Part 10 out of 12
investigate the charges against the local officials. The first of these
inspectors, a rather precise and formal youth fresh from Eastern
training, was easily handled by the versatile Erbe. His report,
voluminous as a tariff speech, and couched in very official language,
exonerated Thorne and Orde of dishonesty, of course, but it emphasized
their "lack of tact and business ability," and condemned strongly their
attitude in the Durham matter. This report would ordinarily have gone no
farther than the district office, where it might have been acted on by
the officers in charge to the great detriment of the Service. At that
time the evil of sending out as inspectors men admirably trained in
theory but woefully lacking in practice and the knowledge of Western
humankind was one of the great menaces to effective personnel.
Fortunately this particular report came into the hands of the Chief, who
happened to be touring in the West. A fuller investigation exposed to
the sapient experience of that able man the gullibility of the
inspector. From the district a brief statement was issued upholding the
The agitation, thus deprived of its chief hope, might very well have
been expected to simmer down, to die away slowly. As a matter of fact,
it collapsed. The newspaper attacks ceased; the public meetings were
discontinued; the saloons and other storm centres applied their powers
to a discussion of the Gans-Nelson fight. Samuels was very briefly
declared a trespasser by the courts. Erbe disappeared from the case.
The United States Marshal, riding up with a posse into a supposedly
hostile country, found no opposition to his enforcement of the court's
decree. Only old Samuels himself offered an undaunted defence, but was
soon dislodged and led away by men who half-pitied, half-ridiculed his
violence. The sign "Property of the U.S." resumed its place. Thorne made
of the ancient homestead a ranger's post.
"It's incomprehensible as a genuine popular movement," said he on one of
Bob's periodical returns to headquarters. The young man now held a
commission, and lived with the Thornes when at home. "The opposition up
there was so rabid and it wilted too suddenly."
"'The mutable many,'" quoted Amy.
But Thorne shook his head.
"It's as though they'd pricked a balloon," said he. "They don't love us
up there, yet; but it's no worse now than it used to be here. Last week
it was actually unsafe on the streets. If they were so strong for
Samuels then, why not now? A mere court decision could not change their
minds so quickly. I should have expected the real bitterness and the
real resistence when the Marshal went up to put the old man off."
"That's the way I sized it up," admitted Bob.
"It's as if somebody had turned off the steam and the engine quit
running," said Thorne, "and for that reason I'm more than ever convinced
that it was a made agitation. Samuels was only an excuse."
"What for?" asked Bob.
"Struck me the same way," put in California John. "Reminded me of the
war. Looked like they held onto this as a sort of first defence as long
as they could, and then just abandoned it and dropped back."
"That's it," nodded Thorne. "That's my conclusion. Somebody bigger than
Samuels fears investigation; and they hoped to stop our sort of
investigation short at Samuels. Well, they haven't succeeded."
Amy arose abruptly and ran to her filing cases.
"That ought to be easily determined," she cried, looking over her
shoulder with shining eyes. "I have the papers about all ready for the
whole of our Forest. Here's a list of the private holdings, by whom
held, how acquired and when." She spread the papers out on the table.
"Now let's see who owns lots of land, and who is powerful enough to
enlist senators, and who would fear investigation."
All four bent over the list for a few moments. Then Thorne made five
dots with his pencil opposite as many names.
"All the rest are little homesteaders," said he. "One of these must be
"Or all of them," amended California John drily.
[Footnote A: "Nester"--Western term meaning squatters, small
settlers--generally illegally such.]
The little council of war at once commenced an eager discussion of the
names thus indicated.
"There's your own concern, the Wolverine Company," suggested Thorne.
"What do you know about the way it acquired its timber?"
"Acquired in 1879," replied Amy, consulting her notes. "Partly from the
Bank, that held it on mortgage, and partly from individual owners."
"Welton is no crook," struck in Bob. "Even if he'd strained the law,
which I doubt; he wouldn't defend himself at this late date with any
method as indirect as this."
"I think you're right on the last point," agreed Thorne. "Proceed."
"Next is the Marston N. Leavitt firm."
"They bought their timber in a lump from a broker by the name of
Robinson; and Robinson got it of the old Joncal [A] Mill outfit; and
heaven knows where they got it," put in California John.
"How long ago?"
"'84--the last transfer," said Amy.
"Doesn't look as though the situation ought to alarm them to immediate
and violent action," observed Thorne. "Aren't there any more recent
claims?" he asked Amy.
"Here's one; the Modoc Mining Company, about one thousand mineral
claims, amounting to approximately 28,000 acres, filed 1903."
"That looks more promising. Patents issued in the reign of our esteemed
"Where are most of the claims?" asked California John.
"_All_ the claims are in the same place," replied Amy.
"The Basin!" said Bob.
Amy recited the "descriptions" within whose boundaries lay the bulk of
"That's it," said Bob.
"Is there any real mineral there?" inquired Thorne.
"Not that anybody ever heard of," said California John, who was himself
an old miner; "but gold is where you find it," he added cautiously.
"How's the timber?"
"It's the best stand I've seen in the mountains," said Bob.
"Well," observed Thorne, "of course it wouldn't do to say so, but I
think we've run against the source of our opposition in the Samuels
"That explains Erbe's taking the case," put in Bob; "he's counsel for
most of these corporations."
"The fact that this is not a mineral country," continued Thorne,
"together with the additional considerations of a thousand claims in so
limited an area, and the recent date, makes it look suspicious. I
imagine the Modoc Mining Company intends to use a sawmill, rather more
than a stamp mill."
"Who are they?" asked California John.
"We must find that out. Also we must ourselves ascertain just what
colour of mineral there is over there."
"That ought to be on the records somewhere already," Amy pointed out.
"Plant's records," said Thorne drily.
"I'm ashamed to say I haven't looked up the mineral lands act,"
confessed Bob. "How did they do it?"
"Well, it's simple enough. The company made application under the law
that allows mineral land in National Forests to be 'freely prospected,
located, developed and patented.' It is necessary to show evidence of
"Gold and silver?"
"Not necessarily. It may be even building stone, or fine clay, limestone
or slate. Then it's up to the Forest Officer to determine whether the
deposits are actually 'valuable' or not. You can drive a horse and cart
through the law; and it's strictly up to the Forest Officer--or has been
in the past. If he reports the deposits valuable, and on that report a
patent is issued, why that settles it."
"Even if the mineral is a fake?"
"A patent is a patent. The time to head off the fraud is when the
application is made."
"Cannot the title be upset if fraud is clearly proved?"
"I do not see how," replied Thorne. "Plant is dead. The law is very
liberal. Predetermining the value of mineral deposits is largely a
matter of personal judgment. The company could, as we have seen, bring
an enormous influence to bear."
"Well," said Bob, "that land will average sixty thousand feet to the
acre. That's about a billion and a half feet. It's a big stake."
"If the company wasn't scared, why did they try so hard to head us off?"
observed California John shrewdly.
"It will do us no harm to investigate," put in Bob, his eye kindling
with eagerness. "It won't take long to examine the indications those
claims are based on."
"It's a ticklish period," objected Thorne. "I hate to embarrass the
Administration with anything ill-timed. We have much to do straightening
out what we now have on hand. You must remember we are short of men; we
can't spare many now."
"I'll tell you," suggested Amy. "Put it up to the Chief. Tell him just
how the matter stands. Let him decide."
"All right; I'll do that," agreed Thorne.
In due time the reply came. It advised circumspection in the matter; but
commanded a full report on the facts. Time enough, the Chief wrote, to
decide on the course to be pursued when the case should be established
in their own minds.
Accordingly Thorne detached Bob and Ware to investigate the mineral
status of the Basin. The latter's long experience in prospecting now
promised to stand the Service in good stead.
The two men camped in the Basin for three weeks, until the close of
which time they saw no human being. During this period they examined
carefully the various ledges on which the mineral claims had been based.
Ware pronounced them valueless, as far as he could judge.
"Some of them are just ordinary quartz dikes," said he. "I suppose they
claim gold for them. There's nothing in it; or if this does warrant a
man developing, then every citizen who lives near rock has a mine in his
Nevertheless he made his reports as detailed as possible. In the
meantime Bob accomplished a rough, or "cruiser's" estimate of the
As has been said, they found the Basin now quite deserted. The trail to
Sycamore Flats had apparently not been travelled since George Pollock
had ridden down it to give himself up to authority. Their preliminary
labours finished, the two Forest officers packed, and were on the very
point of turning up the steep mountain side toward the lookout, when two
horsemen rode over the flat rock.
Naturally Bob and Ware drew up, after the mountain custom, to exchange
greetings. As the others drew nearer, Bob recognized in one the slanting
eyeglasses, the close-lipped, gray moustache and the keen, cold features
of Oldham. Ware nodded at the other man, who returned his salutation as
"You're off your beat, Mr. Oldham," observed Bob.
"I'm after a deer," replied Oldham. "You are a little off your own beat,
"My beat is everywhere," replied Bob carelessly.
"What devilment you up to now, Sal?" Ware was asking of the other man,
a tall, loose-jointed, freckle-faced and red-haired individual with an
evil red eye.
"I'm earnin' my salary; and I misdoubt you ain't," sneered the
individual thus addressed.
"As what; gun man?" demanded Ware calmly.
"You may find that out sometime."
"I'm not as easy as young Franklin was," said Ware, dropping his hand
carelessly to his side. "Don't make any mistakes when you get around to
The man said nothing, but grinned, showing tobacco-stained, irregular
teeth beneath his straggling, red moustache.
After a moment's further conversation the little groups separated. Bob
rode on up the trail. Ware followed for perhaps ten feet, or until out
of sight behind the screen of willows that bordered the stream. Then,
without drawing rein, he dropped from his saddle. The horse, urged by a
gentle slap on the rump, followed in the narrow trail after Bob and the
pack animal. Ware slipped quietly through the willows until he had
gained a point commanding the other trail. Oldham and his companion were
riding peacefully. Satisfied, Ware returned, climbed rapidly until he
had caught up with his horse, and resumed his saddle. Bob had only that
moment noticed his absence.
"Look here, Bob," said Ware, "that fellow with Mr. Oldham is a man
called Saleratus Bill. He's a hard citizen, a gun man, and brags of
eleven killin's in his time. Mr. Oldham or no one else couldn't pick up
a worse citizen to go deer hunting with. When you track up with him
next, be sure that he starts and keeps going before you stir out of your
"You don't believe that deer hunting lie, do you?" asked Bob.
"I was wondering if _you_ did," said he.
"I guess there's no doubt as to who the Modoc Mining Company is."
"No," said Bob; "Baker and the Power Company. Oldham is Baker's man."
"Well, I suppose you know what you're talking about," said he, "but it's
pretty generally understood that Oldham is on the other side of the
fence. He's been bucking Baker in White Oaks on some franchise business.
Everybody knows that."
Bob opened his eyes. Casting his mind back over the sources of his
information, he then remembered that intimation of the connection
between the two men had come to him when he had been looked on as a
member of the inner circle, so that all things were talked of openly
before him; that since Plant's day Oldham had in fact never appeared in
"He's up in this country a good deal," Bob observed finally. "What's he
say is his business?"
"Why, he's in a little timber business, as I understand it; and he buys
a few cattle--sort of general brokerage."
"I see," mused Bob.
He rode in silence for some time, breathing his horse mechanically every
fifty feet or so of the steep trail. He was busily recalling and piecing
together the fragments of what he had at the time considered an
unimportant discussion, and which he had in part forgotten.
"It's a blind," he said at last; "Oldham is working for Baker."
"What makes you think that?"
"Something I heard once."
He rode on. The Basin was dropping away beneath them; the prospect to
the north was broadening as peak after peak raised itself into the line
of ascending vision. The pines, clinging to the steep, cast bars of
shadow across the trail, which zigzagged and dodged, taking advantage of
every ledge and each strip of firm earth. Occasionally they crossed a
singing brook, shaded with willows and cottonwoods, with fragrant bay
and alders, only to clamber out again to the sunny steeps.
Now Bob remembered and pieced together the whole. Baker had been
bragging that he intended to pay nothing to the Government for his water
power. Bob could almost remember the very words. "'They've swiped about
everything in sight for these pestiferous reserves,'" he murmured to
himself, "'but they encourage the honest prospector.... Oldham's got the
whole matter ... '" and so on, in the unfolding of the very scheme by
which these acres had been acquired. "Near headwaters," he had said; and
that statement, combined with the fact that nothing had occurred to stir
indistinct memories, had kept Bob in the dark. At the time "near
headwaters" had meant to him the tract of yellow pine near the head of
Sycamore Creek. So he had dismissed the matter. Now he saw clearly that
a liberal construction could very well name the Basin as the headwaters
of the drainage system from which Sycamore Creek drew, if not its
source, at least its main volume of water. He exclaimed aloud in disgust
at his stupidity; which, nevertheless, as all students of psychology
know, typified a very common though curious phenomenon in the mental
world. Suddenly he sat up straight in his saddle. Here, should Baker and
the Modoc Mining Company prove to be one and the same, was the evidence
of fraudulent intent! Would his word suffice? Painfully reconstructing
the half-forgotten picture, he finally placed the burly figure of
Welton. Welton was there too. His corroboration would make the testimony
Certainties now rushed to Bob's mind in flocks. If he had been stupid in
the matter, it was evident that Baker and Oldham had not. The fight in
Durham was now explained. All the demagogic arousing of the populace,
the heavy guns brought to bear in the newspaper world, the pressure
exerted through political levers, even the concerted attacks on the
Service from the floors of Congress traced, by no great stretch of
probabilities, to the efforts of the Power Company to stop investigation
before it should reach their stealings. That, as California John had
said, was the first defence. If all investigation could be called off,
naturally Baker was safe. Now that he realized the investigation must,
in the natural course of events, come to his holdings, what would be his
Of course, he knew that Bob possessed the only testimony that could
seriously damage him. Even Thorne's optimism had realized the
difficulties of pressing to a conviction against such powerful interests
without some evidence of a fraudulent intent. Could it be that the
presence of this Saleratus Bill in company with Oldham meant that Baker
was contemplating so sinister a removal of damaging testimony?
A moment's thought disabused him of this notion, however. Baker was not
the man to resort to violence of this sort; or at least he would not do
so before exhausting all other means. Bob had been, in a way, the
capitalist's friend. Surely, before turning a gun man loose, Baker would
have found out definitely whether, in the first place, Bob was inclined
to push the case; and secondly, whether he could not be persuaded to
refrain from introducing his personal testimony. The longer Bob looked
at the state of affairs, the more fantastic seemed the hypothesis that
the gun man had been brought into the country for such a purpose.
"Why do you suppose Oldham is up there with this Saleratus Bill?" he
asked Ware at length.
"Is Bill good for anything beside gun work?"
"Well," said Ware, judicially, "he sure drinks without an effort."
"I don't believe Oldham is interested in the liquor famine," laughed
Bob. "Anything else?"
"They _may_ be after deer," acknowledged Ware, reluctantly, "though I
hate to think that rattlesnake is out for anything legitimate. I will
say he's a good hunter; and an A1 trailer."
"Oh, he's a good trailer, is he?" said Bob. "Well, I rather suspected
you'd say that. Now I know why they're up there; they want to figure out
from the signs we've left just what we've been up to."
"That's easy done," remarked Ware.
This explanation fitted. Bob had been in the Basin before, but on the
business of estimating government timber. Baker knew this. Now that the
Forest officer had gone in for a second time, it might be possible that
he was doing the same thing; or it might be equally possible that he was
engaged in an investigation of Baker's own property. This the power man
had decided to find out. Therefore he had sent in, with his land man, an
individual expert at deducing from the half-obliterated marks of human
occupation the activities that had left them. That Oldham and his
sinister companion had encountered the Forest men was a sheer accident
due to miscalculation.
Having worked this out to his own satisfaction, Bob knew what next to
expect. Baker must interview him. Bob was sure the young man would take
his own time to the matter, for naturally it would not do to make the
fact of such a meeting too public. Accordingly he submitted his report
to Thorne, and went on about his further investigations, certain that
sooner or later he would again see the prime mover of all these dubious
He was not in the least surprised, therefore, to look up when riding one
day along the lonely and rugged trail that cuts across the lower canon
of the River, to see Baker seated on the top of a round boulder. The
incongruity, however, brought a smile to his lips. The sight of the
round, smooth face, the humorous eyes, and the stout, city-fed figure of
this very urban individual on a rock in a howling figure of this very
urban individual on a rock in a howling wilderness, with the eternal
mountains for a background, was inexpressibly comical.
"Hullo, merry sunshine!" called Baker, waving his hand as soon as he was
certain Bob had seen him. "Welcome to our thriving little hamlet."
"Hullo, Baker," said Bob; "what are you doing 'way off here?"
"Just drifting down the Grand Canal and listening to the gondoliers; and
incidentally, waiting for you. Climb off your horse and come up here and
get a tailor-made cigarette."
"I'm on my way over to Spruce Top," said Bob, "and I've got to keep
"Haste not, hump not, hustle not," said Baker, with the air of one
quoting a hand-illuminated motto. "It will only get you somewhere. Come,
gentle stranger, I would converse with thee; and I've come a long way to
"I live nearer home than this," grinned Bob.
"I wanted to see you in your office," grinned back Baker appreciatively,
"and this is strictly business."
Bob dismounted, threw the reins over his horse's head, and ascended to
the top of the boulder.
"Fire ahead," said he; "I keep union hours."
[Footnote A: Pronounced Hone-kal.]
"Union hours suit me," said Baker. "Why work while papa has his health?
What I want to know is, how high is the limit on this game anyway?"
"What do you mean?"
"This confounded so-called 'investigation' of yours? In other words, do
you intend to get after me?"
Baker's shrewd eyes looked at him gravely from out his smiling fat face.
"Modoc Mining Company's lands."
"Then you are the Modoc Mining Company?" asked Bob.
Baker eyed him again.
"Look here, my angel child," said he in a tone of good-humoured pity, "I
can make all that kind of talk in a witness box--if necessary. In any
case, I didn't come 'way out here to exchange that sort with you. You
know perfectly well I'm the Modoc Mining Company, and that I've got a
fine body of timber under the mineral act, and all the rest of it. You
know all this not only because you've got some sense, but because I told
you so before a competent witness. It stands to reason that I don't mind
telling you again where there are no witnesses. Now smoke up and join
the King's Daughters--let's have a heart-to-heart and find out how we
Bob laughed, and Baker, with entirely whole-hearted enjoyment, laughed
"You're next on the list," said Bob, "and, personally, I think----"
Baker held up his hand.
"Let's not exchange thinks," said he. "I've got a few thinks coming
myself, you know. Let's stick to facts. Then the Government is going to
open up on us?"
"On the grounds of fraudulent entry, I suppose."
"Well, they'll never win----"
"Let's not exchange thinks," Bob reminded him.
"Right! I can see that you're acting under orders, and the suit must be
brought. Now I tell you frankly, as one Modern Woods-pussy of the World
to another, that you're the only fellow that has any real testimony.
What I want to know is, are you going to use it?"
Bob looked at his companion steadily.
"I don't see why, even without witnesses, I should give away government
plans to you, Baker."
Baker sighed, and slid from the boulder.
"I'm practically certain how the cat jumps, and I've long since made my
plans accordingly. Whatever you say does not alter my course of action.
Only I hate to do a man an injustice without being sure. You needn't
answer. Your last remark means that you are. I have too much sense to do
the little Eva to you, Orde. You've got the gray stuff in your head,
even if it is a trifle wormy. Of course, it's no good telling you that
you're going back on a friend, that you'll be dragging Welton into the
game when he hasn't got a chip to enter with, that you're betraying
private confidence--well, I guess the rest is all 'thinks.'"
"I'm sorry, Baker," said Bob, "and I suppose I must appear to be a spy
in the matter. But it can't be helped."
Baker's good-humoured, fat face had fallen into grave lines. He studied
a distant spruce tree for a moment.
"Well," he roused himself at last, "I wish this particular attack of
measles had passed off before you bucked up against us. Because, you
know, that land's ours, and we don't expect to give it up on account of
this sort of fool agitation. We'll win this case. I'm sorry you're mixed
up in it."
"Saleratus Bill?" hinted Bob.
Baker's humorous expression returned.
"What do you take me for?" he grinned. "No, that's Oldham's bodyguard.
Thinks he needs a bodyguard these days. That's what comes from having a
bad conscience, I tell him. Some of those dagoes he's sold bum farms to
are more likely to show up with a desire to abate him, than that
anything would happen to him in these hills. Now let's get this
straight; the cases go on?"
"And you testify?"
"And call Welton in for corroboration?"
"I hardly think that's necessary."
"It will be, as you very well know. I just wanted to be sure how we
stood toward each other. So long."
He turned uncompromisingly away, and stumped off down the trail on his
fat and sturdy legs.
Bob looked after him amazed, at this sudden termination of the
interview. He had anticipated argument, sophistry, appeal to old
friendship, perhaps a more dark and doubtful approach. Though conscious
throughout of Baker's contempt for what the promoter would call his
childish impracticability, his disloyalty and his crankiness, Bob
realized that all of this had been carefully subdued. Baker's manner at
parting expressed more of regret than of anger or annoyance.
To this short and inconclusive interview, however, Baker did not fail to
add somewhat through Oldham. The agent used none of the circumspection
Baker had considered necessary, but rode openly into camp and asked for
Bob. The latter, remembering Oldham's reputed antagonism to Baker, could
not but admire the convenience of the arrangement. The lank and sinister
figure of Saleratus Bill was observed to accompany that of the land
agent, but the gun man, at a sign from his principal; did not dismount.
He greeted no one, but sat easily across his saddle, holding the reins
of both horses in his left hand, his jaws working slowly, his evil,
little eyes wandering with sardonic interest over the people and
belongings at headquarters. Ware nodded to him. The man's eyes half
closed and for an instant the motion of his jaw quickened. Otherwise he
made no sign.
Oldham drew Bob one side.
"I want to talk to you where we won't be interrupted," he requested.
"Talk on," said Bob, seating himself on a log. "The open is as good a
place as another; you can see your eavesdroppers there."
Oldham considered this a moment, then nodded his head, and took his
place by the young man's side.
"It's about those Modoc lands," said he.
"I suppose so," said Bob.
"Mr. Baker tells me you fully intend to prosecute a suit for their
"I believe the Government intends to do so. I am, of course, only the
agent of the Government in this or any other matter."
"In other words, you have received orders to proceed?"
"I would hardly be acting without them, would I?"
"Of course; I see. Mr. Baker is sometimes hasty. Assuming that you cared
to do so, is there no way you could avoid this necessity?"
"None that I can discover. I must obey orders as long as I'm a
"Exactly," said Oldham. "Now we reach the main issue. What if you were
not a government officer?"
"But I am."
"Assume that you were not."
"Naturally my successor would carry out the same orders."
"But," suggested Oldham, "it might very well be that another man would
not be--well, quite so qualified to carry out the case--"
"You mean I'm the only one who heard Baker say he was going to cheat the
Government," put in Bob bluntly.
"You and Mr. Welton and Mr. Baker were the only ones present at a
certain interview," he amended. "Now, in the event that you were not
personally in charge of the case would you feel it necessary to
volunteer testimony unsuspected by anybody but you three?"
"If I were to resign, I should volunteer nothing," stated Bob.
Oldham's frosty eyes gleamed with satisfaction behind their glasses.
"That's good!" he cried.
"But I have no intention of resigning," Bob concluded.
"That is a matter open to discussion," Oldham took him up. "There are a
great many reasons that you have not yet considered."
"I'm ready to hear them," said Bob.
"Look at the case as it stands. In the first place, you cannot but admit
that Mr. Baker and the men associated with him have done great things
for this country. When they came into it, it was an undeveloped
wilderness, supplying nothing of value to civilization, and supporting
only a scattered and pastoral people. The valley towns went about their
business on horse cars; they either paid practically a prohibitive price
for electricity and gas, or used oil and candles; they drank well water
and river water. The surrounding country was either a desert given over
to sage brush and jack rabbits, or raised crops only according to the
amount of rain that fell. You can have no conception, Mr. Orde, of the
condition of the country in some of these regions before irrigation. In
place of this the valley people now enjoy rapid transportation, not only
through the streets of their towns, but also by trolley lines far out in
all directions. They have cheap and abundant electric light and power.
They possess pure drinking water. Above all they raise their certain
crops irrespective of what rains the heavens may send."
Bob admitted that electricity and irrigation are good things.
"These advantages have drawn people. I am not going to bore you with a
lot of statistics, but the population of all White Oaks County, for
instance, is now above fifty thousand people, where before was a scant
ten. But how much agricultural wealth do you suppose these people
_export_ each year? Not how much they _produce_, but their net
"Give it up."
"Fifty million dollars worth! That's a marvellous per capita."
"It is indeed," said Bob.
"Now," said Oldham impressively, "that wealth would be absolutely
non-existent, that development could not have taken place, _did_ not
take place, until men of Mr. Baker's genius and courage came along to
take hold. I have personally the greatest admiration for Mr. Baker as a
type of citizen without whom our resources and possibilities would be in
the same backward condition as obtains in Canada."
"I'm with you there," said Bob.
"Mr. Baker has added a community to the state, cities to the
commonwealth, millions upon millions of dollars to the nation's wealth.
He took long chances, and he won out. Do not you think in return the
national resources should in a measure reward him for the advantages he
has conferred and the immense wealth he has developed? Mind you, Mr.
Baker has merely taken advantage of the strict letter of the law. It is
merely open to another interpretation. He needs this particular body of
timber for the furtherance of one of his greatest quasi-public
enterprises; and who has a better right in the distribution of the
public domain than the man who uses it to develop the country? The
public land has always been intended for the development of resources,
and has always been used as such."
Oldham talked fluently and well. He argued at length along the lines set
"You have to use lubricating oil to overcome friction on a machine," he
concluded. "You have to subsidize a railroad by land grants to enter a
new country. By the same immutable law you must offer extraordinary
inducements to extraordinary men. Otherwise they will not take the
"I've nothing to do with the letter of the law," Bob replied; "only with
its spirit and intention. The main idea of the mineral act is to give
legitimate miners the timber they need for legitimate mining. Baker does
not pretend, except officially, that he ever intends to do anything with
his claims. He certainly has done a great work for the country. I'll
agree to everything you say there. But he came into California worth
nothing, and he is now reputed to be worth ten millions and to control
vast properties. That would seem to be reward enough for almost anybody.
He does not need this Basin property for any of his power projects,
except that its possession would let him off from paying a very
reasonable tax on the waterpower he has been accustomed to getting free.
Cutting that timber will not develop the country any further. I don't
see the value of your argument in the present case."
"Mr. Baker has invested in this project a great many millions of
dollars," said Oldham. "He must be adequately safeguarded. To further
develop and even to maintain the efficiency of what he has, he must
operate to a large extent on borrowed capital. Borrowing depends on
credit; and credit depends on confidence. If conditions are proved to be
unstable, capital will prove more than cautious in risking itself. That
is elementary. Surely you can see that point."
"I can see that, all right," admitted Bob.
"Well," went on Oldham, taking heart, "think of the responsibility you
are assuming in pushing forward a mere technicality, and a debatable
technicality at that. You are not only jeopardizing a great and
established business--I will say little of that--but you are risking the
prosperity of a whole countryside. If Mr. Baker's enterprises should
quit this section, the civilization of the state would receive a serious
setback. Thousands of men would be thrown out of employment, not only on
the company's works, but all along the lines of its holdings; electric
light and power would increase in price--a heavy burden to the consumer;
the country trolley lines must quit business, for only with
water-generated power can they compete with railroads at all; fertile
lands would revert to desert--"
"I am not denying the value of Mr. Baker's enterprises," broke in Bob;
"but what has a billion and a half of timber to do with all this?"
"Mr. Baker has long been searching for an available supply for use in
the enterprises," said Oldham, eagerly availing himself of this opening.
"You probably have a small idea of the immense lumber purchases
necessary for the construction of the power plants, trolley lines, and
roads projected by Mr. Baker. Heretofore the company has been forced to
buy its timber in the open market."
"This would be cheaper," suggested Bob.
"That would increase net profits, of course. I suppose that would
result in increased dividends. Or, perhaps, the public would reap the
benefit in decreased cost of service."
"Undoubtedly both. Certainly electricity and transportation would
"The same open markets can still supply the necessary timber?"
"At practically prohibitive cost," Oldham reminded.
"Which the company has heretofore afforded--and still paid its
dividends," said Bob calmly. "Well, Mr. Oldham, even were I inclined to
take all you say at its face value; even were I willing to admit that
unless Mr. Baker were given this timber his business would fail, the
country would be deprived of the benefits of his enterprise, and the
public seriously incommoded, I would still be unable to follow the logic
of your reasoning. Mind you, I do not admit anything of the kind. I do
not anticipate any more dire results than that the dividends will remain
at their present per cent. But even supposing your argument to be well
founded, this timber belongs to the people of the United States. It is
part of John Jones's heritage, whether John Jones lives in White Oaks or
New York. Why should I permit Jones of New York to be robbed in favour
of Jones of White Oaks--especially since Jones of New York put me here
to look after his interests for him? That's the real issue; and it's
"You look at the matter from a wrong point of view----" began Oldham,
and stopped. The land agent was shrewd, and knew when he had come to an
"I always respect a man who does his duty," he began again, "and I can
see how you're tied up in this matter. But a resignation could be
arranged for very easily. Mr. Baker knows thoroughly both your ability
and experience, and has long regretted that he has not been able to
avail himself of them. Of course, as you realize, the great future of
all this country is not along the lines even of such great industries as
lumber manufacture, but in agriculture and in waterpower engineering.
Here, more than anywhere else in the world, Water is King!"
A recollection tickled Bob. He laughed outright. Oldham glanced at him
"Oh, the Lucky Lands," said he at last; "I'd forgotten you had ever been
there. Well, the saying is as true now as it was then. The great future
for any young man is along those lines. I am sure--in fact, I am told to
say with authority--that Mr. Baker would be only too pleased to have you
come in with him on this new enterprise he is opening up."
"As stockholder to the extent of ten thousand shares preferred, and a
salaried position in the field, of course. But, that is a small matter
compared with the future opportunities--"
"It's cheering to know that I'm worth so much," interrupted Bob. "Shares
now worth par?"
"A fraction over."
"One hundred thousand and some odd dollars," observed Bob. "It's a nice
tidy bribe; and if I were any sort of a bribe taker at all, I'd surely
feel proud and grateful. Only I'm not. So you might just as well have
made it a million, and then I'd have felt still more set up over it."
"I hope you don't think I'm a bribe giver, either," said Oldham. "I
admit my offer was not well-timed; but it has been long under
contemplation, and I mentioned it as it occurred to me."
Having thus glided over this false start, the land agent promptly opened
"Perhaps we are at fatal variance on our economics," said he; "but how
about the justice of the thing? When you get right down to cases, how
about the rest of them? I'll venture to say there are not two private
timber holdings of any size in this country that have been acquired
strictly within the letter of the law. Do you favour general
"I believe in the law," declared Bob, "and I do not believe your
"I tell you this, young man," he said coldly: "you can prosecute the
Modoc Company or not, as you please--or, perhaps, I should say, you can
introduce your private testimony or not, as you please. We are
reasonable; and we know you cannot control government prosecutions. But
the Modoc Company intends that you play no favourites."
"I do not understand you," said Bob with equal coldness.
"If the Modoc Company is prosecuted, we will make it our business to see
that every great land owner holding title in this Forest is brought into
the courts for the same offence. If the letter of the law is to be
enforced against us, we'll see that it is enforced against all others."
Bob bowed. "Suits me," said he.
"Does it?" sneered Oldham. He produced a bundle of papers bound by a
thick elastic. "Well, I've saved you some trouble in your next case.
Here are certified copies of the documents for it, copied at Sacramento,
and subscribed to before a notary. Of course, you can verify them; but
you'll find them accurate."
He handed them to Bob, who took them, completely puzzled. Oldham's next
speech enlightened him.
"You'll find there," said the older man, tapping the papers in Bob's
hand, "the documents in full relating to the Wolverine Company's land
holdings, and how they were acquired. After looking them over, we shall
expect you to bring suit. If you do not do so, we will take steps to
force you to do so--or, failing this, to resign!"
With these words, Oldham turned square on his heel and marched to where
Saleratus Bill was stationed with the horses. Bob stared after him, the
bundle of papers in his hand. When Oldham had mounted, Bob looked down
on these papers.
"The second line of defence!" said he.
Bob's first interest was naturally to examine these documents. He found
them, as Oldham had said, copies whose accuracy was attested by the
copyist before a notary. They divided themselves into two classes. The
first traced the titles by which many small holdings had come into the
hands of the corporation known as the Wolverine Company. The second
seemed to be some sort of finding by an investigating commission. This
latter was in the way of explanation of the title records, so that by
referring from one to the other, Bob was able to trace out the process
by which the land had been acquired. This had been by "colonizing," as
it was called. According to Federal law, one man could take up but one
hundred and sixty acres of government land. It had, therefore, been the
practice to furnish citizens with the necessary capital so to do; after
which these citizens transferred their land to the parent company. This
was, of course, a direct evasion of the law; as direct an evasion as
Baker's use of the mineral lands act.
For a time Bob was unable to collect his reasoning powers adequately to
confront this new fact. His thoughts were in a whirl. The only thing
that stood out clearly was the difference in the two cases. He knew
perfectly that after Baker's effort to lift bodily from the public
domain a large block of its wealth every decent citizen should cry,
"Stop thief!" Instinctively he felt, though as yet he could not analyze
the reasons for so feeling, that to deprive the Wolverine Company of its
holdings would work a crying injustice. Yet, to all intents and
purposes, apparently, the cases were on all fours. Both Welton and
Baker had taken advantage of a technicality.
When Bob began to think more clearly, he at first laid this difference
to a personal liking, and was inclined to blame himself for letting his
affections cloud his sense of justice. Baker was companionable, jolly,
but at the same time was shrewd, cold, calculating and unscrupulous in
business. He could be as hard as nails. Welton, on the other hand, while
possessing all of Baker's admirable and robust qualities, had with them
an endearing and honest bigness of purpose, limited only--though
decidedly--by his point of view and the bounds of his practical
education. Baker would steal land without compunction; Welton would take
land illegally without thought of the illegality, only because everybody
else did it the same way.
But should the mere fact of personality make any difference in the
enforcing of laws? That one man was amiable and the other not so amiable
had nothing to do with eternal justice. If Bob were to fulfil his duty
only against those he disliked, and in favour of his friends, he had
indeed slipped back to the old days of henchman politics from which the
nation was slowly struggling. He reared his head at this thought. Surely
he was man enough to sink private affairs in the face of a stern public
This determined, Bob thought the question settled. After a few minutes,
it returned as full of interrogation points as ever. Leaving Baker and
Welton entirely out of the question, the two cases still drew apart. One
was just, the other unjust. Why? On the answer depended the peace of
Bob's conscience. Of course he would resign rather than be forced to
prosecute Welton. That was understood, and Bob resolutely postponed
contemplation of the necessity. He loved this life, this cause. It
opened out into wider and more beautiful vistas the further he
penetrated into it. He conceived it the only life for which he was
particularly fitted by temperament and inclination. To give it up would
be to cut himself off from all that he cared for most in active life;
and would be to cast him into the drudgery of new and uncongenial lines.
That sacrifice must be made. It's contemplation and complete realization
could wait. But a deeper necessity held Bob, the necessity of resolving
the question of equities which the accident of his personal knowledge of
Welton and Baker had evoked. He had to prove his instincts right or
He was not quite ready to submit the matter officially, but he wished
very much to talk it over with some one. Glancing up he caught sight of
the glitter of silver and the satin sheen of a horse. Star was coming
down through the trees, resplendent in his silver and carved leather
trappings, glossy as a bird, stepping proudly and daintily under the
curbing of his heavy Spanish bit. In the saddle lounged the tall, homely
figure of old California John, clad in faded blue overalls, the brim of
his disreputable, ancient hat flopped down over his lean brown face, and
his kindly blue eyes. Bob signalled him.
"John!" he called, "come here! I want to talk with you!"
The stately, beautiful horse turned without any apparent guiding motion
from his master, stepped the intervening space and stopped. California
John swung from the saddle. Star, his head high, his nostril wide, his
eye fixed vaguely on some distant vision, stood like an image.
"I want a good talk with you," repeated Bob.
They sat on the same log whereon Oldham and Bob had conferred.
"John," said Bob, "Oldham has been here, and I don't know what to do."
California John listened without a single word of comment while Bob
detailed all the ins and outs of the situation. When he had finished,
the old man slowly drew forth his pipe, filled it, and lit it.
"Son," said he, "I'm an old man, and I've lived in this state since the
early gold days. That means I've seen a lot of things. In all that time
the two most valuable idees I've dug up are these: in the first place,
it don't never do to go off half-cock; and in the second place, if you
want to know about a thing, go to headquarters for it."
He removed his pipe and blew a cloud.
"Half of that's for me and the other half's for you," he resumed. "I
ain't going to give you my notions until I've thought them over a
little; that's for me. As for you, if I was you, I'd just amble over and
talk the whole matter over with Mr. Welton and see what he thinks about
his end of it."
This advice seemed so good that Bob acted upon it at his earliest
opportunity. He found Welton riding his old brindle mule in from the
bull donkey where he had been inspecting the work. The lumberman's red,
jolly face lit up with a smile of real affection as he recognized Bob,
an expression quickly changed, however, as he caught sight of the young
"What's up, Bobby?" he inquired with concern; "anything happened?"
"Nothing yet; but I want to talk with you."
Welton immediately dismounted, with the laborious clumsiness of the man
brought up to other means of locomotion, tied Jane to a tree, and threw
himself down at the foot of a tall pine.
"Let's have it," said he.
"There have come into my hands some documents," said Bob, "that
embarrass me a great deal. Here they are."
He handed them to Welton. The lumberman ran them through in silence.
"Well," he commented cheerfully, "they seem to be all right. What's the
"The matter is with the title to the land," said Bob.
Welton looked the list of records over more carefully.
"I'm no lawyer," he confessed at last; "but it don't need a lawyer to
see that this is all regular enough."
"Have you read the findings of the commission?"
"That stuff? Sure! That don't amount to anything. It's merely an
expression of opinion; and mighty poor opinion at that."
"Don't you see what I'm up against?" insisted Bob. "It will be in my
line of duty to open suit against the Wolverine Company for recovery of
"Suit!" echoed Welton. "You talk foolish, Bob. This company has owned
these lands for nearly thirty years, and paid taxes on them. The records
are all straight, and the titles clear."
"It begins to look as if the lands were taken up contrary to law,"
insisted Bob; "and, if so, I'll be called upon to prosecute." "Contrary
to your grandmother," said Welton contemptuously. "Some of your young
squirts of lawyers have been reading their little books. If these lands
were taken up contrary to law, why so were every other timber lands in
"That may be true, also," said Bob. "I don't know."
"Well, will you tell me what's wrong with them?" asked Welton.
"It appears as though the lands were 'colonized,'" said Bob; "or, at
least, such of them as were not bought from the bank."
"I guess you boys have a new brand of slang," confessed Welton.
"Why, I mean the tract was taken direct from many small holders in
hundred-and-sixty-acre lots," explained Bob.
Welton stared at him.
"Well, will you tell me how in blazes you were going to get together a
piece of timber big enough to handle in any other way?" he demanded at
last. "All one firm could take up by itself was a quarter section, and
you're not crazy enough to think any concern could afford to build a
plant for the sake of cutting that amount! That's preposterous! A man
certainly has a right under the law to sell what is his to whom-ever he
"But the 'colonists,'" said Bob, "took up this land merely for the
purpose of turning it over to the company. The intention of the law is
that the timber is for the benefit of the original claimant."
"Well, it's for his benefit, if he gets paid for it, ain't it?" demanded
Welton ingenuously. "You can't expect him to cut it himself."
"That is the intent of the law," insisted Bob, "and that's what I'll be
called upon to do. What shall I do about it?"
"Quit the game!" said Welton, promptly and eagerly. "You can see
yourself how foolish it is. That crew of young squirts just out of
school would upset the whole property values of the state. Besides, as
I've just shown you, it's foolish. Come on back in a sensible business.
We'd get on fine!"
Bob shook his head.
"Then go ahead; bring your case," said Welton. "I don't mind."
"I do," said Bob. "It looks like a strong case to me."
"Don't bring it. You don't need to report in your evidence as you call
it. Just forget it."
"Even if I were inclined to do so," said Bob, "I wouldn't be allowed.
Baker would force the matter to publicity."
"Baker," repeated Welton; "what has he got to do with it?"
"It's in regard to the lands in the Basin. He took them up under the
mineral act, and plainly against all law and decency. It's the plainest
case of fraud I know about, and is a direct steal right from under our
"I think myself he's skinning things a trifle fine," admitted Welton;
"but I can't see but what he's complied with the law all right. He don't
have any right to that timber, I'll agree with you there; but it looks
to me like the law had a hole in it."
"If he took that land up for other purposes than an honest intention to
mine on it, the title might be set aside," said Bob.
"You'd have a picnic proving anything of the sort one way or another
about what a man intends to do," Welton pointed out.
"Do you remember one evening when Baker was up at camp and was kicking
on paying water tolls? It was about the time Thorne first came in as
Supervisor, and just before I entered the Service."
"Seems to me I recall something of the sort."
"Well, you think it over. Baker told us then that he had a way of
beating the tolls, and mentioned this very scheme of taking advantage of
the mineral laws. At the time he had a notion of letting us in on the
"Sure! I remember!" cried Welton.
"Well, if you and I were to testify as to that conversation, we'd
establish his intent plainly enough."
"Sure as you're a foot high!" said Welton slowly.
"Baker knows this; and he's threatened, if I testify against him, to
bring the Wolverine Company into the fight. _Now_ what should I do about
Welton turned on him a troubled eye.
"Bob," said he, "there's more to this than you think. I didn't have
anything to do with this land until just before we came out here. One of
the company got control of it thirty year ago. All that flapdoodle," he
struck the papers, "didn't mean nothing to me when I thought it came
from your amatoore detectives. But if Baker has this case looked up
there's something to it. Go slow, son."
He studied a moment.
"Have you told your officers of your own evidence against Baker?"
"Or about these?" he held up the papers.
"Well, that's all right. Don't."
"It's my duty----"
"Resign!" cried Welton energetically; "then it won't be your duty.
Nobody knows about what you know. If you're not called on, you've
nothing to say. You don't have to tell all you know."
A vision swept before Bob's eyes of a noble forest supposedly safe for
all time devoted by his silence to a private greed.
"But concealing evidence is as much of a perjury as falsifying it--" he
began. A second vision flashed by of a ragged, unshorn fugitive, now in
jail, whom his testimony could condemn. He fell silent.
"Let sleeping dogs lie," said Welton, earnestly. "You don't know the
harm you may do. Your father's reelection comes this fall, you know, and
even if it's untrue, a suit of this character--" He in his turn broke
"I don't see how this could hurt father's chances--either way," said
"Well, you know how I think about it," said Welton curtly, rising. "You
He stumped over to Jane, untied the rope with his thick fingers,
clambered aboard. From the mule's back he looked down on Bob, his
kindly, homely face again alight with affection.
"If you never have anything worse on your conscience than keeping your
face shut to protect a friend from injustice, Bobby," he said, "I reckon
you won't lose much sleep."
With these words he rode away. Bob, returning to camp, unsaddled, and,
very weary, sought his cabin. His cabin mate was stolidly awaiting him,
seated on the single door step.
"My friend that was going to leave me some money in my bunk was coming
to-day," said Jack Pollock. "It ain't in your bunk by mistake?"
"Jack," said Bob, weariedly throwing all the usual pretence aside, "I'm
ashamed to say I clean forgot it; I had such a job on hand. I'll ride
over and get it now."
"Don't understand you," said Jack, without moving a muscle of his face.
Bob smiled at the serious young mountaineer, playing loyally his part
even to his fellow-conspirator.
"Jack," said he, "I guess your friend must have been delayed. Maybe
he'll get here later."
"Quite like," nodded Jack gravely.
Bob made the earliest chance to obtain California John's promised
advice. The old man was unlettered, but his understanding was informed
by a broad and gentle spirit and long experience of varied things. On
this the head ranger himself touched.
"Bob," he began, "I'm an old man, and I've lived through a lot. When I
come into this state the elk and deer and antelope was running out on
the plains like sheep. I mined and prospected up and down these
mountains when nobody knew their names. There's hardly a gold camp you
can call over that I ain't been in on; nor a set of men that had
anything to do with making the state that I ain't tracked up with. Most
of the valley towns wasn't in existence those days, and the rest was
little cattle towns that didn't amount to anything. The railroad took a
week to come from Chicago. There wasn't any railroad up the coast. They
hadn't begun to irrigate much. Where the Redlands and Riverside orange
groves are there was nothing but dry washes and sage-brush desert. It
cost big money to send freight. All that was shipped out of the country
in a season wouldn't make up one shipment these days. I suppose to folks
back East this country looked about as far off as Africa. Even to folks
living in California the country as far back as these mountains looked
like going to China. They got all their lumber from the Coast ranges and
the lower hills. This back here was just wilderness, so far off that
nobody rightly thought of it as United States at all.
"Of course, by and by the country settled up a little more but even then
nobody ever thought of timber. You see, there was no market to amount
to anything out here; and a few little jerk-water mills could supply the
whole layout easy. East, the lumber in Michigan and Wisconsin and
Minnesota never was going to give out. In those days you could hardly
_give_ away land up in this country. The fellow that went in for timber
was looked on as a lunatic. It took a big man with lots of sand to see
it at all."
Bob nodded, his eye kindling with the beginnings of understanding.
"There was a few of them. They saw far enough ahead, and they come in
here and took up some timber. Other folks laughed at them; but I guess
they're doing most of the laughing now. It took nerve, and it took
sense, and it took time, and it took patience." California John
emphasized each point with a pat of his brown, gnarled hand.
"Now those fellows started things for this country. If they hadn't had
the sheer nerve to take up that timber, nobody would have dared do
anything else--not for years anyhow. But just the fact that the
Wolverine Company bought big, and other big men come in--why it give
confidence to the people. The country boomed right ahead. If nobody had
seen the future of the country, she'd have been twenty year behind. Out
West that means a hell of a lot of value, let me tell you!"
"The timber would have belonged to the Government," Bob reminded him.
"I'm a Forest officer," said California John, "and what's more, I was a
Forest officer for a good many years when there was nothin' to it but
kicks. There can't nobody beat me in wishing a lot of good forest land
was under the Service instead of being due to be cut up by lumbermen.
But I've lived too long not to see the point. You can't get benefits
without paying for 'em. The United States of America was big gainers
because these old fellows had the nerve just to come in and buy. It
ain't so much the lumber they saw and put out where it's needed--though
that's a good deal; and it ain't so much the men they bring into the
country and give work to--though that's a lot, too. _It's the confidence
they inspire_, it's the lead they give. That's what counts. All the rest
of these little operators, and workmen, and storekeepers, and
manufacturers wouldn't have found their way out here in twenty years if
the big fellows hadn't led the way. If you should go over and buy ten
thousand acres of land by Table Mountain to-morrow, next year there'd be
a dozen to follow you in and do whatever you'd be doing. And while it's
the big fellow that gives the lead, _it's the little fellow that makes
the wealth of the country!_"
Bob stared at the old man in fascinated surprise. This was a new
California John, this closely reasoning man, with, clear, earnest eyes,
laying down the simple doctrine taught by a long life among men.
"The Government gives alternate sections of land to railroads to bring
them in the country," went on California John. "In my notion all this
timber land in private hands is where it belongs. It's the price the
Government paid for wealth."
"And the Basin----" cried Bob.
"What the hell more confidence does this country need now?" demanded
California John fiercely; "what with its mills and its trolleys, its
vineyards and all its big projects. What right has this man Baker to get
pay for what he ain't done?"
The distinction Bob had sensed, but had not been able to analyze, leaped
at him. The equities hung in equal balance. On one side he saw the
pioneer, pressing forward into an unknown wilderness, breaking a way for
those that could follow, holding aloft a torch to illumine dark places,
taking long and desperate chances, or seeing with almost clairvoyant
power beyond the immediate vision of men; waiting in faith for the
fulfillment of their prophecies. On the other he saw the plunderer,
grasping for a wealth that did not belong to him, through values he had
not made. This fundamental difference could never again, in Bob's mind,
Nevertheless though a difference in deeper ethics, it did not extend to
the surface of things by which men live. It explained; but did it
excuse, especially in the eye of abstract ethics? Had not these men
broken the law, and is not the upholding of the law important in its
moral effect on those that follow?
"Just the same," he voiced this thought to California John, "the laws
read then as they do to-day."
"On the books, yes," replied the old man, slowly; "but not in men's
ideas. You got to remember that those fellows held pretty straight by
what the law _says_. They got other men to take up the timber, and then
had it transferred to themselves. That's according to law. A man can do
what he wants with his own. You know."
"But the intention of the law is to give every man a----"
"That's what we go by now," interrupted California John.
"What other way is there to go by?"
"None--now. But in those days that was the settled way to get timber
land. They didn't make any secret of it. They just looked at it as the
process to go through with, like filing a deed, or getting two
witnesses. It was a nuisance, and looked foolish, but if that was the
way to do it, why they'd do it that way. Everybody knew that. Why, if a
man wanted to get enough timber to go to operating on, his lawyer would
explain to him how to do it; any of his friends that was posted would
show him the ropes; and if he'd take the trouble to go to the Land
Office itself, the clerk would say: 'No, Mr. Man, I can't transfer to
you, personally, more'n a hundred and sixty acres, but you can get some
of your friends to take it up for you.'[Footnote: A fact.] Now will you
tell me how Mr. Man could get it any straighter than that?"
Bob was seeing a great light. He nodded.
"They've changed the rules of the game!" said California John
impressively, "and now they want to go back thirty year and hold these
fellows to account for what they did under the old rules. It don't look
to me like it's fair."
He thought a moment.
"I suppose," he remarked reflectively, going off on one of his strange
tangents, and lapsing once more into his customary picturesque speech,
"that these old boys that burned those Salem witches was pretty well
thought of in Salem--deacons in the church, and all such; p'ticular
elect, and held up to the kids for high moral examples? had the plumb
universal approval in those torchlight efforts of theirn?"
"So I believe," said Bob.
"Well," drawled California John, stretching his lank frame, "suppose one
of those old bucks had lived to now--of course, he couldn't, but suppose
he did--and was enjoying himself and being a good citizen. And suppose
some day the sheriff touched him on the shoulder and says: 'Old boy,
we're rounding up all the murderers. I've just got Saleratus Bill for
scragging Franklin. You come along, too. Don't you know that burnin'
witches is murder?'" California John spat with vigour. "Oh, hell!" said
"Now, Baker," he went on, after a moment, "is Saleratus Bill because he
knows he's agin what the people knows is the law; and the other fellows
is old Salem because they lived like they were told to. Even old Salem
would know that he couldn't burn no witches nowadays. These old timers
ain't the ones trying to steal land now, you notice. They're too damn
honest. You don't need to tell me that you believe for one minute when
he took up this Wolverine land, that your father did anything that he,
_or anybody else_, courts included, thought was off-colour."
"My father!" cried Bob.
"Why, yes," said California John, looking at him curiously; "you don't
mean to say you didn't know he is the Wolverine Company!"
"Well," said California John, after a pause, "after you've made your
jump there ain't much use in trying to turn back. If you didn't know it,
why it was evident you wasn't intended to know it. But I was in the
country when your father bought the land, so I happened to know about
Bob stared at the old man so long that the latter felt called upon to
"I wouldn't take it so hard, if I was you, son," said he. "I really
don't think all these bluffs of Baker's amount to much. The findings of
that commission ain't never been acted on, which would seem to show that
it didn't come to nothing at the time; and I don't have the slightest
notion in the world but what the whole thing will blow up in smoke."
"As far as that is concerned, I haven't either," said Bob; "though you
never can tell, and defending such a suit is always an expensive matter.
But here's the trouble; my father is Congressman from Michigan, he's
been in several pretty heavy fights this last year, and has some
powerful enemies; he is up for reelection this fall."
"Suffering cats!" whistled California John.
"A lot could be made of a suit of that nature," said Bob, "whether it
had any basis, or not."
"I've run for County Supervisor in my time," said California John
"Well, what is your advice?" asked Bob.
"Son, I ain't got none," replied the old man.
That very evening a messenger rode over from the mill bringing a summons
from Welton. Bob saddled up at once. He found the lumberman, not in the
comfortable sitting room at his private sleeping camp, but watching the
lamp alone in the office. As Bob entered, his former associate turned a
troubled face toward the young man.
"Bob," said he at once, "they've got the old man cinched, unless you'll
"You remember when we first came in here how Plant closed the road and
the flume right-of-way on us because we didn't have the permit?"
"Now, Bob, you remember how we was up against it, don't you? If we
hadn't gone through that year we'd have busted the business absolutely.
It was just a case of hold-up and we had to pay it. You remember?"
"Well!" burst out Welton, bringing his fist down, "now this hound,
Baker, sends up his slick lawyer to tell me that was bribery, and that
he can have me up on a criminal charge!"
"He's bluffing," said Bob quietly. "I remember all about that case. If
I'd known as much then of inside workings as I do now, I'd have taken a
hand. But Baker himself ran the whole show. If he brings that matter
into court, he'll be subject to the same charge; for, if you remember,
he paid the money."
"Will he!" shouted Welton. "You don't know the lowlived skunk! Erbe told
me that if this suit was brought and you testified in the matter, that
Baker would turn state's evidence against me! That would let him off
"What!" said Bob incredulously. "Brand himself publicly as a criminal
and tell-tale just to get you into trouble! Not likely. Think what that
would mean to a man in his position! It would be every bit as bad as
though he were to take his jail sentence. He's bluffing again."
"Do you really think so?" asked Welton, a gleam of relief lightening
the gloom of his red, good-natured face. "I'll agree to handle the worst
river crew you can hand out to me; but this law business gets me running
"It does all of us," said Bob with a sigh.
"I concluded from Erbe's coming up here that you had decided to tell
about what you knew. That ain't so, is it?"
"I don't know; I can't see my duty clearly yet."
"For heaven's sake, Bobby, what's it to you!" demanded Welton
But Bob did not hear him.
"I think the direct way is the best," he remarked, by way of thinking
aloud. "I'm going to keep on going to headquarters. I'm going to write
father and put it straight to him how he did get those lands and tell
him the whole situation; and I'm going down to interview Baker, and
discover, if I can, just how much of a bluff he is putting up."
"In the meantime----" said Welton apparently not noting the fact that
Bob had become aware of the senior Orde's connection with the land.
"In the meantime I'm going to postpone action if I can."
"They're summoning witnesses for the Basin trial."
"I'll do the best I can," concluded Bob.
Accordingly he wrote the next day to his father. In this letter he
stated frankly the situation as far as it affected the Wolverine lands,
but said nothing about the threatened criminal charges against Welton.
That was another matter. He set out the great value of the Basin lands
and the methods by which they had been acquired. He pointed out his
duty, both as a forest officer and as a citizen, but balanced this by
the private considerations that had developed from the situation.
This dispatched, he applied for leave.
"This is the busy season, and we can spare no one," said Thorne. "You
have important matters on hand."
"This is especially important," urged Bob.
"It is absolutely impossible. Come two months later, and I'll be glad
to lay you off as long as I can."
"This particular affair is most urgent business."
"Private, of course?"
"Couldn't be considered official?"
"It might become so."
"What is it?"
"That I am not at liberty to tell you."
"No; I'm sorry, but I don't see how I can spare you."
"In that case," said Bob quietly, "you will force me to tender my
Thorne looked up at him quickly, and studied his face.
"From anybody else, Orde," said he, "I'd take that as a threat or a
hold-up, and fire the man on the spot. From you I do not. The matter
must be really serious. You may go. Get back as soon as you can."
"Thank you," said Bob. "It is serious. Three days will do me."
He set about his preparations at once, packing a suit case with linen
long out of commission, smoothing out the tailored clothes he had not
had occasion to use for many a day. He then transported this--and
himself--down the mountain on his saddle horse. At Auntie Belle's he
changed his clothes. The next morning he caught the stage, and by the
day following walked up the main street of Fremont.
He had no trouble in finding Baker's office. The Sycamore Creek
operations were one group of many. As one of Baker's companies furnished
Fremont with light and power, it followed that at night the name of that
company blazed forth in thousands of lights. The sign was not the less
legible, though not so fiery, by day. Bob walked into extensive
ground-floor offices behind plate-glass windows. Here were wickets and
railings through which and over which the public business was
transacted. A narrow passageway sidled down between the wall and a row
of ground-glass doors, on which were lettered the names of various
officers of the company. At a swinging bar separating this passage from
the main office sat a uniformed boy directing and stamping envelopes.
Bob wrote his name on a blank form offered by this youth. The young man
gazed at it a moment superciliously, then sauntered with an air of great
leisure down the long corridor. He reappeared after a moment's absence
behind the last door, to return with considerably more alacrity.
"Come right in, sir," he told Bob, in tones which mingled much deference
with considerable surprise.
Bob had no reason to understand how unusual was the circumstance of so
prompt a reception of a visitor for whom no previous appointment had
been made. He entered the door held open for him by the boy, and so
found himself in Baker's presence.
The office was expensively but plainly furnished in hardwoods. A thick
rug covered the floor, easy chairs drew up by a fireplace, several good
pictures hung off the wall. Near the windows stood a small desk for a
stenographer, and a wide mahogany table. Behind this latter, his back to
the light, sat Baker.
The man's sturdy figure was absolutely immobile, and the customary
facetiously quizzical lines of his face had given place to an expression
of cold attention. When he spoke, Bob found that the picturesque diction
too had vanished.
At Bob's entrance, Baker inclined his head coldly in greeting, but said
nothing. Bob deliberately crossed the room and rested his two fists,
knuckle down, on the polished desktop. Baker waited stolidly for him to
proceed. Bob jerked his head toward the stenographer.
"I want to talk to you in private," said he.
The stenographer glanced toward her employer. The latter nodded,
whereupon she gathered a few stray leaves of paper and departed. Bob
looked after her until the door had closed behind her. Then, quite
deliberately, he made a tour of the office, trying doors, peering behind
curtains and portieres. He ended at the desk, to find Baker's eye fixed
on him with sardonic humour. "Melodramatic, useless--and ridiculous," he
"If I have any evidence to give, it will be in court, not in a private
office," replied Bob composedly.
"What do you want?" demanded Baker.
"I have come this far solely and simply to get a piece of information at
first hand. I was told you had threatened to become a blackmailer, and
I wanted to find out if it is true?"
"In a world of contrary definitions, it is necessary to come down to
facts. What do you mean by blackmailer?"
"It has been told me that you intend to aid criminal proceedings against
Mr. Welton in regard to the right-of-way trouble and the 'sugaring' of
"And that in order to evade your own criminal responsibility in the
matter you intended to turn state's evidence."
"Well?" repeated Baker.
"It seemed inconceivable to me that a man of your social and business
standing would not only confess himself a petty criminal, but one who
shelters himself by betrayal of his confederate."
"I do not relish any such process," stated Baker formally, "and would
avoid it if possible. Nevertheless, if the situation comes squarely up
to me, I shall meet it."
"I suppose you have thought what decent men----"
Baker held up one hand. This was the first physical movement he had
"Pardon me," he interrupted. "Let us understand, once and for all, that
I intend to defend myself when attacked. Personally I do not think that
either Mr. Welton or myself are legally answerable for what we have
done. I regret to observe that you, among others, think differently. If
the whole matter were to be dropped at this point, I should rest quite
content. But if the matter is not dropped"--at last he let his uplifted
hand fall, "if the matter is not dropped," he repeated, "my sense of
justice is strong enough to feel that every one should stand on the same
footing. If I am to be dragged into court, so must others."
Bob stood thoughtful for a moment.
"I guess that's all," said he, and walked out.
As the door closed behind him, Baker reached forward to touch one of
several buttons. To the uniformed messenger who appeared he snapped out
the one word, "Oldham!" A moment later the land agent stood before the
wide mahogany desk.
"Orde has just been here," stated Baker crisply. "He wanted to know if I
intended to jail Welton on that old bribery charge. I told him I did."
"How did he take it?"
"As near as I can tell he is getting obstinate. You claimed very
confidently you could head off his testimony. Up to date you haven't
accomplished much. Make good."
"I'll head him off," stated Oldham grimly, "or put him where he belongs.
I've saved a little persuasion until all the rest had failed."
"That I'll tell you in time, but not now. But I don't mind telling you
that I've no reason to love this Orde--or any other Orde--and I intend
to get even with him on my own account. It's a personal and private
matter, but I have a club that will keep him."
"Why the secrecy?"
"It's an affair of my own," insisted Oldham, "but I have it on him. If
he attempts to testify as to the Basin lands, I'll have him in the
penitentiary in ten days."
"And if he agrees?"
"Then," said Oldham quietly, "I'll have him in the pen a little
later--after the Basin matter is settled once and for all."
Baker considered this a little.
"My judgment might be worth something as to handling this," he
"The matter is mine," said Oldham firmly, "and I must choose my own time
"Very well," Baker acquiesced; "but I'd advise you to tackle Orde at
once. Time is short. Try out your club to see if it will work."
"It will work!" stated Oldham confidently.
"Of course," remarked Baker, relaxing abruptly his attitude, physical
and mental, and lighting a cigar, "of course, it is all very well to
yank the temples down around the merry Philistines, but it doesn't do
your Uncle Samson much good. We can raise hell with Welton and Orde and
a half-dozen others, and we will, if they push us too hard--but that
don't keep us the Basin if this crazy reformer testifies and pulls in
Welton to corroborate him. I'd rather keep the Basin. If we could stop
"I'll stop him," said Oldham.
"I hope," said Baker impressively, "that you have more than one string
to your bow. I am not inquiring into your methods, you understand"--his
pause was so significantly long at this point, that Oldham nodded--"_but
your sole job is to keep Orde out of court_."
Baker looked his agent squarely in the eye for fifteen seconds. Then
abruptly he dropped his gaze.
"That's all," said he, and reached for some papers.
Oldham obeyed his principal's orders by joining Bob on the train back to
the city. He dropped down by the young man's side, produced a cigar
which he rolled between his lips, but did not light, and at once opened
up the subject of his negotiations.
"I wish to point out to you, with your permission," he began, "just
where you stand in this matter. In the confusion and haste of a busy
time you may not have cast up your accounts. First," he checked off the
point on his long, slender forefinger, "in injuring Mr. Baker in this
ill-advised fashion you are injuring your old-time employer and friend,
Mr. Welton, and this in two ways: you are jeopardizing his whole
business, and you are rendering practically certain his conviction on a
criminal charge. Mr. Welton is an old man, a simple man, and a kindly
man; this thing is likely to kill him." Oldham glanced keenly at the
young man's sombre face, and went on. "Second"--he folded back his
middle finger--"you are injuring your own father, also in two ways: you
are bringing his lawful property into danger, and you are giving his
political enemies the most effective sort of a weapon to swing in his
coming campaign. And do not flatter yourself they will not make the best
of it. It happens that your father has stood strongly with the
Conservation members in the late fight in Congress. This would be a
pretty scandal. Third," said Oldham, touching his ring finger, "you are
injuring yourself. You are throwing away an opportunity to get in on the
ground floor with the biggest man in the West; you are making for
yourself a powerful enemy; and you are indubitably preparing the way for
your removal from office--if removal from such an office can
conceivably mean anything to any one." He removed the cigar from his
mouth, gazed at the wetted end, waited a moment for the young man to
comment, then replaced it, and resumed. "And fourth," he remarked
closing his fist so that all fingers were concealed. There he stopped
until Bob was fairly compelled to start him on again.
"And fourth----" he suggested, therefore.
"Fourth," rapped out Oldham, briskly, "you injure George Pollock."
"George Pollock!" echoed Bob, trying vainly to throw a tone of ingenuous
surprise into his voice.
"Certainly; George Pollock," repeated Oldham. "I arrived in Sycamore
Flats at the moment when Pollock murdered Plant. I know positively that
you were an eye-witness to the deed. If you testify in one case, I shall
certainly call upon you to testify in the other. Furthermore," he turned
his gray eyes on Bob, and for the second time the young man was
permitted to see an implacable hostility, "although not on the scene
itself, I can myself testify, and will, that you held the murderer's
horse during the deed, and assisted Pollock to escape. Furthermore, I
can testify, and can bring a competent witness, that while supposed to
be estimating Government timber in the Basin, you were in communication
"Saleratus Bill!" cried Bob, enlightened as to the trailer's recent
activities in the Basin.
"It will be easy to establish not only Pollock's guilt, but your own as
accessory. That will put you hard and fast behind the bars--where you
In this last speech Oldham made his one serious mistake of the
interview. So long as he had appealed to Bob's feelings for, and sense
of duty toward, other men, he had succeeded well in still further
confusing the young man's decision. But at the direct personal threat,
Bob's combative spirit flared. Suddenly his troubled mind was clarified,
as though Oldham's menace had acted as a chemical reagent to
precipitate all his doubts. Whatever the incidental hardships, right
must prevail. And, as always, in the uprooting of evil, some unlucky
innocent must suffer. It is the hardship of life, inevitable, not to be
blinked at if a man is to be a man, and do a man's part. He leaned
forward with so swift a movement that Oldham involuntarily dodged back.
"You tell your boss," said Bob, "that nothing on God's earth can keep me
out of court."
He threw away his half-smoked cigar and went back to the chair car. The
sight of Oldham was intolerable to him.
The words were said, and the decision made. In his heart he knew the
matter irrevocable. For a few moments he experienced a feeling of relief
and freedom, as when a swimmer first gets his head above the surf that
has tumbled him. These fine-spun matters of ethical balance had confused
and wearied his spirit. He had become bewildered among such varied
demands on his personal decision. It was a comfort to fall back on the
old straight rule of right conduct no matter what the consequences. The
essentials of the situation were not at all altered: Baker was guilty of
the rankest fraud; Welton was innocent of every evil intent and should
never be punished for what he had been unwillingly and doubtfully
persuaded to permit; Orde senior had acquired his lands quite according
to the customs and ideas of the time; George Pollock should have been
justified a thousand times over in sight of God and man. Those things
were to Bob's mind indisputable. To deprive the one man of a very small
portion of his fraudulently acquired property, it was apparently
necessary to punish three men who should not be punished. These men
were, furthermore, all dear to Bob personally. It did not seem right
that his decision should plunge them into undeserved penalties. But now
the situation was materially altered. Bob also stood in danger from his
action. He, too, must suffer with the others. All were in the same
boat. The menace to his own liberty justified his course. The innocent
must suffer with the guilty; but now the fact that he was one of those
who must so suffer, raised his decision from a choice to a necessity.
Whatever the consequences, the simplest, least perplexing, most
satisfying course was to follow the obvious right. The odium of
ingratitude, of lack of affection, of disloyalty, of self-reproach was
lifted from him by the very fact that he, too, was one of those who must
take consequences. In making the personal threat against the young man's
liberty, Oldham had, without knowing it, furnished to his soul the one
valid reason for going ahead, conscience-clear.
Though naturally Oldham could not follow out this psychology, he was
shrewd enough to understand that he had failed. This surprised him, for
he had entertained not the slightest doubt that the threat of the
penitentiary would bring Bob to terms.
On arriving in the city, Oldham took quarters at the Buena Vista and
sent for Saleratus Bill, whom he had summoned by wire as soon as he had
heard from that individual of Bob's intended visit to Fremont.
The spy arrived wearing a new broad, black hat, a celluloid collar, a
wrinkled suit of store clothes, and his same shrewd, evil leer. Oldham
did not appear, but requested that the visitor be shown into his room.
There, having closed the transom, he issued his instructions.
"I want you to pay attention, and not interrupt," said he. "Within a
month a case is coming up in which Orde, the Forest man, is to appear as
witness. He must not appear. I leave that all to you, but, of course, I
want no more than necessary violence. He must be detained until after
the trial, and for as long after that as I say. Understand?"
"Sure," said Saleratus Bill. "But when he comes back, he'll fix you just
"I'll see to that part of it. The case will never be reopened. Now, mind
you, no shooting----"
"There might be an accident," suggested Saleratus Bill, opening his red
eyes and staring straight at his principal.
"Accidents," said Oldham, speaking slowly and judicially, "are always
likely to happen. Sometimes they can't be helped." He paused to let
these words sink in.
Saleratus Bill wrinkled his eyes in an appreciative laugh. "Accidents is
of two kinds: lucky and unlucky," he remarked briefly, by way of
"But, of course, it is distinctly understood," went on Oldham, as though
he had not heard, "that this is your own affair. You have nothing to
expect from me if you get into trouble. And if you mention my name,
you'll merely get jugged for attempted blackmail."
Saleratus Bill's eyes flared.
"Cut it," said he, with a rasp in his voice.
"Nevertheless, that is the case," repeated Oldham, unmoved.
The flame slowly died from Saleratus Bill's eyes.
"I'll want a little raise for that kind of a job," said he.
"Naturally," agreed Oldham.
They entered into discussion of ways and means.
In the meantime Bob had encountered an old friend.
Bob always stayed at the Monterosa Hotel when in town; a circumstance
that had sent Oldham to the Buena Vista. Although it wanted but a few
hours until train time, he drifted around to his customary stopping
place, resolved to enjoy a quiet smoke by the great plate-glass windows
before which the ever-varying theatre crowds stream by from Main Street
cars. He had been thus settled for some time, when he heard his name
pronounced by the man occupying the next chair.
"Bob Orde!" he cried; "but this is luck!"
Bob looked around to see an elderly, gray-haired, slender man, of keen,
intelligent face, pure white hair and moustache, in whom he recognized
Mr. Frank Taylor, a lifelong friend of his father's and one of the best
lawyers his native state had produced. He sprang to his feet to grasp
the older man's hand. The unexpected meeting was especially grateful,
for Bob had been long enough without direct reminders of his old home to
be hungry for them. Ever since he could remember, the erect, military
form of Frank Taylor had been one of the landmarks of memory, like the
sword that had belonged to Georgie Cathcart's father, or like the
kindly, homely, gray figure of Mr. Kincaid in his rickety, two-wheeled
cart--the man who had given Bob his first firearm.
After first greetings and inquiries, the two men sank back to finish
their smoke together.
"It's good to see you again," observed Bob, "but I'm sorry your business
brings you out here at this time of year. This is our dry season, you
know. Everything is brown. I like it myself, as do most Californians,
but an Easterner has to get used to it. After the rains, though, the
country is wonderful."
"This isn't my first trip," said Taylor. "I was out here for some months
away back in--I think it was '79. I remember we went in to Santa Barbara
on a steamer that fired a gun by way of greeting! Strangely enough, the
same business brings me here now."
"You are out here on father's account?" hazarded Bob, to whom the year
1879 now began to have its significance.
"Exactly. Didn't you get your father's letter telling of my coming?"
"I've been from headquarters three days," Bob explained.