Chapter XXI
 

Upon his return from the office that night, Bryce Cardigan found his father had left his bed and was seated before the library fire.

"Feeling a whole lot better to-day, eh, pal?" his son queried.

John Cardigan smiled. "Yes, son," he replied plaintively. "I guess I'll manage to live till next spring."

"Oh, I knew there was nothing wrong with you, John Cardigan, that a healthy check wouldn't cure. Pennington rather jolted you, though, didn't he?"

"He did, Bryce. It was jolt enough to be forced to sell that quarter-- I never expected we'd have to do it; but when I realize that it was a case of sacrificing you or my Giants, of course you won. And I didn't feel so badly about it as I used to think I would. I suppose that's because there is a certain morbid pleasure in a real sacrifice for those we love. And I never doubted but that Pennington would snap up the property the instant I offered to sell. Hence his refusal--in the face of our desperate need for money to carry on until conditions improve--almost floored your old man."

"Well, we can afford to draw our breath now, and that gives us a fighting chance, partner. And right after dinner you and I will sit down and start brewing a pot of powerful bad medicine for the Colonel."

"Son, I've been sitting here simmering all day." There was a note of the old dominant fighting John Cardigan in his voice now. "And it has occurred to me that even if I must sit on the bench and root, I've not reached the point where my years have begun to affect my thinking ability." He touched his leonine head." I'm as right as a fox upstairs, Bryce."

"Right-o, Johnny. We'll buck the line together. After dinner you trot out your plan of campaign and I'll trot out mine; then we'll tear them apart, select the best pieces of each and weld them into a perfect whole."

Accordingly, dinner disposed of, father and son sat down together to prepare the plan of campaign. For the space of several minutes a silence settled between them, the while they puffed meditatively upon their cigars. Then the old man spoke.

"We'll have to fight him in the dark."

"Why?"

"Because if Pennington knows, or even suspects the identity of the man who is going to parallel his logging railroad, he will throw all the weight of his truly capable mind, his wealth and his ruthlessness against you--and you will be smashed. To beat that man, you must do more than spend money. You will have to outthink him, outwork him, outgame him, and when eventually you have won, you'll know you've been in the fight of your career. You have one advantage starting out. The Colonel doesn't think you have the courage to parallel his road in the first place; in the second place, he knows you haven't the money; and in the third place he is morally certain you cannot borrow it, because you haven't any collateral to secure your note.

"We are mortgaged now to the limit, and our floating indebtedness is very large; on the face of things and according to the Colonel's very correct inside information, we're helpless; and unless the lumber- market stiffens very materially this year, by the time our hauling- contract with Pennington's road expires, we'll be back where we were yesterday before we sold the Giants. Pennington regards that hundred thousand as get-away money for us. So, all things considered, the Colonel, will be slow to suspect us of having an ace in the hole; but by jinks we have it, and we're going to play it."

"No," said Bryce, "we're going to let somebody else play it for us. The point you make--to wit, that we must remain absolutely in the background--is well taken."

"Very well," agreed the old man. "Now let us proceed to the next point. You must engage some reliable engineer to look over the proposed route of the road and give us an estimate of the cost of construction."

"For the sake of argument we will consider that done, and that the estimate comes within the scope of the sum Gregory is willing to advance us."

"Your third step, then, will be to incorporate a railroad company under the laws of the State of California."

"I think I'll favour the fair State of New Jersey with our trade," Bryce suggested dryly. "I notice that when Pennington bought out the Henderson interests and reorganized that property, he incorporated the Laguna Grande Lumber Company under the laws of the State of New Jersey, home of the trusts. There must be some advantage connected with such a course."

"Have it your own way, boy. What's good enough for the Colonel is good enough for us. Now, then, you are going to incorporate a company to build a road twelve miles long--and a private road, at that. That would be a fatal step. Pennington would know somebody was going to build a logging-road, and regardless of who the builders were, he would have to fight them in self-protection. How are you going to cover your trail, my son?"

Bryce pondered. "I will, to begin, have a dummy board of directors. Also, my road cannot be private; it must be a common carrier, and that's where the shoe pinches. Common carriers are subject to the rules and regulations of the Railroad Commission."

"They are wise and just rules," commented the old man, "expensive to obey at times, but quite necessary. We can obey and still be happy. Objection overruled."

"Well, then, since we must be a common carrier, we might as well carry our deception still further and incorporate for the purpose of building a road from Sequoia to Grant's Pass, Oregon, there to connect with the Southern Pacific."

John Cardigan smiled. "The old dream revived, eh? Well, the old jokes always bring a hearty laugh. People will laugh at your company, because folks up this way realize that the construction cost of such a road is prohibitive, not to mention the cost of maintenance, which would be tremendous and out of all proportion to the freight area tapped."

"Well, since we're not going to build more than twelve miles of our road during the next year, and probably not more than ten miles additional during the present century, we won't worry over it. It doesn't cost a cent more to procure a franchise to build a road from here to the moon. If we fail to build to Grant's Pass, our franchise to build the uncompleted portion of the road merely lapses and we hold only that portion which we have constructed. That's all we want to hold."

"How about rights of way?"

"They will cost us very little, if anything. Most or the landowners along the proposed route will give us rights of way free gratis and for nothing, just to encourage the lunatics. Without a railroad the land is valueless; and as a common carrier they know we can condemn rights of way capriciously withheld--something we cannot do as a private road. Moreover, deeds to rights of way can be drawn with a time-limit, after which they revert to the original owners."

"Good strategy, my son! And certainly as a common carrier we will be welcomed by the farmers and cattlemen along our short line. We can handle their freight without much annoyance and perhaps at a slight profit."

"Well, that about completes the rough outline of our plan. The next thing to do is to start and keep right on moving, for as old Omar has it, 'The bird of time hath but a little way to flutter,' and the birdshot is catching up with him. We have a year in which to build our road; if we do not hurry, the mill will have to shut down for lack of logs, when our contract with Pennington expires."

"You forget the manager for our new corporation--the vice-president and general manager. The man we engage must be the fastest and most convincing talker in California; not only must he be able to tell a lie with a straight face, but he must be able to believe his own lies. And he must talk in millions, look millions, and act as if a million dollars were equivalent in value to a redwood stump. In addition, he must be a man of real ability and a person you can trust implicitly."

"I have the very man you mention. His name is Buck Ogilvy and only this very day I received a letter from him begging me for a small loan. I have Buck on ice in a fifth-class San Francisco hotel."

"Tell me about him, Bryce."

"Don't have to. You've just told me about him, However, I'll read you his letter. I claim there is more character in a letter than in a face."

Here Bryce read aloud:

Golden Gate Hotel--Rooms fifty cents--and up. San Francisco, California, August fifteenth, 1916.

MY DEAR CARDIGAN: Hark to the voice of one crying in the wilderness; then picture to yourself the unlovely spectacle of a strong man crying.

Let us assume that you have duly considered. Now wind up your wrist and send me a rectangular piece of white, blue, green, or pink paper bearing in the lower right-hand corner, in your clear, bold chirography, the magic words "Bryce Cardigan"--with the little up- and-down hook and flourish which identifies your signature given in your serious moods and lends value to otherwise worthless paper. Five dollars would make me chirk up; ten would start a slight smile; twenty would put a beam in mine eye; fifty would cause me to utter shrill cries of unadulterated joys and a hundred would inspire me to actions like unto those of a whirling dervish.

I am so flat busted my arches make hollow sounds as I tread the hard pavements of a great city, seeking a job. Pausing on the brink of despair, that destiny which shapes our ends inspired me to think of old times and happier days and particularly of that pink-and-white midget of a girl who tended the soda-fountain just back of the railroad station at Princeton. You stole that damsel from me, and I never thanked you. Then I remembered you were a timber-king with a kind heart and that you lived somewhere in California; so I looked in the telephone book and found the address of the San Francisco office of the Cardigan Redwood Lumber Company. You have a mean man in charge there. I called on him, told him I was an old college pal of yours, and tried to borrow a dollar. He spurned me with contumely--so much of it, in fact, that I imagine you have a number of such friends. While he was abusing me, I stole from his desk the stamped envelope which bears to you these tidings of great woe; and while awaiting your reply, be advised that I subsist on the bitter cud of reflection, fresh air, and water, all of which, thank God, cost nothing.

My tale is soon told. When you knew me last, I was a prosperous young contractor. Alas! I put all my eggs in one basket and produced an omelet. Took a contract to build a railroad in Honduras. Honduras got to fighting with Nicaragua; the government I had done business with went out of business; and the Nicaraguan army recruited all my labourers and mounted them on my mules and horses, swiped all my grub, and told me to go home. I went. Why stay? Moreover, I had an incentive consisting of about an inch of bayonet--fortunately not applied in a vital spot--which accelerated rather than decreased my speed.

Hurry, my dear Cardigan. Tempest fidgets; remember Moriarity--which, if you still remember your Latin, means: "Time flies. Remember to- morrow!" I finished eating my overcoat the day before yesterday.

Make it a hundred, and God will bless you. When I get it, I'll come to Sequoia and kiss you. I'll pay you back sometime--of course.

Wistfully thine--Buck Ogilvy

P.S.--Delays are dangerous, and procrastination is the thief of time.--B.

John Cardigan chuckled. "I'd take Buck Ogilvy, Bryce. He'll do. Is he honest?"

"I don't know. He was, the last time I saw him."

"Then wire him a hundred. Don't wait for the mail. The steamer that carries your letter might be wrecked and your friend Ogilvy forced to steal."

"I have already wired him the hundred. In all probability he is now out whirling like a dervish."

"Good boy! Well, I think we've planned sufficient for the present, Bryce. You'd better leave for San Francisco to-morrow and close your deal with Gregory. Arrange with him to leave his own representative with Ogilvy to keep tab on the job, check the bills, and pay them as they fall due; and above all things, insist that Gregory shall place the money in a San Francisco bank, subject to the joint check of his representative and ours. Hire a good lawyer to draw up the agreement between you; be sure you're right, and then go ahead--full speed. When you return to Sequoia, I'll have a few more points to give you. I'll mull them over in the meantime."