Chapter XXXII
 

Shirley made no effort to detain Bryce Cardigan as he walked to his car and climbed into it. Ogilvy remained merely long enough to give orders to the foreman to gather up the tools, store them in the machine-shop of Cardigan's mill, and dismiss his gang; then he, too, entered the automobile, and at a word from Bryce, the car slid noiselessly away into the darkness. The track-cutting crew departed a few minutes later, and when Shirley found herself alone with her uncle, the tumult in her heart gave way to the tears she could no longer repress. Pennington stood by, watching her curiously, coldly.

Presently Shirley mastered her emotion and glanced toward him.

"Well, my dear?" he queried nervously.

"I--I think I had better go home," she said without spirit.

"I think so, too," he answered. "Get into the Mayor's flivver, my dear, and I'll drive you. And perhaps the least said about this affair the better, Shirley. There are many things that you do not understand and which cannot be elucidated by discussion."

"I can understand an attempt at assassination, Uncle Seth."

"That blackguard Minorca! I should have known better than to put him on such a job. I told him to bluff and threaten; Cardigan, I knew, would realize the grudge the Black Minorca has against him, and for that reason I figured the greaser was the only man who could bluff him. While I gave him orders to shoot, I told him distinctly not to hit anybody. Good Lord, Shirley, surely you do not think I would wink at a murder!"

"I do," she answered passionately. "With Bryce Cardigan out of the way, you would have a clear field before you--"

"Oh, my dear, my dear! Surely you do not realize what you are saying. You are beside yourself, Shirley. Please--please do not wound me so-- so horribly. You do not--you cannot realize what a desperate fight I have been putting up for both our sakes. I am surrounded by enemies-- the most implacable enemies. They force me to fight the devil with fire--and here you are, giving them aid and comfort."

"I want you to defeat Bryce Cardigan, if you can do it fairly."

"At another time and in a calmer mood we will discuss that villain," he said authoritatively. "If we argue the matter now, we are liable to misunderstandings; we may quarrel, and that is something neither of us can afford. Get into the car, and we will go home. There is nothing more to be done to-night."

"Your sophistry does not alter my opinion," she replied firmly. "However, as you say, this is neither the time nor the place to discuss it."

They drove home in silence. Shirley went at once to her room. For the Colonel, however, the night's work had scarcely begun. The instant he heard the door to his niece's room shut, he went to the telephone and called up the Laguna Grande roundhouse. Sexton, his manager, answered.

"Have you sent the switch-engine to the woods for Rondeau and his men?"

"Just left."

"Good! Now, then, Sexton, listen to me: As you know, this raid of Cardigan's has developed so suddenly I am more or less taken by surprise and have had no time to prepare the kind of counter-attack that will be most effective. However, with the crossing blocked, I gain time in which to organize--only there must be no weak point in my organization. In order to insure that, I am proceeding to San Francisco to-night by motor, via the coast road. I will arrive late to-morrow night, and early Saturday morning I will appear in the United States District Court with our attorneys and file a complaint and petition for an order temporarily restraining the N.C.O. from cutting our tracks.

"I will have to make an affidavit to support the complaint, so I had better be Johnny-on-the-spot to do it, rather than risk the delay of making the affidavit tomorrow morning here and forwarding it by mail to our attorneys. The judge will sign a restraining order, returnable in from ten to thirty days--I'll try for thirty, because that will knock out the N.C.O.'s temporary franchise--and after I have obtained the restraining order, I will have the United States marshal telegraph it to Ogilvy and Cardigan!"

"Bully!" cried Sexton heartily. "That will fix their clock."

"In the meantime," Pennington continued, "logs will be glutting our landings. We need that locomotive for its legitimate purposes. Take all that discarded machinery and the old boiler we removed from the mill last fall, dump it on the tracks at the crossing, and get the locomotive back on its run. Understand? The other side, having no means of removing these heavy obstructions, will be blocked until I return; by that time the matter will be in the District Court, Cardigan will be hung up until his temporary franchise expires--and the city council will not renew it. Get me?"

"Yes, sir."

"I'll be back Sunday forenoon. Good-bye."

He hung up, went to his chauffeur's quarters over the garage, and routed the man out of bed. Then he returned quietly to his room, dressed and packed a bag for his journey, left a brief note for Shirley notifying her of his departure, and started on his two- hundred-and-fifty mile trip over the mountains to the south. As his car sped through sleeping Sequoia and gained the open country, the Colonel's heart thrilled pleasurably. He held cards and spades, big and little casino, four aces and the joker; therefore he knew he could sweep the board at his pleasure. And during his absence Shirley would have opportunity to cool off, while he would find time to formulate an argument to lull her suspicions upon his return.