Part Five
Chapter XII
 

Two days later, from the advantage of the rock designated by California John, Elliott reported the agreed signal for their recall. Accordingly, they packed together their belongings and returned to headquarters.

"We're getting short-handed, and several things have come up," said Thorne. "I have work for both of you."

Having dispatched Elliott, Thorne turned to Bob.

"Orde," said he, "I'm going to try you out on a very delicate matter. At the north end lives an old fellow named Samuels. He and his family are living on a place inside the National forests. He took it up years ago, mainly for the timber, but he's one of these hard-headed old coons that's 'agin the Government,' on general principles. He never proved up, and when his attention was called to the fact, he refused to do anything. No reason why not, except that 'he'd always lived there and always would.' You know the kind."

"Ought to--put in two years in the Michigan woods," said Bob.

"Well, as a matter of fact, he gave up the claim to all intents and purposes, but now that the Yellow Pine people are cutting up toward him, he's suddenly come to the notion that the place is worth while. So he's patched up his cabin, and moved in his whole family. We've got to get a relinquishment out of him."

"If he has no right there, why not put him off?" asked Bob.

"Well, in the first place, this Samuels is a hard old citizen with a shotgun; in the second place, he has some shadow of right on which he could make a fight; in the third place, the country up that way doesn't care much for us anyway, and we want to minimize opposition."

"I see," said Bob.

"You'll have to go up and look the ground over, that's all. Do what you think best. Here are all the papers in the matter. You can look them over at your leisure."

Bob tucked the bundle of papers in his cantinas, or pommel bags, and left the office. Amy was rattling the stove in her open-air kitchen, shaking down the ashes preparatory to the fire. Bob stopped to look across at her trim, full figure in its starched blue, immaculate as always.

"Hullo, Colonel!" he called. "How are the legions of darkness and ignorance standing the cannonading these days? Funny paper any new jokes?"

This last was in reference to Amy's habit of reading the Congressional Record in search of speeches or legislation affecting the forests. Bob stoutly maintained, and nobody but Amy disputed him, that she was the only living woman, in or out of captivity, known to read that series of documents.

Amy shook her head, without looking up.

"What's the matter?" asked Bob solicitously. "Nothing wrong with the Hero, nor any of the Assistant Heroes?"

Thus in their banter were designated the President, and such senators as stood behind his policies of conservation.

"Then the villains must have been saying a few triumphant ha! has!" pursued Bob, referring to Fulton, Clark, Heyburn and the rest of the senatorial representatives of the anti-conservationists. "Or is it merely the stove? Let me help."

Amy stood upright, and thrust back her hair.

"Please don't," said she. "I don't feel like joking to-day."

"It is something!" cried Bob. "I do beg your pardon; I didn't realize ... you know I'd like to help, if it's anything I can do."

"It is nothing to do with any of us," said Amy, seating herself for a moment, and letting her hands fall in her lap. "It's just some news that made me feel sorry. Ware came up with the mail a little while ago, and he tells us that George Pollock has suddenly reappeared and is living down at his own place."

"They've arrested him!" cried Bob.

"Not yet; but they will. The sheriff has been notified. Of course, his friends warned him in time; but he won't go. Says he intends to stay."

"Then he'll go to jail."

"And to prison. What chance has a poor fellow like that without money or influence? All he has is his denial."

"Then he denies?" asked Bob eagerly.

"Says he knows nothing about Plant's killing. His wife died that same morning, and he went away because he could not stand it. That's his story; but the evidence is strong against him, poor fellow."

"Do you believe him?" asked Bob.

Amy swung her foot, pondering.

"No," she said at last. "I believe he killed Plant; and I believe he did right! Plant killed his wife and child, and took away all his property. That's what it amounted to."

"There are hardships worked in any administration," Bob pointed out.

Amy looked at him slowly.

"You don't believe that in this case," she pronounced at last.

"Then Pollock will perjure himself," suggested Bob, to try her.

"And if he has friends worth the name, they'll perjure themselves, too!" cried Amy boldly. "They'll establish an alibi, they'll invent a murderer for Plant, they'll do anything for a man as persecuted and hunted as poor George Pollock!"

"Heavens!" returned Bob, genuinely aghast at this wholesale programme. "What would become of morals and honour and law and all the rest of it, if that sort of thing obtained?"

"Law?" Amy caught him up. "Law? It's become foolish. No man lives capable of mastering it so completely that another man cannot find flaws in his best efforts. Reuf and Schmitz are guilty--everybody says so, even themselves. Why aren't they in jail? Because of the law. Don't talk to me of law!"

"But how about ordinary mortals? You can't surely permit a man to lie in a court of justice just because he thinks his friend's cause is just!"

"I don't know anything about it," sighed Amy, as though weary all at once, "except that it isn't right. The law should be a great and wise judge, humane and sympathetic. George Pollock should be able to go to that judge and say: 'I killed Plant, because he had done me an injury for which the perpetrator should suffer death. He was permitted to do this because of the deficiency of the law.' And he should be able to say it in all confidence that he would be given justice, eternal justice, and not a thing so warped by obscure and forgotten precedents that it fits nothing but some lawyer's warped notion of logic!"

"Whew!" whistled Bob, "what a lady of theory and erudition it is!"

Amy eyed him doubtfully, then smiled.

"I'm glad you happened along," said she. "I feel better. Now I believe I'll be able to do something with my biscuits."

"I could do justice to some of them," remarked Bob, "and it would be the real thing without any precedents in that line whatever."

"Come around later and you'll have the chance," invited Amy, again addressing herself to the stove.

Still smiling at this wholesale and feminine way of leaping directly to a despotically desired ideal result, Bob took the trail to his own camp. Here he found Jack Pollock poring over an old illustrated paper.

"Hullo, Jack!" he called cheerfully. "Not out on duty, eh?"

"I come in," said Jack, rising to his feet and folding the old paper carefully. He said nothing more, but stood eyeing his colleague gravely.

"You want something of me?" asked Bob.

"No," denied Jack, "I don't know nothing I want of you. But I was told to come and get a piece of paper and maybe some money that a stranger was goin' to leave by our chimbley. It ain't there. You ain't seen it, by any chance?"

"It may have got shoved among some of my things by mistake," replied Bob gravely. "I haven't had a chance of looking. I'm just in from the Basin." At these last words he looked at Jack keenly, but that young man's expression remained inscrutable. "I'll look when I get back," he continued after a moment; "just now I've got to ride over to the mill to see Mr. Welton."

Jack nodded gravely.

"If you find them, leave them by the chimbley," said he. "I'm going to headquarters."

Bob rode to the mill. By the exercise of some diplomacy he brought the conversation to good lawyers without arousing Welton's suspicions that he could have any personal interest in the matter.

"Erbe's head and shoulders above the rest," said Welton. "He has half the business. He's for Baker's interests, and our own; and he's shrewd. Maybe you'll get into trouble yourself some day, Bob. Better send for him. He's the greatest criminal lawyer in the business."

Bob laughed heartily with his old employer. From Poole he easily obtained currency for his personal check of two hundred dollars. This would do to go on with for the time being. He wrote Erbe's name and address--in a disguised hand--on a piece of rough brown paper. This he wrapped around the money, and deposited by the alarm clock on the rough log mantelpiece of his cabin. The place was empty. When he had returned from his invited supper with the Thornes, the package had disappeared. He did not again catch sight of Jack Pollock, for next morning he started out on his errand to the north end.