Chapter XXV

It was with a considerably lighter heart that Bryce returned to the mill-office, from which he lost no time in summoning Buck Ogilvy by telephone.

"Thanks so much for the invitation," Ogilvy murmured gratefully. "I'll be down in a pig's whisper." And he was. "Bryce, you look like the devil," he declared the moment he entered the latter's private office.

"I ought to, Buck. I've just raised the devil and spilled the beans on the N. C. O."

"To whom, when, and where?"

"To Pennington's niece, over the telephone about two hours ago."

Buck Ogilvy smote his left palm with his right fist. "And you've waited two hours to confess your crime? Zounds, man, this is bad."

"I know. Curse me, Buck. I've probably talked you out of a good job."

"Oh, say not so, old settler. We may still have an out. How did you let the cat out of the bag?"

"That remarkable girl called me up, and accused you of being a mere screen for me and amazed me so I admitted it."

Ogilvy dropped his red head in simulated agony and moaned. Presently he raised it and said: "Well, it might have been worse. Think of what might have happened had she called in person. She would have picked your pocket for the corporate seal, the combination of the safe, and the list of stockholders, and probably ended up by gagging you and binding you in your own swivel-chair."

"Don't, Buck. Comfort and not abuse is what I need now."

"All right. I'll conclude my remarks by stating that I regard you as a lovable fat-head devoid of sufficient mental energy to pound the proverbial sand into the proverbial rat-hole. Now, then, what do you want me to do to save the day?"

"Deliver to me by six o'clock Thursday night a temporary franchise from the city council, granting the N. C. O. the right to run a railroad from our drying-yard across Water Street at its intersection with B Street and out Front Street."

"Certainly. By all means! Easiest thing I do! Sure you don't want me to arrange to borrow a star or two to make a ta-ra-ra for the lady that's made a monkey out of you? No? All right, old dear! I'm on my way to do my damnedest, which angels can't do no more. Nevertheless, for your sins, you shall do me a favour before my heart breaks after falling down on this contract you've just given me."

"Granted, Buck. Name it."

"I'm giving a nice little private, specially cooked dinner to Miss McTavish to-night. We're going to pull it off in one of those private screened corrals in that highly decorated Chink restauraw on Third Street. Moira--that is, Miss McTavish--is bringing a chaperon, one Miss Shirley Sumner. Your job is to be my chaperon and entertain Miss Sumner, who from all accounts is most brilliant and fascinating."

"Nothing doing!" Bryce almost roared. "Why, she's the girl that bluffed the secret of the N. C. O. out of me!"

"Do you hate her for it?"

"No, I hate myself."

"Then you'll come. You promised in advance, and no excuses go now. The news will be all over town by Friday morning; so why bother to keep up appearances any longer. Meet me at the Canton at seven and check dull care at the entrance."

And before Bryce could protest, Ogilvy had thrown open the office door and called the glad tidings to Moira, who was working in the next room; whereupon Moira's wonderful eyes shone with that strange lambent flame. She clasped her hands joyously. "Oh, how wonderful!" she exclaimed "I've always wanted Miss Shirley to meet Mr. Bryce."

Again Bryce was moved to protest, but Buck Ogilvy reached around the half-opened door and kicked him in the shins. "Don't crab my game, you miserable snarley-yow. Detract one speck from that girl's pleasure, and you'll never see that temporary franchise," he threatened. "I will not work for a quitter--so, there!" And with his bright smile he set out immediately upon the trail of the city council, leaving Bryce Cardigan a prey to many conflicting emotions, the chief of which, for all that he strove to suppress it, was riotous joy in the knowledge that while he had fought against it, fate had decreed that he should bask once more in the radiance of Shirley Sumner's adorable presence. Presently, for the first time in many weeks, Moira heard him whistling "Turkey in the Straw."