“How did you ruin your face, Mr. Cardigan?”
“Tried to take a cast of the front end of the caboose in my classic countenance—that’s all.”
“But you were riding the top log on the last truck—”
“Certainly, but I wasn’t hayseed enough to stay there until we struck this curve. I knew exactly what was going to happen, so I climbed down to the bumper of the caboose, uncoupled it from the truck, climbed up on the roof, and managed to get the old thing under control with the hand-brake; then I skedaddled up into the brush because I knew you were inside, and—–By the way, Colonel Pennington, here is your axe, which I borrowed this afternoon. Much obliged for its use. The last up-train is probably waiting on the siding at Freshwater to pass the late lamented; consequently a walk of about a mile will bring you a means of transportation back to Sequoia. Walk leisurely—you have lots of time. As for myself, I’m in a hurry, and my room is more greatly to be desired than my company, so I’ll start now.”
He lifted his hat, turned, and walked briskly down the ruined track.
Shirley made a little gesture of dissent, half opened her lips to call him back, thought better of it, and let him go. When he was out of sight, it dawned on her that he had risked his life to save hers.
“Uncle Seth,” she said soberly, “what would have happened to us if Bryce Cardigan had not come up here to-day to thrash your woods-boss?”
“We’d both be in Kingdom Come now,” he answered truthfully.
“Under the circumstances, then,” Shirley continued, “suppose we all agree to forget that anything unusual happened to-day—”
“I bear the young man no ill will, Shirley, but before you permit yourself to be carried away by the splendour of his action in cutting out the caboose and getting it under control, it might be well to remember that his own precious hide was at stake also. He would have cut the caboose out even if you and I had not been in it.”
“No, he would not,” she insisted, for the thought that he had done it for her sake was very sweet to her and would persist. “Cooped up in the caboose, we did not know the train was running away until it was too late for us to jump, while Bryce Cardigan, riding out on the logs, must have known it almost immediately. He would have had time to jump before the runaway gathered too much headway—and he would have jumped, Uncle Seth, for his father’s sake.”
“Well, he certainly didn’t stay for mine, Shirley.”
She dried her moist eyes and blushed furiously. “Uncle Seth,” she pleaded, taking him lovingly by the arm, “let’s be friends with Bryce Cardigan; let’s get together and agree on an equitable contract for freighting his logs over our road.”
“You are now,” he replied severely, “mixing sentiment and business; if you persist, the result will be chaos. Cardigan has in a large measure squared himself for his ruffianly conduct earlier in the day, and I’ll forgive him and treat him with courtesy hereafter; but I want you to understand, Shirley, that such treatment by me does not constitute a license for that fellow to crawl up in my lap and be petted. He is practically a pauper now, which makes him a poor business risk, and you’ll please me greatly by leaving him severely alone—by making him keep his distance.”