"Good morning, Mr. Horse," greeted Emma.
"Mornin'," answered the Indian briefly.
Grace by this time was shaking hands with him; then the Overland girls surrounded him and demanded to know why he had not been to see them before.
Emma started to tell Willy what a lot of trouble they had been in when Grace interjected a remark that caused Elfreda to wonder.
"Perhaps Willy Horse knows more about our late unpleasantnesses than you do, Emma," said Grace.
"Hello, old man. How are you?" cried Hippy, striding forward with outstretched hand.
"How do! You Big Friend. Me make breakfast fire here."
"Help yourself," urged the girls.
"All yours," added Hippy with a wave of the hand that encompassed the entire camp.
"Not includin' the guide," differed Joe Shafto.
Grace told Willy to wait until their breakfast was ready and eat with them, but the Indian shook his head and stolidly continued preparing his own breakfast. When it was ready he ate it, then sat back and smoked his pipe.
"See other Big Friend," he finally vouchsafed.
"Tom Gray?" questioned Grace, instantly divining who Willy meant.
The Indian nodded his head.
"Him say all right," he added after an interval of puffing. "Say him come along bymeby. Say Willy Horse show you place to camp. Me show."
"That will be fine. Did my husband say when he expected to join us?" asked Grace.
"Say him come along soon. You see other white men?" Willy bent a steady look on the face of Hippy Wingate.
"I should say we have. Deputy sheriffs, game wardens and a forest ranger."
"Yes, and we saw a fellow named Peg Tatem. We had a fight with him," Emma informed their visitor.
"Yes, we did, Mr. Horse. And some one shot a hole through his wooden leg. Who do you suppose could have done that?"
"Big Friend, huh?" he questioned, looking up at Hippy.
"Not guilty," answered Hippy with a shake of the head.
"How come?" demanded the Indian.
Emma Dean told him the story, Willy listening gravely, puffing slowly at his pipe, eyes fixed on the campfire. He smoked on in silence for some time after the conclusion of her narrative.
"Mebby Willy find out," he grunted.
"You suspect, don't you?" demanded Elfreda, who had been narrowly observing the Indian.
"Make breakfast. We go soon. Willy show where make camp." With that the Indian rose, turned his back on them and loped into the forest. They saw no more of him for fully two hours, and were already packed up and on their way when they saw him standing with shoulder against a great tree, watching their approach.
"You come along. Willy show," he directed as Hippy came abreast of him.
"How long will it take to reach this camp?" asked Lieutenant Wingate.
"Long time. Next sundown."
"To-morrow's or to-day's sundown?" demanded Emma.
Willy resumed his Indian gait, shoulders leaning forward, toes pointed inward, his center of gravity well forward, and in this position he trotted along for hours. The party halted at noon, but Willy Horse jogged on ahead and was soon out of sight. He rejoined them after they had resumed their journey and did not again stop until just before dark when he announced that they would camp where they were. The Indian then made browse-beds in the open for the Overland girls, and again disappeared.
"What's the matter with that pesky savage?" demanded the forest woman. "He's wuss'n the bear."
Hippy suggested that perhaps the Indian had gone off by himself to listen to the voices of nature.
"Perhaps he has gone away to shoot somebody's wooden leg," suggested Emma demurely.
Elfreda nodded, and said she too was convinced that Willy Horse had fired the shots that shattered Peg Tatem's wooden leg, and the girls agreed with her. They never got any nearer to the truth of that occurrence, for, when questioned later about it, Willy Horse seemed unable to understand what they were talking about.
The Indian did not reappear until the following morning. That day he led them a long chase and kept the Overlanders at a fast jog. How he ever stood up under it they could not imagine, and when they stopped he was breathing naturally, and did not appear to be in the least fatigued.
"Come camp to-night," he told them when asked how near they were to their destination.
The woman guide had little to say, but her sour expression told the Overlanders that she was not pleased that the Indian was leading them.
The skies clouded over late in the afternoon, and later a drizzling rain set in, but they continued on, well protected by their waterproof coats, the hoods of which covered their heads. Henry, however, was a disconsolate-looking object, but Hindenburg, riding in Hippy's saddle bag, was dry and cosy, sleeping soundly as the rain pattered on his sleeping quarters.
Night found the party still some little distance from its destination, and Willy Horse was appealed to for encouragement. Emma wanted to camp where they were but the others outvoted her, so on they rode.
From then on the journey was an unpleasant one. The shins of the riders were barked from contact with trees. Low-hanging limbs of small second-growth trees slapped their faces and deluged the riders with water, and altogether they were experiencing about the most unpleasant ride that they had ever taken, except possibly that across the Great American Desert earlier in their vacation riding.
Grace, perhaps, was the only exception, in that she found herself enjoying the unusual experience and the excitement of it, for the stumbles of the ponies were frequent; here and there a tree was heard to fall crashing to earth, and, high and piercing on the soggy night air, they occasionally heard the mournful howl of a wolf.
"There goes seven dollars and a half," Emma would wail every time a wolf howled.
Willy Horse finally shouted and indicated by a gesture, which was revealed to the riders in the rear by Hippy's lamp, that he was about to change his course. The Indian turned sharply to the right, proceeded in a direct line for half a mile, as nearly as the Riders could judge, then threw his arm straight up into the air.
"Be we there?" yelled the forest woman.
"We be. That is, we're here, but whether here is there or somewhere else you will have to search the Indian for the answer. I don't know," answered Hippy.
"Wait! Me make fire," directed Willy.
The Overlanders, having sat their saddles so long, were literally sticking to the leather, but wrenched themselves loose, slid off and leaned against the steaming sides of their ponies, while water from the trees filtered over them and ran in rivulets down their coats.
The flame of a cheerful campfire showed through the mist and was greeted with a hoarse cheer by the cold Overland Riders.
"Is this the place where we are to stay until Mr. Gray joins us?" called Grace.
"Yes," answered the Indian.
"Land sakes! I never could have found it," exclaimed the forest woman. "Leastwise not in the dark. Reckon I might a follered the river and got here somehow, but not the way that pesky savage took us, and ter think I had ter be showed by a heathen how to get here."
The fire flamed into a snapping blaze, and then to the delight of the party, they saw near at hand a large lean-to and two smaller ones.
"Willy, did you make them for us?" wondered Anne.
"Yes. Me make 'em."
"But, they must be soaked through," protested Nora. "How shall we be able to sleep in a lean-to on a night like this."
"No leak. Bark on roof," the Indian informed her.
"Come, girls. Let us stake down and get close to that fire. I am shivering," urged Elfreda.
"I expect my pup is too," said Hippy. "And the bear. Oh, where is he?"
Henry had disappeared and his master was too busy to bother about him.
After building a cook fire, Willy ran out into the forest, returning soon thereafter with several large slices of bear meat, from stores that he had safely cached, which he proceeded to fry over the fire while Mrs. Shafto was boiling water for tea and opening cans of beans. The girls threw off their wet garments and sank luxuriously into the browse floor of their lean-to.
"Oh, girls, this is worth all the discomforts we have been through, isn't it?" cried Anne enthusiastically.
"I don't know whether it is or not," answered Emma sourly. "Any port in a storm, you know."
Hippy came in wet and dripping after caring for the ponies, with Hindenburg tucked safely under his coat.
"Reminds me of France," he exclaimed jovially. "Say, children, may my Hindenburg sleep in your quarters to-night? It will be warmer and more comfortable for him than in mine."
"No!" shouted the Overland girls.
"He may sleep in the attic," suggested Emma. "Otherwise, on the roof. Hippy, why do you keep that animal around? What is he good for except to eat and sleep?"
"Don't you malign my bull pup. He is a watch dog, the best ever, and—" Hippy's remaining words were lost in the shout of laughter that interrupted him.
"Oh, Hippy, you are a scream," exclaimed Grace. "You know very well that the only thing Hindenburg has watched since we started, is the food, and always he has watched for us to throw some of it to him. Yes, he is a wonderful watch dog."
All were now crowded into the lean-to, except Willy, who, after cooking the bear-meat, said "Bye," and went away.
Good-nights were said early that evening and all hands turned in after Mrs. Shafto had fed what was left of the supper to Henry. The bear had come in immediately after getting the odor of one of his relatives being cooked over the Overland Riders' campfire.
Rain roared on the bark roofs of the lean-tos all night long, but the girls, dry and cosy, slept the night through without once awakening, with Henry on guard out there sitting under a tree in a disconsolate attitude, now and then wearily licking the water from his coat. Hindenburg, more favored, slept cuddled between Lieutenant Wingate's feet.
The present camp, it was understood between the Overlanders and Tom Gray, was to be a permanent camp for some time to come, and it was here that some of the most exciting scenes of their journey through the Great North Woods were to be witnessed by them.
IN THE INDIAN TEPEE
The rain had ceased, when Grace, the first of her party to awaken, looked out as she lay on her browse bed. The river was shining in the morning sun, glassy, save here and there where its waters rippled over a shallow of gravel.
"Turn out!" she shouted. "This is too wonderful to miss. Oh, look!"
A canoe, with an Indian crouching in its stern wielding a paddle, was skimming across the stream, not a sound or splash of paddle, nor hardly a ripple from it to be heard or seen.
"It's Willy Horse. Hurry, girls! Don't miss this wonderful nature canvas."
Exclamations were heard from all the girls after they had rubbed the sleep from their eyes. By then Willy was nearing their shore, and the bow of his canoe, a real birch canoe made by himself, landed on the beach, whereupon, Willy threw out a mess of speckled trout, sufficient for breakfast for the entire party, amid little cries of delight from the girls.
"Hey there, Thundercloud! Are those all for my breakfast?" called Hippy from his lean-to.
"Hippy!" rebuked Nora.
"Oh, send him out in the woods to eat with Henry," advised Emma.
While the Overland girls were washing at the river, Willy cleaned the fish and handed them to the forest woman who already had the cook fire going. And such a breakfast as the Overland party had that morning! Following the meal they made Willy take them for a ride in his canoe, two at a time; then Hippy and the bull pup took a skim up and down the river with Willy at the paddle.
"All we need now to make us feel like real aborigines is an Indian wigwam or a tepee," suggested Grace to her companions.
"What is the difference between them?" asked Miss Briggs.
"A tepee is a temporary home; the wigwam is the Indian's permanent abiding place."
"Me make," announced Willy.
"Oh, Mister Horse! Will you really?" giggled Emma.
Willy grunted, and, shoving off his canoe, paddled swiftly away. He returned an hour later, the canoe loaded with strips of birch bark which he carefully laid on the shore. The Indian then trotted off into the forest. On this trip he fetched an armful of "lodge"-poles. After trimming them, he tied three together with a long deerskin thong, about eighteen inches from the tops of the poles, carrying the thong about them a few times and leaving the end of it trailing down. The rest of the poles he stood against the sides of the tripod at regular intervals all the way around.
"Oh, it's an Indian house!" cried Emma. "It really is."
Thus far the work had been quickly accomplished, and now came the enclosing of the structure. This Willy did by laying strips of bark on the sloping "lodge"-poles, carrying the leather thong about them to hold the bark firmly against the poles. The entrance, formed by spreading poles apart, faced the waters of the Little Big Branch.
The tepee was finished shortly before eleven o'clock that morning, when Willy hung a blanket of deerhide over the doorway. As yet, none of the Overlanders had been permitted to look in and when they asked if they might do so, "You wait. Me fix," answered the Indian, ducking into the house he had created, and in a few moments they saw wisps of smoke curling up from the peak of the tepee through the opening left by the tops of the "lodge"-poles.
"You come," announced the Indian as he stepped out.
The girls lost no time in crawling into the tepee. Cries of delight rose with the smoke of the lodge-fire that Willy had made with a few sticks and pieces of bark, as they found themselves in a circular room fully ten feet in diameter, in the center of which crackled a comforting little fire, the draft carrying the smoke straight up and out of the tepee.
"What if it should rain?" questioned Emma apprehensively.
"Me put cover over top," answered the Indian, whose stolid expressionless face was peering in at them. "No rain come along. You like?"
Miss Briggs got up and offered her hand to him.
"We do, Willy. But why do you do so much for us?" she asked.
"Willy's Big Friends," he answered gruffly, and started to back out, but the girls would not let him go until each had shaken hands with him and thanked him.
"By the way, where do you live?" wondered Nora.
"Summer time live on reservation. Hunting time live up here in tepee. Me show. Me go hunting, too. Mebby shoot deer, mebby big moose. Bye!"
"Oh, don't go away," begged Grace. "We like to have you here, and I wish, too, that you would let me paddle that beautiful canoe. It is the first bark canoe I have ever seen. I know how to paddle a modern canoe, but I saw this morning that the bark boat is an entirely different craft. Will you teach me?"
"Me show. Go meet Big Friend now."
"Bring him back with you, Willy," urged Grace, but the Indian already had withdrawn, and when they looked out he had gone.
"Hey, you folks!" called Hippy, who was grooming Hindenburg with a horse brush. "Where is the dinner?"
Grace said she had forgotten all about it, and that Mrs. Shafto had gone out to try to shoot a duck.
"In the meantime we starve, eh? Hindenburg is so hungry that his sides are caving in, and the bear has gone out into the woods to eat leaves. By the way, Willy Hoss's canoe is down yonder hidden under the bushes. He said you were to use it, Grace. He has gone away."
After dinner, which was more in the nature of a luncheon, Mrs. Shafto came into camp with three ducks which she had shot, and promised her charges that they should have stuffed roast duck for supper.
That afternoon Grace tried the canoe. She got one spill and was soaked to the skin, but crawled back to shore laughing at her mishap, and essayed another attempt.
"I thought my canoe was cranky, but this beats everything," she called to her companions as she again floated out on the stream in the bark canoe. The Overland girl practiced for half an hour, during which she got the hang of the cranky bark canoe and did very well paddling it.
"Let me try it," begged Emma.
"You will not," objected Hippy. "Think I want to plunge into that cold water and rescue you?"
"Do you think I am simple enough to fall in?" demanded Emma indignantly.
"Yes, and as often as I could pull you out. Then again, you would lose yourself listening to the voices of nature and get into a fine, wet mess. That nature stuff makes me weary."
Emma did not paddle the canoe that day, nor did any of the others express a desire to do so. They saw no more of the Indian that day, and that night the girls spread their blankets in the tepee.
"We must have a fire in here for the sake of cheerfulness," urged Anne.
"Yes. And burn ourselves up," objected Emma.
"There should be no danger unless we roll into the fire in our sleep," answered Miss Briggs.
A small fire was kindled in the tepee, and, for a long time after they had gone in for the night, the Overland girls sat with feet doubled under them, enjoying the novel sensation of having for their use a real Indian tepee, and listening to Joe Shafto relate some of her experiences in the Big North Woods.
The conversation was interrupted by Henry who poked his nose into the tepee and sniffed the air inquisitively. A slight tap on his nose by the guide sent the bear scampering away. After a hearty laugh at Henry's expense, the girls rolled up in their blankets and went to sleep not to awaken again until sunrise, when they were jolted out of their dreams by a loud halloo.
THE TRAIL OF THE PIRATES
"Tom's here!" shouted Grace. "All right, Tom. We will be out as soon as we can find our way out of this roundhouse," she laughed, feeling for the opening that, in the subdued light, looked like all the rest of the tepee wall.
Tom was bronzed and happy, and after greeting the girls he inquired for Henry and Hindenburg.
"The bear's out lookin' for his breakfast," answered the forest woman.
"And the bull pup is asleep. He keeps bankers' hours instead of attending to his business," complained Emma.
After breakfast Tom told them of his work in the forest, adding that he had observed evidences of the recent presence of timber-pirates.
"That is, I have found their blazes, secret cuttings on trees in remote sections. This discovery I have marked on the map, and will inform the authorities after I have finished 'cruising' the Pineries. This afternoon I shall work north to look over some virgin forest ground near here. Come along with me, won't you, Hippy?"
"Sure thing. We'll take Hindenburg for protection," agreed Hippy.
"Why not take the rest of the party?" suggested Grace.
"This is a business trip," replied Tom. "Of course you can go if you wish, but it were better not, for we shall have to rough it in the real sense of the word. Willy wants to go out with me, and may join us up river sometime to-day."
"Where is the measly redskin, Cap'n?" demanded Joe.
"He has gone downstream. Willy has a camp a short distance below here. That Indian is a real man."
"We have found him so," agreed Elfreda.
Joe Shafto grunted disdainfully.
Tom remained at the camp until after dinner, replenished his supplies, including a stuffed duck which the forest woman prepared for him; then he and Hippy set out on their ponies for up-river points.
"What is in the wind, Tom?" questioned Lieutenant Wingate after they got under way. "I know you had some good reason other than merely desiring my company, or you would not have asked me to go with you."
Tom laughed heartily.
"A little of both, Lieutenant. I hear that timber-pirates have been making some cuttings above here, and I wish you to go along as a witness to what I may find. That's all."
"No scraps in sight, eh?"
"Tell me about it."
"Timber thieves seek the remote places and look for suitable plots that can be cut off and floated downstream to the mills. There the logs are thrown in with other logs, and branded on one end to correspond with such logs as have been procured in a legitimate way. Should the pirates be discovered, they frequently buy the plot, if they represent a big concern, and nothing more is done so far as the authorities are concerned."
"You don't mean to say that reputable lumber companies go in for anything of that sort, do you?" wondered Hippy.
"I did not say 'reputable.' Of course not. All big concerns are not necessarily reputable in the sense you mean, but there is many a man to-day who holds his head high in the world, though the foundation of his business was stolen timber."
Hippy uttered a low whistle of amazement.
"Look there!" exclaimed Tom Gray late in the afternoon as they rode into a "cutting" from which the timber had been removed. Several acres had been cut off, and skidways built up for more extensive operations, probably for that very season.
Upon consulting his map, the forester found, as he had expected, that the timber was not charted as belonging to private individuals. Tom pointed to a man-made dam in the river. It had been constructed of spiles—small logs, driven in like posts, set so that they leaned upstream. The water gates were open, and, upon examination, showed that logs had been floated there, for the marks of the logs were visible on the sides of the gates and on the tops of the spiles. Added to this, the floor of the dam was covered with last season's logs, hundreds of them.
"Will you please tell me why a dam is necessary to lumbering?" questioned Lieutenant Wingate.
"To provide a good head of water on which to float logs down to the mills when the river is low. The logs are dumped into the dam until it is full; the gates are then opened and the logs go booming down towards the mills. To be fully equipped there should be a second dam above this one to wash down such timber as fails to clear. We will go on further and see what we find."
They found the second dam, constructed across the river at a narrow spot. It had been quite recently built, as Tom Gray found upon examining the spiles and comparing their age with those of the lower dam.
"This looks to me like a fine piece of timber," he announced with a sweeping gesture that took in the great trees that surrounded them. "We will cruise as far as we can before dark and go over the rest of the section to-morrow."
"And you believe 'pirates' are trying to hog all they can of it, do you?" questioned Hippy.
"There can be no doubt of it. We have evidence of that."
"Suppose some one should step in and buy the section—what then?"
"It would serve the robbers right," declared Tom Gray with emphasis.
"What is the section worth?"
"Too much money for us. Say fifty to seventy-five thousand dollars, or even more if it is owned by private persons. If the state owns it, the latter figure probably would be about what one would have to pay for the timber rights."
"At the latter price how much could a fellow expect to clear on the deal?" persisted Hippy.
Tom said it would depend upon whether one sold the logs delivered at the mill, or worked them into lumber at his own mill. It was his opinion that the holder should earn a profit of a hundred thousand dollars or more, in the latter instance, provided he had proper shipping facilities.
"Of course, here you have the river on which to float your logs down to the mill, which should be located at or near the lakes," added Tom.
"Look it over carefully to-morrow. I am getting interested to know more about the lumber business. One can't have too much knowledge, you know. Now that we have sold our coal lands in Kentucky, you and I are interested in high finance. Eh, Tom?"
"Thanks to you, Hippy, we are."
The coal lands to which Hippy referred were part of an estate that had been willed to him by an admiring uncle while Lieutenant Wingate was a member of the United States Army Air Forces in France. The Overland Riders had made the Kentucky Mountains the scene of their summer's outing the year before their present journey, and there experienced many stirring adventures. Hippy, at first, decided to work the mines himself, with Tom Gray as his partner, but that winter they received an offer for the property and sold it outright for a large sum of money, which Lieutenant Wingate insisted they should share equally.
The two friends, after sitting about their campfire until a late hour that night discussing the subject that had taken strong hold of Hippy's mind, lay down to sleep in the open.
Immediately after breakfast next morning Tom and Hippy started out to make a thorough "cruise" of the pine trees in the section from which a few acres of logs had been cut. They finished their work late in the afternoon, but Tom did not venture a further opinion on what he had seen until they were on their way to their camp, where they had decided to remain another night.
"Well?" demanded Hippy finally. "Speak up! How about it, Tom?"
"Hippy, you have looked upon the finest plot of virgin timber to be found anywhere outside the states of Oregon and Washington. I wish someone would buy it and beat those pirates out. It is a burning shame to let them get away with it."
"Where would one have to go to find out about it?"
"St. Paul, possibly. Why?"
"I was just wondering, that's all," answered Lieutenant Wingate thoughtfully.
Hippy asked who owned the timber adjoining the section, but Tom did not know that any individual owned it because the map showed that it was still a part of the state forest reserve.
"You see these maps were issued some months ago, and many changes may have taken place in that time, though they are really supposed to be up to date."
"Is Willy likely to be up here to-day, Tom?"
"No. I asked him to keep within easy reach of the Overland camp at night while we are away."
Willy, being a man of his word, guarded the Overland camp jealously for two nights, but on the morning of the next day, just before daybreak, he started to go upstream and look for the two absent men, his understanding being that they were to be away but one night. He was hiking along the river bank when Hippy, who had remained with the horses while his companion went into the forest for a final brief survey before starting for home, discovered the Indian who hailed him.
"How do?" greeted the Indian.
"Nothing wrong at camp, is there?" questioned the Overland Rider anxiously.
"No. Me come see where Big Friends go."
"That is fine. You are just the man I wish to see. Who cut off this timber, Willy?" indicating the cutting that he and Tom had first discovered.
"Not know. Somebody steal um."
"That is what Captain Gray says. Perhaps it was cut by a new owner—someone who has bought this plot, Willy."
The Indian, gazing on the stumps in the clearing with expressionless eyes, shook his head slowly.
"This section belongs to the state, I think," ventured Hippy.
"No belong state."
"Belong Chief Iron-Toe. Him Chippewa chief—Big Chief."
Lieutenant Wingate became instantly alert.
"Are you positive of that, Willy?"
The Indian nodded.
"Do you know the gentleman with the iron toe?"
"Him my father."
Hippy was a little taken back by the answer, but his eagerness for more information overcame what might have become embarrassment.
"Your father! Do you think he would sell the section?" he asked eagerly.
"But I wish to buy it, Willy."
"You buy?" questioned the Indian, regarding Lieutenant Wingate thoughtfully.
"You Big Friend. Me fix."
"Do you mean it?"
"Next sun-up. We go Chippewa Reservation."
"Two sun ride."
"Say nothing to anyone about this. I'll say whatever is necessary to my friends. You wake me when you think best to start for the Chippewa Reservation to-morrow morning and we will be off. Want a horse, Willy?"
"Me take pony."
It was settled, and on the way back to the camp of the Overlanders during that afternoon Hippy confided his plan to Tom Gray, but Tom was doubtful of its success. He said he already knew what Hippy had had in mind, and that if he were able to buy the section for anything within reason there would be a fortune in it.
"Will you go in on the deal with me?" asked Hippy.
"Yes, if you keep within my resources. Thanks to you for letting me in on your coal land deal in Kentucky I have some funds that I can use. That was like giving the money to me, and I have been ashamed of myself ever since for letting you drag me into any such deal."
"Chop it, Tom. As Willy would say, 'You Big Friend.' Say nothing to any of the folks, unless you wish to confide in Grace. I shall, of course, tell Nora where I am going and why."
During the rest of the journey back to the Overland camp, the two men discussed the plan of action that Hippy should follow—provided he got the timber plot—the hiring of men and the purchase of equipment, and, by the time they had reached the Overland camp, all details were settled. Nothing was said to either Grace or Nora until that evening, when the two Overland men confided their plans to their wives.
Next morning, before the camp was astir, the Indian had awakened Lieutenant Wingate and the man and the Indian had ridden away in the dark of the early morning.
THE RETURN OF THE PRODIGAL
"What ye moonin' 'bout?" demanded Joe Shafto, giving Nora Wingate a prod with a long bony finger.
"I am worrying about Mr. Wingate, Mrs. Shafto. He was to have been back in two days, and here it is nearly two weeks since he and the Indian went away."
"Indians is all varmints, anyway, but don't ye worry 'bout that man of yers. Ain't worth it. None of 'em is."
"Don't you say that about my Hippy," rebuked Nora indignantly. "I love my husband, just as you loved yours."
The forest woman laughed harshly.
"Ain't no such thing as love. A man's just a man, kind of handy to do the chores and bring home the venison. Henry's worth a whole pack of husbands, and I kin wallop Henry when he don't mind. Best thing 'bout Henry is that he can't jaw back at me."
"He can growl at you, can't he?" returned Nora, laughing in spite of her worry.
"He kin, and he kin git a clip on the jaw, like I give my man once. No, sir. Bears is better company than is men. I know for I've tried 'em both. Take my advice and when ye wants to git another husband, jest git a bear instead."
"But bears are beasts," laughed Grace, who had joined the two in time to hear Mrs. Shafto's advice.
"So's men. Bears growl—so does men. Mules kick, like June and July—so does men. Animiles live for nothin' but to git fed and sleep. So does men. What's the difference?"
The girls laughed heartily.
"Your logic is excellent, but your philosophy is not sound," replied Grace. "There is such a thing as companionship and helpfulness, and the finer things of human association."
The forest woman sniffed.
"Ain't no such thing," she retorted. Joe stalked away to attend to her duties, and in a few moments the Overland girls heard her berating the bear.
Tom Gray, during the period of Lieutenant Wingate's absence, had made frequent trips to the section that Hippy wished to buy, and now knew to a certainty that it was a prize plot of timber. Tom was in the Overland camp on this particular day, mapping out the timber tract in detail, though with little idea that it could be purchased at a price within their means. He was at work on the map when he heard Hindenburg barking excitedly.
"Something unusual must be on to make the bull pup raise such a disturbance," muttered Tom, tossing his map aside and crawling from the tepee.
He saw Nora was running, crying out that Hippy had returned.
"Hooray! Meet me with food!" shouted Hippy. "I've been living on iron rations for two days because bears ate up our fresh stuff and tried to eat the mess kits too. Hulloa, Tom!"
"What luck?" asked Tom, after shaking hands.
"The best. We have met the enemy and he's 'ourn,' as Mother Shafto would say. Don't ask me a question until my stomach begins to function."
A luncheon was quickly prepared, and Hippy had plenty of attention, all the girls standing about while he ate, ready hands passing food until Hippy could eat no more.
"Where's that pesky Indian?" demanded the guide, frowning.
"He is coming along with a bunch of men and supplies to show them the way to our claim. Twenty jacks, a cook and a fiddler will be here late this afternoon, together with a knock-down bunk-house, sufficient food supplies for two weeks, tools, and I've got a supply of cash to pay the hands. Now what have you to say for yourself, Tom Gray?"
"I was waiting to inquire what sort of a deal you made."
"Say, folks! Had it not been for Willy Horse I should not have got the property at all. That chief with the iron toes is a shrewd old duffer. He has owned the property for some years, and all that time the Hiram Dusenbery Company has been trying, by fair means or otherwise, to buy it of him, but Old Iron-Toe put the price so high that they preferred to wait, hoping that when he got hard up he might be willing to sell for less."
"Did he know that timber-thieves had been helping themselves to trees?" questioned Elfreda.
"No. Willy told him. Willy saw the chief first and the deal really was made before I even saw the old fellow. Well, we smoked a pipe of peace together and he didn't say a word for a whole hour after I was introduced. Finally he grunted:
"'You Big Friend Willy Horse. Big Friend me, too. What you give?'
"I told him to make his own price and I would consider it—that I wished to take no advantage, nor did I desire to pay a price that would not leave me a profit. Well, we sat and the chief smoked for another hour.
"'You give ten thousand money. You give one-eighth what you make to Chief Iron-Toe. You Big Friend.'
"'It's a bargain!' I said, just like that. Old Iron-Toe handed me his pipe again. I took another pull at it. Bah! It was awful. It nearly strangled me, but it sealed the compact. We went to the county seat where the property was transferred to Wingate & Gray and the deed filed, after which I gave him my check for ten thousand dollars."
Tom, who had been doing some rapid figuring while Lieutenant Wingate was speaking, glanced up, smiling.
"I don't know how you did it, but you have a wonderful bargain. There is a fortune in those trees."
"I didn't do it at all. Willy Horse did it, and he is going to have the best job that can be dug up for him, provided my influence has weight with the firm of Wingate & Gray. Tom, it's up to you, now. You are the brains of this establishment. Go to it. I've done my share so far as it has gone."
"You have, indeed. How is the equipment being brought in?"
"By mule teams. I reckon, too, that they will have a fine tune getting in here on the trail that leads to the Dusenbery Company's works above our section and—"
"I say, Mister Lieutenant, do I understand ye to say that a pa'cel of lumberjacks is comin' here?" interrupted Joe Shafto.
"Then I quits right now. Don't want no truck with them critters."
"That's all right, old dear. You just keep right on with the outfit, and if a lumberjack so much as looks at you, set the bear on him. I know what Henry can do in that direction, having had a run-in with him myself."
"Don't ye 'old-dear' me!" growled Joe. "Started that agin, have ye? Miss Wingate, if ye don't tame that husband of yers with a club, I will." Joe winked at Nora as she said it.
"Leave him to me, Mrs. Shafto. Hippy, go wash your face. You are a perfect sight. I'm positively ashamed of you."
"That's all right, Nora. That relieves me of the necessity of being ashamed of myself. Joe, you merely imagine that you dislike lumberjacks. There are some good fellows among them. They aren't all so bad as you paint them," said Hippy soothingly.
The forest woman flared up.
"I hate the whole pack and pa'cel of 'em! I-hate 'em wuss'n a scalded pup hates vinegar on his back. I'll stay, of course, but I'll sick Henry on 'em if they bothers me; then I'll turn my back and fergit that Henry's chawin' up a human bein'. So there!"
The Overland girls laughed merrily, and Grace linking an arm into the guide's led her down to the river where the two sat down, Grace to give Joe Shafto friendly advice, and Joe to accept it as she would from no other member of the Overland Riders.
In the meantime Tom and Hippy were discussing their plans. They spent a good part of the day doing so. After dinner Grace and Elfreda paddled up the river in the bark canoe, returning just before suppertime, faces flushed from their exercise, and eyes sparkling.
Early next morning Willy Horse and the advance guard of the timber outfit arrived on the scene, as was evidenced by sundry shouts up-river. Tom and Hippy hurried upstream to meet the party, and later in the day the Overland girls came up to watch the work already in progress. A knock-down bunk-house was rapidly going up, and the cook with pots and kettles over a brisk fire in the open was preparing supper for the lumberjacks.
The jacks were a hardy two-fisted lot of men, Swedes, Norwegians, French Canadians, half-breeds and a few sturdy Americans, though the latter were greatly outnumbered. Tom was bossing the gang and doing it like a man who had handled lumberjacks before.
"Why so rough with them?" remonstrated Grace.
"Because I know the breed. Be easy with jacks and they think you are afraid of them, and will promptly take advantage of you. One must, not for a moment, let them feel that he is not master of the situation and of them. You will discover that sooner or later."
By night the bunk-house was ready for occupancy, though the bunks were not yet in place and the men would be obliged to sleep on the floor for one night at least. After a hearty supper, well cooked under the observant eyes of Tom Gray, the lumberjacks retired to their shack, and the sound of the fiddle and the shuffle of dancing feet, accompanied by shouts and yells, rose from the bunk-house, which was located near enough to the Overland Riders' camp to enable them to hear, and to see, if they wished, what was going on.
Willy Horse was the guest of the Overlanders, though he refused to eat with them, and sat all the evening by the fire saying never a word, which is the Indian's idea of friendly conversation.
On the following day, under Tom Gray's supervision, the construction of the dam for the new owners was begun across a narrow part of the river, a little upstream from the Overland camp. In order to lower the water in the river while they were driving the spiles, Tom had the men put the gates in place in the dam built further up the stream by the timber-pirates. This, in the low condition of the river, would keep the water back for several days and give Tom's men a better opportunity to build his dam.
Henry had made several cautious visits to the scene of operations, which he viewed from the high branches of a tall pine, and, upon descending, soundly boxed the ears of a lumberjack who attempted to make friends with him.
"Tom," said Grace one evening after a few hours spent by her watching the work, "who is the short, thick-set lumberjack with the red hair?"
"The one with the peculiar squint in his eye?"
"Yes. That is the man."
"The men call him Spike. I don't know what the rest of the name is. Why?"
"I don't like his looks. Then again there is something about him that reminds me of someone that I have seen—I mean in unpleasant circumstances."
"I fear our guide has prejudiced you against lumberjacks, and I know that she has taught Henry to hate the whole tribe. One shouldn't look for drawing-room manners in a lumberjack. We have a loyal gang of men, men who will fight for us, if necessary, and who certainly can work. That, it appears to me, is the answer."
"Very well. I shall keep my eye on him, just the same. Hark! I thought I heard someone coming."
Tom and Grace were sitting by the campfire. The others of their party, with the exception of Mrs. Shafto and the bear, were listening to the fiddle and the thudding of the hob-nail boots of the lumberjacks as they danced away the early hours of the evening.
"Never mind. The pup will take notice."
"The only thing the pup takes notice of is, as Emma Dean says, food!" laughed Grace. "Someone is coming, Tom."
"Hindenburg!" commanded Tom Gray sharply.
The bull pup, sleeping by the fire, roused himself, wiggled his stubbed tail, and, rolling over on his side, yawned and promptly went to sleep again. Tom Gray glanced quickly towards the shadows that lay to the rear of them, and, as he did so, a figure appeared.
"Willy, is that you?" he demanded, as a familiar movement revealed the identity of the figure.
Grace asked the Indian where he had been. He mumbled an unintelligible reply, then turned to Tom.
"Two men come. They watch shack. Me want to shoot, but not do."
"Certainly not," rebuked Tom. "What do you think they want?"
"Come spy on camp. I spy on them. Fix guns and creep up. Look in windows and whisper. Bah! No good. What do?"
"Have they rifles? Perhaps they are hunters," suggested Tom.
"No hunt. Me watch." Willy Horse melted into the shadows.
"Who can it be?" wondered Grace.
"Hunters, of course. Willy Horse's zeal has run away with his judgment. I think—" Tom paused. Protesting voices were heard back in the forest, voices raised in angry resentment. Two men suddenly burst out into the light of the campfire, followed by Willy Horse close at their heels, his rifle pressed against the back of a panting man.
PEACE OR WAR?
"Here, here! What's this?" demanded Tom Gray, springing up. "Willy!"
"This is an outrage!" panted the man against whose back Willy Horse held the rifle. The stranger's red hair fairly bristled as he cautiously removed his hat and mopped the perspiration from face and forehead. "I'll have the law on you, you low-down redskin!"
"Easy there, pardner. This Indian is not low-down," retorted Tom Gray in a warning tone. "Willy is our friend. What is it you wish, sir?"
"Am I on the section recently purchased by Wingate & Gray?"
"You are, sir. I am Tom Gray. Mr. Wingate will be here shortly. Won't you sit down?" urged Tom. "That is all right, Willy. Please ask Lieutenant Wingate to come here," he added, nodding and smiling to the Indian, who backed away into the shadows.
"I am Chet Ainsworth, timber agent," said the stranger. "This is my guide, Tobe Skinner. I'm here to talk a little business with you. Tobe thought he knew the way, but we got a thousand miles out of it. While we were trying to decide whether this was a lumber camp or a state's prison colony that Indian ruffian got the drop on us and drove us in. Tobe would have shot him on the spot if the Indian hadn't beat him to it by getting the drop on him. I'll see the Indian agent 'bout that when I go back. I'll—"
"Hippy!" called Tom as he saw Lieutenant Wingate and others of the Overland outfit strolling towards camp. "Meet Mr. Ainsworth, and his guide, Mr. Skinner. They are here on a business matter, the nature of which I do not know. We are ready to hear what you have to say, Mr. Ainsworth."
Grace rose and said she would have Mrs. Shafto prepare food for the two men.
"I'm ready to hear the story, Ainsworth," announced Hippy, nodding.
"Are you the party that bought Section Seventy-two, Mr. Wingate?" asked Ainsworth.
"Without wishin' to be personal, may I ask what you paid for it?"
"You have my permission to ask anything you wish. I reserve the right to answer or not. The answer is not! in this instance," replied Hippy.
"No offense, no offense," answered the agent, assuming a jovial tone. "I represent certain interests that have been negotiating for this very property, parties that already have large holdings in this vicinity, and who wish an uninterrupted stretch of timber and river to the lakes."
"Yes?" questioned Hippy.
"Of course they knew you bought on speculation, because you ain't lumbermen, and they reckoned they'd buy it from you so as to give you a fine profit on your investment. That's why I asked you what you paid for the property."
"Yes?" repeated Hippy.
"No man can say that ain't a fair offer. Now we'll get right down to business, Mister—Mister—"
"Wingate," assisted Tom.
"We'll get right down to business, Mr. Wingate. You will sell?"
"Sure thing. I'll sell anything I have except my wife and the bull pup."
"Good! I reckoned that was about the size of it," chuckled Ainsworth, passing a hand across his face to hide his expression of satisfaction. "What's your figger?"
"Half a million."
"Are you crazy?"
"Ha, ha! I see. You're one of those funny fellows," laughed the agent. "That's all right, Pard. Have your little joke, and now let's get down to business. What'll ye take cash down, balance ninety days, for the section?"
"Half a million. What will you give?"
"Twenty-five thousand," answered the agent quickly.
"The deal is off," said Hippy, rising.
"Wait a minute! You're too confounded sudden. I want to argue the question," urged the visitor.
"No. You have made your offer; I have made my offer. The subject is closed. Come, have a snack. I see the girls have it ready for you, and let's talk about the weather. I think it is going to snow."
Tom, though he had with difficulty repressed his laughter, offered their guests every attention, and so did the Overland girls, but the subject of the sale of the claim was not again referred to that evening, except just before bedtime. None of the girls was favorably impressed with either Mr. Ainsworth or his guide, and during the meal the forest woman glared threateningly at the pair through her big spectacles. Near its close, the visitors got a shock that nearly frightened Chet Ainsworth out of his skin, and at the same time sent the Overland Riders into unrestrained peals of laughter.
Henry, who had been out of sight ever since the arrival of the two men, had ambled into camp observed only by Emma Dean who hugged herself delightedly when she saw the bear's intention.
A yell from Chet Ainsworth when he felt the hot breath of the beast on his neck, as Henry sniffed at it, brought every one, including Chet, to their feet. Tobe Skinner whipped out his revolver and would have fired at the animal had not Tom Gray gripped his wrist.
"He's tame. Don't be frightened," soothed Hippy. "All the animals in our menagerie are halter-broken and milk-fed. Sit down. Go away, Henry! The gentleman's nerves are a little upset after his sprint with Willy Horse."
Mr. Ainsworth sat down, but the guide did not do so until Mrs. Shafto had called off her animal and made him lie down.
"That was the voice of nature whispering to you, Mr. Ainsworth," suggested Emma demurely. "Henry had a message for you. You should have listened. Did you ever have the birds of the air, or the beasts or the trees, tell you their secrets, sir?" Emma's face wore a serious expression.
Chet and Tobe gazed at her with sagging jaws, then glanced at Hippy.
Hippy Wingate tapped his own head with a finger and sighed.
"They do get that way sometimes. We have others in our outfit who are similarly affected," he said sadly.
"So I have discovered," articulated Ainsworth. "I reckon we'll be going."
"Certainly not," interjected Grace. "Don't mind Mr. Wingate. He too is somewhat queer at times. You will stay here to-night, both of you. We could not be so inhospitable as to permit you to start out at this hour of the night. In the morning you will have breakfast and, if you wish, an early start."
"Sure," agreed Tom. "We have a lean-to that is not occupied. You can bunk in there."
"Thanks, but chain up that bear or I won't be responsible for what happens. Think over my offer to-night," he urged, turning to Hippy. "After you have slept over it you will see that it is to your best interests to accept."
"Thanks," answered Hippy. "Good-night."
After the visitors and the Overland girls had turned in, and the campfire was fixed for the night, Tom and Hippy had a confidential talk, their visitor and his proposals being the subject of the discussion; then they too sought their browse-beds.
Yells and a shot, punctuated by screeches from Joe Shafto, awakened all hands in the gray of the early morning.
"Is it peace, or is it war again?" mumbled Anne, sitting up and rubbing her eyes sleepily.
"It certainly does sound like war, but I think it is only the beginning of it," answered Grace, hurriedly throwing on her clothes and running out to see what the uproar was about. What she saw caused Grace and her companions, who had followed her out, to utter gasps of amazement.
A WISE OLD OWL
"What's the trouble, Tom? Oh, stop them!" cried Grace.
"Let her finish it," answered Tom briefly.
"Sick 'em, Henry!" shouted Hippy Wingate, who saw the black bear humping himself across the camp, not yet having discovered what the uproar was about. "What's this? What's this?" he cried, suddenly comprehending.
Tobe Skinner, with streaming face which Joe Shafto had hit with a pot of hot coffee, was sprinting for the timber, after having taken a shot at the bear with his revolver. Following him came Chet Ainsworth puffing and raging, with Henry on his hind legs in close pursuit, making frequent swings with his powerful arms and soundly boxing the head of the fleeing man, and Joe Shafto prodding the bear to urge him on to further effort.
Neither Tom nor Hippy made a move to interfere, but Grace sped forward and placed a firm hand on the forest woman's arm.
"Stop him!" commanded Grace sternly. "Stop him, I say! He will kill the man."
"Serve the houn' right if the bear did. I'll larn 'em to mind their business, the sarpints! Henry!" A sharp rap over the bear's shoulder slowed the animal down. A second tap brought him to all fours, with his mistress's hand fastened in the hair of his head.
"That'll do, Hen. These soft-hearted folk ain't goin' to let ye chaw the gentleman up to-day, but, if ever I set eyes on either of the scum agin, I'll give the varmints what's comin' to 'em, and I'll do it sudden-like, and I'll do it so it stays done, and there won't be nobody to stop me next time. If ye don't believe it, jest give me the chance. And to think I had to waste a perfectly good pot of coffee on that timber-robber's head. He's a skin and a tight-wad, and I'll bet my month's wage that he robs the birds of their eggs to save the price of keepin' a hen of his own."
"Please! Please," begged Grace laughingly. "Which one of the pair do you mean?"
"Both of 'em. They ain't here for no good. Wait till I tell ye what they did and ye'll see—"
"Just a moment. Tell it to all of us," urged Grace, leading the irate woman and her tame bear up to her companions.
"Why did you stop them, Grace?" growled Hippy. "First fun we've had since Emma discovered the animal under the table. What's the joke, old dear?"
The forest woman was so angry over her recent experience that she forgot to chide Hippy for his familiarity.
"Matter? Matter enough. As I was sayin' to Miss Gray, them varmints ain't here for no good, and ye ain't heard the last of 'em by a long shot. They'll be back. Take Joe Shafto's word for that, and they won't be back alone, 'cause they're too big cowards. Yaller streaks in both of 'em. I'll bet the pair of 'em was trying to get this timber lot away from ye. Don't ye have no dealin's with 'em. Don't want no truck with them kind of cattle, and I'll tell ye right now that if they show their yaller faces 'round here agin, I'll set my Henry on 'em for keeps." Mrs. Shafto gasped for breath preparatory to entering on a fresh tirade, when Tom Gray, embracing the opportunity, got in a question.
"Suppose you tell us what the row was about. What was it?" he asked.
"The varmints tried to bribe me, that's what."
"Bribe you!" exclaimed the Overlanders in chorus.
"That's what I said."
"Why didn't you take it?" demanded Hippy. "That was easy money."
"To do what?" questioned Elfreda, her professional interest instantly aroused.
"To find out what ye paid for the section and just what ye opined ye'd do with it. They reckon ye're holdin' it on 'spec' and that they kin git it fer a little mor'n ye paid for it. If they can't do that, I opined from what the varmints said, that they'd git the property some other way. Wanted me to find out just what yer plans was and to writ' 'em down and leave 'em in a holler log up next the dam above the one ye're buildin'."
"What did you say to that?" questioned Elfreda.
"I sicked Henry on 'em and soaked the guide feller with part of the breakfast. I'd a done a heap more if I'd had the time."
"How much did they offer you?" inquired Emma interestedly.
"Two dollars and a half, and said they'd leave as much more after they got what they wanted."
"Two dollars and a half!" exclaimed Hippy. "And you refused two dollars and a half? Why, old dear, that's a fortune. I am amazed that they should have been so liberal. Positively reckless, I should say. Discard such riches? It is unbelievable."
"When were they to call for this information?" questioned Miss Briggs.
"They didn't say. I was to leave it there, that's all," growled Joe, stalking to her breakfast fire and resuming her operations there.
"Would it not be a good plan to have Willy Horse watch the log and see if he can give our 'friends' a scare?" asked Grace.
"Yes, but Willy is inclined to be violent," laughed Tom. "You saw what happened to Ainsworth and his guide when they sneaked up to our camp last night, didn't you? Next time the Indian might do something rash. What do we care, who or what? The property is ours and we are going ahead with our plans. We shall soon put in a portable mill at the mouth of the river, float our logs down and saw them there where the lake steamers can pick up the lumber. Let the disappointed ones rage if they wish."
The forest woman, having pressed the dents out of her damaged coffee pot and prepared a fresh supply of coffee, now summoned the Overlanders to breakfast, which was a somewhat hurried meal, for Tom and Hippy were eager to get out to direct the work on their dam, which already was moving along satisfactorily, and which they hoped to finish in about another week.
Following breakfast, the girls saddled their ponies, packed luncheons in their mess kits and started down the river for a day's outing by themselves, leaving Joe Shafto at home. The party returned just before dark, Elfreda Briggs proudly exhibiting a duck that she had shot on the lower river. After supper, for which all hands had keen appetites, Hippy announced that Willy Horse had been appointed official hunter for the lumber outfit at seventy-five dollars a month, which meant riches to the Indian. It would be Willy's duty to provide fresh meat for the lumberjacks. Added to this, the Indian would shoot wolves and collect the bounty, and, when not otherwise engaged, act as the faithful watchdog for the Overland Riders.
"You Big Friend," was Willy's only comment when informed of his new job, but they observed that he puffed more vigorously at his pipe, and gazed more intently into the fire than usual.
"Do you see things in the fire?" questioned Emma, sitting down by the Indian.
"Tell me what you see," she urged in a confidential tone.
"See white girl fly like bird."
The girls broke into a merry peal of laughter.
"He has your measure," laughed Tom.
"See owl up tree. Mebby come see white girls," added the Indian, and then, to their amazement, the raucous voice of an owl was heard in the branches high above their heads. The owl continued his hoarse night song, the Overland girls interestedly watching Emma Dean's rapt expression as she listened.
"He is trying to say something," she half-whispered, holding up a hand for silence. "He is speaking, perhaps, of the mysteries of the universe—our immediate universe."
"Yus-s-s-s," observed Hippy solemnly. "Tell me, I prithee, little bird-woman, what is the wise old owl saying? Has he a message for me?"
"Yes. And I can tell you what it is. He says, 'you simp, you simp, you simp, you simp-simp.' Interpreted freely, this means, in addition to the truth of the owl's wise assertion, that you have gathered all the ingredients of a calamity, but you don't know it. Beware, Hippy Wingate, of dire things to come!" finished Emma, amid a shout of laughter. The Indian puffed on his pipe in stolid silence.
WHEN THE DAM WENT OUT
In the two weeks that had passed since Wingate & Gray started their operations on the Little Big Branch, wonders had been accomplished. A modern camp for the lumberjacks had been constructed, and the dam had been completed to the extent of permitting them to close the gates and let water accumulate there.
On the day that marked the completion of the work, the Overland girls arranged to show their appreciation of what the jacks had done by giving them a surprise party. This party, first suggested as a dinner, after much discussion was changed to an old-fashioned dancing party, which the girls thought the men would enjoy more than they would a dinner.
Just before they sat down to their supper, the lumberjacks were "tipped" to finish the meal as quickly as possible and slick themselves up, because the Overland party was coming over to call, and Captain Gray to give them a brief "spiel," as Hippy expressed it in telling the men to get ready. The jacks received the word without comment; in fact they received it somewhat sullenly. Hippy, however, knew the lumberjack tribe by this time—knew their peculiar ways—and told the girls to go ahead with their plans.
Darkness had settled over the Big North Woods when Hippy rallied his flock for the party, each girl spruced up for the occasion, Emma Dean's face wreathed in smiles in anticipation of the good time that was in prospect. The only member of the outfit who remained behind was the forest woman, who flatly refused to associate with "them varmints," meaning the lumberjacks. Henry, laboring under no such scruples, followed the Overlanders as they set out for the lumberjacks' shack. Any unusual activity, especially one that gave promise of food, instantly aroused Henry's curiosity, so, in this instance, he was close at the heels of the party when they filed into the bunk-house, where he nosed about smelling of the bunks, of the tables and sniffing the air, following which he sat down where he could command a view of the entire room.
The lumberjacks shook hands awkwardly with their guests, except that Spike merely made a move to do so, then quickly withdrew his hand and shoved it into the pocket of his Mackinaw. Hippy acted as master of ceremonies, and, after waving jacks and guests to seats, cleared his throat, and made a complimentary speech.
"Captain Gray got stage fright at the last minute and told me that I must tell you what he wished you to know," he said. "I'm not going to make a speech, but what I am to say is, that when we get through with this job Mr. Gray and myself have decided to declare a dividend. That is, we are going to give each one of you men who started out with us, and who have done such fine, loyal work, a good-sized cash bonus. I perhaps don't need to tell you that I never made a speech in my life—so my friends say—but money is a loud talker; so, at the end of the season, we'll let money tell you how much we appreciate the good work you fellows have done."
Henry, who sat blinking at Lieutenant Wingate, at this juncture rolled over, and, curling up, went to sleep.
"You see," cried Hippy. "Even the bear goes to sleep when I talk." The men gave three cheers for Wingate & Gray, and three more for the Overland girls. "Help us get these tables out of the way, you fellows. We are going to have some music. Speech making is ended."
Nora Wingate was already conferring with the "fiddler." Then, as the tables were moved to one side, Nora launched into a lively song that she had sung to the doughboys in France, the fiddler accompanying her on his violin. There were rough spots in the fiddling, but these Nora submerged in the great volume of her fine contralto voice. The song finished, the men howled for more and stamped on the floor. Nora sang again.
"We will now have a dance," announced Grace. "You boys will please act natural, and for goodness sake don't step on our toes with those hob-nail boots. Choose your partners."
Not a jack moved.
"Help me haul 'em out, Tom," cried Hippy, yanking a big Canadian to the floor and standing him up beside Nora Wingate. Tom did a similar service for another one, and in a few seconds five lumberjacks, red of face, shifting uneasily on their feet, were standing beside their partners on the dance floor.
"Hit it up, Mr. Fiddler," called Tom, whereupon the fiddler began sawing the strings of his violin and calling off for the dance, a square dance, and soon the crash of hob-nail boots on the board floor made the shack tremble, the fiddler beating time with his foot.
Had it not been that the Overland girls knew the dance they never could have followed the fiddler's calls.
"Shinny on the corners," "Gents all forw'd," "Sling yer pardner," "Up and down the travoy," "Dozey-dozey," "Smash 'em on the finish," was the way he called off, the latter call bringing the feet of the lumberjacks down in a series of bangs that threatened the collapse of the floor. Outside, hovering over a little Indian fire, Willy Horse smoked stolidly, his ears attuned, not to the music and the shuffling feet, but to the sounds of nature, and to sounds that did not belong in nature's scheme of things.
"Let's have a waltz," cried Hippy exuberantly.
Grace shook her head.
"No waltzes," she answered. "Square dances will do very well. The dancing is rough enough as it is without our being spun to dizziness," she added in a lower tone.
"What do you want, Hippy Wingate?" demanded Anne. "This surely is rough enough work, isn't it? The fellows are doing the best they can, but they are not used to dancing with women. It is a great party, just the same."
"Can't be beat," agreed Hippy.
"I think Willy is trying to attract your attention," interrupted Miss Briggs, as she swept past Hippy in the dance.
Glancing towards the door, Lieutenant Wingate saw the Indian framed in the open doorway. Willy Horse made no sign, but his intent gaze was full of meaning. Hippy strolled leisurely to the door.
"Evening, Willy. Come in and have a dance or something to eat," greeted Hippy cordially. In a lower tone he asked, "Anything wrong?"
"Mebby! You come. No speak here."
The Indian turned away, and Hippy followed him casually until well out of sight of the dancers.
"Now what is wrong?" demanded the Overland Rider in a brisk tone.
"You hear big noise?"
Hippy shook his head.
"Can't hear anything above the smashing of the lumberjacks' boots."
"Me hear. Big noise up river—boom—boom—boom! Listen! What you hear?"
"It sounds like wind in the tops of the trees," answered Hippy after a moment of listening.
"No wind. Willy know."
"What is it, then?"
"Water! Dam up-river go out. Water come down! Mebby logs come down, too!"
"What! The dam built by the timber-thieves? It isn't possible. There is not enough water in the dam to cause the roar I hear."
"Plenty water. You fix gates so dam fill up. You know."
"That's so." Hippy ran down to the river to listen, still doubting Willy's assertion that the timber-thieves' dam had burst out.
The Indian had followed and stood silently beside his listening companion, his own ears listening to the distant murmur. Willy, however, did not need to listen. He knew!
"I don't believe it is water that we hear," muttered Lieutenant Wingate.
"Him water," muttered the Indian. "Moon come up. Good!"
The moon at full, after being hidden from view for nearly a week, rose above the tops of the trees, thinning the darkness that lay heavy on the river, the full light not yet having reached the Little Big Branch at that point. Hippy shaded his straining eyes and gazed upstream. All seemed peaceful in that direction, but he suddenly realized that the sound he had heard was increasing in volume. He could now hear a succession of hollow reports, the meaning of which he could not fathom. He asked his companion what it meant.
"Logs him jump up in water. Knock together and make big noise."
Hippy suddenly visualized the scene that the Indian's brief words had pictured.
"Watch it! I'm going for help!" cried Hippy, sprinting for the shack. As he neared it the familiar sounds of the earlier evening greeted his ears. The fiddler was still sawing away; the bang of hob-nailed shoes on the floor of the shack resounded rhythmically, and Hippy thought, as he ran, of the weariness that the Overland girls must feel after their strenuous evening of constant dancing with the rough and ready lumberjacks who knew neither fatigue for themselves nor for their entertainers.
Reaching the doorway, Hippy caught Tom Gray's eye and beckoned to him.
"Yes?" questioned Tom eagerly as he stepped over to Lieutenant Wingate.
"Willy says the dam has gone out. I can't tell whether it has or not, but it sounds that way."
"What dam?" demanded Tom Gray.
"That up-river dam of the timber-pirates. You remember we shut the gates to keep the water below it low while we were driving the spiles for our dam."
Tom ran out into the open and stood listening. A moment of it was all that was necessary to tell him what had happened.
"Quick! The gates. We must get our gates open or we're lost!"
The two men sprinted for the river, Tom in the lead, Hippy a close second. He wondered why he had not thought of the gates, and chided himself for his stupidity.
"Come fast!" called Willy, referring to the rushing flood that now had become a sullen roar.
"Call out the jacks. Hurry!" ordered Tom.
Willy flashed away. Tom paused only for an instant to listen and estimate how much time they had before the flood would be upon them.
"Are you game for it, Hippy?" he demanded.
"To help me get the gates up?"
"Come on then, and watch your footing," shouted Tom, running out on the top log that formed the cap on top of the spiles. The footing was slippery, but not ordinarily perilous. Now, in the face of that which was hurtling down upon them, their undertaking was a desperate one. Neither had on his spiked boots, which, in a measure, would have aided them in keeping their footing, and they slipped and stumbled, and sprawled on all fours again and again.
Being so familiar with the operation of the gates that they had planned and built, they had no difficulty in finding the gate-levers, but these were heavy, necessarily so, operating somewhat after the manner of a sweep in an old-fashioned well.
Tom and Hippy threw themselves upon one of the two big levers that operated the gates, and began tugging with all their strength. In the meantime Willy Horse had reached the lumberjacks' bunk-house.
"Dam go out! Water come down!" he shouted to make himself heard. "Big Boss say come quick."
The fiddler ceased playing, and the dancers gazed at the Indian, not fully understanding.
"Water come down! Come quick! Run!"
This time they understood. Uttering a shout the jacks burst out through the narrow doorway, and ran for the river, followed by the Overland girls on flying feet, and meeting Joe Shafto on the way to the scene of the disaster.
THE RIOT OF THE LOGS
"We'll have to be quick!" shouted Tom to make himself heard above the roaring of the waters. "Beardown hard!"
"I can't. I'm slipping!" gasped Hippy.
"The gates are moving! Keep it up!"
The two men struggled and fought, gaining a few inches at a time but not enough to permit the jam of logs that was rushing down the stream to pass through the gates in the flood.
At this juncture the Overland girls and the jacks came running down the bank. They saw the two men struggling with the gates, and at the same instant they saw something else. In the reflected light of the moon, they saw a white crest sweeping around a bend in the river, hurling logs into the air, which came tumbling and shooting ahead like huge black projectiles. A warning scream from the girls was unheard by either of the struggling men. A dozen lumberjacks leaped to the cap-log to go to the assistance of Tom and Hippy, who they knew were in great peril.
"Come back! Boys, come back! You can't help them now," cried Grace in an agony of apprehension.
"The fools! Why don't they run?" raged Joe Shafto, and the pet bear growled in sympathy with her at the unusual sounds.
It was a terrifying moment for those who could do no more than stand helplessly watching. The jacks by this time were well out on the cap-log, with Willy Horse in the lead and red-headed Spike close at his heels. They were suddenly halted by a report that sounded like an explosion of heavy artillery.
An advance log, rushing straight towards the gates, swerved when within a few feet of them, and, rearing half its dripping length, hurled itself against the gate-lever at which Hippy and Tom were tugging.
Both saw the giant rise from the boiling flood.
"Too late! Save your—" Tom did not finish. Hippy and Tom at that instant were catapulted into the air, hurled by the gate-lever, and fell into the river below the dam with a splash.
Without an instant's hesitation, Willy Horse, followed by Spike, leaped to the rescue, knowing well that only a few seconds lay between them and the cataract of logs that was about to tumble over into the Little Big Branch below the dam.
The rest of the jacks hesitated only for an instant, then they too leaped into the river and made their way towards Tom and Hippy, both of whom were unconscious. Willy Horse grabbed up Hippy with apparent ease, and raised him to his own back just as he would shoulder a dead deer.
"Git Big Boss!" he shouted, and began struggling shoreward with his burden.
In the meantime Spike had sprung to Tom Gray, but despite his great strength he did not succeed in shouldering Tom.
"Give a hand here!" he bellowed.
The lumberjacks reached him at this juncture and, together, Spike and his companions brought the unconscious man towards the shore.
Then the spiling gave way under the strain that for several minutes had been put upon it, and the dam went out with a crash and a roar, accompanied by a series of terrifying explosions.
It would have been an awesome sight to the Overland Riders had not their attention, at that moment, been centered on the lumberjacks. The jacks reached the shore only a few seconds before the structure gave way and the logs, hurtled into the air, fell splashing into the flood below the dam. Hippy and Tom were borne up the bank and laid on the ground.
"Are—are they dead?" gasped Emma.
"No," answered Miss Briggs, who had placed a finger on the pulse of each.
"Please carry them to the bunk-house," directed Grace in a strained voice, after Willy Horse had run quick fingers over the heads of the two victims.
"Big Friends bump heads! Much all right soon, mebby," he grunted, walking along beside Hippy as the jacks started with him and Tom towards the house.
It was but a short time after their arrival there, however, when both regained consciousness. Neither Tom nor Hippy knew whether they had been hit by the log that struck the gate-lever, or whether they had been made unconscious by their fall into the water. Both came to in a severe chill and were put to bed in the bunk-house, warmed with hot drinks and blankets, and soothed until they fell asleep.
The lumberjacks stood about awkwardly, and the Indian hovered near, his stolid face reflecting no emotion. Spike was the only jack present who apparently was indifferent to the scene. At midnight Willy motioned to the girls to go.
"Me watch. Big Friends wake up morning. No sick," he said.
"Willy's suggestion is a good one," agreed Elfreda. "There is little the matter with either except shock and exhaustion. Let's go!"
"Boys, we thank you very much," she said, turning to the lumberjacks. "Mr. Wingate and Mr. Gray would have lost their lives had it not been, for you and Willy. They will not forget. Neither shall we. Good-night."
At dawn when Hippy awakened, Willy Horse was still sitting by him, puffing his pipe.
"Dam go out," observed the Indian between puffs.
"So I heard it rumored," yawned Hippy.
"Big Friend go out."
"Seems to me that I heard something about that too. How is Captain Gray?"
"Other Big Friend all right."
"Are the jacks awake?" asked Hippy.
"Git up now."
"Tell them to come here."
When the half-dressed lumberjacks came over to his cot, Hippy eyed them sternly.
"You're a fine bunch of ladies' men, aren't you? Dance the light fantastic while your bosses are trying to save the dam."
The jacks grinned sheepishly.
"What are you loafing around here for? Why don't you get out and start work on a new dam? You needn't think a little thing like a busted dam is going to stop Wingate & Gray. Go on now! You know what to do. We two are the only ones who've got a right to be lazy this morning. Wait a moment! Come back here!" commanded Hippy as his men started to go away.
"I take back what I said. You aren't ladies' men at all. You are a bunch of confounded rough-necks. Shake paws!" Hippy put out a hand, but was sorry for it afterwards, for the bear-like grips of the lumberjacks left it a "pulp," as Hippy Wingate expressed it.
Work on a new dam was begun that very day. Tom and Hippy, though lame and sore, and, at odd moments, a little dizzy, were at the dam all day long directing the work of clearing away the wreck while part of their force cut fresh spiles in the woods. The lumberjacks, wet to the skin, worked with tremendous force and to good purpose, for the organization that Tom Gray had developed and systematized, was as near a perfectly working machine as it was humanly possible to make it.
Day after day the work progressed, but despite their best endeavors two weeks and a half had passed before the gates were again lowered to test the new dam's power to resist a full head of water. Several days more were required to fill the dam until the surplus water toppled over the "dashboard."
For another twenty-four hours the dam was watched for indications of weakness, but none developed. Now that the big work was completed Tom and Hippy journeyed to the wrecked dam of the timber-pirates. They examined what was left of it with great care. Finishing their investigation, the two men looked at each other with eyes full of meaning.
"Well, what do you think of it?" questioned Hippy.
"I think, Hip, that it was something more than structural weakness that caused this dam to go out," answered Tom.
"What do you think did it—I mean how was it done?" wondered Lieutenant Wingate.
"Dynamite!" The word came out with explosive force. "The pirates don't like our presence here, so thought they would put us out of business. They didn't know us, did they, Hippy?"
"No. I wonder what they will think now—or do?"
"Nothing in the way of damaging our property, for we shall have our works watched after this. They might blow the upper dam, of course, but there are no logs being held there and the water would simply flow over our construction without doing damage. We must tell Willy what we suspect and assign him to guard duty. An Indian can sleep and yet be on watch."
"Like Hindenburg, who always sleeps with one ear awake," suggested Hippy.
"But never hears anything with it," laughed Tom. "We'll see."
Later in the day when Tom spoke confidentially with the Indian about what the Overlanders suspected, Willy evinced no surprise. He nodded in agreement with Tom that the new dam must be guarded.
It was. Willy slept near it in a lean-to down near the river. For several nights nothing occurred to indicate that there was anyone within miles of the camp. By day Willy hunted, often not coming in until after dark. It was on a Saturday night, however, that Willy failed to reach camp until nearly midnight. On his back he bore the carcass of a young deer that he had shot and dressed miles from the Overland headquarters on the bank of the Little Big Branch. He was nearly in when suddenly he raised his body to an erect position, listened for a few seconds, then dropped his burden and sprinted for home.
The Overlanders long since had turned in and the lumberjacks were in their bunks, comfortable, and as happy as a lumberjack permits himself to be, when suddenly their bunk-house seemed to be lifted free of the ground. It swayed and trembled as a terrific crash rent the air. The tepee toppled over at the same instant, leaving the Overland girls lying in the open. Tom and Hippy, at the time asleep in their lean-to, which was a few yards nearer the river, never were able to decide whether they had been hurled from their beds or had leaped out before they were fully awake. At least, they found themselves outdoors, and some yards from the lean-to.
"For the love of Mike, what now?" gasped Hippy.
Hindenburg was running about in circles, uttering dismal howls, and the pet bear was scrambling for the top of the highest tree in his vicinity.
"It's the dam!" shouted Tom Gray. "They've got us this time!" growled Tom, starting down the bank, followed by Hippy and the yowling bull pup. Hippy saw a figure running from the bank of the river a little further upstream. It was a man, and he was running in short hops, as if he were using a stick or cane to assist him in covering ground rapidly.
Behind the fleeing man Tom and Hippy discovered a second figure. It was Willy Horse. The first figure, as the two Overlanders started for him at a run, had dashed out over the broken and bent spiles of the dam, hopping from one spile to another with remarkable agility, with Willy Horse in close pursuit.
The hopping man, reaching the end of the spiles at the middle of the dam, halted, hesitated, and the Indian was upon him.
"It's Peg Tatem!" cried Hippy. "He's the scoundrel who did this thing."
A knife in Peg's hand flashed in the moonlight, another appearing in the hand of the Indian, and out there on their precarious footing the men stood, thrusting and parrying, with their two-edged blades, watched with breathless interest by the entire Overland party, who had rushed to the river's edge.
A sudden uproar was heard in the direction of the bunk-house. The lumberjacks having discovered that a fight was in progress were running towards the river to see if they too could not get into the fray, for a lumberjack loves nothing in the world so violently as he loves a fight.
"Keep out of it!" ordered Tom as he saw that the jacks were headed for the path that Peg and Willy had taken.
"Tom! Do something!" begged Grace. "Don't let those two men kill each other."
"We can do nothing. Even to call to Willy would take his attention from the battle. You know what that would mean."
"Oh-h-h-h-h!" moaned Emma, toppling over in a faint.
"Oh, Heavens! Look!" wailed Anne.
One of the combatants staggered and swayed. An arm was thrust out at him, but the blade that had been driven against him did not flash in the moonlight, for the body of the wielder was between it and the spectators. Even the jacks stood silent, they having halted at Tom Gray's command, but their breathing was heavily audible.
"He's killed! It's Peg!" cried Grace.
The Indian's victim, following the last thrust, had toppled over into the river below the dam. With a bound, Willy Horse cleared the spiling and leaped to the river bed to finish his victim.
"Willy! Stop!" Grace Harlowe's voice rang out shrill and penetrating, as Willy, the savage instincts of his race having taken possession of his soul, raised his knife-hand above Peg Tatem, who lay on his back on the river-bed.
CHRISTMAS IN THE BIG WOODS
Willy Horse, brought suddenly to his senses by Grace's scream, hesitated, got slowly to his feet, and stood narrowly watching his opponent who lay, nearly covered with water, moaning faintly. There was ferociousness in the heart of the Indian, but Grace's voice had stayed his hand.
Lumber-jacks, with Tom and Hippy, had plunged into the shallow stream the instant that Grace cried out, and were running towards Willy, now standing calmly awaiting them.
"Did you kill him?" shouted Hippy.
"No kill. Mebby kill bymeby," answered Willy Horse briefly as Tom and Hippy came puffing up to him.
"You have done enough. Let him alone!" commanded Tom, lifting the head and shoulders of the wounded man. "Fellows, carry this man ashore, but don't hurt him!"
Emma, having regained consciousness, was assisted up the bank by Anne and Nora, while Peg was being taken to the bunk-house by the lumberjacks. Elfreda, after a brief examination, did not believe that Peg's wound would prove fatal, but Hippy advised her not to tell the foreman of Section Forty-three of this, saying that he wished to make the man talk, which Peg probably would not do were he to think that his wounds were trivial.
The lumberjacks were ugly, and, had they had their way, they would have promptly finished the job begun by Willy Horse, believing, as they did, that Peg Tatem was responsible for the present and previous disasters that had befallen the Overland Riders in the Big North Woods.
Peg Tatem regained consciousness after Elfreda and Tom had worked over him for more than an hour.
"Did the Redskin git me?" he demanded weakly.
"You're right he did," agreed Hippy. "You might as well tell us all about it now before it is too late. We know what you have done, and that's good and plenty, but you are now going to make a confession and swear to it."
Peg went into a violent rage at the suggestion and pounded the cot with his wooden leg until he was exhausted. Waiting until the fellow had quieted down, Hippy then informed him that in case he recovered, and had not confessed, they would see to it that he went to prison for a long term. After hours of urging, the foreman of Section Forty-three gave in and made a full confession. Elfreda wrote down his statement and made Peg swear to it, after Hippy had promised that, in the event of his recovery, there would be no prosecution.
Tatem declared that he had acted wholly under the orders of Hiram Dusenbery, of the Dusenbery Lumber Company; that it was his jacks who had turned the skidway loose on the Overland camp, and that it was Tatem himself, acting under orders, who had dynamited the big pine and tumbled it over on the Overlanders. He said that Dusenbery and Chet Ainsworth were partners in the business of timber-stealing, and that the dynamiting was Ainsworth's scheme.
"Why did they wish to be rid of us?" asked Miss Briggs.
"They reckoned they'd spoil yer game. T'other reason was that they wanted this 'ere section fer themselves."
"Good! We will send both to jail," promised Elfreda. "Now what I wish are the names of witnesses who can verify at least part of your story."
After some thought Peg named several lumberjacks, fellows who were still in the employ of the Dusenbery Company. The Overlanders then ceased their questioning to give Peg a much-needed rest, and left him in the care of two jacks, with the reminder that they would be held fully accountable for the safety and good care of the prisoner.
Willy Horse was started that night for the nearest fire warden's station, there to have the warden telephone for a doctor, and also for the sheriff of the county, as it was thought best to hold Tatem as a material witness. The doctor and sheriff arrived late next day. Peg's injuries were found to be quite serious, and it was a full week later before he could be moved to the county jail where he was a prisoner under treatment for two more weeks.
Hippy accompanied Peg, and while at the county seat swore out warrants for Dusenbery and Chet Ainsworth. At the December term of court both men were found guilty and sentenced to serve terms in prison. Peg Tatem, according to agreement with the complainants, was released and advised to seek other fields, which he did.
In the meantime a new dam had been built by Tom and Hippy, and a sawmill established twenty-five miles further down the river. The sounds of the "swampers'" axes and the "saw-gangs" were now heard in the forest from daylight until dark, where huge logs were being felled, trimmed, skidded and rolled down into the new dam, to be "boomed," and released after every thaw in early spring, and sent on their way to the mill.
The Overland girls still lingered. After some discussion they had decided to remain in the woods until after Christmas. By Christmas time the ground and the trees were white with snow, and Tom closed his "cruising" for the season. Willy Horse was absent much of the time, trapping for himself and hunting game for the table of the lumberjacks. The girls were now living in a real log cabin which the jacks, hearing them express a wish that they might have one, had built. Logs blazed in the fireplace, and there the Overland girls, after long hikes in the forest, and occasional rides on their ponies, spent many happy hours.
At Nora's suggestion, an elaborate Christmas celebration, including a Christmas tree, was planned by the girls for the jacks and themselves. Tom, obliged to go to St. Paul on business, more than a week's journey in itself, was commissioned to purchase the supplies and Christmas gifts for the celebration, and returned in a sleigh from Bisbee's Corners, reaching the Overland camp by way of a new trail that his men had cut. He was a regular Santa Claus, except that he rode "behind mules instead of reindeers," as Emma Dean expressed it. Then began the real preparations for Christmas, with many conferences in the log cabin.
Two Christmas dinners were to be laid Christmas evening, one in the new modern bunk-house that had been recently erected, where the old original gang of lumberjacks and a few selected newcomers were then living. Many additional men had been taken on during the early part of the winter when the lumbering operations began on a large scale, and efforts were made to instill into the new men the spirit of the Overland outfit, which the old men long since had absorbed.
The great day arrived. The old and faithful jacks were to sit down with the Overlanders to the spread that was in preparation all that day, Joe Shafto, after much grumbling, laying aside her feud against all lumberjacks and helping the regular cook in his work of preparing the dinner. This was supervised by Grace and Elfreda, while their companions attended to laying the tables and decorating the bunk-house with greens brought in by the jacks.
At seven o'clock that evening, the jacks, who had been put out of the new bunk-house without ceremony, were told to enter. They thumped in, and gazed in amazement at the transformation of their home, at the festoons of pine cones and greens, at the gaily colored lanterns, at the red, white, and blue candles on the table, and at the big American flag suspended from the rafters at the lower end of the room.
The girls disposed themselves about the table so that they might sit with their guests. Hippy took the head of the table, with Spike, who was known by no other name, at his right. Grace had never been able to banish the disagreeable impression that she felt on first setting eyes on the big red-haired lumberjack, and that feeling now seemed to take hold of her more strongly than ever as Spike, shoulders slouched forward and eyes lowered, shuffled to the seat assigned to him.
"Sit down!" ordered Hippy, and all hands sat, Tom taking the seat at the lower end of the table.
There was real turkey, with cranberry sauce, squash, creamed onions, mashed potatoes, celery and a variety of other vegetables, brought from the city by Tom. Willy Horse acted as waiter, Mrs. Shafto declining to unbend to the extent of waiting on "them varmints."
"I'll fodder white folk, and I'll sling a bone to a bear or a bull pup, but no timber houn' of a lumberjack's goin' to git 'chuck' from the paws of Joe Shafto, and that's the end of the argefyin'," she declared, challenging the girls with a threatening glare through her big horn-rimmed spectacles.
There were only a few jacks present, outside of the "original" crowd, as Tom called them, all the others having a dinner of their own in the old bunk-house.
The "talk" at the table was mostly confined to the Overland Riders, their efforts to make conversation with their partners, the lumberjacks, eliciting little more than grunts. The jacks were busy, very busy, and when the time came for dessert, every platter and every plate was empty.
"Pudding! Fetch on the pudding," cried Hippy.
There followed a few moments of waiting while the girls were clearing the table of used dishes, then Willy Horse was seen entering, bearing a huge platter, on the platter a great mound of blazing plum pudding.
The jacks gasped.
"Fire!" yelled a lumberjack.
Every jack in the room leaped to his feet and the next instant they were blowing great, long-drawn breaths at the blue flame that, as they thought, was consuming something that was good to eat. With strong breaths, and vigorous slaps from ham-like hands, they soon put out the "fire," Willy Horse, in a rage, kicking out with his feet at every shin within reach. The Overland Riders were convulsed with laughter, as the jacks solemnly filed back to their seats at the table.
"That's plum pudding, you poor fish!" groaned Hippy.
"Ain't nothin' now," grumbled Spike. "Purty nigh burned up."
Grace composed her face and tried to explain that burning the plum pudding was an old English custom, and that, instead of destroying the pudding, it added to its flavor, but the jacks shook their heads, probably thinking that she was saying this to make sport of them. After the pudding had been served, the jacks tasted it gingerly, then smacking their lips they quickly devoured it. Coffee and nuts followed, and the meal came to an end.
"We will now view the Christmas tree," announced Hippy. "Outside there are millions of Christmas trees, all dolled up with fancy spangles, but they aren't like this tree, as you will see. Pull the string, Emma!"
A real Christmas tree was revealed as Emma Dean draped back the flag, a tree decorated with lights and spangles, its branches bending low under the weight of gifts. A beautiful repeating rifle for Willy Horse brought a grunt from the Red Man, but nothing more. From the base of the tree Emma then picked up a bag, opened it and advanced towards the table.
"A little Christmas gift from Mr. Gray and Mr. Wingate," she said, depositing a ten-dollar gold piece before each lumberjack. Their amazement left them speechless. Some quickly slipped their gifts into their pockets, others merely sat and gazed at the shining pieces of metal for a moment before picking them up.
"Fellows, this is not the bonus we promised you," said Tom. "This is a Christmas present, just a little gift of appreciation on our part. There are socks and boots and other things on the tree for you, and when we have gone you will divide the stuff equally between you. Spike, what's the matter?" he demanded.
Spike had not touched his gold piece, but sat looking at it, drawing in deep labored breaths.
"It's real, better grab while the grabbing is good," urged Hippy.
Spike shook his head and shoved both hands under the table.
The Overland Riders saw instantly that the man was agitated.
"If you don't wish to accept our gift, you need not do so, Spike," said Tom. "We shan't lay it up against you if—"
"It ain't that!" exploded the lumberjack.
"Then what is it, old man?" questioned Hippy.
Spike, rising awkwardly, swallowed hard several times and essayed to speak.
"Talk, if you feel like it. It will do you good," urged Tom kindly.
"It's 'cause I ain't fit ter touch it, that's why," blurted Spike. "Yer wants me t' talk. I'll talk. I ain't fit 'cause I ain't fit, that's all. I'm a thief, and I'm a skallerwag, and I served a term in Joliet prison. I ain't never had nuthin' but kicks and cuffs and dodgin' perlice afore I got inter this outfit. First off, I thought it was soft here—that ye folks was easy, but somehow it warn't. There was somethin' else in the kind o' treatment yer give me that I couldn't git through my haid."
The hair of Spike's head was now a bristling flame of red.
"You're excited. Hook your canthook on the other side and stop the log from rolling before it mashes you flat," advised Hippy.
"I got ter talk now, and then I'll quit and git out fer good. I took money fer ter do ye an inj'ry. I took it from that houn' Ainsworth. I was to tell him 'bout things that was goin' on here and—"
A low, rumbling, menacing growl, at first coming, it seemed, from the very boots of the lumberjacks, startled the Overland Riders. The growl suddenly burst into an angry roar. Acting upon a common impulse, every jack in the room sprang to his feet and made a savage rush for the red-headed Spike.
"Sit down, you rough-necks!" bellowed Hippy Wingate. "This is Christmas. Sit down unless you want me to give you a clip on the jaw!"
The jacks hesitated, drew back, then slouched to their seats, scowling threateningly.
"It'd serve me right if ye fellers beat me up," resumed Spike. "I'm no good. I never was and I'm goin' ter quit onless ye fire me afore I've got through speakin', but I wants ye folks t' know that I throwed that dirty money away, I did. It burned me like no money I ever filched did; it burned me inside and out and I slung it inter the river. I meant ter do ye a measly trick, ye folks, and I did, but I wants ye ter know partic'lar that Chet Ainsworth and that gang of his'n didn't git no information outer me. That's more'n I ever done for anybody afore. Ye've treated me white, ye have, Boss," he said, looking at Tom, "and I've—I've—" Spike gulped and swallowed hard. "I've opined ter do ye dirt."
Spike struggled for more words, and then, to the amazement of his fellows, sank into his seat with tears rolling down his cheeks.
A jack laughed. Hippy fixed him with a stern look. Tom Gray rose gravely.
"Don't laugh, fellows," he admonished. "You have seen one of your own bare his soul, if you can understand what that means. It takes a brave man to do that, boys, a man of wonderful courage. I wonder how many of you would have the courage to do the same. I'll have more to say on the subject of Spike in a moment. First, I want to thank you for your loyalty to us. We could not have won out if you hadn't been loyal. We are going to make money, as I have told you before, and you boys who have helped to make it are going to get your share."
"Give 'em a little rough stuff. They'll understand that better than they do this soul business," suggested Hippy, and the jacks grinned.
"As for Spike, he forgot to carry out his threat to resign—" resumed Tom.
"I quit, and I—" interrupted Spike, flushing hotly.
"Sit down!" commanded Hippy, forcing him back into his seat, from which Spike had started to rise.
"Mr. Wingate and I have had several talks about affairs here," resumed Tom. "Among other things, we have decided that we have need of a foreman, a foreman who can get out the work with the new men—you fellows do not need a foreman—and carry out our orders in other directions. Before coming here for this little party, we had already decided on a man for the job of foreman, and I, for one, am glad we picked the man we did, but I want you boys to approve of our appointment. What you say goes. Stand up!" commanded Tom Gray sternly, fixing his gaze on the red-headed jack, who, from sheer force of habit, obeyed that tone instantly.
"There's the man I've picked," announced Tom, pointing to Spike.
A dead silence greeted the announcement, a silence broken only by the heavy breathing of the lumberjacks, and the shrill voice of Joe Shafto back in the cook-house abusing Willy Horse.
"What do you say, fellows?" urged Tom quietly.
Something seeped slowly into the brain of those rough and ready two-fisted lumbermen. To advance a confessed crook to foreman, a man who had bargained to do a traitorous thing to his Big Boss—it was big, it was unheard of in their rough lives. Even the girls of the Overland party, not one of whom had known of Tom's and Hippy's purpose, felt a thrill, but no one spoke.
"Well, fellows?" urged Tom gently.
"Yes!" The word was uttered in a roar, a mighty roar that was heard in the cook-house and by the lumberjacks at their Christmas dinner in the old bunk-house.
Nora Wingate, carried away by her emotions, sprang to her feet and threw wide her arms.
"Boys! Boys!" she cried almost hysterically.
"You're rough, but you're men—loyal, splendid fellows, and I love you, every one of you!"
Spike, with burning face, bolted for the door.
"Come back here!" bellowed Hippy Wingate. "You've forgotten something," pointing to the gold-piece that lay where Emma Dean had placed it before Spike's plate. "I never did see anyone so careless with money."
The red-headed lumberjack returned slowly, picked up the gold-piece and opened his mouth to speak, but no words came.
"Never mind. Don't say it," smiled Tom. "You may go now."
"Thankee," mumbled Spike, and made a hurried exit. Reaching the door, he broke into a run, never pausing until he had plunged deep into the forest, not to return until long after the jacks had turned in for the night.
Following the new foreman's departure the gifts for Overlanders and jacks were quickly distributed, and, half an hour later, on their way to their own camp, the Overland Riders stepped out into the sparkling night, where, as Hippy Wingate had said, every tree was a Christmas tree, dressed with snapping reflected lights from the moonbeams on the snowflakes. Elfreda Briggs called attention to a dark object at the top of a great pine. It was Henry—Henry in disgrace—Henry who had stolen a turkey from the cook-house and felt the sting of his master's club across his sensitive nose.
June and July disturbed the serenity of the night with two long-drawn, throaty brays.
A snow-bird chirped in the foliage somewhere above the Overlanders.
"What is the little birdie saying, Emma girl?" teased Hippy.
"What is he saying?" answered Emma thoughtfully. "I think, Hippy, that he is wishing us all a merry, merry Christmas and a happy, successful new year."