Chapter XVII
 

An experience extending over a very active business career of thirty years had convinced Colonel Seth Pennington of the futility of wracking his brains in vain speculation over mysteries. In his day he had been interested in some small public-service corporations, which is tantamount to saying that he knew peanut politics and had learned that the very best way to fight the devil is with fire. Frequently he had found it of great interest and profit to him to know exactly how certain men spent their time and his money, and since he was a very busy man himself, naturally he had to delegate somebody else, to procure this information for him. When, therefore, the Northern California Oregon Railroad commenced to encroach on the Colonel's time-appropriation for sleep, he realized that there was but one way in which to conserve his rest and that was by engaging to fathom the mystery for him a specialist in the unravelling of mysteries. In times gone by, the Colonel had found a certain national detective- agency an extremely efficient aid to well-known commercial agencies, and to these tried and true subordinates he turned now for explicit and satisfying information anent the Northern California Outrage!

The information forthcoming from Dun's and Bradstreet's was vague and unsatisfying. Neither of these two commercial agencies could ascertain anything of interest regarding the finances of the N. C. O. For the present the corporation had no office, its destinies in San Francisco being guarded by a well-known attorney who had declined to make any statement regarding the company but promised one at an early date. The board of directors consisted of this attorney, his two assistants, his stenographer, and Mr. Buchanan Ogilvy. The company had been incorporated for five million dollars, divided into five million shares of par value of one dollar each, and five shares had been subscribed! Both agencies forwarded copies of the articles of incorporation, but since the Colonel had already read this document in the Sequoia Sentinel, he was not further interested.

"It looks fishy to me," the Colonel commented to his manager, "and I'm more than ever convinced it's a scheme of that Trinidad Redwood Timber Company to start a timber-boom and unload. And that is something the Laguna Grande Lumber Company does not view with favour, for the reason that one of these bright days those Trinidad people will come to their senses and sell cheap to us. A slight extension of our logging-road will make that Trinidad timber accessible; hence we are the only logical customers and should control the situation. However, to be sure is to be satisfied. Telephone the San Francisco office to have the detective-agency that handled the longshoremen's strike job for us send a couple of their best operatives up on the next steamer, with instructions to report to me on arrival."

When the operatives reported, the Colonel's orders were brief and explicit. "I want to know all about a man named Buchanan Ogilvy, who is up north somewhere procuring rights of way for the Northern California Oregon Railroad. Find him. Get up with him in the morning and put him to bed at night. Report to me daily."

Buck was readily located in the country north of Arcata, and one of the operatives actually procured a job as chainman with his surveying gang, while the other kept Ogilvy and his secretary under surveillance. Their reports, however, yielded the Colonel nothing until the first day of Buck's return to Sequoia, when the following written report caused the Colonel to sit up and take notice. It was headed: "Report of Operative No. 41," and it read:

Ogilvy in his room until 12 o'clock noon. At 12:05 entered dining room, leaving at 1 P. M. and proceeding direct to office of Cardigan Redwood Lumber Company. Operative took post behind a lumber-pile at side of office so as to command view of interior of office. From manner of greeting accorded Ogilvy by Bryce Cardigan, operative is of opinion they had not met before. Ogilvy remained in Cardigan's private office half an hour, spent another half-hour conversing with young lady in general office. Young lady a brunette. O. then returned to Hotel Sequoia, where he wrote several letters in writing-room. At 3 p. M. called to telephone. At 3:02 p. M. left hurriedly for Cardigan Redwood Lumber Company's office. Entered private office without waiting to be announced. Emerged at 3:12, walking slowly and in deep thought. At B and Cedar streets stopped suddenly, snapped his fingers and started walking rapidly, in the manner of one who has arrived at a decision. At 3:24 entered the telephone building and placed a long-distance call. Operative standing at counter close by heard him place call with the girl on duty. He asked for the Cardigan Redwood Lumber Company in San Francisco.

Concluded his conversation at 3:32 and proceeded to the city hall, entering the Mayor's office at 3:43 and emerging at 4:10. He then returned to the Hotel Sequoia and sat in the lobby until handed a telegram at 4:40; whereupon he entered the telephone-booth and talked to someone, emerging at 4:43 to go to his room. He returned at 4:46 and hurried to the law-office of Henry Poundstone, Junior, in the Cardigan Block. He was with Poundstone until 4:59, when he returned leisurely to the Hotel Sequoia, carrying a small leather grip. He also had this grip when he entered Poundstone's office.

Arrived at the hotel at 5:03 and went to his room. At 6:45 he entered a public automobile in front of the hotel and was driven to No. 846 Elm Street. The brunette young lady who works m the Cardigan Redwood Lumber Company's office emerged presently and entered the car, which then proceeded to No. 38 Redwood Boulevard, where the brunette young lady alighted and entered the house. She returned at 7 sharp, accompanied by a young lady whom she introduced to O. All three were then driven to the Canyon restaurant at 432 Third Street and escorted to a reserved table in one of the screened-off semi-private rooms along the right side of the dining room. At 7:15 Bryce Cardigan entered the restaurant and was escorted by the waiter to the table occupied by O. and party.

At 9:30 entire party left restaurant and entered a Napier car driven by a half-breed Indian whom the second young lady hailed as George. O. and the brunette young lady were dropped at 846 Elm Street while Cardigan and the other young lady proceeded directly to No. 38 Redwood Boulevard. After aiding the lady to alight, Cardigan talked with her a few minutes at the gate, then bade her good-night and after waiting until she had disappeared inside the front door, returned to the automobile and was driven to his home, while the chauffeur George ran the car into the Cardigan garage.

Upon returning to Hotel Sequoia, found O. in hotel bar. Saw him to bed at 10 sharp.

Needless to relate, this report had a most amazing effect upon Colonel Pennington, and when at length he could recover his mental equilibrium, he set about quite calmly to analyze the report, word by word and sentence by sentence, with the result that he promptly arrived at the following conclusion:

(1) His niece Shirley Sumner was not to be trusted in so far as young Bryce Cardigan was concerned. Despite her assumption of hostility toward the fellow since that memorable day in Pennington's woods, the Colonel was now fully convinced that she had made her peace with him and had been the recipient of his secret attentions right along. The Colonel was on the verge of calling his niece up to demand an explanation, but on second thought decided to wait a few days and see what his gum-shoe men might have to report further.

(2) The N. C. O. was still a mystery, but a mystery in which Bryce Cardigan was interested. Moreover, he was anxious to aid the N. C. O. in every way possible. However, the Colonel could understand this. Cardigan would aid anything that might possibly tend to lift the Cardigan lumber interests out from under the iron heel of Colonel Pennington and he was just young enough and unsophisticated enough to be fooled by that Trinidad Redwood Timber gang.

(3) The N. C. O. was going to make a mighty bluff, even to the extent of applying for a franchise to run over the city streets of Sequoia. Hence Ogilvy's visit to Mayor Poundstone--doubtless on the advice of Bryce Cardigan. Hence, also, his visit to young Henry Poundstone, whom he had doubtless engaged as his legal representative in order to ingratiate himself with the young man's father. Coarse work!

(4) Ogilvy had carried a small leather bag to and from Henry Poundstone's office. That bag was readily explained. It had contained a bribe in gold coin and young Henry had been selected as the go- between. That meant that Mayor Poundstone had agreed to deliver the franchise--for a consideration; and like the smooth scoundrel he was, he wanted his bit in gold coin, which could not be marked without the marks being discovered! Ogilvy had called first on the Mayor to arrange the details; then he had called on the Mayor's son to complete the transaction.

(5) If a franchise had been arranged for and the bribe already delivered, that meant the prompt and unadvertised commencement of operations. Where (the Colonel asked himself) would these operations begin? Why, close to the waterfront, where materials could be landed from the steamer that brought them to Sequoia. At whose mill-dock would those materials be discharged? Why, Cardigan's dock, of course. Ogilvy had probably called first on Cardigan to arrange that detail. Yes, the N. C. O. was going to carry its monumental bluff to the point of building a mile of track through town. ... No--no, they wouldn't spend that much money on a bluff; they wouldn't bribe Poundstone unless the road was meant. And was it a common carrier, after all? Had Cardigan in some mysterious manner managed to borrow enough money to parallel the Laguna Grande Lumber Company's logging- road, and was he disguising it as a common carrier?

The trail was growing hot; the Colonel mopped his brow and concentrated further. If the N. C. O. was really going to start operations, in order to move its material from the Cardigan dock to the scene of operations it would have to cut his (the Colonel's) tracks somewhere on Water Street. Damnation! That was it. They were trying to slip one over on him. They were planning to get a jump- crossing in before he should awake to the situation; they were planning, too, to have the city council slip through the franchise when nobody was looking, and once the crossing should be in, they could laugh at Colonel Pennington!

"The scoundrels!" he murmured. "I'm on to them! Cardigan is playing the game with them. That's why he bought those rails from the old Laurel Creek spur! Oh, the sly young fox--quoting that portion of our hauling contract which stipulates that all spurs and extensions of my road, once it enters Cardigan's lands, must be made at Cardigan's expense! And all to fool me into thinking he wanted those rails for an extension of his logging-system. Oh, what a blithering idiot I have been! However, it's not too late yet. Poundstone is coming over to dinner Thursday night, and I'll wring the swine dry before he leaves the house. And as for those rails Cardigan managed to hornswoggle me out of--"

He seized the telephone and fairly shouted to his exchange operator to get his woods-foreman Jules Rondeau on the line.

"That you, Rondeau?" he shouted when the big French Canadian responded. "Pennington talking. What has young Cardigan done about those rails I sold him from the abandoned spur up Laurel Creek?"

"He have two flat-cars upon ze spur now. Dose woods-gang of hees she tear up dose rails from ze head of ze spur and load in ze flat-cars."

"The ears haven't left the Laurel Creek spur, then?"

"No, she don't leave yet."

"See to it, Rondeau, that they do not leave until I give the word. Understand? Cardigan's woods-boss will call you up and ask you to send a switch-engine tip to snake them out late this afternoon or to- morrow afternoon. Tell him the switch-engine is in the shop for repairs or is busy at other work--anything that will stall him off and delay delivery."

"Suppose Bryce Cardigan, he comes around and say 'Why?'" Rondeau queried cautiously.

"Kill him," the Colonel retorted coolly. "It strikes me you and the Black Minorca are rather slow playing even with young Cardigan."

Rondeau grunted. "I theenk mebbe so you kill heem yourself, boss," he replied enigmatically, and hung up.