Chapter XI
 

When Shirley Sumner descended to the breakfast room on the morning following her arrival in Sequoia, the first glance at her uncle's stately countenance informed her that during the night something had occurred to irritate Colonel Seth Pennington and startle him out of his customary bland composure. He greeted her politely but coldly, and without even the perfunctory formality of inquiring how she had passed the night, he came directly to the issue,

"Shirley," he began, "did I hear you calling young Cardigan on the telephone after dinner last night or did my ears deceive me?"

"Your ears are all right, Uncle Seth. I called Mr. Cardigan up to thank him for the pie he sent over, and incidentally to invite him over here to dinner on Thursday night."

"I thought I heard you asking somebody to dinner, and as you don't know a soul in Sequoia except young Cardigan, naturally I opined that he was to be the object of our hospitality."

The Colonel coughed slightly. From the manner in which he approached the task of buttering his hot cakes Shirley knew he had something more to say and was merely formulating a polite set of phrases in which to express himself. She resolved to help him along.

"I dare say it's quite all right to have invited him; isn't it, Uncle Seth?"

"Certainly, certainly, my dear. Quite all right, but er--ah, slightly inconvenient."

"Oh, I'm so sorry. If I had known--Perhaps some other night--"

"I am expecting other company Thursday night--unfortunately, Brayton, the president of the Bank of Sequoia, is coming up to dine and discuss some business affairs with me afterward; so if you don't mind, my dear, suppose you call young Cardigan up and ask him to defer his visit until some later date."

"Certainly, Uncle. There is no particular reason why I should have Mr. Cardigan on Thursday if his presence would mean the slightest interference with your plans. What perfectly marvellous roses! How did you succeed in growing them, Uncle Seth?"

He smiled sourly. "I didn't raise them," he replied. "That half-breed Indian that drives John Cardigan's car brought them around about an hour ago, along with a card. There it is, beside your plate."

She blushed ever so slightly. "I suppose Bryce Cardigan is vindicating himself," she murmured as she withdrew the card from the envelope. As she had surmised, it was Bryce Cardigan's. Colonel Pennington was the proprietor of a similar surmise.

"Fast work, Shirley," he murmured banteringly. "I wonder what he'll send you for luncheon. Some dill pickles, probably."

She pretended to be very busy with the roses, and not to have heard him. Her uncle's sneer was not lost on her, however; she resented it but chose to ignore it for the present; and when at length she had finished arranging the flowers, she changed the conversation adroitly by questioning her relative anent the opportunities for shopping in Sequoia. The Colonel, who could assimilate a hint quicker than most ordinary mortals, saw that he had annoyed her, and he promptly hastened to make amends by permitting himself to be led readily into this new conversational channel. As soon as he could do so, however, he excused himself on the plea of urgent business at the office, and left the room.

Shirley, left alone at the breakfast-table, picked idly at the preserved figs the owlish butler set before her. Vaguely she wondered at her uncle's apparent hostility to the Cardigans; she was as vaguely troubled in the knowledge that until she should succeed in eradicating this hostility, it must inevitably act as a bar to the further progress of her friendship with Bryce Cardigan. And she told herself she did not want to lose that friendship. She wasn't the least bit in love with him albeit she realized he was rather lovable. The delight which she had experienced in his society lay in the fact that he was absolutely different from any other man she had met. His simplicity, his utter lack of "swank," his directness, his good nature, and dry sense of humour made him shine luminously in comparison with the worldly, rather artificial young men she had previously met--young men who said and did only those things which time, tradition, and hallowed memory assured them were done by the right sort of people. Shirley had a suspicion that Bryce Cardigan could--and would--swear like a pirate should his temper be aroused and the circumstances appear to warrant letting off steam. Also she liked him because he was imaginative--because he saw and sensed and properly understood without a diagram or a blueprint. And lastly, he was a good, devoted son and was susceptible of development into a congenial and wholly acceptable comrade to a young lady absolutely lacking in other means of amusement.

She finished her breakfast in thoughtful silence; then she went to the telephone and called up Bryce at his home. Mrs. Tully, all aflutter with curiosity, was quite insistent that Shirley should leave her name and telephone number, but failing to carry her point, consented to inform the latter that Mr. Bryce was at the office. She gave Shirley the telephone number.

When the girl called the Cardigan Redwood Lumber Company, Bryce answered. He recognized her voice instantly and called her name before she had opportunity to announce her identity.

"Thank you so much for the beautiful roses, Mr. Cardigan," she began.

"I'm glad you liked them. Nobody picks flowers out of our garden, you know. I used to, but I'll be too busy hereafter to bother with the garden."

"Very well. Then I am not to expect any more roses?"

"I'm a stupid clodhopper. Of course you may. By the way, Miss Sumner, does your uncle own a car?"

"I believe he does--a little old rattletrap which he drives himself."

"Then I'll send George over with the Napier this afternoon. You might care to take a spin out into the surrounding country. By the way, Miss Sumner, you are to consider George and that car as your personal property. I fear you're going to find Sequoia a dull place; so whenever you wish to go for a ride, just call me up, and I'll have George report to you."

"But think of all the expensive gasoline and tires!"

"Oh, but you mustn't look at things from that angle after you cross the Rocky Mountains on your way west. Moreover, mine is the only real car in the country, and I know you like it. What are you going to do this afternoon?"

"I don't know. I haven't thought that far ahead."

"For some real sport I would suggest that you motor up to Laguna Grande. That's Spanish for Big Lagoon, you know. Take a rod with you. There are some land-locked salmon in the lagoon--that is, there used to be; and if you hook one you'll get a thrill."

"But I haven't any rod."

"I'll send you over a good one."

"But I have nobody to teach me how to use it," she hinted daringly.

"I appreciate that compliment," he flashed back at her, "but unfortunately my holidays are over for a long, long time. I took my father's place in the business this morning."

"So soon?"

"Yes. Things have been happening while I was away. However, speaking of fishing, George Sea Otter will prove an invaluable instructor. He is a good boy and you may trust him implicitly. On Thursday evening you can tell me what success you had with the salmon."

"Oh, that reminds me, Mr. Cardigan. You can't come Thursday evening, after all." And she explained the reason.

"By Jove," he replied, "I'm mighty glad you tipped me off about that. I couldn't possibly remain at ease in the presence of a banker- particularly one who will not lend me money."

"Suppose you come Wednesday night instead."

"We'll call that a bet. Thank you."

She chuckled at his frank good humour. "Thank you, Mr Cardigan, for all your kindness and thoughtfulness; and if you will persist in being nice to me, you might send George Sea Otter and the car at one- thirty. I'll be glad to avail myself of both until I can get a car of my own sent up from San Francisco. Till Wednesday night, then. Good- bye."

As Bryce Cardigan hung up, he heaved a slight sigh, and a parody on a quatrain from "Lalla Rookh" ran through his mind:

I never loved a dear gazelle, To glad me with its limpid eye, But when I learned to love it well, The gol-darned thing was sure to die!

It was difficult to get out of the habit of playing; he found himself the possessor of a very great desire to close down the desk, call on Shirley Sumner, and spend the remainder of the day basking in the sunlight of her presence.