The Young Timber-cruisers; or, Fighting the Spruce Pirates/Chapter 6

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CHAPTER SIX

LEFT ALONE


When Stanley opened his eyes next morning he was surprised to behold the two men and Bub up and busy about the fire.

“We let you sleep this morning, but hereafter you must be stirring at sun-up,” informed Bub, sternly.

“Very well,” said Stanley, meekly. “Now I’m awake, what shall I do?”

“Eat,” said Charlie, his eyes glittering as he pawed from the coals two blackened balls that once were moist clay.

“Thank you; but I prefer salt pork, or bacon and a cup of coffee,” replied Stanley, wrinkling up his nose as he recalled the guide’s preparation of the birds.

“A cup of coffee, please,” mimicked Bub, daintily switching to the coffee—pot and filling a tin dipper. “Wait a moment and I’ll git you a fresh napkin.”

“Stop kidding,” said Stanley shortly. “I meant a dipper—Why!”

The exclamation was evoked by Charlie’s breaking open the clay balls and exposing the grouse cooked to a turn with all the feathers adhering to the clay, leaving the flesh as smooth and clean as if it had been carefully plucked. And the odor was very pleasing.

“Fix some salt pork and taters for the younker, Charlie,” ordered Abner. “He don’t care for fowl.”

“I—I beg your pardon, Mr. Whitten, and yours, Charlie,” stuttered Stanley. “But I’ve changed my mind. I’ll have some of the bird.”

“You should say what you mean at the goin,” rebuked Abner, eying the breakfast gloomily as he feared there would not be enough to go around. However, when he fell to he ate but little, and Bub winked luxuriously at Stanley.

“Hurry up. Time to go,” said Charlie, sententiously, beginning to pack the knapsacks.

“Where are we bound for?” eagerly asked Stanley, recalling the excitement of the night before.

“Ye and Bub will go to a place we have picked out for ye. Ye are to stay there till me and Charlie call for ye,” said Abner.

“Where is it?” asked Bub, showing no surprise.

“Charlie will show ye the trail,” replied Abner. “He did a little cruising this morning before ye woke up. It’s a small deserted shack. Big Nick has been stopping there, but he’s far away by this time. We’re going to follow him.”

“He won’t come back and find us, will he?” anxiously inquired Stanley.

“No; and if he does it’s Bub he’ll be looking for,” cynically reminded Abner. “If it had been Bub instead of ye a mooning down by the water last night he’d met with some trouble, I’m a thinking.”

“I ain’t afraid of any half-breed,” said Bub stoutly.

“Boy foolish,” observed Charlie.

“Wal, I guess there’ll be no danger,” slowly decided Abner. “Not so much as if ye was with us. We’ll be between ye and Nick and we’re sartain he won’t beat back. He knows Charlie would pick up his trail this morning and by this time he’s on his way to join them that hired him.”

“Who hired him?” cried Bub, his mouth opening in curiosity.

“Never ye mind; leave that for yer elders and betters,” discouraged Abner. “He never come here and tried to spoil our canoe of his own idee. Someone put him up to it. Of course, he’s glad to pay off any scores he thinks he owes the company, but he’d never monkey ’round Charlie’s camp less there was a jug of rum and a few dollars in it for pay. I don’t give a rap about finding him; I’m only anxious to find them he’s going to report to.”

Stanley felt but little confidence as the two men made ready to leave, but Bub displayed no loss of spirits. “See that bunch of red spruce?” shortly inquired Abner, pointing, as Stanley thought, in a very indefinite manner.

Bub did not suspend his shrill whistling, but nodded cheerfully.

“When ye strike it ye’ll find a back-blaze to the north. The way is so plain you can’t get lost. Two miles will fetch ye to the shack. It must have been put up in the old days when they was cutting the old-growth. Ah, them was the days,” and Abner sighed as he contrasted the giants of his boyhood, when one spruce might scale more than fifteen hundred feet, with the logs of today.

“All right,” said Bub. “Grab your duffle, Stan, and we’ll be moving. So long, folks.”

Stanley had expected a different parting, a shaking of hands, a show of regret, and for the moment he felt hurt at the curtness of their leave taking. Charlie gave them no heed whatever, while Abner, returning to his task of rolling his blankets merely nodded his head in dismissal.

Bub shrewdly diagnosed his companion’s emotions and smiled whimsically. “Not strong on sentiment, eh?” he grinned. “You’ll git used to that, my son. Once, when I was green, I got mad with Abner up north of Parmachena and quit him in the night. I was lost for three days, but at last saw his smoke and got to him. I didn’t even have matches and couldn’t make my two smokes. When I staggered into the clearing he was smoking his pipe. All he said was, ‘Guess we need a little more wood, Bub.’ Never mentioned my running away to this day.”

“That sounds very harsh,” condemned Stanley. “When folks part in the city they’re civilized enough to shake hands and say ‘good-by.’”

Bub fired up at that. “And I guess one of them city folks will quit his work and go out and hunt up a stranger, or tramp through the woods, or paddle down a river for a doctor, if a neighbor’s sick, eh? As for being harsh, there never was a minute Abner couldn’t put his hand on me. He knew I wouldn’t starve for a day or so and he let me have my sulks out. If your city friends was so mighty nice to you why did you quit ’em? Why didn’t you git one of them to find you a job?”

Stanley’s face drew down piteously and his lips trembled as he struggled to frame some reply. In a second warm-hearted Bub had seized his hand and was crying, “I’m a brute, Stan. Just kindly give me a few kicks. But you riled me by knocking the wood-folks. We ain’t got time for sentiment. It don’t mean we don’t feel it, but it doesn’t fit in with the rough life of the woods. Say you forgive me; for I’m mighty glad no one got you a job in the city and kept you from coming up here.”

“It’s all right, Bub,” said Stanley, winking his eyes rapidly. “It hurt because there’s lots of truth in it. I had to come up here to get a chance.”

“Now, here’s the spruce and here’s the trail,” cried Bub, wishing to divert Stanley’s moody thoughts.

“Trail?” blankly repeated Stanley, staring about. “I don’t even see a path.”

Bub’s fresh laughter rang out loudly, causing two gossiping crows on a dead pine to scold furiously. “Why, you poor innocent! Did you expect to find a road? There’s a trail dead ahead.”

“I see nothing, not the sign of a foot-print,” stubbornly insisted Stanley.

“If there was a path you wouldn’t need a blaze,” explained Bub, still hugely amused. “Now, look. See anything on the trees?”

“You mean the trees with pieces chipped out of the bark?”

“Sure! that’s just what I mean. See, you can count a dozen of ’em, all in a line. As we go on we’ll find more. As long as you pass blazed trees you know you are following the trail,” encouraged Bub.

“So, whoever came this way first stopped and made those marks?” inquired Stanley, much interested.

“No, he made ’em when coming back,” returned Bub.

“I admit my ignorance; why try to fool me all the time?” reproached Stanley, sternly.

“Ha! ha! You’re an awfully good feller, Stan; but you’re funny. Now wait; I’m not fooling you. When the man came in here he wanted to find his way out, didn’t he?”

Stanley relaxed his lips and nodded, albeit a bit coldly.

“So, as he passed a tree he chipped the side he would see when coming out. Take this tree; look on the other side. See; he made that blaze going in. Now after he got in and decided he would want to come again, to build the shack, or for any other purpose, he followed his trail back and chipped the trees on the side we now see.”

“But why didn’t he chip, or blaze both sides when going in?” asked Stanley, his brows frowning.

“Because he did not know when he went in if he would ever come this way again. If he wanted to come back this way he made his back-blaze. That would lead him out. But he wouldn’t spend time blazing both sides till he knew if he wanted to go over that trail again.”

“What did he make the trail for; a road?”

“O no. When you blaze for a road you blaze a tree on each side of where you want the road to go,” answered Bub.

“Well,” decided Stanley, “I can see how Abner and Charlie have an easy time following the half-breed.”

“Stanley, you don’t mean that! It’s too good to be true,” roared Bub, now convulsed with mirth.

“Say, Bub Thomas, we’ve been good friends, but you annoy me,” exclaimed Stanley. “What have I said that is so amusing?”

“I must laugh if you kill me,”'sobbed Bub. “The idea of Big Nick, in trying to git away, stopping to kindly blaze trees to show his pursuers where he is bound for!”

“I’ll admit, it does sound rather silly,” conceded Stanley. “Yet Abner said they would find his trail.”

“My dear boy, he meant that Charlie would find a foot-print, the mark of the canoe against the shore, a broken branch, a stone turned over, and the like. He meant that Charlie would see signs of Nick’s flight where you and I would see nothing.”

“Then all trails are not like this and a road trail?”

“I should say not. Say a man wants to hide something in the big woods; or wants to keep secret a pocket where he is gitting amethysts and tourmalines and the like, he makes a trail no one else can find. Once I found a runaway hive of bees and knew the hollow tree was about filled with honey. I wanted to wait till it got cool in the fall, when the bees would be numb and not wanting to sting me. So I took some reindeer lichen and fixed a trailer here and there on a tree. Some of it took root and grew; some died, but retained its color, and no one would imagine it meant anything. And I got the honey.”

“Bub, you’re a wonder,” admired Stanley, eying his shorter companion with a feeling of awe. “I suppose you’ll be studying up something entirely new in trails before long?”

“I have already,” replied Bub, complacently. “I got the idea from a piece of orange peel.”

“Why! how could you?” cried Stanley.

“City chap hired me to take him out trout fishing. He took an orange along and as he ate it he threw away the skin. I noticed that a bit of that peeling stuck out in the landscape like a sore thumb. I never saw a color that would beat it. If the peeling fell orange side up you couldn’t go anywhere near it without noticing it. It’s about the only thing I ever saw in the color line that seemed to jar with nature. So, I told Abner that if we could have some paraffine chalk, orange color, we could save blazing trees, save the bark as well as time, and have a trail you could never miss. The paraffine wouldn’t wash out. Then on ledges and rocks, where you have to depend on small piles of rocks, it would be just the thing to make your trail with. They have it at the wangan in red and yellow for marking lumber, but them colors won’t do. I want an orange.”

“I wish I knew what you do,” sighed Stanley. “You are ahead of me in books, even.”

“O no I ain’t; and I guess I’ll never git so I can talk properly,” lamented Bub so dolefully that Stanley burst into a laugh.

“Here we are at a stream and—beaver, by jinks! What do you think of that for logging, my son?” And Bub danced enthusiastically along the bank of a sixteen-foot stream.

“Where’s the beaver?” asked Stanley, peering about.

“The beaver went into hiding long before we got here,” said Bub. “But that is their dam.” And he pointed to an embankment, made of clay and timbers, extending across the stream, the concave side being upstream. “Now follow me and we’ll find their run-ways, or sluice-ways.”

Stanley followed him across, walking on the dam, and soon was gazing at little smooth paths leading up the bank.

“There’s six of ’em,” counted Bub. “See their timber.” And he indicated several neat piles of sticks, measuring from four to six feet in length and from two to four inches in diameter. “I tell you, the beaver is a mighty cute feller. And he knows the lumber game better than we do.”

“But why does he do it?” queried Stanley, studying the little piles almost incredulously.

“He lumbers because he’s a fisherman. He builds this dam to hold back the fish. I take off my hat to the beaver,” declared Bub.

“I supposed all the beaver were killed off,” said Stanley.

“Hardly; it was for trapping them that Big Nick lost his license. Besides beaver, we could catch otter, sable, mink, ermine—which is really a small weasel—and the fisher.”

Stanley drank this in with avidity and begged his companion to wait a while on the bank and see if some of the little loggers wouldn’t put in an appearance.

Bub smiled. “We’ll see no beaver, but no reason why we shouldn’t loaf a bit. Almost sure to be something coming here. Only, you must keep quiet and motionless.”

An hour’s silence, however, revealed no new secret of the wood, except as a loon tried for a trout and failed and laughed hideously at the youths when they jeered him.

0n the rest of the journey, taken leisurely, Bub pointed out a kingbird successfully attacking a hawk and several woodpeckers telegraphing to their mates on the surface of dead trees.

Just before they emerged into a clearing Bub seized Stanley’s wrist and gently drew him back beneath a low growing pine. “It’s something big,” he whispered, holding his rifle in readiness.

“It’s a bear,” trembled Stanley, as a huge form crackled towards them through the underbrush.

“No, sirree! It’s a twelve-hundred-pound moose,” cried Bub under his breath. “See; he’s got only one antler. T’other one has been knocked off. He’ll lose the other one soon.”

The moose at this point, turned sharply and bounded away. “They are never dangerous except in the fall,” announced Stanley.

“Wrong, my son; that moose there might have charged us. You can never tell what a moose will do. I’ve been treed four times by one, and I’d rather have a bear after me any time. A moose is the only thing I’m really afraid of in the woods. No—I’ll take that back. Take a three-hundred-pound buck, and he’d be a big one at that weight, and when he’s wounded he’s a tough customer to meet. He’ll fight to the last drop of blood in his body.”

The shack bore evidences of being recently occupied and Bub’s eyes wandered often to the edge of the woods as he realized that Big Nick had just left the place and had a score to settle with him. He kept his rifle near at hand whenever leaving the shack.

An old Franklin stove, heavily rusted and broken in several places, did for a fireplace and Stanley added to his small store of wood-craft when he came to build the fire.

“Want to burn us out?” asked Bub, as his friend stooped and placed new fuel on the blaze.

“You said it was all right for me to build a fire here,” remonstrated Stanley.

“I forgot you are new,” apologized Bub. “But that cedar and hemlock will send sparks flying every which way. Git some beech, or maple, or pine. The pine will smoke, but it won’t spark.”

“It doesn’t seem that I can do anything right,” said Stanley.

“Not the first time,” readily agreed Bub.

“Is there anything hemlock is good for?” sarcastically inquired Stanley, throwing the offending wood aside.

“Sure,” gravely returned Bub, refusing to detect any irony. “The bark is used in tanneries. In the old days they chopped down hemlock and after peeling it they’d leave it to rot in the woods. Big trees, too. Nowadays they saw them into boards and city people buy them, believing they’re spruce or some other kind.”

“Bub,” cried Stanley despairingly, “is there anything about the woods you don’t know?”

“What! me? I mean—I!” exclaimed Bub in genuine amazement. “Why, my son, I know nothing about the woods. I’m simply trying to learn.”

“Then what chance do I have to master that information?” asked Stanley.

“Not a chance in the world to master it,” quickly replied Bub, now speaking earnestly. “In the first place you are not cut out for a woodsman. You must be born here to really know the timber business. You might handle the office end, but I doubt that. You’re not cut out for this sort of thing. You’ll pick up a lots—lots what I tell you. Your suggestion to Hatton about the pipe line was a dandy; I’d never had brains enough to think of it in a million years. But you’re not the simon pure article as a woodsman. But cheer up, there’s lots drawing good salaries who don’t know the game any better than you will after you’ve served your time at it.” The last was meant to soothe Stanley, who did not relish his plain speaking.

“Perhaps I made a mistake coming up here,” he bitterly remarked.

“Not a bit,” cried Bub, clapping his shoulder. “Don’t git huffy because I tell you what I believe to be true. You needed to come here. But you are the type that goes back to town and makes a record. You needed to come here to fill out that scrawny frame of yours. Once you’ve done that you’ll make your way almost anywhere.”

“Some time I’ll tell you more about myself,” Stanley slowly began, when Bub interrupted him curtly:

“I haven’t asked you to tell anything about yourself. Nor am I a bit curious. I took you to be a bang-up good fellow—notice, I am saying fellow instead of feller—I know you are that kind of fellow. Now let’s forget all about everything but something to eat. Git out that open bake sheet and I’ll show you how to make real bread. Then we’ll catch some trout and have a snack.”

Bub’s idea of a snack was a meal sufficiently hearty even to satisfy the fears of an Abner Whitten.

That night, after everything had been put in shape, the two remained seated before the fire for more than an hour, loath to go to sleep. The fresh boughs in the corner invited slumber, but both missed Abner and Charlie. Ordinarily Bub would have thought nothing of living alone in the woods for an indefinite period of time. But now he felt a strange sensation of uneasiness. He almost wished he was in the open with only his blanket for protection.

Finally, in an effort to cast off the spell he boisterously challenged, “I’ll dare you to go out doors.”

“It is very dark outside,” countered Stanley.

“You don’t dare go out and walk around the shack.”

“But what good will it do? There are bears about here. There are rocks and stumps and it is very dark. It is more comfortable in here.”

“I dare you to go,” persisted Bub. “You don’t dare to and I do.”

“Now I haven’t admitted I do not dare go,” slowly replied Stanley, smiling in deep amusement at Bub’s persistence. “I simply say I do not want to go. You say you dare to; you are on record as daring to. So, go ahead.”

Bub grinned ruefully, but did not hesitate to rise and reach for his rifle.

“If there is nothing to harm you and you are not afraid, why take the gun?” asked Stanley.

Bub dropped the rifle and slowly opened the door. It was very black outside. As he hesitated a mouse scampered across the log over his head, and with a startled exclamation he slammed the door and leaped back into the room.

Stanley gave way to a hearty burst of laughter, it being about the first time he had found an opportunity to smile at Bub’s expense.

“Hush, my son,” finally Bub quieted, raising a hand. “I don’t blame you for laughing. The mouse made a fool of me; but I’ve felt uneasy all the evening. My daring you was merely to find an excuse for us to leave here. Now, listen; I’ll hear it again soon. Hark! there!”

“A whistle,” whispered Stanley.

“Another whistle,” muttered Bub, reaching for his rifle.

“Something in the woods, a bird, probably,” suggested Stanley, his wrists developing “goose-flesh.”

“It’s two men signaling to each other,” murmured Bub. “They think we are here for the night. We’ll make our exit through the window.”