“And did he find you? Or did you have to spend the night in the woods?”
John Cardigan smiled humorously. “I did not. Along about sunset George found me. Seems he’d been following me all the time, and when I sat down he waited to make certain whether I was lost or just taking a rest where I could be quiet and think.”
“I’ve been leaving to an Indian the fulfillment of my duty,” Bryce murmured bitterly.
“No, no, son. You have never been deficient in that,” the old man protested.
“Why didn’t you have the old skid-road planked with refuse lumber so you wouldn’t fall through? And you might have had the woods-boss swamp a new trail into the timber and fence it on both sides, in order that you might feel your way along.”
“Yes, quite true,” admitted the old man. “But then, I don’t spend money quite as freely as I used to, Bryce. I consider carefully now before I part with a dollar.”
“Pal, it wasn’t fair of you to make me stay away so long. If I had only known—if I had remotely suspected—”
“You’d have spoiled everything—of course. Don’t scold me, son. You’re all I have now, and I couldn’t bear to send for you until you’d had your fling.” His trembling old hand crept over and closed upon his boy’s hand, so firm but free from signs of toil. “It was my pleasure, Bryce,” he continued, “and you wouldn’t deny me my choice of sport, would you? Remember, lad, I never had a boyhood; I never had a college education, and the only real travel I have ever had was when I worked my way around Cape Horn as a foremast hand, and all I saw then was water and hardships; all I’ve seen since is my little world here in Sequoia and in San Francisco.”
“You’ve sacrificed enough—too much—for me, Dad.”
“It pleased me to give you all the advantages I wanted and couldn’t afford until I was too old and too busy to consider them. Besides, it was your mother’s wish. We made plans for you before you were born, and I promised her—ah, well, why be a cry-baby? I knew I could manage until you were ready to settle down to business. And you have enjoyed your little run, haven’t you?” he concluded wistfully.
“I have, Dad.” Bryce’s great hand closed over the back of his father’s neck; he shook the old man with mock ferocity. “Stubborn old lumberjack!” he chided.
John Cardigan shook with an inward chuckle, for the loving abuse his boy had formed a habit of heaping on him never failed to thrill him. Instinctively Bryce had realized that to-night obvious sympathy copiously expressed was not the medicine for his father’s bruised spirit; hence he elected to regard the latter’s blindness as a mere temporary annoyance, something to be considered lightly, if at all; and it was typical of him now that the subject had been discussed briefly, to resolve never to refer to it again. He released his hold on the old man’s neck and tapped the latter’s gray head lightly, while with his tongue he made hollow-sounding noises against the roof of his mouth.