“Oh, my love!” he cried happily, “I hadn’t dared dream of such happiness until to-day. You were so unattainable—the obstacles between us were so many and so great—”
“Why to-day, Bryce?” she interrupted him.
He took her adorable little nose in his great thumb and forefinger and tweaked it gently. “The light began to dawn yesterday, my dear little enemy, following an interesting half-hour which I put in with His Honour the Mayor. Acting upon suspicion only, I told Poundstone I was prepared to send him to the rock-pile if he didn’t behave himself in the matter of my permanent franchise for the N.C.O.—and the oily old invertebrate wept and promised me anything if I wouldn’t disgrace him. So I promised I wouldn’t do anything until the franchise matter should be definitely settled—after which I returned to my office, to find awaiting me there no less a person than the right-of-way man for the Northwestern Pacific. He was a perfectly delightful young fellow, and he had a proposition to unfold. It seems the Northwestern Pacific has decided to build up from Willits, and all that powwow and publicity of Buck Ogilvy’s about the N.C.O. was in all probability the very thing that spurred them to action. They figured the C.M. & St.P. was back of the N.C.O.—that it was to be the first link of a chain of coast roads to be connected ultimately with the terminus of the C.M. & St.P. on Gray’s Harbour, Washington, and if the N.C.O. should be built, it meant that a rival road would get the edge on them in the matter of every stick of Humboldt and Del Norte redwood— and they’d be left holding the sack.” “Why did they think that, dear?”
“That amazing rascal Buck Ogilvy used to be a C. M. me that the money had been deposited in escrow there awaiting formal deed. That money puts the Cardigan Redwood Lumber Company in the clear—no receivership for us now, my dear one. And I’m going right ahead with the building of the N.C.O.—while our holdings down on the San Hedrin double in value, for the reason that within three years they will be accessible and can be logged over the rails of the Northwestern Pacific!”
“Bryce,” Shirley declared, “haven’t I always told you I’d never permit you to build the N.C.O.?”
“Of course,” he replied, “but surely you’re going to withdraw your objections now.”
“I am not. You must choose between the N.C.O. and me.” And she met his surprised gaze unflinchingly.
“Shirley! You don’t mean it?”
“I do mean it. I have always meant it. I love you, dear, but for all that, you must not build that road.”
He stood up and towered above her sternly. “I must build it, Shirley. I’ve contracted to do it, and I must keep faith with Gregory of the Trinidad Timber Company. He’s putting up the money, and I’m to do the work and operate the line. I can’t go back on him now.”
“Not for my sake?” she pleaded. He shook his head. “I must go on,” he reiterated.