Part Four
Chapter VIII
 

Bob found it much more difficult to approach Welton. When he did, he had to contend with the older man's absolute disbelief in what he was saying. Welton sat down on a stump and considered Bob with a humorous twinkle.

"Want to quit the lumber business!" he echoed Bob's first statement. "What for?"

"I don't think I'm cut out for it."

"No? Well, then, I never saw anybody that was. You don't happen to need no more money?"

"Lord, no!"

"Of course, you know you'll have pretty good prospects here----" stated Welton tentatively.

"I understand that; but the work doesn't satisfy me, somehow: I'm through with it."

"Getting restless," surmised Welton. "What you need is a vacation. I forgot we kept you at it pretty close all last winter. Take a couple weeks off and make a trip in back somewheres."

Bob shook his head.

"It isn't that; I'm sorry. I'm just through with this. I couldn't keep on at it and do good work. I know that."

"It's a vacation you need," insisted Welton chuckling, "--or else you're in love. Isn't that, is it?"

"No," Bob laughed quite wholeheartedly. "It isn't that."

"You haven't got a better job, have you?" Welton joked.

Bob considered. "Yes; I believe I have," he said at last; "at least I'm hoping to get it."

Welton looked at him closely; saw that he was in earnest.

"What is it?" he asked curtly.

Bob, suddenly smitten with a sense of the futility of trying to argue out his point of view here in the woods, drew back.

"Can't tell just yet," said he.

Welton climbed down from the stump; stood firmly for a moment, his sturdy legs apart; then moved forward down the trail.

"I'll raise his ante, whatever it is," he said abruptly at length. "I don't believe in it, but I'll do it. I need you."

"You've always treated me better than I ever deserved," said Bob earnestly, "and I'll stay all summer, or all next winter--until you feel that you do not need me longer; but I'm sure that I must go."

For two days Welton disbelieved the reality of his intention. For two days further he clung to a notion that in some way Bob must be dissatisfied with something tangible in his treatment. Then, convinced at last, he took alarm, and dropped his facetious attitude.

"Look here, Bob," said he, "this isn't quite fair, is it? This is a big piece of timber. It needs a man with a longer life in front of him than I can hope for. I wanted to be able to think that in a few years, when I get tired I could count on you for the heavy work. It's too big a business for an old man."

"I'll stay with you until you find that young man," said Bob. "There are a good many, trained to the business, capable of handling this property."

"But nobody like you, Bobby. I've brought you up to my methods. We've grown up together at this. You're just like a son to me." Welton's round, red face was puckered to a wistful and comically pathetic twist, as he looked across at the serious manly young fellow.

Bob looked away. "That's just what makes it hard," he managed to say at last; "I'd like to go on with you. We've gotten on famously. But I can't. This isn't my work."

Welton laboured in vain to induce him to change his mind. Several times he considered telling Bob the truth--that all this timber belonged really to Jack Orde, Bob's father, and that his, Welton's interest in it was merely that of the active partner in the industry. But this his friend had expressly forbidden. Welton ended by saying nothing about it. He resolved first to write Orde.

"You might tell me what this new job is, though," he said at last, in apparent acquiescence.

Bob hesitated. "You won't understand; and I won't be able to make you understand," he said. "I'm going to enter the Forest Service!"

"What!" cried Welton, in blank astonishment. "What's that?"

"I've about decided to take service as a ranger," stated Bob, his face flushing.

From that moment all Welton's anxiety seemed to vanish. It became unbearably evident that he looked on all this as the romance of youth. Bob felt himself suddenly reduced, in the lumberman's eyes, to the status of the small boy who wants to be a cowboy, or a sailor, or an Indian fighter. Welton looked on him with an indulgent eye as on one who would soon get enough of it. The glamour--whatever it was--would soon wear off; and then Bob, his fling over, would return to sober, real business once more. All Welton's joviality returned. From time to time he would throw a facetious remark in Bob's direction, when, in the course of the day's work, he happened to pass.

"It's sure going to be fine to wear a real tin star and be an officer!"

Or:

"Bob, it sure will seem scrumptious to ride out and boss the whole country--on ninety a month. Guess I'll join you."

Or:

"You going to make me sweep up my slashings, or will a rake do, Mr. Ranger?"

To these feeble jests Bob always replied good-naturedly. He did not attempt to improve Welton's conception of his purposes. That must come with time. To his father, however, he wrote at great length; trying his best to explain the situation. Mr. Orde replied that a government position was always honourable; but confessed himself disappointed that his son had not more steadfastness of purpose. Welton received a reply to his own letter by the same mail.

"I shouldn't tell him anything," it read. "Let him go be a ranger, or a cowboy, or anything else he wants. He's still young. I didn't get my start until I was thirty; and the business is big enough to wait for him. You keep pegging along, and when he gets enough, he'll come back. He's apparently got some notions of serving the public, and doing good in the world, and all that. We all get it at his age. By and by he'll find out that tending to his business honestly is about one man's job."

So, without active opposition, and with only tacit disapproval, Bob made his change. Nor was he received at headquarters with any blare of trumpets.

"I'll put you on as 'temporary' until the fall examinations," said Thorne, "and you can try it out. Rangering is hard work--all kinds of hard work. It isn't just riding around, you know. You'll have to make good. You can bunk up with Pollock at the upper cabin. Report to-morrow morning with him."

Amy smiled at him brightly.

"Don't let him scare you," said she. "He thinks it looks official to be an awful bear!"

California John met him as he rode out the gate. He reached out his gnarled old hand.

"Son, we'll get him to send us sometime to Jack Main's Canon," said he.

Bob, who had been feeling the least shade depressed, rode on, his head high. Before him lay the great mysterious country where had penetrated only the Pioneers! Another century would build therein the structures of its institutions. Now, like Jack Main's Canon, the far country of new things was to be the field of his enterprise. In the future, when the new generations had come, these things would all be ordered and secure, would be systematized, their value conceded, their acceptance a matter of course. All problems would be regulated; all difficulties smoothed away; all opposition overcome. Then the officers and rangers of that peaceful and organized service, then the public--accepting such things as they accept all self-evident truths--would look back on these beginnings as men look back on romance. They would recall the time when, like knights errant, armed men rode abroad on horses through a wilderness, lying down under the stars, living hard, dwelling lowly in poverty, accomplishing with small means, striving mightily, combating the great elemental nature and the powers of darkness in men, enduring patiently, suffering contempt and misunderstanding and enmity in order that the inheritance of the people yet to come might be assured. He was one of them; he had the privilege. Suddenly his spirit felt freed. His old life receded swiftly. A new glory and uplift of soul swept him from his old moorings.