Part Three
Chapter XVIII
 

The following spring found Plant still in command. No word had come from the silence of political darkness. His only concession to the state of affairs had been an acknowledgment under coercion that the cattle ranges had been overstocked, and that outside cattle would not be permitted to enter, at least for the coming season. This was just the concession to relieve the immediate pressure against him, and to give the Supervisor time to apply all his energies to details within the shades.

Details were important, in spite of the absence of surface indications. Many considerations were marshalled. On one side were arrayed plain affidavits of fraud. In the lower ranks of the Land Office it was necessary to corrupt men, by one means or another. These lesser officials in the course of routine would come face to face with the damaging affidavits, and must be made to shut their eyes deliberately to what they know. The cases of the higher officials were different. They must know of the charges, of course, but matters must be so arranged that the evidence must never meet their eyes, and that they must adopt en bloc the findings of their subordinates. Bribery was here impossible; but influence could be brought to bear.

Chairman Gay upheld his cousin, Henry Plant, because of the relationship. This implied a good word, and personal influence. After that Chairman Gay forgot the matter. But a great number of people were extremely anxious to please Chairman Gay. These exerted themselves. They came across evidence that would have caused Chairman Gay to throw his beloved cousin out neck and crop, but they swallowed it and asked for more simply because Gay possessed patronage, and it was not to their interest to bring disagreeable matters before the great man. Nor was the Land Office unlikely to listen to reason. A strong fight was at that time forward to transfer control of the Forest Reserves from a department busy in other lines to the Bureau of Forestry where it logically belonged. This transfer was violently opposed by those to whom the distribution of supervisorships, ranger appointments and the like seemed valuable. The Land Office adherents needed all the political backing they could procure; and the friends of Chairman Gay epitomized political backing. So the Land Office, too, was anxious to please the Chairman.

At the same time Simeon Wright had bestirred himself. There seems to be no good and valid reason for owning a senator if you don't use him. Wright was too shrewd to think it worth while to own a senator from California. That was too obvious. Few knew how closely affiliated were the Wright and the Barrow interests. Wright dropped a hint to the dignified senator; the senator paid a casual call to an official high up in the Land Office. Senators would by their votes ultimately decide the question of transfer. The official agreed to keep an eye on the recommendations in this case.

Thus somebody submerged beneath the Gay interests saw obscurely somebody equally submerged beneath the Wright and Barrow interests. In due course all Thorne's careful work was pigeonholed. An epitome of the charges was typed and submitted to the High Official. On the back of them had been written:

"I find the charges not proved."

This was signed by the very obscure clerk who had filed away the Thorne affidavits and who happened to be a friend of the man to whom in devious ways and through many mouths had come an expression of the Gay wishes. It was O.K.'d by a dozen others. The High Official added his O.K. to the others. Then he promptly forgot about it, as did every one else concerned, save the men most vitally interested.

In due time Thorne, then in Los Angeles, received a brief communication from Stafford, the obscure clerk.

"In regard to your charges against Supervisor H.M. Plant, the Department begs to advise you that, after examining carefully the evidence for the defence, it finds the charges not proven."

Thorne stared at the paper incredulously, then he did something he had never permitted himself before; he wrote in expostulation to the Higher Official.

"I cannot imagine what the man's defence could be," he wrote, in part, "but my evidence a mere denial could hardly controvert. The whole countryside knows the man is crooked; they know he was investigated; they are now awaiting with full confidence the punishment for well-understood peculation. I can hardly exaggerate the body blow to the Service such a decision would give. Nobody will believe in it again."

On reading this the Higher Official called in one of his subordinates.

"I have this from Thorne," said he. "What do you think of it?"

The subordinate read it through.

"I'll look it up," said he.

"Do so and bring me the papers," advised the Higher Official.

The Higher Official knew Thorne's work and approved it. The inspector was efficient, and throughout all his reforming of conditions in the West, the Department had upheld him. The Department liked efficiency, and where the private interests of its own grafters were not concerned, it gave good government.

In due time the subordinate came back, but without the papers.

"Stafford says he'll look them up, sir," said he. "He told me to tell you that the case was the one you were asking Senator Barrow about."

"Ah!" said the Higher Official.

He sat for some time in deep thought. Then he called through the open door to his stenographer.

"In re your's 21st," he dictated, "I repose every confidence in Mr. Stafford's judgment; and unless I should care to supersede him, it would hardly be proper for me to carry any matter over his head."

Thorne immediately resigned, and shortly went into landlooking for a lumbering firm in Oregon. Chairman Gay wrote a letter advising Plant to "adopt a policy of conciliation toward the turbulent element."