The Young Timber-cruisers; or, Fighting the Spruce Pirates/Chapter 13

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CHAPTER THIRTEEN

THE PROFESSOR AT HOME


At noon next day Stanley opened his eyes to new surroundings. It was several minutes before he could piece together the strenuous events of the preceding two days, or realize just where he was. He knew he was in a soft bed and aching in every muscle. From the open window he could see nothing except a silver speckled sky and a brown top of a mountain on the horizon. The latter was Mt. Jim, although he was to learn that later.

Slowly the closing incidents of his flight through the woods, his encounter with Big Nick and his meeting with Professor Carlton filtered into place in his recollections, but he could not recall the evening trip up the heights to the warden’s home.

On dressing and investigating his surroundings he found he was alone in a large log house. The summit wind had free passage through the open door and windows. The living room was commodious and given a cosy atmosphere by the big fireplace at one end. On a table were a number of books, while many volumes were stacked against one wall. He also detected various evidences of a woman’s presence, such as a work box and a sewing table. On the walls of the room the masculine note predominated in several trophies of hunting and fishing trips. Guns, canoe paddles, butterfly nets, lake trout mounted, were intermingled with a few pictures. On the whole the place seemed a paradise after his rough fare in the woods.

But the absence of his host and friends led him to walk painfully to the door. A glorious view was spread out below him. From the top of Hood mountain he could count many lakes dotting the carpet of black growth far below. All inequalities of surface, such as ledges and minor hills, were smoothed out and he could hardly believe that the even, unbroken expanse contained the tangled and blocked path of yesterday. Before he had gazed his fill the sound of voices at the other end of the cabin caught his ear and he hastened to find his friends.

“Sleep well?” smiled Professor Carlton, shaking his hand.

“Never better,” replied Stanley. “What time is it?”

“A woodsman would look at the sun,” tantalized Bub.

“I forgot,” confessed Stanley. Then he became confused in noting a sweet-faced girl eying him with half hidden amusement.

“Laura, this is Stanley Malcolm, a friend and companion of Mr. Whitten and Mr. Thomas,” informed the professor.

“I know,” she smiled. “I talked with him last night.”

“Did I talk with you last night?” gasped Stanley, recalling nothing of the incident.

“She should say she talked at you, but that you were too weary to talk or see anyone,” qualified the professor.

“You were all played out when we got here, explained Bub, holding himself very erect as he realized the professor had “mistered” him.

“How do ye feel?” anxiously asked Abner. “Fit to go on to-day?”

“Yes,” slowly replied Stanley, but wincing as he moved about.

The professor’s quick eye caught his grimace and he firmly declared, “You mustn’t move a step from here for a day or so. Better have Mr. Thomas give you a good rub with some liniment I have in the house. I made it myself and it will do you lots of good.”

Abner seemed relieved at the prospect of lingering, for the memories of last night’s supper were still fresh in his mind. But his tone was a bit testy as he said, “Of course if ye’re tuckered out we must accept Professor Carlton’s hospitality a bit longer. But we must git up to the end of the trip ahead of Noisy Charlie.”

“We could start to-day, Abner, and leave Stanley here to pick up,” mischievously suggested Bub. “Then we could call for him later.”

“No need of going to that bother,” quickly discouraged Abner. “Charlie won’t git along for a few days and we might as well take a rest.”

Miss Laura shot a sharp glance at the two youths to show she appreciated the old man’s desire to enjoy her cooking further, and tempted, “I’ll make you something extra nice, Mr. Whitten. Something that the others shall have none of.”

“We can stay just as well as not,” hastily assured Abner. “And as we’re eating ye out of house and home the Great Northern Land and Paper company will settle all the bills.”

“There can be no question of settlement,” gravely said the professor. “Incidentally I am employed by that company in addition to my duties as state fire-warden. My orders are to help and aid any who come my way, let alone my inclination to entertain.”

Miss Laura nodded happily and explained, “You have no idea how pleasant it is for us to have someone drop in—or, I should say, drop up—no, come up. There! Sometimes we see no one for many weeks. Of course we have the telephone, but it isn’t like real visiting.”

“But the extra work,” reminded Stanley. “It doesn’t seem right that a slip of a thing like you should be cooking for three strange men.”

She laughed softly. “A strange man and two boys,” she corrected. “Besides, Mr. Whitten is no longer a stranger to us, we’ve heard so much about him.”

“Ye git out,” bashfully protested Abner, yet reddening with pleasure. “Guess ye never heard no good of me.”

“Mr. Whitten is fishing for compliments,” she quizzed. “And I’ll pay him none.” Then seriously, “But I’ll say that I know how he saved the lives of three men up north of Parmachena two winters ago in the midst of the worst blizzard of the year. It was simply noble the way he went out and found them, when everyone had given them up for lost. You know, he took provisions with him and on finding them about to die and ignorant of the woods he built a shelter and remained with them until they were able to follow him to the settlement.”

“Quit that stuff,” commanded Abner, frowning to conceal his pleasure.

“O he’s done that so many times we that know him pay no attention to it now,” lightly informed Bub.

“I’ll larrup ye, ye young—beg pardon, ma’am, but he’s a very troublous boy at times,” stammered Abner.

“I’m sure he will grow up and make a good man,” gravely encouraged Laura, her eyes dancing.

“I’m sixteen in years and a million feet tall in experience,” desperately blurted out Bub.

“My! I didn’t know you were so aged,” laughed Laura. “Now I must remember my manners. Do you know, I was about to call you Bub.”

“I’m very young,” quickly broke in Stanley, finding her bright eyes and piquant face very pleasing. “So there’s no reason why you shouldn’t call me Stanley.”

“I think, my daughter, our guests will be deciding you are very, very young,” dryly warned her father.

“By jing! Ye just let her ramble on nat’ral like,” cried Abner, now thoroughly infatuated with the quick-eyed miss. “Let’s have no finnified company manners up here. I‘m a rough old curmudg’un and these two younkers give me a lot of bother, but we all like to meet nat’ral people. Now, Professer, s’pose ye give me a few p’inters as to how the land lays north of here.”

“Gladly. You’ll find the map is incorrect in several particulars,” assented the professor. “Will you step inside? Laura will entertain our young men.”

“The young men will entertain me,” corrected Laura, once the men had left them. “First, tell me all about your experiences with that awful man, the Indian.”

“You tell it, Stanley,” diffidently requested Bub.

“There’s not much to tell you don’t already know,” said Stanley. “I can only add that if it wasn’t for Bub here I’d never pulled through. I walked for miles leaning on his shoulder. He not only had to pick the way but half carry me.”

“That will do,” growled Bub. “Miss Laura, this chap insisted on staying behind and then puts up a fight against Big Nick. He had a stick and Nick had a rifle and was ready to shoot. Not only that, but he tried to desert us and find the enemy and make them believe that he was alone in the woods and was—”

“Stop it!” cried Stanley, his face a deep ruddy color. “Don’t talk nonsense. If Bub hadn’t made the trip to the house, here, and got the ammunition and brought it in double quick to Abner, and then found me just as I was about to drop, why, you’d have an easier time cooking to-day and—”

“Stanley Malcolm, you can talk more fool things in a minute,” exploded Bub. “S’pose she wants to hear that stuff?”

“She certainly does,” cried Laura. “Do you know, I think you both as nice as you can be. It makes me tingle to think of being chased by that man through the dark woods. I should have had a crying spell and fainted, I’m sure.”

“No, you wouldn’t,” grinned Bub. “They don’t grow cowards up here on old Hood.”

“I should say not,” enthusiastically cried Stanley.

“But I didn’t ‘grow’ up here,” modified Laura. “I was born and brought up near Boston. My father was a professor at Exton college till his health gave out. The doctors said only out-of-doors life would save him and so we came here. My mother died when I was very small. We have lived here for four years. He sent me to Boston the first two winters, but as I grew to realize how lonely he must be up here I refused to leave him.”

“Of course you did,” admired Stanley.

“But it was very pleasant,” she quickly insisted. “I was far happier than I could be in Boston at my aunt’s. He tutored me each day, so I knew I was keeping up with my class at the least, and in some studies I have gained over my classmates. One can, you know, when studying alone and putting much time on a subject. But I’m ashamed to talk books with two young men of your experiences.”

“You needn’t feel ashamed as to me,” honestly assured Bub. “I know nothing in books. Had to educate myself, largely, and I haven’t astonished anyone by my progress.”

“He has, Miss Laura,” contradicted Stanley. “He has astonished me. When I reached the mills and he got me work I was mean enough to feel superior to him in book knowledge. You can imagine my confusion—no, you can not; one must make the same mistake to imagine it—but I was greatly confused to find he could write far better than I and knew more about mathematics and the like. I will now admit, Bub, it was hard work eating that humble pie you gave me when I learned the truth.”

“That is the way one should talk,” cried Laura, her eyes beaming with appreciation. “If I were a boy—I mean a young man—I should want just such a friend as you are to each other.”

“Can’t a young man have girl friends?” mumbled Bub, casting down his eyes.

“Can’t two young men have a girl friend—the same friend?” added Stanley, following Bub’s diffident example.

Laura laughed delightedly and gave each a frank little hand. “Now, we are three friends,” she announced. “That means we must be very honest with each other. If you do not like my biscuits you mustn’t say you do. You must be sincere about everything in talking with a friend.”

“But I shall like your biscuits,” insisted Stanley.

“The idea of finding fault with the only girl friend I’ve got,” scoffed Bub.

“You two are hopelessly insincere, I can see,” she sighed. “But to prove I trust you I’m going to let you into a secret. Come with me.”

Wondering, the two followed her quick steps. Descending a few rods to an overhanging ledge she produced from a natural hiding-place some purple tinted crystals.

“But what are they?” asked Stanley, much puzzled, and finding nothing of moment in her disclosure.

For an answer she held up a finger on which was a beautiful amethyst.

“What! amethysts!” he cried, while Bub’s eyes opened wide.

She nodded her head rapidly. “Father sent one away to the city and had it cut and set in this ring. I know where there’s a mine of them. I found them myself. People in town, the ones we sent the stone to, have been very curious to know where we got it. Of course we told them nothing. I keep these out here for fear someone will drop in on us some day for the purpose of doing a bit of spying. If they saw any uncut gems in the house they would know we got them around here. Sometime I’ll show you the mine.”

“I never knew such things could be found in Maine,” said Stanley.

“Why, this state is the richest in the Union in gems,” cried Laura. “I do not believe that such a variety can be found anywhere as here, aside from the precious stones. There are men here who make much money mining amethysts, tourmalines and the like. Did you know many fresh water pearls are found in our brooks and rivers?”

Seeing Stanley’s blank expression she continued, “I’ve found a dozen in the last two summers. Some of them father says are worth fully a hundred or more dollars apiece.”

“I should know those things about my own state,” apologized Bub, “but I’ve been so busy in the woods I’ve only had time to hear about them.”

“I’m going prospecting for gems this summer if I can arrange for it,” declared Stanley, his eyes flashing at the thought of adventure.

“I should be sorry if what I’ve told you would lead you to abandon steady and profitable employment,” said Laura, putting back her treasures.

“You need not feel sorry,” declared Stanley. “I shall not go in for it unless Bub can go with me. If he finds it’s dull in the woods and can get away we’ll take a short vacation and hunt gems. I suppose you’ll be next telling me that gold is also found in Maine.” And he smiled at the conceit of his fancy.

Her eyes became very serious. “Why, didn’t you know that?” she cried. “Gold has been washed out along Swift river up above and around Byron for years. Men have made good day wages up there right along, with an occasional nugget as a bonus. They say they can find color almost anywhere up through that section.”

“Well, I never!” gasped Stanley.

“Gold and pearls and amethysts and tourmalines and—” began Stanley, excitedly.

“And lots of other things that you can learn about later,” laughingly obtruded Laura. “Simply remember this: Maine is one vast storehouse of valuable, marketable gems. While gold is only found in small quantities it has paid day wages. But a fortune can be made out of the gems and is being made today. At Mt. Mica, in Oxford county, the mining of tourmalines has been carried on as a regular business for years. There are other mines just as rich, if you can find them.”

“And I trust you have found such a one,” said Bub earnestly.

“I honestly am inclined to believe I have,” she whispered.

“I hope so,” cried Stanley. “It’s a wonder to me that money doesn’t grow on trees up here.”

“But it does,” gravely informed Laura.

He looked at her smilingly, then became dubious in his gaze as her eyes remained calm and serene with no trace of mischief in them.

“Of course you are joking,” he faltered.

“No,” she quietly replied, shaking her head.

“Miss Laura, I must believe it then,” he continued. “If you say dollars grow on trees I know they grow there.”

“You see those spruce down below—I mean that bright patch of green?” And she pointed towards the base of the mountain.

“I do,” he replied. “And does money grow in that particular orchard?”

“You are beginning to be skeptical,” she accused. “I’ll tell you no more.”

“I am not; I believe,” he cried, his tone desperate. “And Bub also believes.”

“I’d believe doughnuts grew on them if Miss Laura said so,” readily assured Bub.

“Then you are both nice,” she decided, “and I’ll tell you. I got a hundred odd dollars from those spruce last winter.”

“Spruce gum!” exclaimed Bub, clapping his hands.

“Yes, but you shouldn’t have told him just yet,” she said.

“But spruce gum isn’t money,” protested Stanley.

“But a pound of it is worth one dollar and sixty cents any time, and perhaps more. That’s for the best gum. The seam gum brings about half as much,” she explained. “I earned from five to ten dollars a day. It had never been gummed and I only had to break or cut it off in lovely, clear pieces, large pieces, too. Mr. Reed, over at Byron, will take all you can deliver. He’s sold more gum than any man in the world—meaning spruce gum, of course. In fact, he is affectionately called ‘Gum’ Reed.”

“And have you now exhausted this wonderful storehouse of yours?” asked Stanley, his eyes gleaming with a new light as he wondered at his new knowledge and felt a keen desire to increase it.

“O no,” she replied and shrugged her shoulders. “I am only an ignorant city girl. I know but little of the woods. There are many other lovely and valuable things to be found in the rocks and woods that are fascinating to think of.”

“I say, Bub, think of having a spruce gum mine and making lots of money in the winter,” cried Stanley.

“But I’m tired of the woods; think of finding great big amethysts,” returned Bub.

“And it’s time for me to think of poor Mr. Whitten and father waiting to find dinner on the table while I am gossiping with you two,” added Laura, quickening her steps to return to the house.

“She’s a stunner!” admired Bub, after she had left them.

“I never knew a girl could be so sensible,” declared Stanley. “But what ninnies she makes of us with our ignorance.”

“That’s just it,” wailed Bub. “Here I’ve lived in the woods all my life and am as ignorant of lots of things as a clam. If course I’ve known about gum and have sold some. But I’ve wasted lots of hours in my trips when I might be examining a ledge for minerals, or opening fresh-water clams for pearls. Take a girl when she’s smart and there’s no getting ahead of her.”

After dinner and while Abner was smoking his pipe in the sun and giving some instructions to Bub, Stanley sought out Laura and with a bit of confusion asked, “Does your father intend to leave here soon?”

Her lips quivered for a moment, and then she explained, “Father has about recovered his health now and would like to obtain a situation in Colorado, where he has many friends. The climate there would agree with him. But he has been out of the harness for four years and finds it hard work to get a place right away.”

“But why don’t you go out there and live till he gets an opening?” asked Stanley.

Laura flushed, but frankly explained, “We are poor. College professors do not get exorbitant salaries in this country. When my father was taken ill he was forced to find employment even while trying to regain his health. Fortunately he procured this work, which pays a living while making him a well man. But we have no means with which to board anywhere unless he has employment.”

“I beg your pardon for asking what I did,” humbly apologized Stanley. “I meant all right, and it’s a shame that a man as good and wise as your father should be dependent on a salary for a living.”

“He’s the wisest man in the world,” she murmured, clasping her hands in front of her. “The very wisest. He ought to be at the head of a-college—a big college.”

“I wish I could help him,” muttered Stanley.

Instantly her mood changed and she laughed quietly. “At least, it’s no harm for me to wish it,” he remonstrated, his feelings hurt.

“You’ll forgive me, I know,” she soothed, her tone quieting him at once. “I thank you for your kind wish. I know you would help him if you could.” Then gayly, “And who knows but what sometime you can help him?”

“Who knows?” he repeated, as if talking to himself.

She eyed him stealthily and at last frankly declared, “You are a queer boy.”

“I know it—that is, I’ve been told so,” he replied, his thoughts still wandering.

“You came from the city?” she prompted.

“Yes,” he replied. “Perhaps foolishly so. I can see now I made some mistakes. I never would have believed it till I came up here and had a chance to look back.”

“If your coming has taught you your errors it has been a good thing for you that you came,” she encouraged.

“I am inclined to think it is; only, I do not see how I can profit by it and go back and correct my mistakes.” And he sighed, as he turned to rejoin the others.

“You have been to school,” she said.

“I have been to what are called the best,” he replied, “I am ashamed to add that I have not always profited by my opportunities. However, with a new start I shall only have myself to blame if I fail again.”

“Success is made up of repeated failures,” she reminded.

“You are talking of honest failures,” he said. “But when a fellow deliberately makes a fool of himself, is headstrong enough not to admit it, blames everything on to someone else—why, he’s the worst sort of a failure.”

“But if he sees his mistakes and admits it, why isn’t he back already to start over again?” she eagerly persisted, now deeply interested in the youth.

“There are some things you can’t fix right,” he sorrowfully replied. “Sometime, when you feel better acquainted with me I’d like to tell you the whole wretched business. But I haven’t the heart to bother you now—nor would it be right for me to do so.”

“It would be right for you to talk with my father,” she gently suggested. “He is very wise. I am very simple. I could sympathize with you, but he could help you with advice. When you are ready, talk with him.”

“I think I’ll talk with both of you,” he compromised, his old smile returning. “I hear Bub calling and won’t bother you any longer.”

“It’s a luxury to be bothered up here,” she called after him.