Chapter XXXIV
 

Shortly after Shirley's departure from his office, Bryce had a visit from Buck Ogilvy. The latter wore a neatly pressed suit of Shepherd plaid, with a white carnation in his lapel, and he was, apparently, the most light-hearted young man in Humboldt County. He struck an attitude and demanded:

"Boss, what do you think of my new suit?"

"You lunatic! Don't you know red blonds should never wear light shades? You're dressed like a Negro minstrel."

"Well, I feel as happy as an end-man. And by the way, you're all chirked up yourself. Who's been helping you to the elixir of life. When we parted last night, you were forty fathoms deep in the slough of despond."

"No less a divinity than Miss Shirley Sumner! She called this morning to explain that last night's fiasco was none of her making, and quite innocently she imparted the information that old Pennington lighted out for San Francisco at one o'clock this morning. Wherefore I laugh. Te-he! Ha-hah!"

"Three long, loud raucous cheers for Uncle. He's gone to rush a restraining order through the United States District Court. Wonder why he didn't wire his attorneys to attend to the matter for him."

"He has the crossing blocked, and inasmuch as the Mayor feeds out of Pennington's hand, the Colonel is quite confident that said crossing will remain blocked, As for the restraining order--well, if one wants a thing well done, one should do it oneself."

"All that doesn't explain your cheerful attitude, though."

"Oh, but it does. I've told you about old Duncan McTavish, Moira's father, haven't I?" Ogilvy nodded, and Bryce continued: "When I fired the old scoundrel for boozing, it almost broke his heart; he had to leave Humboldt, where everybody knew him, so he wandered down into Mendocino County and got a job sticking lumber in the drying-yard of the Willits Lumber Company. He's been there two months now, and I am informed by his employer that old Mac hasn't taken a drink in all that time. And what's more, he isn't going to take one again."

"How do you know?"

"Because I make it my business to find out. Mac was the finest woods- boss this county ever knew; hence you do not assume that I would lose the old scoundrel without making a fight for him, do you? Why, Buck, he's been on the Cardigan pay-roll thirty years, and I only fired him in order to reform him. Well, last week I sent one of Mac's old friends down to Willits purposely to call on him and invite him out 'for a time'; but Mac wouldn't drink with him. No, sir, he couldn't be tempted. On the contrary, he told the tempter that I had promised to give him back his job if he remained on the water wagon for one year; he was resolved to win back his job and his self-respect."

"I know what your plan is," Ogilvy interrupted. "You're going to ask Duncan McTavish to waylay Pennington on the road at some point where it runs through the timber, kidnap him, and hold him until we have had time to clear the crossing and cut Pennington's tracks.

"We will do nothing of the sort," Buck continued seriously. "Listen, now, to Father's words of wisdom. This railroad-game is an old one to me; I've fought at crossings before now, and whether successful or defeated, I have always learned something in battle. Didn't you hear me tell that girl and her villainous avuncular relative last night that I had another ace up my kimono?"

Bryce nodded.

"That was not brag, old dear. I had the ace, and this morning I played it--wherefore in my heart there is that peace that passeth understanding--particularly since I have just had a telegram informing me that my ace took the odd trick."

He opened a drawer in Bryce's desk and reached for the cigars he knew were there.

"Not at all a bad cigar for ten cents. However--you will recall that from the very instant we decided to cut in that jump-crossing, we commenced to plan against interference by Pennington; in consequence we kept, or tried to keep, our decision a secret. However, there existed at all times the possibility that Pennington might discover our benevolent intentions and block us with his only weapon--a restraining order issued by the judge of the United States District Court.

"Now, one of the most delightful things I know about a court is that it is open to all men seeking justice--or injustice disguised as justice. Also there is a wise old saw to the effect that battles are won by the fellow who gets there first with the most men. The situation from the start was absurdly simple. If Pennington got to the District Court first, we were lost!"

"You mean you got there first?" exclaimed Bryce.

"I did--by the very simple method of preparing to get there first in case anything slipped. Something did slip--last night! However, I was ready; so all I had to do was press the button, for as Omar Khayyam remarked: 'What shall it avail a man if he buyeth a padlock for his stable after his favourite stallion hath been lifted?' Several days ago, my boy, I wrote a long letter to our attorney in San Francisco explaining every detail of our predicament; the instant I received that temporary franchise from the city council, I mailed a certified copy of it to our attorney also. Then, in anticipation of our discovery by Pennington, I instructed the attorney to prepare the complaint and petition for a restraining order against Seth Pennington et al. and stand by to rush the judge with it the instant he heard from me!

"Well, about the time old Pennington started for San Francisco this morning, I had our attorney out of bed and on the long-distance telephone; at nine o'clock this morning he appeared in the United States District Court; at nine-fifteen the judge signed a restraining order forbidding our enemies to interfere with us in the exercise of a right legally granted us by the city of Sequoia, and at nine-thirty a deputy United States marshal started in an automobile for Sequoia, via the overland route. He will arrive late to-morrow night, and on Sunday we will get that locomotive out of our way and install our crossing."

"And Pennington--"

"Ah, the poor Pennington! Mon pauvre Seth!" Buck sighed comically. "He will be just twenty-four hours late."

"You old he-fox!" Bryce murmured. "You wicked, wicked man!"

Buck Ogilvy lifted his lapel and sniffed luxuriously at his white carnation, the while a thin little smile played around the corners of his humorous mouth. "Ah," he murmured presently, "life's pretty sweet, isn't it!"