But he was not allowed many hours to indulge in either emotion. Very early next morning the telephone, which Ranger Morton had promptly repaired, began to ring. Charley answered the call and received a brusque order from the forester to remain at the tower, as the forester was coming out to see him.
"I wonder if Mr. Marlin ever sleeps," said Charley to himself. "He's probably on his way here now and I'm hardly out of bed. I'll make him a cup of coffee and some toast anyway."
But when Charley came to make the toast, he could find only three slices of bread. Lumley had cleaned him out of food. It seemed no time at all to Charley before he heard the chugging of the forester's motor in the valley. A short time afterward two men ascended to the cabin. Charley was surprised.
"Let me introduce you to the Chief Forester of Pennsylvania," said Mr. Marlin. Charley was suddenly abashed. He held out his hand and responded to the Commissioner's greeting, but was at a joss for anything further to say. He thought of his toast and coffee and was more than ever embarrassed, because he had only three slices to offer. Nevertheless, he set what he had before his guests.
"I'm awfully sorry this is all I can offer you," he said, "but I had some visitors yesterday who cleaned me out of food."
"So I have heard," replied the Chief Forester, with a smile.
"You will be glad to know, Charley," said the forester, "that those same visitors have confessed to their crime, or rather Lumley did. When we produced the thumb-prints in the putty and in the clay and compared them with Lumley's thumbs, he made a clean breast of everything. It won't surprise you to learn that he set the previous fires in this virgin timber. He wants to be state's evidence."
"Excellent!" cried Charley. "They won't burn any more forests—or rob any more cabins. By the way, Mr. Marlin, did you bring me any more supplies?"
"No," said the forester.
Charley looked vastly perplexed, but said nothing. He didn't want to bother the forester, but how he was to live without food he could not imagine. Evidently his face must have mirrored his thoughts, for the forester, after studying Charley's countenance, burst into a laugh.
"Charley," he said, "it's clear that you don't pay much attention to your Bible."
"What do you mean?"
"Why, don't you recall that we are admonished to take no thought for the morrow, as to what we shall eat, and so on? Here you are worrying over a little matter like food. Don't you have any ravens out in these mountains to bring you grub if you get hungry?"
"It isn't any laughing matter," replied Charley. "What am I going to do? I haven't an ounce of food left in the cabin."
The forester's eyes sparkled. "Shall we tell him what he's to do, Commissioner?" he asked.
The Chief Forester turned toward them with a smile. "I guess you had better. It would be a shame to torment this young man after what he has accomplished."
"Very well, then. Listen, Charley. Here are your orders. To begin with, Jim is now on deck again and you are relieved of your position as temporary ranger."
Charley tried hard to choke back the lump that came into his throat. Evidently his face betrayed his feelings.
"Look at him, Commissioner," said the forester. "I believe he's going to pout."
Charley bit his lip and tried to smile.
"In the second place," continued the forester, "you are to remove your belongings from this post and oversee the cutting of the lumber operation."
The smile that now came to Charley's face was not forced.
"In the third place," the forester went on, "you are hereby appointed a ranger in the Pennsylvania Forest Service to succeed one George Lumley."
"Oh! Mr. Marlin," cried Charley, "you don't mean it honestly?"
"I sure do. And there is nothing temporary about your appointment. You are a full-fledged ranger. You have earned the place and I congratulate you heartily on having won it." He held out his hand and clasped Charley's warmly.
"Now, that is all I have to say to you," concluded the forester, "but I think the Commissioner wants to speak a few words with you."
Charley turned to the Chief Forester and stood expectant.
"Mr. Marlin tells me that it is your ambition to become a forester," said the Commissioner.
"It is," replied Charley.
"He also tells me that you are hindered by lack of funds and some family obligations and that you cannot see your way clear to take the regular course of studies at the state forestry academy and so achieve your ambition."
"That is true, sir," said Charley. "There is nothing I would rather do than become a forester if only it were possible. I love the forest."
"The way you have striven to protect it is proof enough of that. How would you like to become a forester without attending Mont Alto?"
"Oh! Sir, if there is any way it could be done, I would work until I dropped to accomplish it."
"There is, and you shall have the chance. It is the policy of this department to promote men for merit and to make it possible for good men to advance in the service. Mr. Marlin tells me that you came into the forest absolutely ignorant of forestry practice, but that in a short time by great application to your work and by study at night you have become one of the best men he has. All you lack is experience. Time will remedy that. If you could become a forester through a continuation of such study and work, would you like to do it? Mr. Marlin is willing to teach you the technical branches that you would study if you went to Mont Alto. He will take you into his office in winter and you can assist him in technical work from time to time in the forest, thus obtaining a complete training for the position of forester. What about it? Do you wish to do it?"
"Oh! Mr. Commissioner," cried Charley, "I can't tell you how much I want to do it. If you will just give me that chance, you'll find I'm no shirker."
"Then the chance is yours. You have earned it. Now we must hurry back to headquarters, Ranger Russell. I hope that some day I shall be able to call you Forester Russell."
Charley's heart was too full for utterance. He grasped the proffered hand and wrung it, but was afraid to say a word, for a big lump had come into his throat.
A moment later he was bustling busily about the cabin collecting his luggage. His heart was singing merrily.
"Some day," he said to himself, "we may get enough timber back on these hills so that when a poor boy wants to build a boat he can do it, and so that a working man can build a house without having to slave for a lifetime to pay for it. I tell you it makes a fellow feel mighty big to think he's going to have a hand in making life easier for so many million people."