Part 8 out of 12
ride off in the mountains, and do cattle work, and figure on things, and
do administrative work; and we none of us are stuck on construction." He
looked around him at his audience, now quiet and attentive. "But we've
got to have headquarters, and barns, and houses, and corrals and
pastures. Once they're built, they're built and that ends it. But they
got to be built. We're just in hard luck that we happen to be rangers
right now. The Service can't hire carpenters for us very well, way up
here; and _somebody's_ got to do it. It ain't as if we had to do it for
a living, all the time. There's a variety. We get all kinds. Rangering's
no snap, any more than any other job. One thing," he ended with a laugh,
"we get a chance to do about everything."
The valley youth had dropped sullenly back into the shadows, nor did he
reply to this. After a little the men scattered to their quarters, for
they were tired.
Bob and Jack Pollock occupied together one of the older cabins, a rough
little structure, built mainly of shakes. It contained two bunks, a
rough table, and two stools constructed of tobacco boxes to which legs
had been nailed. As the young men were preparing for bed, Bob remarked:
"Fletcher got his rise, all right. Much obliged for your tip. I nearly
bit. But he wasted his talk in my notion. That fellow is hopeless. Ross
labours in vain if he tries to brace him up."
"I reckon Ross knows that," replied Jack, "and I reckon too, he has
mighty few hopes of bracin' up Curtis. I have a kind of notion Ross was
just usin' that Curtis as a mark to talk at. What he was talkin' _to_
The week's hard physical toil was unrelieved. After Bob and Jack Pollock
had driven the last staple in the last strand of barbed wire, they
turned their horses into the new pasture. The animals, overjoyed to get
free of the picket ropes that had heretofore confined them, took long,
satisfying rolls in the sandy corner, and then went eagerly to cropping
at the green feed. Bob, leaning on the gate, with the rope still in his
hand, experienced a glow of personal achievement greater than any he
remembered to have felt since, as a small boy, he had unaided reasoned
out the problem of clear impression on his toy printing press. He
recognized this as illogical, for he had, in all modesty, achieved
affairs of some importance. Nevertheless, the sight of his own animal
enjoying its liberty in an enclosure created by his own two hands
pleased him to the core. He grinned in appreciation of Elliott's
humorous parody on the sentimental slogan of the schools--"to make two
cedar posts grow where none grew before." There was, after all, a rather
especial satisfaction in that principle.
It next became necessary, he found, that the roof over the new office at
headquarters should receive a stain that would protect it against the
weather. He acquired a flat brush, a little seat with spikes in its
supports, and a can of stain whose base seemed to be a very
evil-smelling fish oil. Here all day long he clung, daubing on the
stain. When one shingle was done, another awaited his attention, over
and over, in unvarying monotony. It was the sort of job he had always
loathed, but he stuck to it cheerfully, driving his brush deep in the
cracks in order that no crevice might remain for the entrance of the
insidious principle of decay. Casting about in his leisure there for the
reason of his patience, he discovered it in just that; he was now at no
task to be got through with, to be made way with; he was engaged in a
job that was to be permanent. Unless he did it right, it would not be
Below him the life of headquarters went on. He saw it all, and heard it
all, for every scrap of conversation rose to him from within the office.
He was amazed at the diversity of interests and the complexity of
problems that came there for attention.
"Look here, Mr. Thorne," said one of the rangers, "this Use Book says
that a settler has a right to graze ten head of stock _actually in use_
free of grazing charge. Now there's Brown up at the north end. He runs a
little dairy business, and has about a hundred head of cattle up. He
claims we ought not to charge him for ten head of them because they're
all 'actually in use.' How about it?"
Thorne explained that the exemption did not apply to commercial uses and
that Brown must pay for all. He qualified the statement by saying that
this was the latest interpretation of which he had heard.
In like manner the policies in regard to a dozen little industries and
interests were being patiently defined and determined--dairies, beef
cattle, shake makers, bees, box and cleat men, free timber users, mining
men, seekers for water concessions, those who desired rights of way,
permits for posts, pastures, mill sites--all these proffered their
requests and difficulties to the Supervisor. Sometimes they were
answered on the spot. Oftener their remarks were listened to, their
propositions taken under advisement. Then one or another of the rangers
was summoned, given instructions. He packed his mule, saddled his horse,
and rode away to be gone a greater or lesser period of time. Others were
sent out to run lines about tracts, to define boundaries. Still others,
like Ross Fletcher, pounded drill and rock, and exploded powder on the
new trail that was to make more accessible the tremendous canon of the
river. The men who came and went rarely represented any but the smallest
interests; yet somehow Bob felt their importance, and the importance of
the little problems threshed out in the tiny, rough-finished office
below him. These but foreshadowed the greater things to come. And these
minute decisions shaped the policies and precedents of what would become
mighty affairs. Whether Brown should be allowed to save his paltry three
dollars and a half or not determined larger things. To Bob's half-mystic
mood, up there under the mottled shadows, every tiny move of this game
became portentous with fate. A return of the old exultation lifted him.
He saw the shadows of these affairs cast dim and gigantic against the
mists of the future. These men were big with the responsibility of a new
thing. It behooved them all to act with circumspection, with due heed,
Bob applied his broad brush and the evil-smelling stain methodically and
with minute care as to every tiny detail of the simple work. But his
eyes were wide and unseeing, and all the inner forces of his soul were
moving slowly and mightily. His personality had nothing to do with the
matter. He painted; and affairs went on with him. His being held itself
passive, in suspension, while the forces and experiences and influences
of one phase of his life crystallized into their foreordained shapes
deep within him. Yesterday he was this; now he was becoming that; and
the two were as different beings. New doors of insight were silently
swinging open on their hinges, old prejudices were closing, fresh
convictions long snugly in the bud were unfolding like flowers. These
things were not new. They had begun many years before when as a young
boy he had stared wide-eyed, unseeing and uncomprehending, gazing down
the sun-streaked, green, lucent depths of an aisle in the forest. Bob
painted steadily on, moving his little seat nearer and nearer the
eaves. When noon and night came, he hung up his utensils very carefully,
washed up, and tramped to the rangers' camp, where he took his part in
the daily tasks, assumed his share of the conversation, entered into the
fun, and contributed his ideas toward the endless discussions. No one
noticed that he was in any way different from his ordinary self. But it
was as though some one outside of himself, in the outer circle of his
being, carried on these necessary and customary things. He, drawn apart,
watched by the shrine of his soul. He did nothing, either by thought or
effort--merely watched, patient and rapt, while foreordained and mighty
changes took place--
He reached the edge of the roof; stood on the ladder to finish the last
row of the riven shingles. Slowly his brush moved, finishing the cracks
deep down so that the principle of decay might never enter. Inside the
office Thorne sat dictating a letter to some applicant for privilege.
The principle was new in its interpretation, and so Thorne was choosing
his words with the greatest care. Swiftly before Bob's inner vision the
prospect widened. Thorne became a prophet speaking down the years; the
least of these men in a great new Service became the austere champions
of something high and beautiful. For one moment Bob dwelt in a
wonderful, breathless, vast, unreal country where heroic figures moved
in the importance of all the unborn future, dim-seen, half-revealed. He
drew his brush across the last shingle of all. Something seemed to
click. Swiftly the gates shut, the strange country receded into infinite
distance. With a rush like the sucking of water into a vacuum the
everyday world drew close. Bob, his faculties once more in their
accustomed seat, looked about him as one awakened. His hour was over.
The change had taken place.
Thorne was standing in the doorway with Amy, their dictation finished.
"All done?" said he. "Well, you did a thorough job. It's the kind that
"I'm right on deck when it comes to painting things red," retorted Bob.
"Next," said Thorne, "I want you to help one of the boys split some
cedar posts. We've got a corral or so to make."
Bob descended slowly from the ladder, balancing the remainder of the red
stain. Thorne looked at him curiously.
"How do you like it as far as you've gone?" he permitted himself to ask.
"This isn't quite up to the romantic idea of rangering, is it?"
"Well," said Bob with conviction, "I suppose it may sound foolish; but I
never was surer of anything in my life than that I've struck the right
As he walked home that night, he looked back on the last few days with a
curious bewilderment. It had all been so real; now apparently it meant
nothing. Thorne was doing good work; these rangers were good men. But
where had vanished all Bob's exaltation? where his feeling of the
portent and influence and far-reaching significance of what these men
were doing? He realized its importance; but the feeling of its
fatefulness had utterly gone. Things with him were back on a work-a-day
basis. He even laughed a little, good-humouredly, at himself. At the
gate to the new pasture he once more stopped and looked at his horse. A
deep content came over him.
"I've sure struck the right job!" he repeated aloud with conviction.
And this, could he have known it, was the outward and visible and only
sign of the things spiritual that had been veiled.
When Saturday evening came the men washed and shaved and put on clean
garments. Bob, dog tired after a hard day, was more inclined to lie on
"Ain't you-all goin' over to-night?" asked Jack Pollock.
"Why," explained the younger man, "always after supper Saturdays all the
boys who are in camp go over to spend the evenin' at headquarters."
Aggressively sleek and scrubbed, the little group marched down through
the woods in the twilight. At headquarters Amy Thorne and her brother
welcomed them and ushered them into the big room, with the stone
fireplace. In this latter a fire of shake-bolts leaped and roared. The
men crowded in, a trifle bashfully, found boxes and home-made chairs,
and perched about talking occasionally in very low tones to the nearest
neighbour. Amy sat in a rocking chair by the table lamp, sewing on
something, paying little attention to the rangers, save to throw out an
occasional random remark. Thorne had not yet entered. Finally Amy
dropped the sewing in her lap.
"You're all as solemn as a camp-meeting," she told them severely. "How
many times must I tell you to smoke up and be agreeable? Here, Mr. Ware,
set them a good example."
She pushed a cigar box toward the older man. Bob saw it to be half full
of the fine-flaked tobacco so much used in the West. Thus encouraged,
Ware rolled himself a cigarette. Others followed suit. Still others
produced and filled black old pipes. A formidable haze eddied through
the apartment. Amy, still sewing, said, without looking up:
"One of you boys go rummage the store room for the corn popper. The
corn's in a corn-meal sack on the far shelf."
Just then Thorne came in, bringing a draft of cold air with him.
"Well," said he, "this is a pretty full house for this time of year."
He walked directly to the rough, board shelf and from it took down a
"This man Kipling will do again for to-night," he remarked. "He knows
more about our kind of fellow than most. I've sent for one or two other
things you ought to know, but just now I want to read you a story that
may remind you of something you've run against yourself. We've a few
wild, red-headed Irishmen ourselves in these hills."
He walked briskly to the lamp, opened the volume, and at once began to
read. Every once in a while he looked up from the book to explain a
phrase in terms the men would understand, or to comment pithily on some
similarity in their own experience. When he had finished, he looked
about at them, challenging.
"There; what did I tell you? Isn't that just about the way they hand it
out to us here? And this story took place the other side of the world!
It's quite wonderful when you stop to think about it, isn't it? Listen
He pounced on another story. This led him to a second incursion on the
meagre library. Bob did not recognize the practical, rather hard Thorne
of everyday official life. The man was carried away by his eagerness to
interpret the little East Indian to these comrade spirits of the West.
The rangers listened with complete sympathy, every once in a while
throwing in a comment or a criticism, never hesitating to interrupt when
interruption seemed pertinent.
Finally Amy, who had all this time been sewing away unmoved, a
half-tender, half-amused smile curving her lips, laid down her work with
an air of decision.
"I'll call your attention," said she, "to the fact that I'm hungry. Shut
up your book; I won't hear another word." She leaned across the table,
and, in spite of Thorne's half-earnest protests, took possession of the
"Besides," she remarked, "look at poor Jack Pollock; he's been popping
corn like a little machine, and he must be nearly roasted himself."
Jack turned to her a face very red from the heat of the leaping pine
"That's right," he grinned, "but I got about a dishpan done."
"You'll be in practice to fight fire," some one chaffed him.
"Oh, he'll fight fire all right, if there's somethin' to eat the other
side," drawled Charley Morton.
"It's plenty," said Amy, referring to the quantity of popcorn.
"Why," spoke up California John in an aggrieved and surprised tone,
"ain't there nobody going to eat popcorn but me?"
Amy disappeared only to return bearing a cake frosted with chocolate.
The respect with which this was viewed proved that the men appreciated
to the full what was represented by chocolate cake in this altitude of
tiny stoves and scanty supplies. Again Amy dove into the store room.
This time she bore back a huge enamel-ware pitcher which she set in the
middle of the round table.
"There!" she cried, her cheeks red with triumph.
"What you got, Amy?" asked her brother.
Ross Fletcher leaned forward to look.
"Great guns!" he cried.
The men jostled around, striving for a glimpse, half in joke, half in
"Lemonade!" cried Ware.
"None of your lime juice either," pronounced California John; "look at
the genuine article floatin' around on top."
They turned to Amy.
"Where did you get them?" they demanded.
But she shook her head, smiling, and declined to tell.
They devoured the popcorn and the chocolate cake to the last crumb, and
emptied the pitcher of genuine lemonade. Then they went home. It was all
simple enough: cheap tobacco; reading aloud; a little rude chaffing;
lemonade, cake and popcorn! Bob smiled to himself as he thought of the
consternation a recital of these ingredients would carry to the
sophisticated souls of most of his friends. Yet he had enjoyed the
party, enjoyed it deeply and thoroughly. He came away from it glowing
At these and similar occupations the latter days of June slipped by. Bob
had little leisure, for the Service was undermanned for the work it must
do. Curtis sooned resigned, to everybody's joy and relief.
On only one occasion did Bob gain a chance to ride over to the scenes of
his old activities. This was on a Sunday when, by a miracle, nothing
unexpected came up to tie him to his duty. He had rather an
unsatisfactory visit with Mr. Welton. It was cordial enough on both
sides, for the men were genuinely fond of each other; but they had lost
touch of each other's interests. Welton persisted in regarding Bob with
a covert amusement, as an older man regards a younger who is having his
fling, and will later settle down. Bob asked after the work, and was
answered. Neither felt any real human interest in the questions nor
their replies. A certain constraint held them, to Bob's very genuine
regret. He rode back through the westering shadows vaguely uneasy in his
He and two of the new mountain men had been for two days cutting up some
dead and down trees that encumbered the enclosure at headquarters. They
cross-cut the trunks into handy lengths; bored holes in them with a
two-inch augur; loaded the holes with blasting powder and a fuse, and
touched them off. The powder split the logs into rough posts small
enough to handle. These fragments they carried laboriously to the middle
of the meadow, where they stacked them rack-fashion and on end. The idea
was to combine business with pleasure by having a grand bonfire the
night of the Fourth of July.
For this day other preparations were forward. Amy promised a spread for
everybody, if she could get a little help at the last moment. As many of
the outlying rangers as could manage it would come in for the occasion.
A shooting match, roping and chopping contests, and other sports were in
As the time drew near, various mysteries were plainly afoot. Men claimed
their turns in riding down the mountain for the mail. They took with
them pack horses. These they unpacked secretly and apart. Amy gave Bob
to understand that this holiday, when the ranks were fullest and
conditions ripe, went far as a substitute for Christmas among these men.
Then at noon of July second Charley Morton dashed down the trail from
the Upper Meadow, rode rapidly to Headquarters, flung himself from his
horse, and dove into the office. After a moment he reappeared, followed
"Saddle up, boys," said the latter. "Fire over beyond Baldy. Ride and
gather in the men who are about here," he told Bob.
Bob sprang on Charley Morton's horse and rode about instructing the
workers to gather. When he returned, Thorne gave his instructions.
"We're short-handed," he stated, "and it'll be hard to get help just at
this time. Charley, you take Ware, Elliott and Carroll and see what it
looks like. Start a fire line, and do the best you can. Orde, you and
Pollock can get up some pack horses and follow later with grub,
blankets, and so forth. I'll ride down the mountain to see what I can do
about help. It may be I can catch somebody by phone at the Power House
who can let the boys know at the north end. You say it's a big fire?"
"I see quite a lot of smoke," said Charley.
"Then the boys over Jackass way and by the Crossing ought to see it for
The four men designated caught up their horses, saddled them, and
mounted. Thorne handed them each a broad hoe, a rake and an axe. They
rode off up the trail. Thorne mounted on his own horse.
"Pack up and follow as fast as you can," he told the two who still
"What you want we should take?" asked Jack.
"Amy will tell you. Get started early as you can. You'll have to follow
Amy took direction of them promptly. While they caught and saddled the
pack horses, she was busy in the storeroom. They found laid out for them
a few cooking utensils, a variety of provisions tied up in strong little
sacks, several more hoes, axes and rakes, two mattocks, a half-dozen
flat files, and as many big zinc canteens.
"Now hurry!" she commanded them; "pack these, and then get some blankets
from your camp, and some hobbles and picket ropes."
With Bob's rather awkward help everything was made fast. By the time the
two had packed the blankets and returned to headquarters on their way to
the upper trail, they found Amy had changed her clothes, caught and
saddled her own horse, tied on well-filled saddle bags, and stood
awaiting them. She wore her broad hat looped back by the pine tree badge
of the Service, a soft shirtwaist of gray flannel, a short divided skirt
of khaki and high-laced boots. A red neckerchief matched her cheeks,
which were glowing with excitement. Immediately they appeared, she swung
aboard with the easy grace of one long accustomed to the saddle. Bob's
lower jaw dropped in amazement.
"You going?" he gasped, unable even yet to comprehend the everyday fact
that so many gently nurtured Western girls are accustomed to those
"I wouldn't stay away for worlds!" she cried, turning her pony's head up
Beyond the upper meadow this trail suddenly began to climb. It made its
way by lacets in the dry earth, by scrambles in the rocks until, through
the rapidly thinning ranks of the scrubby trees, Bob could look back
over all the broad shelf of the mountain whereon grew the pines. It lay
spread before him as a soft green carpet of tops, miles of it, wrinkling
and billowing gently as here and there the conformation of the country
changed. At some distance it dropped over an edge. Beyond that, very
dimly, he realized the brown shimmer rising from the plain. Far to the
right was a tenuous smoke, a suggestion of thinning in the forest, a
flash of blue water. This, Bob knew, must be the mill and the lake.
The trail shortly made its way over the shoulder of the ridge and
emerged on the wide, gentle rounding of the crest. Here the trees were
small, stunted and wind-blown. Huge curving sheets of unbroken granite
lay like armour across the shoulder of the mountain. Decomposing granite
shale crunched under the horses' hoofs. Here and there on it grew
isolated tiny tufts of the hardy upland flowers. Above, the sky was
deeply, intensely blue; bluer than Bob had ever seen a sky before. The
air held in it a tang of wildness, as though it had breathed from great
"I suppose this is the top of our ridge, isn't it?" Bob asked Jack
The boy nodded.
Suddenly the trail dipped sharp to the left into a narrow and shallow
little ravine. The bed of this was carpeted by a narrow stringer of
fresh grass and flowers, through which a tiny stream felt its hesitating
way. This ravine widened and narrowed, turned and doubled. Here and
there groups of cedars on a dry flat offered ideal shelter for a camp.
Abruptly the stringer burst through a screen of azaleas to a round green
meadow surrounded by the taller trees of the eastern slope of the
In other circumstances Bob would have liked to stop for a better sight
of this little gem of a meadow. It was ankle deep with new grasses,
starred with flowers, bordered with pink and white azaleas. The air,
prisoned in a pocket, warmed by the sun, perfumed heavily by the
flowers, lay in the cup of the trees like a tepid bath. A hundred birds
sang in June-tide ecstasy.
But Jack Pollock, without pause, skirted this meadow, crossed the tiny
silver creek that bubbled from it down the slope, and stolidly mounted a
little knoll beyond. The trained pack horses swung along behind him,
swaying gently from side to side that they might carry their packs
comfortably and level. Bob turned involuntarily to glance at Amy. Their
eyes met. She understood; and smiled at him brightly.
Jack led the way to the top of the knoll and stopped.
Here the edge of the mountain broke into a tiny outcropping spur that
shook itself free from the pines. It constituted a natural lookout to
the east. Bob drew rein so violently that even his well-trained mountain
horse shook its head in protest.
Before him, hushed with that tremendous calm of vast distances, lay the
Sierras he had never seen, as though embalmed in the sunlight of a
thousand afternoons. A tremendous, deep canon plunged below him, blue
with distance. It climbed again to his level eventually, but by that
time it was ten miles away. And over against him, very remote, were pine
ridges looking velvety and dark and ruffled and full of shadows, like
the erect fur of a beast that has been alarmed. From them here and there
projected granite domes. And beyond them bald ranges; and beyond them,
splintered granite with snow in the crevices; and beyond this the dark
and frowning Pinnacles; and still beyond, other mountains so distant, so
ethereal, so delicately pink and rose and saffron that almost he
expected they might at any moment dissolve into the vivid sky. And,
strangely enough, though he realized the tremendous heights and depths
of these peaks and canons, the whole effect to Bob was as something
spread out broad. The sky, the wonderful over-arching, very blue sky,
was the most important thing in the universe. Compared to its
infinitudes these mountains lay spread like a fair and wrinkled footrug
to a horizon inconceivably remote and mysterious.
Then his eye fell to the ridge opposite, across the blue canon. From one
point on it a straight column of smoke rolled upward, to mushroom out
and hang motionless above the top of the ridge. Its base was shot by
half-seen, half-guessed flaming streaks.
Bob had vaguely expected to see a whole country-side ablaze. This
single, slender column was almost absurd. It looked like a camp-fire,
magnified to fit the setting, of course.
"There's the fire, all right," said Jack. "We got to get across to it
somehow. Trail ends here."
"Why, that doesn't amount to much!" cried Bob.
"Don't it?" said Jack. "Well, I'd call that some shakes of a fire
myself. It's covered mighty nigh three hundred acres by now."
"Three hundred acres! Better say ten."
"You're wrong," said Jack; "I've rode all that country with cattle."
"You'll find it fire enough, when you get there," put in Amy. "It's
right in good timber, too."
"All right," agreed Bob; "I'll believe anything--after this." He waved
his hand abroad. "Jack," he called, as that young man led the way off
the edge, "can you see where Jack Main's Canon is from here?"
"Jack Main's!" repeated young Pollock. "Why, if you was on the top of
the farthest mountain in sight, you couldn't see any place you could see
"Good Lord!" said Bob.
The way zigzagged down the slope of the mountain. As Jack had said,
there was no trail, but the tracks left by the four rangers were plainly
to be discerned. Bob, following the pack horses, had leisure to observe
how skilfully this way had been picked out. Always it held to the easy
footing, but always it was evident that if certain turns had not been
made some distance back this easy footing would have lacked. At times
the tracks led far to the left at nearly the same level until one, two
or three little streams had been crossed. Then without apparent reason
they turned directly down the backbone of a steep ridge exactly like a
half-dozen others they had passed over. But later Bob saw that this
ridge was the only one of the lot that dipped over gently to lower
levels; all the rest broke off abruptly in precipitous rocks. Bob was a
good woodsman, but this was his first experience in that mountaineering
skill which noses its way by the "lay of the country."
In the meantime they were steadily descending. The trees hemmed them
closer. Thickets of willows and alders had to be crossed. Dimly through
the tree-tops they seemed to see the sky darkening by degrees as they
worked their way down. At first Bob thought it the lateness of the
afternoon; then he concluded it must be the smoke of the fire; finally,
through a clear opening, he saw this apparent darkening of the horizon
was in reality the blue of the canon wall opposite, rising as they
descended. But, too, as they drew nearer, the heavy smoke of the
conflagration began to spread over them. In time it usurped the heavens,
and Bob had difficulty in believing that it could appear to any one
anywhere as so simple a mushroom-head over a slender smoke column.
By the time the horses stepped from the slope to the bed of the canon,
it was quite dark. Jack turned down stream.
"We'll cut the trail to Burro Rock pretty quick," said he.
Within five minutes of travel they did cut it; a narrow brown trough,
trodden by the hoofs of many generations of cattlemen bound for the back
country. Almost immediately it began to mount the slope.
Now ahead, through the gathering twilight, lights began to show,
sometimes scattered, sometimes grouped, like the camp-fires of an
immense army. These were the stubs, stumps, down logs and the like left
still blazing after all the more readily inflammable material had been
burned away. As the little cavalcade laboured upward, stopping every few
minutes to breathe the horses, these flickering lights defined
themselves. In particular one tall dead yellow pine standing boldly
prominent, afire to the top, alternately glowed and paled as the wind
breathed or died. A smell of stale burning drifted down the damp night
air. Pretty soon Jack Pollock halted for a moment to call back:
"Here's their fire line!"
Bob spurred forward. Just beyond Jack's horse the country lay blackened.
The pine needles had burned down to the soil; the seedlings and younger
trees had been withered away; the larger trees scorched; the fuel with
which every forest is littered consumed in the fierceness of the
conflagration. Here and there some stub or trunk still blazed and
crackled, outposts of the army whose camp-fires seemed to dot the hills.
The line of demarcation between the burned and the unburned areas seemed
extraordinarily well defined. Bob looked closer and saw that this
definition was due to a peculiar path, perhaps two yards wide. It looked
as though some one had gone along there with a huge broom, sweeping as
one would sweep a path in deep dust. Only in this case the broom must
have been a powerful implement as well as one of wide reach. The brushed
marks went not only through the carpet of pine needles, but through the
tarweed, the snow brush, the manzanita. This was technically the fire
line. At the sight of the positiveness with which it had checked the
spread of the flames, Bob's spirits rose.
"They seem to have stopped it here easy enough, already," he cried.
"Being as how this is the windward side of the fire, and on a down
slope, I should think they might," remarked Jack Pollock drily.
Bob chuckled and glanced at the girl.
"I'm finding out every day how little I know," said he; "at my age,
"The hard work is down wind," said Amy.
They entered the burned area, and climbed on up the hill. Though
evidently here the ferocity of the conflagration had passed, it had left
its rear guard behind. Fallen trees still blazed; standing trees flamed
like torches--but all harmlessly within the magic circle drawn by the
desperate quick work of the rangers. They threaded their way cautiously
among these isolated fires, watching lest some dead giant should fall
across their path. The ground smoked under their feet. Against the
background of a faint and distant roaring, which now made itself
evident, the immediate surroundings seemed very quiet. The individual
cracklings of flames were an undertone. Only once in a while a dull
heavy crash smote the air as some great tree gave up the unequal
They passed as rapidly as they could through this stricken field. The
night had fallen, but the forest was still bright, the trail still
plain. They followed it for an hour until it had topped the lower ridge.
Then far ahead, down through the dark trunks of trees, they saw,
wavering, flickering, leaping and dying, a line of fire. In some places
it was a dozen feet high; in others it sank to within a few inches of
the ground--but nowhere could the eye discern an opening through it. A
roar and a crackling filled the air. Sparks were shooting upward in the
suction. A blast of heat rushed against Bob's cheek. All at once he
realized that a forest fire was not a widespread general conflagration,
like the burning of a city block. It was a line of battle, a ring of
flame advancing steadily. All they had passed had been negligible. Here
was the true enemy, now charging rapidly through the dry, inflammable
low growth, now creeping stealthily in the needles and among the rocks;
always making way, always gathering itself for one of its wild leaps
which should lay an entire new province under its ravaging. Somewhere on
the other side of that ring of fire were four men. They were trying to
cut a lane over which the fire could not leap.
Bob gazed at the wall of flame with some dismay.
"How we going to get through?" he asked.
"We got to find a rock outcrop somewheres up the ridge," explained Jack,
"where there'll be a break in the fire."
He turned up the side of the mountain again, leading the way. After a
time they came to an outcrop of the sort described, which, with some
difficulty and stumbling, they succeeded in crossing.
Ahead, in the darkness, showed a tiny licking little fire, only a few
"The fire has jumped!" cried Bob.
"No, that's their backfire," Pollock corrected him.
They found this to be true. The rangers had hastily hoed and raked out a
narrow path. Over this a very small fire could not pass; but there could
be no doubt that the larger conflagration would take the slight obstacle
in its stride. Therefore the rangers had themselves ignited the small
fire. This would eat away the fuel, and automatically widen the path.
Between the main fire and the back fire were still several hundred yards
of good, unburned country. To Bob's expression of surprise Amy added to
the two principles of fire-fighting he had learned from Pollock.
"It doesn't do to try to stop a fire anywhere and everywhere," said she.
"A good man knows his country, and he takes advantage of it. This fire
line probably runs along the line of natural defence."
They followed it down the mountain for a long distance through the
eddying smoke. The flames to their right shot up and died and crept. The
shadows to their left--their own among the number--leaped and fell.
After a while, down through the mists, they made out a small figure,
very busy at something. When they approached, they found this to be
Charley Morton. The fire had leaped the cleared path and was greedily
eating in all directions through the short, pitchy growth of tarweed. It
was as yet only a tiny leak, but once let it get started, the whole
forest beyond the fire line would be ablaze. The ranger had started to
cut around this a half-circle connected at both ends with the main fire
line. With short, quick jabs of his hoe, he was tearing away at the
"Hullo!" said he without looking up. "You'll find camp on the bald ridge
north the fire line. There's a little feed there."
Having completed his defence, he straightened his back to look at them.
His face was grimed a dingy black through which rivulets of sweat had
"Had it pretty hot all afternoon," he proffered. "Got the fire line
done, though. How're those canteens--full? I'll trade you my empty one."
He took a long draught. "That tastes good. Went dry about three o'clock,
and haven't had a drop since."
They left him there, leaning on the handle of his hoe. Jack Pollock
seemed to know where the place described as the camp-site was located,
for after various detours and false starts, he led them over the brow of
a knoll to a tiny flat among the pine needles where they were greeted by
whinnies from unseen animals. It was here very dark. Jack scraped
together and lit some of the pine needles. By the flickering light they
saw the four saddles dumped down in a heap.
"There's a side hill over yander with a few bunches of grass and some of
these blue lupins," said Jack. "It ain't much in the way of hoss-feed,
but it'll have to do."
He gathered fuel and soon had enough of a fire to furnish light.
"It certainly does seem plumb foolish to be lightin' _more_ fires!" he
In the meantime Amy had unsaddled her own horse and was busy unpacking
one of the pack animals. Bob followed her example.
"There," she said; "now here are the canteens, all full; and here's six
lunches already tied together that I put up before we started. You can
get them to the other boys. Take your tools and run along. I'll
straighten up, and be ready for you when you can come back."
"What if the fire gets over to you?" asked Bob.
"I'll turn the horses loose and ride away," she said gaily.
"It won't get clost to there," put in Jack. "This little ridge is rock
all round it. That's why they put the camp here."
"Where's water?" asked Amy.
"I don't rightly remember," confessed Pollock. "I've only been in here
"I'll find out in the morning. Good luck!"
Jack handed Bob three of the canteens, a hoe and rake and one of the
"What's this for?" asked Bob.
"To keep the edge of your hoe sharp," replied Jack.
They shouldered their implements and felt their way in the darkness over
the tumbled rock outcrop. As they surmounted the shoulder of the hill,
they saw once more flickering before them the fire line.
Charley Morton received the lunch with joy.
"Ain't had time to get together grub since we came," said he, "and
didn't know when I would."
"What do you want us to do?" asked Bob.
"The fire line's drawn right across from Granite Creek down there in the
canon over to a bald dome. We got her done an hour ago, and pretty well
back-fired. All we got to do now is to keep her from crossing anywheres;
and if she does cross, to corral her before she can get away from us."
"I wish we could have got here sooner!" cried Bob, disappointed that the
little adventure seemed to be flattening out.
"So?" commented Charley drily. "Well, there's plenty yet. If she gets
out in one single, lonesome place, this fire line of ours won't be worth
a cent. She's inside now--if we can hold her there." He gazed
contemplatively aloft at a big dead pine blazing merrily to its very
top. Every once in a while a chunk of bark or a piece of limb came
flaring down to hit the ground with a thump. "There's the trouble," said
he. "What's to keep a spark or a coal from that old coon from falling or
rolling on the wrong side of the line? If it happens when none of us are
around, why the fire gets a start. And maybe a coal will roll down hill
from somewhere; or a breeze come up and carry sparks. One spark over
here," he stamped his foot on the brushed line, "and it's all to do over
again. There's six of us," added the ranger, "and a hundred of these
trees near the line. By rights there ought to be a man camped down near
every one of them."
"Give us our orders," repeated Bob.
"The orders are to patrol the fire line," said Morton. "If you find the
fire has broken across, corral it. If it gets too strong for you, shoot
your six-shooter twice. Keep a-moving, but take it easy and save
yourself for to-morrow. About two o'clock, or so, I'll shoot three
times. Then you can come to camp and get a little sleep. You got to be
in shape for to-morrow."
"Why especially to-morrow?" asked Bob.
"Fire dies in the cool of night; it comes up in the middle of the day,"
explained Morton succinctly.
Bob took to the right, while Jack went in the opposite direction. His
way led down hill. He crossed a ravine, surmounted a little ridge. Now
he was in the worse than total darkness of the almost extinct area.
Embers and coals burned all over the side hill like so many evil winking
eyes. Far ahead, down the mountain, the rising smoke glowed incandescent
with the light of an invisible fire beneath, Bob, blinded by this glow,
had great difficulty in making his way. Once he found that he had
somehow crept out on the great bald roundness of a granite dome, and had
to retrace his steps. Twice he lost his footing utterly, but fortunately
fell but a short distance. At last he found himself in the V of a narrow
All this time he had, with one exception, kept close track of the fire
line. The exception was when he strayed out over the dome; but that was
natural, for the dome had been adopted bodily as part of the system of
defence. Everywhere the edge of the path proved to be black and dead. No
living fire glowed within striking distance of the inflammable material
on the hither side the path.
But here, in the bottom of the ravine, a single coal had lodged, and had
already started into flame the dry small brush. It had fallen originally
from an oak fully a hundred feet away; and in some mysterious manner had
found a path to this hidden pocket. The circumstances somewhat shook
Bob's faith in the apparent safety of the country he had just traversed.
However, there were the tiny flames, licking here and there,
insignificant, but nevertheless dangerous. Bob carefully laid his
canteens and the rake on a boulder, and set to work with his sharpened
hoe. It looked to be a very easy task to dig out a path around this
In the course of the miniature fight he learned considerable of the ways
of fire. The brush proved unexpectedly difficult. It would not stand up
to the force of his stroke, but bent away. The tarweed, especially, was
stubborn under even the most vigorous wielding of his sharpened hoe.
He made an initial mistake by starting to hoe out his path too near the
blaze, forgetting that in the time necessary to complete his half-circle
the flames would have spread. Discovering this, he abandoned his
beginning and fell back twenty feet. This naturally considerably
lengthened the line he would have to cut. When it was about half done,
Bob discovered that he would have to hustle to prevent the fire breaking
by him before he could complete his half-circle. It became a race. He
worked desperately. The heat of the flames began to scorch his face and
hands, so that it was with difficulty he could face his work.
Irrelevantly enough there arose before his mind the image of Jack
Pollock popping corn before the fireplace at headquarters. Continual
wielding of the hoe tired a certain set of muscles to the aching point.
His mouth became dry and sticky, but he could not spare time to hunt up
his canteen. The thought flashed across his mind that the fire was
probably breaking across elsewhere, just like this. The other men must
be in the same fix. There were six of them. Suppose the fire should
break across simultaneously in seven places? The little licking flames
had at last, by dint of a malignant persistence, become a personal
enemy. He fought them absorbedly, throwing his line farther and farther
as the necessity arose, running to beat down with green brush the first
feeble upstartings of the fire as it leaped here and there his barrier,
keeping a vigilant eye on every part of his defences.
"Well," drawled Charley Morton's voice behind him, "what you think
"Corralling this fire, of course," Bob panted, dashing at a marauding
"What for?" demanded Charley.
Bob looked up in sheer amazement.
"See that rock dike just up the hill behind you?" explained Morton.
"Well, our fire line already runs up to that on both sides. Fire
couldn't cross it. We expected this to burn."
Bob suddenly felt a little nauseated and dizzy from the heat and
violence of his exertions in this high altitude.
"Here's your canteen," Morton went on easily. "Take a swig. Better save
a little. Feel better? Let me give you a pointer: don't try to stop a
fire going up hill. Take it on top or just over the top. It burns slower
and it ain't so apt to jump."
"I know; I forgot," said Bob, feeling a trifle foolish.
"Never mind; you've learned something," said Morton comfortably. "Let's
go down below. There's fresh fire there; and it may have jumped past
They scrambled down. Elliott and Ware were found to be working
desperately in the face of the flames. The fire had not here jumped the
line, but it was burning with great ferocity up to the very edge of it.
If the rangers could for a half-hour prevent the heat from igniting the
growths across the defence, the main fire would have consumed its fuel
and died down to comparative safety. With faces averted, heads lowered,
handkerchiefs over their mouths, they continually beat down the new
little fires which as continually sprang into life again. Here the
antagonists were face to face across the narrow line. The rangers could
not give back an inch, for an inch of headway on the wrong side the path
would convert a kindling little blaze to a real fire. They stood up to
their work doggedly as best they might.
With entire understanding of the situation Charley motioned Bob to the
"We'll hold her for a minute," he shouted to the others. "Drop back and
get a drink."
They fell back to seize eagerly their canteens. Bob gripped his handful
of green brush and set to work. For a minute he did not think it
possible to face the terrible heat. His garments were literally drenched
with sweat which immediately dried into steam. A fierce drain sucked at
his strength. He could hardly breathe, and could see only with
difficulty. After a moment Elliott and Ware, evidently somewhat
refreshed, again took hold.
How they stuck it out for that infernal half-hour Bob could not have
told, but stick it out they did. The flames gradually died down; the
heat grew less; the danger that the shrivelled brush on the wrong side
the fire line would be ignited by sheer heat, vanished. The four men
fell back. Their eyebrows and hair were singed; their skin blackened.
Bob's face felt sore, and as though it had been stretched. He took a
long pull at his canteen. For the moment he felt as though his energy
had all been drained away.
"Well, that was a good little scrap," observed Charley Morton
cheerfully. "I certainly do wish it was always night when a man had to
fight fire. In a hot sun it gets to be hard work."
Elliott rolled his eyes, curiously white like a minstrel's in his
blackened face, at Bob, but said nothing.
"We'll leave Elliott here to watch this a few minutes, and go down the
line," said Morton.
Bob lifted his canteen, and, to his surprise, found it empty.
"Why, I must have drunk a gallon!" he cried.
"It's dry work," said Morton.
They continued on down the fire line, pausing every once in a while to
rake and scrape leisurely at the heavy bark beneath some blazing stub.
The fierce, hard work was over. All along the fire line from the dome of
granite over the ridge down to Granite Creek the fire had consumed all
the light fuel on its own side the defence. No further danger was to be
apprehended in the breaking across. But everywhere through the now
darkening forest blazed the standing trees. A wind would fill the air
with brands; and even in the present dead calm those near the line were
The men traversed the fire line from end to end a half-dozen times. Bob
became acquainted individually and minutely with each of the danger
spots. The new temporary features of country took on, from the effects
of vigilance and toil, the dignity of age and establishment. Anxiously
he widened the path here, kicked back glowing brands there, tried to
assure himself that in no possible manner could the seed of a new
conflagration find germination. After a long time he heard three shots
from up the mountain. This, he remarked, was a signal agreed upon. He
shouldered his blackened implements and commenced a laborious ascent.
Suddenly he discovered that he was very tired, and that his legs were
weak and wobbly. Stubs and sticks protruded everywhere; stones rolled
from under his feet. Once on a steep shale, he fell and rolled ten feet
out of sheer weariness. In addition he was again very thirsty, and his
canteen empty. A chill gray of dawn was abroad; the smell of stale
burning hung in the air.
By the time he had staggered into camp the daylight had come. He glanced
about him wearily. Across a tiny ravine the horses dozed, tied each to a
short picket rope. Bob was already enough of a mountaineer to notice
that the feed was very scant. The camp itself had been made under a
dozen big yellow pines. A bright little fire flickered. About it stood
utensils from which the men were rather dispiritedly helping themselves.
Bob saw that the long pine needles had been scraped together to make
soft beds, over which the blankets had been spread. Amy herself, her
cheeks red, her eyes bright, was passing around tin cups of strong
coffee, and tin plates of food. Her horse, saddled and bridled, stood
"Take a little of this," she urged Bob, "and then turn in."
Bob muttered his thanks. After swallowing the coffee, however, he felt
his energies reviving somewhat.
"How did you leave things at the lower end?" Morton was asking him.
"All out but two or three smouldering old stubs," replied Bob.
"Nothing's safe," contradicted Morton. "By rights we ought to watch
every minute. But we got to get some rest in a long fight. It's the cool
of the morning and the fire burns low. Turn in and get all the sleep you
can. May need you later."
"I'm all in," acknowledged Bob, throwing back his blanket; "I'm willing
to say so."
"No more fire in mine," agreed young Elliott.
The other men said nothing, but fell to their beds. Only Charley Morton
rose a little stiffly to his feet.
"Aren't you going to turn in too, Charley?" asked the girl quickly.
"It's daylight now," explained the ranger, "and I can see to ride a
horse. I reckon I'd better ride down the line."
"I've thought of that," said Amy. "Of course, it wouldn't do to let the
fire take care of itself. See; I have Pronto saddled. I'll look over the
line, and if anything happens I'll wake you."
"You must be about dead," said Charley. "You've been up all night fixing
camp and cooking----"
"Up all night!" repeated Amy scornfully. "How long do you think it
takes me to make camp and cook a simple little breakfast?"
"But the country's almighty rough riding."
"He's a good mountain pony," agreed Charley Morton; "California John
picked him out himself. All right. I do feel some tired."
This was about six o'clock. The men had slept but a little over an hour
when Amy scrambled over the rim of the dike and dropped from her horse.
"Charley!" she cried, shaking the ranger by the shoulder; "I'm sorry.
But there's fresh smoke about half-way down the mountain. There was
nothing left to burn fresh inside the fire line, was there? I thought
Twenty minutes later all six were frantically digging, hoeing, chopping,
beating in a frenzy against the spread of the flames. In some manner the
fire had jumped the line. It might have been that early in the fight a
spark had lodged. As long as the darkness of night held down the
temperature, this spark merely smouldered. When, however, the rays of
the sun gathered heat, it had burst into flame.
This sun made all the difference in the world. Where, in the cool of the
night, the flames had crept slowly, now they leaped forward with a
fierce crackling; green brush that would ordinarily have resisted for a
long time, now sprang into fire at a touch. The conflagration spread
from a single point in all directions, running swiftly, roaring in a
sheet of fire, licking up all before it.
The work was fierce in its intensity. Bob, in common with the others,
had given up trying--or indeed caring--to protect himself. His clothes
smoked, his face smarted and burned, his skin burned and blistered. He
breathed the hot air in gasps. Strangely enough, he did not feel in the
He did not need to be told what to do. The only possible defence was
across a rock outcrop. To right and left of him the other men were
working desperately to tear out the brush. He grubbed away trying to
clear the pine needles and little bushes that would carry the fire
through the rocks like so many powder fuses.
He had no time to see how the others were getting on; he worked on
faith. His own efforts were becoming successful. The fire, trying, one
after another, various leads through the rocks, ran out of fuel and
died. The infernal roaring furnace below, however, leaped ever to new
Then all at once Bob found himself temporarily out of the game. In
trying to roll a boulder out of the way, he caught his hand. A sharp,
lightning pain shot up his arm and into the middle of his chest. When he
had succeeded in extricating himself, he found that his middle finger
was squarely broken.
Bob stood still for a moment, looking at the injured member. Charley
Morton touched him on the shoulder. When he looked up, the ranger
motioned him back. Casting a look of regret at his half-completed
defences, he obeyed. To his surprise he found the other four already
gathered together. Evidently his being called off the work had nothing
to do with his broken finger, as he had at first supposed.
"Well, I guess we'll have to fall back," said Morton composedly. "It's
got away from us."
Without further comment he shouldered his implements and took his way up
the hill. Bob handed his hoe and rake to Jack Pollock.
"Carry 'em a minute," he explained. "I hurt my hand a little."
As he walked along he bound the finger roughly to its neighbour, and on
both tied a rude splint.
"What's up?" he muttered to Jack, as he worked at this.
"I reckon we must be goin' to start a fire line back of the next
cross-bridge somewheres," Jack ventured his opinion.
Bob stopped short.
"Then we've abandoned the old one!" he exclaimed.
"Complete," spoke up Ware, who overheard.
"And all the work we've done there is useless?"
"We've got it all to do over again from the beginning?"
Bob adjusted his mind to this new and rather overwhelming idea.
"I saw Senator What's-his-name--from Montana--made a speech the other
day," spoke up Elliott, "in which he attacked the Service because he
said it was a refuge for consumptives and incompetents!"
At this moment Amy rode up draped with canteens and balancing carefully
a steaming pail of coffee. She was accompanied by another woman
The newcomer was a decided-looking girl under thirty, with a full,
strong figure, pronounced flaxen-blond hair, a clear though somewhat
sunburned skin, blue eyes, and a flash of strong, white teeth. Bob had
never seen her before, but he recognized her as a mountain woman. She
rode a pinto, guided by a hackamore, and was attired quite simply in the
universal broad felt hat and a serviceable blue calico gown. In spite of
this she rode astride; and rode well. A throwing rope, or riata, hung in
the sling at the right side of her saddle pommel; and it looked as
though it had been used.
"Where's Charley?" she asked promptly as she rode up. "Is that you? You
look like a nigger. How you feeling? You just mind me, and don't you try
to do too much. You don't get paid for overtime at this job."
"Hullo, Lou," replied Charley Morton; "I thought it was about time you
The woman nodded at the others.
"Howdy, Mrs. Morton," answered Tom Carroll, Pollock and Ware. Bob and
By now the fire had been left far in the rear. The crackling of flames
had died in the distance; even the smoke cleared from the atmosphere.
All the forest was peaceful and cool. The Douglas squirrels scampered
and barked; the birds twittered and flashed or slanted in long flight
through the trees; the sun shone soft; a cool breeze ruffled the
feathery tips of the tarweed.
At the top of the ridge Charley Morton called a halt.
"This is pretty easy country," said he. "We'll run the line square down
either side. Get busy."
"Have a cup of coffee first," urged Amy.
"Surely. Forgot that."
They drank the coffee, finding it good, and tucked away the lunches Amy,
with her unfailing forethought, had brought them.
"Good-bye!" she called gaily; "I've got to get back to camp before the
fire cuts me off. I won't see you again till the fire burns me out a way
to get to you."
"Take my horse, too," said Mrs. Morton, dismounting. "You don't need me
Amy took the lead rein and rode away as a matter of course. She was
quite alone to guard the horses and camp equipage on the little knoll
while the fire spent its fury all around her. Everybody seemed to take
the matter for granted; but Bob looked after her with mingled feelings
of anxiety and astonishment. This Western breed of girl was still beyond
The work was at once begun. In spite of the cruel throb of his injured
hand, Bob found the labour pleasant by sheer force of contrast. The air
was cool, the shade refreshing, the frantic necessity of struggle
absent. He raked carefully his broad path among the pine needles, laying
bare the brown earth; hoed and chopped in the tarweed and brush. Several
times Charley Morton passed him. Each time the ranger paused for a
moment to advise him.
"You ought to throw your line farther back," he told Bob. "See that
'dead-and-down' ahead? If you let that cross your fire line, it'll carry
the fire sooner or later, sure; and if you curve your line too quick to
go around it, the fire'll jump. You want to keep your eye out 'way
Once Bob caught a glimpse of blue calico through the trees. As he came
nearer, he was surprised to see Mrs. Morton working away stoutly with a
hoe. Her skirts were turned back, her sleeves rolled up to display a
white and plump forearm, the neck of her gown loosened to show a round
and well-moulded neck. The strokes of her hoe were as vigorous as those
of any of the men. In watching the strong, free movements of her body,
Bob forgot for a moment what had been intruding itself on him with more
and more insistance--the throb of his broken hand.
In the course of an hour the fire line was well under way. But now wisps
of smoke began to drift down the tree aisles. Birds shot past, at first
by ones and twos, later in flocks. A deer that must have lain perdu to
let them pass bounded across the ridge, his head high, his nostrils
wide. The squirrels ran chattering down the trees, up others, leaped
across the gaps, working always farther and farther to the north. The
cool breeze carried with it puffs of hot air. Finally in distant
openings could be discerned little busy, flickering flames. All at once
the thought gripped Bob hard: the might of the fire was about to test
the quality of his work!
"There she comes!" gasped Charley Morton. "My Lord, how she's run
to-day! We got to close the line to that stone dike."
By one of the lightning transitions of motive with which these
activities seemed to abound, the affair had become a very deadly earnest
sort of race. It was simple. If the men could touch the dike before the
fire, they won.
The realization of this electrified even the weary spirits of the
fire-fighters. They redoubled their efforts. The hoes, mattocks and axes
rose and fell feverishly. Mrs. Morton, the perspiration matting her
beautiful and shining hair across her forehead, laboured with the best.
The fire, having gained the upward-rising slope, came at them with the
speed of an enemy charging. Soon they were fairly choked by the dense
clouds of smoke, fairly scorched by the waves of heat. Sweat poured from
them in streams. Bob utterly forgot his wounded hand.
And then, when they were within a scant fifty yards of the dike which
was intended to be their right wing, the flames sprang with a roar to
new life. Up the slope they galloped, whirled around the end of the fire
line, and began eagerly to lick up the tarweed and needles of the
Bob and Elliott uttered a simultaneous cry of dismay. The victory had
seemed fairly in their grasp. Now all chance of it was snatched away.
"Poor guess," said Charley Morton. The men, without other comment,
shouldered their implements and set off on a dog-trot after their
leader. The ranger merely fell back to the next natural barrier.
"Now, let's see if we can't hold her, boys," said he.
Twice again that day were these scenes reenacted. The same result
obtained. Each time it seemed to Bob that he could do no more. His hand
felt as big as a pillow, and his whole arm and shoulder ached. Besides
this he was tired out. Amy had been cut off from them by the fire. In
two days they had had but an hour's sleep. Water had long since given
out on them. The sun beat hot and merciless, assisting its kinsman, the
fire. Bob would, if left to himself, have given up the contest long
since. It seemed ridiculous that this little handful of men should hope
to arrest anything so mighty, so proud, so magnificent as this great
conflagration. As well expect a colony of ants to stop a break in the
levee. But Morton continued to fall back as though each defeat were a
matter of course. He seemed unwearied, though beneath the smoke-black
his eyes were hollow. Mrs. Morton did her part with the rest, strong as
a man for all her feminine attraction, for all the soft lines of her
"I'll drop back far enough this time," Charley muttered to her, as they
were thrown together in their last retreat. "Can't seem to get far
"There's too few of us to handle such a big fire," his wife replied.
"You can't do it with six men."
"Seven," amended Charley. "You're as good as any of us. Don't you
worry, Lou. Even if we don't stop her--and I think we will--we're
checking the run of her until we get help. We're doing well. There's
only two old fire-fighters in the lot--you and me. All the rest is green
hands. We're doing almighty well."
Overhearing this Bob plucked up heart. These desperate stands were not
then so wasted as he had thought them. At least the fire was checked at
each defence--it was not permitted to run wild over the country.
"We ought to get help before long," he said.
"To-morrow, I figure," replied Charley Morton. "The boys are scattered
wide, finishing odds and ends before coming in for the Fourth. It'll be
about impossible to get hold of any of 'em except by accident. But
they'll all come in for the Fourth."
The next defence was successfully completed before the fire reached it.
Bob felt a sudden rush of most extraordinary and vivifying emotion. A
moment ago he had been ready to drop in his tracks, indifferent whether
the fire burned him as he lay. Now he felt ready to go on forever. Bert
Elliott found energy enough to throw his hat into the air, while Jack
shook his fist at the advancing fire.
"We fooled him that time!" cried Elliott.
"Bet you!" growled Pollock.
The other men and the woman stood leaning on the long handles of their
implements staring at the advancing flames.
Morton aroused himself with an effort.
"Do your best boys," said he briefly. "There she comes. Another hour
will tell whether we've stopped her. Then we've got to hold her.
The day had passed without anybody's being aware of the fact. The cool
of the evening was already falling, and the fierceness of the
conflagration was falling in accord.
They held the line until the flames had burned themselves out against
it. Then they took up their weary patrol. Last night, when Bob was
fresh, this part of fire-fighting had seemed the hardest kind of hard
work. Now, crippled and weary as he was, in contrast to the day's
greater labour, it had become comparatively easy. About eight o'clock
Amy, having found a way through, appeared leading all the horses,
saddled and packed.
"You boys came a long way," she explained simply, "and I thought I'd
bring over camp."
She distributed food, and made trips down the fire line with coffee.
In this manner the night passed. The line had been held. No one had
slept. Sunrise found Bob and Jack Pollock far down the mountain. They
were doggedly beating back some tiny flames. The camp was a thousand
feet above, and their canteens had long been empty. Bob raised his weary
Out on a rock inside the burned area, like a sentinel cast in bronze,
stood a horseman. The light was behind him, so only his outline could be
seen. For a minute he stood there quite motionless, looking. Then he
moved forward, and another came up behind him on the rock. This one
advanced, and a third took his place. One after the other, in single
file, they came, glittering in the sun, their long rakes and hoes
slanted over their shoulders like spears.
"Look!" gasped Bob weakly.
The two stood side by side spellbound. The tiny flames licked past them
in the tarweed; they did not heed. The horsemen rode up, twenty strong.
It seemed to Bob that they said things, and shouted. Certainly a
half-dozen leaped spryly off their horses and in an instant had confined
the escaping fire. Somebody took Bob's hoe from him. A cheery voice
shouted in his ear:
"Hop along! You're through. We're on the job. Go back to camp and take a
He and Pollock turned up the mountain. Bob felt stupid. After he had
gone a hundred feet, he realized he was thirsty, and wondered why he
had not asked for a drink. Then it came to him that he might have
borrowed a horse, but remembered thickly after a long time the
impassable dikes between him and camp.
"That's why I didn't," he said aloud.
By this time it was too late to go back for the drink. He did not care.
The excitement and responsibility had drained from him suddenly, leaving
him a hollow shell.
They dragged themselves up the dike.
"I'd give a dollar and a half for a drink of water!" said Pollock
They stumbled and staggered on. A twig sufficed to trip them. Pollock
muttered between set teeth, over and over again, his unvarying
complaint: "I'd give a dollar and a half for a drink of water!"
Finally, with a flicker of vitality, Bob's sense of humour cleared for
"Not high enough," said he. "Make it two dollars, and maybe some angel
will hand you out a glass."
"That's all right," returned Pollock resentfully, "but I bet there's
some down in that hollow; and I'm going to see!"
"I wouldn't climb down there for a million drinks," said Bob; "I'll sit
down and wait for you."
Pollock climbed down, found his water, drank. He filled the canteen and
staggered back up the steep climb.
"Here you be," said he.
Bob seized the canteen and drank deep. When he took breath, he said:
"Thank you, Jack. That was an awful climb back."
"That's all right," nodded Jack shortly.
"Well, come on," said Bob.
"The hell!" muttered Jack, and fell over sound asleep.
An hour later Bob felt himself being shaken violently. He stirred and
advanced a little way toward the light, then dropped back like a plummet
into the abysses of sleep. Afterward he recalled a vague,
half-conscious impression of being lifted on a horse. Possibly he
managed to hang on; possibly he was held in the saddle--that he never
The next thing he seemed conscious of was the flicker of a camp-fire,
and the soft feel of blankets. It was night, but how it came to be so he
could not imagine. He was very stiff and sore and burned, and his hand
was very painful. He moved it, and discovered, to his vast surprise,
that it was bound tightly. When this bit of surgery had been performed
he could not have told.
He opened his eyes. Amy and Mrs. Morton were bending over cooking
utensils. Five motionless forms reposed in blankets. Bob counted them
carefully. After some moments it occurred to his dulled brain that the
number represented his companions. Some one on horseback seemed to be
arriving. A glitter of silver caught his eye. He recognized finally
California John. Then he dozed off again. The sound of voices rumbled
through the haze of his half-consciousness.
"Fifty hours of steady fire-fighting with only an hour's sleep!" he
caught Thorne's voice saying.
Bob took this statement into himself. He computed painfully over and
over. He could not make the figures. He counted the hours one after the
other. Finally he saw.
"Fifty hours for all but Pollock and me," he said suddenly; "forty for
No one heard him. As a matter of fact, he had not spoken aloud; though
he thought he had done so.
"We found the two of them curled up together," he next heard Thorne say.
"Orde was coiled around a sharp root--and didn't know it, and Pollock
was on top of him. They were out in the full sun, and a procession of
red ants was disappearing up Orde's pants leg and coming out at his
"They're a good lot," admitted California John. "Best unbroke lot I ever
"We found Orde's finger broken and badly swelled. Heaven knows when he
did it, but he never peeped. Morton says he noticed his hand done up in
a handkerchief yesterday morning."
Bob dozed again. From time to time he caught fragments--"Four
fire-lines--think of it--only one old-timer in the lot--I'm proud of my
He came next to full consciousness to hear Thorne saying:
"Mrs. Morton fought fire with the best of them. That's the ranger spirit
I like--when as of old the women and children----"
"Don't praise me," broke in Mrs. Morton tartly. "I don't give a red cent
for all your forests, and your pesky rangering. I've got no use for
them. If Charley Morton would quit you and tend to his cattle, I'd be
pleased. I didn't fight fire to help you, let me tell you."
"What did you do it for?" asked Thorne, evidently amused.
"I knew I couldn't get Charley Morton home and in bed and _resting_
until that pesky fire was _out_; that's why!" shot back Mrs. Morton.
"Well, Mrs. Morton," said Thorne composedly, "if you're ever fixed so
sass will help you out, you'll find it a very valuable quality."
Then Bob fell into a deep sleep.
On returning to headquarters, as Bob was naturally somewhat
incapacitated for manual work, he was given the fire patrol. This meant
that every day he was required to ride to four several "lookouts" on the
main ridge, from which points he could spy abroad carefully over vast
stretches of mountainous country. One of these was near the meadow of
the cold spring whence the three of them had first caught sight of the
Granite Creek fire. Thence he turned sharp to the north along the ridge
top. The trail led among great trees that dropped away to right and left
on the slopes of the mountain. Through them he caught glimpses of the
blue distance, or far-off glittering snow, or unexpected canon depths.
The riding was smooth, over undulating knolls. Every once in a while
passing through a "_puerto suelo_," he looked on either side to tiny
green meadows, from which streams were born. Occasionally he saw a deer,
or more likely small bands of the wild mountain cattle that swung along
before him, heads held high, eyes staring, nostrils expanded. Then Bob
felt his pony's muscles stiffen beneath his thighs, and saw the animal's
little ears prick first forward at the cattle, then back for his
After three miles of this he came out on a broad plateau formed by the
joining of his ridge with that of the Baldy range. Here Granite Creek
itself rose, and the stream that flowed by the mill. It was a country of
wild, park-like vistas between small pines, with a floor of granite and
shale. Over it frowned the steeps of Baldy, with its massive domes, its
sheer precipices, and its scant tree-growth clinging to its sides.
Against the sky it looked very rugged, very old, very formidable; and
the sky, behind its yellowed age, was inconceivably blue.
Sometimes Bob rode up into the pass. More often he tied his horse and
took the steep rough trail afoot. The way was guarded by strange,
distorted trees, and rocks carved into fantastic shapes. Some of them
were piled high like temples. Others, round and squat, resembled the fat
and obscene deities of Eastern religions. There were seals and elephants
and crocodiles and allegorical monsters, some of them as tiny as the
grotesque Japanese carvings, others as stupendous as Egypt. The trail
led by them, among them, between them. At their feet clutched snowbush,
ground juniper, the gnarled fingers of manzanita, like devotees. A
foaming little stream crept and plunged over bare and splintered rocks.
Twisted junipers and the dwarf pines of high elevations crouched like
malignant gnomes amongst the boulders, or tossed their arms like witches
on the crags. This bold and splintered range rose from the softness and
mystery of the great pine woods on the lower ridge as a rock rises above
The pass itself was not over fifty feet wide. Either side of it like
portals were the high peaks. It lay like the notch of a rifle sight
between them. Once having gained the tiny platform, Bob would sit down
and look abroad over the wonderful Sierra.
Never did he tire of this. At one eye-glance he could comprehend a
summer's toilsome travel. To reach yonder snowy peak would consume the
greater part of a week. Unlike the Swiss alps, which he had once
visited, these mountains were not only high, but wide as well. They had
the whole of blue space in which to lie. They were like the stars, for
when Bob had convinced himself that his eye had settled on the farthest
peak, then still farther, taking half-guessed iridescent form out of the
blue, another shone.
But his business was not with these distances. Almost below him, so
precipitous is the easterly slope of Baldy, lay canons, pine forests,
lesser ridges, streams, the green of meadows. Patiently, piece by piece,
he must go over all this, watching for that faint blue haze, that
deepening of the atmosphere, that almost imagined pearliness against the
distant hills which meant new fire.
"Don't look for _smoke_," California John had told him. "When a fire
gets big enough for smoke, you can't help but see it. It's the new fire
you want to spot before it gets started. Then it's easy handled. And new
fire's almighty easy to overlook. Sometimes it's as hard for a greenhorn
to see as a deer. Look close!"
So Bob, concentrating his attention, looked close. When he had satisfied
himself, he turned square around.
From this point of view he saw only pine forests. They covered the ridge
below him like a soft green mantle thrown down in folds. They softened
the more distant ranges. They billowed and eddied, and dropped into
unguessed depths, and came bravely up to eyesight again far away. At
last they seemed to change colour abruptly, and a brown haze overcast
them through which glimmered a hint of yellow. This Bob knew was the
plain, hot and brown under the July sun. It rose dimly through the mist
to the height of his eye. Thus, even at eight thousand feet, Bob seemed
to stand in the cup of the earth, beneath the cup of the sky.
The other two lookouts were on the edge of the lower ridge. They gave an
opportunity of examining various coves and valleys concealed by the
shoulder of the ridge from the observer on Baldy. To reach them Bob rode
across the plateau of the ridge, through the pine forests, past the
Here, if the afternoon was not too far advanced, he used to allow
himself the luxury of a moment's chat with some of his old friends.
Welton, coat off, his burly face perspiring and red, always greeted him
"Spend all your salary this month?" he would ask. "Does the business
keep you occupied?" And once or twice, seriously, "Bob, haven't you had
enough of this confounded nonsense? You're getting too old to find any
great fun riding around in this kid fashion pretending to do things.
There's big business to be done in this country, and we need you boys to
help. When I was a youngster I'd have jumped hard at half the chance
that's offered you."
But Bob never would answer seriously. He knew this to be his only chance
of avoiding even a deeper misunderstanding between himself and this man
whom he had learned to admire and love.
Once he met Baker. That young man greeted him as gaily as ever, but into
his manner had crept the shadow of a cold contempt. The stout youth's
standards were his own, and rigid, as is often the case with people of
his type. Bob felt himself suddenly and ruthlessly excluded from the
ranks of those worthy of Baker's respect. A hard quality of character,
hitherto unsuspected, stared from the fat young man's impudent blue
eyes. Baker was perfectly polite, and suitably jocular; but he had not
much time for Bob; and soon plunged into a deep discussion with Welton
from which Bob was unmistakably excluded.
On one occasion, too, he encountered Oldham riding down the trail from
headquarters. The older man had nodded to him curtly. His eyes had
gleamed through his glasses with an ill-concealed and frosty amusement,
and his thin lips had straightened to a perceptible sneer. All at once
Bob divined an enemy. He could not account for this, as he had never
dealt with the man; and the accident of his discovering the gasoline
pump on the Lucky Land Company's creeks could hardly be supposed to
account for quite so malignant a triumph. Next time Bob saw Welton, he
asked his old employer about it.
"What have I ever done to Oldham?" he inquired. "Do you know?"
"Oldham?" repeated Welton.
"Baker's land agent."
"Oh, yes. I never happened to run across him. Don't know him at all."
Bob put down Oldham's manifest hatred to pettiness of disposition.
Even from Merker, the philosophic storekeeper, Bob obtained scant
"Men like you, with ability, youth, energy," said Merker, "producing
nothing, just conserving, saving. Conditions should be such that the
possibility of fire, of trespass, of all you fellows guard against,
should be eliminated. Then you could supply steam, energy,
accomplishment, instead of being merely the lubrication. It's an
Bob left the mill-yards half-depressed, half-amused. All his people had
become alien. He opposed them in nothing, his work in no way interfered
with their activities; yet, without his volition, and probably without
their realization, he was already looked upon as one to be held at arms'
length. It saddened Bob, as it does every right-thinking young man when
he arrives at setting up his own standards of conduct and his own ways
of life. He longed with a great longing, which at the same time he
realized to be hopeless, to make these people feel as he felt. It gave
him real pain to find that his way of life could never gain anything
beyond disapproval or incomprehension. It took considerable fortitude to
conclude that he now must build his own structure, unsupported. He was
entering the loneliness of soul inseparable from complete manhood.
After such disquieting contacts, the more uncomfortable in that they
defied analysis, Bob rode out to the last lookout and gazed abroad over
the land. The pineclad bluff fell away nearly four thousand feet. Below
him the country lay spread like a relief map--valley, lesser ranges,
foothills, far-off plain, the green of trees, the brown of grass and
harvest, the blue of glimpsed water, the haze of heat and great
distance, the thread-like gossamer of roads, the half-guessed shimmer of
towns and cities in the mirage of summer, all the opulence of earth and
the business of human activity. Millions dwelt in that haze, and beyond
them, across the curve of the earth, hundreds of millions more, each
actuated by its own selfishness or charity, by its own conception of the
things nearest it. Not one in a multitude saw or cared beyond the
immediate, nor bothered his head with what it all meant, or whether it
meant anything. Bob, sitting on his motionless horse high up there in
the world, elevated above it all, in an isolation of pines, close under
his sky, bent his ear to the imagined faint humming of the spheres.
Affairs went on. The machine fulfilled its function. All things had
their place, the evil as well as the good, the waste as well as the
building, balancing like the governor of an engine the opposition of
forces. He saw, by the soft flooding of light, rather than by any flash
of insight, that were the shortsightedness, the indifference, the
ignorance, the crass selfishness to be eliminated before yet the world's
work was done, the energies of men, running too easily, would outstrip
the development of the Plan, as a machine "races" without its load. A
humility came to him. His not to judge his fellows by the mere externals
of their deeds. He could only act honestly according to what he saw, as
he hoped others were doing.
"Just so a man isn't _mean_, I don't know as I have any right to despise
him," he summed it all up to his horse. "But," he added cheerfully,
"that doesn't prevent my kicking him into the paths of righteousness if
he tries to steal my watch."
The sun dipped toward the heat haze of the plains. It was from a golden
world that Bob turned at last to ride through the forest to the
cheerfulness of his rude camp.
Bob took his examinations, passed successfully, and was at once
appointed as ranger. Thorne had no intention of neglecting the young
man's ability. After his arduous apprenticeship at all sorts of labour,
Bob found himself specializing. This, he discovered, was becoming more
and more the tendency in the personnel of the Service. Jack Pollock
already was being sent far afield, looking into grazing conditions,
reporting on the state of the range, the advisable number of cattle, the
trespass cases. He had a natural aptitude for that sort of thing. Ware,
on the other hand, developed into a mighty builder. Nothing pleased him
more than to discover new ways through the country, to open them up, to
blast and dig and construct his trails, to nose out bridge sites and on
them to build spans hewn from the material at hand. He made himself a
set of stencils and with them signed all the forks of the trails, so
that a stranger could follow the routes. Always he painstakingly added
the letters U.S.F.S. to indicate that these works had been done by his
beloved Service. Charley Morton was the fire chief--though any and all
took a hand at that when occasion arose. He could, as California John
expressed it, run a fire out on a rocky point and lose it there better
than any other man on the force. Ross Fletcher was the best policeman.
He knew the mountains, their infinite labyrinths, better than any other;
and he could guess the location of sheep where another might have
searched all summer.
Though each and every man was kept busy enough, and to spare, on all the
varied business inseparable from the activities of a National Forest,
nevertheless Thorne knew enough to avail himself of these especial gifts
and likings. So, early in the summer he called in Bob and Elliott.
"Now," he told them, "we have plenty of work to do, and you boys must
buckle into it as you see fit. But this is what I want you to keep in
the back of your mind: someday the National Forests are going to supply
a great part of the timber in the country. It's too early yet. There's
too much private timber standing, which can be cut without restriction.
But when that is largely reduced, Uncle Sam will be going into the
lumber business on a big scale. Even now we will be selling a few shake
trees, and some small lots, and occasionally a bigger piece to some of
the lumbermen who own adjoining timber. We've got to know what we have
to sell. For instance, there's eighty acres in there surrounded by
Welton's timber. When he comes to cut, it might pay us and him to sell
the ripe trees off that eighty."
"I doubt if he'd think it would pay," Bob interposed.
"He might. I think the Chief will ease up a little on cutting
restrictions before long. You've simply got to over-emphasize a matter
at first to make it carry."
"I mean--this is only my private opinion, you understand--that
lumbering has been done so wastefully and badly that it has been
necessary, merely as education, to go to the other extreme. We've
insisted on chopping and piling the tops like cordwood, and cutting up
the down trunks of trees, and generally 'parking' the forest simply to
get the idea into people's heads. They'd never thought of such things
before. I don't believe it's necessary to go to such extremes,
practically; and I don't believe the Service will demand it when it
comes actually to do business."
Elliott and Bob looked at each other a little astonished.
"Mind you, I don't talk this way outside; and I don't want you to do
so," pursued Thorne. "But when you come right down to it, all that's
necessary is to prevent fire from running--and, of course, to leave a
few seed-trees. Yo' can keep fire from running just as well by piling
the debris in isolated heaps, as by chopping it up and stacking it. And
it's a lot cheaper."
He leaned forward.
"That's coming," he continued. "Now you, Elliott, have had as thorough a
theoretical education as the schools can give you; and you, Orde, have
had a lot of practical experience in logging. You ought to make a good
pair. Here's a map of the Government holdings hereabouts. What I want is
a working plan for every forty, together with a topographical
description, an estimate of timber, and a plan for the easiest method of
logging it. There's no hurry about it; you can do it when nothing else
comes up to take you away. But do it thoroughly, and to the best of your
judgment, so I can file your reports for future reference when they are
"Where do you want us to begin?" asked Bob.
"Welton is the only big operator," Thorpe pointed out, "so you'd better
look over the timber adjoining or surrounded by his. Then the basin and
ranges above the Power Company are important. There's a fine body of
timber there, but we must cut it with a more than usual attention to
This work Bob and Elliott found most congenial. They would start early
in the morning, carrying with them their compass on its Jacob's-staff,
their chain, their field notes, their maps and their axes. Arrived at
the scene of operations, they unsaddled and picketed their horses. Then
commenced a search for the "corner," established nearly fifty years
before by the dead and gone surveyor, a copy of those field notes now
guided them. This was no easy matter. The field notes described
accurately the location, but in fifty years the character of a country
may change. Great trees fall, new trees grow up, brush clothes an
erstwhile bare hillside, fire denudes a slope, even the rocks and
boulders shift their places under the coercion of frost or avalanche.
The young men separated, shoulder deep in the high brakes and alders of
a creek bottom, climbing tiny among great trees on the open slope of a
distant hill, clambering busily among austere domes and pinnacles,
fading in the cool green depths of the forest. Finally one would shout
loudly. The other scrambled across.
"Here we are," Bob said, pointing to the trunk of a huge yellow pine.
On it showed a wrinkle in the bark, only just appreciable.
"There's our line blaze," said Bob. "Let's see if we can find it in the
notes." He opened his book. "'Small creek three links wide, course SW,'"
he murmured. "'Sugar pine, 48 in. dia., on line, 48 links.' That's not
it. 'Top of ridge 34 ch. 6 1. course NE.' Now we come to the down slope.
Here we are! 'Yellow pine 20 in. dia., on line, 50 chains.' Twenty
inches! Well, old fellow, you've grown some since! Let's see your
Having thus cut the line, they established their course and went due
north, spying sharply for the landmarks and old blazes as mentioned in
the surveyor's field notes.
When they had gone about the required distance, they began to look for
the corner. After some search, Elliott called Bob's attention to a
"I guess this is our witness tree," said he.
Without a word Bob began to chop above and below the wrinkle in the
bark. After ten minutes careful work, he laid aside a thick slab of
wood. The inner surface of this was shiny with pitch. The space from
which it had peeled was also coated with the smooth substance. This
pitch had filmed over the old blaze, protecting it against the new wood
and bark which had gradually grown over it. Thus, although the original
blaze had been buried six inches in the living white pine wood,
nevertheless the lettering was as clear and sharp as when it had been
carved fifty years before. Furthermore, the same lettering, only
reversed and in relief, showed on the thick slab that Bob had peeled
away. So the tree had preserved the record in its heart.
"Now let's see," said Bob. "This witness bears S 80 W. Let's find
This proved to be no great matter. Sighting the given directions from
the two, they converged on the corner. This was described by the old
surveyor as: "Oak post, 4 in. dia., set in pile of rocks," etc. The pile
of rocks was now represented by scattered stones; and the oak post had
long since rotted. Bob, however, unearthed a fragment on which ran a
single grooved mark. It was like those made by borers in dead limbs.
Were it not for one circumstance, the searchers would not have been
justified in assuming that it was anything else. But, as Bob pointed
out, the passageways made by borers are never straight. The fact that
this was so, established indisputably that it had been made by the
surveyor's steel "scribe."
Having thus located a corner, it was an easy matter to determine the
position of a tract of land. At first hazy in its general configuration
and extent, it took definition as the young men progressed with the
accurate work of timber estimating. Before they had finished with it,
they knew every little hollow, ridge, ravine, rock and tree in it. Out
of the whole vast wilderness this one small patch had become thoroughly
The work was the most pleasant of any Bob had ever undertaken. It
demanded accuracy, good judgment, knowledge. It did not require feverish
haste. The surroundings were wonderfully beautiful; and if the men
paused in their work, as they often did, the spirit of the woods, which
as always had drawn aside from the engrossments of human activity, came
closer as with fluttering of wings. Sometimes, nervous and impatient
from the busy, tiny clatter of facts and figures and guesses, from the
restless shuttle-weaving of estimates and plans, Bob looked up suddenly
into a deathless and eternal peace. Like the cool green refreshment of
waters it closed over him. When he again came to the surface-world of
his occupation, he was rested and slowed down to a respectable patience.
Elliott was good company, interested in the work, well-bred,
intelligent, eager to do his share--an ideal companion. He and Bob
discussed many affairs during their rides to and from the work and
during the interims of rest. As time went on, and the tracts to be
estimated and plotted became more distant, they no longer attempted to
return at night to Headquarters. Small meadows offered them resting
places for the day or the week. They became expert in taking care of
themselves so expeditiously that the process stole little time from
their labours. On Saturday afternoon they rode to headquarters to
report, and to spend Sunday.
Toward the end of the season they had worked well past the main ridge on
which were situated Welton's operations and the Service Headquarters.
Several deep canons and rocky peaks, by Thorne's instructions, they
skipped over as only remotely available as a timber supply. This brought
them to the ample circle of a basin, well-timbered, wide, containing an
unusual acreage of gently sloping or rolling table-land. Behind this
rose the spurs of the Range. A half-hundred streams here had their
origin. These converged finally in the Forks, which, leaping and
plunging steadily downward from a height of over six thousand feet, was
trapped and used again and again to turn the armatures of Baker's
dynamos. After serving this purpose at six power houses strung down the
contour line of its descent, the water was deflected into wide, deep
ditches which forked and forked again until a whole plains province was
rendered fertile and productive by irrigation.
All this California John, who rode over to show them some corners,
explained to them. They sat on the rim of the basin overlooking it as it
lay below them like a green cup.
"You can see the whole of her from here," said California John, "and
that's why we use this for fire lookout. It saves a heap of riding, for
let me tell you it's a long ways down this bluff. But you bet we keep a
close watch on this Basin. It's the most valuable, as a watershed, of
any we've got. This is about the only country we've managed to throw a
fire-break around yet. It took a lot of time to do it, but it's worth
"This is where the Power Company gets its power," remarked Bob.
"Yes," replied California John, drily. "Which same company is putting up
the fight of its life in Congress to keep from payin' anything at all
for what it gets."
They gave themselves to the task of descending into the Basin by a steep
and rough trail. At the end of an hour, their horses stepped from the
side of the hill to a broad, pleasant flat on which the tall trees grew
larger than any Bob had seen on the ridge.
"What magnificent timber!" he cried. "How does it happen this wasn't
taken up long ago?"
"Well," said California John, "a good share of it _is_ claimed by the
Power Company; and unless you come up the way we did, you don't see it.
From below, all this looks like part of the bald ridge. Even if a
cruiser in the old days happened to look down on this, he wouldn't
realize how good it was unless he came down to it--it's all just trees
from above. And in those days there were lots of trees easier to come
"It's great timber!" repeated Bob. "That 'sugar's' eight feet through if
it's an inch!"
"Nearer nine," said California John.
"It'll be some years' work to estimate and plot all this," mused Bob.
"If it's so important a watershed, what do they _want_ it plotted for?
They'll never want to cut it."
"There ain't so much of it left, as you'll see when you look at your
map. The Power Company owns most. Anyway, government cutting won't hurt
the watershed," stated California John.
As they rode forward through the trees, a half-dozen deer jumped
startled from a clump of low brush and sped away.
"That's more deer than I've seen in a bunch since I left Michigan,"
"Nobody ever gets into this place," explained California John. "There
ain't been a fire here in years, and we don't none of us have any
reason to ride down. She's too hard to get out of, and we can see her
too well from the lookout. The rest of the country feels pretty much the
"How about sheep?" inquired Elliott.
"They got to get in over some trail, if they get in at all," California
John pointed out, "and we can circle the Basin."
By now they were riding over a bed of springy pine needles through a
magnificent open forest. Undergrowth absolutely lacked; even the soft
green of the bear clover was absent. The straight columns of the trees
rose grandly from a swept floor. Only where tiny streams trickled and
sang through rocks and shallow courses, grew ferns and the huge leaves
of the saxifrage. In this temple-like austerity dwelt a silence unusual
to the Sierra forests. The lack of undergrowth and younger trees implied
a scarcity of insects; and this condition meant an equal scarcity of
birds. Only the creepers and the great pileated woodpeckers seemed to
inhabit these truly cloistral shades. The breeze passed through branches
too elevated to permit its whisperings to be heard. The very sound of
the horses' hoofs was muffled in the thick carpet of pine needles.
California John led them sharp to the right, however, and in a few
moments they emerged to cheerful sunlight, alders, young pines among the
old, a leaping flashing stream of some size, and multitudes of birds,
squirrels, insects and butterflies.
"There's a meadow, and a good camping place just up-stream," said he.
"It's easy riding. You'd better spread your blankets there. Now, here's
the corner to 34. We reestablished it four years ago, so as to have
_something_ to go by in this country. You can find your way about from
there. That bold cliff of rock you see just through the trees there you
can climb. From the top you can make out the lookout. If you're wanted
at headquarters we'll hang out a signal. That will save a hard ride
down. Let's see; how long you got grub for?"
"I guess there's enough to last us ten days or so," replied Elliott.
"Well, if you keep down this stream until you strike a big bald slide
rock, you'll run into an old trail that takes you to the Flats. It's
pretty old, and it ain't blazed, but you can make it out if you'll sort
of keep track of the country. It ain't been used for years."
California John, anxious to make a start at the hard climb, now said
good-bye and started back. Bob and Elliott, their pack horse following,
rode up the flat through which ran the river. They soon found the