Part Three
Chapter VIII
 

The week slipped by. Welton seemed to be completely immersed in the business of cutting lumber. In due time Orde senior had replied by wire, giving assurance that he would see to the matter of the crossing permits.

"So that's settled," quoth Welton. "You bet-you Jack Orde will make the red tape fly. It'll take a couple of weeks, I suppose--time for the mail to get there and back. Meantime, we'll get a cut ahead."

But at the end of ten days came a letter from the congressman.

"Don't know just what is the hitch," wrote Jack Orde. "It ought to be the simplest matter in the world, and so I told Russell in the Land Office to-day. They seem inclined to fall back on their technicalities, which is all rot, of course. The man wants to be annoying for some reason, but I'll take it higher at once. Have an appointment with the Chief this afternoon...."

The next letter came by the following mail.

"This seems to be a bad mess. I can't understand it, nor get to the bottom of it. On the face of the showing here we've just bulled ahead without any regard whatever for law or regulations. Of course, I showed your letter stating your agreement and talks with Plant, but the department has his specific denial that you ever approached him. They stand pat on that, and while they're very polite, they insist on a detailed investigation. I'm going to see the Secretary this morning."

Close on the heels of this came a wire:

"Plant submits reports of alleged sheep trespass committed this spring by your orders. Wire denial."

"My Lord!" said Welton, as he took this. "That's why we never heard from that! Bobby, that was a fool move, certainly; but I couldn't turn Leejune down after I'd agreed to graze him."

"How about these lumber contracts?" suggested Bob.

"We've got to straighten this matter out," said Welton soberly.

He returned a long telegram to Congressman Orde in Washington, and himself interviewed Plant. He made no headway whatever with the fat man, who refused to emerge beyond the hard technicalities of the situation. Welton made a journey to White Oaks, where he interviewed the Superintendent of the Forest Reserves. The latter proved to be a well-meaning, kindly, white-whiskered gentleman, named Smith, who listened sympathetically, agreed absolutely with the equities of the situation, promised to attend to the matter, and expressed himself as delighted always to have these things brought to his personal attention. On reaching the street, however, Welton made a bee-line for the bank through which he did most of his business.

"Mr. Lee," he asked the president, "I want you to be frank with me. I am having certain dealings with the Forest Reserve, and I want to know how much I can depend on this man Smith."

Lee crossed his white hands on his round stomach, and looked at Welton over his eyeglasses.

"In what way?" he asked.

"I've had a little trouble with one of his subordinates. I've just been around to state my case to Smith, and he agrees with my side of the affair and promises to call down his man. Can I rely on him? Does he mean what he says?"

"He means what he says," replied the bank president, slowly, "and you can rely on him--until his subordinate gets a chance to talk to him."

"H'm," ruminated Welton. "Chinless, eh? I wondered why he wore long white whiskers."

As he walked up the street toward the hotel, where he would spend the night before undertaking the long drive back, somebody hailed him. He looked around to see a pair of beautiful driving horses, shying playfully against each other, coming to a stop at the curb. Their harness was the lightest that could be devised--no blinders, no breeching, slender, well-oiled straps; the rig they drew shone and twinkled with bright varnish, and seemed as delicate and light as thistledown. On the narrow seat sat a young man of thirty, covered with an old-fashioned linen duster, wearing the wide, gray felt hat of the country. He was a keen-faced, brown young man, with snapping black eyes.

"Hullo, Welton," said he as he brought the team to a stand; "when did you get out of the hills?"

"How are you, Mr. Harding?" Welton returned his greeting. "Just down for the day?"

"How are things going up your way?"

"First rate," replied Welton. "We're going ahead three bells and a jingle. Started to saw last week."

"That's good," said Harding. "I haven't heard of one of your teams on the road, and I began to wonder. We've got to begin deliveries on our Los Angeles and San Pedro contracts by the first of August, and we're depending on you."

"We'll be there," replied Welton with a laugh.

The young man laughed back.

"You'd better be, if you don't want us to come up and take your scalp," said he, gathering his reins.

"Guess I lay in some hair tonic so's to have a good one ready for you," returned Welton, as Harding nodded his farewell.