But a rough-and-tumble was exactly what Bryce was striving to avoid; hence when Rondeau rushed, Bryce side-stepped and peppered the woodsman's ribs. But the woods-crew, which by now was ringed around them, began to voice disapproval of this style of battle. "Clinch with him, dancing-master," a voice roared. "Tie into him, Rondeau," another shouted.
No man is infallible, and in planning his logging operations in the San Hedrin watershed, John Cardigan presently made the discovery that he had erred in judgment. That season, from May to November, his woods-crew put thirty million feet of logs into the San Hedrin River, while the mill sawed on a reserve supply of logs taken from the last of the old choppings adjacent to Squaw Creek.
Bob guessed them recent college graduates, perhaps even of some one of the forestry schools. In this he was correct. The rest were professional out-of-door men. Bob recognized two of his own woods-crew good men they were, too. He nodded to them. A half-dozen lithe, slender youths, handsome and browned, drew apart by themselves.
That year, however, the rainfall in the San Hedrin country was fifty per cent. less than normal, and by the first of May of the following year Cardigan's woods-crew had succeeded in driving slightly less than half of the cut of the preceding year to the boom on tidewater at the mouth of the river.
For a month his whereabouts remained a mystery; then one day Moira received a letter from him informing her that he had a job knee-bolting in a shingle mill in Mendocino County. In the interim Bryce had not been idle. From his woods-crew he picked an old, experienced hand one Jabez Curtis to take the place of the vanished McTavish.
Built on tidewater and at the mouth of a large slough in the waters of which he stored the logs his woods-crew cut and peeled for the bull- whackers to haul with ox-teams down a mile-long skid-road, vessels could come to Cardigan's mill dock to load and lie safely in twenty feet of water at low tide.
Under Buck Ogilvy's direction the dirt promptly began to fly, while the woods-crew unloaded the rails and piled them close to the sidewalk. Suddenly a voice, harsh and strident with passion, rose above the thud of the picks and the clang of metal. "Who's in charge here, and what in blazes do you mean by cutting my tracks?"
Half an hour passed. An automobile came slowly up Water Street and paused half a block away, evidently reconnoitering the situation. Instantly the Colonel thrust his head out the cab window. "Sexton!" he shouted. "Cardigan's cutting in a crossing. He's holding me here against my will. Get the mill-crew together and phone for Rondeau and his woods-crew.