Nature and Tim Betine
Nature and Tim Betine
A STORY FOR ALL LOVERS OF THE WOODS
By Raymond S. Spears
Author of "The Golden Pears," etc.
TIM BETINE was a wily man shrewd and forward-looking. When, he glanced ahead, he saw the dollar-sign posted at the crossroads. The silver that crossed his palm in his youth became gold in his young manhood and legal currency in large, paper denominations as he grew older—which he did rapidly, in craftiness, looks, and gait.
Before he was thirty-five he was "Old Tim" to those who knew him. At that age he made the big strike of his life, and he made it because he knew a chance when he saw one.
He had begun work as lobby-boy in the Riplin Log Job; shortly he was spudding hemlock bark which the boss had thrown away. Betine gathered up the bark, and before he knew it he had a hundred cords. He sold the bark where it stood for a dollar a cord, and that made him his first hundred dollars. He turned the money into twenty-two-inch beech and maple stove-wood, and then back into two hundred and ten dollars. Then he turned his two hundred and ten dollars into a team of horses and a wagon, and back again into money—three hundred dollars—having paid their keep and made his wages in the mean while, toting for the Riplin Log Job as extra team.
Everything he touched turned little money into more money. When he was thirty-five, he had arrived at a point where he was sure that no one could tell him anything about timber, cut-over lands, logging, hauling, toting, buying supplies, or making good farm-land out of wooded bottoms or sloping ridges.
So he bought the valley of Brown Creek, and paid for it in cash—twenty-five thousand dollars for twenty thousand acres of land. Brown Creek was just the head of the Pine River watershed, and it had qualities that had caught the sharp eyes of Old Tim. It was a wide, shallow basin, containing more than thirty square miles of virgin timber. His land lines followed the crests of the parallel ridges, about four miles apart, for a distance of fully eight miles. The twenty thousand acres was good measure under an old survey, so that in fact the tract contained several hundred uncounted acres.
Standing on a knoll at the lower end of the valley, Betine could see more than fifteen thousand acres of his domain, with its spruce, hemlock, beech, maple, and scattered clumps of pine woods. Not an acre of the land was waste, except, as he calculated, the few feet breadth of the spring-fed creek, which took its brown stain from a thick balsam swamp halfway up the basin.
"I'll cut that timber, patch by patch," he figured. "I'll turn it into first-rate farm-land; an' by the time I get back to that head-creek line I'll have about forty of the best farms there is anywheres in this whole State. Why, those farms 'll have soil three or four foot deep, an' they'll raise any kind of a crop I've a mind to set my tenants to growing. First thing I got to do is to clear out that swamp, an' put a good dam right across the gully there. That 'll give me water to drive logs in the spring, an' power to cut up that hardwood, which I can't float. I'll get the county to build me a good road up this way, an' then 'll come the winter haulin', which my tenants will do with their teams what ain't working. Let's see—"
His mind ran to the figures of his undertaking. He knew that he ought to make thirty dollars net off each acre in clearing it. That would amount to six hundred thousand dollars. Then, when he had the land all clear, and every square rod of it put down to crops, the land would be worth, as lands sold around there, fifty dollars an acre.
"That 'll make a million!" he mused, awed. "A million, an' my timber profits is sixteen hundred thousand dollars. I'll be mighty well fixed, an' I can sit down an' take things easy. It 'll take ten years. I'll be forty-five then, right in my prime, an' there can't anybody shake his finger in my face an' tell me what to do—no, sir!"
All his life Betine had been haunted by the fear of having to take orders from a master. He dreaded coercion with blind, stubborn resentment, though he had never been under any man's thumb after he undertook his third logging job. He got his timber down to the railroad, and sold it to the highest bidder, rather than work under some one who held the purse-strings. His own cash enabled him to be free and independent.
Even now, he could not look at his beautiful valley and not think of the possibility of some one telling him what to do. His property lay away back, away up in the edge of the mountains. It was his own timber and his own land, to do as he pleased with.
Trees meant dollars to him; land meant acres and crops worth dollars. The sharp downfall in his little creek meant power; power meant turning saws, and a grist-mill, and perhaps an electric-light plant to make the valley shine so that work could go on night and day. If he could add an hour a day to the work, it would mean ten per cent more profit. If he could clear his land quickly it would mean so many more crops, and farm produce was on the rise. He was a smart, strenuous fellow, was Betine. He was up-to-date! He lost no time admiring the prospect, for his plans were already laid. He moved a logging crew up into the timber, and set them at work felling trees—the softwoods. While they worked, a gang of men put up a concrete dam, thirty feet high, with a wide flume through which to release the water for the spring drives; but he had two power-tubes in the dam, and these went down the slope of the waterfall and into the turbines of a mill-power.
By the time the dam was built, all the overflow had been stripped clean of merchantable timber. The day he filled his mile-long pond was a great event in Tim Betine's life. There was the best float dam in the State; there was the best power-site he knew of, for a little jobber like himself to own; there was the foundation of a whole fleet of industries in the valley of Brown Creek.
Word of what he was doing was spread down below him in the valleys. "Tim Betine's Job," people called it. Men drove up to look it over, and to envy the shrewd woodsman who had followed his nose into such a chance as that!
"Think of it!" somebody said. "Twenty thousand acres of timber-land for twenty-five thousand dollars—and he's putting seventy-five thousand into it now, and it 'll be worth five million before he's done with it!"
"If he takes good care of it," some one suggested. "You see—"
"Well, you can trust Tim Betine to take care of every cent that can be wrung or twisted out of Brown Creek valley, from the standing timber to the small potatoes in the hills of the farms he's going to make out of the cut-over!"
Wasting no time, using the very bark of the hemlocks, cutting the spruce close to the ground, and lopping the tops for an extra stick of pulp, Betine made good on the softwood job. When he made his roads for hauling the softwood down to the creek and pond dumps, he made them to last through the hardwood hauling, too. He laid the roads out under the canopy of the forest, with an eye to the farms that he would make when the forest was gone.
One day a disturber strolled over the crest of the ridge at the head of Brown Creek, and walked down into the slash which the loggers were stripping on the low, wide points where the hemlock grew in solid stand and virgin growth. From such a point he looked down into the valley, and where there had formerly stood masses of green timber, evergreen clumps, there now were holes in the woods. Around the holes were tall, sunburned-bark hard-woods. Down next to the big mill half a square mile had been swept clean, and amid the stumps were crops of vegetables, oats, and a regular garden—the beginnings of a big farm. And all this was within two years of the day when Tim Betine signed the check for the land, when the Waslet Estate sold out in a hurry, to get the profitless valley off their hands.
The disturber said nothing to the loggers at work in the chopping, but he shook his head ominously when the foreman remarked:
"Hemlock ain't been stripped off'n the p'ints like this sinst they skinned Pine Crick valley!"
"So I see." The stranger shook his head gravely. "It's a bad job!"
"What? You got the face to stand here an' tell me this is a bad job?" said the foreman, who was Hank Hiber—a man of efficient methods and with a tendency to use his fists on provocation.
"The better it is, the worse it is," the visitor remarked cryptically.
Hiber, after one look, turned his back upon such nonsense and saw his daily stint of fifteen hundred logs peeled and logged off at the day's end.
"Who's the feller with a green necktie?" a spudder asked Hank.
"Him? Why, he's the tail of a dog that ain't got no tail!" Hiber replied, harshly and loudly. "He's a horse with softenin' of the bones, and consequently he ain't no good in the bone-yard. He's—"
"Hold on, old man!" the stranger turned and called back to him. "I'm worse than all those things you're telling about. You're failing in your list of names, and I'll make up for your neglected education by saying, once for all, that I'm a college graduate from the University of Forestry, and I've come up here to tell you fellows your job. I can take charge of these operations and run them so that they won't ruin your boss, Tim Betine!"
"What?" Hiber gasped.
"Sure as you're born, Hiber. My name is John Willfurl—don't forget it! I can do something lots of men can't do in the woods, for I know how to look ahead, and I could save your boss his money!"
"What's that you're telling Hank?" A sharp voice interrupted the badinage. "You can save me money?"
"You're Mr. Betine?"
"My name's Betine."
"Well, I've come to ask you for a job—"
"Hank does his own hiring," Betine said, grinning. "Ask him."
"No—not a logger. You need a superintendent, and—"
"I'm my own superintendent," the owner replied tartly.
"So I heard, and that's why I came here to ask you for a job, helping you to take advantage of the up-to-date discoveries regarding the influence of forests and the proper care of seedings, tree-plantings, and covers. You've just about ruined the woods here now—"
"Yes, sir; that's right!" Betine laughed. "We sure are spoiling these woods! When we get through you'll see thirty square miles of the best farm-land you ever looked at—"
"What?" the applicant asked. "You're going to strip it all off?"
"That's what we're up to, young feller. If you think you can tell us how to cut timber any better than we know, tell away. I'm sure anxious to hear!"
"You mean to say you are going to cut this all over—make farms of it all?" Willfurl asked, not believing his ears.
"You bet!" Betine grinned proudly. "Why, we've got the farms surveyed already. Here's the place for you forestry chaps to come an' learn something—yes, sir!"
"But the brook—erosion—drought—"
"That brook's going to remain right where it is, young feller. The springs is deep-water springs. Don't tell me none of that stuff you got out the books! I know what you're going to say—that I'd ought to leave shade, an' all that stuff; but let me tell you, potatoes an' oats an' corn don't grow in the shade."
"You have a magnificent opportunity here, Mr. Betine," Willfurl said, almost pleadingly. "I'm no greenhorn—I've worked in twenty log-camps in fourteen States, besides my forestry course. I tell you, I know—"
"Well, suppose we talk salaries. I s'pose you figure on a salary?"
"Yes—fifteen hundred a year to start with, and—"
"Some of the profits, eh?" Betine asked, winking at Hiber.
"Exactly. It would be fair."
"I'm payin' Hiber, here, the best man on the job, twelve hundred a year. You think you'll start in three hundred better'n that, do you? Well"—Betine sniffed—"you got another think a coming—hard!"
"All right!" Willfurl grinned. "I knew you wouldn't know good sense when you saw it. I was through here just before you bought the valley. You beat me to the purchase by a day, and I was sorry. You've the best chance to make money, I think, that a logger ever had, and, like mere loggers, you don't know it. You've decided to make twenty thousand acres of farm-land, and you—well, it's no use wasting good sense on the likes of you, and your experienced but uneducated foreman here, Mr. Hiber—"
"You mean to say I'm iggerant?" Hiber demanded, stepping forward.
"Very—superbly—magnificently ignorant. That's the proper pronunciation, Mr. Hiber!"
The laugh on Betine's lips decided Hiber. He rushed down the grade at the broad, knickerbockered manufacturer of taunting phrases, his fists flying like a pair of mauls. Willfurl took one short, graceful step to the left and swung a stiff punch across on Hiber's jaw. The foreman's hands and arms seemed to break into a shower of shadows, having no set purpose, no apparent familiarity with the art of self-defense.
Willfurl, bunching his hits, let fly a right punch for Hiber's ear, from the effects of which he began to spin, and the down grade became too steep to hold the unsteady feet of the inefficient. Another right and left from Willfurl were sent like two flashes of muscled lightning to the revolving body of his dazed adversary. Smarting and stung, spinning like a howling dervish, Hiber lunged into yawning unconsciousness, and brought up twenty feet down the grade in a pile of hemlock boughs, his blatant mouth pressed to the dust, into which he blew a few frothy, crimson bubbles.
"Well, so long, Mr. Betine!" the disturber said, waving his hands at the crew, who waved back enthusiastically.
He was fifty yards down the road when Hiber emerged, with his shirt off, his nose bleeding, and one eye blacked. He looked after his vanquisher, but did not attempt to pursue.
"He seems to be one of them scienterific fighters," Betine suggested wonderingly.
"One of them smart Ellick prize-fighters goin' around to make men mad fer the fun of it!" Hiber growled. "A man ain't no chance ag'in' science."
"No, mebbe not in prize-fightin'!" Betine exclaimed quickly; "but them foresters tryin' to tell us that growed right up into the business how to log it! Why, I was chewing spruce gum when he were feeding out of a bottle!"
So the logging went on. No sooner was the timber down and hauled away, than the clearers came in, burned up the tops and waste, and fired the stumps. Where tall, beautiful trees had been in the summer, stumps remained in the winter, and late spring found first crops put in—beans, potatoes, and oats. These first crops confirmed Betine's judgment as to the richness of the soil, and verified his estimate of the profits. He put the farm-hands into the clearings from the log-camps, and rough-worked his land as fast as he could find space to plant.
He was doing so well with his coming crops that his mind began to soar with new ideas. He would have one great farm of twenty thousand acres. He would have machines to cultivate it, and have farm crews to do the labor, like his logging-gangs.
He would build himself a mansion, and from the steps of his house he would watch the work up the wide basin through good spy-glasses. He bought the glasses; he sawed and planed the lumber in his mill; he installed a dynamo to make electricity to light the mansion, the mills, and the driveway. He remembered John Willfurl and his warning only to jeer at the forester's advice.
By this time the county had built a good road up to the Betine Mills. When the last softwood floated down Brown Creek on the spring flood, the crews turned to the heavy hardwood, and brought it to the saws in countless logs, every one of which made a profit for the owner. The hardwood was carried out on a trolley tramway. The price of lumber had gone up, and Betine was making more money than he had dreamed or hoped.
"I'll be one of them multimillionaire fellers," Betine told himself. "I've done a big job, I have! This here valley 'll be the show-place of the hull country. I'm a workin' it all out 'cordin' to nature. It wa'n't meant to be left into woods; it was covered with woods so's a man could skin it, sell the hide, same's you do a beef critter, an' then sell the beef. That's 'cordin' to nature—yes, sir!"
The driving of logs down Brown Creek had torn out the little stream-bed and made a great, deep gash in the clay banks. Then there was some wash in at the head of the pond, so that the filling-in of dirt brought down by the brook made a bar out in the pond. It was not worth noticing, considering the length of the pond; but up on the hemlock knolls, where the trees had all been cut away, potatoes wouldn't stay planted through the spring and summer rains.
All up through the valley, wherever the clearings were, Betine noticed that he wasn't getting the full acreage; but the reduction was not much—about ten or twelve per cent. The cutting away of the hardwood made acres and acres of land, while the little patches that wouldn't hold seed were only noticeable to a close figurer like Tim Betine. He hated every waste acre that developed, though he added hundreds of acres to his farm.
Brown Creek Farm, he called it. Every one called it that, but Brown Creek was no longer brown. When the big balsam swamp was cut away to make a flow ground, its stain no longer colored the waters, and the brook was now white water, a little murky, and with a sediment. That was inexplicable to Betine.
There used to be lots of trout in the stream, but it had long since been fished out by the loggers. The pond now had a few big trout, some catfish, and a lot of eels. Tim Betine didn't like eels, and he tried to find some way of getting rid of them. No one seemed to know how to do it; but in the course of his inquiries he learned that the eels ate trout and that bullheads ate trout-eggs.
One day, driving along the road up the valley, he stopped to walk up a streamlet across a meadow of hay. He was thirsty, and he remembered that the old log-camp where Hiber had cut the hemlock had stood beside the spring of that streamlet. The thought of having a drink of that cold, clear water seemed unusually attractive to the developer.
He found the old spring-head, all right; but instead of a deep, clear pool of water he saw some dry, cracked mud, and there was no water in either the spring or for a hundred yards down the bed of the streamlet.
Angry, he returned to his automobile, and rode on up to the hardwood chopping five miles farther on, near the head of the valley. Here the last of the land was being brought under cultivation as fast as the timber could be cut away and the top-loppings burned up.
Every brook he crossed on the way up was dry, or had only dead pools in it. He did not understand the reason for that, but guessed that it was due to the unusually dry season. Come to think about it, there hadn't been any rain for some time. It was a hot and dusty road, which the county supervisors had built for Tim Betine, because he always voted his logging and farm-hand crews right at elections.
Two square miles of hardwood remained to be cleared away. It was a pretty beech and maple forest. There was quite a little butternut in some parts of it, and this butternut, scraggly and unhealthy though the trees were, he succeeded in making into odds and ends of furniture, at a profit, in the chair-factory which he had found it necessary to construct in order to save the waste from the big limbs and chunks. Lately, he had found that he had lost about ten thousand dollars by not cutting the hardwood stumpage down to inches, instead of two or three feet high from the ground.
"Well, I can't complain none," he decided. "I've figured close, and I'm better off than most men—yes, sir! I've made a heap more'n some would 'a' done!"
Dry weather, it seemed to him, fell with unusual ferocity on his valley. He had never known such a spell of drought. He concluded that it was the cycle of the years. Old men always said that there were years of drought, and then would come years of rain.
His beans dried up, his peas dried up, and his sweet corn all dried up that summer. He had put up a canning-factory two years before, and for two years he had made a lot of money out of the canned goods. This year it wasn't paying him to run the factory, so he had to close it. That was trouble enough for the people in the village that had grown up down the valley, on the flats below the dam.
That summer, after eight years of tremendous industry, John Willfurl returned to the scene. He rode up the valley in his own automobile, and stopped at the top of the little knoll on which Old Tim had built his mansion, half a mile below the dam, at the lower end of the village. He gasped at what he saw.
Old Tim was on the veranda. Seeing the stranger, and feeling lonesome, he hailed the man and invited him up to the house to talk.
"How are you, Mr. Betine?" the forester asked.
"You know me?" Betine asked. "Seen me down b'low some'res, eh?"
"No—up in the hemlock chopping, when Hank Hiber—"
"By heck! Now I rec'lect—Hank never did get over that! He's up yonder now, skinnin' out the last of the hardwood."
"You've cut it all?" Willfurl exclaimed, his throat dry with regret. "That beautiful timber?"
"Yes, siree! And it's done better'n I calc'lated. You know what lumber's be'n bringing?"
"Yes—it's away up; and you've saved a lot of hauling expense by getting them to run that trolley-line up to your town."
"Yes, an' I've something to take the place of the sawmills when I've cut the last of the timber. I'm forehanded, you might say. See them new buildings? Canneries! And there's a hay-press, and a big granary, and I'm figurin' on broom corn, so's to give the women an' children sunthin' to keep 'em busy winters. Farms is good summer jobs, but they ain't much winters."
"Yes—too bad you didn't sort of spread the timber-cutting along, so that you could have winter work for the men, too."
"Oh, well, farm-lands bring the money. Raisin' a lot of cattle, an' we got a creamery and a cheese-factory. Them's paying."
"How is the land holding out?"
"What do you mean?" Old Tim looked at him.
"I mean, it looks as if there were some washes."
"Washes? Course—some. Not to amount to anything."
"No? From the looks of the brook, there's not much water. Pond's away down, too."
"Well, it's been pretty dry this year—mighty dry! Never seen such a dry year in my life."
"There was plenty of water in Brown Creek the summer I was here, and this isn't as dry a year as that was."
"What you tellin' me? Why, look at them streams, an' tell me it ain't been as dry this summer!"
"Since last October the rainfall has been forty-one inches. That year there were only thirty-six inches in the same time."
"Oh, lots of snow last winter, but this summer's been dry!"
"Average of an inch more a month since April."
"Well, Where's it gone?"
"Had pretty high water this spring?"
"Well, yes—up over the grist-mill floor. Kind of looked as if the water would wash around the dam, but we filled it in. I'm having some work done on it—raising it three foot."
"Trouble is, you know, when you cut that timber on the points and around the head of the ravines, you dried up the springs. Now you have too much water in spring and not enough in summer. Same for your farms!"
"What? Dried up?"
"Sure! That's what I wanted to have a job with you for—to save the water for you."
"Shucks! You theorizin' fellers ain't got no practical sense. Take that land up there, worth forty dollars an acre—"
"I think you figured on fifty dollars, to start with?"
"Well, yes; but lands is cheap."
"And not so good! Kind of thin soil, eh?"
"Course, in spots."
"Yes, and the hard rains washed it away on the points. That yellow spot up there, where the hemlocks were—two or three acres of sand, eh?"
"Well, the soil ain't thick all over! It don't stand to reason—it ain't 'cordin' to nature."
"If you had about half that land in woods, what would it be worth?"
"Why, lumber's gone up—"
"The timber would be worth from sixty to a hundred dollars an acre, wouldn't it?"
"Well, of course—"
"I wanted fifteen hundred dollars a year to start with," Willfurl remarked, as if apropos of nothing.
"Well?" the old speculator demanded.
"If I'd been on the job, you wouldn't have touched anything but big and cull timber around the brim of this valley. You'd have had ten thousand acres of timber growing better all the time. That land would have been worth seventy-five dollars an acre. That would have been three-quarters of a million, with an income of about thirty thousand dollars a year from trimming. The land that was cleared would be worth sixty dollars an acre, the way rich land sells now. Let's see—how does that work out?"
"Difference of—say twenty dollars an acre—four hundred thousand dollars!" Betine exclaimed on the instant, being a natural-born figurer.
"You see the point, then?" Willfurl asked.
"It kind o' stands to reason," the man admitted.
"Too bad!" Willfurl shook his head. "The best chance in the world gone to waste—one of the best, anyhow."
"Well, it's done. I ain't complainin'. I made more'n a million out'n it."
"What do you mean?"
"Some day those hills will wear out. They'll be all cut and chewed. They'll wash out, and you'll have nothing left but clay buttes and bad lands."
"I've got fifteen thousand acres of the best land in the State, easy!"
"How much washed and graveled over this spring?"
"Why, not to amount to anything—perhaps fifty acres."
"Looks pretty open up there at the head—a regular basin. The valley narrows down at this end. A big rain—"
"It was as high as it 'll ever be this spring," Old Tim declared, defending his property. "I tell you I'm satisfied!"
"I wouldn't take this property as a gift, and leave things the way they are!" said Willfurl, again shaking his head.
"What? Why not?"
"Because I'm a forester."
"Oh! Can't see nothing but woods, I s'pose?"
"Not that exactly. Let me show you something."
Willfurl began to make some figures on a pocket-pad. He showed them to Betine.
"You have more than twenty thousand acres here, and that's eight hundred and seventy-one million square feet. Suppose rain comes along, and falls at the rate of three inches in an hour, as has happened before now in these hills. That means a run-off, in an hour, of somewhere near two hundred and seventeen million cubic feet of water. This valley across here is, say, a hundred and fifty yards wide—four hundred and fifty feet. To get through, that water would flow at the rate of about sixty thousand cubic feet a second. Do you know what that means?"
"Well, it would run fast."
"It would have to!" Willfurl exclaimed. "It would mean a flood not less than thirty feet deep."
"What?" Betine exclaimed. "Why, that would be over the roofs of—"
"You see that, do you? And then suppose the dam goes out?"
"Oh, that dam would never go out!"
"You said you thought this spring it might."
"Well, I'm bracing it up—"
"And building it three feet higher?"
"It don't hold quite enough water to keep us going in such a drought," Betine explained.
"So you'll add jeopardy to danger?"
"Look here, young man! What are you driving at?"
"I'm the State forester. I came here to warn you of the danger which the conditions you have created in this valley have brought over the heads of the people here, and of the people farther down the valley."
"Why, nothing can happen—nothing has happened!"
"All right! Here is the written warning. I'm handing it to you. My driver, down there, is the witness. If I were you I would tear that dam down and wide open. I would put in steam-power instead—"
"Why, water-power is the cheapest! What, haul coal up here? I guess not!" Old Tim replied angrily, "You must think I'm a fool!"
"Exactly; that's just what I think."
"Why do you think that? Anyhow, I've made—"
"Millions, perhaps, but I'm a forester, and that is why I know you are a fool, and will never learn your lesson till it's too late. Good day!"
Old Tim watched his visitor depart. He was uneasy about what the man had said. The paper in his hand was ominous. It was just as Willfurl had said, a written warning that conditions created by cutting off the timber rendered the valley susceptible to sudden and dangerous floods. It advised tearing down the dam, and substituting a steam-power for it.
Betine took the paper to his lawyer, who said that it was merely a precautionary measure by the State, to protect itself in case of the stream overflowing and doing damage down below.
"That puts it up to me?" Old Tim demanded.
"It's up to you, anyhow," the attorney declared.
"Humph!" Betine grunted, and returned home.
He stared at the sky whenever he saw clouds in it. When it rained in the night, he listened anxiously. When the sun shone, he breathed freely. He hated the hot sun, because it baked in his crops. He feared the rain, because on him was a burden of responsibility if anything should happen.
But nothing happened, and gradually Old Tim recovered his confidence. He saw the wheels running and mills turning out meal and brooms and furniture built of timber imported from woods three hundred miles distant. He had a profitable summer and a gloriously profitable autumn; and in the winter snow fell in a thick blanket upon the valley, keeping the frost from freezing out the crops and grass-roots.
A scheme dawned in Betine's mind. He determined to plant five thousand acres of orchard, and thus clothe his valley-sides with profitable trees. In three or four years the trees would begin to bear. He thought of writing to the State forester, and asking him to send some plan for planting the hills with woods, for in many places they were washing down and were no good for crops any more.
He mapped out an ambitious scheme, looking ahead for thirty or forty years, till he would certainly be as old as a man had a right to expect to be. He saw profit in it, too. He believed that when he died he would be worth all that he had intended to be worth when he was fifty.
The cold weather got into his bones, and he decided to go to Florida for the February freeze. To think was to go, and he took the trolley to the railroad, and the railroad to Florida. There he found the air with all the balm of spring in it, the birds singing, and the sky all beautiful with music and colors and zephyrs.
Every week he received an account of his business, prepared by Hank Hiber, whom he had installed as manager. It showed the profits piling up. He could live at peace with all the world. He had nothing to worry about when he was getting such good prices for his products. He could rest now, after the toil and worry and digging of his fortune-building days.
He met a young woman whose eyes were close together and overhung by black eyebrows; but she was a very pretty girl. She liked him frankly, and he enjoyed her company. She was one of those city girls who know how to please an old man, and how to stir emotions in his heart.
Tim Betine had long neglected women, for he had had no time to waste on sex affairs, and had lived aloof from all the world, except the business world. Now he began to see that he had missed a good deal, that he had neglected some of the good things of life. Before long he was wondering if he ought not to marry some sensible, middle-aged woman. Then he began to realize that this Miss Clierse was probably a little older than she looked, and that she was a mighty sensible girl, all things considered. He was seriously thinking about asking her to marry him—thinking about it so much that he forgot to open the last letter from Hiber.
One morning, at breakfast, he heard a man next to his table remark:
"That was a pretty bad flood up there, wasn't it?"
"Yes—bad! I haven't any faith in concrete dams, anyhow. Take it when the frost gets into concrete, and you can't tell—"
"Spring floods seem to be making trouble all over the country. We never used to have so many of them. What's the matter?"
"Oh, there's no telling—just nature, I suppose."
"And concrete dams—"
Old Tim listened indifferently at first. Then there rose in his mind a memory of the State forester. He wondered that he should recall that impudent book woodsman! Spring rains—of course, it was time for them.
He opened the letter that Hiber had dictated to the stenographer.
Things is running all right, as you see by the statement. I've been doing a little filling around the east end of the dam. Dam's full. Where we put in the new splash-boards the concrete is punky, and so I've put in some good birch plank, and they are holding all right. The fill wasn't long and high enough, and the gravel washed some. Lots of snow, and it's going fast.
Old Tim blinked over the letter. Then he left his partly finished breakfast, went to the news-stand, and looked at the head-lines. He saw black head-lines across three columns, like war, or murder, or fire, but this was flood.
"Brown Creek disaster," it said. "Believed at least twenty dead."
Betine bought the paper, went out on the veranda, sat down, and stared at the waves rolling in, hardly noticing that the girl on whom his mind had lately been dwelling fled as he approached. He read the paper, word by word.
There had been twelve hours of hard rain and then a terrific downpour. A wave had rolled down the length of the Betine pond, five or six feet high. The dam, already weakened by long-continued high water, seemed to go right on down with the wave, and the valley was filled more than thirty feet deep with water.
Everything had been swept before it—all the houses, except Betine's mansion, which was on a knoll. Women, children, two farmers and their families—none knew how many had lost their lives.
"I—I guess I'd better—I'd better go see about it—see what I can do," Betine whispered to himself. "I got to go—right away!"
He staggered to his feet and started. A whisper went through the crowd. They looked at him curiously, unpityingly. He felt their resentment, their anger, though he did not quite understand it.
So Tim Betine returned home, but not on the valley road, or by the trolley. There was no valley road, nor any trolley-line, except broken sections at intervals. Hiber met him, and they talked in whispers on the mansion veranda. Hiber's wife was dead; so was his little girl.
The valley was ruined for twenty or thirty miles—mills and shops and stores were all washed down into the river. It was a terrible dispensation of Providence, but that did not prevent a rising indignation against the man whom everybody held responsible.
When the special grand jury sat to investigate, it indicted Tim Betine on evidence produced at a dozen coroners' inquests. He was arrested and put in jail. Public sentiment would not permit him to be at large on bail.
But his old cronies in politics stood by him, and when he was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, the county judge let him go with a suspended sentence and a warning not to do such a thing again, or he would certainly be punished by more than a conviction. The politicians thought it was a clever thing, and so it was, in a way. As if a man would ever do such a thing as that twice!
But the civil suits that followed were brought by the plaintiffs before jurors who had seen the devastation and knew the whole story. The old logger's liberty was not in jeopardy, and he was rich. Besides, the State forester testified in each suit that Old Tim had had fair, written, practical, scientific warning.
So there were many judgments against him for twenty and thirty thousand dollars apiece. The trolley company sued for half a million, and got a hundred and thirty-five thousand. Thus went Old Tim's whole property, and finally Old Tim himself went into bankruptcy. He paid sixty cents on the dollar. He had no more to pay, because his great valley, sold under forced sale, and with the shadow of the tragedy over it, brought only twenty-five dollars an acre.
When it was, all over, the State forester, John Willfurl, established a tree plantation at the mansion, and the State, with much acclaim, began to plant trees in the washed and worn-out valley.
Hank Hiber was retained as foreman, He is willing to admit, now, that science is of some use in forestry, as well as in fisticuffs.
Old Tim Betine got the job of fire-warden. The politicians were sorry for him.
This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.
The longest-living author of this work died in 1950, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 72 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.