Part Five
Chapter XXXVII
 

The coroner's inquest detained Bob over until the week following. In it Amy's testimony as to the gun-man's appearance and evident intention was quite sufficient to excuse Ware's shooting; and the fact that Oldham, as he was still known, instead of Saleratus Bill, received the bullet was evidently sheer unavoidable accident. Bob's testimony added little save corroboration. As soon as he could get away, he took the road to Fremont.

Orde was awaiting his son at the station. Bob saw the straight, heavy figure, the tanned face with the snow-white moustache, before the train had come to a stop. Full of eagerness, he waved his hat over the head of the outraged porter barricaded on the lower steps by his customary accumulation of suit cases.

"Hullo, dad! Hullo, there!" he shouted again and again, quite oblivious to the amusement of the other passengers over this tall and bronzed young man's enthusiasm.

Orde caught sight of his son at last; his face lit up, and he, too, swung his hat. A moment later they had clasped hands.

After the first greetings, Bob gave his suit case in charge to the hotel bus-man.

"We'll take a little walk up the street and talk things over," he suggested.

They sauntered slowly up the hill and down the side streets beneath the pepper and acacia trees of Fremont's beautiful thoroughfares. So absorbed did they become that they did not realize in the slightest where they were going, so that at last they had topped the ridge and, from the stretch of the Sunrise Drive, they looked over into the canon.

"So you've been getting into trouble, have you?" chaffed Orde, as they left the station.

"I don't know about that," Bob rejoined. "I do know that there are quite a number of people in trouble."

Orde laughed.

"Tell me about this Welton difficulty," said he. "Frank Taylor has our own matters well in hand. The opposition won't gain much by digging up that old charge against the integrity of our land titles. We'll count that much wiped off the slate."

"I'm glad to hear it," said Bob heartily. "Well, the trouble with Mr. Welton is that the previous administration held him up--" He detailed the aspects of the threatened bribery case; while Orde listened without comment. "So," he concluded, "it looked at first as if they rather had him, if I testified. It had me guessing. I hated the thought of getting a man like Mr. Welton in trouble of that sort over a case in which he was no way interested."

"What did you decide?" asked Orde curiously.

"I decided to testify."

"That's right."

"I suppose so. I felt a little better about it, because they had me in the same boat. That let me out in my own feelings, naturally."

"How?" asked Orde swiftly.

"There had been trouble up there between Plant--you remember I wrote you of the cattle difficulties?"

"With Simeon Wright? I know all that."

"Well, one of the cattlemen was ruined by Plant's methods; his wife and child died from want of care on that account. He was the one who killed Plant; you remember that."

"Yes."

"I happened to be near and I helped him escape."

"And some one connected with the Modoc Company was a witness," conjectured Orde. "Who was it?"

"A man who went under the name of Oldham. A certain familiarity puzzled me for a long time. Only the other day I got it. He was Mr. Newmark."

"Newmark!" cried Orde, stopping short and staring fixedly at his son.

"Yes; the man who was your partner when I was a very small boy. You remember?"

"Remember!" repeated Orde; then in tones of great energy: "He and I both have reason to remember well enough! Where is he now? I can put a stop to him in about two jumps!"

"You won't need to," said Bob quietly; "he's dead--shot last week."

For some moments nothing more was said, while the two men trudged beneath the hanging peppers near the entrance to Sunrise Drive.

"I always wondered why he had it in for me, and why he acted so queerly," Bob broke the silence at last. "He seemed to have a special and personal enmity for me. I always felt it, but I couldn't make it out."

"He had plenty of reasons for that. But it's funny Welton didn't recognize the whelp."

"Mr. Welton never saw him," Bob explained--"that is, until Newmark was dead. Then he recognized him instantly. What was it all about?"

Orde indicated the bench on the canon's edge.

"Let's sit," said he. "Newmark and I made our start together. For eight years we worked together and built up a very decent business. Then, all at once, I discovered that he was plotting systematically to do me out of every cent we had made. It was the most cold-blooded proposition I ever ran across."

"Couldn't you prove it on him?" asked Bob.

"I could prove it all right; but the whole affair made me sick. He'd always been the closest friend, in a way, I had ever had; and the shock of discovering what he really was drove everything else out of my head. I was young then. It seemed to me that all I wanted was to wipe the whole affair off the slate, to get it behind me, to forget it--so I let him go."

"I don't believe I'd have done that. Seems to me I'd have had to blow off steam," Bob commented.

Orde smiled reminiscently.

"I blew off steam," [A] said he. "It was rather fantastic; but I actually believe it was one of the most satisfactory episodes in my life. I went around to his place--he lived rather well in bachelor quarters, which was a new thing in those days--and locked the door and told him just why I was going to let him off. It tickled him hugely--for about a minute. Then I finished up by giving him about the very worst licking he ever heard tell of."

[Footnote A: See "The Riverman."]

"Was that what you told him?" cried Bob.

"What?"

"Did you say those words to him?--'I'm going to give you the very worst licking you ever heard tell of'?"

"Why, I believe I did."