail, and he gave her a wide berth. That evening on the way home he had forgotten all about her. He was absorbed in his plans for the logging job and wholly oblivious of his surroundings. The razorback never entered his head.
A large red oak three feet in diameter had fallen across the trail and Scott vaulted it mechanically, hardly knowing what he was doing. His feet had scarcely struck the ground when he heard a vicious “woof,” and the old sow darted out from under the other end of the log headed straight for him under a full head of steam.
Scott was frightened as he had never been frightened before. With one terrified spring he vaulted back over the log. That would have been sufficient protection from an ordinary pig, but a fallen tree meant nothing to a razorback. She cleared the tree without the slightest hesitation and was close behind him.
This unexpected jump so terrified Scott that he bolted like a frightened horse. He had never been a very fast runner but now he turned straight down the side of the mountain and made a new life record. It seemed to him that his feet were hitting the ground only about every thirty feet. Below him he saw a stream with high, steep banks, and at one point a tree had fallen across it. He made madly for that spot, somehow managed to stay on the log, tripped and fell in a heap on the other side. He scrambled to his feet expecting to find those ugly tusks at his very throat only to find instead that the old sow was fully satisfied with his retreat and was already trotting back up the slope to her babies.
Scott could not help laughing as he thought what a great show it would have been for a spectator. The conqueror of Foster Wait breaking the world’s record in his endeavors to get away from an angry pig. And yet it might have been serious, and he knew that he would run as fast or faster next time.
He was getting himself together for the climb back up the ridge when he noticed a deeply worn trail along the edge of the little creek. He thought at first that it was made by the razorbacks and the cattle which roamed around the mountains in considerable numbers, but he was surprised to find that the tracks were made by men, and some of them very recently.
Where could such a well-worn path as that lead to away up there on the mountainside? It might be a short cut over the ridge into the Tennessee valley, but why should so many people be traveling that way on foot? These people always rode horseback whenever they were going any considerable distance. He determined to follow it up and find out for himself. It was on the forest and it was his business to know about it.
The trail run obliquely upward across the face of the mountain and in the next draw it ducked into a dense patch of rhododendron. There it was very evident that the trail had been built for a purpose. It was cut out clear two feet wide and had been used so long that the stubs had all been worn down smooth.
While he was examining it he was startled by the sound of approaching voices, raised high in argument if not in an actual quarrel. At first the voices were too distant for the words to be distinguished. Scott had no reason to avoid these people whoever they might be, and it never occurred to him to hide till he caught a sentence distinctly.
“I tell you, Foster, it won’t do. You were licked and you are done for, and that is all there is about it.”
Scott did not recognize the voice, but he had every reason to believe that they were talking about him and he wanted to hear the rest of it. He slipped back of a big oak tree beside the trail and listened. The voices came nearer till he could distinguish both sides of the conversation.
“I know it would work.” It was Foster speaking now, and his voice was thick and sullen. “Why wouldn’t it work? If I started a fight, the Morgans would have to fight; and if they fought, the Waits would have to fight, and then we would clean them up. It’s time they were cleaned up. They kept us from getting that logging contract and they’ll keep us from getting anything else. I’m for cleaning them up, I tell you.”
“And I’m telling you that it won’t work,” the other voice answered curtly.
“Why won’t it?” Foster persisted. “Are you afraid of them?”
“Afraid of them?” the other exclaimed contemptuously. “No, but I am not fool enough to fall for your scheme. And neither will the others. You’re down and out. You know it and you think you can get back on your feet by starting a fight. Well, you can’t.”
Scott peeped around the tree and saw them standing at the entrance of the tunnel into the rhododendron. One, as he already knew, was Foster Wait. The other was a short man of medium build, and rather clean-cut features. He seemed wide awake and altogether different from the other Waits he had seen. Instinctively he felt from what Hopwood had said that this man must be Sewall Wait, the brains of the family.
The smaller man was staring silently at Foster with a manner showing both domination and disgust. Foster shifted uneasily from one foot to the other and looked uncertainly about him. He was unable to look Sewall steadily in the eye, but his braggart habit finally came to his rescue.
“Well, it doesn’t matter so much what you think. It is up to me to decide and if I say fight, you will have to fight,” and he swaggered off down the trail up which Scott had come.
Sewall looked after him contemptuously for a moment, shrugged his shoulders, and turned into a faint trail which led straight down the mountain.
When they were both out of sight Scott came out of his hiding place. He decided to investigate the trail at some other time, and climbed back to the ridge. What he had just heard gave him something to think about. He knew now that there was nothing neutral about him. His sympathies were all with old Jarred and he hurried home to warn him of his danger.
SCOTT HAS AN INTERVIEW WITH SEWALL
The next day Scott was still worrying over what he had overheard on the mountain the evening before. He did not know what to do. At first he had determined to carry a warning straight to old Jarred Morgan, but what good would that do? Jarred could not stop the Waits from starting a fight even if he tried, and no one had ever heard of his trying.
He wanted to see Hopwood and ask his advice but for once Hopwood did not show up when he was wanted. He wasted all the forenoon watching for him. Then he suddenly remembered what Hopwood had said about Sewall being the real leader of the Waits and determined to go and see him at once. He had two reasons for going. He wanted to see where he stood on the question of the feud, and he wanted to know if it was he who was talking to Foster the day before.
Immediately after lunch he started for the cabin which the agent pointed out to him as a speck up on the mountainside. On the way up he saw Foster approaching on his white horse, but Foster evidently did not care to meet the man who had given him such a thrashing and turned off into the woods. He had his rifle with him and Scott did not feel comfortable till he was well past the spot. He half expected to hear a shot and had an uncomfortable feeling that some one was aiming at a spot between his shoulder blades.
When he came in sight of the cabin he was surprised at its appearance. All the Wait cabins he had seen were slovenly and seedy-looking, as though no one had taken any interest whatever in them since they were first built. This one was very different. The inevitable picket fence, which Scott had now learned was to keep out the wandering razorbacks, was neatly whitewashed. The house was newly painted and the roof had recently been shingled. There was real sod in the yard and there was a bed of gorgeous flowers beside the porch.
Scott stopped at the gate and shouted. A middle-aged woman came to the door and looked surprised at the sight of a stranger. Scott’s surprise was even greater. Instead of the regulation Mother Hubbard which all the women in that country seemed to wear, this woman was neatly dressed in a blue house dress and a white apron. She quickly recovered from her surprise and smiled pleasantly.
“Won’t you come in?” she said sweetly. “This is one house,” she explained, “where you don’t have to stand outside and shout.”
Scott thought at first that she was criticizing his manners, but he saw from the way she said it that she was stating this only as a matter of pride.
“I am glad to know there is one such place,” Scott said. “I was told that it is always safer to shout, and they did not tell me that there were any exceptions. Does Mr. Sewall Wait live here?”
“Yes,” she replied offering him a chair. “Please have a seat and I’ll call him. It is such a beautiful day that I am sure you will find it pleasanter here on the porch than inside.”
Scott was a little disappointed for he would have liked to see what the inside of this house was like, but he thanked her and took the offered chair. He did not have long to wait. He heard quick footsteps inside the house, and the man he had seen with Foster stepped briskly out on to the porch.
Scott arose. “Mr. Wait, my name is Burton, and I am the new supervisor at Caspar.”
Sewall had sized him up at a single glance and extended his hand. “Glad to know you, Mr. Burton,” he smiled mischievously. “I have heard of you before from my cousin Foster.”
Scott blushed like a schoolgirl. “I regret that I was forced into a quarrel with your cousin, but I assure you, Mr. Wait, that it was not of my seeking.”
“Pshaw!” Sewall exclaimed heartily. “Don’t let that worry you. Everybody around here knows Foster, and I for one am glad that you thrashed him.”
“I am glad that the rest of you feel that way,” Scott said. “But it was a shame that I had to do it when I was trying so hard to be absolutely neutral. When I heard of this feud, Mr. Wait, I determined not to get mixed up in it as the others had done. Unfortunately, Mr. Reynolds was ignorant of both the feud and the regulations, and he made promises to your family which the law would not permit me to keep. It is illegal to let a contract without submitting it to bids and requiring a bond. I admit frankly that I was glad of it, because I did not want to see either party get it as long as this feud exists.”
“I don’t blame you,” Sewall agreed sadly. “It would just add to the mess that already exists.”
“That is the reason I came to see you, Mr. Wait,” Scott exclaimed quickly. “It seems to me a pity for this feud to continue indefinitely. I heard that you had some influence with your family and I want to see if we can’t figure out some way to bring it to an end.”
Sewall shook his head sadly. “Did you ever see old Jarred Morgan?” he asked hopelessly.
“Yes,” Scott said. “I have met him and I admit that he turned my proposition down cold.”
“That’s the trouble,” Sewall interrupted a little impatiently. “He will never give up. He and that little vixen of a Vic nurse the feud like an only child.”
“That’s true enough,” Scott admitted. “But they are in the minority and I cannot blame them much. I cannot help but admire the old man’s gameness in a way. I thought possibly the larger party could afford to make the overture. You are an educated man, Mr. Wait, and you must see the futility of it.”
“See it? Why, of course, I see it,” Sewall exclaimed bitterly. “I am the only one of the Waits who had the ambition to drag myself out of the Middle Ages in which the rest of them are living, and I’d make them drop that feud to-morrow if I could. Foster is the only one on this side who wants to keep it up. The rest would drop it quick enough if old Jarred would let them, but as long as he holds out, their pride will not let them give it up. And what would be the use of our quitting if Jarred did not?”
“That’s true,” Scott sighed, “but I have not given up hope if you are willing. I want to try again to persuade Jarred.”
“Go to it,” Sewall replied gloomily, “but you will not succeed.”
“Maybe not,” Scott said, “but I want to try. Can I count on you to avoid any new outbreaks while I am trying?”
“There will never be any more outbreaks if I can prevent it, Mr. Burton. And,” he added confidently, “I can prevent it unless Foster runs wild, and I doubt if he has the courage for that.”
“Well,” Scott said, as he rose to go, “I certainly shall appreciate your help, and if I can ever be of any service to you, please let me know.”
He left with the feeling that there was at least one man in the Wait tribe, and he marveled all the way home to think how this one individual had raised himself so far above all the others in spite of his surroundings. It made his own accomplishments seem small.
Then he thought of the lonely old man on the other mountain, just as good a man and just as intelligent as Sewall. With the leadership in the hands of two such men there surely ought to be a reasonable way out. He determined to try once more in spite of the old man’s request not to mention it.
When he came to the Morgan cabin it was unnecessary to shout. Jarred was sitting on the front steps and rose to welcome him. He even came part way to the gate.
“Well,” he said with a smile, “I see you found a way to keep the contract out of the hands of the feudists even if you had to thrash one of them to do it.”
Scott laughed at the old man’s humor. “It does seem like a strange way to keep neutral,” he admitted, “but it was forced on me.”
The smile left Jarred’s face and he looked at Scott gravely. “Yes, I know it was, and let me give you a warning. Keep your eyes open from now on. That fellow will shoot you in the back if he gets a chance.”
“I believe he would,” Scott agreed, “but I was talking to one of the Waits this morning who seemed to be altogether different.”
“Sewall?” Jarred asked quietly.
“Yes, I heard that he was the brains of the party and I went up to see him.”
Jarred nodded. “Yes, Sewall is different. If all the Waits were like Sewall there would not be any feud.”
Scott took advantage of the old man’s calm mood. “You asked me not to say anything more about dropping the feud, but I want to say something about it just once more if you will let me.”
Old Jarred’s face turned dark with sudden anger and Scott saw that he was going to be ordered out with little ceremony. But the order did not come. For a moment there was intense silence. Then the old man spoke, and his voice was quiet and rather sad.
“I know what you would say, but go ahead.”
Scott was so surprised that he could scarcely find the words now that he had the opportunity. Then he blurted out his words like a schoolboy.
“It is only this, Mr. Morgan. I could not help thinking when I found out what sort of men you two were, what a pity it was for you to hold out as a matter of pride till one of you is killed, and Mr. Wait said that he would be glad to drop the whole thing if you would. Is there no way out of it?”
Again Jarred’s face darkened but the wave of temper passed as the other had done.
“I suppose that is the way it looks to a stranger,” he said slowly. “I suppose I seem like a stubborn old fool, all pride and nothing to back it up, keeping the whole country in arms for the fun of it.”
“No, it’s not quite as bad as that,” Scott interrupted quickly.
“Maybe you would not say it in those words,” Jarred replied quietly, “but it must be about what you think. If any one else had tried to tell me what you have I would have ordered him off the place, but I like you and I am deep in your debt. I am going to tell you something that I have not mentioned before in fifteen years.” He paused as though it were a great effort to break his prolonged silence. Then he continued with enforced calm:
“Foster Wait shot my daughter in cold blood just fifteen years ago, shot her just to keep the feud from dying out. He brought it to life again,” he concluded grimly. “Now it will live till one of us dies.”
They both sat motionless for a minute staring at the opposite mountain in silence. The old man was choked with his own suppressed fury. Scott was awed by the significance this statement gave to the conversation which he had overheard in the woods the day before. What if this cold-blooded murderer should shoot Vic this time to keep the feud alive?
He knew that he dared say nothing more to Jarred. In fact, he could think of little more to say. “Thank you for your confidence in me, Mr. Morgan,” he said sincerely. “I promise not to mention the matter again.”
Jarred did not seem to hear him. His eyes were still fixed on the opposite mountain, and when Scott looked back from the turn in the road he had not moved.
HOPWOOD TAKES A TRIP
For the next few days Scott was too busy to think anything of Foster Wait’s possible revenge. In fact he almost forgot the feud altogether. The time for the return of bids had come and he had been awarded the contract. He had wired in his resignation to Washington and was once more in the thick of a logging job.
He wired to Asheville where he had already made his preliminary arrangements, and in two days carloads of men, lumber and supplies began to arrive. He had hired a friend of his old foreman to boss the job, another Scotchman, MacAndrews, who knew the country and the logging methods. Camp buildings of rough lumber sprang up like mushrooms in the valley near the railroad tracks, and the skid roads began to creep slowly up the mountain in the shallow draws toward the ridge.
The log chute was of particular interest to Scott because he had never seen one. In that particular place there was a small side valley, larger than most of the shallow draws, and the log chute was built along the little stream in the bottom of it. It consisted of two strings of logs laid side by side on short ties and hewed flat on the inside to form a rough trough. The logs were peeled and rolled into it far up on the mountain and gravity brought them down with the speed of a toboggan.
Near the bottom of it they built a contraption which they called a bear trap to break the speed of the logs before they came out on to the pile. It was a heavy log, one end of which was raised on a tripod over the chute while the heavy butt end rested in the chute. Scott never tired of watching the great logs rushing down at tremendous speed only to butt this big swinging log high in the air and slide gently out of the chute, their force all spent.
Every now and then the silence of the valley was broken by a dull boom as the long saws chewed their way steadily through the great trunks and the majestic monarchs of the forest plunged headlong down the side of the mountain over which they had stood guard for centuries. And down the steep skid roads in the shallow draws the teams were hauling long trains of logs chained end to end.
Everything was running as smoothly as a watch under MacAndrews’ efficient management, and Scott would have been serenely happy but for one thing. He had not seen Hopwood for three weeks. Not since the first day of his return from Washington. And he had come to rely on Hopwood more than he realized. There was no one else who could keep him posted. The agent told him what little he heard, and he visited old man Sanders one evening. But without Hopwood they were almost as much in the dark as he was.
One evening Sewall came to see him at the hotel which was considered neutral ground. He, too, was worrying about Hopwood.
“So you have not seen him, either,” he said, as he was preparing to leave. “I do not know what to make of it. He never disappeared this way before. I have searched for him everywhere on this side of the mountain but no one has seen him. No one has seen him on the other side.”
“Have you any suspicions about it?” Scott asked.
Sewall hesitated a moment. “He seems to have taken quite a shine to you and I thought maybe you had sent him on an errand somewhere. I wanted to find out before I said anything else.”
“Now what are you going to do?” Scott asked anxiously.
Again Sewall hesitated.
“This is not mere curiosity on my part,” Scott added. “I look upon Hopwood as a good friend of mine, and I am as anxious to find him as you are. If you have any theory and I can do anything to help I want to do it.”
Sewall still hesitated. “I don’t see how you can help me just now and I have not told any one my suspicions, but if you are a friend of his I might as well tell you what I am thinking. I can’t lower your opinion of Foster much. I have no basis for my suspicions, but I can’t help wondering if Foster has anything to do with it. He knows that Hopwood does not like him and he may have got him out of the way to keep him from working against him. I suppose you know how Hopwood came to be crazy?”
Scott nodded. “I heard about it,” he said. “But surely Foster would not do him any farther injury when he is already responsible for that.”
“Foster is desperate now,” Sewall replied, “and he would do anything. By the way, you want to keep on your guard yourself. He’ll never forgive you for thrashing him.”
“I am watching him the best I can,” Scott replied. “I wish you would let me know what you find out about Hopwood, and I’ll send him right to you if I find him.”
Sewall left and Scott sat pondering over the depths of Foster’s villainy. It did not seem possible that any one could do such a thing as that in cold blood, or that a man who had such a reputation could be left at large. He glanced up impatiently and saw Hopwood sitting on a chair near the door.
“Why, Hopwood,” Scott exclaimed as he jumped forward joyously to greet him, “where have you been all this time?”
Hopwood’s face beamed with pleasure as he recognized the sincerity of Scott’s greeting, and he spread out his hands in his old characteristic gesture.
“Sewall was just here looking for you. He has searched all that side of the mountain, and I have been inquiring for you on this side. You’ve had us worried.”
“I saw him,” Hopwood replied laconically.
“Did you tell him where you had been?”
“No,” Hopwood said, “he did not see me.”
“You should have spoken to him, Hopwood. He is putting in all his time looking for you.”
“I did not know that he cared that much about me,” Hopwood replied rather wistfully. “I’ll go right to him.”
“You should,” Scott urged him earnestly, “for he cares a great deal about you, and so do I. You ought not to scare us that way.”
Hopwood looked a little hurt. “I was trying to do something for you. That was why I went away.”
“For me!” Scott exclaimed in astonishment. “How is that?”
“Foster will shoot you if he gets a chance,” Hopwood replied confidently. “I went over to the county seat to try to get him arrested. If he was in jail it would be safer around here. It will never be safe while he is here.”
“But you can’t get a man arrested for what you think he is going to do, Hopwood,” Scott remonstrated.
“No, not for what he _has_ done, either,” Hopwood replied bitterly. “He killed a little girl here years ago, Jarred’s daughter. It was not a fight, just plain murder. It was for that I wanted them to arrest him.”
Scott looked at him wonderingly. “What did they say?”
“They laughed at me,” Hopwood replied angrily. “Said they could not arrest any one on the word of a crazy man.”
“Did you have on your iron hat?” Scott asked, a little amused in spite of himself.
A rare smile came over Hopwood’s face. “There’s where I made my mistake,” he replied. “I forgot that I had it on.”
“Why do you wear it, Hopwood?” Scott asked, his curiosity getting the better of him.
Hopwood looked at him thoughtfully. “I’ll tell you some day. I’m not quite ready yet. What did Sewall think?” he asked shrewdly.
“He thought that I might have sent you on an errand or that Foster might have done something to you.”
An angry scowl spread over Hopwood’s brow. It was the first time Scott had ever seen such an expression there. “Foster will never do anything to me. If I did not have more sense than they think I have, it would be I who would do something to Foster.” It did not sound to Scott much like the speech of a half-wit.
“Well, you’d better go see Sewall now. It will relieve his mind.”
Hopwood started for the door without comment.
Scott had not expected him to go so suddenly and called after him, “I certainly appreciate what you tried to do for me, Hopwood, and I would like to see you to-morrow if you get a chance. I have not had any news since you left.”
It was pathetic to see how grateful Hopwood was for any appreciation. He stopped a moment in confusion. “I’ll be here,” he blurted with evident embarrassment and hurried out.
“He may be crazy,” Scott thought, “but if he is, it is a pity that there are not more crazy people in the world. If it were not for that iron hat I would not believe it for a minute.”
DICK TURNS GENTLEMAN
These repeated warnings against Foster Wait began to get on Scott’s nerves. And yet there was very little that he could do to protect himself. He never carried a gun, and felt that he was safer without one. He was obliged to travel around over the forest continuously inspecting the logging job, and he could not devote all his time to watching for Foster Wait. He tried to forget it and go about his business as though Foster did not exist but he could not help thinking how many opportunities there were for this man to shoot him down from ambush, and it made him nervous. If Foster would only do something and show his hand, he could do something himself but till then he could only wait.
A few days later something happened which put him more than ever on his guard. He was up near the ridge where they were making up the trains of logs for the skid teams. There was an enormous red-oak log forty-five inches in diameter lying in the skid road, and Jimmy Barnes, Scott’s best teamster, was waiting there with a team of large blacks ready to take it down. This particular team was untrained and very nervous. They had been assigned to Jimmy because he was the only teamster in camp who was willing and able to handle them.
This one big oak log was in itself heavy enough for a load, but they never hauled a single log for fear it would roll sideways and become unmanageable. They always fastened a small log on behind to serve as a rudder. Jimmy was waiting for them to attach the small log. His team was getting so restless at the delay that he drove them around and hooked the heavy logging tongs to the end of the oak log. Not that he had any idea of trying to take it down alone, but just to give the team something to do and stop them from fretting.
He had hardly straightened up from hooking on the tongs when the bushes beside the team were burst apart with a great commotion and Foster Wait jumped down the low bank into the skid road.
The team made one wild lunge which almost jerked Jimmy off his feet and stopped trembling. The plunge turned the great log sideways on the slope, and it balanced uncertainly for a second on the stub of a small bush. Jimmy saw his chance, shouted wildly to the team and slapped them with the lines. If he could give that log another jerk before it started to roll he might be able to straighten it out. But the team balked. They trembled and jerked nervously but they refused to move, in spite of Jimmy’s efforts.
Slowly the stub was bent down and the six-ton log was free. It rolled slowly down on to the horses. It had not yet gathered much momentum, but if it had been a smaller log it would have broken their legs. As it was, it just shoved their hind legs out from under them and they suddenly found themselves sitting on the revolving log with the heavy tongs and the logging chains clanking beside them at every turn of the log.
It was too much for any team to bear. For a few yards they sat on that grinding log and ran with their front feet. Then with one mighty, terrified effort they succeeded in jumping clear of the log and plunged desperately down the skid road. But the tongs still held, and the big log rolled sullenly from side to side and held them back. Jimmy tried desperately to stay by his team, but an unexpected roll of the log threw him into the brush, the lines were jerked out of his hands and the team was completely out of control. The next instant the log struck a rock, the tongs pulled loose, and the freed team tore wildly down the steep skid road at breakneck speed.
Scott took his eyes from the rapidly disappearing team long enough to take a glance at Foster and he felt sure that he saw a gleam of satisfaction on his face. When the team was out of sight and Jimmy had dug himself out of the brush Foster suddenly found himself the object of half a dozen pairs of angry eyes. He was frightened by the ugly looks of these men, but he succeeded in holding himself in check long enough to throw a bluff.
“Some frisky team,” he remarked genially. “Any of you-all see a hound dog go by this way?”
“I seen _one_,” MacAndrews exclaimed with an angry glare, “but he ain’t gone by yet.”
The others snorted their amusement and Foster turned red. “I’ve lost mine,” he mumbled as he apologetically backed into the brush.
“Better keep him away from here,” Mac shouted after him. “We’ll tie a can on him pretty quick.”
Before Foster succeeded in breaking through the brush beside the road his flush had changed to a deadly pallor.
“Who is that cuss?” MacAndrews demanded with a vicious snap of his jaws.
“That is Foster Wait,” Scott said.
“Well, he is hanging around here more than is good for his health. He scared that team on purpose.”
“I thought so, too,” Scott exclaimed, and he added a little anxiously, “did you say he had been around here before?”
“Turns up somewhere around the job almost every day. He’ll come once too often some day. I expect that team is ruined.”
Scott had been so absorbed in Foster Wait that he had forgotten the team for a moment. Now he found that Jimmy had run down the mountain in search of them, and he followed as fast as he could run.
Was Foster hanging around the logging operation trying to get a chance at him or was he up to some other mischief? It did not seem likely that he was looking for him. Why should he come there where there were so many people when he could so very easily catch him out in the woods alone? No, he must be up to something else. And Scott determined that he would make it his business to find out what it was as soon as possible.
He watched all along the road for traces of the runaway team. At each turn in the road he expected to find them piled up against a tree or in the ditch, but although the road was badly scratched up in places as though they had stumbled or slipped badly they had evidently made it.
Some of the men whom he passed told him that the team had passed safely at that point and was going strong. When he came in sight of the landing beside the railroad track he spied the big blacks standing in a little bunch of men. Jimmy was rubbing them down and trying to soothe their ruffled nerves.
They were pretty well lathered up from the long run, and one of them had an ugly cut in his side but otherwise they seemed to be all right. They had left the road on the turn by the skidway and had run between two trees. The space had not been wide enough for the double-tree, and the sudden jerk had thrown one of the horses. Before they could untangle themselves from the broken harness the men had caught them.
“Better take them to the barn, Jimmy,” Scott said, when he had looked them over carefully and noticed their violently heaving flanks and trembling legs.
“I’ll take them over and doctor that cut and the harness,” Jimmy replied, “but I’ll have them out after lunch. If they had a run like that every day for a couple of weeks they might get down to where a fellow could handle them.” It was the second time they had run away with Jimmy, and he was getting a little peevish. He was afraid that they might endanger his reputation as the best teamster in the mountains.
Scott knew what was the matter. “Never mind, Jimmy, you are doing fine. Nobody else could handle them at all. Once you have trained them they will be the best team on the job.”
“They are that now,” Jimmy replied stoutly. “They have the record for coming down that mountain, anyway. By the way, did you get that guy who scared them?”
“No, we hadn’t any proof that he did it on purpose so we let him go.”
“I don’t need any proof,” Jimmy retorted angrily. “That’s the third time he’s tried it, and if I ever catch him around here again I’m going to lose a peavey in him.”
Scott did not say anything, but he made a mental note of what Jimmy said about it being Foster’s third attempt to scare the big black team. It was the first link in the chain of evidence he intended to collect against him.
As long as he was down in the valley and it was so near noon Scott decided to go in to dinner. He was still staying at the hotel, not because he liked it, but it enabled him to keep in touch with local gossip through the station agent and he thought it might give him a better chance to see Hopwood. He was doubtful whether it would be a good thing for Hopwood to come around camp with that strange iron hat. The men would undoubtedly tease him, and he did not know how Hopwood would take it.
As he passed the bunk house he heard some one singing inside. It was not usual for any one to be in the bunk house at that time of day, unless it was the bull cook, and it did not sound like him. Scott stepped in and found one of the swampers sprawled on a bench and crooning a maudlin song. His first thought was that the man might have been hurt in the runaway, but certainly some one would have mentioned it if he had.
“Sick, Dick?” Scott asked.
The man looked at him with bleary eyes and arose with a ludicrous attempt at dignity. Scott saw at once that the man was drunk.
“No, shur,” the man replied with an elaborate bow which almost upset him.
“Then why aren’t you at work?” Scott asked sharply.
“Becaush I don’t have to work for anybody,” Dick replied with another deep bow which brought him unexpectedly to his hands and knees on the bench in front of him. “I’m a gentleman, I am,” he added as he straightened himself with difficulty.
Scott looked at him with disgust. “When Mac comes in tell him I said to give you your time,” he exclaimed impatiently and turned to the door.
“Time,” Dick exclaimed. “Give me my time. I’ve got all the time there is. I’m a gentleman, I tell you.”
Scott turned back with a new thought. “Where did you get that stuff?” he asked sternly.
Dick winked at him slowly and shook his head. “A gentleman would never tell,” he replied knowingly.
Scott slammed the door in disgust and left him still explaining his gentility to the empty room.
Here was another thing he had to investigate.
HOPWOOD THROWS AWAY HIS IRON HAT
After dinner Scott stopped at the bunk house to see that his orders were carried out in regard to Dick. Dick had not delivered the message, but he did not have to. MacAndrews had spotted him shortly after Scott had discovered him and had started him down the track before dinner.
Scott decided to devote the afternoon to collecting news from his friends in the hope that he could find out something which would throw some light on Foster’s actions. The station agent had heard nothing and he went up to see old man Sanders. The old man greeted him with his usual cordiality.
“Come in, come in,” he said. “I hear you have beaten up the ogre and are succeeding in getting out the timber without his assistance. How did you do it?”
Scott sat down in the proffered chair a little wearily. “Every one seems to be more interested in my fighting ability than in anything else. It’s a fine reputation for a man who started out to be an angel of peace. Things are going pretty well but there is something about it I do not like. Foster Wait is hanging around the logging operation all the time, and I can’t find out what he is up to. Haven’t heard anything about it, have you?”
Mr. Sanders shook his head. “No,” he replied, “I have not heard anything at all. Hopwood seems to have deserted me, and Vic has not been down the mountain since the night you took her home. I can’t get around much myself and when those two desert me I don’t know much.”
“I have not seen Hopwood for three or four days myself,” Scott said. “Do you suppose he has disappeared again?”
“It is hard to tell what he is up to. The last time I saw him he was coming up the road there, but when he saw me he slipped into the woods. It was not like him. He never avoided me before.”
Scott saw that there was nothing to be learned from Mr. Sanders and he rose to go. “Maybe he was just in a hurry and did not want to be delayed. He seems to be very busy on some scheme of his own.”
“Poor fellow!” the old man sighed, “a lot of good his schemes will ever do anybody, but I suppose it gives him something to do.”
Scott turned back from the gate. “Just what do you think of Hopwood, Mr. Sanders?”
Mr. Sanders looked at him with a little surprise. “I thought I told you about him. He has never been right since Foster hit him in the head years ago.”
“Yes, I know,” Scott interrupted. “You told me about that, but I have been wondering a good deal lately whether he is really as crazy as people think.”
Mr. Sanders shook his head sadly. “I wish you were right but there is no chance. I have known him too long.”
“Well, I think I’ll take a look for him, anyway. I like him, whatever he is.”
Scott crossed the valley and took the road up the other slope towards Sewall Wait’s cabin. There were several other cabins along the road and as Scott approached one of them he saw a man come out of the gate, stand uncertainly for a minute and go back. The funny part of it was that he thought he recognized Dick, the man who had been fired from the camp that morning, but the distance was too great to be sure of it, and when he passed the cabin there was no one in sight. There seldom was any one in sight at any of these cabins. The children all ran away and hid at the approach of a stranger. Sometimes he caught a glimpse of some one, peeping out of the corner of a window, but that was all. It always made him feel uneasy to go by one of them.
Sewall was home and glad to see him. Scott told him what Foster had done in the morning and how he was continually hanging around the camp.
Sewall only shook his head doubtfully. “I don’t know what it is, but he is up to something. He has avoided me for a month. I don’t like the way he is chumming with some of the wilder of the young fellows. My boys don’t like him any better than I do, and they have tried to find out what he is doing but they can’t. I know his game but I can’t figure out his next move.”
“Just what is his game?” Scott asked anxiously.
“He knows that the family has pretty much lost confidence in him as a leader, and he thinks that if he starts some trouble they will have to support him. That much is clear enough, but I can’t see how he can gain anything by jimming your logging job.”
“I thought that was probably just revenge for the thrashing I gave him,” Scott said. “If that’s all it is I am not worried, for he can’t do very much harm, but I was afraid there might be something else back of it.”
Sewall shook his head. “He is too big a coward to risk very much just for revenge. To shoot you in the back would be more like his methods. He beat up poor Hopwood the other day. That’s about his size,” he added bitterly.
“That is what I really came up for,” Scott exclaimed quickly. “To find out whether you knew anything about Hopwood. I have not seen him for three or four days.”
“I saw him this morning. Foster went after him with a club day before yesterday, and if it had not been for that old iron hat I think he would have killed him.”
“The big bully. What was it about?” Scott asked eagerly.
“He would not tell me, but I thought from the way he talked that it had something to do with you.”
“Where is he?” Scott asked. If Hopwood had taken up his fight he wanted to know what it was so that he could take it up himself.
“He is up in his cabin. I tried to bring him down here, but he would not come. He’s funny that way. I have never known him to sleep in anybody else’s cabin. If he can’t get home he sleeps out-of-doors.”
“Where is his cabin?” Scott asked. “I must go and see him.”
Sewall hesitated. “He does not usually like to have people come to his cabin.”
“But can’t you see that if he got into this trouble on my account I must see him at once.”
“Well,” Sewall admitted reluctantly. “I reckon he would not mind seeing you. His cabin is away up there on top of Jones’ Knob. The trail turns off this road about a half mile above here. It’s not very plain but I guess you can find it.”
Scott took a hasty leave of Sewall and started in search of the trail. Sewall told the truth when he said that it was not very plain. Scott looked for it closely, but he passed it and had to come back in his search. He finally found a faint trace and followed it up over little ridges and down into the draws for an hour, always drawing a little closer to the peak. When he came out in the little flat opening on the top there was no cabin to be seen. He had never been there before but he knew that this was Jones’ Knob, and yet there was no cabin.
Scott looked carefully around him and there on the edge of the clearing he discovered a tiny cabin nestled back in the edge of the spruce thicket. He hurried over to it and looked eagerly in the open door. There was a man lying on the bed, but at first Scott did not recognize him as Hopwood till he saw the iron hat lying on his chest. He appeared to be asleep.
It was the first time Scott had ever seen Hopwood without his iron hat, and he took the opportunity to study him carefully. He was amazed at the high, well-formed forehead and fine features. The blank expression which he always wore when awake was entirely gone now. He seemed to feel that some one was staring at him and moved uneasily.
As Scott did not want Hopwood to discover him there and think that he had been spying on him he knocked softly.
Hopwood sat up suddenly at the first tap and hurriedly put on his iron hat. He was very much displeased at the intrusion, but when he saw who it was a radiant smile chased away his frown. Nor did the usual blank expression take its accustomed place.
“I went up to see if Sewall knew anything about you,” Scott explained, “and he told me that you were hurt.”
Hopwood’s face beamed when he heard that Scott had come in search of him, but a shadow of hatred passed over it when his injury was mentioned. It seemed as though a struggle were going on within him. The next instant he was as calm as usual.
“I am glad you found me,” he said simply.
“Is it true as Sewall said that you were hurt on my account?”
Hopwood hesitated. “Sewall does not know why I was hurt,” he answered evasively.
“But can’t you see, Hopwood, that if it had anything to do with me, I ought to know about it?”
Still Hopwood was silent.
“Foster has been acting queerly,” Scott continued. “He has been hanging around the camp all the time and this morning he scared one of the teams and almost ruined it. I am almost sure that he did it on purpose.”
“He did,” Hopwood exclaimed angrily. “That was what my trouble was all about. He wanted me to set fire to the camps.”
Scott gasped in astonishment. He had rather expected Foster to attempt some personal revenge but it had never occurred to him that his cowardice would ever drive him to use such an expedient as that. It was a move too degraded for Scott to understand.
“When I refused,” Hopwood continued, “he tried to kill me for fear I would tell on him.”
Scott was silent a moment. “I don’t suppose that will prevent him from getting somebody else to do it,” he said gloomily.
“I doubt it,” Hopwood said. “If it burns now, everybody will know who did it.”
“Could we have him arrested for assault?” Scott asked.
Hopwood shook his head. “There were no witnesses except his own family and they would swear to anything.”
“Did he hurt you badly, Hopwood?”
“No,” Hopwood answered, “not very, but if it had not been for my iron hat he would have killed me. He hammered me with a heavy club, bruised my shoulders and cut my face. I’m all right now.”
Scott glanced questioningly at the bed.
“Oh, I don’t have to stay there,” Hopwood replied with a laugh. “But since he knocked me crazy the first time I am always careful when I get hit on the head.”
Certainly that did not sound like the talk of a crazy man, but Scott did not question him.
“Is there anything I can do for you, Hopwood?”
“Oh, no!” Hopwood exclaimed. “I’m all right. Won’t you stay and have supper with me?” he asked bashfully.
“I wish I could,” Scott said, “but there are some things I have to attend to down at the camp. I hope I can some day. This is a beautiful place.”
Hopwood came to the door with him, and they stood for a moment looking in silence at the beautiful scene before them, or rather below them.
Jones’ Knob was the highest peak in that section, and they looked down upon a number of smaller mountains. The sun, setting rapidly over the western ridge, sent ever changing shadows over the eastern slopes. The evening mists were beginning to fill the valleys like a rising tide, and even as they watched one of the lower peaks was submerged in the sea of white.
Scott roused himself. “It will be dark in the valley before I get down there if I don’t hurry. Take care of yourself, Hopwood.”
“I’ll be down to-morrow,” Hopwood replied confidently, and as Scott disappeared down the winding trail he threw his iron hat far down the side of the mountain.
AN ATTEMPT AT ARSON
As Scott had predicted, it grew dark in the valleys long before he reached home, and he lost the trail on the open ridge. He did not worry because he knew that if he went downhill he would soon come out on a road somewhere, but he was impatient of delay. He was anxious to get back to the camps since he had heard of Foster’s proposal to burn them up. Maybe he was trying it again now.
It was awkward work going through the dense woods and brush in the dark, but as he expected it was not so very long before he came out into a road. He did not recognize the road at first but he knew that he must turn to the left if he would find the road up which he had come.
About a half a mile further down he came upon an unusually large house and recognized it instantly as Foster Wait’s. There was a light in the room downstairs but the shades were drawn down tight. Scott was looking curiously at the house as he walked by when two silhouettes suddenly appeared on the white shade. He was not surprised to recognize one of them as Foster, but when he recognized the other he stopped short and almost cried aloud. It was Dick.
Ordinarily Scott would have considered it dishonorable to eavesdrop, but he felt sure that the meeting of these two men had something to do with him. What better would Foster want than to get hold of a drunken man who was disgruntled over his treatment at the camp! Maybe that was his purpose in hanging around there.
Under the circumstances Scott had no scruples about attempting to hear the conversation. He determined to crawl up to the window and listen. Hardly had he taken a step in that direction when the loud baying of a hound told him that it was hopeless. As much as he wanted to hear that conversation he beat a hasty retreat. And he was none too soon. The echo of the dog’s bark had hardly died away when he heard the door open and a voice roughly scolding the hound.
Scott hurried down the road while his imagination ran riot in vain attempts to solve Foster’s plans. Foster Wait was not the man to take in a drunken lumberjack unless he intended to make use of him, and Scott felt sure that those plans had something to do with him. At one time he thought of going to Sewall for help, but his pride prevented him. He had protected himself before from smarter men than Foster and he would do it again.
It was long after supper-time when Scott reached the camp; in fact, many of the men had already gone to bed. Fortunately the cook was up making bread, and he went into the cook shack to get a handout. Scott was a favorite with all the crew, and when the cook saw who it was he denied himself the grouch he usually enjoyed when any one intruded into his castle, and hunted up some coffee, ham, doughnuts and cookies—the unvarying lumberjack handout—as though he enjoyed it.
Scott was absorbed in his own thoughts and let the cook do most of the talking, but as he was leaving a thought occurred to him. “By the way, Ben, if Dick should come back here for a handout any time, keep him here and send for me. I want to talk to him.”
He went out through the bunk house and motioned to Mac to follow him. When the foreman came out he led him over to a log a little way from the bunk house and sat down.
“Mac, I have seen and heard a couple of things to-day which have me pretty badly worried.”
Mac looked at him keenly in the dim starlight. “I’ll bet it’s got something to do with that guy who scared the team this morning.”
“You guessed right the first time.”
“I knew it,” Mac exclaimed. “I’ve been thinking about him all day. What is he up to now?”
“Day before yesterday he tried to get a man to set fire to these camps.”
“Set fire to ’em!” Mac almost shouted. “The dirty scoundrel!”
“And to-night,” Scott continued, “I came by his house and happened to see him talking to the man you fired this morning.”
Mac gave an angry snort of disgust. “That’s a fine howdy-do. A man who wants to find somebody to burn down the camp and a drunken lumberjack I fired this morning. Couldn’t find a better combination than that in all North Carolina.”
“I came right on down here to warn you, because I thought you would want to put on a guard,” Scott said.
“Put on a guard nothing,” Mac exclaimed contemptuously. “We’ll go up there and clean them out. The boys would enjoy it and I can have the crew out in ten minutes.”
“I know the men could do it, Mac, and would probably enjoy it, but it would stir up too much of a row. If it were just those two it might be all right, but he is a leader of a big gang and we would have to fight all the people on that side of the mountain.”
“Well, we can do that, too,” Mac answered doggedly. “Nobody ever burned my camps yet and nobody’s going to.”
“Just the same,” Scott insisted, “we’re not going to fight that gang. We might do them up all right, but there would not be much logging done around here for the next month or two, and I’m here to get those logs out.”
Mac sat for a while in sullen silence. “Well, what are you going to do then, let them burn you up?”
“No,” Scott cried impatiently. “I have no more notion of burning up than you have, and if you cannot find a man here to keep watch at night I’ll do it myself.”
Again Mac sat for a while in silence. His stubborn Scotch blood was slow to give in. The last voices had died away in the bunk house and Ben had finished his work in the cook shack. There was not a sound save an occasional snore and the scream of an owl far up on the mountain.
Mac finally surrendered as he had known he would from the first, and was about to speak when a crackling of twigs in the forest behind them brought them both bolt upright with nerves a-tingle and eyes and ears straining. They could see nothing, but it was evident that some one was making his way slowly through the woods towards the bunk house and was making a great deal of noise doing it.
“If that fellow is sneaking up on us, he must think we’re dead,” Mac whispered.
There was a loud crash as though some one had fallen over a log. They heard some mumbling but could not distinguish the words. After a few seconds of silence the advance on the bunk house began again. A man passed slowly within ten feet of them and made his slow way to the side of the bunk house. They could hear him scraping together dead leaves and brush.
Scott and Mac crept silently up to where they could see what he was doing, and Scott was not at all surprised to recognize Dick. He had scraped together a big pile of leaves and heaped them against the side of the bunk house. Scott gathered himself for a spring as he saw him fumbling in his pocket for a match to set fire to the leaves.
But instead of taking out a match Dick stuck both hands in his pockets and swayed back and forth staring curiously at the bunk house.
“Can’t burn that,” he mumbled. “Wouldn’t be gentlemanly to burn the bunk house with all those men in it. Can’t get ’em out without wakin’ ’em up.”
He scratched his head in perplexity for a minute and then started toward the barn. Scott punched Mac in the ribs and they both followed. At the barn Dick repeated the performance. When his leaves were all piled he remembered the horses. Again he stopped and scratched his head. “No gentleman would burn a horse,” he mumbled.
For a moment he stared helplessly about him. Then he seemed to get an idea. He made his way uncertainly to the door of the barn and disappeared inside. They watched to see that he did not strike a match, but did not interfere with him. After a considerable time he stumbled out leading two sleepy horses. He turned them loose outside and went back for two more. The first pair, finding themselves free and having no desire to go to work at that time of the night went back into the barn. Dick stopped and looked at them wonderingly as he led out two more.
Scott and Mac were almost in hysterics. “Let me handle him,” Scott whispered.
“Hello, Dick!” Scott exclaimed, suddenly, “what are you doing out here at this time of night?”
Dick dropped the halters of the horses he was leading and braced himself as though he expected somebody to jump on him.
“Why don’t you come inside and go to bed? It’s late,” Scott continued.
Dick relaxed when he saw he was in no immediate danger of attack, and winked at them knowingly. “Didn’t you give me my time?” he asked.
“Give you your time!” Scott exclaimed. “Certainly we gave you your time, but you were drunk then. You’re sober now. Why don’t you let Foster Wait get somebody else to do his dirty work for him? No gentleman would want to burn another man’s buildings.”
Dick looked at him uncertainly for a minute and then straightened up with painful dignity.
“That’s right,” he said. “That’s what I was going to tell him. No gentleman would burn a horse.”
“Of course not,” Scott agreed. “Come on in.”
He took Dick by the arm and led him into the bunk house. “There’s your bunk. Crawl in.”
Dick obeyed without a word but as he rolled over they heard him mumble, “I’ll show him he can’t give me an ungentlemanly job.”
“Going to call up the sheriff?” Mac asked when they were outside.
“No,” Scott replied emphatically. “Arrest him, and when he gets out he’ll join Foster again. Put him to work in the morning and he’ll be all right.”
“Reckon you’re right,” Mac admitted. “Good night.”
SCOTT FINDS THE STILL
Dick went cheerfully to work with the other men in the morning and seemed to have forgotten all his troubles. Mac put on a guard to watch the buildings at night and he kept a sharp lookout for Foster in the daytime, but that gentleman seemed to have realized his danger and kept out of sight.
Scott had begun to think that Foster must have left the country when he spied him one day sneaking through the woods a short distance from the camp. But Foster evidently saw him and immediately disappeared in the brush.
Everything at the camp was in good working order now. The four felling crews were hard at it, each one working up a narrow strip from the valley to the ridge. Their progress was marked by the steady booming of the falling trees. The skid teams followed each other in an almost continuous procession with their train of logs, and the big steam jammer loaded them on to the cars on the siding as fast as they came down.
Over in the main draw other felling crews were cutting logs for the chute and they were popping down so steadily that the old bear trap was playing a regular tune.
Scott used to stand on the railroad track or the hotel porch and look up at the slope with pride. For he had marked that timber for cutting when he was still supervisor and he had done it well. Instead of the barren, blackened hillside which the logger usually leaves behind him there was enough small timber left standing to make it look almost like a virgin forest. Some one could log there again before so very many years.
It looked as though the feud were practically dead. Sewall could report no new developments. Hopwood had not shown up with any news for a long time, not since Scott had visited him in his cabin, but he had sent him word occasionally by Sewall. Scott thought that he was avoiding the camps.
One day Scott’s peace was rudely shattered. He had stayed at home that morning to finish up some correspondence. Just before noon MacAndrews came bursting into the room. He was so mad that there were tears in his eyes and he was almost inarticulate. He strode up and down the full length of the room twice, waving his arms wildly, before he could get a word out of himself.
Scott was pale with apprehension. “What under the sun is the matter, Mac?” he asked anxiously.
“Drunk,” Mac shouted savagely. “The whole blame crew’s drunk.”
“Drunk?” Scott echoed in his astonishment, while Mac continued to walk the floor.
“Dead drunk,” Mac repeated in disgust. “In the middle of the morning, and not a lick of work to be got out of any of them.”
“Where did they get it?” Scott asked, for both he and Mac had exerted every possible effort to keep whisky out of the camp.
“Yes,” Mac roared, “that is the question. Where did they get it? I’ve asked them all and beaten up half of them and not a word have I got out of any one. Show me the man who brought it in, that’s all I ask.”
Suddenly a new thought occurred to Scott. “Where are they, Mac?”
“Lying all over the woods.”
“I thought so. Round them up into the bunk house, Mac. This is something that I think I can solve.”
“You mean to say that you are not going to fire them?” Mac shouted in amazement.
“Certainly not,” Scott answered with decision. “Do you think I want the whole crew added to Foster Wait’s gang? If I am not mistaken, that was the purpose in getting them drunk. Round them up in the bunk house where they can’t get any more, and I’ll see what I can do. Isn’t there any one sober enough to help you?”
“Ben and the bull cook seem to have been overlooked,” Mac growled.
“They were in camp, that’s the reason. Get them to help you,” Scott ordered, as he took his hat and started for the door.
Mac, growling like a polar bear, went back to camp to carry out Scott’s orders. He wanted to fire the whole crew and it went against his grain to have to act as nursemaid to such a bunch, but orders were orders with him, and he would carry them out to the letter.
Scott started straight for the opposite mountain growling almost as savagely as Mac at his own stupidity. Why hadn’t he guessed where Dick had obtained his whisky? And why hadn’t he guessed why Foster had been hanging around the camp? And why hadn’t it occurred to him what was at the end of that well-beaten trail up there on the mountains? He had certainly been a bonehead, but now he was determined to get to the bottom of it, and the first thing to do was to follow out that trail.
He was walking rapidly up the road, still grumbling at his stupidity, when he saw a stranger sitting on a stump beside the road. He had almost passed him when he realized with a start that it was Hopwood. His iron hat was replaced with a soft felt such as all the mountaineers wore and it changed his appearance completely. He laughed when he saw Scott’s amazement.
“I thought you must be coming this way,” he said in his usual quiet and rather mysterious manner.
“But what does this mean, Hopwood?” Scott asked in bewilderment. “I heard that you had taken an oath to wear your iron hat till this feud was settled.”
Hopwood was serious at once. “I don’t need that old hunk of iron any more. I’ll explain it to you soon, but I haven’t time now. Where are you going?”
“I suppose you know what has happened. I am going up there to find that still. I ought to have done it long ago. I found the trail one day and I don’t know why it never dawned on me what it was. I had heard there was a big one somewhere, too. Of course, Foster gave those fellows that whisky, didn’t he?”
Hopwood nodded. “Yes, and I was just coming down to warn you to keep out of his way. He has been celebrating his success and he’s crazy. He would shoot you on sight.”
“Where is he?” Scott asked sullenly. He did not like this business of running away from a man, and yet he knew it was the only wise thing to do.
“He was up at the house a little while ago. Keep your eyes open and take to the woods if you see him. I’ll come down to see you to-morrow if I don’t have to go away for a day or two.”
“I may have to go away for a day or two myself,” Scott replied. “By the way, where have you been? I have not seen you for a long time.”
“I’ve been too busy,” Hopwood replied lightly and disappeared in the woods with a backward smile.
Scott did not understand Hopwood. Some mysterious change seemed to have come over him. But he did not have time to figure it out now. He was too anxious to see that still. He had Hopwood’s assurance that it was there, but he wanted to see it for himself.
He did not know where the trail started so there was nothing for him to do but to go up on the ridge to the place where the old pig had scared him so badly. He found the place without any difficulty and looked around a little nervously to make sure that the old sow was not still on guard. She was nowhere in sight and he dropped down the slope unmolested in search of the trail. He was surprised to see how far down it was.
When he came to the tunnel into the laurel he found some fresh tracks and listened anxiously. He was determined to see the still, but he did not want any one to see him, partly because he knew that these men would not hesitate to shoot any one they found spying around their still, and partly because he did not want any one to know that he had found it.
He could see nothing. He looked down the trail and made a careful survey of the woods behind him. There was no one there who might cut off his retreat. Everything seemed safe enough and he cautiously entered the narrow tunnel. It was longer than he had imagined and the turns in it gave him an uncomfortable feeling of being shut in. He stopped every two feet to listen and then crawled slowly forward again. It seemed as though he would never get to the end of it.
When he did get to the end he saw something that astonished him even more than the length of the tunnel. He found himself in a small opening about four rods across, and in the middle of it was a tiny log cabin. He had covered over half the distance to the cabin when a noise inside made his heart stand still.
Some one was fumbling with the latch on the inside. After the first instant of paralysis Scott took in the situation at a glance. If he tried to return to the tunnel he would be in direct line with the door and would be in sight for some distance even after he had entered the tunnel. This all passed through his mind like a flash. His only chance was to hide around the corner of the cabin. He did not know how many people there were in there or whether there were windows in the end, or possibly another door, but it was his best chance. In two jumps he was around the corner.
The latch clicked up almost the instant he started, and long before he reached the corner he heard the door swinging open on its rusty hinges. A glance showed him that there were no windows in that end of the cabin. He was hidden for the moment unless he had been discovered before he reached there.
He turned and peeped anxiously through a crack between the ends of the logs. For what seemed to Scott like an age no one appeared. He looked nervously behind him and half expected to see a rifle pointing at him from the other corner of the cabin. But there was no one there.
He was beginning to wonder whether he had really heard anything at all, or just imagined it, when there was a knock against the log wall that made him jump almost out of his skin, and Foster Wait staggered out of the door with a big earthenware jug in one hand and his long rifle in the other. He swayed uncertainly and took a step or two in Scott’s direction. Scott shrank back against the wall and prepared to sneak around the cabin, but Foster changed his course back toward the cabin door.
He stood there mumbling for an instant and seemed to be talking to some one inside, but there was no answer. He laboriously turned again and started for the tunnel. He had considerable trouble in getting the jug and the rifle both into the opening, but finally succeeded. “They’ll never do it, they’ll never do it,” he called back angrily over his shoulder.
Scott was sure then that there was some one else in the cabin. He had visions of hiding there behind that corner till dark, for the door had been left open and he would not dare try to sneak out in front of it. He could still hear Foster fumbling and mumbling his way through the tunnel, but he had not caught any sound from within.
He placed his ear against the log wall and listened. The gnawing of a mouse on the other side sounded to him like some one tearing off the roof, and would have drowned out any other noises there might have been. The mouse stopped and he held his breath to hear better. There was not a sound. Minute after minute passed and still no sound. The mouse began again.
“Better be shot than have that mouse scare me to death,” Scott muttered to himself, and he determined to have a look in the door. First he went back to make sure that there was no door in the rear. There was only a little square window on that side. Slowly he came back to his corner and listened once more. All was still.
With a glance at the tunnel he crawled cautiously toward the door. Inch by inch he made his slow advance with his eyes glued on the opening and his mind made up to jump on any one who might come out—for there was no chance to escape now.
At the very edge of the door he stopped to listen and peeped cautiously around the doorframe. Just then a noise behind him brought him to his feet with a bound, and he saw a man step out of the tunnel.
HOPWOOD GETS JARRED’S PROMISE
In the meanwhile MacAndrews had carried out his distasteful duty of rounding up the crew in the bunk house. Most of them were too far gone to offer much resistance and went to bed without protest. He left Ben and the bull cook to keep guard and see that no one escaped and no outsiders came in. Then he went up in the woods to see if he could catch any one looking for the men up there.
He made his way to the top of one of the skid roads where he had found a group of the swampers and road monkeys. If any attempt were made to bring the men more whisky it would probably be there where the largest group had been. He selected a well sheltered spot in the edge of the brush and sat down on a log to wait.
He did not have long to wait. Hardly five minutes had passed when the bushes on the opposite side of the road were parted cautiously and a boy’s face peeped out. It was Foster Wait’s son. Not seeing any one, he came slowly out into the skid road and began peering about. He was evidently disappointed and very nervous. It was like Foster to send his son where he was afraid to go himself.
Mac could not wait any longer. He was curious to see what the boy would do but his desire to get his hands on him was too strong for him. He tore from his hiding place and made a dive at the boy. But he was no match for the badly scared boy. He eluded Mac’s grasp and sprang into the brush like a rabbit. Mac tried to follow him, but he might as well have tried to follow a weasel in a haystack. He soon gave it up and came back to see if the boy had left anything behind him. As he expected he found a large stone jug in the brush where the boy had first appeared.
With a grunt of satisfaction Mac dumped the contents on the ground. “Enough there to paralyze the whole crew for a week,” he mumbled. He raised the big jug over his head and was about to smash it on a rock, but his Scotch thrift stayed his arm and he took the jug back to camp.
Mac felt that he had a victory in capturing the jug, but it would have been far better if he had stayed in camp, for the boy was on his way home to tell his father that he had been seen and probably recognized.
Hopwood could easily have caught the boy for Mac. After his meeting with Scott he had headed straight for the works to see if the men had been taken in out of harm’s way. He had been close enough to hear the crashing of the brush and the boy had passed within a few feet of him. But what would have been the use? They could not do anything with the boy after they had caught him, and it did not fit into his own plans to line up openly against his family just yet.
He followed Mac almost to camp to make sure that all the men were in, but he did not go in himself. He turned into the brush without making his presence known to Mac at all. A half hour later he turned in at the gate of Jarred Morgan’s cottage.
When Hopwood entered the cabin old Jarred sprang from his chair with the agility of a cat.
“You fooled me that time, Hopwood,” he admitted frankly. “It is a long time since I have seen you without that iron hat. What is the meaning of it? Is the feud ended, then?” he asked with a wry smile.
Hopwood cast a quick glance around the cabin.
Jarred answered the unspoken question. “She went out to the orchard.”
“No,” Hopwood said soberly, “the feud is not exactly ended, but I think I am beginning to see the end of it.”
“You think I am going to cash in, do you?”
“I am hoping that it will not end that way,” Hopwood replied earnestly.
“There is only one other way that it can end,” Jarred answered, and his jaw clenched tight.
“That’s why I have come to see you. Would you drop this feud if Foster were put out of the way for good?” Hopwood spoke with the tone of a man exacting an oath.
“I have never made a contract for a murder,” Jarred answered coldly, “and I am too old to begin it now.”
“Look at me, Jarred,” and Hopwood squared himself around in front of the old man. “Do I look like a crazy man?”
Jarred’s frown melted into an affectionate smile. “No, Hopwood, your old iron hat has not fooled me for many years.”
“Then listen to me,” Hopwood replied with a strange tone of confident authority. “I am no more likely to take the contract for murdering a man than you are. You have always said that you would not give up the feud while Foster lived. Now I want to know if you would give it up if he were otherwise disposed of so that he would never return to this country?”
Jarred walked to the door and gazed out across at the opposite mountain in silence. It was five minutes before he turned back to Hopwood and his face was haggard.
“I could do it, Hopwood,” he said sadly. “I hate to think of that scoundrel escaping my vengeance, but I could do it, and—would,” he added after a short struggle. “But I was thinking of Vic. Would she? I have trained her all her life to hate the Waits, and Vic is a good hater. Would she give it up, or would she think me a traitor?”
“I think she would give it up,” Hopwood replied confidently.
Jarred turned quietly and faced him. “What makes you think so?” he asked sharply.
Hopwood blushed like a schoolgirl. He was silent a moment and then looked Jarred squarely in the eye. “You know what I think of Vic and I think she likes me. She never seems to think of me as being a Wait, but if we should marry some day, it would end all thought of the feud.”
Jarred looked at him thoughtfully. “If I thought that could be true, I would agree to anything,” he said slowly. “I have been wondering lately what would become of Vic. I am not as strong as I was and I cannot last forever. She won’t give me any reason, but she says she will never go back to her father, and I think she means it. She’ll be terribly alone in the world when I am gone.”
“I know why she won’t go back and I think she is right,” Hopwood replied with a dark frown. “Would that be satisfactory to you then?” he asked wistfully.
Jarred placed his hand affectionately on Hopwood’s shoulder. “Hopwood, as far as I know there are only two men in the world to whom I am indebted—you and Mr. Burton. You have done me innumerable good services, and he brought Vic to me the night she fell off her horse. Both of you want me to give it up. I am going to do it and pay a part of both debts.”
Hopwood jumped to his feet and grasped the old man’s hand. “Now I can go about my business. We’ll speak of the other some other time,” he added with a blush.
“No need to put it off,” Jarred said. “All I ask is that you wait till Vic has grown up. If she will have you then, there is nothing in all the world that would please me more.”
Hopwood wrung his hand once more and ran out of the house.
A CLOSE CALL
When Scott turned his head and saw that man standing just at the end of the tunnel a great lump rose in his throat and his knees almost gave way under him. He wanted to run but he could not move. The next instant he recognized Hopwood and the reaction was so great that he sat down limply in his tracks and stared helplessly.
“You might as well kill a fellow as scare him to death, Hopwood,” he exclaimed when he had recovered his breath.
“And you might as well be dead as to be caught here,” Hopwood retorted. “Did Foster see you? I just met him coming out and he was crazy drunk.”
“Not quite,” Scott replied with a nervous laugh, “but I thought so for a minute when I saw you,” and he explained to Hopwood what a narrow escape he had had, and how he was trying to find out whether there really was any one else in the cabin.
“You should have asked me to bring you here,” Hopwood scolded. “Then you would not have run such a risk.”
“I’ll let somebody bring me next time,” Scott answered with a grin. “I have done about all the exploring I want to do around here alone.”
He had completely recovered now, and he got up to have a peek into the cabin. So strong had been his impression that there was somebody in there that he now peeped cautiously around the corner of the doorframe. The little mouse scurried across a rafter and down the opposite wall. There was no other sign of life.
In the center of the opposite wall of the cabin was a crude clay fireplace and in it there was a large copper retort shaped like an immense pear. From the top of it a long goose-neck extended far out into the room. Three barrels were sitting along the wall at the end of the cabin. In another barrel, on which there was a tin lid, there was a sack of corn.
Scott looked the things over curiously. It was the first moonshine outfit he had ever seen. When his curiosity was satisfied he turned suddenly to Hopwood. “Will you swear that Foster Wait runs this thing?” he asked.
Hopwood started at the question. “Why?” he asked in some confusion. “What are you going to do?”
Scott thought that he had asked too much of Hopwood in asking him to give evidence against his relative, much as he knew he hated him. But it was too late to back out now.
“Because I am going to get the United States marshal and have him arrested,” Scott answered doggedly.
“But that is just what I was going to do myself,” Hopwood answered with disappointment. “You better let me do it. I know more about it than you do,” he pleaded.
“No, Hopwood,” Scott replied firmly, “this is my problem and I must settle it myself.”
“Why do you call it your problem when I have been working on it for years before you ever heard of it?” Hopwood remonstrated with some spirit.
Scott saw that line of argument would not work and changed his tactics. “But, Hopwood, I need you here. There is no use in my staying here if you go away. I can’t find anything about what is going on if you are not here to tell me. I could not tell whether Foster was getting ready to burn down the camps or murder us all. If you stay here while I am away and will keep MacAndrews posted, he can take care of things all right.”
Hopwood scratched his head doubtfully for a minute and frowned his disappointment.
“I am not the only one who depends on you, you know,” Scott urged. “All the people on the other mountain over there depend on you for the news.”
That was the deciding argument. Hopwood had told Jarred that he was going to put Foster out of the way and he wanted the glory of doing it, but he had been doing things for other people all his life and he knew that there was some truth in what Scott said.
“Very well,” he said quietly. “I suppose I’d better stay, but I do wish that I could go. Some day I am going to do something I want to.”
It seemed so pathetic to any one who knew the history of Hopwood’s life that Scott was almost tempted to let him go. But he was afraid that Hopwood might fail in the mission through his limited knowledge of the world.
“Then if you will take a message to Mac Andrews that I am going and for him to put the crew to work in the morning as usual, I am going to start right away,” Scott said resolutely. The sooner he accomplished his purpose the safer he would be.
Hopwood agreed without a word of protest and led the way into the tunnel. They were halfway through it when they were startled by a crashing in the brush ahead. Hopwood crouched and listened an instant and then motioned frantically for Scott to go back. Scott needed no second warning. The scare Hopwood had given him had shaken his nerves a little and he ran back through the tunnel like a rabbit. Hopwood was close on his heels.
“What is it?” Scott asked anxiously.
“Foster coming back.” Hopwood replied briefly. “Come.” He ran lightly to the wall of laurel beside the cabin and slowly pushed his way into it. Scott followed as close as he could but found himself no match for Hopwood at this game. Hopwood did not go far. He did not have to. A few feet in that thicket and they were completely hidden, but they could see out fairly well.
They were scarcely settled in their retreat when Foster lunged out of the tunnel into the little clearing. He was apparently in a towering rage and was mumbling savagely to himself. He looked keenly around the clearing and strode over to the cabin. From the length of time he was inside he must have made a very thorough examination. When he came out he was examining the ground for tracks. Scott thanked his stars that he was wearing tennis shoes.
Whatever the tracks were that Foster was following so carefully they led him out to the tunnel again. The two refugees breathed more freely when he was gone, but their troubles were not over. Foster was not making the noise he did when he came in and they could not tell where he was. Had he gone away or was he still in the tunnel?
They had waited five minutes and no sound came from the tunnel. The suspense was beginning to tell on them.
“I’ll sneak out and see,” Scott whispered.
“No,” Hopwood remonstrated. “Let me go. He would shoot you on sight. He would not shoot me.”
“He tried to kill you a while ago, didn’t he?” Scott asked indignantly. “He will not shoot me on sight because he is not going to see me, not if I can help it,” he mumbled to himself.
He did not wait for Hopwood to answer, but slipped as quickly and silently as he could out into the clearing. He listened intently but could hear no sound. Slowly he crawled to the tunnel and peeped into it. There was no one in sight. With one more attempt to pick up a sound he crawled cautiously in.
It was far more nerve racking than it had been when he crawled in. Then he did not have much fear of any one being there. Now he knew that some one had been there and was not at all certain that he had left. His progress was painfully slow. He listened after every step. He remembered where he had been hiding a minute before and glanced nervously at the wall of rhododendron on either side. He was almost tempted to run the rest of the way and have it over with.
It was well that he did not act on that impulse. A few feet more brought him in sight of the outer end of the tunnel, and there was Foster sitting in the entrance with his long rifle across his lap and his eyes glued on the mountain trail.
Noiselessly Scott backed out of sight and beat a cautious but rapid retreat. He made his way back to Hopwood in the rhododendron and told him what he had seen. “Looks as though he was posted there for the night,” Scott growled.
“He probably is,” Hopwood replied quietly. “I reckon it’s up to us to get out through the rhododendron.”
That possibility had entirely slipped Scott’s mind. It had never occurred to him that you could go through that rhododendron. He had been too fascinated by the tunnel and that mumbling man at the end of it with a long rifle.
“Then let’s go,” he said.
Hopwood glanced about him to get his bearings and glided through the dense brush like a snake, and as silently. Scott was put to it to keep up with him, and try as he would he could not move as silently. It was slow going at the best, for the course Hopwood had chosen led them down into a draw and up on to the next ridge.
They had almost reached the edge of the rhododendron when they stumbled on to a covey of ruffed grouse. The frightened birds went up with a tremendous rush and crashed through the brush out into the open.
“It is a good thing we did not strike them down by the clearing,” Hopwood whispered. “We would have had Foster on us in an instant. Here we are safe because he can’t very well follow us fast enough through there to do him any good.”
They came out of the brush on to the open ridge and it seemed almost like coming out of a cave. Scott climbed up on a point of rock to get his bearings.
Scarcely had he straightened up when his hat flew from his head and the ping of a rifle sounded from the opposite ridge. Scott fell from the rock in a heap.
Hopwood ran to him. “Did he get you?” he asked anxiously.
Scott felt his head and there was blood on his fingers. “Must have grazed me,” he said, “but it does not amount to anything.”
Hopwood examined it and found a half-inch cut in his scalp. “That’s what those partridges did for us,” Hopwood said. “I am sorry he saw us but it can’t be helped now. Now, we’ll have to get out of here.”
Scott scrambled to his feet and recovered his punctured hat. He examined it with a little shudder and started up the ridge.
“Not that way,” Hopwood exclaimed. “That’s the way he will come.”
So Hopwood led the way once more across a brush-filled draw on to the next ridge. Up this they made their way very cautiously, taking good care to keep out of sight. They were almost up to the main ridge when Hopwood hid behind a ledge of rock and motioned Scott to do the same.
“We can see the other ridge from here,” he whispered, “and we better wait till we see Foster go down. We might meet him up there on the ridge.”
After what seemed like an age they caught a glimpse of Foster making his way cautiously down the opposite ridge. He had seen Scott fall from the ledge and was on his way down to make sure of him. When he was out of sight they crawled out of their hiding place and struck for the main ridge.
“I wonder what aroused his suspicion,” Hopwood said.
“I don’t know,” Scott said, “and it does not make any difference. He can’t head us off now.”
Hopwood shook his head doubtfully. “Maybe not, but I wish he did not know anything about it. He may guess what we are going to do, and if he does it may drive him to something desperate.”
They were on the open trail now and stopped for a moment. “Well,” Scott said, “don’t let’s worry about it. You take the message to Mac and keep your eye on Foster the best you can. I’ll take the trail over the mountain.”
They had hardly disappeared when Foster ran back on to the trail. He was raging like a madman. He knew that something, he could not tell just what, was in the wind, and it was driving him mad.
A squirrel chattered at him from a big oak tree, and he shot it with an oath.
SCOTT GOES AFTER THE MARSHAL
Scott did not lose any time on the trail to the town where the United States marshal made his headquarters, but it was a long day’s hike and he had not started much before the middle of the afternoon. Night caught him while he was still on the mountain trails. The sky was cloudy, and down in the dense woods it was black as a pocket. He knew that he would save time and effort by camping out for the night and getting an early start in the morning. He was not gaining anything by feeling his way along inch by inch in the dark. He stumbled into an ice-cold trout stream and gave it up.
The nights were cold there in the mountains, and he was feeling around for some firewood when he saw a light glimmering through the trees far down the trail. As his feet were already wet he waded across the stream and made his way slowly toward the light.
It proved to be a lamp in a small logging camp. It was a comparatively small cabin with the cook stove and dining table in one end of it. The walls of the rest of the room were lined with double-decked bunks. Every one seemed to be in bed except an old woman who was reading at the dining table. She looked up indifferently when Scott knocked at the door.
“Good evening,” he said. “Night caught me up here on the trail. Is there any place here where I can get a bed?”
The woman looked at him suspiciously for a minute and seemed to be undecided whether or not to call her husband. Then she pointed to an empty bed in the corner.
“I don’t want to crowd you here,” Scott apologized.
“You won’t bother nobody,” the woman replied without looking up from her book.
Scott did not think much of his reception. He had not had anything to eat since morning, but the looks of the place did not encourage him to ask for anything. It would be better than sleeping out in the cold without blankets even if he were hungry. He walked over to the bunk and crawled in without any further ceremony than taking off his shoes.
For a few minutes he lay there and marveled at the tremendous chorus of snores which seemed to be coming from all parts of the little cabin, but he soon fell asleep in spite of the music and his hunger. In the morning Scott was astonished to see the number of people who rolled out of those bunks—men, women and children. It was evidently a big family, but he was not sure he had seen them all.
After the way he had been received the night before, Scott intended to thank them for the lodging and depart without breakfast, but the man would not have it so.
“Where did you get supper?” he asked.
“I did not have any,” Scott replied a little spitefully.
The man was very much put out and insisted on Scott’s staying to breakfast. Scott accepted, but before he was through he was sorry he had not stuck to his original purpose of going away hungry. When the man learned he was running the logging job on the other side of the mountain, he became so interested that Scott had a hard time getting away from him. If he had seen one of the boys slip around the house and run off up the trail in the direction from which he had come the night before, he might have been suspicious of so many questions.
It was seven o’clock before he got away from these people and started for the town. Even at that the marshal was not up when he arrived. He had recovered from his logging camp breakfast sufficiently to eat another at the little hotel while he was waiting for the marshal.
Scott had never heard anything but curses for the United States marshal from the mountaineers and had formed a picture of him that was rudely shattered when he saw the reality. Instead of the shiftless, cringing old man he expected to see, he found a keen, alert, energetic man of about forty-five. He had been a sharpshooter in the Spanish War and was every inch a man.
“Now what can I do for you?” he asked briskly, when Scott had introduced himself.
“I am running a logging job on the other side of the mountain,” Scott explained, “and there is a moonshine still over there that is causing me all kinds of trouble. I thought maybe I could get you to clean it up for me. The man who is running it is an incendiary and a murderer as well as a moonshiner.”
“Sounds as though it might be Foster Wait,” the marshal said with a frown.
“It is,” Scott said.
“Then you may be able to get him in the courts for arson or murder if you can produce the evidence, but I am afraid I can’t help you much. I have put in days looking for that still, have searched every square inch of his place, but have never been able to find a trace of it. That has been a sore spot with me for several years.”
“But the still isn’t on his place,” Scott said.
“Do you mean to say that you know where it is?” the marshal cried eagerly.
“Yes,” Scott said, “I stumbled on to it in the woods one day.”
“But if it is not on his place, can you prove that it is his?” the marshal asked doubtfully.
“Yes,” Scott said. “I know a man who is familiar with it and will swear to it.”
“Good!” the marshal exclaimed, jumping enthusiastically to his feet. “Come on over to the judge and we’ll swear out a warrant for this bird. Didn’t see anybody on the way over here, did you?”
“Yes,” Scott said. “Foster saw me just before I started,” and he explained his experience.
“Still that was a long way from here and he may not have guessed where you were going. See anybody else?”
“I spent the night at a little logging camp up here on the mountain a ways,” Scott admitted, “but they seemed too dumb to know anything.”
“Yes, they seem dumb enough, but they have notified Foster long ago that you came this way. I doubt if we can get him now, but I’ll fix that still for you.”
The judge was as interested as the marshal. “I’d like to get that fellow,” he exclaimed. “There was a crazy man in a big iron hat down here some weeks ago who wanted me to arrest him for something he had not yet done, but we have never been able to get any real charge against him that any one would support.”
“I’ll support this one,” Scott said doggedly. “He’s the key man in that feud over there and I am going to put him in the penitentiary if it takes me all summer.”
“All right, then, let’s go,” the marshal exclaimed. “Did you hoof it over here?”
“Yes,” Scott said. “I didn’t have a horse handy, and, anyway, I thought I could make better time over these mountain trails on foot.”
“Well, you couldn’t if you had my horse, but I’ll walk with you this time. We’ll be off the trail a good deal and I don’t want to be too conspicuous.”
They went back by another trail which the marshal knew to avoid the logging camp and any one who might be looking for them. When the marshal started out anywhere, it was usually well heralded all over the mountain.
They were walking rapidly up a steep mountain trail when the marshal suddenly stopped and held up his hand. Scott peeped through the bushes and was surprised to see that they were in sight of the trail on the main ridge just above the still. He followed the direction of the marshal’s pointing finger and saw one of Foster’s boys earnestly watching the trail Scott had gone down the day before.
They made a detour and crossed the main ridge trail back of the boy. Just as they started down the slope toward the still, three rifle shots rang out in the valley below.
“There is something doing down there,” the marshal whispered. “Sounds as though we ought to have brought the sheriff and a bunch of deputies.”
HOPWOOD SENDS FOSTER A MESSAGE
Hopwood did not go immediately back to camp to carry the message to MacAndrews. There would be plenty of time for that after dark. He thought it better to hang around and try to find out something of Foster’s plans. Instead of going down the trail he hid in the brush and watched, for he felt sure that Foster would come back that way when he found he had missed his mark.
He saw Foster come out of the woods and judged his state of mind pretty well from his looks. When he saw him shoot the squirrel he was convinced of his savage rage. In such a condition as that he might do anything. He thought of old Jarred and little Vic up there on the opposite mountain and wondered what form his rage would take.
Just then Foster could not have told him himself. He only knew that he had lost his opportunity in a game that he did not very clearly understand. Why had Scott gone to the still and not touched it? If he had destroyed the still and the supply of whisky in those barrels he could have understood that. He would have been trying to protect himself and his crew. But he had not destroyed it.
Then a new thought occurred to him. Perhaps Scott had gone there to destroy things but had been interrupted before he had a chance to carry out his purpose. Perhaps he had destroyed it after he himself had been there. There had been quite an interval between the time he had looked in the cabin and the time he discovered Scott on the opposite ridge. He decided to see; it would at least give him something to do.
He started toward the still again and Hopwood, who had been able almost to read his thoughts, followed as close as he dared. Foster went straight to the still and Hopwood waited outside the tunnel. Foster was not reasoning, he was just grasping wildly for some clue in this blind puzzle. He hurried to the cabin. Everything was just as he had left it.
He came out and examined the edge of the clearing. He easily found the trail leading into the laurel. He really did not see the tracks of Scott’s tennis shoes, but he had not seen Hopwood and mistook his boots for Scott’s. He realized now that he had trapped Scott in there when he came back, and ground his teeth in his disappointment. As much puzzled as ever he paced nervously up and down the little clearing. Then he determined to go home and send his boy to find out where Scott had gone.
Hopwood followed Foster home and saw the boy start down the road toward the village. He did not think it likely that Foster would leave the house again that night and decided to overtake the boy. Possibly he could pump some of Foster’s plans out of him. He was a favorite with all the young people on both sides of the mountain. For some reason they seemed to look on him as an old man, although in reality he was little older than they were, except in mental capacity.
He kept to the woods till he was out of sight from the house. But he was so used to the woods that he lost little time by that and once in the road he soon overtook the boy.
“Hello, Bill!” he called. “Dad out of chewing tobacco?”
“No,” Bill growled. “He ain’t even got that excuse.” The boy did not seem to be any too pleased with his errand, whatever it was and spoke sullenly.
“What then?” Hopwood persisted. “Just out for your health?”
“Out for his health, I reckon,” the boy replied spitefully. “He wants me to find out where that logging boss is.”
“Who, MacAndrews?” Hopwood asked innocently.
“No, Burton,” Bill growled.
“That ought to be easy,” Hopwood said teasingly. “MacAndrews can probably tell you where he is.”
“Might if I asked him,” the boy replied doggedly, “but MacAndrews isn’t going to see me.”
“What’s the matter? Been stealing stuff from the cook shack?” Hopwood went on.
“No,” Bill protested, “but he pretty near caught me this morning when I went over to take some whisky to the men.”
Hopwood whistled. “No wonder you don’t want him to see you. Then how are you going to find out?”
“Ask Mr. Roberts, I reckon.”
For some reason or other the station agent had never lost his title with these people. He was still “Mr.” Roberts after years of residence in close touch with them.
Hopwood thought a moment. Mr. Roberts might know where Scott had gone, and if he did, he might tell Bill, and that would not do at all.
“Maybe I can find out for you from MacAndrews,” he volunteered.
Bill cheered up at once. “Gee, will you, Hop? Dad seems to want to know awful bad, and if I don’t find out I’ll be afraid to go home.”
“All right,” Hopwood agreed. “I’ll ask MacAndrews for you.”
They walked on for a while in silence. Bill’s troubles had been unexpectedly lifted from his shoulders and Hopwood had found out what he wanted to know. Foster did not know where Scott had gone, and he would not find out from this boy if Hopwood could help it. And he thought that he could.
When they came within sight of the camp it was growing dark, but they could still see dusky figures moving about.
“I’ll wait here,” Bill said, and the tone of his voice indicated that nothing on earth could persuade him to go any nearer.
“All right,” Hopwood agreed. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
He strolled on down to the bunk house. The men had just straggled out from supper and they were a sorry-looking lot. Some had gone straight to bed. Others were lolling around a bonfire outside. They looked at Hopwood curiously but none of them had ever seen him before, and they were too woebegone even to speak to him.
He was just going into the bunk house when he saw MacAndrews coming out of the cook shack. Hopwood walked straight up to him and came out frankly with his message. “Mr. MacAndrews, Mr. Burton asked me to tell you to put the men to work in the morning as usual and that he would be back to-morrow.”
Mac had been staring hard at him trying to recognize him in the dusk. “Who are you?” he asked gruffly.
“My name is Hopwood,” Hopwood replied wisely leaving off his last name.
“Come into the cook shack,” Mac growled, “where I can have a good look at you. I am suspicious of visitors since this morning.”
Hopwood followed him obediently into the cook shack and looked him squarely in the eye. “He also told me that I was to keep in touch with you while he was away and let you know what Foster Wait was doing.”
“He did, did he?” Mac grunted, as he looked him over suspiciously from head to foot. “Where has he gone?”
Hopwood looked around and lowered his voice. “He went over the mountain to see the United States marshal.”
Mac grunted his satisfaction but his suspicion was not completely allayed. “Who the deuce are you?” he asked again. “You look like one of these pesky mountaineers to me.”
“I am,” Hopwood replied bluntly, “but I am a friend of Mr. Burton’s and I don’t like Foster Wait as well as you do. That ought to be enough to satisfy you.”
“Well,” Mac said grudgingly, “if you are a liar you are a mighty slick one. I’ll take a chance on you, anyway. What’s that man Wait up to now?”
“He was in the house when I came by there a while ago. He’s not likely to come out again to-night, and I’ll watch him in the morning and let you know if he’s up to anything.”
“Very well,” Mac replied. “I’ll be watching for you, and—for him,” he added grimly.
Hopwood started for the door. “Don’t you want a handout?” Mac called after him hospitably.
As Hopwood had not had anything to eat since morning, he gladly accepted the invitation. While he was eating Mac plied him with all kinds of questions about Foster Wait. It was evident that it would be a bad day for Foster if he ever fell into Mac’s hands.
When he had finished the generous meal which Ben had given him he walked out to find Bill. The boy was sitting on the stump waiting patiently. Waiting was one of the best things Bill did.
“You ought to have come with me,” Hopwood said. “The cook gave me a great handout.”
“You can have mine in there,” Bill replied with a wry face. “What did he say about his boss?”
“He said he was out on the works to-day and would be back in camp to-night,” Hopwood lied glibly.
It was enough for the boy to have a satisfactory answer to take home. He did not question the truth of it. “Thanks,” he said, and started back up the mountain.
“Wait a while and I’ll walk up with you,” Hopwood volunteered.
“I gotta be getting home,” the boy said. “He’ll be mad enough now without keeping him waiting any longer.”
Hopwood watched him out of sight in the darkness. “Well, give him that information,” he mumbled maliciously to himself. “It may quiet his nerves.”
FOSTER REVIVES THE FEUD
No one knew where Hopwood spent the night. He did not accept Mac’s invitation to stay at the camp, but early morning found him on the road again on his way up to scout around Foster’s cabin. He had an uneasy feeling that something would happen if Foster found out where Scott had gone. He chuckled to think that he probably would not find it out now. He had sounded out Mr. Roberts and found that he did not know.
It was an hour after he had taken up his watch in a little patch of woods across the road from the house before he noticed any signs of life. A thin wisp of smoke curled up from the kitchen chimney. Every now and then he caught a roar from the rear of the house but no other sound of voices, a pretty good indication that Foster was in no better mood than he had been the night before.
A half hour later Bill came running around the house with head ducked low. Once safe around the corner he dropped down to a slow shuffle. He had been crying, and he looked longingly up at the mountain before he turned reluctantly down toward the village.
“He either suspects where Scott has gone or he is planning some new devilment as soon as he gets back,” Hopwood mused, as he watched Bill crawling slowly on his snail-like way. “Well, Foster is not likely to go out till Bill gets back and that can’t be for two hours at the rate he is moving.”
He had almost decided to go on another errand while he was waiting for Bill to come back when a movement caught his eye and he saw a barefoot boy turn in at Foster’s gate. Hopwood groaned with disappointment and apprehension, for he knew that boy was bearing one of two messages: either that Scott had passed the logging camp on the way down, or that the marshal had left town on the way up. Probably it was the former, because the marshal would know enough to avoid that camp. Hopwood blamed himself for not having warned Scott to keep away from it. Well, it could not be helped now.
“There will be something doing pretty soon now,” he thought.
He was not mistaken. The arrival of the boy at the Wait cabin was like the spark on a fuse running into a powder magazine. Foster roared like a wounded lion, and everything seemed to be in great commotion. A little girl darted out of the house and tore down the road toward the village.
“After Bill,” Hopwood mused. “I wonder what the game is?”
The commotion in the back of the house continued.
In a few minutes the girl and Bill came trotting back together. His reluctance to go had made his recall easy. Hopwood kept a close lookout now. He did not want anything to escape him, for much might depend on what he saw now. He saw Bill slip out of the side gate and take a short cut up the mountain carrying a long rifle.
Hopwood knew what that meant. The boy was to keep watch and fire his rifle as a signal if he saw the marshal coming that way. That was an old trick that he had seen worked many times before, but he had never had the interest in it that he had now. The boy from the logging camp followed close behind Bill.
These things did not worry Hopwood. A warning of the marshal’s approach would not do any harm. He had expected that. But when he saw two of the younger children scamper off on the trails which led to the cabins of other members of the family, and saw Foster run hurriedly to the barn to get his white horse, he began to get excited.
If this were Sewall, he would know that he was assembling the clan to resist the marshal. But he knew that they would not protect Foster, and Foster knew it himself.
“There is only one way,” Hopwood thought, “that Foster could get the support of the others, and that would be to start a fight with the Morgans.” If that were the plan he did not have much time to do it. No wonder he was in a hurry, with the marshal probably already on his way over the mountain.
So firmly did this idea take hold of Hopwood that he could stand it no longer. Foster galloped away furiously in the direction of the village, and Hopwood, breaking cover like a rabbit, darted across the road and straight through the woods on a bee line for the opposite mountain.
A little farther down he came into a trail and ducked out of it again just in time to miss another Wait who was hurrying toward the village. As soon as the rider was out of sight he broke into the trail again and ran panting on his way.
He crossed the railroad track below the village and ran gasping up the steep slope with his eyes glued on a little clearing far up on the mountainside. Every instant he dreaded that he would see Foster’s white horse flash across that clearing. Would he be in time?
It was this thought that drove him on and urged him to almost superhuman efforts, while every breath he drew tore at his lungs like a rusty knife. Stumbling like a drunken man he tottered out into the road in front of Jarred’s cabin.
The white horse was nowhere in sight. He had won the race. No matter how fast they came now Jarred would have his warning. He did not have the breath to shout at the gate. He ran across the yard and into the cabin without ceremony.
The minutes dragged slowly by and Hopwood did not come out. An unnatural silence seemed to surround the place. Not a single bird note broke the weird stillness, and even the little brook which usually tinkled so musically over the stones by the house seemed to be gliding softly now. Only the ticking of the old cuckoo clock within the cabin boomed out like the blows of a hammer.
The slow minutes passed: ten, fifteen, twenty, and Hopwood came slowly out. He looked weary and disheartened. Even the sound of a rifle shot from the valley below did not arouse him. He stood with his arms folded on top of the fence and looked listlessly across at the opposite mountain. There was another shot fired in the valley and a scattering volley answered it, but he did not seem to hear them.
Vic appeared in the doorway and called to him. “You must find out what that is, Hopwood. Are they fighting us or the logging camp?”
Hopwood started as though he had been awakened from a dream. With a wave of the hand to Vic he vaulted the fence and ran down the slope. When he came to the railroad track he hesitated a moment and then turned up the track toward the village.
He found Mr. Roberts sitting on the end of the station platform watching the fight as calmly as though watching a game from a grand stand.
“Just what happened?” Hopwood asked.
Shots were still being fired spasmodically from both sides of the street.
“Foster rode up to the store like a madman and shot across at Morgan’s wife without any warning,” Mr. Roberts replied, without taking his eyes off the fight.
“Did he hit her?” Hopwood asked with a hard unnatural ring in his voice.
“Couldn’t miss her, just across the street,” Mr. Roberts replied.
A cold steely glint came into Hopwood’s soft blue eyes and his jaw set tight. “Kill her?” he persisted.
“Couldn’t tell,” Mr. Roberts replied calmly. “They hauled her inside.”
Hopwood did not wait to hear any more. With a growl of rage he jumped across the railroad track and ran up the western slope with all the speed his tired legs could muster.
SCOTT ARRIVES AT THE VILLAGE
Scott and the marshal started down the mountain in the direction of the firing. “Where is that still?” the marshal asked. “We might as well have a look at it if it is up this way.”
“It won’t be much out of the way,” Scott said. “We are about there now.” He was so anxious to get to the village that he would not have consented to stop at all except that he thought he might find Hopwood at the still, and he was crazy to know what was going on. He led the marshal down the mountain at a run.
“Here’s the trail to it,” he exclaimed.
When they came to the tunnel the marshal slipped ahead with his revolver in his hand. “Let me pack this gun in there ahead,” he whispered. “Not likely to be any one there, but if there should be, he might be peevish.”
They made their way cautiously through the rhododendron and paused at the other end to watch and listen. There was no evidence of any one and the marshal ran quickly across the clearing to the cabin. Scott was close at his heels. There was no one there.
“This is a fine outfit,” the marshal exclaimed enthusiastically. “Big enough to supply the county. No wonder I could not find it. They are a foxy bunch. Put it on government land, too.”
One glance had shown Scott that Hopwood was not there and he was anxious to be off. “Come on,” he exclaimed, “you can destroy this thing any time. I’ve got to see what is happening down there. That may be my crew fighting.”
“Just the same, I am going to fix this thing before I go,” the marshal replied coolly. “Any one who is slick enough to put this thing in here might be pretty clever in getting it out. I’ll take no chances.”
With a few blows of his hatchet he cut the copper retort to ribbons and knocked the heads out of the barrels. “Now they can have it,” he cried with a chuckle of satisfaction.
Scott was already halfway out of the tunnel. As soon as he emerged on the open trail he saw Hopwood coming, exhausted but determined.
“What is going on, Hopwood?” he called anxiously.
“They’re at it,” Hopwood panted as he sank on a log.
“What started it?” Scott asked.
“The boy from the logging camp reported that you had gone over the mountain,” Hopwood gasped. “And Foster shot Vic’s mother in cold blood.”
Scott was horror struck. “Why, that is what Sewall predicted,” he said, “but I didn’t believe it possible.”
“It was murder,” Hopwood replied coldly.
“Jarred isn’t hurt, is he?” Scott persisted.
Hopwood’s answer was so low that Scott had to lean over him to hear it at all. A look of keen disappointment passed over Scott’s face.
“How did that happen?” he asked.
Again Hopwood’s answer was so low that he could hardly hear it.
Scott straightened suddenly. His anger was choking him, and the hot blood leaping through his veins almost blinded him.
Hopwood, still panting from his exertions, jumped from the log and started straight down through the woods.
“Where are you going?” Scott called sharply.
“Down to fight on the side of the Morgans,” he answered without even turning his head.
“So am I,” Scott exclaimed savagely, “and so is all my logging crew unless this feud is dropped now and forever.”
“What’s going on?” the marshal asked.
But Scott did not seem to hear him. He strode down the mountain slope in the direction Hopwood had taken. His eyes were searching the woods for any signs of the Waits, and his ears were straining to catch any significant sounds from the valley below, but his mind was far away in the little cabin up on the opposite mountain.
When they came to a little clearing on a knoll which overlooked the village they stopped to reconnoiter. At first they could see nothing out of the ordinary. The village seemed as quiet and deserted as ever. Mr. Roberts was still sitting calmly on the end of the station platform and two women were peeping from an upstairs window of the hotel.
They were almost directly in the rear of the Waits’ position, and gradually they began to distinguish them. First, one here, crouching behind the corner of the store, then another one behind the lumber pile. Twenty-two they counted and all armed.
One man seemed to be holding himself in reserve for an emergency. He stood apart from the others, his arms folded across the end of the barrel of his long rifle, and his chin resting on his arms. He did not seem to be taking any active part. He must have been in plain sight of both parties but none of them seemed to molest him.
Every now and then the vicious ping of a high-power rifle rang out from the Morgan store and was answered by a scattering volley from the men in hiding before them.
They saw Hopwood slip across the railroad back of the hotel and glide around through the woods to the back of the Morgan store.
The marshal had been examining the scene minutely through his field glasses. Suddenly he grasped Scott’s elbow.
“There’s my man,” he whispered.
Scott followed the direction of the pointing finger. Farthest away from the store and securely hidden behind a long pile of cordwood was Foster Wait.
“The farthest away and the best hidden of them all,” Scott sneered. “The coward!”
Over in the other direction, opposite the hotel, on a knoll very similar to their own, was the whole logging crew.
“I’m going over there to give a message to my foreman,” Scott said. “Then I am going down to put an end to this row.”
“Better keep out of it,” the marshal advised. “Let the sheriff take care of it. The peacemaker always gets the worst of it.”
But Scott shook his head and started toward his crew. Mac had seen him coming and met him halfway.
“Some show,” Mac exclaimed cheerfully. “They have not bothered us yet and I reckon maybe they know enough to let us alone.”
“I am going down there to try to stop it, Mac. If anything interferes with me it will be these fellows on this side. If they do, clean them up.”
“We’ll do that,” Mac exclaimed enthusiastically. “But why not let us clean them up first? It would be safer?”
“No,” Scott replied firmly, “that would not do. I don’t think they will bother me and I don’t want you to mix in the thing at all unless they do.”
A fresh burst of shots rattled around the buildings on both sides of the street. “They haven’t hit anybody yet,” Mac growled sarcastically, “but they may hurt somebody if they keep on.”
When Scott got back to the knoll, the marshal was nowhere in sight. He did not stop to look for him. He had made up his mind what he was going to do and he was anxious to be about it. He picked his way diagonally across the slope, back of the Waits’ position to where the station agent was sitting on the platform.
He talked earnestly to Mr. Roberts for a moment and started up the road toward the village.
“Better keep out of it,” Mr. Roberts called after him pleadingly.
But Scott neither turned back nor answered him.
THE END OF THE FEUD
Scott walked rapidly up the road toward the store. He felt a shiver run up his back as he passed the woodpile where Foster was hiding, but he held his course steadily and looked neither to the right nor the left.
Astonishment and wonder held the men on both sides motionless. It seemed to Scott as though he were walking all alone through a great desert with a row of mines on either side of him. He could almost hear the sputtering of the fuses. He had never felt so lonely in all his life.
He heard a voice on the Morgan side shouting to him to keep back, and he recognized it as Hopwood’s.
Only when he came to a spot squarely between the two stores did he stop. There he held his hand solemnly up over his head and called out in a voice that all could hear.
“I have a message for all of you and I call upon you all as men to come out here and listen to it.”
He called in a loud voice, but so tense was the stillness that a whisper could have been heard as well. And the silence continued after he had spoken. He did not repeat it but stood there with hand uplifted. The suspense was nerve racking. At last it was broken.
“Say what you have to say and get out of the road,” called a sullen voice from the Morgan store.
“Very well,” Scott agreed solemnly, “if it must be that way, listen.”
He saw Sewall standing up there apart from the others and rightly guessed that he was not in sympathy with what was being done. He glanced at him occasionally for reassurance, for he did not feel at all sure that his plan would be a success.
“If you knew why you were fighting here to-day, you would never have come,” he began.
“If that’s all you have to say, we’ve heard enough,” the same sullen voice interrupted.
Scott paid no attention to it, but continued in an impressive voice. “You think you are fighting for the old feud which has kept you neighbors enemies for forty years, but you are not. You are fighting because there is a coward in your midst who felt his influence slipping and shot an innocent woman to make it appear that you were being attacked. It worked, and you are fighting here to protect a murderer.”
There was a dead silence as they strove to realize the significance of what he had said. He had seen Sewall bring his rifle into a more convenient position when he began to talk. Now he suddenly threw it up to his shoulder and aimed at the woodpile.
There were two shots almost at the same instant, and a bullet plowed up the ground at Scott’s feet and covered him with dust.
“There is the proof of what I say,” Scott shouted. “He is attempting another murder to cover up the first.” He pointed scornfully toward the woodpile and was as much astonished as the others at what he saw.
Foster was crouching on the ground with his hands held high above his head while the marshal stood over him with his smoking revolver in his hand. It was his shot that had spoiled Foster’s aim just in the nick of time. Sewall had been too late.
There was a murmur of resentment among the Waits at the sight of the marshal, whom they all regarded as their common enemy, arresting one of their members in their very midst. Scott saw that he was in danger of losing out.
“I brought the marshal here after that man because I could not get the sheriff. He is wanted for the cold-blooded murder of two women. Do you want to support such a man as that?”
There was silence again. Scott saw that he had them with him.
“Let me talk to your real leaders,” he shouted. “Come down here, Sewall.”
Sewall walked slowly forward, and men on both sides stepped out of their hiding places to see him come, and crowded slowly in around the two.
“Where is Jarred Morgan?” Scott asked, when Sewall stepped out into the road.
“Probably in the store there,” one of the Waits suggested.
“He is not,” Scott replied loudly enough for all to hear. “He is up at his cabin dying of pneumonia.”
There was a murmur of surprise and incredulity. Sewall’s face showed genuine regret.
“And do you want to know what gave him the pneumonia?” Scott persisted, addressing himself directly to Sewall. “Because he jumped into the pool to save your child from drowning.”
“What?” Sewall gasped. “Did Jarred do that? She said it was a strange girl.”
“Vic took care of her,” Scott replied quietly, “but Jarred got her out and this morning he was dying as the result of it.”
There was a hushed silence over the whole village.
Scott was determined to hold his advantage. “Jarred promised that he would drop the feud if Foster was out of the way, and Foster is going to a place from which he will not return. Are you willing to drop it?”
“I am more than willing,” Sewall said, “and have been for some time. Certainly, I personally can never fight with Jarred’s people again,” and his voice shook with emotion.
“How about the rest of you?” Scott asked looking at the rest of the assembled family.
They all agreed eagerly. They were afraid of Jarred and if he would stop fighting they were willing enough.
“Are you willing to stand by Jarred’s promise?” Scott asked, turning to the Morgans.
They were as eager as the Waits.
“Then shake hands on it,” Scott said, and he pulled Sewall and Ben Morgan towards each other.
They shook hands solemnly and in five minutes both families had almost forgotten that a feud had ever existed. They had all completely forgotten Foster.
Scott suddenly remembered him and hurried over to the woodpile, but the marshal had taken advantage of his opportunity and spirited him away.
JARRED AND SEWALL MEET
As soon as Scott was sure that the marshal had made good his get-away with Foster he looked for Hopwood, but Hopwood had also disappeared. He could see nothing further that he could do there and turned down the road away from the village. He had not gone far when he heard some one walking fast behind him. It was Sewall.
“Where are you going?” Sewall asked.
“Up to Jarred’s” Scott replied.
“So am I,” Sewall said.
They walked in silence, each occupied with his own thoughts. Scott was wondering where the marshal had gone with his prisoner and whether they would have any trouble in convicting him. Sewall was deeply moved by his walk up that road which was to him almost like a foreign country. His thoughts finally took the form of words.
“Do you know that I have been over this road only once before in thirty years, and that at night?”
Scott looked at him in astonishment. “Do you know Jarred?” he asked suddenly.
“Only by sight. I’ve seen him in the village once or twice, and once three years ago when he came up on our mountain,” Sewall said thoughtfully.
“What did they have, a conference?” Scott asked.
“No, one of Foster’s boys threw a stone across the street and hurt Vic. Jarred rode straight up here after him and horsewhipped him in his own yard.”
“I should not think he would have dared,” Scott exclaimed. “Where was Foster?”
“In the house,” Sewall chuckled, “and he stayed there. Jarred did not even look to see if he was in sight. He just licked the kid, turned his back on the house and rode away. From all I have heard, Jarred was never much afraid of anything.”
“I have always admired him,” Scott said.
“So have I,” Sewall confessed simply.
Again they walked in silence. When they came to Jarred’s gate, Scott called softly and Hopwood appeared in the doorway.
“How did you get here?” Scott asked in surprise. He never got used to Hopwood’s unexpected movements.
“I hurried up here to tell Vic that her mother was not seriously hurt,” Hopwood exclaimed.
“How is Jarred?” Scott asked anxiously.
Hopwood’s face brightened. “He seems much better. I believe he is going to get well.”
“Can we see him?” Scott asked eagerly.
“If you don’t make him talk too much,” Hopwood consented reluctantly. He felt that it would be better not, but he could not refuse this man who had successfully accomplished what he had been trying in vain for years to do. He stepped aside to let them enter.
They walked into the little cabin stepping softly. Vic was hovering protectingly around the bed. The old man was very weak, but his pride kept him from looking ill even now. A pleased light came into his eyes when he saw Scott. He started slightly at the unexpected sight of Sewall. Scott noticed it.
“Sewall could not wait for Foster and the marshal to get out of sight to come up to thank you for saving his child,” he explained.
Sewall knelt appealingly beside the bed.
Jarred smiled and feebly stretched out his hand. “I can easily be friends with Sewall,” he whispered.
“I have always been your friend,” Sewall replied earnestly, “and I am coming to see you often if I may.”
“With Foster in the penitentiary and you for my friend I can die in peace, but”—Jarred added with a faint smile—“I am not going to do it yet.”
At a sign from Vic they left him as softly as they had come. Hopwood was waiting for them outside the door.
“He is lots better,” Hopwood exclaimed, “but Vic wants to keep him quiet.”
“She is right,” Scott said. “Are you going down with us?”
Hopwood blushed a little. “No, I am going to stay here and see if I can be of any help to Vic.”
“Do you want me to send for a doctor?” Scott asked. “I would be glad to get one from Asheville for Jarred.”
Hopwood shook his head. “Jarred would not like it.”
So they left Hopwood standing contentedly on call beside the door, and started slowly for the village.
“Tell me,” Scott exclaimed, “why did Hopwood wear that iron hat? I have been wondering about it ever since I came and he has always told me he would tell me later.”
“He wanted to make his family think he was crazy,” Sewall explained. “Did he fool you?”
“At first,” Scott admitted, “but not for long.”
Sewall laughed. “He has more brains than anybody else in the family. He was crazy for a while after Foster struck him that time, and he began wearing the iron hat for protection. He soon got all right, but he was shrewd enough to see that he could hear a lot more and go wherever he pleased if they thought he was crazy.
“Of course you know how crazy he is about Vic and Jarred. Well, he kept right on pretending to be crazy, and he did it so well that he fooled them all completely. All the time, he was working tooth and nail to help Jarred.”
“And you knew that all the time?” Scott asked.
“Certainly. Jarred was in the right, and Foster has been wrong always,” Sewall exclaimed.
As they approached old man Sanders’ cabin they saw him waiting for them at the gate.
“How is Jarred?” he called, as soon as they were near enough to hear him.
“Lots better,” Scott said.
“And is it true that Foster has gone to the penitentiary for life?” he asked eagerly.
“He’s gone to the penitentiary, all right,” Scott said, “and we hope it will be for life.”
“Good!” the old man exclaimed enthusiastically. “I congratulate you, young man, on the way you kept neutral,” he added with a grin.
“Well, it worked, anyway,” Scott retorted. He had noticed that Mr. Sanders had hardly spoken to Sewall, and he had thought that he would be surprised to see him.
“You surely know Mr. Sewall Wait, don’t you, Mr. Sanders?” he asked.
“Reckon I do,” Mr. Sanders laughed. “He licked me at cribbage here last night.”
Scott looked at Sewall indignantly. “I thought you told me that you had not been up this road for thirty years.”
“That was above here,” Sewall laughed. “I sneak over here in the evening every once in a while to play cribbage with Mr. Sanders.”
Scott was beginning to see what a hollow thing that feud really was, and yet it had killed several people, wounded many more and ruined the community for years.
“Did Jarred know it?” he asked.
Sewall nodded. “Sure. I have sat on the fence there and talked over the feud with Vic by the hour.”
“Do you think Vic will give it up?” he asked again.
“Sure she will,” Sewall replied confidently. “She’ll marry Hopwood some day and forget there ever was a feud unless Foster comes back. She’ll never forgive him, and she’ll never forgive her father.”
They left Mr. Sanders and went down to the logging camp. There Scott gave directions to MacAndrews to go on with the logging in the morning as usual, and told him that if he were short of help he could hire anybody around there.
At the station he sent a telegram to his old boss in the forest service:
“Feud ended. Place now foolproof for supervisors.”
And when Mr. Roberts came home to supper that evening he brought the reply:
“Good work. We are going to appoint you the next fool.”
But Scott did not want that job till he had finished the one he had. He was deaf to the letters from Washington. A few days later, Mr. Johns arrived on the scene to plead with him in person. He listened with interest to Scott’s account of the struggle.
“Well,” he said admiringly when Scott had finished his story, “you certainly turned the trick, all right. You pulled the Service out of a nasty hole and everybody appreciates it. Now we want you back as supervisor. It ought to be a peaceful enough job now, thanks to you.”
But Scott still shook his head. “Not till the last log is in here,” he said, waving his hand toward the mountain slope.
“Pshaw,” Mr. Johns exclaimed impatiently, “anybody can run this logging outfit now.”
“That’s just it,” Scott replied quietly. “It has been hard enough work to get it to run smoothly, and now I am going to have the benefit of it. I am going to make a bunch of money off that contract, low as the bid was. When it is all over I will take back the job if you want me to; but I would rather go back to my old horse in Arizona.”
“Well, we might even arrange that in time,” Mr. Johns said, “or maybe we could bring the horse here.”
“That would be better,” came a quiet voice behind them, and they both started to find Hopwood looking at Scott reproachfully.
“You are right, Hopwood,” Scott replied gently. “I had forgotten you. I will at least come back when you and Vic are married. Let’s all go up to see Jarred and tell him the news.”