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The Valley of the Giants (Chapter19)

2006-08-22 19:51

  Chapter XIX

  In the interim Bryce had not been idle. From his woods-crew he picked an old, experienced hand——one Jabez Curtis——to take the place of the vanished McTavish. Colonel Pennington, having repaired in three days the gap in his railroad, wrote a letter to the Cardigan Redwood Lumber Company, informing Bryce that until more equipment could be purchased and delivered to take the place of the rolling-stock destroyed in the wreck, the latter would have to be content with half-deliveries; whereupon Bryce irritated the Colonel profoundly by purchasing a lot of second-hand trucks from a bankrupt sugar-pine mill in Lassen County and delivering them to the Colonel's road via the deck of a steam schooner.

  “That will insure delivery of sufficient logs to get out our orders on file,” Bryce informed his father. “While we are morally certain our mill will run but one year longer, I intend that it shall run full capacity for that year. In fact, I'm going to saw in that one year remaining to us as much lumber as we would ordinarily saw in two years. To be exact, I'm going to run a night-shift.”

  The sightless old man raised both hands in deprecation. “The market won't absorb it,” he protested.

  “Then we'll stack it in piles to air-dry and wait until the market is brisk enough to absorb it,” Bryce replied.

  “Our finances won't stand the overhead of that night-shift, I tell you,” his father warned.

  “I know we haven't sufficient cash on hand to attempt it, Dad, but—— I'm going to borrow some.”

  “From whom? No bank in Sequoia will lend us a penny, and long before you came home I had sounded every possible source of a private loan.”

  “Did you sound the Sequoia Bank of Commerce?”

  “Certainly not. Pennington owns the controlling interest in that bank, and I was never a man to waste my time.”

  Bryce chuckled. “I don't care where the money comes from so long as I get it, partner. Pennington's money may be tainted; in fact, I'd risk a bet that it is; but our employees will accept it for wages nevertheless. Desperate circumstances require desperate measures you know, and the day before yesterday, when I was quite ignorant of the fact that Colonel Pennington controls the Sequoia Bank of Commerce, I drifted in on the president and casually struck him for a loan of one hundred thousand dollars.”

  “Well, I'll be shot, Bryce! What did he say?”

  “Said he'd take the matter under consideration and give me an answer this morning. He asked me, of course, what I wanted that much money for, and I told him I was going to run a night-shift, double my force of men in the woods, and buy some more logging-trucks, which I can get rather cheap. Well, this morning I called for my answer——and got. it. The Sequoia Bank of Commerce will loan me up to a hundred thousand, but it won't give me the cash in a lump sum. I can have enough to buy the logging-trucks now, and on the first of each month, when I present my pay-roll, the bank will advance me the money to meet it.”

  “Bryce, I am amazed.”

  “I am not——since you tell me Colonel Pennington controls that bank. That the bank should accommodate us is the most natural procedure imaginable. Pennington is only playing safe——which is why the bank declined to give me the money in a lump sum. If we run a night-shift, Pennington knows that we can't dispose of our excess output under present market conditions. The redwood trade is in the doldrums and will remain in them to a greater or less degree until the principal redwood centres secure a rail outlet to the markets of the country. It's a safe bet our lumber is going to pile up on the mill dock; hence, when the smash comes and the Sequoia Bank of Commerce calls our loan and we cannot possibly meet it, the lumber on hand will prove security for the loan, will it not? In fact, it will be worth two or three dollars per thousand more then than it is now, because it will be air-dried. And inasmuch as all the signs point to Pennington's gobbling us anyhow, it strikes me as a rather good business on his part to give us sufficient rope to insure a thorough job of hanging.”

  “But what idea have you got back of such a procedure, Bryce?”

  “Merely a forlorn hope, Dad. Something might turn up. The market may take a sudden spurt and go up three or four dollars.”

  “Yes——and it may take a sudden spurt and drop three or four dollars,” his father reminded him.

  Bryce laughed. “That would be Pennington's funeral, Dad. And whether the market goes up or comes down, it costs us nothing to make the experiment.”

  “Quite true.” his father agreed.

  “Then, if you'll come down to the office to-morrow morning, Dad, we'll hold a meeting of our board of directors and authorize me, as president of the company, to sign the note to the bank. We're borrowing this without collateral, you know.”

  John Cardigan sighed. Such daring financial acrobatics were not usual with him, but as Bryce had remarked there was no reason why, in their present predicament, they should not gamble. Hence he entered no further objection, and the following day the agreement was entered into with the bank. Bryce closed by wire for the extra logging- equipment and immediately set about rounding up a crew for the woods and for the night-shift in the mill.

  For a month Bryce was as busy as the proverbial one-armed paper- hanger with the itch, and during all that time he did not see Shirley Sumner or hear of her, directly or indirectly. Only at infrequent intervals did he permit himself to think of her, for he was striving to forget, and the memory of his brief glimpse of paradise was always provocative of pain.

  Moira McTavish, in the meantime, had come down from the woods and entered upon her duties in the mill office. The change from her dull, drab life, giving her, as it did, an opportunity for companionship with people of greater mentality and refinement than she had been used to, quickly brought about a swift transition in the girl's nature. With the passing of the coarse shoes and calico dresses and the substitution of the kind of clothing all women of Moira's instinctive refinement and natural beauty long for, the girl became cheerful, animated, and imbued with the optimism of her years. At first old Sinclair resented the advent of a woman in the office; then he discovered that Moira's efforts lightened his own labours in exact proportion to the knowledge of the business which she assimilated from day to day.

  Moira worked in the general office, and except upon occasions when Bryce desired to look at the books or Moira brought some document into the private office for his perusal, there were days during which his pleasant “Good morning, Moira,” constituted the extent of their conversation. To John Cardigan, however, Moira was a ministering angel. Gradually she relieved Bryce of the care of the old man. She made a cushion for his easy-chair in the office; she read the papers to him, and the correspondence, and discussed with him the receipt and delivery of orders, the movements of the lumber-fleet, the comedies and tragedies of his people, which had become to him matters of the utmost importance. She brushed his hair, dusted his hat, and crowned him with it when he left the office at nightfall, and whenever Bryce was absent in the woods or in San Francisco, it fell to her lot to lead the old man to and from the house on the hill. To his starved heart her sweet womanly attentions were tremendously welcome, and gradually he formed the habit of speaking of her, half tenderly, half jokingly, as “my girl.”

  Bryce had been absent in San Francisco for ten days. He had planned to stay three weeks, but finding his business consummated in less time, he returned to Sequoia unexpectedly. Moira was standing at the tall bookkeeping desk, her beautiful dark head bent over the ledger, when he entered the office and set his suitcase in the corner.

  “Is that you, Mr. Bryce?” she queried.

  “The identical individual, Moira. How did you guess it was I?”

  She looked up at him then, and her wonderful dark eyes lighted with a flame Bryce had not seen in them heretofore. “I knew you were coming,” she replied simply.

  “But how could you know? I didn't telegraph because I wanted to surprise my father, and the instant the boat touched the dock, I went overside and came directly here. I didn't even wait for the crew to run out the gangplank——so I know nobody could have told you I was due.”

  “That is quite right, Mr. Bryce. Nobody told me you were coming, but I just knew, when I heard the Noyo whistling as she made the dock, that you were aboard, and I didn't look up when you entered the office because I wanted to verify my——my suspicion.”

  “You had a hunch, Moira. Do you get those telepathic messages very often?” He was crossing the office to shake her hand.

  “I've never noticed particularly——that is, until I came to work here. But I always know when you are returning after a considerable absence.” She gave him her hand. “I'm so glad you're back.”

  “Why?” he demanded bluntly.

  She flushed. “I——I really don't know, Mr. Bryce.”

  “Well, then,” he persisted, “what do you think makes you glad?”

  “I had been thinking how nice it would be to have you back, Mr. Bryce. When you enter the office, it's like a breeze rustling the tops of the Redwoods. And your father misses you so; he talks to me a great deal about you. Why, of course we miss you; anybody would.”

  As he held her hand, he glanced down at it and noted how greatly it had changed during the past few months. The skin was no longer rough and brown, and the fingers, formerly stiff and swollen from hard work, were growing more shapely. From her hand his glance roved over the girl, noting the improvements in her dress, and the way the thick, wavy black hair was piled on top of her shapely head.

  “It hadn't occurred to me before, Moira,” he said with a bright impersonal smile that robbed his remark of all suggestion of masculine flattery, “but it seems to me I'm unusually glad to see you, also. You've been fixing your hair different.”

  The soft lambent glow leaped again into Moira's eyes. He had noticed her——particularly. “Do you like my hair done that way?” she inquired eagerly.

  “I don't know whether I do or not. It's unusual——for you. You look mighty sweetly old-fashioned with it coiled in back——somewhat like an old-fashioned daguerreotype of my mother. Is this new style the latest in hairdressing in Sequoia?”

  “I think so, Mr. Bryce. I copied it from Colonel Pennington's niece, Miss Sumner.”

  “Oh,” he replied briefly. “You've met her, have you? I didn't know she was in Sequoia still.”

  “She's been away, but she came back last week. I went to the Valley of the Giants last Saturday afternoon——”

  Bryce interrupted. “You didn't tell my father about the tree that was cut, did you?” he demanded sharply.

  “No.”

  “Good girl! He mustn't know. Go on, Moira. I interrupted you.”

  “I met Miss Sumner up there. She was lost; she'd followed the old trail into the timber, and when the trees shut out the sun, she lost all sense of direction. She was terribly frightened and crying when I found her and brought her home”

  “Well, I swan, Moira! What was she doing in our timber?”

  “She told me that once, when she was a little girl, you had taken her for a ride on your pony up to your mother's grave. And it seems she had a great curiosity to see that spot again and started out without saying a word to any one. Poor dear! She was in a sad state when I found her.”

  “How fortunate you found her! I've met Miss Sumner three or four times. That was when she first came to Sequoia. She's a stunning girl, isn't she?”

  “Perfectly, Mr. Bryce. She's the first lady I've ever met. She's different.”

  “No doubt! Her kind are not a product of homely little communities like Sequoia. And for that matter, neither is her wolf of an uncle. What did Miss Sumner have to say to you, Moira?”

  “She told me all about herself——and she said a lot of nice things about you, Mr. Bryce, after I told her I worked for you. And when I showed her the way home, she insisted that I should walk home with her. So I did——and the butler served us with tea and toast and marmalade. Then she showed me all her wonderful things——and gave me some of them. Oh, Mr. Bryce, she's so sweet. She had her maid dress my hair in half a dozen different styles until they could decide on the right style, and——”

  “And that's it——eh, Moira?”

  She nodded brightly.

  “I can see that you and Miss Sumner evidently hit it off just right with each other. Are you going to call on her again?”

  “Oh, yes! She begged me to. She says she's lonesome.”

  “I dare say she is, Moira. Well, her choice of a pal is a tribute to the brains I suspected her of possessing, and I'm glad you've gotten to know each other. I've no doubt you find life a little lonely sometimes.”

  “Sometimes, Mr. Bryce.”

  “How's my father?”

  “Splendid. I've taken good care of him for you.”

  “Moira, you're a sweetheart of a girl. I don't know how we ever managed to wiggle along without you.” Fraternally——almost paternally ——he gave her radiant cheek three light little pats as he strode past her to the private office. He was in a hurry to get to his desk, upon which he could see through the open door a pile of letters and orders, and a moment later he was deep in a perusal of them, oblivious to the fact that ever and anon the girl turned upon him her brooding, Madonna-like glance.

  That night Bryce and his father, as was their custom after dinner, repaired to the library, where the bustling and motherly Mrs. Tully served their coffee. This good soul, after the democratic fashion in vogue in many Western communities, had never been regarded as a servant; neither did she so regard herself. She was John Cardigan's housekeeper, and as such she had for a quarter of a century served father and son their meals and then seated herself at the table with them. This arrangement had but one drawback, although this did not present itself until after Bryce's return to Sequoia and his assumption of the direction of the Cardigan destinies. For Mrs. Tully had a failing common to many of her sex: she possessed for other people's business an interest absolutely incapable of satisfaction—— and she was, in addition, garrulous beyond belief. The library was the one spot in the house which at the beginning of her employment John Cardigan had indicated to Mrs. Tully as sanctuary for him and his; hence, having served the coffee this evening, the amiable creature withdrew, although not without a pang as she reflected upon the probable nature of their conversation and the void which must inevitably result by reason of the absence of her advice and friendly cooperation and sympathy.

  No sooner had Mrs. Tully departed than Bryce rose and closed the door behind her. John Cardigan opened the conversation with a contented grunt:

  “Plug the keyhole, son,” he continued. “I believe you have something on your mind——and you know how Mrs. Tully resents the closing of that door. Estimable soul that she is, I have known her to eavesdrop. She can't help it, poor thing! She was born that way.”

  Bryce clipped a cigar and held a lighted match while his father “smoked up.” Then he slipped into the easy-chair beside the old man.

  “Well, John Cardigan,” he began eagerly, “fate ripped a big hole in our dark cloud the other day and showed me some of the silver lining. I've been making bad medicine for Colonel Pennington. Partner, the pill I'm rolling for that scheming scoundrel will surely nauseate him when he swallows it.”

  “What's in the wind, boy?”

  “We're going to parallel Pennington's logging-road.”

  “Inasmuch as that will cost close to three quarters of a million dollars, I'm of the opinion that we're not going to do anything of the sort.”

  “Perhaps. Nevertheless, if I can demonstrate to a certain party that it will not cost more than three quarters of a million, he'll loan me the money.”

  The old man shook his head. “I don't believe it, Bryce. Who's the crazy man?”

  “His name is Gregory. He's Scotch.”

  “Now I know he's crazy. When he hands you the money, you'll find he's talking real money but thinking of Confederate greenbacks. For a sane Scotchman to loan that much money without collateral security would be equivalent to exposing his spinal cord and tickling it with a rat- tail file.”

  Bryce laughed. “Pal,” he declared, “if you and I have any brains, they must roll around in our skulls like buckshot in a tin pan. Here we've been sitting for three months, and twiddling our thumbs, or lying awake nights trying to scheme a way out of our difficulties, when if we'd had the sense that God gives geese we would have solved the problem long ago and ceased worrying. Listen, now, with all your ears. When Bill Henderson wanted to build the logging railroad which he afterward sold to Pennington, and which Pennington is now using as a club to beat our brains out, did he have the money to build it?”

  “No.”

  “Where did he get it?”

  “I loaned it to him. He only had about eight miles of road to build then, so I could afford to accommodate him.”

  “How did he pay you back?”

  “Why, he gave me a ten-year contract for hauling our logs at a dollar and a half a thousand feet, and I merely credited his account with the amount of the freight-bills he sent me until he'd squared up the loan, principal and interest.”

  “Well, if Bill Henderson financed himself on that plan, why didn't we think of using the same time-honoured plan for financing a road to parallel Pennington's?”

  John Cardigan sat up with a jerk. “By thunder!” he murmured. That was as close as he ever came to uttering an oath. “By thunder!” he repeated. “I never thought of that! But then,” he added, “I'm not so young as I used to be, and there are any number of ideas which would have occurred to me twenty years ago but do not occur to me now.”

  “All right, John Cardigan. I forgive you. Now, then, continue to listen: to the north of that great block of timber held by you and Pennington lie the redwood holdings of the Trinidad Redwood Timber Company.”

  “Never heard of them before.”

  “Well, timber away in there in back of beyond has never been well advertised, because it is regarded as practically inaccessible. By extending his logging-road and adding to his rolling-stock, Pennington could make it accessible, but he will not. He figures on buying all that back timber rather cheap when he gets around to it, for the reason that the Trinidad Redwood Timber Company cannot possibly mill its timber until a railroad connects its holdings with the outside world. They can hold it until their corporation franchise expires, and it will not increase sufficiently in value to pay taxes.”

  “I wonder why the blamed fools ever bought in there, Bryce.”

  “When they bought, it looked like a good buy. You will remember that some ten years ago a company was incorporated with the idea of building a railroad from Grant's Pass, Oregon, on the line of the Southern Pacific, down the Oregon and California coast to tap the redwood belt.”

  “I remember. There was a big whoop and hurrah and then the proposition died abornin'. The engineers found that the cost of construction through that mountainous country was prohibitive.”

  “Well, before the project died, Gregory and his associates believed that it was going to survive. They decided to climb in on the ground floor——had some advance, inside information that the road was to be built; go they quietly gathered together thirty thousand acres of good stuff and then sat down to wait for the railroad, And they are still waiting. Gregory, by the way, is the president of the Trinidad Redwood Timber Company. He's an Edinburgh man, and the fly American promoters got him to put up the price of the timber and then mortgaged their interests to him as security for the advance. He foreclosed on their notes five years ago.”

  “And there he is with his useless timber!” John Cardigan murmured thoughtfully. “The poor Scotch sucker!”

  “He isn't poor. The purchase of that timber didn't even dent his bank-roll. He's what they call in England a tinned-goods manufacturer——purveyor to His Majesty the King, and all that. But he would like to sell his timber, and being Scotch, naturally he desires to sell it at a profit. In order to create a market for it, however, he has to have an outlet to that market. We supply the outlet——with his help; and what happens? Why, timber that cost him fifty and seventy-five cents per thousand feet stumpage——and the actual timber will overrun the cruiser's estimate every time——will be worth two dollars and fifty cents——perhaps more.”

  The elder Cardigan turned slowly in his chair and bent his sightless gaze upon his son. “Well, well,” he cried impatiently.

  “He loans us the money to build our road. We build it——on through our timber and into his. The collateral security which we put up will be a twenty-five-years contract to haul his logs to tidewater on Humboldt Bay, at a base freight-rate of one dollar and fifty cents, with an increase of twenty-five cents per thousand every five years thereafter, and an option for a renewal of the contract upon expiration, at the rate of freight last paid. We also grant him perpetual booming-space for his logs in the slough which we own and where we now store our logs until needed at the mill. In addition we sell him, at a reasonable figure, sufficient land fronting on tidewater to enable him to erect a sawmill, lay out his yards, and build a dock out into the deep water.

  “Thus Gregory will have that which he hasn't got now——an outlet to his market by water; and when the railroad to Sequoia builds in from the south, it will connect with the road which we have built from Sequoia up into Township Nine to the north; hence Gregory will also have an outlet to his market by rail. He can easily get a good manager to run his lumber business until he finds a customer for it, and in the meantime we will be charging his account with our freight- bills against him and gradually pay off the loan without pinching ourselves.”

  “Have you talked with Gregory?”

  “Yes. I met him while I was in San Francisco. Somebody brought him up to a meeting of the Redwood Lumber Manufacturers' Association, and I pounced on him like an owl on a mouse.”

  John Cardigan's old hand came gropingly forth and rested affectionately upon his boy's. “What a wonderful scheme it would have been a year ago,” he murmured sadly. “You forget, my son, that we cannot last in business long enough to get that road built though Gregory should agree to finance the building of it. The interest on our bonded indebtedness is payable on the first——”

  “We can meet it, sir.”

  “Aye, but we can't meet the fifty thousand dollars which, under the terms of our deed of trust, we are required to pay in on July first of each year as a sinking fund toward the retirement of our bonds. By super-human efforts——by sacrificing a dozen cargoes, raising hob with the market, and getting ourselves disliked by our neighbours——we managed to meet half of it this year and procure an extension of six months on the balance due.

  “That is Pennington's way. He plays with us as a cat does with a mouse, knowing, like the cat, that when he is weary of playing, he will devour us. And now, when we are deeper in debt than ever, when the market is lower and more sluggish than it has been in fifteen years, to hope to meet the interest and the next payment to the sinking fund taxes my optimism. Bryce, it just can't be done. We'd have our road about half completed when we'd bust up in business; indeed, the minute Pennington suspected we were paralleling his line, he'd choke off our wind. I tell you it can't be done.”

  But Bryce contradicted him earnestly. “It can be done,” he said. “Gregory knows nothing of our financial condition. Our rating in the reports of the commercial agencies is as good as it ever was, and a man's never broke till somebody finds it out.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “I mean that if we can start building our road and have it half completed before Pennington jumps on us, Gregory will simply have to come to our aid in self-defense. Once he ties up with us, he's committed to the task of seeing us through. If we fall, he must pick us up and carry us, whether he wants to or not; and I will so arrange the deal that he will have to. I can do it, I tell you.”

  John Cardigan raised his hand. “No,” he said firmly, “I will not allow you to do this. That way——that is the Pennington method. If we fall, my son, we pass out like gentlemen, not blackguards. We will not take advantage of this man Gregory's faith. If he joins forces with us, we lay our hand on the table and let him look.”

  “Then he'll never join hands with us, partner. We're done.”

  “We're not done, my son. We have one alternative, and I'm going to take it. I've got to——for your sake. Moreover, your mother would have wished it so.”

  “You don't mean——”

  “Yes, I do. I'm going to sell Pennington my Valley of the Giants. Thank God, that quarter-section does not belong to the Cardigan Redwood Lumber Company. It is my personal property, and it is not mortgaged. Pennington can never foreclose on it——and until he gets it, twenty-five hundred acres of virgin timber on Squaw Creek are valueless——nay, a source of expense to him. Bryce, he has to have it; and he'll pay the price, when he knows I mean business.”

  With a sweeping gesture he waved aside the arguments that rose to his son's lips. “Lead me to the telephone,” he commanded; and Bryce, recognizing his sire's unalterable determination, obeyed.

  “Find Pennington's number in the telephone-book,” John Cardigan commanded next.

  Bryce found it, and his father proceeded to get the Colonel on the wire. “Pennington,” he said hoarsely, “this is John Cardigan speaking. I've decided to sell you that quarter-section that blocks your timber on Squaw Creek.”

  “Indeed,” the Colonel purred. “I had an idea you were going to present it to the city for a natural park.”

  “I've changed my mind. I've decided to sell at your last offer.”

  “I've changed my mind, too. I've decided not to buy——at my last offer. Good-night.”

  Slowly John Cardigan hung the receiver on the hook, turned and groped for his son. When he found him, the old man held him for a moment in his arms. “Lead me upstairs, son,” he murmured presently. “I'm tired. I'm going to bed.”

  When Colonel Seth Pennington turned from the telephone and faced his niece, Shirley read his triumph in his face. “Old Cardigan has capitulated at last,” he cried exultingly. “We've played a waiting game and I've won; he just telephoned to say he'd accept my last offer for his Valley of the Giants, as the sentimental old fool calls that quarter-section of huge redwoods that blocks the outlet to our Squaw Creek timber.”

  “But you're not going to buy it. You told him so, Uncle Seth.”

  “Of course I'm not going to buy it——at my last offer. It's worth five thousand dollars in the open market, and once I offered him fifty thousand for it. Now I'll give him five.”

  “I wonder why he wants to sell,” Shirley mused. “From what Bryce Cardigan told me once, his father attaches a sentimental value to that strip of woods; his wife is buried there; it's——or rather, it used to be——a sort of shrine to the old gentleman.”

  “He's selling it because he's desperate. If he wasn't teetering on the verge of bankruptcy, he'd never let me outgame him,” Pennington replied gayly. “I'll say this for the old fellow: he's no bluffer. However, since I know his financial condition almost to a dollar, I do not think it would be good business to buy his Valley of the Giants now. I'll wait until he has gone bust——and save twenty-five or thirty thousand dollars.”

  “I think you're biting off your nose to spite your face, Uncle Seth. The Laguna Grande Lumber Company needs that outlet. In dollars and cents, what is it worth to the Company?”

  “If I thought I couldn't get it from Cardigan a few months from now, I'd go as high as a hundred thousand for it to-night,” he answered coolly.

  “In that event, I advise you to take it for fifty thousand. It's terribly hard on old Mr. Cardigan to have to sell it, even at that price.”

  “You do not understand these matters, Shirley. Don't try. And don't waste your sympathy on that old humbug. He has to dig up fifty thousand dollars to pay on his bonded indebtedness, and he's finding it a difficult job. He's just sparring for time, but he'll lose out.”

  As if to indicate that he considered the matter closed, the Colonel drew his chair toward the fire, picked up a magazine, and commenced idly to slit the pages. Shirley studied the back of his head for some time, then got out some fancy work and commenced plying her needle. And as she plied it, a thought, nebulous at first, gradually took form in her head until eventually she murmured loud enough for the Colonel to hear:

  “I'll do it.”

  “Do what?” Pennington queried.

  “Something nice for somebody who did something nice for me,” she answered.

  “That McTavish girl?” he suggested.

  “Poor Moira! Isn't she sweet, Uncle Seth? I'm going to give her that black suit of mine. I've scarcely worn it——”

  “I thought so,” he interrupted with an indulgent yawn. “Well, do whatever makes for your happiness, my dear. That's all money is for.”

  About two o'clock the following afternoon old Judge Moore, of the Superior Court of Humboldt County, drifted into Bryce Cardigan's office, sat down uninvited, and lifted his long legs to the top of an adjacent chair.

  “Well, Bryce, my boy,” he began, “a little bird tells me your daddy is considering the sale of Cardigan's Redwoods, or the Valley of the Giants, as your paternal ancestor prefers to refer to that little old quarter-section out yonder on the edge of town. How about it?”

  Bryce stared at him a moment questioningly. “Yes, Judge,” he replied, “we'll sell, if we get our price.”

  “Well,” his visitor drawled, “I have a client who might be persuaded. I'm here to talk turkey. What's your price?”

  “Before we talk price,” Bryce parried, “I want you to answer a question.”

  “Let her fly,” said Judge Moore.

  “Are you, directly or indirectly, acting for Colonel Pennington?”

  “That's none of your business, young man——at least, it would be none of your business if I were, directly or indirectly, acting for that unconvicted thief. To the best of my information and belief, Colonel Pennington doesn't figure in this deal in any way, shape, or manner; and as you know, I've been your daddy's friend for thirty years.”

  Still Bryce was not convinced, notwithstanding the fact that he would have staked his honour on the Judge's veracity. Nobody knew better than he in what devious ways the Colonel worked, his wonders to perform.

  “Well,” he said, “your query is rather sudden, Judge, but still I can name you a price. I will state frankly, however, that I believe it to be over your head. We have several times refused to sell to Colonel Pennington for a hundred thousand dollars.”

  “Naturally that little dab of timber is worth more to Pennington than to anybody else. However, my client has given me instructions to go as high as a hundred thousand if necessary to get the property.”

  “What!”

  “I said it. One hundred thousand dollars of the present standard weight and fineness.”

  Judge Moore's last statement swept away Bryce's suspicions. He required now no further evidence that, regardless of the identity of the Judge's client, that client could not possibly be Colonel Seth Pennington or any one acting for him, since only the night before Pennington had curtly refused to buy the property for fifty thousand dollars. For a moment Bryce stared stupidly at his visitor. Then he recovered his wits.

  “Sold!” he almost shouted, and after the fashion of the West extended his hand to clinch the bargain. The Judge shook it solemnly. “The Lord loveth a quick trader,” he declared, and reached into the capacious breast pocket of his Prince Albert coat. “Here's the deed already made out in favour of myself, as trustee.” He winked knowingly.

  “Client's a bit modest, I take it,” Bryce suggested.

  “Oh, very. Of course I'm only hazarding a guess, but that guess is that my client can afford the gamble and is figuring on giving Pennington a pain where he never knew it to ache him before. In plain English, I believe the Colonel is in for a razooing at the hands of somebody with a small grouch against him.”

  “May the Lord strengthen that somebody's arm,” Bryce breathed fervently. “If your client can afford to hold out long enough, he'll be able to buy Pennington's Squaw Creek timber at a bargain.”

  “My understanding is that such is the programme.”

  Bryce reached for the deed, then reached for his hat. “If you'll be good enough to wait here, Judge Moore, I'll run up to the house and get my father to sign this deed. The Valley of the Giants is his personal property, you know. He didn't include it in his assets when incorporating the Cardigan Redwood Lumber Company.”

  A quarter of an hour later he returned with the deed duly signed by John Cardigan and witnessed by Bryce; whereupon the Judge carelessly tossed his certified check for a hundred thousand dollars on Bryce's desk and departed whistling “Turkey in the Straw.” Bryce reached for the telephone and called up Colonel Pennington.

  “Bryce Cardigan speaking,” he began, but the Colonel cut him short.

  “My dear, impulsive young friend,” he interrupted in oleaginous tones, “how often do you have to be told that I am not quite ready to buy that quarter-section?”

  “Oh,” Bryce retorted, “I merely called up to tell you that every dollar and every asset you have in the world, including your heart's blood, isn't sufficient to buy the Valley of the Giants from us now.”

  “Eh? What's that? Why?”

  “Because, my dear, overcautious, and thoroughly unprincipled enemy, it was sold five minutes ago for the tidy sum of one hundred thousand dollars, and if you don't believe me, come over to my office and I'll let you feast your eyes on the certified check.”

  He could hear a distinct gasp. After an interval of five seconds, however, the Colonel recovered his poise. “I congratulate you,” he purred. “I suppose I'll have to wait a little longer now, won't I? Well——patience is my middle name. Au revoir.”

  The Colonel hung up. His hard face was ashen with rage, and he stared at a calendar on the wall with his cold, phidian stare. However, he was not without a generous stock of optimism. “Somebody has learned of the low state of the Cardigan fortune,” he mused, “and taken advantage of it to induce the old man to sell at last. They're figuring on selling to me at a neat profit. And I certainly did overplay my hand last night. However, there's nothing to do now except sit tight and wait for the new owner's next move.”

  Meanwhile, in the general office of the Cardigan Redwood Lumber Company, joy was rampant. Bryce Cardigan was doing a buck and wing dance around the room, while Moira McTavish, with her back to her tall desk, watched him, in her eyes a tremendous joy and a sweet, yearning glow of adoration that Bryce was too happy and excited to notice.

  Suddenly he paused before her. “Moira, you're a lucky girl,” he declared. “I thought this morning you were going back to a kitchen in a logging-camp. It almost broke my heart to think of fate's swindling you like that.” He put his arm around her and gave her a brotherly hug. “It's autumn in the woods, Moira, and all the underbrush is golden.”

  She smiled, though it was winter in her heart.

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