Part Three
Chapter XXI
 

The hue and cry rose and died; the sheriff from the plains did his duty; but no trace of the murderer was found. Indeed, at the first it was not known positively who had done the deed; a dozen might have had motive for the act. Only by the process of elimination was the truth come at. No one could say which way the fugitive had gone. Jim Pollock, under pressure, admitted that his brother had stormed against the door, had told the awakened inmates that his wife was dead and that he was going away. Immediately on making this statement, he had clattered off. Jim steadfastly maintained that his brother had given no inkling of whither he fled. Simeon Wright's cattle, on their way to the high country, filed past. The cowboys listened to the news with interest, and a delight which they did not attempt to conceal. They denied having seen the fugitive. The sheriff questioned them perfunctorily. He knew the breed. George Pollock might have breakfasted with them for all that the denials assured him.

There appeared shortly on the scene of action a United States marshal. The murder of a government official was serious. Against the criminal the power of the nation was deployed. Nevertheless, in the long run, George Pollock got clean away. Nobody saw him from that day--or nobody would acknowledge to have seen him.

For awhile Bob expected at any moment to be summoned for his testimony. He was morally certain that Oldham had been an eye-witness to the tragedy. But as time went on, and no faintest indication manifested itself that he could have been connected with the matter, he concluded himself mistaken. Oldham could have had no motive in concealment, save that of the same sympathy Bob had felt for Pollock. But in that case, what more natural than that he should mention the matter privately to Bob? If, on the other hand, he had any desire to further the ends of the law, what should prevent him from speaking out publicly? In neither case was silence compatible with knowledge.

But Bob knew positively the man had lied, when he stated that he had for over an hour been sitting in the chair on Auntie Belle's back porch. Why had he done so? Where had he been? Bob could not hazard even the wildest guess. Oldham's status with Baker was mysterious; his occasional business in these parts--it might well be that Oldham thought he had something to conceal from Bob. In that case, where had the elder man been, and what was he about during that fatal hour that Sunday morning? Bob was not conversant with the affairs of the Power Company, but he knew vaguely that Baker was always shrewdly reaching out for new rights and privileges, for fresh opportunities which the other fellow had not yet seen and which he had no desire that the other fellow should see until too late. It might be that Oldham was on some such errand. In the rush of beginning the season's work, the question gradually faded from Bob's thoughts.

Forest Reserve matters locally went into the hands of a receiver. That is to say, the work of supervision fell to Plant's head-ranger, while Plant's office was overhauled and straightened out by a clerk sent on from Washington. Forest Reserve matters nationally, however, were on a different footing. The numerous members of Congress who desired to leave things as they were, the still more numerous officials of the interested departments, the swarming petty politicians dealing direct with small patronage--all these powerful interests were unable satisfactorily to answer one common-sense question; why is the management of our Forest Reserves left to a Land Office already busy, already doubted, when we have organized and equipped a Bureau of Forestry consisting of trained, enthusiastic and honest men? Reluctantly the transfer was made. The forestry men picked up the tangle that incompetent, perfunctory and often venal management had dropped.