Bryce bent over him. “Now, damn you,” he roared, “who felled that tree in Cardigan’s Redwoods?”
“I did, M’sieur. Enough—I confess!” The words were a whisper.
“Did Colonel Pennington suggest it to you?”
“He want ze burl. By gar, I do not want to fell zat tree—”
“That’s all I want to know.” Stooping, Bryce seized Rondeau by the nape of the neck and the slack of his overalls, lifted him shoulder-high and threw him, as one throws a sack of meal, full at Colonel Pennington.
“You threw me at him. Now I throw him at you. You damned, thieving, greedy, hypocritical scoundrel, if it weren’t for your years and your gray hair, I’d kill you.”
The helpless hulk of the woods-boss descended upon the Colonel’s expansive chest and sent him crashing earthward. Then Bryce, war-mad, turned to face the ring of Laguna Grande employees about him.
“Next!” he roared. “Singly, in pairs, or the whole damned pack!”
He turned. Colonel Pennington’s breath had been knocked out of his body by the impact of his semi-conscious woods-boss, and he lay inert, gasping like a hooked fish. Beside him Shirley Sumner was kneeling, her hands clasping her uncle’s, but with her violet eyes blazing fiercely on Bryce Cardigan.
“How dare you?” she cried. “You coward! To hurt my uncle!”
He gazed at her a moment, fiercely, defiantly, his chest rising and falling from his recent exertions, his knotted fists gory with the blood of his enemy. Then the light of battle died, and he hung his head. “I’m sorry,” he murmured, “not for his sake, but yours. I didn’t know you were here. I forgot—myself.”
“I’ll never speak to you again so long as I live,” she burst out passionately.
He advanced a step and stood gazing down upon her. Her angry glance met his unflinchingly; and presently for him the light went out of the world.
“Very well,” he murmured. “Good-bye.” And with bowed head he turned and made off through the green timber toward his own logging-camp five miles distant.
With the descent upon his breast of the limp body of his big woods-bully, Colonel Pennington had been struck to earth as effectively as if a fair-sized tree had fallen on him. Indeed, with such force did his proud head collide with terra firma that had it not been for the soft cushion of ferns and tiny redwood twigs, his neck must have been broken by the shock. To complete his withdrawal from active service, the last whiff of breath had been driven from his lungs; and for the space of a minute, during which Jules Rondeau lay heavily across his midriff, the Colonel was quite unable to get it back. Pale, gasping, and jarred from soul to suspenders, he was merely aware that something unexpected and disconcerting had occurred.
While the Colonel fought for his breath, his woodsmen remained in the offing, paralyzed into inactivity by reason of the swiftness and thoroughness of Bryce Cardigan’s work; then Shirley motioned to them to remove the wreckage, and they hastened to obey.