“Yes. Old Bill Tarpey, who lost his three boys in a forest fire over on the San Hedrin, passed out last week. The Tarpey boys died in the Cardigan employ, and so your father gave Bill the use of a farm out near Freshwater.”
“Well, you’d better be his successor, Sinclair. You’re no longer a young man, and you’ve been thirty years in this office. Play safe, Sinclair, and include yourself in one of those life-leases.”
“My dear boy—”
“Nonsense! United we stand, divided we fall, Sinclair; and let there be no moaning of the bar when a Cardigan puts out to sea.”
Smiling, he rose from his desk, patted the bewildered Sinclair on the latter’s grizzled head, and then reached for his hat. “I’m dining out to-night, Sinclair, and I wouldn’t be a kill-joy at the feast, for a ripe peach. Your confounded figures might make me gloomy; so we’ll just reserve discussion of them till to-morrow morning. Be a sport, Sinclair, and for once in your life beat the six o’clock whistle. In other words, I suggest that you go home and rest for once.”
He left Sinclair staring at him rather stupidly.
Colonel Pennington’s imported British butler showed Bryce into the Pennington living room at six-thirty, announcing him with due ceremony. Shirley rose from the piano where she had been idly fingering the keys and greeted him with every appearance of pleasure —following which, she turned to present her visitor to Colonel Pennington, who was standing in his favourite position with his back to the fireplace.
“Uncle Seth, this is Mr. Cardigan, who was so very nice to me the day I landed in Red Bluff.”
The Colonel bowed. “I have to thank you, sir, for your courtesy to my niece.” He had assumed an air of reserve, of distinct aloofness, despite his studied politeness. Bryce stepped forward with extended hand, which the Colonel grasped in a manner vaguely suggestive of that clammy-palmed creation of Charles Dickens—Uriah Heep. Bryce was tempted to squeeze the lax fingers until the Colonel should bellow with pain; but resisting the ungenerous impulse, he replied instead:
“Your niece, Colonel, is one of those fortunate beings the world will always clamour to serve.”
“Quite true, Mr. Cardigan. When she was quite a little girl I came under her spell myself.”
“So did I, Colonel. Miss Sumner has doubtless told you of our first meeting some twelve years ago?”
“Quite so. May I offer you a cocktail, Mr. Cardigan?”
“Thank you, certainly. Dad and I have been pinning one on about this time every night since my return.”
“Shirley belongs to the Band of Hope,” the Colonel explained. “She’s ready at any time to break a lance with the Demon Rum. Back in Michigan, where we used to live, she saw too many woodsmen around after the spring drive. So we’ll have to drink her share, Mr. Cardigan. Pray be seated.”