Harold Bindloss.

The Boy Ranchers of Puget Sound



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It was some little time before Harry came back and the Chinaman then set out their dinner. Frank had no idea what some of it consisted of and his companion was unable to enlighten him, but it was excellent. When they had finished, the man turned to Harry.

"One dolla," he said gravely.

Harry handed it over readily and smiled at Frank when they strolled back into the bush.

"It wasn't what I'd figured on when I first walked in, but I had to make some excuse," he said. "Just now I'd very much like to know how far it went with him." He paused and looked thoughtful. "I guess it wasn't a very long way. The image is ahead of us by a dollar."

Frank laughed. "You had some reason for going for that walk?"

"Oh, yes," replied Harry. "I wanted to make sure of things, and the ground was soft. There were some footprints in it – going from the shack – and they'd been made quite lately by a white man's boot. John sticks to his slipper things in a general way. Anyhow, it was the man we saw who left those tracks."

"How do you know that?"

"There were a lot of others about, but they'd been made earlier. The water had got into them, but there was very little in those I was interested in."

Frank was conscious that this was a point which would probably have escaped his notice, but he had not lived in the bush and learned to use his eyes.

"It's very curious how the fellow got out of the shack without our seeing him," he said.

"It looks curious until you begin to think. Now, though I tried to keep my eye on it all the while, the trees kept getting between me and the shack as we made for it, and what I couldn't see you couldn't see either. You were close behind me, which, in one way, was where we were wrong. If we had crept in well apart, the same tree wouldn't have bothered both of us, though if we'd done that it would have doubled the chances of our being seen."

"A tree isn't such a very big thing," Frank objected.

"No," said Harry. "The point is that it will shut an object a good deal bigger than itself out of your sight." He stopped a moment and pointed toward a neighboring cedar. "We'll say that one's three feet in diameter, but, as you're standing, it will shut off a good deal more than a track three feet wide through the bush. You want to run a line from your eye to both edges of the trunk and then carry them out behind it. The farther you run them, the farther they get apart, and as you can't see round a corner, everything in the wedge they enclose is shut out from view. Got that into you? It will come in useful when you're trailing a deer."

It was quite clear to Frank now that it had been explained, but his companion went on.

"Well," he added, "it wouldn't have taken that fellow more than a few seconds to slip out of the shack and in behind it. Then if he kept it between him and us he'd be hidden until he reached the bush."

"Yes," said Frank. "It must mean that he saw us, and didn't want us to see him."

"You're getting quite smart," said Harry with a grin.

"I don't know if you noticed it, but you trod on a rotten branch that smashed. He didn't want us to know him again, but I'd pick that fellow anywhere by his back and walk. Now why was he so anxious that we shouldn't see him talking to the Chinaman?"

It was a suggestive question, but Frank could not answer it, and Harry said nothing further. Reaching the canoe they paddled down the creek until they came abreast of the sloop and saw the provisions lying upon the shingle some little distance from the water, for the tide had ebbed since their arrival. When they had run the canoe in Frank assisted Harry in getting the flour bag on his back, but gave a sudden cry of dismay as a white cloud flew all over him.

"Hold on!" he cried. "Put it down. It's running out!"

Harry dropped the bag and drew down his brows as he gazed at the little pile of flour which lay at his feet. Then he suddenly stooped down.

"The bag seemed a sound one," Frank suggested.

"Oh, yes," said Harry shortly. "There's only one thing the matter with it. See here," and he laid his finger on a long slit. "Somebody has stuck a knife into it."

"A mean trick!" Frank broke out wrathfully.

Harry stood up with a flash in his eyes. "It's rather more than that. It's a hint. Anyway, if you'll get hold of the other end we'll pack the bag down with the cut uppermost."

In spite of this precaution they spilled a good deal of the flour before they got it on board the sloop, but Harry said no more about the matter, and hoisting sail they slid out of the inlet with a faint breeze abeam of them. They found it fair and the breeze only a little stronger when they had left the woods behind, and Frank sat at the tiller while the sloop glided rapidly through the smooth blue water with no more than a drowsy gurgle beneath her bows. The tide was running down with them now and it was only when he glanced toward the beach that he realized how fast they were going.

A pleasant salt odor of drying weed was mingled with the scent of the firs. In front of them a wonderful vista of white snow mountains emerged from fleecy cloud, and far beneath the silvery vapor appeared the faint and shadowy blurs of distant hillsides clothed with mighty forest. Overhead the big white sail swayed languidly to and fro, cutting sharply into the blue, and Frank felt that he would like to sail on like this for hours, lounging at the helm, and listening to the water as it slipped along the sides. With a light fair wind he could guide the boat wherever he wished by the slightest touch of the tiller, and it was pleasant to see how steadily he could keep her bowsprit pointing to a low rocky head that rose, a patch of soft blue shadow, against the evening light.

The voyage, however, came to an end almost too soon, and the rocks and firs were growing dim when they ran into the cove and picked up their mooring buoy. After they had stowed and covered the sails they went ashore, and both boys were very tired and warm when they reached the homestead. Harry's clothes were covered with flour, which had left a white trail along the way. Miss Oliver was standing in the lamplight when they came in and noticed the white patches on their clothes.

"You have let him give you a burst bag!" she exclaimed.

Harry looked meaningly at Frank. "No," he said, "I think it was all right when it left the store and I don't think we have spilled more than a few pounds. Perhaps we had better skip it into the barrel. It will save the stuff from running out when you move it."

They managed to carry it away between them; and when they had emptied it Harry turned to Frank.

"If she starts talking about that bag, head her off on to something else," he said. "I don't want her to get imagining trouble every time we leave the ranch."

When Miss Oliver resumed the subject at supper Frank attempted to divert her attention, and fancied that he succeeded, though he wondered why she smiled at times. When the boys had gone to their room she picked up the bag and stretched it out under the light. Then her face grew grave as she saw the slit in it. Being a clever woman, however, she decided not to mention her suspicions.

CHAPTER VIII
SALMON SPEARING

When the boys came in for breakfast next morning Jake was standing in the kitchen, and Miss Oliver sat opposite him looking unusually thoughtful.

"What's the matter?" Harry asked.

Jake turned toward him slowly.

"I don't know that there's anything very wrong," he said. "Leader's come back."

Leader was the name of one of the missing horses, and Frank started as he remembered what the storekeeper had said, but feeling Miss Oliver's eyes upon him, turned his head and looked out into the clearing.

"Where's Tillicum?" inquired Harry.

"That," replied Jake, "is more than I can tell. Leader was standing outside the stable when I went along and I can't make out why the other horse wasn't with him. He'd have come with Leader if anybody had turned them into the trail together."

Harry called to Frank and went out of the door. Jake followed them to the stable, where they found the horse looking rather jaded, but except for that very little the worse. Jake nodded reassuringly when Harry had felt him over.

"No sign of anything wrong," he said. "There was a good deal of dried mud on him before I fixed him up, and he seemed mighty keen on his corn. They hadn't given him very much."

"What do you make of it?" Harry asked.

"About as much as you do," answered Jake. "They turned him loose on the trail when they'd done with him, and that's all there is to it. I guess the question is what they've done with Tillicum. One thing's certain. If he doesn't turn up, your father's going to be mighty mad."

Harry agreed that this would be very probable, though he did not think his father would show it. As there was nothing more to be said they went back to the house, where, somewhat to their relief, Miss Oliver made no allusion to the affair, and they proceeded quietly to eat breakfast.

"Are there any spring salmon in the river?" she asked presently, looking across at Harry.

"Yes," he responded, "there are a few coming up."

"Then you might take Frank with you this morning and try to get me one. I dare say Jake will smoke it." Miss Oliver smiled at Frank. "You don't get salmon prepared that way back East."

"We have it canned," said Frank. "I've an idea I've seen some smoked, but I can't remember. Is it very nice? I thought you didn't care for salmon here."

"Fresh salmon," Jake said curtly, "is only good for hogs, and if you keep it long enough, for growing potatoes with. Still," he added thoughtfully, "I don't know that you call it fresh then."

Miss Oliver laughed. "Wait until you try it smoked – as Jake does it. He can prepare it as some of the Siwash do. I believe they taught him in British Columbia."

Jake shook his head solemnly. "No," he said, "I can't cure salmon as some of the Indians do. You'd get nothing like it in a New York hotel, but I guess I can dress it 'most as well as any white man. You go along and get me a fish, Harry. I'd try the pool by the big fall."

They set out a few minutes later, taking with them a pole which had a big iron hook lashed to it and a long Indian salmon spear. There was a small fork at one end of the latter on which were placed two nicely made bone barbs attached to the haft by strips of sinew. Harry removed them to show Frank that they would slip off their sockets easily. Leaving the clearing, they struck into a narrow trail through the bush, and after half an hour's scramble over fallen logs and through thick fern they reached the river.

It poured frothing out of shadowy forest and leaped over a rock ledge in a thundering fall, beneath which it swirled around a deep basin, and then after sweeping down a white rapid, spread out over a wide belt of stones. There were rocks on either side of it, and, as the trees could find no hold on them, warm sunlight streamed down upon the foaming water. Harry sat down on a ledge above the pool with the spear beside him and pointed to a great bird wheeling on slanted wings above the shallow.

"A fish eagle," he said. "Here are salmon making up."

Frank watched the circling of the majestic bird, which did not seem much afraid of them. It had a white head and a cruel beak, and once when it swept over him he noticed the fixed gaze of its cold, impassive eye. Splendid as it was, he somehow shrank from the thing. It looked so powerful and utterly merciless. When it stopped in the air, dropped, and struck, he saw a splash as a writhing, silvery creature was snatched up in its talons.

"Got him wrong!" cried Harry. "You watch. He'll have to let go again."

So far as Frank could see, the eagle had seized the salmon by the middle of its back, the fish twisting itself crossways as it was carried up into the air. The next moment there was a splash in the water and the bird swooped down again. When it rose it held its prey differently, and Frank fancied he could see one wicked claw gripping the fish close by the back of its neck, while the other was spread out toward its tail. In any case, the salmon did not seem able to wriggle now, and the eagle flew off with it and vanished among the tops of the black firs.

"Not a big fish, but I've a notion the eagle could lift a thing as heavy as itself," said Harry. "They're mighty powerful. It might be the one he dropped, though I think it's another."

Frank had no idea how much an eagle weighed, but he realized something of the capabilities of a bird that could carry off this fish apparently without an effort, and, what was more astonishing, drag the tremendously muscular creature out of the water which was its home. Then his companion touched his shoulder.

"Watch those two fellows in the eddy," said he. "They're going to rush the fall."

Frank saw two slim shadows shoot out beneath a wreath of circling foam and flash – which seemed the best word for it – through the crystal depths of the slacker part of the pool. They were lost in the snowy turmoil near the foot of the fall, and a few minutes passed before he saw them again. Then one shot out of the water like a bow that had suddenly straightened itself, gleamed resplendent with silver, and plunged into the foam again. Harry pointed him out the other, and though it was a moment or two before he could see it he marveled when he did. It had its dusky back toward him, for now and then the dorsal fin rose clear, and it was swimming up a thin cascade which poured down a steep slope of stone. That any creature should have strength enough to stem that rush of water seemed incredible, but there was no doubt that the fish was ascending inch by inch. Then it found a momentary harbor in a little pool just outside the main leap of the fall, and shot out of it again with its curious uncurving spring. Frank watched it eagerly when it dropped into the fall, and it was with a sense of sympathy that he saw its gallant efforts wasted as it was suddenly swept down. Before reaching the bottom, however, it had evidently rallied all its powers, for it flashed clear into the sunlight, and had recovered a fathom when he lost sight of it once more.

After that he glanced back toward the shallows and saw that other birds had appeared. He did not know what they were, and Harry could only tell him that they were fishhawks of some kind. As he watched them wheeling or stooping, dropping upon the sparkling stream, and screaming now and then, the boy began to form some idea of the desperate battle for existence that is fought daily and hourly by the lower creation.

"There don't seem to be a great many salmon," he remarked.

"It's a thin run," said Harry. "There'll probably be more of them in the next one. Once upon a time, as I expect you've heard, these rivers were so thick with fish that you could walk across their backs, though I'll allow I've never seen anything of that kind."

Frank was not astonished at the last admission. This brown-skinned, clear-eyed boy, who could sail a boat and hold the rifle straight, was not one to talk of the wonderful things he had seen and done. He left that to the whisky-faced sports of the saloons who were probably capable of butchering a crippled deer at fifty yards with the repeater.

"I suppose the salmon have plenty enemies," he suggested.

"Oh, yes," said Harry. "In the sea the seals and porpoises get their share of them. Then, as they head for the rivers, there are the fish traps, and in Canada the seine-net boats along the shore. After that when they're in fresh water they have to run the gauntlet of the Indians, birds, and bears."

"Bears?" Frank interrupted.

"Sure," said Harry. "They're quite smart fishers. Even the little minks get some of the salmon stranded in the shallow pools. The Indians set long baskets, narrow end downward, for them near the top of the falls. These, of course, are fresh from salt-water – you can see they're silvery – but they lose that brightness as they go up the larger rivers, and on the Columbia and Fraser they push on hundreds of miles, up tremendous ca?ons, up falls and rapids, toward the Rockies. Those that fetch headwaters are scarred and battered, with the bright scales and most of their fins and tails worn right off them. Once they're through with the spawning they die."

"Then they go straight to the place where they spawn?"

"Yes, the salmon's really a seafish. It's born in fresh water, but it goes down to the ocean as soon as it's big enough, and it's generally believed that it stays there three or four years, though it's a fact that we know mighty little about the salmon yet. Then it comes back to the same place and spawns and dies. You see, there's a constant succession coming up." He broke off with a laugh. "Now we'll try to get one. There are three or four big fellows yonder. All you have to do is to slash at them with the hook."

Frank perched himself upon a jutting shelf of rock, and presently two or three swift shadows flitted by. He swung up the pole and made a sudden sweep at them, only to see the hook splash two or three feet behind the last one's tail. Incidentally, he came very near to going headforemost into the pool. Then another fish swept toward him, and this time he landed the hook some inches in front of its nose, after which he made several more attempts, succeeding only in splashing himself all over. He was beginning to discover that his hands and eyes needed a good deal of training. One, it seemed, must judge speed and distance and strike simultaneously, but the trouble was that he needed a second or two to think, and, naturally, while he thought the fish got away.

By and by he turned and watched Harry, who had not struck once yet. He stood upon a ledge, alert, strung-up, and steady-eyed, but absolutely motionless, with the long spear running up above his shoulder. At last, however, he drove his right arm down and the beautiful, straight shaft sank into the pool. It stopped suddenly for a second, quivering, and then bent and twisted upward in the boy's clenched hands.

Frank ran toward him, wondering that the slender shaft did not immediately break, when he observed that one barb had slipped off its socket and that the fish, struck by it, was now held by the short length of sinew. A moment or two later Harry jerked it out upon the bank by a quick vertical movement and knocked it on the head. It lay still after this, a beautiful creature of some seven or eight pounds, with the sunlight gleaming on its silver scales. Frank glanced once more at the long spear. It occurred to him that this was also perfect in its way and could not have been better adapted to its purpose.

"It's curious that an Indian should be able to make a thing like that," he remarked. "I don't think a white man could turn out anything as handy, unless, of course, he had one to copy."

"The point is that it took the Siwash a mighty long while to make the salmon spear," said Harry. "It's quite likely they spent two hundred years over it. Their spears are all on the same pattern, so are their traps and canoes." Seeing a puzzled look cross Frank's face, he smiled. "An Indian is no smarter than a white man – in fact, when you stop to think of it, he's not half as smart, though most everything he makes is excellent. It's this way. If we want a saw for a new purpose or a different kind of wood, we write to the Disston people or somebody of the kind and they set their boss designer to work. He considers, and then because he knows all about the physical sciences he draws the thing on paper and sends it to the forges or grinding shops. In a general way, that saw does its work, though I guess if the designer had to use it for a year or two he'd make the next one better."

"Of course," agreed Frank.

"It's different with the Indians," Harry continued. "One fellow made a fish spear ever so long ago and found that it wouldn't do. He made the next one different and was satisfied with it, but his son made it a little longer and thinner. Then his grandson altered the barb, and his son added another one. After that each fellow made it a little handier, until nothing more could be done to it, and they stuck to the pattern." He turned and glanced at the spear. "This thing is the product of the skill of ever so many generations."

It was simple but convincing, for it explained the efficiency of the Indian's tools, and also why he had not progressed. He worked along the same line, sticking to one simple implement until he had perfected it, and, though this was his greatest disadvantage, the man who killed the fish generally made the spear. He got so far and stopped, content, and incapable of going any farther. The white man, on the other hand, changed his methods continually with his changing needs and, what counted more than all, he very seldom made the tools he used, because he had discovered that somebody who did nothing else could make them better. When the Americans of the Pacific Slope wanted salmon they did not whittle spears, but sent east to the cordage factories, whose owners brought in fibers from all over the world and spun the netting with which to build gigantic fish traps.



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