As they trudged on, he talked the matter over with Lew again. Lew seemed unduly light-hearted over the matter, and even smiled about it. Instead of sympathizing with his chum, he counseled him not to worry about it, as the way would likely open. That seemed so heartless that Charley was hurt. He thought that his chum, about to leave the forest himself, no longer was concerned. So he fell silent, and walked along in greater dejection than ever.
Long before the sun had touched the zenith, the three forest guards had reached the last ridge that lay between them and the highway.
"You've come far enough, Charley," said the ranger, "and perhaps it would have been better if you had stopped short of this. If anything should happen in that big timber, you are a long distance from it. There's a good spring part way up this ridge, and it's high enough so that we can get a good view. We'll stop there and eat our dinner. We can watch as we eat. After you've had a good rest, you had better hike for camp. You're a good ten miles away from your tent."
They climbed to the spring, took each a good drink, and sat down to eat their food. The panorama that spread before them was wondrously beautiful, but Charley had no heart for scenery. He ate in silence, his eyes for the most part bent on the ground.
After the meal was finished, the three friends sat silent, looking out over the vast range of territory before them, each busy with his own thoughts. If one could have judged by the expressions on their faces, Lew was little short of jubilant. Again and again he smiled and looked meaningly at his chum. But Charley still sat with downcast eyes, heedless of his chum's glances. But why Lew smiled it would have been hard to guess. If he had any scheme in mind, he dropped no hint concerning it.
Finally the ranger rose. "We've got to shake a leg," he said. "And you had better start back to camp."
Charley got up mechanically. His face showed all too clearly what was in his heart. The ranger looked at him searchingly, and a kindly expression came into his eyes.
"Never mind, Charley," he said. "You won't be alone long. Lew, here, or some of your other friends will be slipping out to spend the week-end with you, and I shall see you regularly twice a week. It may be, in view of Bill Collins' visit, that Mr. Marlin will think I ought to come oftener."
"Have you learned your alphabet yet?" replied Charley, a sudden gleam of interest crossing his face. "Just as soon as you learn to use the wireless, we can talk at almost any time. I'm sure that one of the fellows will lend you his outfit."
"I'll make Mr. Morton an outfit myself," said Lew. "I'll make it exactly like yours. Then you two can talk without tuning."
"That will be bully," said Charley, beginning to brighten up. Then he turned to the ranger. "Did you learn your alphabet?" he repeated.
"I've been working at it a little," said the ranger. "To tell the truth, I don't care much about it. I'd just as soon stick to the telephone. But the wife is crazy over it. She says if we knew how to do it and had the instruments, we could talk at any time. She's learned the alphabet already."
"She has! Bully for her!" cried Charley. "Hurry up with that outfit, Lew, so we can teach her to send and read. I'll be glad to talk to her, even if her husband doesn't want to."
"I'll be home by sunset," said Lew, "and you can call me at eight o'clock. I shall have had a chance to talk to the fellows by that time and I hope that I shall have something good to report to you. I'm coming out the first Friday I can, to spend Saturday and Sunday with you. Good-bye."
Charley shook hands heartily with his two friends and turned back into the forest. Although he was still somewhat cast down, the intense depression that had weighed upon him during the morning was lightened. The events of the past twenty-four hours had made him forget temporarily the plan to teach Mr. Morton how to operate the wireless. But the news that the ranger's wife was also to become a radio operator pleased him more and more as he turned the matter over in his mind.
The pup, rubbing against his heels, recalled another matter to his mind. He had to train the dog to be useful to him.
"No time like the present," muttered Charley to himself. And the training of the pup began then and there. All the way home, through the wide valleys, over the mountain tops, and across the little streams, Charley worked with the pup, trying to teach him to be silent and to walk quietly at his heels. And though many, many subsequent lessons were necessary before the pup was even half trained, the work with the dog made Charley forget his loneliness. He arrived at his camp, which he found undisturbed, once more in his normal frame of mind.
What shortly followed was to send him to bed soon afterward as happy as the traditional lark. For when Charley got into touch with Lew by wireless at the appointed time, Lew told him that the Wireless Patrol had met him, Lew, at the station in a body, with the news that funds for the battery had all been earned and the battery ordered; and that when he had told them of Charley's situation, the club had voted unanimously and enthusiastically to send the battery to Charley for him to use as long as he needed it in the forest.
Furthermore, Lew informed him, Henry had been talking to the wireless men at the Frankfort station, and not only were they willing to work with him to protect the forest, but they were also sending an amplifier to Oakdale so that Charley would be sure to get their messages with the greatest distinctness. The battery would be forwarded as soon as it reached the Wireless Club and had been inspected, and the amplifier would go with it.
No wonder that Charley rolled up in his blankets, with shining eyes, careless alike of cats and Collinses. With the pup and the new battery he felt that he should indeed be in position to render efficient service to his forester and his ranger, both of whom he was coming to love, and to the grand old forest around him.
An Accident in the Wilderness
As though she also were pleased at Charley's good fortune, Dame Nature smiled her best in the days that immediately followed. The sun rose warm and grateful. The forest was instinct with the spirit of spring, of new-born life, of hope eternal. Wilderness birds sang in the branches. The brook babbled and gurgled and ran madly down the slope. The leaves overhead whispered of the new life that had come. All the forest animals seemed filled with the joy of living. And Charley was not a whit behind them. His whole being thrilled with happiness.
Now he could see matters in their true light; or if his vision were a trifle clouded, the clouds were tinged with rose instead of black, as they had been previously.
Charley thanked Providence that he was just where he was. In some respects an unusual boy, he was mentally no abler than many of his fellows. He possessed a trueness of vision and an understanding of things that were, however, unusual in a lad of his age. Always he had had to earn the things that he wanted. And always he had been able, within reason, to get what he desired. Early in life, therefore, he had come to understand that everything has its price, and that he who is willing to pay the price can get almost anything he wishes. So now, instead of bewailing the fact that he was where he was, as many another lad would have done under the circumstances, he rejoiced. He rejoiced because he had sense enough to understand that his opportunity was at hand, here in the forest, and now.
In another respect Charley was mature for his years. He had come to understand, at least in a measure, that real success is always won by long and persistent effort in a given direction. Like other boys, Charley had his dreams and cherished lofty ambitions. But the stern necessities of life, as he had lived it, had taught him that dreams seldom come true as the result of luck, but are realized most certainly through consistent effort. He did not want to go to work in the factory because he hated the dirt and the noise and the odors and the sense of being cooped up, like an animal in a pen. Now he had all the freedom in the world, and the opportunity had come to become well acquainted with the things that he loved—trees, flowers, ferns, birds, animals, and all the other gifts of nature.
When Charley looked abroad and realized that his opportunity had come, and come in such a delightful way, he could hardly keep from shouting in his happiness. Like the sensible lad he was, he immediately asked himself this question, "What is the best thing for me to do first?" He decided that he would go on with the training of his pup. All day, as he walked through the forest, he labored to teach the young dog to trot quietly at his heels, or to walk silently in front of him.
Charley's purpose, of course, was to have the dog always at hand, to give him warning of the approach of man or beast, and to fight for him, if necessary. That the pup should learn not to betray himself or his master, was equally needful. So Charley had the additional task of teaching the dog to be silent, excepting for a very low growl, upon the approach of other creatures. Charley thought of the Leatherstocking and his dog, and wondered how that dog had been trained so wonderfully.
Day after day the lessons continued. Charley had abundant opportunity to work with the pup, for the forest was full of creatures that constantly excited the young animal. The training required no end of patience: but Charley loved the dog and never wearied in his efforts. By the time he had completed his labors with the pup, his own shadow was hardly more constant and quiet than the dog.
Charley was elated one day when the dog signaled the approach of a fisherman by no more than the faintest sort of a bark, and then at command, came promptly to heel and remained there, silent and watchful. It was the pup's first test with human beings. The fisherman proved to be one of two who were making their way along the margin of the run. Charley and the dog remained quietly behind some bushes until the fishermen were out of sight and hearing. Then Charley praised his little pup and went on.
His efforts with the dog, however, did not prevent him from thinking of other matters. Day after day his mind returned to the problem of the forest fire and the piece of green pasteboard. Ever since he had found the telltale pile of ashes and the charred pasteboard beneath it, Charley had been turning the problem over in his mind. How he was to solve the puzzle he did not see. Somewhere, he felt sure, he had seen pasteboard like the charred piece now in possession of Mr. Morton; but when or where he had seen it, he had not the slightest recollection. How he was ever to find another piece like it, he could not imagine; for as a fire patrol he had neither time nor opportunity to mingle with people.
He could see just one possibility of success. Undoubtedly there was a great deal more of the green pasteboard in the world than had been contained in the burned box. Hence persons other than the incendiary must have some of that same pasteboard. Perhaps some of those persons might bring a bit of it into the forest. Campers and fishermen often brought food and other things into the woods in pasteboard boxes. So Charley resolved to examine carefully every camp he came to, and even to scrutinize the remains of camp fires. But day followed day and Charley found nothing to enlighten him.
One day when Charley was on his way to meet the ranger, he suddenly realized that he was away behind time. Charley hated the idea of being tardy, especially when he had no reason for being late. He had been training his dog, and his work with the pup had delayed him more than he realized. But with haste he could still reach the meeting-place on time.
At the fastest pace that he thought he could hold Charley set off. His daily hikes through the forest had rapidly made a good walker of him, and now he went along at a rate that would speedily have tired out most travelers. Sometimes, to rest himself by changing his gait, he went scout pace, walking fifty steps, then jogging fifty. He allowed nothing to hinder him or take his attention. When he reached the meeting-place it still lacked a few minutes of the appointed hour. Charley was pleased to find that he had arrived before the ranger.
When the time of meeting came and the ranger was not there, Charley began to scan the fire trail carefully and to look about for smoke clouds. He knew that something of moment must be afoot to make the ranger tardy for his appointment. The ranger was not visible, however, though Charley could see straight down the fire trail for a long distance.
"I'll go meet him," said Charley. "He's sure to come this way."
In the sand of the trail he printed a message for the ranger, in case the latter should be coming by an unaccustomed route, and continued along the trail. He had gone a full mile before he met Mr. Morton.
"Sorry I am late, Charley," said the ranger. "A lot of stuff came to the office for you last night and the chief asked me to fetch it out this morning. I think your new battery has come."
"It's about time," said Charley. "I had about given up hope of ever seeing it." Then he added, "But you couldn't pack that way out here. It must weigh sixty pounds."
"Is that all?" laughed the ranger. "I had come to believe that it weighed in the neighborhood of half a ton."
"Did you really try to carry it?" asked Charley.
"Sure. The chief sent all your stuff as far as he could in the truck, and I packed it in as far as I could carry it. That's why I'm late. But I had to drop it a distance back. I brought these along, however, and thought we'd go back and get the battery, for I'm sure that's what it is." He paused and handed to Charley two pasteboard boxes he had strapped to his back. The larger one was bulky, but weighed comparatively little. The other was small.
"I wonder what it is," said Charley, as he untied the string and opened the smaller box. "The amplifier," he said. Then he opened the larger box.
"Your wireless!" he cried in delight. "Everything is here, even to the aerial. Only the spreaders are lacking. We could make them and have this outfit set up in no time if we had to. Isn't it bully? Now we can talk directly with each other as soon as you learn to send and read. Won't that be dandy?" With practiced eye he once more glanced over the outfit to make sure everything was there. Then he tied the box up again.
"I'll just take it back with me," he added. "This goes to your house, you know, and you can pick it up on your way home. We'll take it as far as the battery and leave it there."
They strode rapidly along the trail, and in half an hour reached the battery where the ranger had set it down. Some traps lay on top of the battery.
"I forgot to bring them sooner," said the ranger.
Charley lifted the box. "How in the world," he said, "did you ever pack that thing over these mountains on your back? Why, you've carried that more than four miles."
"We'll cut a couple of saplings and tie them to the box for handles," said the ranger. "Then we can carry it easily. Give me your axe."
Charley handed his little axe to the ranger, and began to fumble in his pocket for the cord which he had used as a leash for his dog. The ranger looked around him for suitable poles. Close by the trail lay the rotting trunk of a large tree that had fallen years before. On the far side of this log and close to it some fine saplings had grown up, probably made thrifty by the rotting wood of the great tree. The ranger reached over the log to chop a sapling. At the same instant the pup, ranging in the bushes, growled savagely. Momentarily the ranger lifted his eyes, letting his axe head sink to the ground. Something moved under it, and at the same instant a hideous head reared itself above the leaves and struck with lightning-like rapidity, hitting the ranger just above the wrist-bone. With a startled exclamation the ranger drew up his arm. As he did so, a huge rattler glided away through the brush.
Charley turned at the ranger's cry. He comprehended the situation at a glance. "Quick!" he cried, springing to the ranger's side. "Give me your arm."
He jerked back the ranger's sleeve, disclosing two dark spots on the back of the wrist where the fangs had punctured the skin. Drops of blood were oozing from them. Charley whipped out his knife and without hesitation drew the keen blade several times across the ranger's wrist. Blood began to flow down the hand. Putting his lips to the wound, Charley sucked out mouthful after mouthful of blood, which he spat on the ground.
"Now squeeze your wrist tight just above the bite," said Charley. "Stop the circulation of blood if you can."
Like a flash Charley picked up the dog leash and tied an end of it around the ranger's arm, close to the shoulder, drawing it so tight that the ranger winced. He cut the dangling end and took a second turn just above the ranger's elbow. Then he made a third turn half-way down the forearm. With little sticks he twisted the cords still tighter. Then he jerked out his hypodermic syringe, which he carried already filled with fluid, and thrusting the needle into the bleeding arm, injected the permanganate into the wound.
Meantime, the ranger stood silent, his face pale, his jaws set courageously. "Where did you learn to do all that?" he finally asked Charley, with evident admiration. "You go about it like a doctor."
"When the Wireless Patrol was in camp at Fort Brady," replied Charley, "one of the fellows was bitten by a copperhead. Dr. Hardy had already drilled us in first-aid and we knew just what to do. You bet none of us will ever forget."
"I shall owe my life to you," said Mr. Morton. "That is, I shall if——"
"There's no if about it," interrupted Charley with determination. "We got most of the poison out of your arm. I'll bet on that. What's left may make you sick, but it can't kill you. What we've got to do is to prevent that poison from reaching your heart, at least in any quantity. You sit down against this tree and keep quiet so your heart will beat as slow as possible. In about twenty minutes loosen this bottom cord. Loosen the middle one after another twenty minutes, and open the third at the end of an hour. That's all I know how to do. Thank God, we've got a wireless here! Now I'm going to get it up as quick as possible."
He tore open the pasteboard boxes and took out one instrument after another, coupling up the wires quickly and skilfully. Then he seized the little axe, chopped some branches for spreaders, fastened the aerial wires to them, and added other wires to suspend them by. Quickly he selected two trees for supports, and climbing up first one and then the other, soon had his aerial dangling directly above the fire trail. He coupled up his lead-in wire and ran his eye over the outfit. Everything was complete. Only the power was lacking. With the axe he pried off the lid of the box containing the battery, tore away the paper and excelsior wrappings, and in another moment had his wires around the binding posts. He threw over his switch, and springing to his key pressed his finger on it. A brilliant flash shot between the points of his spark-gap. Rapidly he adjusted the points until his instrument was giving a spark of maximum strength. Then he settled himself to the task ahead.
"WXY—WXY—WXY—CBC," called Charley. (Frankfort Radio Station—Charley Russell calling.) Several times he repeated the call. Then he shut off his switch and sat in silence listening for a reply. None came.
"They may be talking to somebody," he muttered. Again he called. "WXY—WXY—WXY—CBC," he flashed again and again. Once more he sat quiet and listened. At first he got no reply. Then, clear as a bell on a frosty morning, a signal sounded in his ear: "CBC—CBC—CBC—I—I—I." (Charley Russell—I'm here.)
Charley sighed with relief. "Got 'em," he said to the ranger. Then he turned intently to his key.
"Please telephone District Forester Marlin at Oakdale instantly," he rapped out. "Ranger Morton bitten rattlesnake. Send motor-car where battery was delivered this morning. May need man help ranger. Bring doctor. Tell wife get ready. Will listen for answer."
As Charley sat waiting for a reply, he studied the face of the ranger. It was set hard. Courage was written on it plainly.
The ranger started to speak. "Don't talk," interrupted Charley. "Keep as quiet as you can, and watch your bandages. If you keep them tight too long it harms your blood somehow."
They sat in silence a while. Then Charley said, "I wish you didn't have to walk, but I guess there's nothing for it but to hike out to the highway at the earliest possible moment. We'll start the instant we've heard from Mr. Marlin."
"What about your instruments?"
"I'll nail the cover on the battery box and put the other things in the pasteboard box. I don't think anything will touch them. It's all we can do, anyway."
He felt in his pockets and found a stub of a pencil and a scrap of paper. "Property of the Pennsylvania Forestry Department. Please do not touch," he printed in large letters. With his knife blade he pried out the tacks that held the address tag on the battery box and tacked his sign on the box. Then his receiver began to buzz. Charley gave the return signal.
"Forester on wire now," came the message. "Wants to know where you are and how Morton is."
Charley ticked off the information and waited for a reply. It came very soon. "Will rush doctor and men. Come as far to meet me as you can."
The First Clue to the Incendiary
Slowly Charley and his friend made their way along the fire trail toward the highway and safety, Charley assisting the ranger as much as possible. The latter began to suffer great pain in his arm and the limb started to swell. Meantime, the forester, with a physician and a helper, was racing at top speed to reach the ranger. At a pace utterly reckless he drove his car over the forest road, and the instant the rescue party arrived at the point where Charley and Mr. Morton would reach the highway, they plunged into the forest. Faster than he had ever raced to a forest fire, the forester sped along the trail, his companions striving doggedly to keep up with him. He was deep in the woods before he met Charley and the ranger.
With hand extended, the forester ran to his ranger. Their hands met in a tight clasp. "How is it, Jim?" asked the forester, with anxious eyes.
"I'm all right," rejoined the ranger. "I'll pull out of this all O.K. That snake got me right, though. If it hadn't been for Charley here, I don't know how I would have made out. He's as good as a doctor."
By this time the doctor himself had come up, puffing too hard for words. He nodded his head, clasped the ranger's hand, and with a single word of greeting quickly began an examination of the injured arm. "How long ago did this happen?" he puffed.
"More than two hours ago," said the ranger.
"You haven't kept these tight all that time, have you?" and the doctor laid his finger on one of the cords around the ranger's arm.
"No, sir. Charley had me loosen them, one at a time, every twenty minutes or so."
"That was quite right. What else have you done?"
When the ranger had told him in detail exactly how Charley had treated him, the doctor grunted, "Confound it! Then what did you hustle me out here this way for? I thought you were at the point of death."
Charley was amazed and offended at what he considered the heartlessness of the physician. "You don't understand," he protested. "Mr. Morton was badly bitten, sir."
Charley was still more astonished when both the ranger and the forester burst out laughing. He looked from one to the other questioningly. It did not occur to him that this was merely the doctor's way of saying that Charley had handled the situation about as well as he could have done it himself. Evidently the forester did not propose to enlighten Charley, for all he said was, "Don't let him worry you, Charley. He's just naturally lazy and a grouch. He doesn't like it because I made him hustle for once, and he's disappointed not to find Jim at the point of death. These doctors are strange animals, Charley. But with all their faults we love them still." And he slapped the physician affectionately on the shoulder.
Charley looked puzzled. But concluding that silence was the best course, he said no more. All this time the doctor was continuing his labors, and Charley was amazed at the dexterous way he did things.
For a moment he listened to the beating of the ranger's heart. Then, seemingly with a single motion of his knife, he slit the sleeve of the ranger's shirt. Another motion laid open the undershirt sleeve, disclosing the arm to the shoulder. The physician examined it closely. The arm was swelling fast. The physician opened his case and gave the ranger some medicine. "Now we'll get to bed as soon as possible," he said, "and rest for a few days."
Assisted by a man on either side of him, the ranger started for the waiting motor-car.
"Mr. Marlin," said Charley, after the party had gone a few rods, "this morning Mr. Morton brought out a little wireless set that Lew made for him, as well as my big battery. It's back where Mr. Morton was bitten. May I get it and set it up in the ranger's house? It will be a good opportunity for him to practice while he's at home. Mrs. Morton is learning to operate the wireless, too. It would mean so much to both of them and to the forest as well, if they could talk to each other by wireless."
"How long will it take you to put it up, Charley?"
"Not very long, sir. Perhaps an hour or two."
"I don't like to leave the forest unprotected for a single minute at this season, Charley, but I guess we'll take a chance on it. Get your stuff to the road as quick as you can. I'll take Jim home and return for you."
The forester hastened after the ranger's party and Charley darted off into the forest. At the fastest pace he could maintain he jogged along the fire trail. In a very little time he was back at the instruments. He took down the aerial, threw away the spreaders, uncoupled the amplifier which he needed for use himself, and replaced the little outfit in the pasteboard box. Then he hurried back to the road, where the forester was already waiting to whirl him away to the ranger's house.
If Charley had had any doubts whatever about his liking the ranger's wife (though he hadn't), they would have vanished the instant he came in sight of the ranger's home. It was a small, weather-beaten cottage set in the shoulder of a hill, with the forest all around it. About the house itself was a clearing of a few acres, with a little orchard on the slope behind the house. The home itself was enclosed by an unpainted picket fence. Lovely old trees shaded it. Vines clambered riotously over its soft, gray clapboards. Well arranged shrubs and bushes had been planted here and there. There were flowers about the base of the house and along the borders. The grass was trimmed as neatly as a city lawn. Even now before plant growth had started, the yard was attractive. With pleasure Charley noted that the ranger had set out two European larches, evidently brought in from a forest plantation, at his gateway. One glance at the inviting and neatly kept yard told Charley what he would find within the house itself.
Nor was he disappointed when he entered the door and found the house as clean as a whistle, plainly but neatly and attractively furnished, and beautiful with a wealth of flowers and plants that, had quite evidently received loving and intelligent care. On the wall Charley instantly noted the telephone, and hanging on a nail beside it was the leather case with the ranger's portable telephone instrument.
There was not the slightest doubt in Charley's mind that he was going to like the ranger's wife. And when, a moment later, she came quietly into the room and took his hand in hers and, with moist eyes, thanked him for saving her husband's life, she won Charley's heart completely. She was slight and girlish and good to look at, and made Charley think of some of his nice girl friends at high school. Yet Mrs. Morton had been married a good many years, for just behind her stood her daughter, Julia, a girl of twelve, waiting her turn to thank Charley.
But girlish though the ranger's wife appeared, Charley did not need to be told that she was not of the weeping, hysterical sort. On every hand were evidences of efficiency and foresight. A fire was evidently burning briskly in the stove, and kettles of water, presumably heated in case of need, were steaming on the range, easily seen through the open kitchen door. In the sick-room were evidences of the same sort of forethought. Everything that the house possessed that could possibly be useful in treating the ranger had been assembled in handy little piles. This must have been done before the ranger reached home, for most of the piles were untouched.
The ranger was resting comfortably in bed, though his arm was badly swollen and his face was distorted with pain. At sight of Charley his countenance lighted up. He reached out his left arm and wrung Charley's hand until the lad winced.
"The doctor says I'll pull through this all right, though I'll have a painful time of it," said the ranger, "and he told the truth, at least as far as the pain is concerned. But the pain's nothing. The thing that counts is the fact that I am safe at home. I owe it to you, Charley, and you may be sure I'll never forget."
That was as much as the ranger, reticent, hating any display of emotion, quiet like most men of the woods, could bring himself to say. But Charley knew that it meant volumes. He tried to reply, but found himself also suffering from a strange embarrassment. So Charley said good-bye to the ranger, assured him that he would take good care of the forest, and set about fixing the wireless outfit. The forester helped him. Quickly they got up the aerial, brought the lead-in wire into the living-room, and set up the instruments on a board table close beside the telephone instrument.
"Now everything is complete except for the battery," Charley said to the forester when they had finished wiring up the outfit. "Half a dozen dry cells will supply all the current needed."
"I'll send them out by the doctor in the morning," said the forester.
Charley showed Mrs. Morton how to wire the cells and couple them to the instruments. Then he told her how to adjust her spark-gap and tune the instrument to any given wave-length. He compared his watch with the clock on the wall.
"At eight o'clock every night," he said, "I will call you up. Suppose you take Mr. Morton's initials as your call signal. What are they?"
"J. V. M.," replied Mrs. Morton.
"Very well. Then at eight o'clock every night I will call J. V. M. slowly a number of times. Then I will tick off the alphabet slowly and the numerals one to ten. You listen in, and if the sounds are blurred or not sharp, tune your instrument as I have shown you until you can hear distinctly. If you make the letters with a pencil as you read them, it may help you. I'm sure you will soon learn to read. I'll repeat the alphabet and the numbers three times slowly. Then I'll listen in for five or ten minutes. If you want to try to call me, give my signal and follow it with your own, thus: 'CBC—CBC—CBC—JVM.' That means 'Charley Russell—James Morton calling.' If I hear you, I will send the letters 'JVM—JVM—JVM—I—I—I.' That means 'James Morton—I am here.' Then you can begin to send your message. I hope we'll be able to talk to each other very soon."
"It won't be my fault if we don't," smiled the ranger's wife.
"Now I must be off," said Charley. "I've no doubt Mr. Marlin is getting impatient. We'll just clean up this mess and then I'll go."
"I'll clean things up," insisted Mrs. Morton.
"No; I made the mess and I'll clean it up," protested Charley.
He began to pile the torn pieces of pasteboard together so he could thrust them into the stove. The bottom of the pasteboard box had been built up with several layers of pasteboard, evidently cut from other boxes. Charley took them out one at a time, preparatory to crumpling up the box itself. As he lifted the last layer of pasteboard he stopped in blank amazement. Then he called excitedly for Mr. Marlin. Before him lay a piece of green pasteboard exactly like the charred fragment taken from the ash heap in the burned forest.
The Forester's Problem
For a moment the two men looked at each other in astonishment. Then, "Keep that," said the forester. "We'll talk the matter over on our way back." Mrs. Morton, not comprehending what had happened, also looked astonished. But like the wise woman she was, she held her peace. Charley tossed the other pasteboards in the fire, stuffed the green piece in his pocket, and said good-bye to his new friend. The forester, after telephoning to his office, followed Charley, and a moment later the two were spinning up the road toward the fire trail.
"I can't understand it," said Charley. "Here's a package direct from Lew, with the very clue we're looking for, and Lew never said a word about it. I can't understand it. I'm certain Lew sent the box. That was his handwriting on it. And I'm just as sure he never saw that bit of pasteboard, for Lew would never slip up that way. I just can't understand it."
They reached the point where Charley was to leave the car and plunge into the forest. But Mr. Marlin, instead of stopping his motor, turned into a natural opening in the woods and drove slowly among the forest trees. In a moment he ran the car into a stand of pines, where it was protected by the dense tops above and well hidden from sight of the highway.
"You couldn't get in here with anything but a Henry," laughed the forester. "This old bus has taken me lots of places you would never have believed possible."
He took the key from the switch on the dashboard, and the two stepped to the ground. Charley wondered what the forester intended to do, but by this time he knew enough not to ask questions. The forester started up the trail with him. When they came to the big battery Charley understood, for without a word the forester took Charley's little axe and began to chop poles to carry the battery with. In a few moments these handles were bound fast. The forester tossed the traps over his shoulder. Charley tied the amplifier box to his belt. Then they picked up the battery and started toward camp.
Suddenly Charley stopped. "By George!" he cried. "I forgot all about the pup. I wonder where he got to."
He whistled and whistled, but apparently in vain. They went on, and at intervals Charley whistled for the dog while he and the forester were resting. Still no dog appeared. Charley's face grew long. "Gee! I'll miss that pup," he said regretfully. "Why didn't I think of him sooner?"
Night was at hand when the two reached Charley's camp. Nothing had been disturbed. Charley took advantage of the remaining daylight to couple up the battery and the amplifier to his wireless. He tested the outfit and found he had a strong spark that cracked like a whip when he touched the key.
"Look at that!" he cried. "Now I feel better. I can always get into communication with somebody now."
"You aren't a bit more pleased than I am, Charley," smiled the forester. "I'll take back all I ever said about the wireless. If Morton can learn to talk by wireless, the rest of my crew can also. When the dull season comes, I'll start a radio school with you as instructor and we'll make every man in the service learn to operate the wireless. The Department ought to be glad to supply a good outfit; but if we can't get the money, we can at least make some outfits like yours. We're going on a wireless basis or my name is not Marlin."
The forester was interrupted by a joyous bark and in rushed Charley's pup. "You blessed little fellow," said Charley, fondling the animal. "I suppose you lost our trail when we got into the motor-car and you probably hung around the battery all day and followed our trail back here. That's pretty good. You've got great stuff in you, pup. The next thing I teach you will be to stand guard over things as you probably did over that battery to-day."
Darkness fell. Supper was cooked and eaten. "Have you heard that cat lately, Charley?" asked the forester.
"No," replied Charley, "but I think I'll put the traps out anyway."
"We can attract it even if it isn't near by," said the forester. "Have you a can of salmon that you can spare?"
"Then give me the traps and bring your can."
Charley got the things asked for. The forester, taking the flash-light, led the way through the thicket to the open forest. At some distance from the camp the forester stopped and turned the beam from the search-light upward. Finally he found what he was looking for—a small branch about seven feet from the ground. Then he cut the top of the salmon can, and punching holes in the sides near the top, fastened a string to the can and suspended the can from the limb. Then he set the traps in a circle under the can, fastening the chains to convenient saplings, and threw two or three small pieces of the salmon on the ground within the circle of traps. Then they made their way back to camp.
Charley lighted a little friendship fire in the fireplace the ranger had made, and the two sat down beside the flames. It was little more than three weeks since Charley had first entered the forest. During that time he had really seen very little of the forester. Yet as he sat beside his chief, Charley felt as though he had known him always. A common emotion had drawn them close together this day, and somehow Charley believed that his feeling of affection for his chief was fully reciprocated. For a time they sat in silence, each busy with his own thoughts.
"Charley," said the forester, after a time, "this accident to Jim hits me pretty hard. It not only leaves the finest piece of forest under my care without a direct overseer at the most dangerous time of the year, but there were so many things we had planned to do this spring that cannot be done without a ranger to supervise them. To be sure, I could transfer a ranger here, but I have work for every man in his particular district. Besides, nobody knows this territory like Jim. I believe you know it better than anybody besides Jim. I only wish you were old enough to take his place for a time.
"We're away behind with our planting, and there are trails to be brushed out, new ones to be cut, roads to be built, camp sites to be selected, timber to be cruised, a big lumber operation to be watched and the trees to be marked for cutting and the lumber scaled, improvement cuttings to be made, camp sanitation to be enforced, a fire-tower to be built on the mountain here where your watch tree is. There's a tremendous lot of work that Jim and I had mapped out for the spring and summer.
"Now it looks as though we should not be able to get any of it done. We can't do a thing without a ranger to direct operations. Part of the timber to be cut is in Lumley's district. He joins you here on the north. He will look after all the lumbering in his territory, and I may have to let him take charge of it all. It's a big operation and will have to be watched closely. I just wish I knew where I could find a man capable of taking Jim's place for a while."
"What will the ranger have to do in looking after this operation?"
"He'll have to mark the trees to be cut and see that only those marked are cut; and he'll have to make sure the regulations are observed in felling the trees and disposing of the tops; and finally he'll have to scale the lumber and make sure that the state gets paid for all that is cut."
"What is there so difficult about that?" demanded Charley. "Tell me what sort of trees are to be cut, and I can select and mark them as well as the next man. And if you give me a copy of the regulations, I can tell whether or not the lumbermen are observing them. If I can't make them live up to regulations, I can easily report to you. And as for scaling timber, that's a mere matter of arithmetic. I could learn to do that in five minutes. Couldn't I help you with the lumbering? And as for the other jobs, Mr. Marlin, give me some books that tell about them and let me study up on them. I could put in several hours here every night in study. You don't know how much I could learn in a week. And then you could give me some practical lessons after I had studied up the theory of things. I'm sure I can do lots of the work you were counting on Mr. Morton to do. Won't you let me help you?"
"Bless your heart, Charley! I know you mean every word you say. But you don't realize the difficulties you would encounter. Your chief job would be in handling men, tough men some of them, too. You could never do it, never. But I certainly wish you were old enough to attempt it. There's nobody I'd trust sooner than you, Charley. You've got a good education, and you think quickly and clearly. You've been equal to every emergency you've faced yet."
"Then why isn't that a pretty good reason to trust me further?"
"Trust you, Charley? I trust you absolutely. But you are too young. You could never do it."
Charley said no more. The hope that had sprung up in his heart died as suddenly as it had been born. In his heart he believed that with all the study and effort he was willing to put into it, he could do a ranger's work all right. But he saw it was not to be.
"Anyway," he muttered to himself, "I'm going to be a ranger some day, and I'll show the chief now that I'm the best fire patrol he ever had. That's the best way to qualify for promotion."
He turned to his wireless, threw over his switch and flashed out the call signal of the Wireless Patrol. In his delight at the power of his new battery he almost forgot his disappointment. In a very short time he got a reply from Henry.
"Don't say anything about that pasteboard," cautioned the chief.
"I don't intend to," answered Charley. "I'm going to write to Lew about it and let you take the letter out in the morning. You never can tell who will pick up a wireless message."
For several minutes Charley chatted briskly with Henry, who said the new battery carried the signals to him as clear as a bell. Charley told Henry about Mr. Morton's accident, omitting reference to his own part in the affair, and then through Henry got into touch with both Mrs. Morton and the assistant forester at headquarters. Mr. Morton was getting along all right, though he suffered very great pain. The forester's assistant reported everything quiet in the forest.
Charley turned away from his wireless key, and got out pencil and paper. By the light of the candle lantern he began his letter to Lew, and had almost finished it when the pup, his hair bristling, ran to the door of the tent, growling savagely. An instant later both the forester and Charley leaped to their feet as the stillness of the forest was broken by an awful scream that rang through the dark and was thrown back by the mountain in a magnified echo even more terrifying than the original cry.
Charley Wins His First Promotion
With startled eyes, Charley looked at the forester, at the same time reaching for his rifle. To Charley's surprise the forester began to grin.
"I guess you got your cat, Charley," he chuckled. "But it sure did startle a fellow."
The first piercing scream of the wildcat was succeeded by a variety of furious screams. The animal could be heard thrashing about in the leaves, spitting, snarling, growling, rattling the chain, and evidently fighting furiously to free itself from the trap.
Taking both the candle lantern and the flash-light, as well as rifle and axe, the two men started for the cat.
"Grab that dog," said the forester, as the pup darted out of the tent ahead of them.
Charley whistled and called, but the pup was too wild with excitement to heed the command.
"Hurry up," said the forester, "or you won't have any pup left."
They pushed rapidly through the thicket, then ran toward their traps. Faintly they could see the wildcat. The pup was worrying it. With arched back, hair erect, eyes ablaze, and snarling furiously, the wildcat was waiting its opportunity to strike. The pup circled about it, yelping and barking, every second growing bolder because the animal did not spring at it.
"Give me that rifle, quick!" said the forester. "That cat'll kill the pup in another minute."
He seized the weapon, sank on one knee, quickly sighted along the barrel, and pulled the trigger. Even as he fired, the cat leaped toward the pup. For a second there was a terrific scuffling in the leaves. Then the search-light's beam showed the pup lying motionless, its neck broken and torn, while the cat was clawing the air wildly, and spitting and snarling in fury.
"Don't ever let one of those critters get on your back, Charley," said the forester, as he approached the cat for a final shot. "Sometimes they will follow a fellow in the forest. It's seldom they really attack a man, but if a fellow loses his nerve and runs, they will sometimes leap on him. A single swipe of those claws will cut a fellow to ribbons."
The forester was now close to the cat, which had gotten to its feet and had crouched, snarling, ready for a leap.
The forester circled so as to get a shot at the animal's shoulder. Quickly raising his rifle, he fired. The cat screamed, clawed the air desperately for a few seconds, and lay still.
Charley rushed in and tenderly lifted his motionless pup from the ground. There were tears in his eyes as he bore the little body to one side. "Poor fellow," he said, "I'll miss you awfully. I was counting on you a lot to help me guard this timber. You did the best you knew how. You thought you were helping me, didn't you?"
He passed his hand across his eyes and faced the forester. "It's some consolation to know that that beast paid for this, and paid well. I'm sure glad he's dead. It's a good thing for the forest."
"Yes, that's a good job done," replied the forester, "and a nice skin and a bounty for you. That ought to be some consolation to you. But I'm mighty sorry about the pup. Whenever you can, get rid of those fellows. How many young deer or other harmless animals do you suppose this fellow would have slaughtered before another spring?"
Making sure that the cat was really dead, the forester opened the trap.
Then he picked up the dead cat and led the way back to the tent. "I'll show you how to skin this fellow," he said, and, taking out his knife, began to remove the hide.
"Gee!" exclaimed Charley. "Wouldn't the fellows like to know about this?" He looked at his watch. "Some of them will surely be listening in," he said.
Then he sat down beside his key, and while he watched the forester skin the wildcat, he kept his spark-gap snapping and cracking with the fat sparks from the new battery. He was calling Lew. He got no answer and flashed out the signal for the Wireless Patrol. Almost immediately Henry answered. His workshop was the headquarters of the Wireless Patrol.
"Hello, Henry," rapped out Charley. "Do you know where Lew is?"
"He's right here," came the answer. "So are most of the other fellows."
"Tell them," replied Charley, "that we just caught the wildcat in the traps you sent, and Mr. Marlin is skinning it. I'm going to get him to show me how to tan it. When it's done, I'm going to send it to the Wireless Patrol to help furnish our headquarters. I'm going to add the eight dollars bounty money to the club fund for wireless equipment."
Then came a long pause. Finally this message came back to Charley. "The Wireless Patrol thanks you, Charley, but we want you to sell the skin and use the money and the bounty to pay for the field-glasses you need."
Charley turned away from his instrument with a suspicious moisture in his eyes. It touched him deeply that his fellows were so solicitous concerning his welfare and success. He did not realize that he was merely reaping the reward of his own kindly good nature, that had made him a general favorite with the boys of the Wireless Patrol.
There were no further alarms that night. Early in the morning the ranger started back to his office, taking with him the letter to Lew. Charley accompanied him part of the way. Then he continued on his patrol.
The next time Charley met the forester he received Lew's answer to his letter. Lew had addressed the box, but several of the boys of the Wireless Patrol had helped to pack it. The piece of green pasteboard proved to be from a box in which Henry had gotten shoes by mail. The box came from Carson and Derby, a big New York mail-order concern. Almost everybody in the country around Central City bought articles from mail-order houses, so Lew's letter threw no light on the problem. There might be a green pasteboard box of that particular pattern in every farmhouse in the county. Yet as Charley thought the matter over, he recalled that almost everybody he knew who shopped by mail traded with Slears and Hoebuck, of Chicago.
The days passed. Little happened to vary the monotony. Yet the sameness of life in the forest was far from being bothersome to Charley. On the contrary, he found new delights every day.
Spring was now well advanced. The trees would soon be in leaf, the flowers were coming along in rotation, and the forest fairly pulsed with life. Now Charley found a gorgeous bed of blood-root. Again he came on great patches of arbutus. Here the Dutchman's-breeches grew in rich clumps. There spring-beauties fairly whitened the earth. Violets, Jacks-in-the-pulpit, marsh-marigolds, and dozens of other familiar and lovely blooms he found as he wandered through the forest.
There was nothing Charley liked more than the flowers. He determined to know every bloom in his section of the forest. So he divided his territory into definite strips, patrolling a different strip each day. Thus he became intimately acquainted with every part of his district.
There were more objects than flowers, however, to delight him. The birds and the animals were a constant source of pleasure. Often he had opportunity to study their actions and their habits. The mating season brought a wealth of pleasing experiences. Sometimes he came across a mother grouse with her brood of little ones. It pleased Charley to see how the tiny creatures scattered and hid among the leaves, making themselves invisible at the first warning note from the mother, while she fluttered along before him, dragging a wing as though it were broken, and drawing him farther and farther from her little ones. Wild turkeys, too, he saw, and many other feathered inhabitants of the forest.
Perhaps nothing touched Charley so much as an incident that occurred late one day when he was fighting a small fire. The fine, spring weather brought out regiments of fishermen, and numbers of them got deep into the woods. Whenever he possibly could, Charley avoided meeting them. Sometimes Charley could not avoid a meeting. Then he always posed as a fisherman. He never moved abroad these days without his rod. The rifle he had temporarily laid aside. More than one little fire, started by careless fishermen, Charley detected and extinguished.
One day he saw smoke at a considerable distance. By the time he could reach the spot, the fire had a good start and had already burned over several acres. It was blazing briskly and Charley was at first uncertain as to whether he should attempt to fight it alone or call help. But night was at hand, the wind was already falling, and Charley decided that he could conquer the blaze single-handed. He judged that the best way to do this was by beating it out with brush.
Quickly chopping a pine bough, Charley attacked the fire. It was not a fierce blaze, though when the fitful wind blew strong it flamed up savagely. Even the tiniest of forest fires is hot enough, and Charley found it trying work. He had many hundreds of yards of flame to beat out. The smoke and the heat were stifling and exhausting, and every little while Charley had to turn away from the fire to rest and get his breath. During such periods, Charley would walk back along the fire-line to make sure that the blaze was extinguished behind him.
Darkness came quickly in the deep valley, and before Charley had the blaze half extinguished, he was unable to see distinctly. Indeed he could hardly have seen anything at all had it not been for the fitful light of the flames; and this dancing light made objects appear uncertain and unreal.
In one of his trips back along the line, Charley came to a stump that was ablaze. In beating out the flames just here, he had failed to extinguish some tiny sparks in a hollow place at the base of the stump. The wind had fanned these into life after Charley had passed on, and the fire had communicated to the stump. Now the stump was a pillar of flame. At any moment sparks might fly from it and rekindle the fire.
Charley beat at the stump with his brush until the flames had entirely disappeared. But fearing that sparks might yet be smouldering under the bark or in the dry wood, Charley began scraping the sides of the stump. As his hand reached the top of the stump, there was a sudden startling whir of wings and something shot upward into the dark. Charley recoiled as though shot. His heart beat a tattoo against his ribs. His first thought was of the sudden blow the rattler had given the ranger. Yet he knew it was no rattler that had suddenly sprung upward into the night. He drew forth his flash-light, which he always carried, and turned the beam of light on the top of the stump. There lay two little turtle-doves, unharmed despite the fierce flames that had played about them. They had been protected by the mother dove's body.
"Little turtle-dove," said Charley, "I take off my hat to you. When anybody tells me about a deed of heroism hereafter, I'll tell them about you and how you hovered over your young ones while the flames were slowly roasting you. I'm certainly glad I got here when I did. You would have been burned in another five minutes and your little ones with you."
Charley started back to the line of flames again. "If a turtle-dove can do a thing like that," he muttered to himself, "you're a poor thing if you can't face a little blaze like this."
He cut a new bush, once more fell on the fire, and never ceased his efforts until not a single blaze lighted the forest. Then he stepped inside the burned area and made his way completely around the edge of it. The ashes were hot and Charley knew that they might scorch the leather in his shoes. But he also knew there would be no rattlesnakes where the fire had burned. When Charley came to the stump again, he turned his flash-light on its top. The dove had returned and was once more hovering over her little ones.
When he was certain that the fire was absolutely extinguished, Charley made his way through the dark forest to his tent and made his nightly report. It gave him great happiness to be able to report that the fire was extinguished and that once more all was well in the forest.
Mr. Marlin had sent out to Charley a package of books that dealt with various phases of work in the forest. Night after night, by the light of candles, Charley sat in his tent studying his texts. He found them fascinating. Here in the forest, where every day he could see illustrated the truth of what he had read the night before, he learned, with unbelievable rapidity. Whenever he came to anything in his texts that he did not understand, he made a note of it. Sometimes at night he got Lew on the wireless and through him questioned the forester. He did not want to bother the government wireless men except in case of necessity.
Two or three times a week the forester came out to see Charley and to keep an eye on this, his finest stand of timber. From time to time he brought supplies and more books. Indeed Charley's capacity to acquire what was in the books astonished the forester. He knew that Charley understood because of his intelligent questions and his increasingly intelligent practices; for, without orders to do it, Charley was voluntarily doing many of the tasks that Mr. Morton should have done in the forest. As he grew in comprehension of the needs of the forest, Charley began to make suggestions to the forester. More than one of these proved practicable, and Charley was given permission to go ahead with the proposals. Before he knew it, Charley found himself working sixteen hours a day and regretting that the days were not longer. And as always happens to people who are busy about work they love, Charley was supremely happy.
Not the least part of his happiness came from his wireless talks with the ranger's wife. With a speed that surprised him, Mrs. Morton learned both to read and send. On the very first evening after the doctor brought her dry cells, Mrs. Morton managed to tick out an acknowledgment of Charley's call. And though it was faltering and uneven, Charley read it and smiled with delight. As he slowly ticked off the letters of the alphabet and the first ten numerals, Mrs. Morton listened intently, jotting down the dots and dashes on a bit of paper.
When Charley had repeated his message according to promise, he flashed out the call signal for the Wireless Patrol and promptly got a reply from Henry. Through Henry he made his nightly report to the forester, and through the forester sent his congratulations to Mrs. Morton on the success of her initial attempt at radio communication, and inquired after the sick ranger. So both Charley and his new friend were happy that night.
It was quite evident to Charley, when he called Mrs. Morton on the following night, that she must have spent much of the day practicing at her key; for the certainty and assurance with which she transmitted her brief message this time could have come only from hours of practice. Now, in addition to acknowledging Charley's call, she added the simple message, "Jim is improving." Charley did not guess that she had practiced that short message for an hour. Even if he had, he would have been none the less pleased; for practice was the very thing needed to make her an efficient operator. By the time three weeks had elapsed, Mrs. Morton could communicate with Charley readily. Also her husband was improving every day, though it would still be weeks before he could resume his duties. Altogether, Charley's cup of happiness seemed full to overflowing.
There was still more happiness in store for him, however,—a happiness he had not dared to hope for. One day Mr. Marlin appeared at Charley's camp just at dusk. Charley was about to cook his supper. At once he doubled the portions of food to be cooked, and while he worked over his fire, he reported to his superior on the condition of the forest under his charge. By this time Charley knew every inch of it intimately. He had just completed an inspection, lasting several days, of the entire area. He was enthusiastic about his work and full of plans for the future. Practically all his suggestions were good, and the forester smiled and smiled with approval, as he sat back in the shadow, listening.
When Charley had completed his statement, the forester said, "Charley, your report is very satisfactory, and I am especially pleased with the way you comprehend the needs of the situation and plan for improvements. I approve of practically all your suggestions. How would you like to go ahead and work them out?"
"They ought to be done," said Charley impetuously. Then he stopped. "I mean," he corrected himself, "that it seems to me they ought to be. But to do most of them would require a ranger with a crew of men."
"But you haven't answered my question," said the forester with a kindly smile.
Charley looked puzzled. "I told you I think that they ought to be done."
"Still you haven't answered my question."
Charley stopped a moment to try to recall exactly what the forester had said. Then he went on. "Of course, I should like to work them out, for they ought to be done. But I also told you it would need a ranger and a crew of men. I couldn't do all those things alone."
The forester began to laugh. "Charley," he said fondly, "the Bible tells us there are none so blind as those who won't see. If you were the ranger in charge of those men, would you still like to do the work?"
"Oh! Mr. Marlin," cried Charley, "you don't mean——"
"Yes, I do. Your service as a fire patrol ends to-night. To-morrow you take charge of this section as temporary ranger, pending Jim Morton's recovery. I just can't get along without a ranger in this district. Work is being neglected, the big lumber operation has already commenced in Lumley's district, and things are piling up here too deep. I can't get along another day without a new ranger."
Charley was too happy for words. "I'll do my best," he said, with quavering tones. But in a moment he got command of himself. "You told me I couldn't handle a crew of men," he said.
"Maybe you can't, Charley, but you've handled everything else and handled it well. It is plain that you love the forest and understand as much about its needs as any ranger I have. A little experience is all you need to make a first-class ranger. I'll give the men a talking to. When I get done, they'll know it won't pay to monkey with you, even if you are only a high school boy. Now, Ranger Russell, I think we had better turn in and get some sleep, for we'll have to pull foot early to-morrow."
A Trouble Maker
Pull foot early they did, too. Charley himself was no sluggard, but the forester's capacity for work simply amazed him. He knew the forester was on the job late every night, for he reported to him each night the last thing before he went to bed. Yet whenever the forester spent the night with Charley, Mr. Marlin was up at an early hour; and the present occasion proved no exception.
Mr. Marlin had never said much about himself to Charley, and no one else had happened to do so; but Mr. Marlin had worked himself up from the ranks. He had been a fire patrol and later a ranger, and then had attended the state forestry school, as the other district foresters had done.
His unusual training, great diligence, intelligence, and untiring energy had made him one of the ablest men in the service. By sheer ability he had won for himself the oversight of this district, which was one of the most important in the entire million acres of state forest lands.
Hardly was the forester afoot this morning before he had a fire going and breakfast cooking. Before breakfast was ready, the two forest guardians began to strike camp. Charley took down his wireless and stowed it as compactly as possible. The tent was lowered and rolled up. Everything was gotten into portable shape, and as soon as breakfast was over, the dishes were washed and they, too, were added to the bundles.
"I don't care to let anybody know where your camp was," said the forester. "I may want to use this site again. So we'll have to pack our stuff out ourselves, at least part of the way. I am going to put a crew of men in here to-morrow and they can finish carrying out the duffel if we cave in before we reach the road. It will be a pretty good load."
Each of them strapped a big pack to his back. The rifle and the fishing-rod had been fastened to the battery, which in turn was roped to poles for handles. In this way it was possible for the two to carry all Charley's outfit. By sun-up the two were already on the trail. They toiled up the slope and crossed the ridge close to Charley's watch-tower. The way was rough and the going hard. But once they struck a fire trail, the path was easy. Yet at best it was a hard and toilsome hike, and several hours elapsed before they reached the forester's motor-car, which he had concealed in the pines. Both of them were tired, and Charley felt as though his arms were about ready to part from his shoulders.
Most of their journey had been made in silence. But now that they were seated comfortably in a motor-car, they once more began to talk.
"I had to bring you in from the forest, Charley," explained Mr. Marlin, "because as a ranger it will be necessary for you often to be at headquarters. I have arranged for you to live with Ranger Lumley. His district adjoins yours, and his house, right in the forest, is near the dividing line. So it will be about as convenient for you as it is for him. He is to be at the office to meet us and look after you. We'll pick him up and go on to his house with your things."
Ranger Lumley was on hand as the forester had said he would be. Charley had found Ranger Morton and his wife so likable that he was glad indeed of the opportunity to become acquainted with this second ranger. But the minute he laid eyes on him, he felt a chill of disappointment. Yet he could not have told exactly why. Somewhere, too, he felt sure, he had seen the man before; though he could not remember when or where.
Lumley was a man small of stature, with a hooked nose, fishy blue eyes, a thin, hard mouth, and a face seamed and wrinkled. Yet he was quite evidently not an old man. Charley had noticed that some of the tough characters in his home town looked like that, and the more he studied Ranger Lumley's face, the less he liked the man. Particularly did he dislike his eye. Once he caught the ranger looking at him slyly, and the gleam in the ranger's eye reminded Charley of the vicious look of a horse when he shows the white of his eye. It seemed to Charley, too, as though there was something suggestive of craftiness and cunning in the man's countenance.
When they reached the Lumley home, Charley felt his dislike for the man increasing. Unlike the neat and attractive dwelling of the Mortons, the Lumley house was dirty and disorderly. The children were unclean and ragged. They had no manners whatever. Yet they obeyed readily enough when their father spoke to them. But it did not take Charley long to discover that they obeyed because of fear. When he realized that, he thought of the vicious look he had noted in the ranger's eye. There were dogs innumerable about the place, and they all slunk away when their master approached. Yet all the time, as he showed Charley about, the ranger was almost obsequious. This evident contradiction between the man's actions and his looks made Charley distrust him immediately, and it was with heavy heart that he said good-bye to Mr. Marlin and watched him drive away.
The ranger showed Charley to the room that was to be his. Charley began to carry his luggage up-stairs. He would much rather have taken it all himself, but the ranger insisted upon helping him. When Charley saw how the man eyed every package and scrutinized every article, he understood quickly enough that Lumley wanted to help him, not because of any wish to be courteous, but simply because of his burning curiosity. Especially was the ranger curious about Charley's wireless outfit, but Charley volunteered no information.
The more Charley considered his situation, the gloomier he felt concerning it. He had looked forward to his coming, after Mr. Marlin had told him of the arrangement, with a feeling of pleasant anticipation. Charley was not the least bit shy and made friends readily. He had a feeling that all the men in the Forest Service must be pretty fine men and that their interest in their work would make them, like Mr. Marlin and Mr. Morton, eager to help a recruit. Thus Charley had believed that Lumley would be very helpful to him. He had intended to put himself more or less in Lumley's hands and trust to the ranger for guidance. But a very few minutes spent with Lumley made Charley feel that he could not take the man into his confidence. He almost felt as though he dared not, though when he came to consider the matter fully, that attitude seemed foolish. Lumley was a guardian of the forest as well as himself, and surely he could trust him with matters that pertained to the forest.
Charley tried to fight down this feeling of distrust. It seemed to him very wrong to accept a man's hospitality, even if he was to pay well for it, and at the same time be suspicious of the man. But hardly had he decided that he ought to be frank with his fellow ranger when Lumley began asking questions that caused the feeling of distrust to return with renewed force. Lumley's questions were intended to seem innocent enough; but Charley was sharper than he perhaps looked, and he saw the real intent behind the questions. The man was slyly trying to find out all he could about Charley's history, and particularly how much Charley had been paid as a fire patrol and what he was to get as a ranger.
Charley answered most of Lumley's questions openly enough, but could not tell him what he was to get as a ranger, for he had never once thought about the matter, nor had Mr. Marlin mentioned it. But when Charley told Lumley so, he could see that the ranger did not believe him.
When the ranger began to question Charley about his recent work in the woods, Charley answered him evasively. Lumley knew that Charley had been acting as fire patrol, because Mr. Marlin had told him so. But Charley felt very sure he did not know where the secret camp had been pitched, for Mr. Marlin had distinctly said that matter was a secret between Charley and himself. So Charley answered him evasively and soon turned the conversation to other matters.
While Charley was arranging his duffel, two or three dirty youngsters came bouncing into the room and at once began to drag Charley's wireless apparatus from the pasteboard box. With a cry Charley sprang toward them and snatched the instruments out of their hands. The ranger gave a savage oath and aimed a kick at the lads, but they dodged and ran from the room.
At first Charley was terribly annoyed. But in a second he was glad the incident had happened. Nothing had been injured and he had had a warning of what might be expected. It gave him a good opportunity to shut up his things without seeming to be suspicious of his host. Charley acted at once.
"I have no need of this wireless outfit at present," he said, "and if you have a spare box and some nails, I will just nail these things up until I have time to set up the outfit." So the wireless instruments were safely boxed up and locked in a closet, along with Charley's rifle and fishing-rod. There was nothing in his remaining luggage that could be much harmed, even if the youngsters did get hold of things.
As soon as his belongings were stowed away, Charley decided that he would go to the forester's office and talk over his work. He had three miles to walk, and although he had already trudged several times that distance, heavily loaded, he did not hesitate for a moment. When Lumley suggested that he use the telephone and avoid the walk, Charley merely smiled.
"I don't mind it," he said.
"I'd like to see myself walk that distance for any such fool errand," growled the ranger.
When Charley had said he didn't mind the walk he had told the truth. Yet he had understated it. The fact was that he hugely enjoyed the walk. He was rested from his long carry, and with nothing to weight him down, his feet felt light as feathers. He trudged briskly along the smooth highway, every sense alive to the delights of the forest. All about him the woods were vocal with the calls of birds. The wind whispered and sighed in the pine tops. And sometimes, when the air in the bottom was still as sluggish water, Charley could hear the wind roaring among the trees far up on the hillsides. The scent of spring was in the air—that indescribable mixture of the smell of opening buds and flowers and green things and rank steaming earth, that together make such an intoxicating odor. And all about him Charley caught glimpses of the wild life of the forest.
It was late in the day when he reached the forester's office. The forester seemed greatly surprised to see him.
"I came to talk to you about my work," explained Charley.
The forester frowned. "What is the telephone for?" he asked a bit brusquely.
"I didn't want to talk over my business before that man," protested Charley.
The forester looked at him sharply. "What business do you have excepting the business of the forest?" he asked.
"None," said Charley.
"Then surely you could discuss forest matters in the presence of a ranger."
"It may be that I am unreasonable," said Charley, "but I don't like that man. There's something about him that I don't trust."
The forester looked at Charley searchingly. "Sometimes," he said, "I almost feel that way myself. I realize that Lumley is mouthy and inquisitive and disagreeable personally, but he has been in the Forest Service a long time and it hardly seems right not to trust him. He's a pretty efficient ranger."
"Well, I'm here, anyway," continued Charley. "I came to find out what my first duties are to be and how to do them."
"There's a little tree planting that simply must be done in your territory, late though it is," said Mr. Marlin. "To-morrow I shall send you out with a small crew to do it."
"Please show me just how it ought to be done," said Charley.
The forester smiled with approval. "Come out-of-doors," he said, picking up a mattock. And he led the way to a bed of seedling spruces that had been heeled in the ground, and dug up two or three of them.
"These ought to be lifted in small bunches and their roots puddled," he said, dipping the earth-covered roots in water to show how to puddle them. "They should be planted thus." He struck his mattock sharply into the soil, bent it to one side, and in the hole thus opened thrust a tiny tree. Then he stepped on the ground close to the seedling and pressed the earth tight about it.
"That's all there is to it," he said. "Your crew will work in pairs, one man carrying the trees in a pail of water and inserting them in the ground, while the other man carries the mattock and opens the holes. The trees should be planted in straight rows and about four feet apart each way. You will have to go ahead of the crew and set up the line pole. Pick out some trees or saplings to sight by and you will have no trouble to keep your line straight."
"Is that all?"
"You'll have to oversee the work, of course. Make sure the planting is done right, and watch your men. You will have to take whatever steps seem necessary to keep them working well and cheerfully. Sometimes it is a good thing to switch a man from one job to another. It rests him to use another set of muscles."
"What else am I to do?"
"Day after to-morrow I want you to brush out the fire trails leading to your old camp. That is, you must start brushing them out. It will take several days. They are so overgrown now that they are a real menace to the forest. These trails were originally five feet wide. We took out all the roots and underground growths down to mineral soil. You must cut away all the brush that has grown in, chop it into short lengths, and pile it in little piles in the trail itself for burning on windless days. You must grub out the roots that have grown in, too. Really the entire trail ought to be grubbed again, but we can't do that now. You will have to assign men to cut brush, to pile it, and to grub up the roots. That's about all I can tell you."
"It sounds very easy," said Charley, "but I am willing to confess that handling these tough looking mountaineers is more than I counted on."
"Are you going to quit so soon?" asked the forester with scorn. "I thought you had more stuff in you than that, Charley."
Charley turned red. "Who said anything about quitting?" he demanded. "I only want to know what I am to do if I get into trouble with the men."
"That's more than I can tell you. It's up to you as a ranger to find the ways to manage your men. But I can tell you this. It is always best to follow Mr. Roosevelt's plan and speak softly but carry a big stick. Be kind to the men. Be square with them. Play no favorites. Look after their interest. But don't let them loaf on the job. They expect to have to work, and they won't have much respect for a man who doesn't hold them to their task. After all, they are not very different from horses. They have to be driven if they are to work."
"I suspect some of them will be hard to drive," said Charley, "if the few I have seen hereabout are good samples."
"It all depends upon how you get started with them. Don't let them get away with you. Let them know you are the boss. And remember this: as a ranger you have power to hire and fire these men. If it comes to a show-down, don't hesitate to fire a man. We're short-handed, but we can much better afford to lose a laborer than to have an entire crew spoiled."
"Thank you," said Charley. "I feel better already. If you don't mind, I'm coming to you before each new job and get you to show me exactly how it should be done. A fellow can get along so much better if he really knows what he is talking about."
"Good boy," smiled the forester. "I don't believe I am going to be disappointed in you, Charley."
Charley shook the forester's hand and started back to his new habitation, which he reached just as supper was ready.
After supper he and the ranger talked about the forest. Or rather Lumley did. He was so loquacious that Charley soon stopped talking and let his companion carry on the conversation alone. Lumley was quite able to do it, for he was truly, as Mr. Marlin had described him, mouthy. He had something to say about everything, and what he had to say was usually of a derogatory character. He was guarded in what he said about Mr. Marlin, yet Charley saw that he was trying to damn the forester by faint praise.
"You may make a good ranger in time all right," he said bluntly to Charley, "but it seems mighty funny to me to take a raw high school boy and put him in charge of the finest stand of timber in the entire forest. I'm the man that post ought to go to. Besides, I have a greater interest in that timber than any one else."
Charley choked back his resentment at the statement about himself and asked, "Why have you a greater interest in that timber than any one else?"
"Because our family used to own that timber," he said, sudden passion inflaming his eyes. And Charley once more saw in them that savage look he had detected before. "If my old fool of a grandfather hadn't let himself be bilked out of the whole holding," he said coarsely, "I'd own that timber to-day and I'd be a millionaire instead of a poor forest-ranger. By rights the land is mine, anyway." And again the ranger swore at his dead ancestor.
Charley listened in disgust but made no comment. The ranger saw that he had talked too much. He muttered an apology. "When I see somebody else getting the money that ought to be mine," he said, "it makes me so mad that I could almost commit murder." Then he quickly changed the conversation and once more became the smooth, oily individual he was when Charley first saw him.
But Charley had seen and heard enough to be utterly disgusted with the man. As early as possible he got away to his room on the pretext of weariness, but it was a long time before he went to bed.
Early next morning he was at headquarters, where Mr. Marlin introduced him to the half dozen men who were to serve under him. Ordinarily ten men would form a unit for planting, but Charley did not know that, and so was ignorant of the fact that Mr. Marlin had tried to make his first day of authority easy and successful by giving him only a few selected men to handle. Mr. Marlin introduced Charley to the men one by one, as they came in. Charley tried to talk to them, but found it rather difficult. The mountaineers had little to say.
When the men were all on hand, Mr. Marlin turned to them and said, "By the way, men, this is the lad who saved Morton's life."
At the mention of the sick ranger, Charley saw the men's faces light up.
"He's a little young yet, but he knows his business. Jim says he handled the snake-bite as well as any doctor could have done. I want you all to be good to this lad and help him as much as you can."
Now they had found something in common to talk about. All day long, at intervals, the crew discussed rattlers; and Charley told them, at their request, just how the ranger was bitten and what had been done to save him.
"You see," he said, "the danger from snake-bite comes when the poison reaches the heart. So it is necessary to suck as much of it out as possible and to prevent the remainder from reaching the heart except a little at a time. That's why the bandages were put on the arm so tight. The old notion of taking a stimulant was all wrong. The thing to do is to keep the heart beating as slowly as possible until the venom reaches it. Then if it begins to slow up, give a stimulant."
This suggestion was contrary to all forest practice and Charley could see that the men were greatly interested in it. How much his recital about the snake contributed to his success that day he never realized. He kept his lines straight, switched his men from one task to another, now relieved this man or that, and did his work in such a highly efficient manner that he would have had no trouble anyway; but at intervals all through the day the men reverted to the rattlesnake story. They were so busy thinking about something else they almost forgot about Charley.
But the next day had a different tale to tell. The forester had increased Charley's crew by four men, and a tougher looking lot Charley had never seen. Rough, rugged, reckless mountaineers, there was not one of them who could not have picked Charley up and broken him in half with ease. And one of them, a tall, surly fellow, was quite evidently bent on making trouble.
Charley's knees almost shook under him when he faced the crew and realized that it was up to him to command and control these men. Also he knew that he was lost if he showed any hesitation. The instant the party reached the trail, therefore, Charley seized an axe.
"Let's get at it, men," he said, starting work himself.
"What do you want us to do?" asked the tall, surly looking chap. The others gathered round to see what Charley would say. And Charley realized that he was on trial with the men.
"You heard what the forester said," he replied pleasantly. "We're to brush this trail out. I want it made as good as it was when it was first completed. Mr. Marlin said you were a mighty good crew and knew your business thoroughly. So you don't need any instructions from me."
Evidently the reply tickled the men. Charley saw one or two of them nudge their fellows and chuckle; and all of them looked slyly in the direction of the man who had asked the question. Charley judged that the fellow was trying to make game of him and that the crew thought Charley had come out on top. Charley did not mean to lose this slight initial advantage.
With his axe he began briskly chopping away the brush along the sides of the trail. Here and there he noticed little bushes that had sprung up in the trail itself.
"I wish you would take a mattock," he said to the man nearest him, "and grub out all the plants in the trail. Take out all the roots and get everything clean down to mineral soil." To the others he said: "We'll chop up the brush fine and pile it right in the trail to burn on windless days."
The crew fell to with a will and the work went forward briskly. Presently they reached a place where the trail was badly overgrown. Charley assigned two more men to grub up roots. He was learning fast. Most of the time he worked at the head of the gang, so he could see what was ahead, and be prepared for any new situation that arose. But from time to time he walked back among the crew to see that the work was being done right.
Evidently the crew liked the way Charley was taking hold. They worked cheerfully and skilfully. That is, all did with the exception of the tall, surly fellow. He seemed bent on annoying Charley, but Charley paid no attention to him. At last, however, a situation arose that he dared not overlook. The trail had originally been five feet wide, but the bushes, crowding in on either side, had greatly narrowed it. The main reason for brushing out this trail at this time was to widen it again to its original size so as to make it an effective barrier against fire. The tall laborer was deliberately neglecting to cut bushes that had sprung up within the original five-foot area.
The instant Charley noticed this, he spoke to the man. The others, scenting trouble, stopped work to look on. Charley sensed the situation and set himself for a tussle. "Let them know you're boss," he remembered Mr. Marlin had said to him. So he stepped toward the man and said quietly, "I neglected to say that I want this trail cleared to its original width. Just take out those bushes you have missed."