The Young Timber-cruisers; or, Fighting the Spruce Pirates/Chapter 22

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It would be impossible to state which of the quartette was the most astonished. As Stanley cried out President Thaxter sprang forward and clasped him in his arms. For once in his life Hatton lost his composure; the amazement on his usually cold face rivalling that depicted by Abner’s angular features.

“Mr. Thaxter! Is this your—your nephew?” finally cried Hatton, as he beheld the former kitchen boy in the magnate’s embrace.

“Our Reddy his nevvy!” stuttered Abner, pressing both hands to his head.

“Leave us for a while,” requested Thaxter in a low voice.

Hatton and Abner stumbled out of the door and stared at each other dumbly. The arrival of Bub on the scene loosened their tongues and each sought to be the first to proclaim the astounding news.

Bub’s eyes and mouth opened very wide as he gathered the truth from their disjointed exclamations.

“It doesn’t seem real,” muttered Bub.

“They’re both in there now, a-hugging each other,” excitedly assured Abner.

“Stanley Malcolm is undoubtedly President Thaxter’s nephew,” declared Hatton, slowly returning to his normal cast of countenance.

“And to think how ye refused him the chance to go with me to Flat-Top,” murmured Abner.

Hatton winced. “Of course I’m not supposed to know who a strange boy is who gives no account of himself,” he defended. “Had I known he was related to President Thaxter I should have given him a reception worthy of his high connections—that is, insofar as my humble means would permit.”

“Then I’m mighty glad ye didn’t know,” cried Abner. “Fer then I’d never had a chance to get acquainted with one of the best younkers that ever made fool mistakes in the woods.”

“And the Great Northern would not have won the fight against Jim Nace,” added Bub, dancing about for sheer joy.

At this point Thaxter opened the office door and motioned the three to enter. Bub and Abner were diffidently hanging back when Stanley looked over his uncle’s shoulder and commanded, “Hi, you two. Come in here. You’ve bullied me in the woods, but I’m boss now. Hustle along.”

“I didn’t know I was combing down the president’s nephew,” grinned Abner nervously.

“You were just as good a fellow, Stan, when I first met you as you are now,” earnestly declared Bub.

“My nephew is fortunate in falling in with you two,” warmly spoke up Thaxter, grasping the veteran and Bub by the hand. “It was the making of him. Naturally you are all curious to know several things. Shall I tell it, Stanley, or will you?”

“You explain, Uncle,” replied Stanley.

Thaxter rested a hand on Stanley’s shoulder and began: “This youth is the only child of my dear, dead sister. I have no kith or kin except him. He was never a boy who abused his position, but his natural disposition was er—er—”

“Overbearing and despicable,” supplied Stanley quickly.

“No, not as bad as that,” fondly smiled Thaxter. “But we two sometimes failed to agree. Not that Stanley was guilty of any wrongdoing, but he was headstrong about school matters and I was firm in my ways. The result was that when he wished to change his school I refused to consent. I was not particularly pleased with his standing in school and scolded him a bit too severely, I fear. At last I was foolish enough to tell him he was dependent on me and could not earn his salt if cast upon the world. We were in New York at the time. He replied that he could, if allowed the opportunity like other boys. I laughed at him.

“In the morning he was gone. I smiled, thinking he was sulking at the home of some friend. As several days went by I made inquiries. Then I became alarmed. I hired detectives and quietly instituted a search of the whole country; only, I never dreamed of his being up in Maine. I knew he had talked of going to Mexico some time and feared that he was down there. The unsettled condition of the country added to my alarm, and it was in the Southwest that we-searched the closest.

“Now by accident I find him up here—manly and capable to earn his own way. My friends, you have no idea of my gratification in learning that he has fought his way without asking for help on the strength of his name. He knew that he could draw on me for any amount at any time. Yet my bankers tell me he has never asked for a penny. By and by I shall want Bub and Mr. Whitten to fill in the gaps he has left open.”

“It is your nephew who suggested the pulp pipe line,” broke in Hatton.

“He has not told me that,” cried the delighted president.

“We always called him Reddy and Rusty,” added Bub.

“Dear! dear!” murmured the president. “To think of a Malcolm, a nephew of a Thaxter, being styled by such a common nickname.”

“I liked it,” stoutly insisted Stanley. “It made me feel like other boys. I was heartily tired of being bowed to and waited upon. I think it was that that in part caused me to get sour and disagreeable. However, I want to say right here that a fellow never had a better friend and uncle than I have. All the fault has been mine, and as Abner has so often said I needed to be ‘larruped.’”

“Hold on, Reddy—I mean Mister Malcolm,” protested Abner. “Them remarks was made to a younker that needed ’em. I might have spoke different, if I’d—no, I’ll tell the truth. I guess I’d said it anyway.”

“That sounds better,” laughed Thaxter. “What a joke if Mr. Whitten had birched you, my boy.”

“I’d stood for it,” grinned Stanley. Then observing the gathering gloom on Bub’s face he quickly asked, “But, Mr. Thomas, why this castdown look? Aren’t you glad to find I’m what I am?”

“I don’t see why I should be,” slowly decided Bub. “I’m selfish, I guess. I found a friend, a rattling good fellow. Now I lose him. I guess I would have preferred to have you remain Reddy—and making mistakes.”

“None of that,” fiercely warned Stanley, shaking Bub by the shoulders. “I’m just the same as I was up on Flat-Top. I shall always be Reddy to you. Discovering my uncle makes no difference in my feelings for you and Abner.”

“Red—Stanley, do you mean that?” cried the delighted youth

“I vum! I believe he does,” muttered Abner.

“See here, you two,” angrily declared Stanley. “What do you think I am? Didn’t you two take me up and befriend me when I didn’t have as many friends or as much to eat as the cook’s dog? Are you mean enough to think that any amount of money would change my feelings for you two?”

“Forgive me, Stan,” blurted Bub. “But it is all so strange that I can’t think straight.”

“Mr. Malcolm will accompany you back to town?” politely inquired Hatton.

“No,” smiled Stanley. “Reddy Malcolm will put in the summer with Bub in prospecting for amethysts and tourmalines and fresh water pearls, and on the side look after things up north for the company. Abner Whitten will be assigned to look after us.”

“As my successor to be,” gravely informed Thaxter, “my nephew’s orders will be accepted by you, Hatton, as if they came from me. You can rest assured that he will not overstep or interfere with your routine duties, or ever ask anything unreasonable. But if he asks for men, or any kind of help you will be pleased to accommodate him, I know.”

“What Mr. Malcolm says will go with me,” suavely returned Hatton.

“I knew it would,” said Thaxter, his lips curling in a slight smile.

“How about Laura?” asked Bub.

“We’ve talked of her and her father,” said Stanley. “My uncle will arrange for Professor Carlton to enter upon his chosen work in Colorado this fall.”

“Guess ye thought of everything,” admired Abner. “Now as ye two want to be alone and chin I’ll go over and eat a snack.”

“We have even thought of that,” smiled Thaxter. “You two will accompany Stanley and me back to my private car, where we will see what Josef, my chef, has good for dinner.”

“Supper,” mechanically corrected Abner, his eyes glistening.

“We’ll make it a combination of both,” laughed Stanley.

“See here, my son,” whispered Bub aside, “I don’t want to go down there. I’m not use to that sort of thing. I’d feel ashamed.”

“Quit that,” sternly ordered Stanley. “By the same line of argument I shouldn’t have gone north to feel ashamed of my greenness. To the car you go and Josef will give Abner a meal that he’ll remember ever after. I know Josef of old, and he’ll be that tickled to see me that he’ll throw on all the style at his command.”

“I ain’t just dressed fer polite company,” Abner was beginning to remonstrate, but Thaxter caught his arm and led him to the door, saying:

“It is I who am in the best of company. The man who saved my boy’s life is the best company I shall ever enjoy. Say no more. I am only sorry that that splendid Indian fellow is not here to go with us.”

“I do not believe Noisy Charlie would care to go with us,” said Stanley. “We must do something handsome for him, if we can only find the right way. Maybe, Abner can help us out on that.”

“I’ll do anything fer Charlie,” said Abner earnestly. “It was really the Injun that pulled us all through.”

“No one shall be forgotten,” assured Thaxter. “Stanley has made a memorandum of all of his friends. There is a White and a McPherson and a French Louey—”

“Let’s not go into that,” blushed Stanley.

“We’d better be hurrying,” worried Abner. “If I’m going to eat in a railroad car I don’t want the supper to git cold. S’pose that cookee of yer’n will have some hot tea? Don’t want him to bother to make it, but if he’s got any on the back of the stove I’d like a cup, I guess. All these happenings sort of make me nervous.”

“You shall have all the tea you can drink,” promised Stanley. “And strawberries and—”

“Hold on,” warned Abner. “Don’t show yer ignorance before yer Uncle, Reddy. Strawberries don’t grow at this time of year. Kind of slipped, eh?”

“Wait and see,” smiled Stanley, winking at Bub.

After Abner had been pushed into the back seat of the machine with Stanley and Bub on either side of him, Hatton humbly reminded, “Does that interview with Nace stand?”

“Certainly. I’ll be here on the hour. Mr. Whitten and the boys will stop with me to-night. We’ll all be here. Only you need not say anything to Nace about my nephew, or their discovery on Flat-Top.”

“Most assuredly not,” said Hatton, bowing his way back to the office.

That night Abner was in wonderland. With no conception of a private car he had imagined he was to be taken to the usual rough and ready coach used on roads penetrating the lumber district and be entertained with a nondescript lunch.

Josef, overcome to behold his favorite, no sooner learned Stanley’s wishes than he bestirred himself to an unusual degree. Thaxter, a man of quiet habits and plain tastes, was almost surprised into betraying his amusement when the four sat down to the table and Abner was besieged with the various dishes, including strawberries. At the end of the meal, when the veteran could eat no more, he anxiously asked:

“Is this same feller to cook breakfast?”

“Josef cooks all my meals when I am at home or in my car,” informed Thaxter.

“All right,” sighed Abner. “I’m glad I’m going to bunk here to-night. Hope he’ll have some of that cold sweet stuff.”

Stanley chuckled, but took an opportunity to order ice cream for breakfast.

Promptly at eight o’clock next morning Nace entered the office, wearing his hat at an aggressive angle. He was confident that he had won his fight and was about to add nearly a quarter of a million to his already moderate fortune. His salutation to Hatton was curt and sharp. The manager, in turn, was meek and mild in bearing and rubbed his hands nervously.

“Kind of upset at the thought of having the boss here this morning, eh?” grinned Nace.

“He was much put out yesterday afternoon when I told him that we were helpless,” mumbled Hatton. “It even reached a point where I offered to resign.”

“Ha! ha!” chuckled Nace. “Well, if you git fired maybe I can find something for you to do.”

“Thank you,” murmured Hatton. “Here comes President Thaxter. ”

“Who’s that with him?” scowled Nace.

“Only Abner Whitten and the two boys, known as Bub and Raddy,” quietly replied Hatton.

“Whitten! Why, I thought he—that is, I did not expect him,” faltered Nace, his jaw dropping.

“Yes, he got out alive; also brought the boys,” said Hatton simply.

“I don’t know what you mean by such talk,” cried Nace, his mouth tightening. “Why are they coming here? I was to meet old Thaxter alone.”

“That will do,” growled Hatton, knocking Nace’s hat from his head. “You are about to meet President Thaxter. And remember your manners.”

Nace started as if about to reach for a weapon, but Hatton’s hand resting in a drawer of the desk caused him to change his mind.

“President Thaxter, this is Jim Nace,” briefly announced Hatton, never removing his eyes from the operator.

“I have but a moment,” informed Thaxter. “And I object to having this crowd here,” hotly cried Nace, half rising from his chair.

“This crowd is composed of my nephew, Stanley Malcolm, and his two good friends, Mr. Whitten and Mr. Thomas,” quietly resumed Thaxter. “Now for business. How much are you worth?”

“None of your business!” cried Nace, his heavy face revealing his bewilderment.

“0n the contrary it is my business,” smoothly assured Thaxter. “I have an important proposition to make.”

Instantly Nace saw himself investing in the Great Northern and becoming one of its heads. “Why, I guess I could scare up a hundred thousand pretty quick,” he lazily replied.

“I see,” mused Thaxter. “Very well; we’ll have to proceed on that theory. You will give Noisy Charlie, the Indian guide, the sum of ten thousand dollars. You will give a like amount to Abner Whitten. You will divide a third ten thousand between my nephew and Mr. Thomas.”

“Give thirty thousand dollars!” gasped Nace in a dazed voice.

“Yes; no man can say I ever bore down too severely,” returned Thaxter.

“But why—what do I get in return?” puzzled Nace, beads of sweat now dotting his red forehead.

“You will be allowed to remain outside of state-prison until some new piece of crookedness lands you there,” calmly answered Thaxter.

“What d’ye mean! How dare you talk to me in such a slanderous way?” bellowed Nace. “I’ll have the law on you. These men are witnesses that—”

“Sit down,” coldly warned Hatton, tapping something hard in the drawer.

“This is a hold-up,” choked Nace, his eyes now roving about the room as if seeking a place to escape.

“Besides doing what I have directed you will turn over to the town owning the public lot, which you cut and then burned over, the sum of twelve thousand dollars, which Mr. Whitten says will cover the stolen stumpage. Of course the town will put in its surveyors to verify Mr. Whitten’s estimate.”

“Is that all?” huskily asked Nace.

“Not quite. You will cause to be printed within three days an announcement that you have withdrawn from politics and will never participate in them again. It will be printed over your signature.”

“Now, hear me!” roared Nace rising. “I don’t know what your game is, but your city bluff won’t go. I don’t know what you mean by my stealing school timber. It is just another cause for a slander suit—”

“Tut, tut, man. Cease being foolish,” impatiently advised Thaxter. “We have the very workmen you employed when you cut over that lot.”

Nace licked his dry lips in silence for a few moments, and then hoarsely announced, “If I’ve got over a line I’ll pay the shot. But you talk in riddles. I came here to discuss my Flat-Top ridge holdings.”

“I don’t want to buy your holdings,” said Thaxter. “Your timber is sparse and too high up the ridge. We have all we care for on that watershed.”

“But my eighty acres,” muttered Nace.

“If you mean the timber you have claimed against us, the courts will settle that title if you do not relinquish your claim within a day or so.”

“Never!” shouted Nace, now thoroughly enraged and bewildered. “You talk like a crazy man with your demands on my pocketbook. You can be—”

“Show him the bark,” directed Thaxter. “He annoys me with his coarse ways.”

Abner stepped to the desk and brought out the beech panel and held it up before Nace’s dull eyes. “It was taken from the boundary tree, on our line,” grinned the cruiser. “The tree is there now.”

Nace gave a bellow and was about to clutch the precious bark, but Abner drew it from his reach, while something clicked in Hatton’s concealed hand. “Easy, Nace,” warned the manager.

Then Thaxter concisely outlined the case against the cornered operator, informing him of the death of two of his henchmen and the arrest of the other two. “I would prosecute you for their attempt at murder, but I might not be able to secure a conviction,” he concluded. “So I strike at your pocketbook and drive you from politics. Needless to say your life would not be worth much if ever you go into the woods again. When may I expect you to send out certified checks for the sums mentioned?”

“Within two days,” surrendered Nace, now utterly humbled.

“Then I think you may go,” said Thaxter.

After the operator had stumbled from the office Thaxter turned to the boys and said, “How about school?”

“When I return Bub goes with me,” replied Stanley. “I only ask for this summer with the privilege of requesting a longer vacation this fall. I will not ask for the latter unless during the summer I make up my studies so that I will not fall behind should I stay out a year. Bub is ahead of me now and we can study together; but I do want to see more of this life.”

“See how he’s putting on flesh and muscle,” admired Abner. “When he come here he was thin as a herring. A season in the woods would be mighty good schooling fer him.”

Thaxter pondered deeply. “I’ll see about it,” he finally announced. “You may have the summer and we’ll talk over the fall and winter plans later. Now make out a list of things you want me to send down and I’ll be going back. I must be in Boston to-night.”

“For one thing, send all the books you can on geology and the minerals of Maine,” laughed Stanley, writing it down as he spoke. “Then the handsomest rifle you can find for Charlie.”

“Better quit talking and do more writing,” advised Abner.

“And we’ll give Mr. Thaxter the best stone we find this summer for a ring or scarf-pin,” cried Bub.

“I have it!” cried Stanley. “Among other things we’ll work Miss Laura’s amethyst pocket.”

“Guess I’ll go over and see what we’re going to have fer dinner,” said Abner.