The Rules of the Game by Stewart Edward White
On a wintry and blustering evening in the latter part of February, 1902, Welton and Bob boarded the Union Pacific train en route for California. They distributed their hand baggage, then promptly took their way forward to the buffet car, where they disposed themselves in the leather-and-wicker armchairs for a smoke. At this time of year the travel had fallen off somewhat in volume. The westward tourist rush had slackened, and the train was occupied only by those who had definite business in the Land of Promise, and by that class of wise ones who realize that an Eastern March and April are more to be avoided than the regulation winter months. The smoking car contained then but a half-dozen men.
Welton and Bob took their places and lit their cigars. The train swayed gently along, its rattle muffled by the storm. Polished black squares represented the windows across which drifted hazy lights and ghostlike suggestions of snowflakes. Bob watched this ebony nothingness in great idleness of spirit. Presently one of the half-dozen men arose from his place, walked the length of the car, and dropped into the next chair.
"You're Bob Orde, aren't you?" he remarked without preliminary.
Bob looked up. He saw before him a very heavy-set young man, of medium height, possessed of a full moon of a face, and alert brown eyes.
"I thought so," went on this young man in answer to Bob's assent. "I'm Baker of '93. You wouldn't know me; I was before your time. But I know you. Seen you play. Headed for the Sunshine and Flowers?"
"Yes," said Bob.
"Ever been there before?"
"Great country! If you listen to all the come-on stuff you may be disappointed--at first."
"How's that?" asked Bob, highly amused. "Isn't the place what it's cracked up to be?"
"It's more," asserted Baker, "but not the same stuff. The climate's bully--best little old climate they've made, up to date--but it's got to rain once in a while; and the wind's got to blow; and all that. If you believe the Weather in the Old Home column, you'll be sore. In two years you'll be sore, anyway, whenever it does anything but stand 55 at night, 72 at noon and shine like the spotlight on the illustrated songster. If a Californian sees a little white cloud about as big as a toy balloon down in the southeast corner he gets morose as a badger. If it starts to drizzle what you'd call a light fog he holes up. When it rains he hibernates like a bear, and the streets look like one of these populous and thriving Aztec metropoli you see down Sonora way. I guess every man is privileged to get just about so sore on the weather wherever he is--and does so."
"You been out there long?" asked Bob.
"Ever since I graduated," returned Baker promptly, "and I wouldn't live anywhere else. They're doing real things. Don't you run away with any notions of dolce far nientes or tropical languor. This California gang is strictly on the job. The bunch seated under the spreading banana tree aren't waiting for the ripe fruit to drop in their mouths. That's in the First Reader and maybe somewhere down among the Black and Tans--"
"Black and Tans?" interrupted Bob with a note of query.
"Yep. Oilers--greasers--Mexicans--hidalgos of all kinds from here to the equator," explained Baker. "No, sir, that gang under the banana tree are either waiting there to sandbag the next tourist and sell him some real estate before he comes to, or else they're figuring on uprooting said piffling shrub and putting up an office building. Which part of the country are you going to?"
"Near White Oaks," said Bob.
"No abalone shells for yours, eh?" remarked Baker cryptically. He glanced at Welton. "Where's your timber located?" he asked.
"Near Granite," replied Bob;--"why, how the devil did you know we were out for timber?"
"'How did the Master Mind solve that problem?'" asked Baker. "Ah, that's my secret!"
"No, that doesn't go," said Bob. "I insist on knowing; and what was that abalone shell remark?"
"Abalone shells--tourists," capitulated Baker; "also Mexican drawn work, bead belts, burned leather, fake turquoise and ostrich eggs. Sabe?"
"Sure. But why not a tourist?"
"Tourist--in White Oaks!" cried Baker. "Son, White Oaks raises raisins and peaches and apricots and figs and such things in quantities to stagger you. It is a nice, well-built city, and well conducted, and full of real estate boards and chambers of commerce. But it is not framed up for tourists, and it knows it. Not at 100 degrees Fahrenheit 'most all summer, and a chill and solemn land fog 'most all winter."
"Well, why timber?" demanded Bob.
"My dear Watson," said Baker, indicating Mr. Welton, who grinned. "Does your side partner resemble a raisin raiser? Has he the ear marks of a gentle agriculturist? Would you describe him as a typical sheepman, or as a daring and resolute bee-keeper?"
Bob shook his head, still unconvinced.
"Well, if you will uncover my dark methods," sighed Baker. He leaned over and deftly abstracted from the breast pocket of Bob's coat a long, narrow document. "You see the top of this stuck out in plain sight. To the intelligent eye instructed beyond the second grade of our excellent school system the inscription cannot be mistaken." He held it around for Bob to see. In plain typing the document was endorsed as follows:
"Granite County Timber Lands."
"My methods are very subtle," said Baker, laughing. "I find it difficult to explain them. Come around sometime and I'll pick it out for you on the piano."
"Where are you going?" asked Bob in his turn.
"Los Angeles, on business."
"On business?--or just buying abalone shells?"
"It takes a millionaire or an Iowa farmer to be a tourist," replied Baker.
"What are you doing?"
"Supporting an extravagant wife, I tell Mrs. Baker. You want to get down that way. The town's a marvel. It's grown from thirty thousand to two hundred thousand in twenty years; it has enough real estate subdivisions to accommodate eight million; it has invented the come-on house built by the real estate agents to show how building is looking up at Lonesomehurst; it has two thousand kinds of architecture--all different; it has more good stuff and more fake stuff than any place on earth--it's a wonder. Come on down and I'll show you the high buildings."
He chatted for a few moments, then rose abruptly and disappeared down the aisle toward the sleeping cars without the formality of a farewell.
Welton had been listening amusedly, and puffing away at his cigar in silence.
"Well," said he when Baker had gone. "How do you like your friend?"
"He's certainly amusing," laughed Bob, "and mighty good company. That sort of a fellow is lots of fun. I've seen them many times coming back at initiation or Commencement. They are great heroes to the kids."
"But not to any one else?" inquired Welton.
"Well--that's about it," Bob hesitated. "They're awfully good fellows, and see the joke, and jolly things up; but they somehow don't amount to much."
"Wouldn't think much of the scheme of trying Baker as woods foreman up in our timber, then?" suggested Welton.
"Him? Lord, no!" said Bob, surprised.
Welton threw back his head and laughed heartily, in great salvos.
"Ho! ho! ho!" he shouted. "Oh, Bobby, I wish any old Native Son could be here to enjoy this joke with me. Ho! ho! ho! ho!"
The coloured porter stuck his head in to see what this tremendous rolling noise might be, grinned sympathetically, and withdrew.
"What's the matter with you!" cried Bob, exasperated. "Shut up, and be sensible."
Welton wiped his eyes.
"That, son, is Carleton P. Baker. Just say Carleton P. Baker to a Californian."
"Well, I can't, for four days, anyway. Who is he?"
"Didn't find out from him, for all his talk, did you?" said Welton shrewdly. "Well, Baker, as he told you, graduated from college in '93. He came to California with about two thousand dollars of capital and no experience. He had the sense to go in for water rights, and here he is!"
"Marvellous!" cried Bob sarcastically. "But what is he now that he is here?"
"Head of three of the biggest power projects in California," said Welton impressively, "and controller of more potential water power than any other man or corporation in the state."
Welton enjoyed his joke hugely. After Bob had turned in, the big man parted the curtains to his berth.
"Oh, Bob," he called guardedly.
"What!" grunted the young man, half-asleep.
"Who do you think we'd better get for woods foreman just in case Baker shouldn't take the job?"