Five minutes of serious reflection sufficed to bring the Colonel to the verge of panic, notwithstanding the fact that he was ashamed of himself for yielding to fright despite his firm belief that there was no reason why he should be frightened. Similar considerations occur to a small boy who is walking home in the dark past a cemetery.
The vital aspects of his predicament dawned on the Colonel one night at dinner, midway between the soup and the fish. So forcibly did they occur to him, in fact, that for the nonce he forgot that his niece was seated opposite him.
“Confound them,” the Colonel murmured distinctly, “I must look into this immediately.”
“Look into what, Uncle dear?” Shirley asked innocently.
“This new railroad that man Ogilvy talks of building—which means, Shirley, that with Sequoia as his starting point, he is going to build a hundred and fifty miles north to connect with the main line of the Southern Pacific in Oregon.”
“But wouldn’t that be the finest thing that could possibly happen to Humboldt County?” she demanded of him.
“Undoubtedly it would—to Humboldt County; but to the Laguna Grande Lumber Company, in which you have something more than a sentimental interest, my dear, it would be a blow. A large part of the estate left by your father is invested in Laguna Grande stock, and as you know, all of my efforts are devoted to appreciating that stock and to fighting against anything that has a tendency to depreciate it.”
“Which reminds me, Uncle Seth, that you never discuss with me any of the matters pertaining to my business interests,” she suggested.
He beamed upon her with his patronizing and indulgent smile. “There is no reason why you should puzzle that pretty head of yours with business affairs while I am alive and on the job,” he answered. “However, since you have expressed a desire to have this railroad situation explained to you, I will do so. I am not interested in seeing a feeder built from Sequoia north to Grant’s Pass, and connecting with the Southern Pacific, but I am tremendously interested in seeing a feeder built south from Sequoia toward San Francisco, to connect with the Northwestern Pacific.”
“For cold, calculating business reasons, my dear.” He hesitated a moment and then resumed: “A few months ago I would not have told you the things I am about to tell you, Shirley, for the reason that a few months ago it seemed to me you were destined to become rather friendly with young Cardigan. When that fellow desires to be agreeable, he can be rather a likable boy—lovable, even. You are both young; with young people who have many things in common and are thrown together in a community like Sequoia, a lively friendship may develop into an ardent love; and it has been my experience that ardent love not infrequently leads to the altar.”
Shirley blushed, and her uncle chuckled good-naturedly. “Fortunately,” he continued, “Bryce Cardigan had the misfortune to show himself to you in his true colours, and you had the good sense to dismiss him. Consequently I see no reason why I should not explain to you now what I considered it the part of wisdom to withhold from you at that time—provided, of course, that all this does not bore you to extinction.”