Harold Bindloss.

The Boy Ranchers of Puget Sound



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Half an hour later they crossed the other creek, and soon afterward Frank sat down limply in the warm sunlight, which at last came filtering between the thinner trees.

"I must have a rest," he gasped.

"There's just this trouble," Harry pointed out. "If you rest any time you won't want to get up again."

"If I go on now I'll drop in another few hundred yards," declared Frank.

It was probably no more than the truth. He had been clever at athletics and open air games, but, as it happened, he had been able to learn them easily. Besides, he had been indulged by his mother and had been rather a favorite at school, and as one result of it he fell short of the hardihood usually acquired by the boy who has everything against him. After all, an hour's exercise in a gymnasium or an hour and a half spent over a game amidst applause and excitement is a very different thing from the strain of unrelaxing effort that must be made all day when there is nobody to cheer. He did not want to rest, but his worn-out body rebelled and mastered him.

"Aren't – you – played out?" he stammered weakly.

"Oh, yes," replied Harry with a grin. "Still, in this country you're quite often dead played out and have to go on again."

"But if you can't?"

"Then," said Harry dryly, "you have to keep on trying until you're able to."

It struck Frank that this might be painful and his heart sank. After a while he tried another question:

"Don't people get lost in the bush every now and then?"

"Why, yes," was the answer. "There was a man strayed off from a picnic just outside one of the cities not long ago and they didn't find him until a month or two afterward. He was lying dead not a mile from a graded road."

Frank shivered inwardly at this.

"Still, I suppose you generally have something to guide you – the moss on the north side of the trees? I've heard that people who don't know about it walk around in rings."

"I must have gone pretty straight the only time I was lost," laughed Harry; "and it's mighty hard to find moss in some parts of the bush. In others it's all around the trees. I'd rather have a big peak as a guide. You have heard about people walking round, but I wonder whether you have heard that when they're badly scared they'll walk right across a trail without seeing it?"

"Is that a fact?" Frank asked in astonishment.

"Sure!" said Harry. "A lost man will sometimes walk across a logging road without the slightest idea that he's doing it. Anyway, I know where the homestead lies. It's only a question of holding out until we reach it."

Frank was sincerely pleased to hear this, and by and by he rose with an effort and they went on again.

CHAPTER III
THE RANCH

Dusk was not far away when the boys, stumbling down a low hillside, came into sight of an oblong clearing in the forest with a wooden house standing on one side of it. That was all Frank noticed, for he found it difficult to keep himself on his feet, and his sight seemed hazy.

Indeed, he fell down once or twice in the steeper places, and had some trouble in getting up; and after that he had only a confused recollection of crossing an open space and entering a dwelling. A man shook hands with him, and a woman in a print dress made him sit down in a low chair before she set out a bountiful meal. Soon after he had eaten a considerable share of it Harry led him into a very little room where a bed like a shelf with a side to it was fixed against one wall. Five minutes later he was blissfully unconscious of his recent painful experience.

The sun was streaming in through the window when he awoke, feeling wonderfully refreshed, and, dressing himself in some overalls which had been laid across the foot of his bed, he walked out into the larger general room. It had uncovered walls of logs and a very roughly boarded floor, and there seemed to be little in it besides a stove, a table and several chairs.

A brown-faced man with a little gray in his hair sat at one end of the table and at the other end sat a woman resembling him and of about the same age. Harry, sitting between them, was apparently engaged in narrating their adventures. Frank, who took the place laid out for him, found that his supper had not spoiled his breakfast, for he fell upon the pork, potatoes, dried apricots, hot cakes and syrup with an excellent appetite. When the meal was over, the man led Frank into another room and filling his pipe asked him to sit down.

"We'd better have a talk," he said. "You can take the chair yonder."

Frank looked at him more closely when he sat down. Mr. Oliver, who was dressed in duck overalls, was rather spare in figure, though he looked wiry. His manner was quiet, and his voice was that of an educated man, but he had somewhat piercing gray eyes.

"I had a sincere regard for your father," he began. "On that account alone I should be glad to have you here; but first of all we had better understand each other. You mentioned that you had been in business in Minneapolis and afterward in Winnipeg. Didn't you like it?"

"No, sir," replied Frank, who felt that it would be wiser to answer carefully any questions this man might ask. "Still, that wasn't exactly why I gave it up, though" – and he hesitated – "to say I gave it up isn't quite correct."

"If I remember, you called it being fired, in your letter," Mr. Oliver suggested with a twinkle in his eyes. "What led up to that?"

"Slack trade in the last case. I'd like to think it was only the grudge a bullying clerk had against me in the other."

"Then, if you had been allowed, you would have stayed with the milling business, though you didn't care for it?"

"Yes," responded Frank. "Anyway, I'd have stayed until I could have got hold of something I liked better."

Mr. Oliver nodded in a way which suggested that he was pleased with the answer.

"Well," he said, "that brings us to the question why you came out here. Was it because you had heard that it was a good country for hunting and fishing?"

Frank's face flushed. "No, sir," he replied, "I wanted to earn a living, and I understood that a" – he was going to say a live man, but thought better of it – "any one who wasn't too particular could generally come across something to do quickest in the West. In fact, I'd like to begin at once. After buying my ticket and getting odd meals I've only two or three dollars left."

"Two-fifty, to be precise. My sister took your clothes away to mend. Now, it's possible that I might manage to get you into the office of some lumber or general trading company in one of the cities. How would that do?"

"I'd rather go on to the land. I'd like to be a rancher."

"How much do you know about ranching?"

"Very little, but I could soon learn."

It was Frank's first blunder, and he realized it as he saw the gleam of amusement in Mr. Oliver's eyes.

"It's by no means certain," commented the latter. "There are men who can't learn to use the ax in a lifetime. We'll let it go at that, and say you're willing to learn. Have you any idea of making money by ranching?"

Frank thought a moment. "Well," he said finally, "I'd naturally wish to make some, but I don't think that counts for most with me. I'd rather have the kind of life I like."

"The trouble with a good many men is that when they get it they find out they like something else. Quite sure that hunting and fishing aren't taking too prominent a place in your mind? If they are, I'd better tell you that the favorite amusement in this country is chopping down big trees. There's another fact that you must consider. It takes a good deal of money to buy a ranch and, unless it's already cleared, you have to wait a long while before you get any of the money back. This place cost me about nine thousand dollars, one way or another, and in all probability there's not a business on the Pacific Slope in which I wouldn't get twice as much as I'm getting here for the money, though I've been here a good many years. Now what do you expect to do with two dollars and a half?"

What he had heard had been somewhat of a shock to Frank, and the question was difficult to answer.

"I might earn a little more by degrees, sir," he said hopefully.

Mr. Oliver smiled at him encouragingly.

"It's possible; and there's cheaper land than mine, while a smart man used to the country can often get hold of a small contract of some kind. Now I'll tell you what we'll do. Wait a month, and then if you find that you like the life I'll hire you for what anybody else would give you."

With that he arose, signifying that the discussion was over, and Frank went out of doors and joined Harry in the clearing. The latter held a big handspike with an arched iron hook hinged to it, and he invited Frank to assist him in rolling logs.

"It will give you some idea how a ranch is cleared," he said. "To begin with, you had better take a look around."

Frank did so and first of all noticed the rather rambling house, part of which was built of logs notched into one another at the ends, though the rest, which had evidently been added to it later, was of sawed lumber. It was roofed with what he fancied were red cedar shingles. On the other side of it, carefully fenced off with tall split rails, stood orderly ranks of trees, some in delicate pink and white blossom. Harry told him they were apples and prunes and peaches. Nearer him were one or two fields of timothy grass and fresh green oats, and then more of the latter growing among fern-engirdled stumps sawed off some six feet above the ground. Beyond them, in turn, half-burned branches were strewn among another stretch of stumps, then there was a narrow belt where great trees lately chopped lay in tremendous ruin, and behind them again the forest rose in an unbroken wall.

"Now," explained Harry, "you have the whole thing in front of you, if you'll begin at the bush and work back toward the house. First you chop down the trees, then you burn them up and raise your first crop or two round the stumps. Afterward by degrees you grub up the stumps and get the clean, tilled land. When it's been worked a few years it will grow almost anything."

"But where's the stock?" Frank asked. "I had a notion that a ranch was a place where you raised no end of horses or cattle."

"That's on the plains," laughed Harry. "On this side of the Rockies it's any piece of cleared land with a house on it. At quite a few of the ranches they raise nothing but fruit. As you asked the question, though, our cattle are in the bush. They run there and live on what they can find until we round them up. Now we'll get to work."

He turned away after a pair of brawny oxen that were plodding leisurely across the clearing, and in a little while they halted on the edge of what Harry called the slashing. This was a belt of fallen timber which ran around most of the open space. As Frank gazed at the chaos of great trunks and mighty branches he felt inclined to wonder how Mr. Oliver had managed to get them down.

"What will you do with these?" he asked.

"Saw or chop off the bigger branches," Harry answered. "Then we'll wait until the trunks are good and dry in the fall and put a fire to them. It will burn up all the small stuff, and leave them like this."

He pointed to the rows of blackened and partly burned logs which lay between the slashing and the half-cleared soil, and Frank noticed that most of them had been sawed into several pieces.

"Couldn't you sell them for lumber?" he inquired.

"No," replied Harry. "For one thing, it's quite a long way to the nearest mill and we'd have to build a skidway for a mile or two down to the water. Besides, in a general way, it's only the redwood and red cedar that the mills have much use for."

Then he gave Frank a handspike that lay close by, and between them they prized up one end of a log so that he could slip a chain sling under it. The other end of the chain was attached to the yoke of the oxen, and when he called them the big white and red beasts hauled the log away until he stopped them and went back for another. Frank did not find much difficulty in this, but it was different when they had drawn six or seven of the logs together and laid them side by side. Harry said that the next lot must go on top of the others, and Frank was wondering how they were to get them there, when his companion laid two or three stout skids some distance apart against the first of the row. These, it was evident, would serve as short, slanting bridges, but Frank was still not clear as to how the next log could be propelled up them.

When Harry brought it up he slipped the chain along toward its middle, though it cost the boys an effort to prize the mass up with their handspikes, after which he made one end of the chain fast on the opposite side of the row, around which he led the oxen. The other end he hooked to their yoke, so that it now led doubled across the row and around the trunk they wished to raise. He said that when the chain was pulled the log would roll up it. He next shouted to the oxen, who plodded forward straining at the yoke, while he and Frank slipped their handspikes under opposite ends of the log.

"Heave!" he cried. "Send her up!"

Frank did his utmost, with the perspiration dripping from him and the veins on his forehead swelling, but the ponderous mass rolled very slowly up the skids, and several times he fancied it would drag the oxen backward and slide down on him. Indeed, for about half a minute it hung stationary, though Harry, who dared not draw out his handspike, shouted frantic encouragement to the straining beasts. Then it moved another inch or two, and one released skid shot up as though fired out of a gun when the log rolled upon the first of the preceding ones. They worked it well across them, and then freeing the chain went back for another, though Frank's arms felt as if they had been almost pulled out of their sockets.

"You want somebody to keep the oxen up to it as well as two to heave, when the logs are as big as these," said his companion. "Still, some of the small ranchers do the whole thing alone."

Frank could not help wondering what kind of men these were, but in the meanwhile he was obliged to bend all his thought on his difficult task, which grew heavier when, having ranged the logs in two layers, they commenced the third. The skids were now too short to reach the top of the second tier without making the slope rather steep and Harry said that they must cut some new ones. A couple of axes lay close by, and handing one to Frank he strode into the bush and stopped in front of a young fir.

"The butt ought to make a skid," he said. "I'll leave you to get it down and I'll look for another. You do it like this."

Spreading his feet apart and balancing himself lightly, he swung the heavy, long-hafted ax above his head. The big blade, descending, buried itself in the trunk, and rose with a flash when he wrenched it clear. This time he struck horizontally and a neat wedge-shaped chip flew out.

"Now," he said, handing the ax to Frank, "you can go ahead."

He turned away and Frank swung the ax experimentally once or twice. The thing looked easy. Whirling up the blade, he struck with all his might. It came down into the notch Harry had made, but it was the flat of it that struck, and, while the haft jarred his hands, the blade glanced and just missed his leg. This appeared somewhat extraordinary, and he was a little more cautious when he tried again. He hit the tree fairly this time, but almost a foot above the cut, and he was commencing to feel indignant when he dragged the steel out again, which in itself was not particularly easy. He then struck horizontally, but the blade did not seem to go in at all, and at the next attempt the ax buried itself in the soil, just grazing his boot. This steadied him, for he had no desire to lame himself for life. Shortening his hold upon the haft, he used it after the manner of a domestic chopper, until at length, when his hands were blistered and he was very hot, the tree went down with a crash. Then turning around he saw Harry watching him with a look of amusement.

"Have you got yours down?" Frank asked.

"Oh, yes," Harry replied, "and another. I've chopped them through for skids." He pointed to the hacked and splintered log. "Looks as if something had been eating it, doesn't it?"

Frank's face grew rather red. "You couldn't expect me to drop into it all at once. Give me a week or two to pick up the swing and balance of it."

"A week or two!" Harry seemed to address the clustering firs. "They sure raise smart folks back East."

"How long were you learning?" retorted Frank.

"Well," said Harry thoughtfully, "you could call it most of twelve years. I used to go whittling with a toy tomahawk soon after I could walk. Of course, they confiscated the thing now and then. Once it was after I'd just brought down a one-leg round table."

"Did you ever cut yourself?"

Harry rolled up his trousers and pointed to a big white mark below his knee.

"I could show you two or three more of them," he commented dryly. "There are quite a few bush ranchers who haven't got all their toes on."

He cut a skid from the butt of the log, and when they went back to the pile the work which before had been hard now became more or less dangerous. They had to prize and sometimes shoulder up the ponderous masses of timber three-high, and Frank was far from feeling over the effects of the previous two-days' march. Still, if his companion could manage it, he was determined that he could, and he toiled on, soaked in perspiration, straining and gasping over one of the heaviest tasks connected with clearing land, until to his vast relief Miss Oliver appeared in the doorway, jingling a cowbell as a signal that dinner was ready.

They went back to work after the meal, and Frank somehow held out until the middle of the afternoon. It seemed very hot in the clearing and the scorching sunrays beat down upon the back of his neck and shoulders. One of his horribly blistered hands commenced to bleed, he was almost afraid to straighten his back, and his arms were sore all over. At last as they were heaving up a heavy log it stuck just on the edge of the tier and Frank, who felt his breath failing him and his heart beating as though it would burst, could hear the oxen scuffling furiously on the other side of the pile.

"Heave!" Harry shouted. "Another inch will land her!"

"I can't!" Frank panted, with his hands slipping upon the lever.

"Then look out!" warned Harry. "Let go of the thing and jump!"

Frank did not remember whether he let go or whether the handspike was torn from his grasp, but he jumped backward as far as he could and staggered a few paces farther when he saw the big log rolling down after him. Then he fell headlong, there was a crash and a great trampling of hoofs, and he wondered whether the log would crush the life out of him. When he scrambled to his feet, however, it had stopped not far away; and in a few moments Harry appeared from behind the pile.

"It pulled the oxen backward right up to the logs," he explained. Then he looked sharply at Frank. "We haven't done badly for one day, and Aunt Sophy wants me to haul in some stovewood. You sit there and rest yourself awhile."

He went away with the oxen, and Frank was thankful to do as he was told, for his heart was heavy and he was utterly worn out. His hands were torn and blistered and the logs that he had partly lifted with his body had bruised his breast and ribs. If this was ranching, it was horrible work, and he felt that he would break down altogether if he attempted much more of it. It was nothing like his dream of riding through the bush on spirited horses after half-wild cattle. Then the troublesome question as to what he should do if he gave it up had to be faced. He had found that he had no aptitude for business, and he had a suspicion that work would be quite as hard in a logging camp or in a sawmill. It was clear that he could not go home, even if he had the money for his fare, which was not the case, and he felt very forlorn and miserable.

In the meanwhile the twigs he lay upon were pleasantly soft, and it was cool and peaceful in the lengthening shadow of the firs. There was a curious rhythmic drumming sound which he found most soothing and which he afterward learned was made by a blue grouse not far away. The pungent smell of withering fir and cedar sprays in the slashing dulled his senses, until at last his troubles seemed to melt away and he fancied that he was back in Boston where nobody had ever required him to heave ponderous logs upon one another.

It was a couple of hours later when Mr. Oliver, walking back that way with Harry, stopped and looked at the pile.

"You have put all those up since this morning?" he asked.

Harry said that they had done so, and Mr. Oliver glanced down with a little smile at Frank, who lay fast asleep.

"It's rather more than I expected. The lad must have done his share, but it might have been better if you had started him at something easier."

"He stood it all right until a while ago, and I think he'd have seen me through if it hadn't been for the walk yesterday. Shall we crosscut some of those branches to-morrow instead?"



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