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Trail of the Axe, The

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<SPAN NAME="chap17"></SPAN> <H3 ALIGN="center"> CHAPTER XVII </H3> <H4 ALIGN="center"> THE LAST OF THE SAWYER </H4> <P> Dave's lead took the foreman in the direction of the wrecked office. Now, in calmer moments, the full extent of the damage became apparent. The first three sets of rollers were hopelessly wrecked, and the saws were twisted and their settings broken and contorted out of all recognition. Then the fire had practically destroyed the whole of the adjacent northwest corner of the mill. The office was a mere skeleton, a shattered shell, and the walls and flooring adjoining had been torn and battered into a complete ruin. In the midst of all this, half a dozen heavy logs, in various stages of trimming, lay scattered about where the machinery happened to have thrown them. </P> <P> It was a sickening sight to the master of the mills, but in his present mood he put the feeling from him, lost in a furious desire to discover the author of the dastardly outrage. </P> <P> He paused for a moment as one great log lying across half a dozen of the roller beds barred his way. He glanced swiftly over the wreckage. Then he turned to the man following him. </P> <P> "Any of the boys cut up?" he inquired. </P> <P> "Some o' them is pretty mean damaged," Dawson replied. "But it ain't too bad, I guess. I 'lows it was sheer luck. But ther's Mansell. We ain't located him." </P> <P> Mansell was uppermost in his mind. He could think of nothing, and no one, else. He wanted to get his hands about the fellow's throat. In his rage he felt that the only thing to give him satisfaction at the moment would be to squeeze the fellow's life slowly out of him. Dawson was a savage when roused, nor did he make pretense of being otherwise. If he came across the sawyer&mdash;well, perhaps it was a good thing that Dave was with him&mdash;that is, a good thing for Mansell. </P> <P> Dave scrambled over the log and the two men hurried on to the saw that had been Mansell's. Neither spoke until this was reached. Then Dave turned. </P> <P> "Say, go you right on over by the crane and rake around there. Maybe he jumped the boom and got out that way. I'll be along directly." </P> <P> It was a mere excuse. He wanted to investigate alone. The foreman obeyed, although reluctantly. </P> <P> The moment he was gone, Dave jumped up on the rollers to examine the machinery that had held the saw. The light of the dying fire was insufficient, and he was forced to procure a lantern. His first anger had passed now, and he was thoroughly alert. His practiced eye lost no detail that could afford the least possible clue to the cause of the smash. Dawson had said it was Mansell, and that it was no accident. But then he knew well enough that Dawson had a bad enough opinion of the sawyer, and since the smash had apparently originated on No. 1, he had probably been only too glad to jump to the conclusion. For himself, he was personally determined to avoid any prejudice. </P> <P> He quickly discovered that the saw in question had been broken off short. The settings were desperately twisted, and he knew that the force capable of doing this could have only been supplied by the gigantic log that had been trimming at the moment. Therefore the indication must come from the saw itself. He searched carefully, and found much of the broken blade. The upper portions were broken clean. There was neither dinge nor bend in them. But the lower portions were less clean. One piece particularly looked as though a sharp instrument had been at work upon it. Then the memory of that faint rasping sound, which had been the first thing to attract his attention before the smash, came back to him. He grew hot with rising anger, and stuffed the piece of saw-blade inside his shirt. </P> <P> "The cur!" he muttered. "Why? Why? Guess Dawson was right, after all. The liquor <i>was</i> in him. But why should he try to smash us?" </P> <P> He jumped down to the alleyway, intending to join his foreman, when a fresh thought occurred to him. He looked over at the remains of the office, then he glanced up and down at the broken rollers of No. 1. And his lips shut tight. </P> <P> "I was in there," he said to himself, with his eyes on the wrecked office, "and&mdash;he knew it." </P> <P> At that moment Dawson's excited voice interrupted him. "Say, boss, come right along here. Guess I've got him." </P> <P> Dave joined him hurriedly. He found the foreman bending over a baulk of timber, one that had evidently been hurled there in the smash. It was lying across the sill of the opening over the boom, projecting a long way out. Beneath it, just where it rested on the sill, but saved from its full weight by the cant at which it was resting, a human figure was stretched out face downward. </P> <P> Dawson was examining the man's face when Dave reached him, and started to explain hurriedly. </P> <P> "I didn't rightly rec'nize him," he said. "Y'see he's got out of his workin' kit. Might ha' bin goin' to the Meetin'. He was sure lightin' out of here for keeps." </P> <P> To Dave the prostrate figure suggested all that the foreman said. The man had calculated that smash&mdash;manufactured it. No more evidence was needed. He had got himself ready for a bolt for safety, preferring the boom as offering the best means of escape and the least chance of detection. Once outside there would be no difficulty in getting away. As Dawson said, his clothes suggested a hurried journey. They were the thick frieze the lumber-jack wears in winter, and would be ample protection for summer nights out in the open. Yes, it had been carefully thought out. But the reason of this attack on himself puzzled him, and he repeatedly asked himself "Why?" </P> <P> There could not be much question as to the man's condition. If he were not yet dead, he must be very near it, for the small of his back was directly under the angle of the beam and crushed against the sill. Dave stood up from his examination. </P> <P> "Get one of the boys, quick," he said. "Start him out at once for Doc Symons, over at High River. It's only fifteen miles. He'll be along before morning anyhow. I'll carry&mdash;this down to the office. Don't say a word around the mill. We've just had an&mdash;accident. See? And say, Dawson, you're looking for a raise, and you're going to get it, that is if this mill's in full work this day week. We're short of logs&mdash;well, this'll serve as an excuse for saws being idle. 'It's an ill wind,' eh? Meantime, get what saws you can going. Now cut along." </P> <P> The foreman's gratitude shone in his eyes. Had Dave given him the least encouragement he would undoubtedly have made him what he considered an elegant speech of thanks, but his employer turned from him at once and set about releasing the imprisoned man. As soon as he had prized the beam clear he gathered him up in his arms and bore him down the spiral staircase to the floor below. Then he hurried on to his office with his burden. </P> <P> And as he went he wondered. The sawyer might dislike Dawson. But he had no cause for grudge against him, Dave. Then why had he waited until he was alone in the tally room? The whole thing looked so like a direct attack upon himself, rather than on the mills, that he was more than ever puzzled. He went back over the time since he had employed Mansell, and he could not remember a single incident that could serve him as an excuse for such an attack. It might have been simply the madness of drink, and yet it seemed too carefully planned. Yes, that was another thing. Mansell had been on the drink for a week, "fighting-drunk," Dawson had said. In the circumstances it was not reasonable for him to plan the thing so carefully. Then a sudden thought occurred to him. Were there others in it? Was Mansell only the tool? </P> <P> He was suddenly startled by a distinct sound from the injured man. It was the sawyer's voice, harsh but inarticulate, and it brought with it a suggestion that he might yet learn the truth. He increased his pace and reached the office a few moments later. </P> <P> Here he prepared a pile of fur rugs upon the floor and laid the sawyer upon it. Then he waited for some minutes, but, as nothing approaching consciousness resulted, he finally left him, intending to return again when the doctor arrived. There was so much to be done in the mill that he could delay his return to it no longer. </P> <P> It was nearly four hours later when he went back to his office. He had seen the work of salvage in order, and at last had a moment to spare to attend to himself. He needed it. He was utterly weary, and his lacerated chest was giving him exquisite pain. </P> <P> He found Mansell precisely as he left him. Apparently there had been no movement of any sort. He bent over him and felt his heart. It was beating faintly. He lifted the lids of his closed eyes, and the eyeballs moved as the light fell upon them. </P> <P> He turned away and began to strip himself of his upper garments. There was a gash in his chest fully six inches long, from which the blood was steadily, though sluggishly, flowing. His clothes were saturated and caked with it. He bathed the wound with the drinking water in the bucket, and tearing his shirt into strips made himself a temporary bandage. This done, he turned to his chair to sit down, when, glancing over at the sick man, he was startled to find his eyes open and staring in his direction. </P> <P> He at once went over to him. </P> <P> "Feeling better, Mansell?" he inquired. </P> <P> The man gave no sign of recognition. His eyes simply stared at him. For a moment he thought he was dead, but a faint though steady breathing reassured him. Suddenly an idea occurred to him, and he went to a cupboard and produced a bottle of brandy. Pouring some out into a tin cup, with some difficulty he persuaded it into Mansell's mouth. Then he waited. The staring eyes began to move, and there was a decided fluttering of the eyelids. A moment later the lips moved, and an indistinct but definite sound came from them. </P> <P> "How are you now?" Dave asked. </P> <P> There was another long pause, during which the man's eyes closed again. Then they reopened, and he deliberately turned his head away. </P> <P> "You&mdash;didn't&mdash;get&mdash;hurt?" he asked, in faint, spasmodic gasps. </P> <P> "No." Dave leaned over him. "Have some more brandy?" </P> <P> The man turned his head back again. He didn't answer, but the look in his eyes was sufficient. This time Dave poured out more, and there was no difficulty in administering it. </P> <P> "Well?" he suggested, as the color slowly crept over the man's face. </P> <P> "Good&mdash;goo&mdash;&mdash;" </P> <P> The sound died away, and the eyes closed again. But only to reopen quickly. </P> <P> "He&mdash;said&mdash;you'd&mdash;get&mdash;killed," he gasped. </P> <P> "He&mdash;who?" </P> <P> "Jim." </P> <P> The sawyer's eyelids drooped again. Without a moment's hesitation Dave plied him with more of the spirit. </P> <P> "You mean Truscott?" he asked sharply. He was startled, but he gave no sign. He realized that at any time the man might refuse to say more. Then he added: "He's got it in for me." </P> <P> The sick man remained perfectly still for some seconds. His brain seemed to move slowly. When he did speak, his voice had grown fainter. </P> <P> "Yes." </P> <P> Dave's face was hard and cold as he looked down at him. He was just about to formulate another question, when the door opened and Dr. Symons hurried in. He was a brisk man, and took the situation in at a glance. </P> <P> "A smash?" he inquired. Then, his eyes on the bottle at Dave's side: "What's that&mdash;brandy?" </P> <P> "Brandy." The lumberman passed it across to him. "Yes, a smash-up. This poor chap's badly damaged, I'm afraid. Found him with a heavy beam lying across the small of his back. You were the nearest doctor, so I sent for you. Eh? oh, yes," as the doctor pointed at the blood on his clothes. "When you've finished with him you can put a stitch in me&mdash;some of the boys too. I'll leave you to it, Doc, they'll need me in the mill. I gave him brandy, and it roused him to consciousness." </P> <P> "Right. You might get back in half an hour." </P> <P> Dr. Symons moved over to the sick man, and Dave put on his coat and left the office. </P> <P> When he returned the doctor met him with a grave face. </P> <P> "What's the night like?" he asked. "I've got to ride back." </P> <P> He went to the door, and Dave followed him out. </P> <P> "His back is broken," he said, when they were out of ear-shot. "It's just a question of hours." </P> <P> "How many?" </P> <P> "Can't say with any certainty. It's badly smashed, and no doubt other things besides. Paralysis of the&mdash;&mdash;" </P> <P> "Has he said anything? Has he shown any inclination to talk?" </P> <P> "No. That is, he looked around the room a good deal as though looking for some one. Maybe you." </P> <P> "Can nothing be done for the poor chap?" </P> <P> "Nothing. Better get him a parson. I'll come over to-morrow to see him, if he's alive. Anyway I'll be needed to sign a certificate. I must get back to home by daylight. I've got fever patients. Now just come inside, and I'll fix you up. Then I'll go and see to the boys. After that, home." </P> <P> "You're sure nothing&mdash;&mdash;" </P> <P> "Plumb sure! Sure as I am you're going to have a mighty bad chest if you don't come inside and let me stop that oozing blood I see coming through your clothes." </P> <P> Without further protest Dave followed the doctor into the office, and submitted to the operation. </P> <P> "That's a rotten bad place," he assured him, in his brisk way. "You'll have to lie up. You ought to be dead beat from loss of blood. Gad, man, you must go home, or I won't answer&mdash;&mdash;" </P> <P> But Dave broke in testily. </P> <P> "Right ho, Doc, you go and see to the boys. Send your bill in to me for the lot." </P> <P> As soon as he had gone, Dave sat thoughtfully gazing at the doomed sawyer. Presently he glanced round at the brandy bottle. The doctor had positively said the poor fellow was doomed. He rose from his seat and poured out a stiff drink. Then he knelt down, and supporting the man's head, held it to his lips. He drank it eagerly. Dave knew it had been his one pleasure in life. Then he went back to his chair. </P> <P> "Feeling comfortable?" he inquired gently. </P> <P> "Yes, boss," came the man's answer promptly. Then, "Wot did the Doc say?" </P> <P> "Guess you're handing in your checks," Dave replied, after a moment's deliberation. </P> <P> The sawyer's eyes were on the brandy bottle. </P> <P> "How long?" he asked presently. </P> <P> "Maybe hours. He couldn't say." </P> <P> "'E's wrong, boss. 'Tain't hours. I'm mighty cold, an'&mdash;it's creepin' up quick." </P> <P> Dave looked at his watch. It was already past two o'clock. </P> <P> "He said he'd come and see you in the morning." </P> <P> "I'll be stiff by then," the dying man persisted, with his eyes still on the bottle. "Say, boss," he went on, "that stuff's a heap warming&mdash;an' I'm cold." </P> <P> Dave poured him out more brandy. Then he took off his own coat and laid it over the man's legs. His fur coat and another fur robe were in the cupboard, and these he added. And the man's thanks came awkwardly. </P> <P> "I can't send for a parson," Dave said regretfully, after a few moments' silence. "I'd like to, but Parson Tom's away up in the hills. It's only right&mdash;&mdash;" </P> <P> "He's gone up to the hills?" the sick man interrupted him, as though struck by a sudden thought. </P> <P> "Yes. It's fever." </P> <P> Mansell lay staring straight up at the roof. And as the other watched him he felt that some sort of struggle was going on in his slowly moving mind. Twice his lips moved as though about to speak, but for a long time no sound came from them. The lumberman felt extreme pity for him. He had forgotten that this man had so nearly ruined him, so nearly caused his death. He only saw before him a dimly flickering life, a life every moment threatening to die out. He knew how warped had been that life, how worthless from a purely human point of view, but he felt that it was as precious in the sight of One as that of the veriest saint. He racked his thoughts for some way to comfort those last dread moments. </P> <P> Presently the dying man's head turned slightly toward him. </P> <P> "I'm goin', boss," he said with a gasp. "It's gettin' up&mdash;the cold." </P> <P> "Will you have&mdash;brandy?" </P> <P> The lighting of the man's eyes made a verbal answer unnecessary. Dave gave him nearly half a tumbler, and his ebbing life flickered up again like a dying candle flame. </P> <P> "The Doc said you wus hurt bad, boss. I heard him. I'm sorry&mdash;real miser'ble sorry&mdash;now." </P> <P> "Now?" </P> <P> "Yep&mdash;y' see I'm&mdash;goin'." </P> <P> "Ah." </P> <P> "I'm kind o' glad ther' ain't no passon around. Guess ther's a heap I wouldn't 'a' said to him." </P> <P> The dying man's eyes closed for a moment. Dave didn't want to break in on his train of thought, so he kept silent. </P> <P> "Y' see," Mansell went on again almost at once, "he kind o' drove me to it. That an' the drink. He give me the drink too. Jim's cur'us mean by you." </P> <P> "But Jim's gone east days ago." </P> <P> "No, he ain't. He's lyin' low. He ain't east now." </P> <P> "You're sure?" Dave's astonishment crept into his tone. </P> <P> Mansell made a movement which implied his certainty. </P> <P> "He was to give me a heap o' money. The money you give fer his mill. He wants you smashed. He wants the mill smashed. An' I did it. Say, I bust that saw o' mine, an' she was a beaut'," he added, with pride and regret. "I got a rasp on to it. But it's all come back on me. Guess I'll be goin' to hell fer that job&mdash;that an' others. Say, boss&mdash;&mdash;" </P> <P> He broke off, looking at the brandy bottle. Dave made no pretense at demur. The man was rapidly dying, and he felt that the spirit gave him a certain ease of mind. The ethics of his action did not trouble him. If he could give a dying man comfort, he would. </P> <P> "There's no hell for those who are real sorry," he said, when the fellow had finished his drink. "The good God is so thankful for a man's real sorrow for doing wrong that He forgives him right out. He forgives a sight easier than men do. You've nothing to worry over, lad. You're sorry&mdash;that's the real thing." </P> <P> "Sure, boss?" </P> <P> "Dead sure." </P> <P> "Say, boss, I'd 'a' hate to done you up. But ther' was the money, an'&mdash;I wanted it bad." </P> <P> "Sure you did. You see we all want a heap the good God don't reckon good for us&mdash;&mdash;" </P> <P> The man's eyes suddenly closed while Dave was speaking. Then they opened again, and this time they were staring wildly. </P> <P> "I'm&mdash;goin'," he gasped. </P> <P> Dave was on his knees in a second, supporting his head. He poured some brandy into the gasping mouth, and for a brief moment the man rallied. Then his breathing suddenly became violent. </P> <P> "I'm&mdash;done!" he gasped in a final effort, and a moment later the supporting hand felt the lead-like weight of the lolling head. The man was dead. </P> <P> The lumberman reverently laid the head back upon the rugs, and for some minutes remained where he was kneeling. His rough, plain face was buried in his hands. Then he rose to his feet and stood looking down upon the lifeless form. A great pity welled up in his heart. Poor Mansell was beyond the reach of a hard fate, beyond the reach of earthly temptation and the hard knocks of men. And he felt it were better so. He covered the body carefully over with the fur robe, and sat down at his desk. </P> <P> He sat there for some minutes listening to the sounds of the workers at the mills. He was weary&mdash;so weary. But at last he could resist the call no longer, and he went out to join in the labor that was his very life. </P> <BR><BR><BR>
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