The Rules of the Game by Stewart Edward White
Bob's first interest was naturally to examine these documents. He found them, as Oldham had said, copies whose accuracy was attested by the copyist before a notary. They divided themselves into two classes. The first traced the titles by which many small holdings had come into the hands of the corporation known as the Wolverine Company. The second seemed to be some sort of finding by an investigating commission. This latter was in the way of explanation of the title records, so that by referring from one to the other, Bob was able to trace out the process by which the land had been acquired. This had been by "colonizing," as it was called. According to Federal law, one man could take up but one hundred and sixty acres of government land. It had, therefore, been the practice to furnish citizens with the necessary capital so to do; after which these citizens transferred their land to the parent company. This was, of course, a direct evasion of the law; as direct an evasion as Baker's use of the mineral lands act.
For a time Bob was unable to collect his reasoning powers adequately to confront this new fact. His thoughts were in a whirl. The only thing that stood out clearly was the difference in the two cases. He knew perfectly that after Baker's effort to lift bodily from the public domain a large block of its wealth every decent citizen should cry, "Stop thief!" Instinctively he felt, though as yet he could not analyze the reasons for so feeling, that to deprive the Wolverine Company of its holdings would work a crying injustice. Yet, to all intents and purposes, apparently, the cases were on all fours. Both Welton and Baker had taken advantage of a technicality.
When Bob began to think more clearly, he at first laid this difference to a personal liking, and was inclined to blame himself for letting his affections cloud his sense of justice. Baker was companionable, jolly, but at the same time was shrewd, cold, calculating and unscrupulous in business. He could be as hard as nails. Welton, on the other hand, while possessing all of Baker's admirable and robust qualities, had with them an endearing and honest bigness of purpose, limited only--though decidedly--by his point of view and the bounds of his practical education. Baker would steal land without compunction; Welton would take land illegally without thought of the illegality, only because everybody else did it the same way.
But should the mere fact of personality make any difference in the enforcing of laws? That one man was amiable and the other not so amiable had nothing to do with eternal justice. If Bob were to fulfil his duty only against those he disliked, and in favour of his friends, he had indeed slipped back to the old days of henchman politics from which the nation was slowly struggling. He reared his head at this thought. Surely he was man enough to sink private affairs in the face of a stern public duty!
This determined, Bob thought the question settled. After a few minutes, it returned as full of interrogation points as ever. Leaving Baker and Welton entirely out of the question, the two cases still drew apart. One was just, the other unjust. Why? On the answer depended the peace of Bob's conscience. Of course he would resign rather than be forced to prosecute Welton. That was understood, and Bob resolutely postponed contemplation of the necessity. He loved this life, this cause. It opened out into wider and more beautiful vistas the further he penetrated into it. He conceived it the only life for which he was particularly fitted by temperament and inclination. To give it up would be to cut himself off from all that he cared for most in active life; and would be to cast him into the drudgery of new and uncongenial lines. That sacrifice must be made. It's contemplation and complete realization could wait. But a deeper necessity held Bob, the necessity of resolving the question of equities which the accident of his personal knowledge of Welton and Baker had evoked. He had to prove his instincts right or wrong.
He was not quite ready to submit the matter officially, but he wished very much to talk it over with some one. Glancing up he caught sight of the glitter of silver and the satin sheen of a horse. Star was coming down through the trees, resplendent in his silver and carved leather trappings, glossy as a bird, stepping proudly and daintily under the curbing of his heavy Spanish bit. In the saddle lounged the tall, homely figure of old California John, clad in faded blue overalls, the brim of his disreputable, ancient hat flopped down over his lean brown face, and his kindly blue eyes. Bob signalled him.
"John!" he called, "come here! I want to talk with you!"
The stately, beautiful horse turned without any apparent guiding motion from his master, stepped the intervening space and stopped. California John swung from the saddle. Star, his head high, his nostril wide, his eye fixed vaguely on some distant vision, stood like an image.
"I want a good talk with you," repeated Bob.
They sat on the same log whereon Oldham and Bob had conferred.
"John," said Bob, "Oldham has been here, and I don't know what to do."
California John listened without a single word of comment while Bob detailed all the ins and outs of the situation. When he had finished, the old man slowly drew forth his pipe, filled it, and lit it.
"Son," said he, "I'm an old man, and I've lived in this state since the early gold days. That means I've seen a lot of things. In all that time the two most valuable idees I've dug up are these: in the first place, it don't never do to go off half-cock; and in the second place, if you want to know about a thing, go to headquarters for it."
He removed his pipe and blew a cloud.
"Half of that's for me and the other half's for you," he resumed. "I ain't going to give you my notions until I've thought them over a little; that's for me. As for you, if I was you, I'd just amble over and talk the whole matter over with Mr. Welton and see what he thinks about his end of it."