George Sea Otter’s dark face lighted with a quick smile. “Now you pay me,” he replied and returned to the car.
The door opened, and a Swedish maid stood in the entrance regarding her stolidly. “I’m Miss Sumner,” Shirley informed her. “This is my maid Marcelle. Help her in with the hand-baggage.” She stepped into the hall and called: “Ooh-hooh! Nunky-dunk!”
“Ship ahoy!” An answering call came to her from the dining room, across the entrance-hall, and an instant later Colonel Seth Pennington stood in the doorway, “Bless my whiskers! Is that you, my dear?” he cried, and advanced to greet her. “Why, how did you get here, Shirley? I thought you’d missed the stage.”
She presented her cheek for his kiss. “So I did, Uncle, but a nice red-haired young man named Bryce Cardigan found me in distress at Red Bluff, picked me up in his car, and brought me here.” She sniffed adorably. “I’m so hungry,” she declared, “and here I am, just in time for dinner. Is my name in the pot?”
“It isn’t, Shirley, but it soon will be. How perfectly bully to have you with me again, my dear! And what a charming young lady you’ve grown to be since I saw you last! You’re—why, you’ve been crying! By Jove, I had no idea you’d be so glad to see me again.”
She could not forego a sly little smile at his egoism.
“You’re looking perfectly splendid, Uncle Seth,” she parried.
“And I’m feeling perfectly splendid. This is a wonderful country, Shirley, and everything is going nicely with me here. By the way, who did you say picked you up in his car?”
“Bryce Cardigan. Do you know him?”
“No, we haven’t met. Son of old John Cardigan, I dare say. I’ve heard of him. He’s been away from Sequoia for quite a while, I believe.”
“Yes; he was abroad for two years after he was graduated from Princeton.”
“Hum-m-m! Well, it’s about time he came home to take care of that stiff-necked old father of his.” He stepped to the bell and pressed it, and the butler answered. “Set a place at dinner for Miss Shirley, James,” he ordered. “Thelma will show you your rooms, Shirley. I was just about to sit down to dinner. I’ll wait for you.”
While Shirley was in the living room Colonel Pennington’s features wore an expression almost pontifical, but when she had gone, the atmosphere of paternalism and affection which he radiated faded instantly. The Colonel’s face was in repose now—cold, calculating, vaguely repellent. He scowled slightly.
“Now, isn’t that the devil’s luck?” he soliloquized. “Young Cardigan is probably the only man in Sequoia—dashed awkward if they should become interested in each other—at this time. Everybody in town, from lumberjacks to bankers, has told me what a fine fellow Bryce Cardigan is. They say he’s good-looking; certainly he is educated and has acquired some worldly polish—just the kind of young fellow Shirley will find interesting and welcome company in a town like this. Many things can happen in a year—and it will be a year before I can smash the Cardigans. Damn it!”