Harold Bindloss.

The Boy Ranchers of Puget Sound



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"You wouldn't know it again," Harry answered with a smile. "It would be a waste of willows, with young firs growing up between them. You couldn't tell it from the bush, only that the trees all round would be higher."

Frank dropped his scythe blade and leaned upon the haft. He had been mowing since sunrise, and the shadows were now rapidly lengthening. His back ached and his hands were sore, and he found it a relief to stand still a moment and look about him. On one side of the clearing the slanting sunrays struck deep into the forest, forcing up great columnar trunks out of the shadow. On the other, the fretted pinnacles of the firs cut sharp against the sky, and between stretched long swathes of fallen timothy and fern already turning yellow. Not far away, Mr. Oliver, sitting in the mower's saddle, was guiding his team along the edge of the grass which fell beneath the rasping knife, and the clink and rattle of the machine rang sharply through the still, evening air. Frank, stripped to blue shirt and trousers, found everything his eyes rested on pleasant, and he felt that, after all, he had done wisely when he left the cities.

Then he noticed Jake, who had been to the settlement, crossing the clearing with some letters in his hand. He gave them to Mr. Oliver, who pulled his team up and sat still for some minutes reading them. After that he stepped out and walked toward the boys.

"You might take the team along, Harry, and put the kettle on the stove," he said. "We'll have supper as soon as it's ready."

Harry moved away and Mr. Oliver leaned against a neighboring stump with his eyes fixed thoughtfully on Frank.

"I've a letter from your mother," he said. "She wants to know if I'm satisfied with you." He paused a moment and added with a smile: "That's a question I think I can answer in the affirmative."

"Thank you, sir," said Frank.

"Then," Mr. Oliver continued, "she goes into one or two other matters on which she seems to want my opinion. In the first place, somebody has offered to find you an opening in the office of a Philadelphia business firm. You'll have to decide about it, and it seems to me that the choice is rather a big one. You see, if you stay out here ranching two or three years it will probably spoil you for a business life in the eastern cities."

Frank thought hard for a minute or two. There was no doubt that ranching, when it included clearing land, as it generally seemed to do, was remarkably arduous work. In the case of a man with little money it evidently meant almost incessant toil, for it was only by persistent effort that one could chop and saw up the great trees and grub the stumps out. Still, he was growing fond of it, and, what was more, he was conscious that he was gaining a resolution and muscular vigor that in all probability he would never have acquired in the crowded cities.

Finally he looked up. "I don't think I would care to go back to them now," he said.

Mr.

Oliver nodded gravely. "Your mother doesn't seem to think a great deal of this opening, but, on the other hand, you want to bear in mind that if you expect to make money in ranching you must be able to invest it. Raising cattle and fruit for sale is a trade, and a trader gets no more than a certain interest on his money and the wages which an equally capable managing clerk or foreman in the same profession would receive. There are few respectable businesses in which that interest is a very big one. As the result of this, the trader must be content with a little unless he has the money to earn him more."

"Yes," said Frank somewhat ruefully, "that's clear. I'm afraid I can hardly count on much."

"Your mother mentions that when you are three or four years older she might perhaps be able to raise you about two thousand dollars."

"I suppose that wouldn't go very far, sir?"

"It certainly wouldn't buy you a ranch anywhere near a city, but you might get land enough to make a small one back in the bush. If you bought such a place, you would probably have to go out and work at one of the sawmills or logging camps now and then. It would be several years before you could make much of a living, because it would cost you so much to bring your stock to market."

"Yes," said Frank. "I suppose that is why the land would be cheap?"

Mr. Oliver made a sign of assent. "It's a difficulty which is, however, usually got over in this country. You hold on and cultivate your land, and by and by the market comes to you. Somebody starts a sawmill or a pulp mill in the locality, or, if there's ore about, a smelter. New trails are cut, settlements spring up, and presently a branch railroad comes along, and the rancher can sell everything he can raise." He broke off for a moment, and smiled rather dryly. "In such a case you may get big prices, but if you average them out over the years of working and waiting, you'll find you have earned them, and that, after all, the stuff you sell is mighty cheap."

Then he handed Frank the letter. "I'd consider it carefully. The mail won't leave for the next three days, and now we'll go along to supper."

Harry had managed to prepare a meal, and when it was over Mr. Oliver turned to the boys.

"A friend of mine in Victoria has written asking me to look at a big piece of bush land he thinks of buying on the west coast of Vancouver Island. He offers to pay my expenses and a fee, and I've an idea that we might run across in the sloop if we get moderately fine weather after the hay is in. I wonder if you would like to go with me?"

There was no doubt that the prospect appealed to them and Mr. Oliver smiled his approval.

"Then," he said, "you had better hustle that hay in. We'll start as soon as we're through with it."

CHAPTER X
A BREEZE OF WIND

The hay was almost in when Frank and Harry stood one evening close under the apex of the roof in the log barn. The crop was heavy and because the barn was small it had been their business during the afternoon to spread and trample down the grass Jake flung up to them. They had been working at high pressure at one task or another since soon after daylight that morning, and now the confined space was very hot, though the sun was low. Its slanting rays smote the cedar shingles above their bent heads, and the dust that rose from the grass floated about them in a cloud and clung to their dripping faces. Frank felt that the veins on his forehead were swollen when they paused a moment for breath, leaning on their forks.

"I suppose we could get a couple more loads in, and there can't be more than that," said Harry dubiously. "I wouldn't mind a great deal if the next jumperful upset."

Frank devoutly wished it would, for he felt that he must get out into the open air, but a few moments later they heard the plodding oxen's feet and the groaning of the clumsy sled. The sounds ceased abruptly and Jake's voice reached them.

"Tramp it down good!" he called. "You've got to squeeze in this lot and another."

Frank choked down the answer which rose to his lips. But the hay must be got in, and the boys fell with their forks upon the first of the crackling grass Jake flung up to them. There seemed to be more dust in it than usual, and before the jumper was half unloaded they were panting heavily. When at last the oxen hauled the sled away they stood doubled up knee-deep in the hay with their backs close against the roof.

"I can't see how we're to make room for the last lot," Harry gasped. "Still, I guess it has to be done."

They set to work again, packing the hay into corners and stamping it down, and his occupation reminded Frank of what he had heard about mining in a thin seam of coal. It seemed hotter than ever, the dust was choking, and at every incautious move he bumped his head or shoulders against the beams. The last sled arrived before they were ready for it, and they crawled about half buried, dragging the grass here and there with their hands and ramming it with their feet and knees into any odd spaces left. At length the work was finished, and wriggling toward the opening in the wall, Harry caught at the edge of it and finding a foothold on a log beneath boldly leaped down. Frank was, however, less fortunate when he followed his companion, for some of the hay slipped away beneath him, and, without the least intention of leaving the barn in that undignified fashion, he suddenly shot out through the hole. He felt the air rush past him, and then, somewhat to his astonishment, found himself on the ground, none the worse except for the jar of the fall.

"If I'd tried to do that it's very likely I'd have broken my leg," he panted.

He sat down and threw off his hat. It was delightful to feel the breeze upon his dripping face and to be out in the fresh air again. He had been at work for fourteen hours, and was aching all over, but that did not trouble him. The hay was safely in, and there was some satisfaction in the feeling that he had done his part in a heavy piece of work. Looking about him he noticed that the shadow of the firs had crept half across the clearing, and that thin wisps of fleecy cloud were streaming by high above their tall black tops. Then he heard Harry speaking to his father.

"There's a smart southerly breeze, and the tide is running ebb," he was saying. "What's the matter with starting for Victoria right away?"

"Haven't you done enough for to-day?" Mr. Oliver asked with a smile.

"I don't feel as fresh as I did this morning," Harry admitted. "Anyway, when we've got a fair wind and three or four hours' ebb going with us, it would be a pity not to make the most of them."

Mr. Oliver looked doubtful. "I'm anxious to get away, because, as I've arranged to meet a man in Victoria, we'll have to take the steamer unless we can slip across very shortly. I've an idea that we may get more wind than we'll have any use for before sun-up. Still, we could run in behind the point at Bannington's, if it was necessary."

Then Jake broke in: "If you're going, I'll get supper and pack some bread and pork along to the sloop."

Mr. Oliver assented, and an hour later they paddled off to the sloop. The dog jumped into the canoe with them, and when they got on board he quietly sat down on the floorings while Jake helped the boys to hoist the mainsail. When they came to the jib Mr. Oliver stood up on the deck looking about him.

"I think we'd better have the smaller one," he advised.

They were ready at length, and Jake, who was to stay behind, called the dog as he was about to jump into the canoe. Harry was busy forward just then with the mooring chain in his hand and the loose jib thrashing about him, while the big mainboom jerked over Mr. Oliver's head as he sat at the helm. The dog, however, showed no signs of moving.

"Give him a shove," said Jake, addressing Frank. "When he gets up on deck, pitch him in."

Frank turned toward the dog, and then stopped abruptly when it showed its teeth and growled.

"It looks as if he meant to go along," Jake remarked with a grin. "Prod him with the boathook if he won't move."

Frank was dubious, as he imagined the dog might resent the prodding. At that moment Harry, who had been too busy to notice what was going on, hauled up the weather sheet of the jib.

"I'm clear," he called to his father. "I'll cant her head to lee when you're ready."

Mr. Oliver put the helm up as the bows swung around, and when the sloop slanted over Jake made a futile grab at the dog. Then shouting to Frank, he dropped into the canoe and clutched the rail as the sloop forged ahead, but the boy was busy with the mainsheet and did not look up. In another moment Jake let go. Almost immediately afterward the sloop came round, and when she stretched away toward the mouth of the cove the canoe dropped astern.

"Stand by your jibsheets," called Mr. Oliver. "We'll have to come round again."

They were very busy during the next few minutes, for the cove was narrow and the wind was blowing in. When at length they swept out into the open water the dog crawled up to Harry and licked his hands. Harry looked at his father, who made a little sign of assent.

"I suppose he'll have to stay," he sighed. "When that dog decides on doing anything it's wise to let him do it. Now we'll square off the mainboom."

They let the sheet run until the big mainsail swung right out, and the sloop drove away, rolling viciously. Short, foam-flecked seas came tumbling after her, but as the tide was running the same way under them, lessening the resistance, very few broke angrily. Frank had learned enough by this time, however, to realize that it would probably be different when the stream turned. In the meanwhile the boat was sailing very fast, with a little ridge of frothing water washing by on either side when she lifted, and a thin shower of spray blowing all over her. Now and then the great sail with the heavy boom beneath it swung upward in an alarming fashion. Frank noticed that Mr. Oliver's eyes were gazing intently before him, and that his hands were clenched tightly upon the tiller.

"She seems rather bad to steer," he said.

"Yes," said Mr. Oliver, without looking up. "You have to be careful when you're running before a fresh breeze. It's remarkably easy to bring the mainsail over with a bang if you let her fall off too much, and the result of that would probably be to tear the mast out of her. It's considerably worse when there's a big sea coming along behind."

Frank glanced astern. The sun had gone and the sky was strewn with ranks of hurrying clouds, while the sea was flecked with smears of white.

"Aren't you pressing her a little?" Harry asked. "She'd be easier on the helm if we lowered the peak or tied a reef in."

"I'd like to pick up the Hootalquin reef before it's dark," answered Mr. Oliver. "I'm not sure we'll get very much farther to-night. You wanted a sail, and I fancy you're going to be gratified."

During the next hour Frank had to admit that this remark was warranted. The breeze steadily freshened, and there was no doubt that the sea was rising. It frothed in a white hillock on either side of the boat, and little trails of foam swirled about her deck. Frank could see that she was overburdened by the sail she was carrying, but Mr. Oliver still sat with a set face at the tiller and showed no desire to leave his post. In the meanwhile it was getting dark. Forest and beach had faded to a faint, shadowy blur and there was only a steadily narrowing stretch of foaming water in front of them. Frank was very wet and the spray beat upon him continually. At length, when the light had almost gone, a dusky patch of something grew out of the gathering gloom ahead, and fancying it to be a rocky point, he felt considerably relieved, because there would be shelter behind it. A minute or two later Mr. Oliver called to the boys.

"Get forward and ease the peak down," he ordered. "Then back the jib. We'll tie two reefs in."

"Aren't we going in here?" Harry asked.

His father shook his head. "No, it's too dark. I could take her through in the daylight, but there are one or two rocks in the channel. We'll have to try for Bannington's."

Frank felt a twinge of disappointment. Bannington's was still a good way off, and it seemed to him that the gale was increasing every moment. He scrambled forward with Harry, however, and when they loosened the rope the tall peak of the sail swung down. Soon after they had done this Mr. Oliver put down his helm, causing the mainboom to jerk and thrash to and fro furiously, while as the boat came up head to wind a white sea struck her side and foamed on board her.

"Handy with the throat!" shouted Mr. Oliver. "I don't want to leave the helm."

They slacked another rope, making the gaff sink farther down, after which they tied up about a yard of the inner bottom corner of the sail to the foot of the mast. This was comparatively easy, but it was different when, standing in the water on the lee deck, they grabbed the tackle beneath the boom and endeavored to pull the leach, or outer edge, of the mainsail down. It would not come, and the heavy spar struck them as it jerked in board, flinging Frank off into the well.

"Get another pull on your topping lift," ordered Mr. Oliver.

They jumped forward to do it, but it proved no easy task, for they had to raise the outer end of the heavy boom. They were struggling with the tackle again when Mr. Oliver laid both hands on the rope.

"Now," he shouted, "heave, and bowse her down!"

They succeeded this time, and afterward hung out over the water while they knotted the reef-points beneath the spar. Then when they had trimmed the jib over Mr. Oliver put up his helm and the sloop drove on again into the darkness with shortened sail.

The boys sat down as far under the side deck as they could get, out of the worst of the spray, with the dog crouching in the water which washed about the floorings at their feet.

"Why didn't your father help us more than he did?" Frank asked presently.

"He couldn't leave the tiller for more than a moment or two," said Harry. "When Jake and I reefed her the day we took you off the steamer there wasn't as much wind. Of course, there are boats in which you can lash the helm, but that's not always possible. If dad had let go the tiller she'd have fallen off and started sailing, which would have dragged the tackle from our hands or pitched us in, and then she'd have come up again banging and shaking. He kept her heading so that the mainsail was lifting slack with no weight in it."

Frank was commencing to realize that the handling of a sailboat was rather a fine art. It is as much of a machine as a steamer, but it is also of the kind whose efficiency depends directly upon the human eye, hand and brain. Man has evolved a number of such instruments, and in the right hands they are far more wonderful than the others. Any one, for instance, can learn the pianola, but to extract fine music from a Cremona violin is a very different matter.

It blew steadily harder, and there was, as Frank noticed, a difference in the sea, for the flood stream was now setting up against them and was growing shorter and more turbulent. There was a smaller interval between the waves, which seemed to become steeper and less regular. They curled over and broke about the boat with a sound that reacted unpleasantly upon Frank's nerves, and he was thankful that he could, after all, see very little of them. The sloop's motion also changed. One moment she seemed to be moving almost slowly, and the next she swung up in a quick, savage rush, with her bows in the air and the white foam boiling high about her. Sometimes, too, there was a thud and a splash astern, and the decks were swept by a deluge of seething water.

In the meanwhile the boys had contrived to light a lamp in a little box which held a compass, and they laid it on the thwart before Mr. Oliver, though, as he explained in a word or two, it was particularly difficult to steer an exact course in a sea of that kind. It was on the boat's quarter, that is, she was traveling with the wind almost behind her at a long slant across the course of the waves, but each time an extra big wave foamed up astern Mr. Oliver let her fall off and run right down wind with it to prevent its breaking on board.

Frank wondered how he did it, for the seas were following them and it was quite dark, but Mr. Oliver had no need to look around. He had for guides the sound of the oncoming seas, the pull of the tiller, and the motion of the boat, and, besides, from long experience his brain worked sub-consciously. He did not pause to consider when the bows climbed out and the stern sank down in a rush of foam, and had he done so, in all probability he would have brought the big mainboom smashing over. To run a fore-and-aft rigged craft, and a sloop in particular, before a badly breaking sea, is a difficult and somewhat perilous thing, and the ability to do it comes only from long acquaintance with the water, and, perhaps, from something in the helmsman's nature.

The boat sped on furiously, though they presently lowered the peak down to reduce the sail further, and by degrees Frank became conscious of an unpleasant nervous tension that seemed to sap away his hardihood. There was nothing to do in the meanwhile, but he felt that if he were called upon for any difficult or hazardous service he would find himself incapable of it. He was drenched and shivering, and he did not want to move. He only wished to cower beside Harry under the partial shelter of the coaming. This was, however, a feeling that other folks occasionally experience who go to sea in small vessels, which they have to grapple with and overcome. It is when there is no particular call on him, and he can only stand by and watch, that terror gets its strongest hold on the heart of a man.

At length Mr. Oliver called to the boys. "We must be close abreast of Bannington's," he said. "The end of the point should be to leeward. Get forward, Harry, where you can see out beneath the jib."

Frank followed his companion as he crawled up on the little deck. He did not want to seem afraid, but he held on tight with one hand when they knelt in the water that splashed about them. He could see the frothy seas beneath the black curve of the jib, but for what seemed a very long while there was nothing else. Then Harry suddenly raised his voice.



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