Part Three
Chapter XXII
 

To most who heard of it this item of news was interesting, but not especially important; Bob could not see where it made much difference who held the reins three thousand miles away. To others it came as the unhoped-for, dreamed-of culmination of aspiration.

California John got the news from Martin. The old man had come in from a long trip.

"You got to take a brace now and be scientific," chaffed Martin. "You old mossback! Don't you dare fall any more trees without measuring out the centre of gravity; and don't you split any more wood unless you calculate first the probable direction of riving; and don't you let any doodle-bug get away without looking at his teeth."

California John grinned slowly, but his eyes were shining.

"And what's more, you old grafters'll get bounced, sure pop," continued Martin. "They won't want you. You don't wear spectacles, and you eat too many proteids in your beans."

"You ain't heard who's going to be sent out for Supervisor?" asked old John.

"They haven't found any one with thick enough glasses yet," retorted Martin.

California John made some purchases, packed his mule, and climbed back up the mountain to the summer camp. Here he threw off his saddle and supplies, and entered the ranger cabin. A rusty stove was very hot. Atop bubbled a capacious kettle. California John removed the cover and peered in.

"Chicken 'n' dumpling!" said he.

He drew a broken-backed chair to the table and set to business. In ten minutes his plate contained nothing but chicken bones. He contemplated them with satisfaction.

"I reckon that'll even up for that bacon performance," he remarked in reference to some past joke on himself.

At dusk three men threw open the outside door and entered. They found California John smoking his pipe contemplatively before a clean table.

"Now, you bowlegged old sidewinder," said Ross Fletcher, striding to the door, "we'll show you something you don't get up where you come from."

"What is it?" asked California John with a mild curiosity.

"Chicken," replied Fletcher.

He peered into the kettle. Then he lit a match and peered again. He reached for a long iron spoon with which he fished up, one after another, several dumplings. Finally he swore softly.

"What's the matter, Ross?" inquired California John.

"You know what's the matter," retorted Ross shaking the spoon.

California John arose and looked down into the kettle.

"Thought you said you had chicken," he observed; "looks to me like dumplin' soup."

"I did have chicken," replied the man. "Oh, you Miles!--Bob!--come here. This old wreck has gone and stole all our chicken."

The boys popped in from the next room.

"I never," expostulated California John, his eyes twinkling. "I never stole nothin'. I just came in and found a poor old hen bogged down in a mess of dough, so I rescued her."

The other man said nothing for some time, but surveyed California John from head to toe and from toe to head again.

"Square," said he at last.

"Square," replied California John with equal gravity. They shook hands.

While the newcomers ate supper, California John read laboriously his accumulated mail. After spelling through one document he uttered a hearty oath.

"What is it?" asked Ross, suspending operations.

"They've put me in as Supervisor to succeed Plant," replied California John, handing over the official document. "I ain't no supervisor."

"I'd like to know why not," spoke up Miles indignantly. "You know these mountains better'n any man ever set foot in 'em."

"I ain't got no education," replied California John.

"Damn good thing," growled Ross.

California John smoked with troubled brow.

"What's the matter with you, anyhow?" demanded Ross impatiently, after a while; "ain't you satisfied?"

"Oh, I'm satisfied well enough, but I kind of hate to leave the service; I like her."

"Quit!" cried Ross.

"No," denied California John, "but I'll get fired. First thing," he explained, "I'm going after Simeon Wright's grazing permits. He ain't no right in the mountains, and the ranges are overstocked. He can't trail in ten thousand head while I'm supposed to be boss, so it looks as though I wasn't going to be boss long after Simeon Wright comes in."

"Oh, go slow," pleaded Ross; "take things a little easy at first, and then when you get going you can tackle the big things."

"I ain't going to enforce any regulations they don't give me," stated California John, "and I'm going to try to enforce all they do. That's what I'm here for."

"That means war with Wright," said Ross.

"Then war it is," agreed California John comfortably.

"You won't last ten minutes against Wright."

"Reckon not," agreed old John, "reckon not; but I'll last long enough to make him take notice."