Chapter XXXIX

Colonel Seth Pennington was thoroughly crushed. Look which way he would, the bedevilled old rascal could find no loophole for escape.

"You win, Cardigan," he muttered desperately as he sat in his office after Shirley had left him. "You've had more than a shade in every round thus far, and at the finish you've landed a clean knockout. If I had to fight any man but you--"

He sighed resignedly and pressed the push-button on his desk. Sexton entered. "Sexton," he said bluntly and with a slight quiver in his voice, "my niece and I have had a disagreement. We have quarrelled over young Cardigan. She's going to marry him. Now, our affairs are somewhat involved, and in order to straighten them out, we spun a coin to see whether she should sell her stock in Laguna Grande to me or whether I should sell mine to her--and I lost. The book-valuation of the stock at the close of last year's business, plus ten per cent. will determine the selling price, and I shall resign as president. You will, in all probability, be retained to manage the company until it is merged with the Cardigan Redwood Lumber Company--when, I imagine, you will be given ample notice to seek a new job elsewhere. Call Miss Sumner's attorney, Judge Moore, on the telephone and ask him to come to the office at nine o'clock to-morrow, when the papers can be drawn up and signed. That is all."

The Colonel did not return to his home in Redwood Boulevard that night. He had no appetite for dinner and sat brooding in his office until very late; then he went to the Hotel Sequoia and engaged a room. He did not possess sufficient courage to face his niece again.

At four o'clock the next day the Colonel, his baggage, his automobile, his chauffeur, and the solemn butler James, boarded the passenger steamer for San Francisco, and at four-thirty sailed out of Humboldt Bay over the thundering bar and on into the south. The Colonel was still a rich man, but his dream of a redwood empire had faded, and once more he was taking up the search for cheap timber. Whether he ever found it or not is a matter that does not concern us.

At a moment when young Henry Poundstone's dream of legal opulence was fading, when Mayor Poundstone's hopes for domestic peace had been shattered beyond repair, the while his cheap political aspirations had been equally devastated because of a certain damnable document in the possession of Bryce Cardigan, many events of importance were transpiring. On the veranda of his old-fashioned home, John Cardigan sat tapping the floor with his stick and dreaming dreams which, for the first time in many years, were rose-tinted. Beside him Shirley sat, her glance bent musingly out across the roofs of Sequoia and on to the bay shore, where the smoke and exhaust-steam floated up from two sawmills--her own and Bryce Cardigan's. To her came at regularly spaced intervals the faint whining of the saws and the rumble of log- trains crawling out on the log-dumps; high over the piles of bright, freshly sawed lumber she caught from time to time the flash of white spray as the great logs tossed from the trucks, hurtled down the skids, and crashed into the Bay. At the docks of both mills vessels were loading, their tall spars cutting the skyline above and beyond the smokestacks; far down the Bay a steam schooner, loaded until her main-deck was almost flush with the water, was putting out to sea, and Shirley heard the faint echo of her siren as she whistled her intention to pass to starboard of a wind-jammer inward bound in tow of a Cardigan tug.

"It's wonderful," she said presently, apropos of nothing.

"Aye," he replied in his deep, melodious voice, "I've been sitting here, my dear, listening to your thoughts. You know something, now, of the tie that binds my boy to Sequoia. This"--he waved his arm abroad in the darkness--"this is the true essence of life--to create, to develop the gifts that God has given us--to work and know the blessing of weariness--to have dreams and see them come true. That is life, and I have lived. And now I am ready to rest." He smiled wistfully. "'The king is dead. Long live the king.' I wonder if you, raised as you have been, can face life in Sequoia resolutely with my son. It is a dull, drab sawmill town, where life unfolds gradually without thrill--where the years stretch ahead of one with only trees, among simple folk. The life may be hard on you, Shirley; one has to acquire a taste for it, you know."

"I have known the lilt of battle, John-partner," she answered; "hence I think I can enjoy the sweets of victory. I am content."

"And what a run you did give that boy Bryce!"

She laughed softly. "I wanted him to fight; I had a great curiosity to see the stuff that was in him," she explained.