Chapter XVIII
 

The dictograph which Shirley had asked Bryce to obtain for her in San Francisco arrived on the regular passenger-steamer on Thursday morning and Bryce called her up to ask when she desired it sent over.

"Good morning, Mr. Cardigan," she greeted him cheerily. "How do you feel this morning? Any the worse for having permitted yourself to be a human being last night?"

"Why, I feel pretty fine, Shirley. I think it did me a lot of good to crawl out of my shell last night."

"You feel encouraged to go on living, eh?"

"Yes."

"And fighting?"

"By all means."

"Then, something has occurred of late to give you new courage?"

"Oh, many things. Didn't I give an exhibition of my courage in accepting Ogilvy's invitation to dinner, knowing you were going to be there?"

She did not like that. "You carry your frankness to extremes, my friend," she retorted. "I'm sure I've always been much nicer to you than you deserve."

"Nevertheless there wasn't any valid reason why I should tantalize myself last night."

"Then why did you come?" He had a suspicion that she was laughing silently at him.

"Partly to please Ogilvy, who has fallen head over heels in love with Moira; partly to please Moira, who wanted me to meet you, but mostly to please myself, because, while I dreaded it, nevertheless I wanted to see you again. I comforted myself with the thought that for the sake of appearances we dared not quarrel in the presence of Moira and my friend Ogilvy, and I dare say you felt the same way. At any rate, I have seldom had more enjoyment when partaking of a meal with an enemy."

"Please do not say that," she answered. "I am your opponent, but not your enemy."

"That's nice of you. By the way, Shirley, you may inform your uncle at breakfast Friday morning about my connection with the N. C. O. In fact, I think it would be far better for you if you made it a point to do so."

"Why?"

"Because both Ogilvy and myself have a very strong suspicion that your uncle has a detective or two on our trails. There was a strange man rather prevalent around him all day yesterday and I noticed a fellow following my car last night. He was on a bicycle and followed me home. I communicated my suspicions to Ogilvy, and this morning he spent two hours trying to shake the same man off his trail--and couldn't. So I judge your uncle will learn to-day that you dined with Ogilvy, Moira, and me last night."

"Oh, dear! That's terrible." He could sense her distress.

"Ashamed of having been seen in my company, eh?"

"Please don't. Are you quite serious in this matter?"

"Quite."

"Uncle Seth will think it so--so strange."

"He'll probably tell you about it. Better beat him to the issue by 'fessing up, Shirley. Doubtless his suspicions are already aroused, and if you inform him that you know I am the real builder of the N. C. O., he'll think you're a smart woman and that you've been doing a little private gum-shoe work of your own on behalf of the Laguna Grande Lumber Company."

"Which is exactly what I have been doing," she reminded him.

"I know. But then, I'm not afraid of you, Shirley--that is, any more. And after Friday morning I'll not be afraid of your uncle. Do tell him at breakfast. Then watch to see if it affects his appetite."

"Oh, dear! I feel as if I were a conspirator."

"I believe you are one. Your dictograph has arrived. Shall I send George Sea Otter over with it? And have you somebody to install it?"

"Oh, bother! Does it have to be installed?"

"It does. You place the contraption--hide it, rather--in the room where the conspirators conspire; then you run wires from it into another room where the detectives listen in on the receivers."

"Could George Sea Otter install it?"

"I think he could. There is a printed card of instructions, and I dare say George would find the job no more baffling than the ignition-system on the Napier."

"Will he tell anybody?"

"Not if you ask him not to."

"Not even you?"

"Not even a whisper to himself, Shirley."

"Very well, then. Please send him over. Thank you so much, Bryce Cardigan. You're an awful good old sort, after all. Really, it hurts me to have to oppose you. It would be so much nicer if we didn't have all those redwood trees to protect, wouldn't it?"

"Let us not argue the question, Shirley. I think I have my redwood trees protected. Good-bye."

He had scarcely finished telephoning his home to instruct George Sea Otter to report with the express package to Shirley when Buck Ogilvy strolled into the office and tossed a document on his desk. "There's your little old temporary franchise, old thing," he announced; and with many a hearty laugh he related to Bryce the ingenious means by which he had obtained it. "And now if you will phone up to your logging-camp and instruct the woods-boss to lay off about fifty men to rest for the day, pending a hard night's work, and arrange to send them down on the last log-train to-day, I'll drop around after dinner and we'll fly to that jump-crossing. Here's a list of the tools we'll need."

"I'll telephone Colonel Pennington's manager and ask him to kick a switch-engine in on the Laurel Creek spur and snake those flat-cars with my rails aboard out to the junction with the main line," Bryce replied. And he called up the Laguna Grande Lumber Company--only to be informed by no less a person than Colonel Pennington himself that it would be impossible to send the switch-engine in until the following afternoon. The Colonel was sorry, but the switch-engine was in the shop having the brick in her fire-box renewed, while the mogul that hauled the log trams would not have time to attend to the matter, since the flats would have to be spotted on the sidetrack at Cardigan's log-landing in the woods, and this could not be done until the last loaded log-train for the day had been hauled out to make room.

"Why not switch back with the mogul after the logtrain has been hauled out on the main line?" Bryce demanded pointedly.

Pennington, however, was not trapped. "My dear fellow," he replied patronizingly, "quite impossible, I assure you. That old trestle across the creek, my boy--it hasn't been looked at for years. While I'd send the light switch-engine over it and have no fears--"

"I happen to know, Colonel, that the big mogul kicked those flats in to load the rails!"

"I know it. And what happened? Why, that old trestle squeaked and shook and gave every evidence of being about to buckle in the centre. My engineer threatened to quit if I sent him in again."

"Very well. I suppose I'll have to wait until the switch-engine comes out of the shop," Bryce replied resignedly, and hung up. He turned a troubled face to Ogilvy. "Checkmated!" he announced. "Whipped to a frazzle. The Colonel is lying, Buck, and I've caught him at it. As a matter of fact, the mogul didn't kick those flats in at all. The switch-engine did--and I know it. Now I'm going to send a man over to snoop around Pennington's roundhouse and verify his report about the switch-engine being in the shop."

He did so. Half an hour later the messenger returned with the information that not only was the switch-engine not in the shop but her fire-box had been overhauled the week before and was reported to be in excellent condition.

"That settles it," Buck Ogilvy mourned. "He had gum-shoe men on my trail, after all; they have reported, and the Colonel is as suspicious as a rhino. He doesn't know anything, but he smells danger just the same."

"Exactly, Buck. So he is delaying the game until he can learn something definite." He drummed idly on his desk for several minutes. Then:

"Buck, can you run a locomotive?"

"With one hand, old man."

"Fine business! Well, I guess we'll put in that crossing to-morrow night. The switch-engine will be in the roundhouse at Pennington's mill to-morrow night so we can't steal that; but we can steal the mogul. I'll just send word up to my woods-boss not to have his train loaded when the mogul comes up late to-morrow afternoon to haul it down to our log-landing. He will explain to the engineer and fireman that our big bull donkey went out and we couldn't get our logs down to the landing in time to get them loaded that day. Of course, the engine-crew won't bother to run down to Sequoia for the night--that is, they won't run the mogul down. They'll just leave her at our log- landing all night and put up for the night at our camp. However, if they should be forced, because of their private affairs, to return to Sequoia, they'll borrow my trackwalker's velocipede. I have one that is driven with a small gasolene engine--I use it in running back and forth to the logging-camp in case I fail to connect with a log- train."

"But how do you know they will put up at your camp all night, Bryce?"

"My men will make them comfortable, and it means they can lie abed until seven o'clock instead of having to roll out at five o'clock, which would be the case if they spent the night at this end of the line. If they do not stay at our logging-camp, the mogul will stay there, provided my woods-foreman lends them my velocipede. The fireman would prefer that to firing that big mogul all the way back to Sequoia."

"Yes," Buck agreed, "I think he would."

"There is a slight grade at our log-landing. I know that, because the air leaked out of the brakes on a log-train I was on a short time ago, and the train ran away with me. Now, the engine-crew will set the airbrakes on the mogul and leave her with steam up to throb all night; they'll not blow her down, for that would mean work firing her in the morning. Our task, Buck, will be to throw off the airbrakes and let her glide silently out of our log-landing. About a mile down the road we'll stop, get up steam, run down to the junction with the main line, back in on the Laurel Creek spur, couple on to those flat- cars and breeze merrily down to Sequoia with them. They'll be loaded waiting for us; our men will be congregated in our dry-yard just off Water Street near B, waiting for us to arrive with the rails--and bingo--we go to it. After we drop the flats, we'll run the engine back to the woods, leave it where we found it, return a-flying on the velocipede, if it's there, or in my automobile, if it isn't there. You can get back in ample time to superintend the cutting of the crossing!"

"Spoken like a man!" quoth Buck Ogilvy. "You're the one man in this world for whom I'd steal a locomotive. 'At-a boy!"

Had either of the conspirators known of Pennington's plans to entertain Mayor Poundstone at dinner on Thursday night, it is probable they would not have cheered until those flat-cars were out of the woods.