Shirley Sumner’s alert glance followed Bryce’s as it swept around the room. “This dining room is Uncle Seth’s particular delight, Mr. Cardigan,” she explained.
“It is very beautiful, Miss Sumner. And your uncle has worked wonders in the matter of having it polished. Those panels are positively the largest and most beautiful specimens of redwood burl ever turned out in this country. The grain is not merely wavy; it is not merely curly; it is actually so contrary that you have here, Colonel Pennington, a room absolutely unique, in that it is formed of bird’s-eye burl. Mark the deep shadows in it. And how it does reflect those candles!”
“It is beautiful,” the Colonel declared. “And I must confess to a pardonable pride in it, although the task of keeping these walls from being marred by the furniture knocking against them requires the utmost care.”
Bryce turned and his brown eyes blazed into the Colonel’s. “Where did you succeed in finding such a marvellous tree?” he queried pointedly. “I know of but one tree in Humboldt County that could have produced such beautiful burl.”
For about a second Colonel Pennington met Bryce’s glance unwaveringly; then he read something in his guest’s eyes, and his glance shifted, while over his benign countenance a flush spread quickly. Bryce noted it, and his quickly roused suspicions were as quickly kindled into certainty. “Where did you find that tree?” he repeated innocently.
“Rondeau, my woods-boss, knew I was on the lookout for something special—something nobody else could get; so he kept his eyes open.”
“Indeed!” There was just a trace of irony in Bryce’s tones as he drew Shirley’s chair and held it for her. “As you say, Colonel, it is difficult to keep such soft wood from being marred by contact with the furniture. And you are fortunate to have such a woods-boss in your employ. Such loyal fellows are usually too good to be true, and quite frequently they put their blankets on their backs and get out of the country when you least expect it. I dare say it would be a shock to you if Rondeau did that.”
There was no mistaking the veiled threat behind that apparently innocent observation, and the Colonel, being a man of more than ordinary astuteness, realized that at last he must place his cards on the table. His glance, as he rested it on Bryce now, was baleful, ophidian. “Yes,” he said, “I would be rather disappointed. However, I pay Rondeau rather more than it is customary to pay woods-bosses; so I imagine he’ll stay—unless, of course, somebody takes a notion to run him out of the county. And when that happens, I want to be on hand to view the spectacle.”
Bryce sprinkled a modicum of salt in his soup. “I’m going up into Township Nine to-morrow afternoon,” he remarked casually. “I think I shall go over to your camp and pay the incomparable Jules a brief visit. Really, I have heard so much about that woods-boss of yours, Colonel, that I ache to take him apart and see what makes him go.”