Harold Bindloss.

The Boy Ranchers of Puget Sound



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Half an hour later Frank forced himself to eat a little canned beef and drink some coffee, and then Harry told him he could lie down on what seemed to be a moderately dry sail. He had scarcely done so when he fell asleep. Jake, who had been watching him, turned the lantern so that the light fell on his face.

"He was mighty sick," he observed, a kindly smile lighting up his rugged features, "but he stayed with it through the reefin'. Your father should make something of him. I guess he'll do."

CHAPTER II
THE BUSH

Frank awoke a little before daylight, feeling considerably better. The nausea and dizziness had gone, and the sloop seemed to be lying almost still, which was a relief to him. Then he noticed by the light of a lamp that his companions' places were empty, and presently he heard them talking in the well. Crawling out through the narrow doorway, he stood up shivering in the coldness of the dawn.

There were dim black trees and shadowy rocks close in front of him, with a white wash about the latter, for a smooth swell worked in around a point from open water. He could hear the rumble of the surf upon the reefs, and though he could scarcely feel a breath of wind upon his face the wailing of the black pines suggested that it was blowing still. He could smell the clean resinous scent of them and it seemed to him that they were singing wild, barbaric songs. Afterward, when he knew them better, he learned that the pines and their kin, the cedars and balsams and redwoods, are never silent altogether. Even when their fragrance steals out heavy and sweet as honey under the fierce sunshine of a windless day, one can hear faint elfin whisperings high up among their somber spires. Then he saw that Jake was standing on the side deck, apparently gazing at the white surf about the end of the point.

"No," he mused, "she wouldn't face it. The breeze hasn't fallen any, and the sea'll be steeper. Guess you'd better leave me here, and take the Indian trail."

Harry agreed with this.

"We'll get off as soon as we've had breakfast; and, as I did the cooking yesterday, it's your turn this morning. There's still a little fire in the stove."

Jake disappeared into the cabin, and presently came out again and was filling his pipe when Harry sprang up suddenly on the deck.

"Hello!" he cried. "There's a schooner yonder!"

It was growing a little clearer and Frank, turning around, saw a tall black spire of canvas cutting against the sky. He made out a frothy whiteness beneath it where the swell broke on the vessel's bows, and the sight of her singularly stirred his imagination. She had appeared so suddenly, probably from behind the point, and she looked ghostly in the uncertain light. She ran in under her headsails and boom-foresail with her mainmast bare, rising higher and growing clearer all the while. By and by there was a splash, and a voice broke through the wailing of the trees.

"Three fathom," it said.

"You can luff her in a little."

Harry seemed about to hail her, but Jake gripped his arm, and they all stood silent while the schooner crept up abreast of them. The little sloop, lying with the shadowy land close behind her, had evidently not been seen. Then the vessel commenced to fade again, and in a few minutes she had vanished altogether.

"It looks as if there might have been some truth in old Sandberg's tale," Harry remarked thoughtfully. "It's kind of curious that halibut fisherman from Bannington's said he saw her too."

"He said she'd a white stripe round her. Sandberg allowed it was green," objected Jake.

"That wouldn't prove anything. They could soon paint the stripe another color."

"What would they want to do it for?"

"What does a schooner want running in here? There's no freight to be picked up nearer than Port Townsend."

"That," said Jake dryly, "is just what I don't know. What's more, I don't want to. She might have run in for bark for cooking, or maybe for water."

Harry laughed. "If she has come down from Seattle they'd get plenty cordwood or, if they wanted it, stove coal there, and I guess a skipper wouldn't waste a fair wind like this one to save two or three dollars. The thing's mighty curious. That vessel's been seen twice, anyway, and nobody seems to know where she comes from or where she goes."

"Well," Jake observed stolidly, "she doesn't belong to you or me, and if you want your breakfast it should be ready."

They crawled into the cabin, and when they had made a meal Jake sculled the sloop in near enough to the steep beach for them to jump. Then he flung a small packet after them.

"It's the most I can spare you, as I mayn't get a slant round the reefs until to-morrow," he said. "Anyway, it will do you two meals, and you ought to fetch the ranch by sundown. You want to head right up the valley until you strike a big log that lies across the river. When you get over, cross the neck of the ridge where it's lowest. You'll see the clearing from the top of it."

Harry said this was plain enough and moved away across the shingle, Frank following him cautiously when they reached the fringe of driftwood which divided beach from bush. Whitened logs and barked branches were scattered about in tangled confusion where the water had left them, and it was with difficulty that the lads scrambled over the barrier. Then Frank stopped breathless, with one leg wet to the knee and a rent in his trousers.

"It's pretty rough going, if this is an average sample," he panted.

"You'll find it a good deal worse before we reach the ranch," Harry answered with a laugh.

He strode forward, and Frank looked around with wonder when they plunged into the bush, for he had never seen a wood of that kind except in pictures of the giant Californian Sequoia. There are, of course, pines in the eastern states, but they seemed pigmies by comparison with these tremendous conifers which were already tall and stately when Columbus sailed from Spain. They ran up far above the boy in huge cylindrical columns before they flung out their first great branches, which met and crossed like the ribs of high-vaulted arches, holding up a roof of dusky greenery. Beneath, there was a dim shadow, and a tangle of such luxuriant vegetation as is seen, excepting in the tropics, probably only upon the warm, damp Pacific Slope.

There was another difference which struck Frank. The eastern woods that he had seen were clear of wreckage, for lumber and fuel are valuable there, and the ax had kept them clean, but this forest was strewn with huge logs and branches, some of which evidently had fallen years ago. Thickets of all kinds had sprung up between, and these were filled with tufts of unrolling fern which Harry told him would grow six or eight feet high. Through the midst of it all there twisted a narrow path which Frank remembered Jake had mentioned as the Indian trail.

"Have you Indians here?" he asked.

"Oh, yes," said Harry, "we have a few Siwashes, though there are more of them up in Canada. They seem fond of Indians there."

"Are they quiet?"

Harry chuckled. "You don't want to get them mixed with the redskins of the plains, though I suppose where they're not wiped out they're pretty quiet too. These fellows are a different breed. Most of them are sailors and fishermen, and they dress much the same as you and I do. They come up these rivers now and then after the salmon, and they made this trail. You can tell that by the looks of it."

"How?"

"It goes in and out, and where there's an obstacle it winds around. That's the difference between a white man's and an Indian's nature. The Siwash strikes a big fir log, and he walks around it, if he has to keep on doing it for months. It doesn't seem to worry him that he's wasting a minute or two every time. Then the white man comes along and gets to work with his ax. He goes right straight through. It's born in him."

Frank had made a sign of understanding. He knew something of the history of the old great nations as well as that of his own country, and he remembered another dominant race that ages ago blazed its trails from Rome across all Europe and far into Asia. It was characteristic of those men that, turning aside for no obstacle, they went straight, and long after their power had perished their roads remained, running, as the crow flies, through morasses and over mountains and rivers. His own people had done much the same, whittling west with the axes through the eastern woods, and then pushing on with their wagons across the lonely plains, until they drove the steel track through the snow-clad Rockies and over the Sierras. They died in shoals on the journey, but it was the march of a nation, and always more came on, the lumberman after the trapper, the track-grader on the cowboy's heels, with ranches and farms and factories growing up along the line. Now they had reached the Pacific, and Frank wondered vaguely whether that would be the limit, or where they were going then. It was, however, a question that seemed too big for him.

"This country's rough on one's clothes," he said ruefully, looking down at a second tear in his trousers.

Harry laughed. He was dressed in old duck overalls, long boots, and a battered gray hat.

"That's a fact. What you want to wear is leather. There were two sports from back East came out to hunt last fall, and they had their things made of some patent cloth warranted to turn water and resist any thorns. Jake went along to cook for them." He paused with a chuckle and added, "They were wearing their blankets because they hadn't any clothes left when he brought them back."

They went on for an hour or so until they came out upon the bank of a frothing river which roared among the rocks in a shallow ca?on. There was no way of reaching the water, had they desired it, and, as Harry had predicted, the trail they followed grew rapidly worse. In places it wound perilously along narrow ledges beneath a dripping wall of rock, in others it led over banks of stones which had slipped down from the heights above. The boys made very slow progress until noon, when they stopped for a meal from the package Jake had thrown them. While they ate it Frank looked down again at his boots, which were already badly ripped.

"They were new just before I left Winnipeg," he said. "In some ways the people in Europe are ahead of us. There are one or two countries where they make their shoes of wood."

Harry was too busy to make an answer, and when he had finished eating he carefully tied up the packet, which was now considerably smaller, before he turned to his companion.

"We'd better be hitting the trail," he said. "Unless we can make the ranch by sundown, we'll get mighty little supper."

They pushed on for a couple of hours, still floundering and stumbling among the rocks. Harry stopped for a moment where the bush was thinner and pointed to a big gap in a ridge of hillside three or four miles away.

"That's the neck," he said. "The log we cross the river on is somewhere abreast of it. We surely can't have passed the thing."

They went on a little farther, but there was no sign of the log. Presently Harry stopped again with an exclamation, catching a glimpse of a great branchless fir which rose out of a welter of foam in the bottom of the ca?on.

"There she is," he exclaimed, "jammed in where we certainly can't get down to her. It will be difficult to go straight this time, but we'll have to try."

Frank drew a pace or two nearer the edge of the ca?on, and felt a creepy shiver run through him as he looked down. The rock he stood upon arched out a little over the shadowy hollow, through the bottom of which the wild waters seethed and clamored. He supposed that he stood at least sixty feet above them. The rock on the opposite side also projected, so that the rift was wider at the bottom than at the top. In one place, however, the crest of it had broken away and plunged into the gulf, leaving a short slope down which stones and soil had slid. Its lower edge lay about twelve feet beneath him, though the distance would have been rather less if it could have been measured horizontally.

"How are we to get across?" he asked hesitatingly.

"Jump," said Harry curtly. "Can't you do it?"

"No," Frank answered with some reluctance.

"Scared?" asked Harry, looking at him curiously.

"I am, but it's not that altogether."

"You didn't seem to want sand when you jumped into the boat."

Frank stood silent a moment or two with a flush on his face. Had he been forced to make the choice a year earlier, he probably would have jumped and chanced it from shame of appearing afraid or of owning his inferiority to another, but he had learned a little sense since then.

"It was different then," he explained. "I was scared – badly scared – but I felt I could do the thing if I forced myself to it. Now I'm almost certain that I can't."

"Yes," owned Harry, thoughtfully, "that's quite right. One hasn't much use for the fellow whose great idea is to keep himself from getting hurt, but when a thing's too big for you it's best to own it." He dismissed the subject with a wave of his hand. "The question is how we're going to get across, and my notion is that we'd better head right up into the bush. The river will be getting smaller, and it forks somewhere. Each branch will probably be only half the size, and I guess the ca?on can't go on very far."

It occurred to Frank that considering the nature of the country it would be singularly inconvenient if the ca?on went on for another league or two, particularly as they had only a handful of provisions left, but he followed his companion, and they stumbled and floundered forward all the afternoon. There was now no trail to follow, and where they were not forced to scramble over slippery rock, fallen trees and thorny brakes barred their way. Still, there was nothing to indicate that the ca?on was dying out, and where they could have reached the water it either foamed furiously between rocky ledges or spun round in horrible black eddies on the verge of a wild, yeasty turmoil. They looked at these spots and abandoned any thought of swimming.

Evening came at length, and they sat down beneath a big cedar where the roar of the river rang about them in deep pulsations. A chilly wind was wailing in the tops of the pines, and trails of white mist commenced to drift in and out among their trunks, which showed through it spectrally. Harry gazed about him with a rueful grin on his face.

"If I'd an ax, one or two matches, and a couple of blankets, I'd make you quite snug. Then with a few groceries, a kettle, and a spider, we'd have all any one could reasonably want."

"You haven't got them," Frank commented. "Wouldn't it save time if you wished for a furnished house?"

"I'd 'most as soon have an ax. Then I could make a shelter that would, anyway, keep us comfortable enough, and when I'd cut you a good layer of spruce twigs you wouldn't want a better bed. If I'd a rifle I might get a blue grouse for supper. Still" – and he laughed – "as you say, we haven't got them, and we couldn't do any cooking without matches. Curious, isn't it, what a lot of things you want, and that in most cases you have to get another fellow to make them?"

Frank agreed with this, but he had never realized the truth of it as he did just then. It was clear that the man who made all he wanted must live as the Indians or grosser savages did, and that it was only the division of employments that provided one with the comforts of civilization. Every man, it seemed, lived by the toil of another, for while on the Pacific Slope they turned the forests into dressed lumber and raised fruit and wheat, the clothes they wore, and their saws and plows and axes, came from the East. One could clear a ranch on Puget Sound only because a host of other men puddled liquid iron or pounded white-hot steel in the forges of, for instance, Pennsylvania. Frank would very much have liked to provide his companion with the fruit of somebody else's labor in the shape of a few matches, which would have made a cheerful fire possible.

In the meanwhile Harry had opened the packet and divided its contents equally.

"There's not enough to keep any over," he observed. "We have got to make the ranch to-morrow."

They ate the little that was left them, and then set to work to search for a young spruce from which they might obtain a few branches, but they failed to find one small enough even to climb. Coming back they lay down among the cedar sprays, which seemed rather wet, and it was some time before Frank could go to sleep. He was still hungry, and the roar of the river and the strangeness of his surroundings had a peculiar effect on him. The mist, which was getting thicker, rested clammily on his face, and crawled in denser wreaths among the black trunks which stood out here and there from the encircling gloom. Drops of moisture began to fall upon him from the branches, and once or twice he cautiously moved an elbow until it touched his companion. It was consoling to feel that he was not alone.

At length, however, he fell asleep, and awaking in the gray light of dawn staggered to his feet when Harry called him, feeling very miserable. He was chilled to the bone. His shoulders ached, his knees ached, and one hip-joint ached worse than all, while his energy and courage seemed to have melted out of him. As a matter of fact, nobody unused to it feels very animated on getting up before sunrise from a bed on the damp ground.

"As we have to reach home to-night, we may as well get a move on," announced Harry. "It's about four o'clock now, and it won't be dark until after eight."

The prospect of a sixteen hours' march with nothing to eat all the while did not appeal to Frank. It was the first time in his life that he had felt downright hungry, and this fast had made him the more sensitive to an unpleasant pain in his left side.

"If you're not sure about the way, wouldn't it be better if we went back to Jake?" he suggested. "It seems a pity we didn't think of it earlier."

"I did," Harry answered smilingly. "The trouble is that Jake would clear out the minute the wind dropped a little or shifted enough to let him get round the head. Besides, he'd have mighty little to eat if he were still lying behind the point when we got there. When your letter reached us we'd hardly time to run down to Bannington's to meet the steamer, so I just grabbed what I could find, and we sailed in a few minutes."

Frank said nothing further, and they pushed on doggedly into the shadowy bush. It was wrapped in a thick white mist, and every brake they smashed through dripped with moisture. Except for the clamor of the river, everything was wonderfully still – so still, indeed, that the heavy silence was beginning to pall upon Frank, who suddenly turned to his companion.

"Isn't there anything alive besides ourselves in this bush?" he asked.

"That," replied Harry, "is more than I can tell you. We have bears, and a few timber wolves, besides two kinds of deer and several kinds of grouse, and some of them are quite often about, but there are belts of bush where for some reason you can't find one."

They went on again, following up the river for an hour or two. In the meanwhile the mist melted, and Frank could see the endless ranks of mighty trees stretch away before him until they merged into a blurred columnar mass. At last the ca?on, which was growing shallower, forked off into two branches, and they followed one branch until a broken rocky slope led them down to the water. It was a dull greenish color and foamed furiously past them among great stones. There was no means of ascertaining how deep it was and the boys looked at each other dubiously for a moment or two. Then Harry made a little gesture.

"We have to get across," he said.

Frank, without waiting for his resolution to fail him, plunged in on the instant, and a couple of steps took him well above his knees. The water seemed icy cold. As a matter of fact, it was mostly melted snow, and the drainage from the glaciers had given it the curious green color. The gravel commenced to slide away beneath Frank's feet, and by the time the foam was swirling round his waist he was gasping and struggling savagely. There was a big, eddying pool not far away and, though he could swim a little, he had no desire to be swept into it. A moment or two later he was driven against a rock with a violence that shook all the breath out of him. He clung to it desperately until Harry came floundering by and held out his hand. They made a yard or two together and then Harry slipped suddenly, jerking Frank off his feet as he rolled over in the flood. Frank went down overhead and as he felt himself being swept along toward the eddy he exerted all his energy in a struggle to regain his footing. He clutched at a rock, but the swirling waters only carried him past. Half dazed and breathless he was flung against another rock. This time, with a great effort, he managed to hold on, and when he stood up, gasping, he found that the water now reached only to his knees. In another minute he and Harry were safe on dry land.



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