Chapter VII
 

Shirley Sumner's eyes were still moist when George Sea Otter, in obedience to the instructions of his youthful master, set her, the French maid, and their hand-baggage down on the sidewalk in front of Colonel Seth Pennington's house. The half-breed hesitated a moment, undecided whether he would carry the hand-baggage up to the door or leave that task for a Pennington retainer; then he noted the tear- stains on the cheeks of his fair passenger. Instantly he took up the hand-baggage, kicked open the iron gate, and preceded Shirley up the cement walk to the door.

"Just wait a moment, if you please, George," Shirley said as he set the baggage down and started back for the car. He turned and beheld her extracting a five-dollar bill from her purse. "For you, George," she continued. "Thank you so much."

In all his life George Sea Otter had never had such an experience-- he, happily, having been raised in a country where, with the exception of waiters, only a pronounced vagrant expects or accepts a gratuity from a woman. He took the bill and fingered it curiously; then his white blood asserted itself and he handed the bill back to Shirley.

"Thank you," he said respectfully. "If you are a man--all right. But from a lady--no. I am like my boss. I work for you for nothing."

Shirley did not understand his refusal, but her instinctive tact warned her not to insist. She returned the bill to her purse, thanked him again, and turned quickly to hide the slight flush of annoyance. George Sea Otter noted it.

"Lady," he said with great dignity, "at first I did not want to carry your baggage. I did not want to walk on this land." And with a sweeping gesture he indicated the Pennington grounds. "Then you cry a little because my boss is feeling bad about his old man. So I like you better. The old man--well, he has been like father to me and my mother--and we are Indians. My brothers, too--they work for him. So if you like my boss and his old man, George Sea Otter would go to hell for you pretty damn' quick. You bet you my life!"

"You're a very good boy, George," she replied, with difficulty repressing a smile at his blunt but earnest avowal. "I am glad the Cardigans have such an honest, loyal servant."

George Sea Otter's dark face lighted with a quick smile. "Now you pay me," he replied and returned to the car.

The door opened, and a Swedish maid stood in the entrance regarding her stolidly. "I'm Miss Sumner," Shirley informed her. "This is my maid Marcelle. Help her in with the hand-baggage." She stepped into the hall and called: "Ooh-hooh! Nunky-dunk!"

"Ship ahoy!" An answering call came to her from the dining room, across the entrance-hall, and an instant later Colonel Seth Pennington stood in the doorway, "Bless my whiskers! Is that you, my dear?" he cried, and advanced to greet her. "Why, how did you get here, Shirley? I thought you'd missed the stage."

She presented her cheek for his kiss. "So I did, Uncle, but a nice red-haired young man named Bryce Cardigan found me in distress at Red Bluff, picked me up in his car, and brought me here." She sniffed adorably. "I'm so hungry," she declared, "and here I am, just in time for dinner. Is my name in the pot?"

"It isn't, Shirley, but it soon will be. How perfectly bully to have you with me again, my dear! And what a charming young lady you've grown to be since I saw you last! You're--why, you've been crying! By Jove, I had no idea you'd be so glad to see me again."

She could not forego a sly little smile at his egoism.

"You're looking perfectly splendid, Uncle Seth," she parried.

"And I'm feeling perfectly splendid. This is a wonderful country, Shirley, and everything is going nicely with me here. By the way, who did you say picked you up in his car?"

"Bryce Cardigan. Do you know him?"

"No, we haven't met. Son of old John Cardigan, I dare say. I've heard of him. He's been away from Sequoia for quite a while, I believe."

"Yes; he was abroad for two years after he was graduated from Princeton."

"Hum-m-m! Well, it's about time he came home to take care of that stiff-necked old father of his." He stepped to the bell and pressed it, and the butler answered. "Set a place at dinner for Miss Shirley, James," he ordered. "Thelma will show you your rooms, Shirley. I was just about to sit down to dinner. I'll wait for you."

While Shirley was in the living room Colonel Pennington's features wore an expression almost pontifical, but when she had gone, the atmosphere of paternalism and affection which he radiated faded instantly. The Colonel's face was in repose now--cold, calculating, vaguely repellent. He scowled slightly.

"Now, isn't that the devil's luck?" he soliloquized. "Young Cardigan is probably the only man in Sequoia--dashed awkward if they should become interested in each other--at this time. Everybody in town, from lumberjacks to bankers, has told me what a fine fellow Bryce Cardigan is. They say he's good-looking; certainly he is educated and has acquired some worldly polish--just the kind of young fellow Shirley will find interesting and welcome company in a town like this. Many things can happen in a year--and it will be a year before I can smash the Cardigans. Damn it!"