Part Three
Chapter XXIV
 

From this moment the old man held his head high, and went about the work with confidence. He built trails where trails had long been needed; he regulated the grazing; he fought fire so successfully that his burned area dropped that year from two per cent. to one-half of one per cent.; he adjusted minor cases of special use and privilege justly. Constantly he rode his district on the business of his beloved Forest. His beautiful sorrel, Star, with his silver-mounted caparisons, was a familiar figure on all the trails. When a man wanted his first Special Privilege, he wrote the Supervisor. The affair was quite apt to bungle. Then California John saw that man personally. After that there was no more trouble. The countryside dug up the rest of California John's name, and conferred on him the dignity of it. John had heard it scarcely at all for over thirty years. Now he rather liked the sound of "Supervisor Davidson." In the title and the simple dignities attaching thereunto he took the same gentle and innocent pride that he did in Star, and the silver-mounted bridle and the carved-leather saddle.

But when evening came, and the end of the month, Supervisor Davidson always found himself in trouble. Then he sat down before his typewriter, on which he pecked methodically with the rigid forefinger of his right hand. Naturally slow of thought when confronted by blank paper, the mechanical limitations put him far behind in his reports and correspondence. Naturally awkward of phrase when deprived of his picturesque vernacular, he stumbled among phrases. The monthly reports were a nightmare to him. When at last they were finished, he breathed a deep sigh, and went out into his sugar pines and spruces.

In August California John received his first inspector. At that time the Forest Service, new to the saddle, heir to the confusion left by the Land Office, knew neither its field nor its office men as well as it does now. Occasionally it made mistakes in those it sent out. Brent was one of them.

Brent was of Teutonic extraction, brought up in Brookline, educated in the Yale Forestry School, and experienced in the offices of the Bureau of Forestry before it had had charge of the nation's estates. He possessed a methodical mind, a rather intolerant disposition, thick glasses, a very cold and precise manner, extreme personal neatness, and abysmal ignorance of the West. He disapproved of California John's rather slipshod dress, to start with; his ingrained reticence shrank from Davidson's informal cordiality; his orderly mind recoiled with horror from the jumble of the Supervisor's accounts and reports. As he knew nothing whatever of the Sierras, he was quite unable to appreciate the value of trails, of fenced meadows, of a countryside of peace--those things were so much a matter of course back East that he hardly noticed them one way or another. Brent's thoroughness burrowed deep into office failures. One by one he dragged them to the light and examined them through his near-sighted glasses. They were bad enough in all conscience; and Brent was not in the least malicious in the inferences he drew. Only he had no conception of judging the Man with the Time and the Place.

He believed in military smartness, in discipline, in ordered activities.

"It seems to me you give your rangers a great deal of freedom and latitude," said he one day.

"Well," said California John, "strikes me that's the only way. With men like these you got to get their confidence."

Brent peered at him.

"H'm," said he sarcastically, "do you think you have done so?"

California John flushed through his tan at the implication, but he replied nothing.

This studied respect for his superior officer on the Supervisor's part encouraged Brent to deliver from time to time rather priggish little homilies on the way to run a Forest. California John listened, but with a sardonic smile concealed beneath his sun-bleached moustache. After a little, however, Brent became more inclined to bring home the personal application. Then California John grew restive.

"In fact," Brent concluded his incisive remarks one day, "you run this place entirely too much along your own lines."

California John leaned forward.

"Is that an official report?" he asked.

"What?" inquired Brent, puzzled.

"That last remark. Because if it ain't you'd better put it in writing and make it official. Step right in and do it now!"

Brent looked at him in slight bewilderment.

"I'm willing to hear your talk," went on California John quietly. "Some of it's good talk, even if it ain't put out in no very good spirit; and I ain't kicking on criticism--that's what I'm here for, and what you're here for. But I ain't here for no private remarks. If you've got anything to kick on, put it down and sign it and send it on. I'll stand for it, and explain it if I can; or take my medicine if I can't. But anything you ain't ready and willing to report on, I don't want to take from you private. Sabe?"

Brent bowed coldly, turned his back and walked away without a word. California John looked after him.

"Well, that wasn't no act of Solomon," he told himself; "but, anyway, I feel better."

After Brent's departure it took California John two weeks to recover his equanimity and self-confidence. Then the importance of his work gripped him once more. He looked about him at the grazing, the policing, the fire-fighting, all the varied business of the reserves. In them all he knew was no graft, and no favouritism. The trails were being improved; the cabins built; the meadows for horse-feed fenced; the bridges built and repaired; the country patrolled by honest and enthusiastic men. He recalled the old days of Henry Plant's administration under the Land-Office--the graft, the supineness, the inefficiency, the confusion.

"We're savin' the People's property, and keepin' it in good shape," he argued to himself, "and that's sure the main point. If we take care of things, we've done the main job. Let the other fellows do the heavy figgerin'. The city's full of cheap bookkeepers who can't do nothing else."