“I shall—” he began, but he paused abruptly, as if he had suddenly remembered that tact and not pugnacity was the requirement for the handling of this ticklish situation.
“You are devoid of mercy, of a sense of sportsmanship. Now, then, Uncle Seth, listen to me: You have twenty-four hours in which to make up your mind whether to accept my ultimatum or refuse it. If you refuse, I shall prosecute you for fraud and a betrayal of trust as my father’s executor on that red-cedar timber deal.”
He brightened a trifle. “I’m afraid that would be a long, hard row to hoe, my dear, and of course, I shall have to defend myself.”
“In addition,” the girl went on quietly, “the county grand jury shall be furnished with a stenographic report of your conversation of Thursday night with Mayor Poundstone. That will not be a long, hard row to hoe, Uncle Seth, for in addition to the stenographer, I have another very reliable witness, Judge Moore. Your casual disposal of my sedan as a bribe to the Mayor will be hard to explain and rather amusing, in view of the fact that Bryce Cardigan managed to frighten Mr. Poundstone into returning the sedan while you were away. And if that is not sufficient for my purposes, I have the sworn confession of the Black Minorca that you gave him five hundred dollars to kill Bryce Cardigan. Your woods-boss, Rondeau, will also swear that you approached him with a proposition to do away with Bryce Cardigan. I think, therefore, that you will readily see how impossible a situation you have managed to create and will not disagree with me when I suggest that it would be better for you to leave this county.”
His face had gone gray and haggard. “I can’t,” he murmured, “I can’t leave this great business now. Your own interests in the company render such a course unthinkable. Without my hand at the helms, things will go to smash.”
“I’ll risk that. I want to get rid of that worthless red-cedar timber; so I think you had better buy it back from me at the same figure at which, you sold it to me.”
“But I haven’t the money and I can’t borrow it. I—I—–”
“I will have the equivalent in stock of the Laguna Grande Lumber Company. You will call on Judge Moore to complete the transaction and leave with him your resignation as president of the Laguna Grande Lumber Company.”
The Colonel raised his glance and bent it upon her in cold appraisal. She met it with firmness, and the thought came to him: “She is a Pennington!” And hope died out in his heart. He began pleading in maudlin fashion for mercy, for compromise. But the girl was obdurate.
“I am showing you more mercy than you deserve—you to whom mercy was ever a sign of weakness, of vacillation. There is a gulf between us, Uncle Seth—a gulf which for a long time I have dimly sensed and which, because of my recent discoveries, has widened until it can no longer be bridged.”