The Boy Ranchers of Puget Sound
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"But the place must be such a tremendous way from a market," said Frank in response to Harry's last remark.
Mr. Oliver smiled. "It's not long since I tried to explain that a good many of the bush ranchers have to wait until the market comes to them. They stake their dollars and a number of years of hard work on the future of the country."
"Some of them get badly left now and then," said Mr. Barclay dryly. "You'll find laid-out townsites that have never grown up all along the Pacific Slope. There are stores and hotels falling to pieces in one or two I've struck." Then changing the subject: "Are you boys coming across with me to the river for some fishing to-morrow?"
They said that they would be glad to do so, and Mr. Barclay turned to Mr. Oliver. "We'll give you another two days to finish your surveying, and then we'll meet you at the rancherie on the inlet we spoke of. We can camp in the bush outside the tent for a couple of nights."
They started early the next morning, taking one Indian with them to pack their provisions, and the dog, who insisted on accompanying them. They were plodding along a hillside toward noon when Mr. Barclay, who was walking in front with their guide, looked back at the boys.
"Get hold of the dog as soon as we stop and keep him quiet," he cautioned.
After that they moved forward in silence for some minutes while the trees grew thinner ahead of them, until Mr. Barclay stopped behind a brake of undergrowth. The dog broke into a short, throaty bark and then growled hoarsely until Frank knelt beside him and laid a hand upon his collar. When he had quieted the animal, who by degrees had become attached to him, he arose and found he could look down upon a narrow slit of valley into which the sunlight poured. A creek swirled through the bottom of it, and he was astonished to see a swarm of blue-clad figures toiling with grubhoe and shovel upon its banks, and a cluster of bark shelters in the widest part of the hollow.
"Chinamen!" he said. "What can they be doing? One never would have expected to find a colony of them here."
Mr. Barclay smiled in a somewhat curious fashion.
"They're washing gold. It's a remarkably simple process, if you're willing to work hard enough. You shovel out the soil and sand and keep on washing it until it's all washed away. Any gold there is remains in the bottom of the pan."
"But if there's gold in that creek, how is it there are no white men about?"
"Probably because they couldn't make wages. There's a little gold in a number of the creeks right down the Slope, but where the quantity's very small nobody but a Chinaman finds it worth while to look for it."
Mr. Barclay sat down and spent some minutes apparently carefully watching the blue-clad figures toiling in the sunlight below, after which he got up and signaled for them to go on again. The boys, however, dropped a little behind, and presently Harry gave his companion a nudge.
"I guess you noticed that when you said one wouldn't have expected to find those Chinamen here Barclay didn't answer it?"
"Yes," said Frank thoughtfully."I suppose you mean he wasn't astonished when he saw them?"
"You've hit it, first time," Harry assented. "That man's on the trail, and though I can't tell you exactly who he's getting after, I've my ideas." He paused with a chuckle. "I'm not sure now he's quite so much of a stuffed image as he seemed to be."
Frank said nothing in answer to this. A few minutes later Harry touched his arm as Mr. Barclay, turning suddenly, shouted:
"Get hold of the dog!"
Frank grabbed at the animal's collar but missed it, and the next moment the dog had vanished. Then there was a crash in the bush, and a beautiful slender creature with long legs and little horns shot out from behind a thicket and flung itself high into the air. It fell again, this time with scarcely a sound, into a clump of fern, rose out of it, and in a wonderful bound cleared a fallen trunk with broken branches projecting from it. Then it was lost in another thicket and the dog's harsh barking rang through the silence of the woods. Once or twice again Frank caught a momentary glimpse of a marvelously agile creature rising and falling among the undergrowth, and then there was only the yelping of the dog which became fainter and fainter and finally broke out at irregular intervals. Mr. Barclay sat down upon the fallen trees.
"I suppose we'll have to wait until that amiable pet of yours comes back," he said. "On the whole it's fortunate the deer broke out now instead of a quarter of an hour earlier."
They waited a considerable time before the dog crept up to them wagging his ragged tail in a disappointed manner. Harry shook his fishing rod at him threateningly.
"I'd lay into you good, only it wouldn't be any use," he said. "The more you're whacked, the worse you get."
The dog wagged his tail again and jumped upon Frank, who patted him before they resumed the march.
"It's rather curious, but that's the first deer I've seen since I've been in the country," he said. "Do they always jump like that?"
"Well," said Harry, "in a general way they are quite hard to see, and you can walk right past one without noticing it when it's standing still. Their colors match the trunks and the fern, and, what's more important, it's not often you can see the whole of them. In fact, I've struck as many deer by accident as I've done when I've been trailing them. Now and then you almost walk right up to one, though I haven't the least notion how it is they don't hear you, because as a rule the one you're trailing will leave you out of sight in a few moments if you snap a twig. Anyway, a scared deer goes over whatever lies in front of him. There are very few things he can't jump, and he comes down almost without a sound."
The rest of the journey proved uneventful, and early in the evening they made camp on the banks of a frothing river which swept out of the shadow crystal clear. In this it differed, as Harry explained, from most of the larger ones on the Pacific Slope, which are usually fed by melted snow and stained a faint green. Mr. Barclay, whose boots and clothes were already considerably the worse for wear, sat down beside a swirling pool and took out his pipe.
"There's no use pitching a fly across it yet, I suppose," he said. "We may as well get supper before we start."
The Siwash prepared the meal and remained behind with Mr. Barclay when it was over, while the two boys went down stream with a rod he had lent them which Harry insisted Frank should take. There were, he urged, plenty of trout in the river near his father's ranch, though it was very seldom he had leisure to go after them. They wandered on some distance beside the water, which ran almost west toward the Pacific, and wherever the forest was a little thinner the slanting sunrays streaming between the serried trunks smote along it. Frank, who had, as it happened, once or twice got a week or two's fishing in the East, kept his eyes open, but it was only twice that he fancied he noticed the faint dimple made by a short-rising trout.
"I'd have expected to find a river of this kind thick with fish," he said.
"There's sure to be a good many in it," answered Harry. "You wait about another half hour."
"What's the matter with starting now?" urged Frank. "Isn't that one rising in the slack yonder?"
"See if you can get him," said Harry, smiling.
Frank swung the rod, straining every effort to make a neat, clean cast, and he succeeded. The flies dropped lightly about a foot above the dimple made by the fish, and swept down stream across the spot where he had reason to suppose it was waiting. There was no response, however, and nothing broke the rippling surface when the flies floated down a second time. Frank laid down the rod.
"It's curious," he murmured.
Harry laughed. "Hold on a little. You've seen three fish rising now, and that's quite out of the common."
Frank sat down again, and waited until the sunlight faded off the river and the firs about it suddenly grew blacker. Soon afterward what seemed an almost solid cloud of tiny insects drifted along the surface of the water, which was immediately broken by multitudinous splashes.
"Now you can begin," said Harry.
Frank, clambering to a ledge of rock, swung his rod, and as the flies swept across an eddy there was a splash and a swirl and a sudden tightening of the line. He got the butt down as the winch commenced to clink, and Harry waded out into the stream lower down, holding his wide hat.
"Let him run, but keep a strain on," he cried. "You've got a big one."
The fish fought for three or four minutes, gleaming, a streak of silver, through the shadowy flood, as it showed its side, then sprang clear and changed again to a half-seen dusky shape that drove violently here and there. Then it came up toward the bending point of the rod, and at length Harry, slipping his hat beneath it, lifted it out.
"Nearly three quarters of a pound," he said. "Your trace is clear now. Try again, and never mind about the slack and eddies. Pitch your flies anywhere."
Frank did so, and they had scarcely fallen when there was a second rush, but this fish seemed smaller and he dragged it out unceremoniously upon the shingle. It was the same the next cast, and for a while he was kept desperately busy. When at length he laid the rod down Harry announced that they had a dozen fish.
"We'll try the next pool now," he added. "Some of these trout aren't half a pound and I'd like you to get a real big one."
The next pool proved to be some distance away and there was nothing but rock and foaming water between, but when they reached a slacker place where the current circled around a deep basin Frank had four or five more minutes' fishing, during which he landed several trout. Then the flies seemed to vanish and there was scarcely a splash on the shadowy water.
"You may as well put the rod up," Harry advised. "It's a sure thing you won't get another."
Frank tried for a few minutes, but finding his companion's prediction justified, sat down near him among the roots of a big fir. At the foot of the pool where he had been fishing the stream swept furiously between big scattered boulders in a wild white rapid. It was narrower there, and a ledge of rock, slightly hollowed out underneath, rose above it on the side on which they sat a little more than a hundred yards away. The woods were now darkening fast, and the chill of the dew was in the air, which was heavy with the scent of redwood and cedar. In places the water still glimmered faintly, and except for the roar it made, everything was very still.
Suddenly Harry pointed to the dog, who was lying near Frank.
"Get hold of him," he said in a low voice. "If nothing else will keep him quiet, we'll roll your jacket round his head."
Frank, who had taken off his jacket, which was badly torn, when he began fishing, laid his hand on the dog as it arose with a low growl. Then as it tried to break away from him he seized its collar and held on with all his might while Harry flung the jacket over it. Though the thing cost them an effort they managed to hold the animal still between them. In the meanwhile there was a crackle of undergrowth and Frank saw a man who walked in a rather curious manner move out from the shadow. Even when he was clear of the overhanging branches it was impossible to see him distinctly, but Frank recognized him with a start. There was something wrong with one of the dark figure's shoulders.
The man moved on away from them, until he stopped at the edge of the overhanging rock, where he stood for a moment or two. Then he leaped out suddenly and alighted on the top of a boulder about which the white froth whirled. Frank fancied that only a very powerful person could have safely made such a leap, and there was no doubt that whatever it was that had caused the man's unusual gait, it had not affected his agility. The next moment, he jumped again, and, coming down rather more than knee-deep in the rapid, floundered through it and vanished into the shadow beneath the trees. Then Harry looked around at his companion with a smile.
"I'll own up that Barclay's smart, after all," he said. "He's sure on the trail. Anyway, perhaps we'd better head back to camp in case some more of them come along."
It was quite dark when they reached the fire the Siwash had made and found Mr. Barclay, who now seemed rather wet as well as ragged, sitting beside it with his pipe in his hand. When they had compared their fish with those he had killed they lay down among the withered needles on the opposite side of the fire.
"It's good fishing, sir, but you must be very keen to come so far for it," said Harry, looking up innocently at Mr. Barclay.
The red light of the fire was on Mr. Barclay's face and Frank saw that he glanced thoughtfully at Harry.
"It certainly is," he answered. "I believe you have already said something very much like your last remark. Still, you see, I don't propose to come often."
Frank suppressed a chuckle. If Harry had intended to surprise the man into some admission he had not succeeded yet.
"And we go on to the rancherie in a couple of days," Harry added. "From what the Indians told me I don't think we'd get any fishing there. Wouldn't it be better to stay here a little longer?"
"No," said Mr. Barclay, "quite apart from the difficulty of sending your father word, what you suggest doesn't strike me as advisable, for one or two reasons."
Harry seemed to realize that he was making no progress, and, looking meaningly at Frank, suddenly changed his tactics.
"There's something I should perhaps have told you, sir, though I don't know whether it will interest you. Anyway, not long ago Frank and I were up at the Chinese colony behind the settlement near our ranch. Perhaps you have been there?"
"I've heard of it," said Barclay dryly.
Then in a few words Harry described how the man they had endeavored to trail had vanished at the Chinaman's shack, and Frank saw a look of eager interest cross Mr. Barclay's usually stolid face.
"You suggest that the fellow didn't want you to see him?" he asked.
"That was certainly how it struck me."
"And he walked rather curiously and one shoulder seemed a little higher than the other? I think you mentioned that?"
"I did," repeated Harry.
Mr. Barclay seemed to reflect, but there was now sign of deeper interest in his expression.
"Did you notice whether he had red hair and gray eyes?"
"No," said Harry with a grin, "though I can't be sure about it, I've a notion that his hair was dark. As it happened, I only saw his back, but I'd know the man again." He paused impressively. "In fact, I hadn't the least trouble about it when I saw him half an hour ago."
Mr. Barclay started and there was no doubt that he was astonished at this.
"You ran up against him here!"
"No," said Harry, "I only watched him from behind a fir. He crossed the creek heading south and didn't notice us."
Mr. Barclay settled back again and seemed lost in thought. "After all," he said shortly, "it's possible."
Then he changed the subject and they talked about fishing until the fire died down, when they spread their blankets upon their couches of soft spruce twigs.