“What’s the meaning of all this row, Mr. Cardigan?” he demanded.
“Something has slipped, Sam,” Bryce retorted pleasantly. “You’ve been calling me Bryce for the past twenty years, and now you’re mistering me! The meaning of this row, you ask?” Bryce continued. “Well, I’m engaged in making a jump-crossing of Colonel Pennington’s tracks, under a temporary franchise granted me by the city of Sequoia. Here’s the franchise.” And he thrust the document under the police chief’s nose.
“This is the first I’ve heard about any franchise,” Sam Perkins replied suspiciously. “Seems to me you been mighty secret about this job. How do I know this ain’t a forgery?”
“Call up the mayor and ask him,” Bryce suggested.
“I’ll do that,” quoth Mr. Perkins ponderously. “And in the meantime, don’t do any more digging or rail-cutting.” He hurried away to his automobile, leaving a lieutenant in charge of the squad.
“Also in the meantime, young man,” Colonel Pennington announced, “you will pardon me if I take possession of my locomotive and flat-cars. I observe you have finished unloading those rails.”
“Help yourself, Colonel,” Bryce replied with an assumption of heartiness he was far from feeling.
“Thank you so much, Cardigan.” With the greatest good nature in life, Pennington climbed into the cab, reached for the bell-cord, and rang the bell vigorously. Then he permitted himself a triumphant toot of the whistle, after which he threw off the air and gently opened the throttle. He was not a locomotive-engineer but he had ridden in the cab of his own locomotive and felt quite confident of his ability in a pinch.
With a creak and a bump the train started, and the Colonel ran it slowly up until the locomotive stood on the tracks exactly where Buck Ogilvy had been cutting in his crossing; whereupon the Colonel locked the brakes, opened his exhaust, and blew the boiler down. And when the last ounce of steam had escaped, he descended and smilingly accosted Bryce Cardigan.
“That engine being my property,” he announced, “I’ll take the short end of any bet you care to make, young man, that it will sit on those tracks until your temporary franchise expires. I’d give a good deal to see anybody not in my employ attempt to get up steam in that boiler until I give the word. Cut in your jump-crossing now, if you can, you whelp, and be damned to you. I’ve got you blocked!”
“I rather imagine this nice gentleman has it on us, old dear,” chirped Buck Ogilvy plaintively. “Well! We did our damndest, which angels can’t do no more. Let us gather up our tools and go home, my son, for something tells me that if I hang around here I’ll bust one of two things—this sleek scoundrel’s gray head or one of my bellicose veins! Hello! Whom have we here?”
Bryce turned and found himself facing Shirley Sumner. Her tender lip was quivering, and the tears shone in her eyes like stars. He stared at her in silence.