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The Valley of the Giants (Chapter24)

2006-08-22 19:53

  Chapter XXIV

  To return to Bryce Cardigan: Having completed his preliminary plans to build the N. C. O., Bryce had returned to Sequoia, prepared to sit quietly on the side-lines and watch his peppery henchman Buck Ogilvy go into action. The more Bryce considered that young man's fitness for the position he occupied, the more satisfied did he become with his decision. While he had not been in touch with Ogilvy for several years, he had known him intimately at Princeton.

  In his last year at college Ogilvy's father, a well-known railroad magnate, had come a disastrous cropper in the stock market, thus throwing Buck upon his own resources and cutting short his college career——which was probably the very best thing that could happen to his father's son. For a brief period——perhaps five minutes——Buck had staggered under the blow; then his tremendous optimism had asserted itself, and while he packed his trunk, he had planned for the future. As to how that future had developed, the reader will have gleaned some slight idea from the information imparted in his letter to Bryce Cardigan, already quoted. In a word, Mr. Ogilvy had had his ups and downs.

  Ogilvy's return to Sequoia following his three-weeks tour in search of rights of way for the N. C. O. was heralded by a visit from him to Bryce Cardigan at the latter's office. As he breasted the counter in the general office, Moira McTavish left her desk and came over to see what the visitor desired.

  “I should like to see Mr. Bryce Cardigan,” Buck began in crisp businesslike accents. He was fumbling in his card-case and did not look up until about to hand his card to Moira——when his mouth flew half open, the while he stared at her with consummate frankness. The girl's glance met his momentarily, then was lowered modestly; she took the card and carried it to Bryce.

  “Hum-m-m!” Bryce grunted. “That noisy fellow Ogilvy, eh?”

  “His clothes are simply wonderful——and so is his voice. He's very refined. But he's carroty red and has freckled hands, Mr. Bryce.”

  Bryce rose and sauntered into the general office.

  “Mr. Bryce Cardigan?” Buck queried politely, with an interrogative lift of his blond eyebrows.

  “At your service, Mr. Ogilvy. Please come in.”

  “Thank you so much, sir.” He followed Bryce to the latter's private office, closed the door carefully behind him, and stood with his broad back against it.

  “Buck, are you losing your mind?” Bryce demanded.

  “Losing it? I should say not. I've just lost it.”

  “I believe you. If you were quite sane, you wouldn't run the risk of being seen entering my office.”

  “Tut-tut, old dear! None of that! Am I not the main-spring of the Northern California Oregon Railroad and privileged to run the destinies of that soulless corporation as I see fit?” He sat down, crossed his long legs, and jerked a speckled thumb toward the outer office. “I was sane when I came in here, but the eyes of the girl outside——oh, yow, them eyes! I must be introduced to her. And you're scolding me for coming around here in broad daylight. Why, you duffer, if I come at night, d'ye suppose I'd have met her? Be sensible.”

  “You like Moira's eyes, eh?”

  “I've never seen anything like them. Zounds, I'm afire. I have little prickly sensations, like ants running over me. How can you be insensate enough to descend to labour with an houri like that around? Oh, man! To think of an angel like that working——to think of a brute like you making her work!”

  “Love at first sight, eh, Buck?”

  “I don't know what it is, but it's nice. Who is she?”

  “She's Moira McTavish, and you're not to make love to her. Understand? I can't have you snooping around this office after to- day.”

  Mr. Ogilvy's eyes popped with interest. “Oh,” he breathed. “You have an eye to the main chance yourself have you? Have you proposed to the lady as yet?”

  “No, you idiot.”

  “Then I'll match you for her——or rather for the chance to propose first.” Buck produced a dollar and spun it in the air.

  “Nothing doing, Buck. Spare yourself these agonizing suspicions. The fact of the matter is that you give me a wonderful inspiration. I've always been afraid Moira would fall in love with some ordinary fellow around Sequoia——propinquity, you know——”

  “You bet. Propinquity's the stuff. I'll stick around.”

  “——and I we been on the lookout for a fine man to marry her off to. She's too wonderful for you, Buck, but in time you might learn to live up to her.”

  “Duck! I'm liable to kiss you.”

  “Don't be too precipitate. Her father used to be our woods-boss. I fired him for boozing.”

  “I wouldn't care two hoots if her dad was old Nick himself. I'm going to marry her——if she'll have me. Ah, the glorious creature!” He waved his long arms despairingly. “O Lord, send me a cure for freckles. Bryce, you'll speak a kind word for me, won't you——sort of boom my stock, eh? Be a good fellow.”

  “Certainly. Now come down to earth and render a report on your stewardship.”

  “I'll try. To begin, I've secured rights of way, at a total cost of twelve thousand, one hundred and three dollars and nine cents, from the city limits of Sequoia to the southern boundary of your timber in Township Nine. I've got my line surveyed, and so far as the building of the road is concerned, I know exactly what I'm going to do, and how and when I'm going to do it, once I get my material on the ground.”

  “What steps have you taken toward securing your material?”

  “Well, I can close a favourable contract for steel rails with the Colorado Steel Products Company. Their schedule of deliveries is O. K. as far as San Francisco, but it's up to you to provide water transportation from there to Sequoia.”

  “We can handle the rails on our steam schooners. Next?”

  “I have an option of a rattling good second-hand locomotive down at the Santa Fe shops, and the Hawkins & Barnes Construction Company have offered me a steam shovel, half a dozen flat-cars, and a lot of fresnos and scrapers at ruinous prices. This equipment is pretty well worn, and they want to get rid of it before buying new stuff for their contract to build the Arizona and Sonora Central. However, it is first-rate equipment for us, because it will last until we're through with it; then we can scrap it for junk. We can buy or rent teams from local citizens and get half of our labour locally. San Francisco employment bureaus will readily supply the remainder, and I have half a dozen fine boys on tap to boss the steam shovel, pile- driver, bridge-building gang, track-layer and construction gang. And as soon as you tell me how I'm to get my material ashore and out on the job, I'll order it and get busy.”

  “That's exactly where the shoe begins to pinch, Pennington's main- line tracks enter the city along Water Street, with one spur into his log-dump and another out on his mill-dock. From the main-line tracks we also have built a spur through our drying-yard out to our log-dump and a switch-line out on to our milldock. We can unload our locomotive, steam shovel, and flat-cars on our own wharf, but unless Pennington gives us permission to use his main-line tracks out to a point beyond the city limits——where a Y will lead off to the point where our construction begins——we're up a stump.”

  “Suppose he refuses, Bryce. What then?”

  “Why, we'll simply have to enter the city down Front Street, paralleling Pennington's tracks on Water Street, turning down B Street, make a jump-crossing of Pennington's line on Water Street, and connecting with the spur into our yard.”

  “Can't have an elbow turn at Front and B streets?”

  “Don't have to. We own a square block on that corner, and we'll build across it, making a gradual turn.”

  “See here, my son,” Buck said solemnly, “is this your first adventure in railroad building?”

  Bryce nodded.

  “I thought so; otherwise you wouldn't talk so confidently of running your line over city streets and making jump-crossings on your competitor's road. If your competitor regards you as a menace to his pocketbook, he can give you a nice little run for your money and delay you indefinitely.”

  “I realize that, Buck. That's why I'm not appearing in this railroad deal at all. If Pennington suspected I was back of it, he'd fight me before the city council and move heaven and earth to keep me out of a franchise to use the city streets and cross his line. Of course, since his main line runs on city property, under a franchise granted by the city, the city has a perfect right to grant me the privilege of making a jump-crossing of his line——”

  “Will they do it? That's the problem. If they will not, you're licked, my son, and I'm out of a job.”

  “We can sue and condemn a right of way.”

  “Yes, but if the city council puts up a plea that it is against the best interests of the city to grant the franchise, you'll find that except in most extraordinary cases, the courts regard it as against public policy to give judgment against a municipality, the State or the Government of the United States. At any rate, they'll hang you up in the courts till you die of old age; and as I understand the matter, you have to have this line running in less than a year, or go out of business.”

  Bryce hung his head thoughtfully. “I've been too cocksure,” he muttered presently. “I shouldn't have spent that twelve thousand for rights of way until I had settled the matter of the franchise.”

  “Oh, I didn't buy any rights of way——yet,” Ogilvy hastened to assure him. “I've only signed the land-owners up on an agreement to give or sell me a right of way at the stipulated figures any time within one year from date. The cost of the surveying gang and my salary and expenses are all that you are out to date.”

  “Buck, you're a wonder.”

  “Not at all. I've merely been through all this before and have profited by my experience. Now, then, to get back to our muttons. Will the city council grant you a franchise to enter the city and jump Pennington's tracks?”

  “I'm sure I don't know, Buck. You'll have to ask them——sound them out. The city council meets Saturday morning.”

  “They'll meet this evening——in the private diningroom of the Hotel Sequoia, if I can arrange it,” Buck Ogilvy declared emphatically. “I'm going to have them all up for dinner and talk the matter over. I'm not exactly aged, Bryce, but I've handled about fifteen city councils and county boards of supervisors, not to mention Mexican and Central American governors and presidents, in my day, and I know the breed from cover to cover. Following a preliminary conference, I'll let you know whether you're going to get that franchise without difficulty or whether somebody's itchy palm will have to be crossed with silver first. Honest men never temporize. You know where they stand, but a grafter temporizes and plays a waiting game, hoping to wear your patience down to the point where you'll ask him bluntly to name his figure. By the way, what do you know about your blighted old city council, anyway?”

  “Two of the five councilmen are for sale; two are honest men——and one is an uncertain quantity. The mayor is a politician. I've known them all since boyhood, and if I dared come out in the open, I think that even the crooks have sentiment enough for what the Cardigans stand for in this county to decline to hold me up.”

  “Then why not come out in the open and save trouble and expense?”

  “I am not ready to have a lot of notes called on me,” Bryce replied dryly. “Neither am I desirous of having the Laguna Grande Lumber Company start a riot in the redwood lumber market by cutting prices to a point where I would have to sell my lumber at a loss in order to get hold of a little ready money. Neither do I desire to have trees felled across the right of way of Pennington's road after his trainloads of logs have gone through and before mine have started from the woods. I don't want my log-landings jammed until I can't move, and I don't want Pennington's engineer to take a curve in such a hurry that he'll whip my loaded logging-trucks off into a canon and leave me hung up for lack of rolling-stock. I tell you, the man has me under his thumb, and the only way I can escape is to slip out when he isn't looking. He can do too many things to block the delivery of my logs and then dub them acts of God, in order to avoid a judgment against him on suit for non-performance of his hauling contract with this company.”

  “Hum-m-m! Slimy old beggar, isn't he? I dare say he wouldn't hesitate to buy the city council to block you, would he?”

  “I know he'll lie and steal. I dare say he'd corrupt a public official.”

  Buck Ogilvy rose and stretched himself. “I've got my work cut out for me, haven't I?” he declared with a yawn. “However, it'll be a fight worth while, and that at least will make it interesting. Well?”

  Bryce pressed the buzzer on his desk, and a moment later Moira entered. “Permit me, Moira, to present Mr. Ogilvy. Mr. Ogilvy, Miss McTavish.” The introduction having been acknowledged by both parties, Bryce continued: “Mr. Ogilvy will have frequent need to interview me at this office, Moira, but it is our joint desire that his visits here shall remain a profound secret to everybody with the exception of ourselves. To that end he will hereafter call at night, when this portion of the town is absolutely deserted. You have an extra key to the office, Moira. I wish you would give it to Mr. Ogilvy.”

  The girl nodded. “Mr. Ogilvy will have to take pains to avoid our watchman,” she suggested.

  “That is a point well taken, Moira. Buck, when you call, make it a point to arrive here promptly on the hour. The watchman will be down in the mill then, punching the time-clock.”

  Again Moira inclined her dark head and withdrew. Mr. Buck Ogilvy groaned. “God speed the day when you can come out from under and I'll be permitted to call during office hours,” he murmured. He picked up his hat and withdrew, via the general office. Half an hour later, Bryce looked out and saw him draped over the counter, engaged in animated conversation with Moira McTavish. Before Ogilvy left, he had managed to impress Moira with a sense of the disadvantage under which he laboured through being forced, because of circumstances Mr. Cardigan would doubtless relate to her in due course, to abandon all hope of seeing her at the office——at least for some time to come. Then he spoke feelingly of the unmitigated horror of being a stranger in a strange town, forced to sit around hotel lobbies with drummers and other lost souls, and drew from Moira the assurance that it wasn't more distressing than having to sit around a boardinghouse night after night watching old women tat and tattle.

  This was the opening Buck Ogilvy had sparred for. Fixing Moira with his bright blue eyes, he grinned boldly and said: “Suppose, Miss McTavish, we start a league for the dispersion of gloom. You be the president, and I'll be the financial secretary.”

  “How would the league operate?” Moira demanded cautiously.

  “Well, it might begin by giving a dinner to all the members, followed by a little motor-trip into the country next Saturday afternoon,” Buck suggested.

  Moira's Madonna glance appraised him steadily. “I haven't known you very long, Mr. Ogilvy,” she reminded him.

  “Oh, I'm easy to get acquainted with,” he retorted lightly. “Besides, don't I come well recommended?” He pondered for a moment. Then: “I'll tell you what, Miss McTavish. Suppose we put it up to Bryce Cardigan. If he says it's all right we'll pull off the party. If he says it's all wrong, I'll go out and drown myself——and fairer words than them has no man spoke.”

  “I'll think it over,” said Moira.

  “By all means. Never decide such an important matter in a hurry. Just tell me your home telephone number, and I'll ring up at seven this evening for your decision.”

  Reluctantly Moira gave him the number. She was not at all prejudiced against this carroty stranger——in fact, she had a vague suspicion that he was a sure cure for the blues, an ailment which she suffered from all too frequently; and, moreover, his voice, his respectful manner, his alert eyes, and his wonderful clothing were all rather alluring. Womanlike, she was flattered at being noticed——particularly by a man like Ogilvy, whom it was plain to be seen was vastly superior to any male even in Sequoia, with the sole exception of Bryce Cardigan. The flutter of a great adventure was in Moira's heart, and the flush of a thousand roses in her cheeks when, Buck Ogilvy having at length departed, she went into Bryce's private office to get his opinion as to the propriety of accepting the invitation.

  Bryce listened to her gravely as with all the sweet innocence of her years and unworldliness she laid the Ogilvy proposition before him.

  “By all means, accept,” he counselled her. “Buck Ogilvy is one of the finest gentlemen you'll ever meet. I'll stake my reputation on him. You'll find him vastly amusing, Moira. He'd make Niobe forget her troubles, and he does know how to order a dinner.”

  “Don't you think I ought to have a chaperon?”

  “Well, it isn't necessary, although it's good form in a small town like Sequoia, where everybody knows everybody else.”

  “I thought so,” Moira murmured thoughtfully. “I'll ask Miss Sumner to come with us. Mr. Ogilvy won't mind the extra expense, I'm sure.”

  “He'll be delighted,” Bryce assured her maliciously. “Ask Miss Sumner, by all means.”

  When Moira had left him, Bryce sighed. “Gosh!” he murmured. “I wish I could go, too.”

  He was roused from his bitter introspections presently by the ringing of the telephone. To his amazement Shirley Sumner was calling him!

  “You're a wee bit surprised, aren't you, Mr. Cardigan?” she said teasingly.

  “I am,” he answered honestly. “I had a notion I was quite persona non grata with you.”

  “Are you relieved to find you are not? You aren't, you know.”

  “Thank you. I am relieved.”

  “I suppose you're wondering why I have telephoned to you?”

  “No, I haven't had time. The suddenness of it all has left me more or less dumb. Why did you ring up?”

  “I wanted some advice. Suppose you wanted very, very much to know what two people were talking about, but found yourself in a position where you couldn't eavesdrop. What would you do?”

  “I wouldn't eavesdrop,” he told her severely. “That isn't a nice thing to do, and I didn't think you would contemplate anything that isn't nice.”

  “I wouldn't ordinarily. But I have every moral, ethical, and financial right to be a party to that conversation, only——well——”

  “With you present there would be no conversation——is that it?”

  “Exactly, Mr. Cardigan.”

  “And it is of the utmost importance that you should know what is said?”


  “And you do not intend to use your knowledge of this conversation, when gained, for an illegal or unethical purpose?”

  “I do not. On the contrary, if I am aware of what is being planned, I can prevent others from doing something illegal and unethical.” “In that event, Shirley, I should say you are quite justified in eavesdropping.”

  “But how can I do it? I can't hide in a closet and listen.”

  “Buy a dictograph and have it hidden in the room where the conversation takes place. It will record every word of it.”

  “Where can I buy one?”

  “In San Francisco.”

  “Will you telephone to your San Francisco office and have them buy one for me and ship it to you, together with directions for using. George Sea Otter can bring it over to me when it arrives.”

  “Shirley, this is most extraordinary.”

  “I quite realize that. May I depend upon you to oblige me in this matter?”

  “Certainly. But why pick on me, of all persons, to perform such a mission for you?”

  “I can trust you to forget that you have performed it.”

  “Thank you. I think you may safely trust me. And I shall attend to the matter immediately.”

  “You are very kind, Mr. Cardigan. How is your dear old father? Moira told me sometime ago that he was ill.”

  “He's quite well again, thank you. By the way, Moira doesn't know that you and I have ever met. Why don't you tell her?”

  “I can't answer that question——now. Perhaps some day I may be in a position to do so.”

  “It's too bad the circumstances are such that we, who started out to be such agreeable friends, see so little of each other, Shirley.”

  “Indeed, it is. However, it's all your fault. I have told you once how you can obviate that distressing situation. But you're so stubborn, Mr. Cardigan.”

  “I haven't got to the point where I like crawling on my hands and knees,” he flared back at her.

  “Even for your sake, I decline to simulate friendship or tolerance for your uncle; hence I must be content to let matters stand as they are between us.”

  She laughed lightly. “So you are still uncompromisingly belligerent—— still after Uncle Seth's scalp?”

  “Yes; and I think I'm going to get it. At any rate, he isn't going to get mine.”

  “Don't you think you're rather unjust to make me suffer for the sins of my relative, Bryce?” she demanded.

  She had called him by his first name. He thrilled. “I'm lost in a quagmire of debts——I'm helpless now,” he murmured. “I'm not fighting for myself alone, but for a thousand dependents——for a principle——for an ancient sentiment that was my father's and is now mine. You do not understand.”

  “I understand more than you give me credit for, and some day you'll realize it. I understand just enough to make me feel sorry for you. I understand what even my uncle doesn't suspect at present, and that is that you're the directing genius of the Northern California Oregon Railroad and hiding behind your friend Ogilvy. Now, listen to me, Bryce Cardigan: You're never going to build that road. Do you understand?”

  The suddenness of her attack amazed him to such an extent that he did not take the trouble to contradict her. Instead he blurted out, angrily and defiantly: “I'll build that road if it costs me my life—— if it costs me you. Understand! I'm in this fight to win.”

  “You will not build that road,” she reiterated.


  “Because I shall not permit you to. I have some financial interest in the Laguna Grande Lumber Company, and it is not to that financial interest that you should build the N.C.O.”

  “How did you find out I was behind Ogilvy?”

  “Intuition. Then I accused you of it, and you admitted it.”

  “I suppose you're going to tell your uncle now,” he retorted witheringly.

  “On the contrary, I am not. I greatly fear I was born with a touch of sporting blood, Mr. Cardigan, so I'm going to let you two fight until you're exhausted, and then I'm going to step in and decide the issue. You can save money by surrendering now. I hold the whip hand.”

  “I prefer to fight. With your permission this bout will go to a knockout.” “I'm not so certain I do not like you all the more for that decision. And if it will comfort you the least bit, you have my word of honour that I shall not reveal to my uncle the identity of the man behind the N. C. O. I'm not a tattletale, you know, and moreover I have a great curiosity to get to the end of the story. The fact is, both you and Uncle Seth annoy me exceedingly. How lovely everything would have been if you two hadn't started this feud and forced upon me the task of trying to be fair and impartial to you both.”

  “Can you remain fair and impartial?”

  “I think I can——even up to the point of deciding whether or not you are going to build that road. Then I shall act independently of you both. Forgive my slang, but——I'm going to hand you each a poke then.”

  “Shirley,” he told her earnestly, “listen carefully to what I am about to say: I love you. I've loved you from the day I first met you. I shall always love you; and when I get around to it, I'm going to ask you to marry me. At present, however, that is a right I do not possess. However, the day I acquire the right I shall exercise it.”

  “And when will that day be?” Very softly, in awesome tones!

  “The day I drive the last spike in the N. C. O.”

  Fell a silence. Then: “I'm glad, Bryce Cardigan, you're not a quitter. Good-bye, good luck——and don't forget my errand.” She hung up and sat at the telephone for a moment, dimpled chin in dimpled hand, her glance wandering through the window and far away across the roofs of the town to where the smoke-stack of Cardigan's mill cut the sky-line. “How I'd hate you if I could handle you!” she murmured.

  Following this exasperating but illuminating conversation with Shirley Sumner over the telephone, Bryce Cardigan was a distressed and badly worried man. However, Bryce was a communicant of a very simple faith——to wit, that one is never whipped till one is counted out, and the first shock of Shirley's discovery having passed, he wasted no time in vain repinings but straightway set himself to scheme a way out of his dilemma.

  For an hour he sat slouched in his chair, chin on breast, the while he reviewed every angle of the situation.

  He found it impossible, however, to dissociate the business from the personal aspects of his relations with Shirley, and he recalled that she had the very best of reasons for placing their relations on a business basis rather than a sentimental one. He had played a part in their little drama which he knew must have baffled and infuriated her. More, had she, in those delightful few days of their early acquaintance, formed for him a sentiment somewhat stronger than friendship (he did not flatter himself that this was so), he could understand her attitude toward him as that of the woman scorned. For the present, however, it was all a profound and disturbing mystery, and after an hour of futile concentration there came to Bryce the old childish impulse to go to his father with his troubles. That sturdy old soul, freed from the hot passions of youth, its impetuosity and its proneness to consider cause rather than effect, had weathered too many storms in his day to permit the present one to benumb his brain as it had his son's.

  “He will be able to think without having his thoughts blotted out by a woman's face,” Bryce soliloquized. “He's like one of his own big redwood trees; his head is always above the storm.”

  Straightway Bryce left the office and went home to the old house on the knoll. John Cardigan was sitting on the veranda, and from a stand beside him George Sea Otter entertained him with a phonograph selection——“The Suwanee River,” sung by a male quartet. As the gate clicked, John raised his head; then as Bryce's quick step spurned the cement walk up the little old-fashioned garden, he rose and stood with one hand outstretched and trembling a little. He could not see, but with the intuition of the blind, he knew.

  “What is it, son?” he demanded gently as Bryce came up the low steps. “George, choke that contraption off,”

  Bryce took his father's hand. “I'm in trouble, John Cardigan,” he said simply, “and I'm not big enough to handle it alone.”

  The leonine old man smiled, and his smile had all the sweetness of a benediction. His boy was in trouble and had come to him. Good! Then he would not fail him. “Sit down, son, and tell the old man all about it. Begin at the beginning and let me have all the angles of the angle.”

  Bryce obeyed, and for the first time John Cardigan learned of his son's acquaintance with Shirley Sumner and the fact that she had been present in Pennington's woods the day Bryce had gone there to settle the score with Jules Rondeau. In the wonderful first flush of his love a sense of embarrassment, following his discovery of the fact that his father and Colonel Pennington were implacable enemies, had decided Bryce not to mention the matter of the girl to John Cardigan until the entente cordiale between Pennington and his father could be reestablished, for Bryce had, with the optimism of his years, entertained for a few days a thought that he could bring about this desirable condition of affairs. The discovery that he could not, together with his renunciation of his love until he should succeed in protecting his heritage and eliminating the despair that had come upon his father in the latter's old age, had further operated to render unnecessary any discussion of the girl with the old man.

  With the patience and gentleness of a confessor John Cardigan heard the story now, and though Bryce gave no hint in words that his affections were involved in the fight for the Cardigan acres, yet did his father know It, for he was a parent. And his great heart went out in sympathy for his boy.

  “I understand, sonny, I understand. This young lady is only one additional reason why you must win, for of course you understand she is not indifferent to you.”

  “I do not know that she feels for me anything stronger than a vagrant sympathy, Dad, for while she is eternally feminine, nevertheless she has a masculine way of looking at many things. She is a good comrade with a bully sense of sportsmanship, and unlike her skunk of an uncle, she fights in the open. Under the circumstances, however, her first loyalty is to him; in fact, she owes none to me. And I dare say he has given her some extremely plausible reason why we should be eliminated; while I think she is sorry that it must be done, nevertheless, in a mistaken impulse of self-protection she is likely to let him do it.”

  “Perhaps, perhaps. One never knows why a woman does things, although it is a safe bet that if they're with you at all, they're with you all the way. Eliminate the girl, my boy. She's trying to play fair to you and her relative. Let us concentrate on Pennington.”

  “The entire situation hinges on that jump-crossing of his tracks on Water Street.”

  “He doesn't know you plan to cross them, does he?”


  “Then, lad, your job is to get your crossing in before he finds out, isn't it?”

  “Yes, but it is an impossible task, partner. I'm not Aladdin, you know. I have to have a franchise from the city council, and I have to have rails.”

  “Both are procurable, my son. Induce the city council to grant you a temporary franchise to-morrow, and buy your rails from Pennington. He has a mile of track running up Laurel Creek, and Laurel Creek was logged out three years ago. I believe that spur is useless to Pennington, and the ninety-pound rails are rusting there.”

  “But will he sell them to me?”

  “Not if you tell him why you want them.”

  “But he hates me, old pal.”

  “The Colonel never permits sentiment to interfere with business, my son. He doesn't need the rails, and he does desire your money. Consider the rail-problem settled.”

  “How do you stand with the Mayor and the council?”

  “I do not stand at all. I opposed Poundstone for the office; Dobbs, who was appointed to fill a vacancy caused by the death of a regularly elected councilman, was once a bookkeeper in our office, you will remember. I discharged him for looting the petty-cash drawer. Andrews and Mullin are professional politicians and not to be trusted. In fact, Poundstone, Dobbs, Andrews, and Mullin are known as the Solid Four. Yates and Thatcher, the remaining members of the city council, are the result of the reform ticket last fall, but since they are in the minority, they are helpless.”

  “That makes it bad.”

  “Not at all. The Cardigans are not known to be connected with the N. C. O. Send your bright friend Ogilvy after that franchise. He's the only man who can land it. Give him a free hand and tell him to deliver the goods by any means short of bribery. I imagine he's had experience with city councils and will know exactly how to proceed. I know you can procure the rails and have them at the intersection of B and Water streets Thursday night. If Ogilvy can procure the temporary franchise and have it in his pocket by six o'clock Thursday night, you should have that crossing in by sunup Friday morning. Then let Pennington rave. He cannot procure an injunction to restrain us from cutting his tracks, thus throwing the matter into the courts and holding us up indefinitely, because by the time he wakes up, the tracks will have been cut. The best he can do then will be to fight us before the city council when we apply for our permanent franchise. Thank God, however, the name of Cardigan carries weight in this county, and with the pressure of public sympathy and opinion back of us, we may venture, my boy, to break a lance with the Solid Four, should they stand with Pennington.”

  “Partner, it looks like a forlorn hope,” said Bryce.

  “Well, you're the boy to lead it. And it will cost but little to put in the crossing and take a chance. Remember, Bryce, once we have that crossing in, it stands like a spite-fence between Pennington and the law which he knows so well how to pervert to suit his ignoble purposes.” He turned earnestly to Bryce and waved a trembling admonitory finger. “Your job is to keep out of court. Once Pennington gets the law on us, the issue will not be settled in our favour for years; and in the meantime——you perish. Run along now and hunt up Ogilvy. George, play that 'Suwannee River' quartet again. It sort o' soothes me.”

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