“You’d have seen me the day before yesterday—if you had been seeable,” Bryce reminded him with a bright smile. “Mac, old man, they tell me you’ve gotten to be a regular go-to-hell.”
“I’ll nae deny I take a wee drappie now an’ then,” the woods-boss admitted frankly, albeit there was a harried, hangdog look in his eyes.
Bryce sat down at his desk, lighted his pipe, and looked McTavish over soberly. The woods-boss was a big, raw-boned Scotsman, with a plentiful sprinkling of silver in his thick mane of red hair, which fell far down on his shoulders. A tremendous nose rose majestically out of a face so strong and rugged one searched in vain for aught of manly beauty in it; his long arms hung gorilla-like, almost to his knees, and he was slightly stooped, as if from bearing heavy burdens. Though in the late fifties, his years had touched him lightly; but John Barleycorn had not been so considerate. Bryce noted that McTavish was carrying some thirty pounds of whiskey fat and that the pupils of his fierce blue eyes were permanently distended, showing that alcohol had begun to affect his brain. His hands trembled as he stood before Bryce, smiling fatuously and plucking at the cuffs of his mackinaw. The latter realized that McTavish was waiting for him to broach the object of the visit; so with an effort he decided to begin the disagreeable task.
“Mac, did Moira give you my message?”
“Well, I guess we understand each other, Mac. Was there something else you wanted to see me about?”
McTavish sidled up to the desk. “Ye’ll no be firin’ auld Mac oot o’ hand?” he pleaded hopefully. “Mon, ha ye the heart to do it—after a’ these years?”
Bryce nodded. “If you have the heart—after all these years—to draw pay you do not earn, then I have the heart to put a better man in your place.”
“Ye was ever a laddie to hae your bit joke.”
“It’s no good arguing, Mac. You’re off the pay-roll onto the pension-roll—your shanty in the woods, your meals at the camp kitchen, your clothing and tobacco that I send out to you. Neither more nor less!” He reached into his desk and drew forth a check. “Here’s your wages to the fifteenth. It’s the last Cardigan check you’ll ever finger. I’m terribly sorry, but I’m terribly in earnest.”
“Who will ye pit in ma place?”
“I don’t know. However, it won’t be a difficult task to find a better man than you.”
“I’ll nae let him work.” McTavish’s voice deepened to a growl. “You worked that racket on my father. Try it on me, and you’ll answer to me—personally. Lay the weight of your finger on your successor, Mac, and you’ll die in the county poor-farm. No threats, old man! You know the Cardigans; they never bluff.”
McTavish’s glance met the youthful master’s for several seconds; then the woods-boss trembled, and his gaze sought the office floor. Bryce knew he had his man whipped at last, and McTavish realized it, too, for quite suddenly he burst into tears.