“It might,” said Shirley, with one of those sudden flashes of intuition peculiar to women, “be a screen to hide the operations of Bryce Cardigan. Now that he knows you aren’t going to renew his hauling contract, he may have decided to build his own logging railroad.”
After a pause the Colonel made answer: “No, I have no fear of that. It would cost five hundred thousand dollars to build that twelve-mile line and bridge Mad River, and the Cardigans haven’t got that amount of money. What’s more, they can’t get it.”
“But suppose,” she persisted, “that the real builder of the road should prove to be Bryce Cardigan, after all. What would you do?”
Colonel Pennington’s eyes twinkled. “I greatly fear, my dear, I should make a noise like something doing.”
“Suppose you lost the battle.”
“In that event the Laguna Grande Lumber Company wouldn’t be any worse off than it is at present. The principal loser, as I view the situation, would be Miss Shirley Sumner, who has the misfortune to be loaded up with Cardigan bonds. And as for Bryce Cardigan—well, that young man would certainly know he’d been through a fight.”
“I wonder if he’ll fight to the last, Uncle Seth.”
“Why, I believe he will,” Pennington replied soberly.
“I’d love to see you beat him.”
“Shirley! Why, my dear, you’re growing ferocious.” Her uncle’s tones were laden with banter, but his countenance could not conceal the pleasure her last remark had given him.
“Why not? I have something at stake, have I not?”
“Then you really want me to smash him?” The Colonel’s voice proclaimed his incredulity.
“You got me into this fight by buying Cardigan bonds for me,” she replied meaningly, “and I look to you to save the investment or as much of it as possible; for certainly, if it should develop that the Cardigans are the real promoters of the N.C.O., to permit them to go another half-million dollars into debt in a forlorn hope of saving a company already top-heavy with indebtedness wouldn’t savor of common business sense. Would it?”
The Colonel rose hastily, came around the table, and kissed her paternally. “My dear,” he murmured, “you’re such a comfort to me. Upon my word, you are.”
“I’m so glad you have explained the situation to me, Uncle Seth.”
“I would have explained it long ago had I not cherished a sneaking suspicion that—er—well, that despite everything, young Cardigan might—er—influence you against your better judgment and—er—mine.”
“You silly man!”
He shrugged. “One must figure every angle of a possible situation, my dear, and I should hesitate to start something with the Cardigans, and have you, because of foolish sentiment, call off my dogs.”
Shirley thrust out her adorable chin aggressively. “Sick ’em. Tige!” she answered. “Shake ’em up, boy!”