The Rules of the Game by Stewart Edward White
"Union hours suit me," said Baker. "Why work while papa has his health? What I want to know is, how high is the limit on this game anyway?"
"What do you mean?"
"This confounded so-called 'investigation' of yours? In other words, do you intend to get after me?"
Baker's shrewd eyes looked at him gravely from out his smiling fat face.
"Modoc Mining Company's lands."
"Then you are the Modoc Mining Company?" asked Bob.
Baker eyed him again.
"Look here, my angel child," said he in a tone of good-humoured pity, "I can make all that kind of talk in a witness box--if necessary. In any case, I didn't come 'way out here to exchange that sort with you. You know perfectly well I'm the Modoc Mining Company, and that I've got a fine body of timber under the mineral act, and all the rest of it. You know all this not only because you've got some sense, but because I told you so before a competent witness. It stands to reason that I don't mind telling you again where there are no witnesses. Now smoke up and join the King's Daughters--let's have a heart-to-heart and find out how we stand."
Bob laughed, and Baker, with entirely whole-hearted enjoyment, laughed too.
"You're next on the list," said Bob, "and, personally, I think----"
Baker held up his hand.
"Let's not exchange thinks," said he. "I've got a few thinks coming myself, you know. Let's stick to facts. Then the Government is going to open up on us?"
"On the grounds of fraudulent entry, I suppose."
"Well, they'll never win----"
"Let's not exchange thinks," Bob reminded him.
"Right! I can see that you're acting under orders, and the suit must be brought. Now I tell you frankly, as one Modern Woods-pussy of the World to another, that you're the only fellow that has any real testimony. What I want to know is, are you going to use it?"
Bob looked at his companion steadily.
"I don't see why, even without witnesses, I should give away government plans to you, Baker."
Baker sighed, and slid from the boulder.
"I'm practically certain how the cat jumps, and I've long since made my plans accordingly. Whatever you say does not alter my course of action. Only I hate to do a man an injustice without being sure. You needn't answer. Your last remark means that you are. I have too much sense to do the little Eva to you, Orde. You've got the gray stuff in your head, even if it is a trifle wormy. Of course, it's no good telling you that you're going back on a friend, that you'll be dragging Welton into the game when he hasn't got a chip to enter with, that you're betraying private confidence--well, I guess the rest is all 'thinks.'"
"I'm sorry, Baker," said Bob, "and I suppose I must appear to be a spy in the matter. But it can't be helped."
Baker's good-humoured, fat face had fallen into grave lines. He studied a distant spruce tree for a moment.
"Well," he roused himself at last, "I wish this particular attack of measles had passed off before you bucked up against us. Because, you know, that land's ours, and we don't expect to give it up on account of this sort of fool agitation. We'll win this case. I'm sorry you're mixed up in it."
"Saleratus Bill?" hinted Bob.
Baker's humorous expression returned.
"What do you take me for?" he grinned. "No, that's Oldham's bodyguard. Thinks he needs a bodyguard these days. That's what comes from having a bad conscience, I tell him. Some of those dagoes he's sold bum farms to are more likely to show up with a desire to abate him, than that anything would happen to him in these hills. Now let's get this straight; the cases go on?"
"And you testify?"
"And call Welton in for corroboration?"
"I hardly think that's necessary."
"It will be, as you very well know. I just wanted to be sure how we stood toward each other. So long."
He turned uncompromisingly away, and stumped off down the trail on his fat and sturdy legs.
Bob looked after him amazed, at this sudden termination of the interview. He had anticipated argument, sophistry, appeal to old friendship, perhaps a more dark and doubtful approach. Though conscious throughout of Baker's contempt for what the promoter would call his childish impracticability, his disloyalty and his crankiness, Bob realized that all of this had been carefully subdued. Baker's manner at parting expressed more of regret than of anger or annoyance.