What Bryce could not understand, however, was the stupid brutality of the raiders in felling the tree merely for that section of burl. By permitting the tree to stand and merely building a staging up to the burl, the latter could have been removed without vital injury to the tree—whereas by destroying the tree the wretches had evidenced all too clearly to Bryce a wanton desire to add insult to injury.
Bryce inspected the scars on the stump carefully. They were weather-stained to such an extent that to his experienced eye it was evident the outrage had been committed more than a year previously; and the winter rains, not to mention the spring growth of grasses and underbrush, had effectually destroyed all trace of the trail taken by the vandals with their booty.
“Poor old Dad!” he murmured. “I’m glad now he has been unable to get up here and see this. It would have broken his heart. I’ll have this tree made into fence-posts and the stump dynamited and removed this summer. After he is operated on and gets back his sight, he will come up here—and he must never know. Perhaps he will have forgotten how many trees stood in this circle. And I’ll fill in the hole left by the stump and plant some manzanita there to hide the—”
He paused. Peeping out from under a chip among the litter at his feet was the moldy corner of a white envelope. In an instant Bryce had it in his hand. The envelope was dirty and weather-beaten, but to a certain extent the redwood chips under which it had lain hidden had served to protect it, and the writing on the face was still legible. The envelope was empty and addressed to Jules Rondeau, care of the Laguna Grande Lumber Company, Sequoia, California.
Bryce read and reread that address. “Rondeau!” he muttered. “Jules Rondeau! I’ve heard that name before—ah, yes! Dad spoke of him last night. He’s Pennington’s woods-boss—”
He paused. An enemy had done this thing—and in all the world John Cardigan had but one enemy—Colonel Seth Pennington. Had Pennington sent his woods-boss to do this dirty work out of sheer spite? Hardly. The section of burl was gone, and this argued that the question of spite had been purely a matter of secondary consideration.
Evidently, Bryce reasoned, someone had desired that burl redwood greatly, and that someone had not been Jules Rondeau, since a woods-boss would not be likely to spend five minutes of his leisure time in consideration of the beauties of a burl table-top or panel. Hence, if Rondeau had superintended the task of felling the tree, it must have been at the behest of a superior; and since a woods-boss acknowledges no superior save the creator of the pay-roll, the recipient of that stolen burl must have been Colonel Pennington.
Suddenly he thrilled. If Jules Rondeau had stolen that burl to present it to Colonel Pennington, his employer, then the finished article must be in Pennington’s home! And Bryce had been invited to that home for dinner the following Thursday by the Colonel’s niece.