“I suppose so,” she answered, “although I did think until very recently that it was those sixteen townships of red cedar—that crown grant in British Columbia in which you induced me to invest four hundred thousand dollars. You will remember that you purchased that timber for me from the Caribou Timber Company, Limited. You said it was an unparalleled investment. Quite recently I learned—no matter how—that you were the principal owner of the Caribou Timber Company, Limited! Smart as you are, somebody swindled you with that red cedar. It was a wonderful stand of timber—so read the cruiser’s report—but fifty per cent. of it, despite its green and flourishing appearance, is hollow-butted! And the remaining fifty per cent. of sound timber cannot be logged unless the rotten timber is logged also and gotten out of the way also. And I am informed that logging it spells bankruptcy.”
She gazed upon him steadily, but without malice; his face crimsoned and then paled; presently his glance sought the carpet. While he struggled to formulate a verbal defense against her accusation Shirley continued:
“You had erected a huge sawmill and built and equipped a logging-road before you discovered you had been swindled. So, in order to save as much as possible from the wreck, you decided to unload your white elephant on somebody else. I was the readiest victim. You were the executor of my father’s estate—you were my guardian and financial adviser, and so you found it very, very easy to swindle me!”
“I had my back to the wall,” he quavered. “I was desperate—and it wasn’t at all the bad investment you have been told it is. You had the money—more money than you knew what to do with—and with the proceeds of the sale of those cedar lands, I knew I could make an investment in California redwood and more than retrieve my fortunes— make big money for both of us.”
“You might have borrowed the money from me. You know I have never hesitated to join in your enterprises.”
“This was too big a deal for you, Shirley. I had vision. I could see incalculable riches in this redwood empire, but it was a tremendous gamble and required twenty millions to swing it at the very start. I dreamed of the control of California redwood; and if you will stand by me, Shirley, I shall yet make my dream come true—and half of it shall be yours. It has always been my intention to buy back from you secretly and at a nice profit to you that Caribou red cedar, and with the acquisition of the Cardigan properties I would have been in position to do so. Why, that Cardigan tract in the San Hedrin which we will buy in within a year for half a million is worth five millions at least. And by that time, I feel certain—in fact, I know— the Northern Pacific will commence building in from the south, from Willits.”
She silenced him with a disdainful gesture. “You shall not smash the Cardigans,” she declared firmly.