By B. M. Bower
* * * * *
GOOD INDIAN THE UPHILL CLIMB THE GRINGOS THE RANCH AT THE WOLVERINE THE FLYING U'S LAST STAND JEAN OF THE LAZY A THE PHANTOM HERD THE HERITAGE OF THE SIOUX STARR, OF THE DESERT THE LOOKOUT MAN
THE LOOKOUT MAN
By B. M. Bower
WITH FRONTISPIECE BY H. WESTON TAYLOR
LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY 1917
Published, August, 1917
VAIL-BALLOU COMPANY BINGHAMTON AND NEW YORK U. S. A.
I SOME TIME!
II "THANKS FOR THE CAR"
III TO THE FEATHER RIVER COUNTRY AND FREEDOM
IV JACK FINDS HIMSELF IN POSSESSION OF A JOB
V "IT'S A LONG WAY TO TIPPERARY," SANG JACK
VI MISS ROSE FORWARD
VII GUARDIAN OF THE FORESTS
VIII IN WHICH A GIRL PLAYS BILLIARDS ON THE MOUNTAIN TOP
IX LIKE THE BOY HE WAS
X WHEN FORESTS ARE ABLAZE
XI SYMPATHY AND ADVICE
XII KATE FINDS SOMETHING TO WORRY OVER
XIII JACK SHOULD HAVE A HIDE-OUT
XIV MURPHY HAS A HUMOROUS MOOD
XV A CAVE DWELLER JACK WOULD BE
XVI MIKE GOES SPYING ON THE SPIES
XVII PENITENCE, REAL AND UNREAL
XVIII HANK BROWN PROVES THAT HE CAN READ TRACKS
XIX TROUBLE ROCKS THE PAN, LOOKING FOR GRAINS OF GOLD
XX IGNORANCE TAKES THE TRAIL OF DANGER
XXI GOLD OF REPENTANCE, SUNLIGHT OF LOVE AND A MAN GONE MAD
XXII THE MISERERE OF MOTHERHOOD
XXIII GRIEF, AND HOPE THAT DIED HARD
XXIV TROUBLE FINDS THE GOLD THAT WAS IN THEM
From the obscurity of vast, unquiet distance the surf came booming in with the heavy impetus of high tide, flinging long streamers of kelp and bits of driftwood over the narrowing stretch of sand where garishly costumed bathers had lately shrieked hilariously at their gambols. Before the chill wind that had risen with the turn of the tide the bathers retreated in dripping, shivering groups, to appear later in fluffs and furs and woollen sweaters; still inclined to hilarity, still undeniably both to leave off their pleasuring at Venice, dedicated to cheap pleasures.
But when the wind blew stronger and the surf boomed louder and nearer, and the faint moon-path stretched farther and farther toward the smudgy sky-line, city-going street-cars began to fill with sunburned passengers, and motors began to purr out of the narrow side streets lined with shoddy buildings which housed the summer sojourners. One more Sunday night's revelry was tapering off into shouted farewells, clanging gongs, honking horns and the shuffling of tired feet hurrying homeward.
In cafes and grills and private dining rooms groups of revelers, whose pleasures were not halted by the nickel alarm-clocks ticking inexorably all over the city and its suburbs, still lingered long after the masses had gone home yawning and counting the fullness of past joys by the present extent of smarting sunblisters.
Automobiles loaded with singing passengers scurried after their own beams of silver light down the boulevards. At first a continuous line of speeding cars; then thinning with long gaps between; then longer gaps with only an occasional car; then the quiet, lasting for minutes unbroken, so that the wind could be heard in the eucalyptus trees that here and there lined the boulevard.
After the last street-car had clanged away from the deserted bunting-draped joy zone that now was stark and joyless, a belated seven-passenger car, painted a rich plum color and splendid in upholstering and silver trim, swept a long row of darkened windows with a brush of light as it swung out from a narrow alley and went purring down to where the asphalt shone black in the night.
Full throated laughter and a medley of shouted jibes and current witticisms went with it. The tonneau squirmed with uproarious youth. The revolving extra seats swung erratically, propelled by energetic hands, while some one barked the stereotyped invitation to the deserted scenic swing, and some one else shouted to the revolving occupants to keep their heads level, and all the others laughed foolishly.
The revolving ones rebelled, and in the scuffle some one lurched forward against the driver at a critical turn in the road, throwing him against the wheel. The big car swerved almost into the ditch, was brought back just in the nick of time and sped on, while Death, who had looked into that tonneau, turned away with a shrug.
The driver, bareheaded and with the wind blowing his thick mop of wavy hair straight back from his forehead, glanced back with swift disfavor at the scuffling bunch.
"Hey—you want to go in the ditch?" he expostulated, chewing vigorously upon gum that still tasted sweet and full-flavored. "You wanta cut out that rough stuff over this way!"
"All right, Jackie, old boy, anything to please!" chanted the offender, cuffing the cap off the fellow next him. "Some time," he added with vague relish. "S-o-m-e time! What?"
"Some time is right!" came the exuberant chorus. "Hey, Jack! u had some time, all right—you and that brown-eyed queen that danced like Mrs. Castle. Um-um! Floatin' round with your arms full of sunshine—oh, you thought you was puttin' something over on the rest of us—what?"
"Cut it out!" Jack retorted, flinging the words over his shoulder. "Don't talk to me. Road's flopping around like a snake with its head cut off—" He laughed apologetically, his eyes staring straight ahead over the lowered windshield.
"Aw, step on her, Jack! Show some class, boy—show some class! Good old boat! If you're too stewed to drive 'er, e knows the way home. Say, Jackie, if this old car could talk, wouldn't momma get an ear-full on Monday, hey? What if she—"
"Cut it out—or I'll throw you out!" came back over Jack's shirt-clad shoulder. He at least had the wit to use what little sense he had in driving the car, and he had plenty of reason to believe that he could carry out his threat, even if the boulevard did heave itself up at him like the writhings of a great snake. If his head was not fit for the job, his trained muscles would still drive with automatic precision. Only his vision was clouded; not the mechanical skill necessary to pilot his mother's big car safely into the garage.
Whim held the five in the rear seats absorbed in their own maudlin comicalities. The fellow beside Jack did not seem to take any interest in his surroundings, and the five gave the front seat no further attention. Jack drove circumspectly, leaning a little forward, his bare arms laid up across the wheel and grasping the top of it. Brown as bronze, those arms, as were his face and neck and chest down to where the open V of his sport shirt was held closed with the loose knot of a crimson tie that whipped his shoulder as he drove. A fine looking fellow he was, sitting there like the incarnation of strength and youth and fullblooded optimism. It was a pity that he was drunk—he would have been a perfect specimen of young manhood, else.
The young man on the front seat beside him turned suddenly on those behind. The lower half of his face was covered with a black muffler. He had a gun, and he "cut down" on the group with disconcerting realism.
"Hands up!" he intoned fearsomely. "I am the mysterious lone bandit of the boulevards. Your jewels are the price of your lives!" The six-shooter wavered, looking bleakly at one and then another.
After the first stunned interval, a shout of laughter went up from those behind. "Good! Good idea!" one approved. And another, having some familiarity with the mechanics of screen melodrama, shouted, "Camera!"
"Lone bandit nothing! We're all mysterious auto bandits out seeking whom we may devour!" cried a young man with a naturally attractive face and beautiful teeth, hastily folding his handkerchief cornerwise for a mask, and tying it behind his head—to the great discomfort of his neighbors, who complained bitterly at having their eyes jabbed out with his elbows.
The bandit play caught the crowd. For a few tumultuous minutes elbows were up, mufflers and handkerchiefs flapping. There emerged from the confusion six masked bandits, and three of them flourished six-shooters with a recklessness that would have given a Texas man cold chills down his spine. Jack, not daring to take his eyes off the heaving asphalt, or his hands off the wheel, retained his natural appearance until some generous soul behind him proceeded, in spite of his impatient "Cut it out, fellows!" to confiscate his flapping, red tie and bind it across his nose; which transformed Jack Corey into a speeding fiend, if looks meant anything. Thereafter they threw themselves back upon the suffering upholstery and commented gleefully upon their banditish qualifications.
That grew tame, of course. They thirsted for mock horrors, and two glaring moons rising swiftly over a hill gave the psychological fillip to their imaginations.
"Come on-let's hold 'em up!" cried the young man on the front seat. "Naw-I'll tell you! Slow down, Jack, and everybody keep your faces shut. When we're just past I'll shoot down at the ground by a hind wheel. Make 'em think they've got a blowout—get the idea?"
"Some idea!" promptly came approval, and the six subsided immediately.
The coming car neared swiftly, the driver shaving as close to the speed limit as he dared. Unsuspectingly he swerved to give plenty of space in passing, and as he did so a loud bang startled him. The brake squealed as he made an emergency stop. "Blowout, by thunder!" they heard him call to his companions, as he piled out and ran to the wheel he thought had suffered the accident.
Jack obligingly slowed down so that the six, leaning far out and craning back at their victims, got the full benefit of their joke. When he sped on they fell back into their seats and howled with glee.
It was funny. They laughed and slapped one another on the backs, and the more they laughed the funnier it seemed. They rocked with mirth, they bounced up and down on the cushions and whooped.
All but Jack. He kept his eyes on the still-heaving asphalt, and chewed gum and grinned while he drove, with the persistent sensation that he was driving a hydro-aeroplane across a heaving ocean. Still, he knew what the fellows were up to, and he was perfectly willing to let them have all the fun they wanted, so long as they didn't interfere with his driving.
In the back of his mind was a large, looming sense of responsibility for the car. It was his mother's car, and it was new and shiny, and his mother liked to drive flocks of fluttery, middle-aged ladies to benefit teas and the like. It had taken a full hour of coaxing to get the car for the day, and Jack knew what would be the penalty if anything happened to mar its costly beauty. A scratch would be almost as much as his life was worth. He hoped dazedly that the fellows would keep their feet off the cushions, and that they would refrain from kicking the back seat.
Mrs. Singleton Corey was a large, firm woman who wore her white hair in a marcelled pompadour, and frequently managed to have a flattering picture of herself in the Sunday papers—on the Society-and-Club-Doings page, of course. She figured prominently in civic betterment movements, and was loud in her denunciation of Sunday dances and cabarets and the frivolities of Venice and lesser beach resorts. She did a lot of worrying over immodest bathing suits, and never went near the beach except as a member of a purity committee, to see how awfully young girls behaved in those public places.
She let Jack have the car only because she believed that he was going to take a party of young Christian Endeavorers up Mount Wilson to view the city after dark. She could readily apprehend that such a sight might be inspiring, and that it would act as a spur upon the worthy ambitions of the young men, urging them to great achievements. Mrs. Singleton Corey had plenty of enthusiasm for the betterment of young lives, but she had a humanly selfish regard for the immaculateness of her new automobile, and she feared that the roads on the mountain might be very dusty and rough, and that overhanging branches might snag the top. Jack had to promise that he would be very careful of overhanging branches.
Poor lady, she never dreamed that her son was out at Venice gamboling on the beach with bold hussies in striped bathing trunks and no skirts; fox-trotting with a brown-eyed imp from the telephone office, and drinking various bottled refreshments—carousing shamelessly, as she would have said of a neighbor's son—or that, at one-thirty in the morning, he was chewing a strong-flavored gum to kill the odor of alcohol.
She was not sitting up waiting for him and wondering why he did not come. Jack had been careful to impress upon her that the party might want to view the stars until very late, and that he, of course, could not hurry them down from the mountain top.
You will see then why Jack was burdened with a sense of deep responsibility for the car, and why he drove almost as circumspectly as if he were sober, and why he would not join in the hilarity of the party.
"Hist! Here comes a flivver!" warned the young man on the front seat, waving his revolver backward to impress silence on the others. "Let's all shoot! Make 'em think they've run into a mess of tacks!"
"Aw, take a wheel off their tin wagon!" a laughter-hoarse voice bettered the plan.
"Hold 'em up and take a nickel off 'em—if they carry that much on their persons after dark," another suggested.
"You're on, bo! This is a hold-up. Hist!"
A hold-up they proceeded to make it. They halted the little car with a series of explosions as it passed. The driver was alone, and as he climbed out to inspect his tires, he confronted what looked to his startled eyes like a dozen masked men. Solemnly they went through his pockets while he stood with his hands high above him. They took his half-plug of chewing tobacco and a ten-cent stick-pin from his tie, and afterwards made him crank his car and climb back into the seat and go on. He went—with the throttle wide open and the little car loping down the boulevard like a scared pup.
"Watch him went!" shrieked one they called Hen, doubling himself together in a spasm of laughter.
"'He was—here—when we started, b-but he was—gone—when we got th'ough!'" chanted another, crudely imitating a favorite black-faced comedian.
Jack, one arm thrown across the wheel, leaned out and looked back, grinning under the red band stretched across the middle of his face. "Ah, pile in!" he cried, squeezing his gum between his teeth and starting the engine. "He might come back with a cop."
That tickled them more than ever. They could hardly get back into the car for laughing. "S-o-m-e little bandits!—what?" they asked one another over and over again.
"S-o-m-e little bandits is—right!" the approving answer came promptly.
"S-o-m-e time, bo, s-o-m-e time!" a drink-solemn voice croaked in a corner of the big seat.
Thus did the party of Christian Endeavorers return sedately from their trip to Mount Wilson.
"THANKS FOR THE CAR"
They held up another car with two men in it, and robbed them of insignificant trifles in what they believed to be a most ludicrous manner. Afterward they enjoyed prolonged spasms of mirth, their cachinnations carrying far out over the flat lands disturbing inoffensive truck gardeners in their sleep. They cried "S-o-m-e time!" so often that the phrase struck even their fuddled brains as being silly.
They met another car—a large car with three women in the tonneau. These, evidently, were home-going theatre patrons who had indulged themselves in a supper afterwards. They were talking quietly as they came unsuspectingly up to the big, shiny machine that was traveling slowly townward, and they gave it no more than a glance as they passed.
Then came the explosion, that sounded surprisingly like a blowout. The driver stopped and got out to look for trouble, his companion at his heels. They confronted six masked men, three of them displaying six-shooters.
"Throw up your hands!" commanded a carefully disguised voice.
The driver obeyed—but his right hand came up with an automatic pistol in it. He fired straight into the bunch—foolishly, perhaps; at any rate harmlessly, though they heard the bullet sing as it went by. Startled, one of the six fired back impulsively, and the other two followed his example. Had they tried to kill, in the night and drunk as they were, they probably would have failed; but firing at random, one bullet struck flesh. The man with the automatic flinched backward, reeled forward drunkenly and went down slowly, his companion grasping futilely at his slipping body.
"Hey, you darn mutts, whatcha shootin' for? Hell of a josh, that is!" Jack shouted angrily and unguardedly. "Cut that out and pile in here!"
While the last man was clawing in through the door, Jack let in the clutch, slamming the gear-lever from low to high and skipping altogether the intermediate. The big car leaped forward and Hen bit his tongue so that it bled. Behind them was confused shouting.
"Better go back and help—what? You hit one," Jack suggested over his shoulder, slowing down as reason cooled his first hot impulse for flight.
"Go back nothing! And let 'em get our number? Nothing doing!"
"Aw, that mark that was with him took it. I saw him give it the once-over when he came back."
"He did not!" some one contradicted hotly. "He was too scared."
"Well, do we go back?" Jack was already edging the car to the right so that he would have room for a turn.
"No! Step on 'er! Let 'er out, why don't yuh? Damn it, what yuh killin' time for? Yuh trying to throw us down? Want that guy to call a cop and pinch the outfit? Fine pal you are! We've got to beat it while the beatin's good. Go on, Jack—that's a good boy. Step on 'er!"
With all that tumult of urging, Jack went on, panic again growing within him as the car picked up speed. The faster he went the faster he wanted to go. His foot pressed harder and harder on the accelerator. He glanced at the speedometer, saw it flirting with the figures forty-five, and sent that number off the dial and forced fifty and then sixty into sight. He rode the wheel, holding the great car true as a bullet down the black streak of boulevard that came sliding to meet him like a wide belt between whirring wheels.
The solemn voice that had croaked "S-o-m-e time!" so frequently, took to monotonous, recriminating speech. "No-body home! No-body home! Had to spill the beans, you simps! Nobody home a-tall! Had to shoot a man—got us all in wrong, you simps! Nobody home!" He waggled his head and flapped his hands in drunken self-righteousness, because he had not possessed a gun and therefore could not have committed the blunder of shooting the man.
"Aw, can that stuff! You're as much to blame as anybody," snapped the man nearest him, and gave the croaker a vicious jab with his elbow.
"Don't believe that guy got hep to our number! Didn't have time," an optimist found courage to declare.
"What darn fool was it that shot first? Oughta be crowned for that!"
"Aw, the boob started it himself! He fired on us—and we were only joshing!"
"He got his, all right!"
"Don't believe we killed him—sure, he was more scared than hurt," put in the optimist dubiously.
"No-body home," croaked the solemn one again, having recovered his breath.
They wrangled dismally and unconvincingly together, but no one put into speech the fear that rode them hard. Fast as Jack drove, they kept urging him to "Step on 'er!" A bottle that had been circulating intermittently among the crowd was drained and thrown out on the boulevard, there to menace the tires of other travelers. The keen wind whipped their hot faces and cleared a little their fuddled senses, now that the bottle was empty. A glimmer of caution prompted Jack to drive around through Beverly Hills and into Sunset Boulevard, when he might have taken a shorter course home. It would be better, he thought, to come into town from another direction, even if it took them longer to reach home. He was careful to keep on a quiet residence street when he passed through. Hollywood, and he turned at Vermont Avenue and drove out into Griffith Park, swung into a crossroad and came out on a road from Glendale. He made another turn or two, and finally slid into Los Angeles on the main road from Pasadena, well within the speed limit and with his heart beating a little nearer to normal.
"We've been to Mount Wilson, fellows. Don't forget that," he warned his passengers. "Stick to it. If they got our number back there we can bluff them into thinking they got it wrong. I'll let yuh out here and you can walk home. Mum's the word—get that?"
He had taken only a passive part in the egregious folly of their play, but they climbed out now without protest, subdued and willing to own his leadership. Perhaps they realized suddenly that he was the soberest man of the lot. Only once had he drunk on the way home, and that sparingly, when the bottle had made the rounds. Like whipped schoolboys the six slunk off to their homes, and as they disappeared, Jack felt as though the full burden of the senseless crime had been dropped crushingly upon his shoulders.
He drove the big car quietly up the palm-shaded street to where his mother's wide-porched bungalow sprawled across two lots. He was sober now, for the tragedy had shocked him into clear thinking. He shivered when he turned in across the cement walk and slid slowly down the driveway to the garage. He climbed stiffly out, rolled the big doors shut, turned on the electric lights and then methodically switched off the lights of the car. He looked at the clock imbedded in the instrument board and saw that it lacked twenty minutes of three. It would soon be daylight. It seemed to him that there was a good deal to be done before daylight.
Preoccupiedly he took a big handful of waste and began to polish the hood and fenders of the car. His mother would want to drive, and she always made a fuss if he left any dust to dim its glossy splendor. He walked around behind and contemplated the number plate, wondering if the man who was said to be "hep" would remember that there were three ciphers together. He might see only two—being in a hurry and excited. He rubbed the plate thoughtfully, trying to guess just how that number, 170007, would look to a stranger who was excited by being shot at.
No use doctoring the number now. If the man had it, he had it—and it was easy enough to find the car that carried it. Easy enough, too, to prove who was in the car. Jack had named every one of the fellows who were to make up the party. He had to, before his mother would let him take the car. The names were just names to her—since she believed that they were Christian young men!—but she had insisted upon knowing who was going, and she would remember them. She had a memory like glue. She would also give the names to any officer that asked. Jack knew that well enough. For, besides having a memory that would never let go, Mrs. Singleton Corey had a conscience that was inexorable toward the faults of others. She would consider it her duty as a Christian woman and the president of the Purity League to hand those six young men over to the law. That she had been deceived as to their morals would add fire to her fervor.
Whether she would hand Jack over with them was a detail which did not greatly concern her son. He believed she would do it, if thereby she might win the plaudits of her world as a mother martyred to her fine sense of duty. Jack had lived with his mother for twenty-two years, and although he was very much afraid of her, he felt that he had no illusions concerning Mrs. Singleton Corey. He felt that she would sacrifice nearly everything to her greed for public approbation. Whether she would sacrifice her pride of family—twist it into a lofty pride of duty—he did not know. There are queer psychological quirks which may not be foreseen by youth.
Looking back on the whole sickening affair while he sat on the running board and smoked a cigarette, Jack could not see how his mother could consistently avoid laying him on the altar of justice. He had driven the party, and he had stopped the car for them to play their damnable joke. The law would call him an accomplice, he supposed. His mother could not save him, unless she pleaded well the excuse that he had been led astray by evil companions. In lesser crises, Jack remembered that she had played successfully that card. She might try it now....
On the other hand, she might make a virtue of necessity and volunteer the information that he had in the first place lied about their destination. That, he supposed, would imply a premeditated plan of holding up automobiles. She might wash her hands of him altogether. He could see her doing that, too. He could, in fact, see Mrs. Singleton Corey doing several things that would work him ill and redound to her glory. What he could not see was a mother who would cling to him and cry over him and for him, and stick by him, just because she loved him.
"Aw, what's the use? It'll come out—it can't help it. The cops are out there smelling around now, I bet!"
He arose and worked over the car until it shone immaculately. A lifetime of continual nagging over little things, while the big things had been left to adjust themselves, had fixed upon Jack the habit of attending first to his mother's whims. Mrs. Singleton Corey made it a point to drive her own car. She liked the feeling of power that it gave her, and she loved the flattery of her friends. Therefore, even a murder problem must wait until her automobile was beautifully ready to back out of the garage into a critical world.
Jack gave a sigh of relief when he wiped his hands on the bunch of waste and tossed it into a tin can kept for that purpose. Time was precious to him just now. Any minute might bring the police. Jack did not feel that he was to blame for what had happened, but he realized keenly that he was "in wrong" just the same, and he had no intention of languishing heroically in jail if he could possibly keep out of it.
He hesitated, and finally he went to the house and let himself in through a window whose lock he had "doctored" months ago. His mother would not let him have a key. She believed that being compelled to ring the bell and awaken her put the needful check upon Jack's habits; that, in trailing downstairs in a silk kimono to receive him and his explanation of his lateness, she was fulfilling her duty as a mother.
Jack nearly always humored her in this delusion, and his explanations were always convincing. But he was not prepared to make any just now. He crawled into the sun parlor, took off his shoes and slipped down the hall and up the stairs to his room. There he rummaged through his closet and got out a khaki outing suit and hurried his person into it. In ten minutes he looked more like an overgrown boy scout than anything else. He took a cased trout rod and fly book, stuffed an extra shirt and all the socks he could find into his canvas creel, slung a pair of wading boots over his shoulder and tiptoed to the door.
There it occurred to him that it wouldn't be a bad idea to have some money. He went back to his discarded trousers, that lay in a heap on the floor, and by diligent search he collected two silver dollars and a few nickels and dimes and quarters—enough to total two dollars and eighty-five cents. He looked at the meagre fund ruefully, rubbed his free hand over his hair and was reminded of something else. His hair, wavy and trained to lie back from his forehead, made him easily remembered by strangers. He took his comb and dragged the whole heavy mop down over his eyebrows, and parted it in the middle and plastered it down upon his temples, trying to keep the wave out of it.
He looked different when he was through; and when he had pulled a prim, stiff-brimmed, leather-banded sombrero well down toward his nose, he could find the heart to grin at his reflection.
The money problem returned to torment him. Of what use was this preparation, unless he had some real money to use with it? He took off his shoes again, and his hat; pulled on his bathrobe over the khaki and went out and across to his mother's room.
Mrs. Singleton Corey had another illusion among her collection of illusions about herself. She believed that she was a very light sleeper; that the slightest noise woke her, and that she would then lie for hours wide-eyed. Indeed she frequently declared that she did her best mental work during "the sleepless hours of the night."
However that might be, she certainly was asleep when Jack pushed open her door. She lay on her back with her mouth half open, and she was snoring rhythmically, emphatically—as one would hardly believe it possible for a Mrs. Singleton Corey to snore. Jack looked at her oddly, but his eyes went immediately to her dresser and the purse lying where she had carelessly laid it down on coming home from one of her quests for impurity which she might purify.
She had a little more than forty-two dollars in her purse, and Jack took all of it and went back to his room. There, he issued a check to her for that amount—unwittingly overdrawing his balance at the bank to do so—and wrote this note to his mother:
"I borrowed some money from you, and I am leaving this check to cover the amount. I am going on a fishing trip. Maybe to Mexico where dad made his stake. Thanks for the car today.
"Your son, "Jack."
He took check and note to her room and placed them on her purse to the tune of her snoring, looked at her with a certain wistfulness for the mothering he had never received from her, and went away.
He climbed out of the house as he had climbed in, and cut across lots until he had reached a street some distance from his own neighborhood. Then keeping carefully in the shadows, he took the shortest route to the S.P. depot. An early car clanged toward him, but he waited in a dark spot until it had passed and then hurried on. He passed an all-night taxi stand in front of a hotel, but he did not disturb the sleepy drivers. So by walking every step of the way, he believed that he had reached the depot unnoticed, just when daylight was upon him with gray wreaths of fog.
By the depot clock it was five minutes to five. A train was being called, and the sing-song chant informed him that it was bound for "Sa-anta Bar-bra—Sa-an Louis Oh bispo—Sa-linas—Sa-an 'Osay—Sa-an Fransisco, and a-a-ll points north!"
Jack, with his rubber boots flapping on his back, took a run and a slide to the ticket window and bought a ticket for San Francisco, thinking rather feverishly of the various points north.
TO THE FEATHER RIVER COUNTRY AND FREEDOM
In the chair car, where he plumped himself into a seat just as the train began to creep forward, Jack pulled his hat down over his eyebrows and wondered if any one had recognized him while he was getting on the train. He could not tell, because he had not dared to seem anxious about it, and so had not looked around him. At any rate he had not been stopped, though the police could wire ahead and have him dragged off the train at any station they pleased. Panic once more caught him and he did not dare look up when the conductor came for his ticket, but held his breath until the gloomy, haggard-faced man had tagged him and passed on. Until the train had passed Newhall and was rattling across the flat country to the coast, he shivered when any one passed down the aisle.
Beyond San Francisco lay the fog bank of the unknown. With his fishing outfit he could pass unquestioned to any part of that mysterious, vague region known as Northern California. The Russian River country, Tahoe, Shasta Springs, Feather River—the names revolved teasingly through Jack's mind. He did not know anything about them, beyond the fact that they were places where fellows went for sport, and that he hoped people would think he went for sport also. His wading boots and his rod and creel would, he hoped, account for any haste he might betray in losing himself somewhere.
Lose himself he must. If he did not, if his mother got the chance to put him through the tearful third-degree system that women employ with such deadly certainty of success, Jack knew that he would tell all that he knew—perhaps more. The very least he could hope to reveal was the damning fact that he had not been to Mount Wilson that day. After that the rest would not need to be told. They could patch up the evidence easily enough.
He tried to forget that man slipping down in the embrace of his friend. It was too horrible to be true. It must have been a trick just to scare the boys. The world was full of joshers—Jack knew half a dozen men capable of playing that trick, just to turn the joke. For a few minutes he was optimistic, almost making himself believe that the man had not been shot, after all. The fading effect of the wines he had drunk sent his mood swinging from the depths of panicky anguish over the horrible affair, to a senseless optimism that refused to see disaster when it stood by his side.
He tried again to decide where he should go from San Francisco. He tried to remember all that he had ever heard about the various paradises for sportsmen, and he discovered that he could not remember anything except that they were all in the mountains, and that Tahoe was a big lake, and lots of people went there in the summer. He crossed Tahoe off the list, because he did not want to land in some fashionable resort and bump into some one he knew. Besides, thirty-one dollars would not last long at a summer resort—and he remembered he would not have thirty-one dollars when he landed; he would have what was left after he had paid his fare from San Francisco, and had eaten once or twice.
Straightway he became hungry, perhaps because a porter came down the aisle announcing the interesting fact that breakfast was now being served in the diner—fourth car rear. Jack felt as though he could eat about five dollars' worth of breakfast. He was only a month or so past twenty-two, remember, and he himself had not committed any crime save the crime of foolishness.
He slid farther down upon his spine, pulled his nice new sombrero lower on the bridge of his tanned nose, and tried to forget that back there in the diner they would give him grapefruit on ice, and after that rolled oats with thick yellow cream, and after that ham and eggs or a tenderloin steak or broiled squab on toast; and tried to remember only that the check would make five dollars look sick. He wished he knew how much the fare would be to some of those places where he meant to lose himself. With all that classy-looking paraphernalia he would not dare attempt to beat his way on a freight. He had a keen sense of relative values; dressed as he was he must keep "in the part." He must be able to show that he had money. He sighed heavily and turned his back definitely upon a dining-car breakfast. After that he went to sleep.
At noon he was awake and too ravenous to worry so much over the possibility of being arrested for complicity in a murder. He collided violently with the porter who came down the aisle announcing luncheon. He raced back through two chair cars and a tourist sleeper, and he entered the dining car with an emphasis that kept the screen door swinging for a full half minute. He tipped the waiter who came to fill his water glass, and told him to wake up and show some speed. Any waiter will wake up for half a dollar, these hard times. This one stood looking down over Jack's shoulder while he wrote, so that he was back with the boullion before Jack had reached the bottom of the order blank—which is the reason why you have not read anything about a certain young man dying of starvation while seated at table number five in a diner, somewhere in the neighborhood of Paso Robles.
When he returned to his place in the chair car he knew he must try to find out what isolated fishing country was closest. So he fraternized with the "peanut butcher," if you know who he is: the fellow who is put on trains to pester passengers to death with all sorts of readable and eatable indigestibles.
He bought two packages of gum and thereby won favor. Then, nonchalantly picking up his wading boots and placing them in a different position, he casually asked the boy how the fishing was, up this way. The peanut butcher balanced his tray of chewing gum and candy on the arm of a vacant chair beside Jack, and observed tentatively that it was fine, and that Jack must be going fishing. Jack confessed that such was his intention, and the vender of things-you-never-want made a shrewd guess at his destination.
"Going up into the Feather River country, I bet. Fellow I know just come back. Caught the limit, he claims. They say Lake Almanor has got the best fishing in the State, right now. Fellow I know seen a ten-pounder pulled outa there. He brought back one himself that tipped the scales at seven-and-a-half. He says a pound is about as small as they run up there. I'm going to try to get on the W.P. that runs up the canyon. Then some day I'll drop off and try my luck—"
"Don't run to Lake Almanor, does it? First I ever heard—"
"No, sure it don't! The lake's away off the railroad—thirty or forty miles. I don't look for a chance to go there fishing. I mean Feather River—anywhere along up the canyon. They say it's great. You can sure catch fish! Lots of little creeks coming down outa the canyon, and all of them full of trout. You'll have all kinds of sport."
"Aw, Russian River's the place to go," Jack dissented craftily, and got the reply that he was waiting for.
"Aw, what's the use of going away up there? And not get half the fish? Why, you can take the train at the ferry and in the morning you are right in the middle of the best fishing in the State. Buh-lieve me, it'll be Feather River for mine, if I can make the change I want to! Them that have got the money to travel on, can take the far-off places—me for the fish, bo, every day in the week." He took up his tray and went down the car, offering his wares to the bored, frowsy passengers who wanted only to reach journey's end.
The next round he made, he stopped again beside Jack. They talked of fishing—Jack saw to that!—and Jack learned that Lake Almanor was nothing more nor less than an immense reservoir behind a great dam put in by a certain power company at a cost that seemed impossible. The reservoir had been made by the simple process of backing up the water over a large mountain valley. You could look across the lake and see Mount Lassen as plain as the nose on your face, the peanut butcher declared relishfully. And the trout in that artificial lake passed all belief.
Every time the boy passed, he stopped for a few remarks. Pound by pound the trout in Lake Almanor grew larger. Sentence by sentence Jack learned much that was useful, a little that was needful. There were several routes to Lake Almanor, for instance. One could get in by way of Chico, but the winter snow had not left the high summits, so that route was unfeasible for the time being. The best way just now was by the way of Quincy, a little town up near the head of Feather River Canyon. The fare was only seven or eight dollars, and since the season had opened one could get reduced rates for the round trip. That was the way the friend of the peanut butcher had gone in—only he had stopped off at Keddie and had gone up to the dam with a fellow he knew that worked there. And he had brought back a trout that weighed practically eight pounds, dressed. The peanut butcher knew; he had seen it with his own eyes. They had it hanging in the window of the California Market, and there was a crowd around the window all the time. He knew; he had seen the crowd, and he had seen the fish; and he knew the fellow who had caught it.
Unless he could go with a crowd, Jack did not care much about fishing. He liked the fun the gang could have together in the wilds, but that was all; like last summer when Hen had run into the hornet's nest hanging on a bush and thought it was an oriole's basket! Alone and weighed down with horror as he was, Jack could not stir up any enthusiasm for the sport. But he found out that it would not cost much to reach the little town called Quincy, of which he had never before heard.
No one, surely, would ever think of looking there for him. He could take the evening train out of San Francisco, and in the morning he would be there. And if he were not sufficiently lost in Quincy, he could take to the mountains all around. There were mountains, he guessed from what the boy had told him; and canyons and heavy timber. The thought of having some definite, attainable goal cheered him so much that he went to sleep again, sitting hunched down in the seat with his hat over his eyes, so that no one could see his face; and since no one but the man who sold it had ever seen him in that sport suit, he felt almost safe.
He left the train reluctantly at the big, new station in San Francisco, and took a street car to the ferry depot. There he kept out of sight behind a newspaper in the entrance to the waiting room until he was permitted to pass through the iron gate to the big, resounding room where passengers for the train ferry were herded together like corralled sheep. It seemed very quiet there, to be the terminal station in a large city.
Jack judged nervously that people did not flock to the best fishing in the State, in spite of all the peanut butcher had told him. He was glad of that, so long as he was not so alone as to be conspicuous. Aside from the thin sprinkling of passengers, everything was just as the boy had told him. He was ferried in a big, empty boat across the darkling bay to the train that stood backed down on the mole waiting for him and the half dozen other passengers. He chose the rear seat in another chair car very much like the one he had left, gave up his ticket and was tagged, pulled his hat down over his nose and slept again, stirring now and then because of his cramped legs.
When he awoke finally it was daylight, and the train was puffing into a tunnel. He could see the engine dive into the black hole, dragging the coaches after it like the tail of a snake. When they emerged, Jack looked down upon a green-and-white-scurrying river; away down—so far that it startled him a little. And he looked up steep pine-clad slopes to the rugged peaks of the mountains. He heaved a sigh of relief. Surely no one could possibly find him in a place like this.
After a while he was told to change for Quincy, and descended into a fresh, green-and-blue world edged with white clouds. There was no town—nothing but green hills and a deep-set, unbelievable valley floor marked off with fences, and a little yellow station with a red roof, and a toy engine panting importantly in front of its one tiny baggage-and-passenger coach, with a freight car for ballast.
Jack threw back his shoulders and took a long, deep, satisfying breath. He looked around him gloatingly and climbed into the little make-believe train, and smiled as he settled back in a seat. There was not another soul going to Quincy that morning, save the conductor and engineer. The conductor looked at his passenger as boredly as the wife of a professional humorist looks at her husband, took his ticket and left him.
Jack lighted a cigarette and blew the smoke out of the open window while the little train bore him down through the green forest into the valley. He was in a new world. He was safe here—he was lost.
JACK FINDS HIMSELF IN POSSESSION OF A JOB
Writing his name on the hotel register was an embarrassing ceremony that had not occurred to Jack until he walked up the steps and into the bare little office. Some instinct of pride made him shrink from taking a name that did not belong to him, and he was afraid to write his own in so public a place. So he ducked into the dining room whence came the muffled clatter of dishes and an odor of fried beefsteak, as a perfectly plausible means of dodging the issue for a while.
He ate as slowly as he dared and as long as he could swallow, and when he left was lucky enough to find the office occupied only by a big yellow cat curled up on the desk with the pen between its paws. It seemed a shame to disturb the cat. He went by it on his toes and passed on down the steps and into the full face of the town lying there cupped in green hills and with a sunshiny quiet that made the world seem farther away than ever.
A couple of men were walking down the street and stopping now and then to talk to those they met. Jack followed aimlessly, his hands in his pockets, his new Stetson—that did not look so unusual here in Quincy—pulled well down over his eyebrows and giving his face an unaccustomed look of purposefulness. Those he met carried letters and papers in their hands; those he followed went empty handed, so Jack guessed that he was observing the regular morning pilgrimage to the postoffice—which, had he only known it, really begins the day in Quincy.
He did not expect any mail, of course; but there seemed nothing else for him to do, no other place for him to go; and he was afraid that if he stayed around the hotel some one might ask him to register. He went, therefore, to the postoffice and stood just outside the door with his hands still in his pockets and the purposeful look on his face; whereas no man was ever more completely adrift and purposeless than was Jack Corey. Now that he had lost himself from the world—buried himself up here in these wonderfully green mountains where no one would ever think of looking for him—there seemed nothing at all to do. He did not even want to go fishing. And as for journeying on to that lake which the peanut butcher had talked so much about, Jack had never for one minute intended going there.
A tall man with shrewd blue eyes twinkling behind goldrimmed glasses came out and stood in the pleasant warmth of the sun. He had a lot of mail under his arm and a San Francisco paper spread before him. Jack slanted a glance or two toward the paper, and at the second glance he gulped.
"Los Angeles Auto Bandits Trailed" stared out at him accusingly like a pointed finger. Underneath, in smaller type, that was black as the meaning that it bore for him, were the words: "Sensational Developments Expected."
Jack did not dare look again, lest he betray to the shrewd eyes behind the glasses a guilty interest in the article. He took his cigarette from his mouth and moistened his lips, and tried to hide the trembling of his fingers by flicking off the ash. As soon as he dared he walked on down the street, and straightway found that he was walking himself out of town altogether. He turned his head and looked back, saw the tall man glancing after him, and went on briskly, with some effort holding himself back from running like a fool. He felt that he had blundered in coming down this way, where there was nothing but a blacksmith shop and a few small cottages set in trim lawns. The tall man would know that he had no business down here, and he would wonder who he was and what he was after. And once that tall man began to wonder....
"Auto Bandits Trailed!" seemed to Jack to be painted on his back. That headline must mean him, because he did not believe that any of the others would think to get out of town before daylight as he had done. Probably that article had Jack's description in it.
He no longer felt that he had lost himself; instead, he felt trapped by the very mountains that five minutes ago had seemed so like a sheltering wall between him and his world. He wanted to get into the deepest forest that clothed their sides; he wanted to hide in some remote canyon.
He turned his head again and looked back. A man was coming behind him down the pathway which served as a pavement. He thought it was the tall man who had been reading about him in the paper, and again panic seized him—only now he had but his two feet to carry him away into safety, instead of his mother's big new car. He glanced at the houses like a harried animal seeking desperately for some hole to crawl into, and he saw that the little, square cottage that he had judged to be a dwelling, was in reality a United States Forest Service headquarters. He had only the haziest idea of what that meant, but at least it was a public office, and it had a door which he could close between himself and the man that followed.
He hurried up the walk laid across the neat little grass plot, sent a humbly grateful glance up to the stars-and-stripes that fluttered lazily from the short flagstaff, and went in as though he had business there, and as though that business was urgent.
A couple of young fellows at wide, document-littered desks looked up at him with a mild curiosity, said good morning and waited with an air of expectancy for him to state his errand. Under pretense of throwing his cigarette outside, Jack turned and opened the door six inches or so. The man who had followed him was going past, and he did not look toward the house. He was busy reading a newspaper while he walked, but he was not the tall man with the shrewd blue eyes and the knowing little smile; which was some comfort to Jack. He closed the door and turned again toward the two; and because he knew he must furnish some plausible reason for his presence, he said the first thing that came to his tongue—the thing that is always permissible and always plausible.
"Fellow told me I might get a job here. How about it?" Then he smiled good-naturedly and with a secret admiration for his perfect aplomb in rising to the emergency.
"You'll have to ask Supervisor Ross about that," said one. "He's in there." He turned his thumb toward the rear room, the door of which stood wide open, and bent again over the map he had been studying. So far as these two were concerned, Jack had evidently ceased to exist. He went, therefore, to the room where the supervisor was at work filling in a blank of some kind; and because his impromptu speech had seemed to fill perfectly his requirements, he repeated it to Ross in exactly the same tone of careless good nature, except that this time he really meant part of it; because, when he came to think of it, he really did want a job of some sort, and the very atmosphere of quiet, unhurried efficiency that pervaded the place made him wish that he might become a part of it.
It was a vagrant wish that might have died as quickly as it had been born; an impulse that had no root in any previous consideration of the matter. But Ross leaned back in his chair and was regarding him seriously, as a possible employee of the government, and Jack instinctively squared his shoulders to meet the look.
Followed a few questions, which Jack answered as truthfully as he dared. Ross looked him over again and asked him how he would like to be a fireman. Whereat Jack looked bewildered.
"What I mean by that in this case," the supervisor explained, "is that I could put you up on Mount Hough, in the lookout station. That's—do you know anything at all about the Forest Service, young fellow?"
Jack blushed, gulped down a lie and came out with the truth. "I got in this morning," he said. "I don't know a darned thing about it, but I want to get to work at something. And I guess I can learn anything that isn't too complicated."
Ross laughed to himself. "About the most complicated thing you'll have to learn," he said, "is how to put in your time. It's hard to get a man that will stay at lookout stations. Lonesome—that's all. It's about as bad as being a sheepherder, only you won't have any sheep for company. Up on Mount Hough you'll have to live in a little glass house about the size of this room, and do your cooking on an oil stove. Your work will be watching your district for fires, and reporting them here—by phone. There's a man up there now, but he doesn't want to stay. He's been hollering for some one to take his place. You're entitled to four days relief a month—when we send up a man to take your place. Aside from that you'll have to stay right up on that peak, and watch for fires. The fellow up there will show you how to use the chart and locate fires so you can tell us exactly where it is that you see smoke. You can't leave except when you're given permission and some one comes to take your place. We send up your supplies and mail once a week on a pack horse. Your pay will be seventy dollars a month.
"I don't want you to take it unless you feel pretty sure you can stick. I'm tired of sending men up there for a week or two and having them phoning in here a dozen times a day about how lonesome it is, then quitting cold. We can't undertake to furnish you with amusement, and we are too busy to spend the day gossiping with you over the phone just to help you pass the time." He snapped his mouth together as though he meant every word of it and a great deal more. "Do you want the job?" he asked grimly.
Jack heard a chuckle from the next room, and his own lips came together with a snap.
"Lead me to it," he said cheerfully. "I'd stand on my head and point the wind with my legs for seventy dollars a month! Sounds to me like a good place to save money—what?"
"Don't know how you'd go about spending much as long as you stayed up there," Ross retorted drily. "It's when a man comes down that his wages begin to melt."
Jack considered this point, standing with his feet planted a little apart and his hands in his pockets, which is the accepted pose of the care-free scion of wealth who is about to distinguish himself. He believed that he knew best how to ward off suspicion of his motives in thus exiling himself to a mountain top. He therefore grinned amiably at Ross.
"Well, then, I won't come down," he stated calmly. "What I'm looking for is a chance to make some money without any chance of spending it. Lead me to this said mountain with the seventy-dollar job holding down the peak."
Ross looked at him dubiously as though he detected a false note somewhere. Good looking young fellows with the tangible air of the towns and easy living did not, as a rule, take kindly to living alone on some mountain peak. He stared up into Jack's face unwinkingly, seeking there the real purpose behind such easy acceptance.
Jack stared back, his eyes widening and sobering a little as he discovered that this man was not so easily put off with laughing evasion. He wondered if Ross had read the papers that morning, and if he, like the tall man at the postoffice, was mentally fitting him into the description of the auto bandit that was being trailed. Instinctively he rose to the new emergency.
"On the level, I want work and I want it right away," he said. "Being alone won't bother me—I always get along pretty well with myself. I want to get ahead of the game about five hundred dollars, and this looks to me like a good chance to pile up a few iron men. I'm game for the lonesomeness. It's a cold dollars-and-cents proposition with me." He stopped and eyed the other a minute. "Does that answer what's in your mind?" he asked bluntly.
Forest Supervisor Ross turned away his glance and reached for his pen. "That's all right," he half apologized. "I want you to understand what you're going up against, that is all. What's your name?"
Having the question launched at him suddenly like that, Jack nearly blurted out his own name from sheer force of habit. But his tongue was his friend for once and pronounced the last word so that Ross wrote "John Carew" without hesitation. And Jack Corey, glancing down as the supervisor wrote, stifled a smile of satisfaction.
"It happens to be the day when we usually send up supplies," said Ross when he had finished recording the fact of Jack's employment as fireman. "Our man hasn't started yet, and you can go up with him. Come back here in an hour, can you? There'll be a saddle horse for you. Don't try to take too much baggage. Suitcase, maybe. You can phone down for anything you need that you haven't got with you, you know. It will go up next trip. Clothes and grub and tobacco and such as that—use your own judgment, and common sense."
"All right. Er—thank you, sir." Jack blushed a bit over the unaccustomed courtesy of his tone, and turned into the outer office.
"Oh—Carew! Don't fall into the fool habit of throwing rocks down into the lake just to see them bounce! One fellow did that, and came near getting a tourist. You'll have to be careful."
"I certainly will, Mr. Ross."
The other two men gave him a friendly nod, and Jack went out of the office feeling almost as cheerful as he had tried to appear.
"IT'S A LONG WAY TO TIPPERARY," SANG JACK
Riding at a steady, climbing walk up a winding road cut into the wooded mountainside; with a pack-horse loaded with food and new, cheap bedding which Jack had bought; with chipmunks scurrying over the tree trunks that had gone crashing down in some storm and were gathering moss on their rotting bark; with the clear, yellow sunlight of a mountain day in spring lying soft on the upper branches, Jack had a queer sense of riding up into a new, untroubled life that could hold no shred of that from which he had fled. His mother, stately in her silks and a serenely unapproachable manner, which seemed always to say to her son that she was preoccupied with her own affairs, and that her affairs were vastly more important than his youthful interests and problems, swam vaguely before his consciousness, veiled by the swift passing of events and the abrupt change from city to unspoiled wilderness.
When his companion stopped to let the horses "get their wind," Jack would turn in the saddle and look back over the network of gulches and deep canyons to where the valley peeped up at him shyly through the trees, and would think that every step made him that much safer. He did not face calmly the terror from which he had fled. Still mentally breathless from the very unexpectedness of the catastrophe, he shrank from the thought of it as if thinking would betray him. He had not so far concerned himself with his future, except as it held the possibility of discovery. So he quizzed his companion and got him talking about the mountains over which he was to play guardian angel.
He heard a good deal about hunting and fishing; and when they climbed a little higher, Hank Brown pointed out to him where a bear and two half grown cubs had been killed the fall before. He ought to have a rifle, said Hank. There was always the chance that he might get a shot at a bear; and as for deer, the woods were full of them. Then he told more stories and pointed out the very localities where the incidents had occurred.
"See that rocky peak over there? That's where the bears hole up in the winter. Network of caves, up there. King Solomon's the name the people that live here call it—but it's down on the map as Grizzly Peak. Ain't any grizzlies, though—black bear mostly. They're smaller and they ain't so fighty."
It was on the tip of Jack's tongue to observe that a man might hide out here for months and months and never be seen, much less caught; but he checked himself, and remarked only that he would certainly have to get a gun. He would like, he declared, to take home some good heads, and maybe a bear skin or two. He forced himself to speak of home in the careless tone of one who has nothing to hide, but the words left an ache in his throat and a dull heaviness in his chest.
Hank Brown went on talking and saw nothing wrong with his mood. Indeed, he never saw anything wrong with a man who would listen to Hank's hunting and fishing stories and not bore him with stories of his own prowess. Wherefore, Jack was left alone in peace to fight the sudden, nauseating wave of homesickness, and in a little while found himself listening to the steady monotone of Hank Brown's voice.
So, they came to a tiny, sunken meadow, one side of which was fenced with poles, rimmed round with hills set thick with heavy timber. On the farther side of the meadow, almost hidden from sight, was a square log cabin, solid, gloomily shaded and staring empty-eyed at a tiny, clear stream where the horses scared an eight-inch trout out of a pool when they lowered eager noses to drink thirstily.
After that they climbed up into a more open country, clothed with interlaced manzanita bushes and buck brush and thickets of young balsam fir. Here, said Hank Brown, was good bear country. And a little farther on he pulled up and pointed down to the dust of the trail, where he said a bear had crossed that morning. Jack saw the imprint of what looked like two ill-shaped short feet of a man walking barefooted—or perhaps two crude hands pressed into the dirt—and was thrilled into forgetfulness of his trouble.
Before they had gone another mile, he had bought Hank's rifle and all the cartridges he happened to have with him. He paid as much as a new rifle would have cost, but he did not know that—though he did know that he had scarcely enough money left in his pocket to jingle when the transaction was completed. He carried the rifle across the saddle in front of him and fingered the butt pridefully while his eyes went glancing here and there hopefully, looking for the bear that had crossed the trail that morning. The mere possession of the rifle bent his mood toward adventure rather than concealment. He did not think now of the lookout station as a refuge so much as a snug lair in the heart of a wonderful hunting ground.
He wanted to hear more about the bear and deer which Hank Brown had shot on these slopes. But Hank was no longer in the mood for recounting his adventures. Hank was congratulating himself upon selling that rifle, which had lately shown a tendency to jam if he worked the lever too fast; and was trying to decide just what make and calibre of rifle he would buy with the money now in his pocket; and he was grinning in his sleeve at the ease with which he had "stung" this young tenderfoot, who was unsuspectingly going up against a proposition which Hank, with all his love for the wild, would never attempt of his own free will.
At first sight, the odd little glass observatory, perched upon the very tip-top of all the wilderness around, fascinated Jack. He had never credited himself with a streak of idealism, nor even with an imagination, yet his pulse quickened when they topped the last steep slope and stood upon the peak of the world—this immediate, sunlit world.
The unconcealed joy on the face of the lookout when they arrived did not mean anything at all to him. He stood taking great breaths of the light, heady air that seemed to lift him above everything he had ever known and to place him a close neighbor of the clouds.
"This is great!" he said over and over, baring his head to the keen breeze that blew straight out of the violet tinted distance. "Believe me, fellows, this is simply great!"
Whereupon the fireman who had spent two weeks there looked at him and grinned.
"You can have it," he said with a queer inflection. "Mount Lassen's blowing off steam again. Look at her over there! She's sure on the peck, last day or so—you can have her for company. I donate her along with the sun-parlor and the oil stove and the telescope and the view. And I wish you all kinds of luck. How soon you going back, Hank? I guess I better be showing this fellow how to use the chart; maybe you'd like something to eat. I'm all packed and ready to hit the trail, myself."
In the center of the little square room, mounted on a high table, was a detail map of all the country within sight of the station—and that meant a good many miles of up and down scenery. Over it a slender pointer was fitted to a pin, in the center of the map, that let it move like a compass. And so cunningly was the chart drawn and placed upon the table that wherever one sighted along the pointer—as when pointing at a distant smudge of smoke in the valley or on the mountainside—there on the chart was the number by which that particular spot was designated.
"Now, you see, suppose there's a fire starts at Massack—or along in there," Ed, the lookout fireman, explained, pointing to a distant wrinkle in the bluish green distance, "you swing this pointer till it's drawing a bead on the smoke, and then you phone in the number of the section it picks up on the chart. The lookout on Claremont, he'll draw a bead on it too, and phone in his number—see? And where them two numbers intersect on the chart, there's your fire, boy."
Jack studied the chart like a boy investigating a new mechanical toy. He was so interested that he forgot himself and pushed his hair straight back off his forehead with the gesture that had become an unconscious mannerism, spoiling utterly the plastered effect which he had with so much pains given to his hair. But Hank and the fireman were neither suspicious nor observing, and only laughed at his exuberance, which they believed was going to die a violent death when Jack had spent a night or two there alone.
"Is that all I have to do?" he demanded, when he had located a half dozen imaginary fires.
"That's all you get paid for doing, but that ain't all you have to do, by a long shot!" the fireman retorted significantly. But he would not explain until he had packed his bed on the horse that had brought up Jack's bedding and the fresh supplies, and was ready to go down the mountain with Hank. Then he looked at Jack pityingly.
"Well—you sure have got my sympathy, kid. I wouldn't stay here another month for a thousand dollars. You've got your work cut out for you, just to keep from going crazy. So long."
Jack stood on a little jutting pinnacle of rock and watched them out of sight. He thought the great crater behind the station looked like a crude, unfinished cup of clay and rocks; and that Crystal Lake, reflecting the craggy slope from the deeps below, was like blueing in the bottom of the cup. He picked up a rock the size of his fist and drew back his arm for the throw, remembered what the supervisor had told him about throwing stones into the lake, and dropped the rock guiltily. It was queer how a fellow wanted to roll a rock down and shatter that unearthly blue mirror into a million ripples.
He looked away to the northwest, where Mount Lassen sent a lazy column of thin, grayish vapor trailing high into the air, and thought how little he had expected to see this much-talked-of volcano; how completely and irrevocably the past two days had changed his life. Why, this was only Tuesday! Day before yesterday he had been whooping along the beach at Venice, wading out and diving under the breakers just as they combed for the booming lunge against the sand cluttered with humanity at play. He had blandly expected to go on playing there whenever the mood and the bunch invited. Night before last he had danced—and he had drunk much wine, and had made impulsive love to a girl he had never seen in his life until just before he had held her in his arms as they went swaying and gliding and dipping together across the polished floor, carefree as the gulls outside on the sand. Night before last he had driven home—but he winced there, and pulled his thoughts back from that drive.
Here were no girls to listen to foolish speeches; no wine, no music, no boom of breakers, no gulls. There never would be any. He was as far from all that as though he had taken flight to the moon. There was no sound save the whispering rush of the wind that blew over the bare mountain top. He was above the pines and he could only faintly hear the murmur of their branches. Below him the world lay hushed, silent with the silence of far distances. The shadows that lay on the slope and far canyons moved like ghosts across the tumbled wilderness.
For a minute the immensity of silence and blue distance lulled his thoughts again with the feeling of security and peace. He breathed deep, his nostrils flared like a thoroughbred horse, his face turned this way and that, his eyes drinking deep, satisfying draughts of a beauty such as he had never before known. His lips were parted a little, half smiling at the wonderful kindness of fate, that had picked him up and set him away up here at the top o' the world.
He glanced downward, to his right. There went two objects—three, he counted them a moment later. He stepped inside, snatched up the telescope and focussed it eagerly on the slow-moving, black specks. Why, there went Hank Brown and the fireman, Ed somebody, and the pack horse with Ed's bedding lashed on its back. For perhaps a mile he watched them going down through the manzanita and buck brush toward the massed line of balsam firs that marked the nearest edge of the heavy timber line.
So that was the trail that led up to his eyrie! He marked it well, thinking that it might be a good plan to keep an eye on that trail, in case an officer came looking for him here.
He watched Hank and Ed go down into the balsam firs. Dark shadows crept after them down the slope to the edge of the thicket where they had disappeared.
He watched the shadows until they gave him a vague feeling of discomfort and loneliness. He turned away and looked down into the bottom of the mountain's cup. The lake lay darkling there, hooded with shadows like a nun, the snow banks at the edge indicating the band of white against the calm face. It looked cold and lonesome down there; terribly cold and lonesome.
Mount Lassen, when he sent a comfort-seeking glance that way, sent up a spurt of grayish black smoke with a vicious suddenness that made him jump. With bulging eyes he watched it mount higher and higher until he held his breath in fear that it would never stop. He saw the column halt and spread and fall....
When it was over he became conscious of itching palms where his nails had dug into them and left little red marks. He discovered that he was shaking as with a nervous chill, and that his knees were bending under him. He sent a wild-eyed glance to the still, purple lake down there where the snowbanks lingered, though it was the middle of May; to the far hills that were purpling already with the dropping of the sun behind the high peaks; to the manzanita slope where the trail lay in shadow now. It was terribly still and empty—this piled wilderness.
He turned and hurried into his little glass-sided house and shut the door behind him. A red beam of the sinking sun shone in and laid a bar of light across the chart like a grin.
The silence was terrible. The emptiness pressed upon him like a weight that crushed from him his youth and his strength and all his youthful optimism, and left him old and weak and faded, a shadow of humanity like those shadows down there in the canyon.
Stealthily, as if he were afraid of some tangible shape reaching out of the silence, his hand went to the telephone receiver. He clutched it as drowning fingers clutch at seaweed. He leaned and jerked the receiver to his ear, and waited for the human voice that would bring him once more into the world of men. He did not know then that the telephone was the kind that must be rung by the user; or if he had been told that he had forgotten. So he waited, his ears strained to catch the heavenly sound of a human voice.
Shame crept in on the panic of his soul; shame and something that stiffened it into the courage of a man. He felt his cheeks burn with the flush that stained them, and he slowly lowered the receiver into its hook.
With his hands thrust deep into his pockets and his mouth pulled down at the corners, he stood leaning back against the desk shelf and forced himself to look down across the wooded slopes to the valley, where a light twinkled now like a fallen star. After a while he found that he could see once more the beauty, and not so much the loneliness. Then, just to prove to himself that he was not going to be bluffed by the silence, he began to whistle. And the tune carried with it an impish streak of that grim humor in which, so they tell us, the song was born. It is completely out of date now, that song, but then it was being sung around the world. And sometimes it was whistled just as Jack was whistling it now, to brace a man's courage against the press of circumstances.
"It's a long way to Tipperary," sang Jack, when he had whistled the chorus twice; and grinned at the joke upon himself. After that he began to fuss with the oil stove and to experiment with the food they had left him, and whistled deliberately all the while.
In this wise Jack Corey lost himself from his world and entered into his exile on a mountain top.
MISS ROSE FORWARD
Times were none too prosperous with the Martha Washington Beauty Shop, upon the sixth floor of a Broadway building. In the hairdressing parlor half the long rows of chairs reached out empty arms except during the rush hours of afternoon; even then impatient patrons merely sprinkled the room with little oases of activity while the girls busied themselves with tidying shelves already immaculate, and prinking before the mirrors whenever they dared. An air of uncertainty pervaded the place, swept in by the rumor that the shop was going to cut down its force of operators. No one knew, of course, the exact truth of the matter, but that made it all the worse.
"'For one shall be taken and the other left,'" a blonde girl quoted into a dismal little group at the window that looked out over the city. "Has any one heard any more about it?"
"Rumley has been checking up the appointment lists, all morning," a short, fat girl with henna-auburn hair piled high on her head reported cheerfully. "Of course, you could never get a word out of her—but I know what she is up to. The girls that have the most steady patrons will stay, of course. I'm certainly glad I kidded that old widow into thinking she's puhfectly stunning with her hair hennaed. She don't trust anybody but me to touch it up. And she's good for a scalp and facial and manicure every week of her life, besides getting her hair dressed every Saturday anyway, and sometimes oftener when she's going out. And she always has a marcelle after a shampoo. She'd quit coming if I left—she told me so last week. She thinks I'm there on massages. And then I've got sevrul others that ask for me regular as they come in. You know that big, fat—"
"Miss Rose forward," the foreman's crisp, businesslike voice interrupted.
Miss Rose began nervously pulling her corn-colored hair into the latest plastered effect on her temples. "This isn't any appointment. I wonder if somebody asked for me, or if Rumley—"
"Well, kid her along, whoever she is, and talk a lot about her good points. You never can tell when some old girl is going to pull a lot of patronage your way," the fat girl advised practically. "Tell 'em your name and suggest that they call for you next time. You've got to get wise to the trick of holding what you get. Beat it, kiddo—being slow won't help you none with Rumley, and she's got the axe, remember."
Thus adjured, Miss Rose beat it, arriving rather breathlessly at her chair, which was occupied by a rather sprightly looking woman with pretty hands and a square jaw and hair just beginning to gray over the temples. She had her hat off and was regarding herself seriously in the mirror, wondering whether she should touch up the gray, as some of her intimate friends advised, or let it alone as her brother Fred insisted.
Miss Rose was too busy counting customers to notice who was in her chair until she had come close.
"Why, hello, Kate," she said then. "I was just wondering what had become of you."
"Oh, I've been so busy, Marion. I just had to steal the time today to come. You weren't out to my reading last night, and I was afraid you might not be well. Do you think that I ought to touch up my hair, Marion? Of course, I don't mind it turning, so much—but you know appearance counts everything with an audience until one begins to speak. Fred says to leave it alone—"
"Well, you do it." Miss Rose leaned over the chair with a handful of hairpins to place in the little box on the dressing shelf, and spoke confidentially in the ear of her patron. "It's not my business to knock the trade, Kate—but honestly, that sign up there, that says 'Hair Dyed at Your Own Risk' ought to say, 'to your own sorrow.' If you start, you've got to keep it up or it looks simply frightful. And if you keep it up it just ruins your hair. You have such nice hair, Kate!" She picked up a sterilized brush and began stroking Kate's hair soothingly. It was not such nice hair. It was very ordinary hair of a somewhat nondescript color; but Kate was her dearest friend, and praise is a part of the profession. "What do you want?—a scalp, shampoo, or just dressed, or a curl, or what?"
"What," Kate retorted pertly. "Just fuss around while I talk to you, Marion. I—"
"Rumley won't stand for fussing. I've got to do something she can recognize across the room. How about a scalp? You can talk while I massage, and then I'll show you a perfectly stunning way to do your hair—it's new, and awfully good for your type of face. How do you like mine today?"
"Why, I like it tremendously!" Kate gave her an appraising glance in the mirror. "It's something new, isn't it? Use plenty of tonic, won't you, Marion? They charge awful prices here—but their tonic has done my hair so much good! Listen, could you get off early today? I simply must talk to you. A perfectly tremendous opportunity has literally fallen our way, and I want you to benefit by it also. A friend of Douglas'—of Professor Harrison's, I should say—called our attention to it. This friend wants to go in on it, but he can't leave his business; so the idea is to have just Fred and the professor—and you, if you'll go—and me to go and attend to the assessments. All the other names will be dummy names—well, silent partners is a better word—and we can control a tremendously valuable tract that way. How about a henna rinse, Marion? Would it be worth while?"
"Why, a henna rinse would brighten your hair, Kate—and lots of nice women have them. But you'll have to have a shampoo, you know. The henna rinse is used with a shampoo. I believe I'd have one if I were you, Kate. You never could tell it in the world. And it's good for the hair, too. It—"
"Fred is so disagreeable about such things. But if it couldn't be told—" Kate began to doubt again. "Does it cost extra?"
"Fifty cents—but it does brighten the hair. It brings out the natural color—there is an auburn tint—"
"But I really meant to have a manicure today. And we can't talk in the manicure parlor—those tables are crowded together so! I've a tremendous lot to tell you, too. Which would you have, Marion?"
Miss Rose dutifully considered the matter while she continued the scalp massage. Before they had decided definitely upon the extravagance of a henna rinse, which was only a timid sort of experiment and at best a mere compromise art and nature, Marion had applied the tonic. It seemed a shame to waste that now with a shampoo, and she did not dare to go for another dish of the tonic; so Kate sighed and consoled herself with a dollar saved, and went without the manicure also.
Rather incoherently she returned to her subject, but she did not succeed in giving Miss Rose anything more than a confused idea of a trip somewhere that would really be an outing, and a tremendous opportunity to make thousands of dollars with very little effort. This sounded alluring. Marion mentally cancelled a date with a party going to Venice that evening, and agreed to meet Kate at six o'clock, and hear more about it.
In the candy shop where they ate, her mind was even more receptive to tremendous opportunities for acquiring comparative wealth with practically no initial expense and no effort whatever. Not being subjected to the distraction of a beauty parlor, Kate forgot to use her carefully modulated, elocutionary voice, and buzzed with details.
"It's away up in the northern part of the State somewhere, in the mountains. You know timber land is going to be tremendously valuable—it is now, in fact. And this tract of beautiful big trees can be gotten and flumed—or something—down to a railroad that taps the country. It's in Forest Reserve, you see, and can't be bought by the lumber companies. I had the professor explain it all to me again, after I left the Martha, so I could tell you.
"A few of us can club together and take mining claims on the land—twenty acres apiece. All we have to do is a hundred dollars' worth of work—just digging holes around on it, or something—every year till five hundred dollars' worth is done. Then we can get our deed—or whatever it is—and sell the timber."
"Well, what do you know about that!" Marion exclaimed ecstatically, leaning forward across the little table with her hands clasped. Nature had given her a much nicer voice than Kate's, and the trite phrase acquired a pretty distinctiveness just from the way she said it. "But—would you have to stay five years, Kate?" she added dubiously.
"No, that's the beauty of it, you can do all the five hundred dollars' worth in one year, Marion."
"Five hundred dollars' worth of digging holes in the ground!" Marion gasped, giggling a little. "Good night!"
"Now please wait until you hear the rest of it!" Kate's tone sharpened a little with impatience. She moved a petulant elbow while a tired waitress placed two glasses of water and a tiny plate of white and brown bread upon the table. The minute the girl's back was turned upon them she cast a cautious eye around the clattering throng and leaned forward.
"Four men—men with a little capital—are going into it, and pay Fred and the professor for doing their assessment work. Four five-hundreds will make two thousand dollars that we'll get out of them, just for looking after their interests. And we'll have our twenty acres apiece of timber—and you've no idea what a tremendous lot of money that will bring, considering the investment. Fred's worked so hard lately that he's all run down and looks miserable. The doctor told him the mountains would do him a world of good. And the professor wants to do something definite and practical—they are filling up the college with student-teachers, willing to teach some certain subject for the instruction they'll get in some other—and they're talking about cutting the professor's salary. He says he will not endure another cut—he simply cannot, and—"
"And support an elocutionist?"
"Now, hush! It isn't—"
"Do I draw any salary as chaperone, Kate?"
"Now, if you don't stop, I'll not tell you another thing!" Kate took a sip of water to help hide a little confusion, clutching mentally at the practical details of the scheme. "Where was I?"
"Cutting Doug's salary. Is it up on a mountain, or up in the State, that you said the place was? I'd like being on a mountain, I believe—did you ever see such hot nights as we're having?"
"It's up both," Kate stated briefly. "You'd love it, Marion. There's a log house, and right beside it is a trout stream. And it's only six miles from the railroad, and good road up past the place. A man who has been up there told Doug—the professor. Tourists just flock in there. And right up on top of the mountain, within walking distance of our claims, is a lake, Marion! And great trout in it, that long!—you can see them swimming all around in schools, the water is so clear. And there is no inlet or outlet, and no bottom. The water is just as clear and as blue as the sky, the man told the professor. It's so clear that they actually call it Crystal Lake!"
"Well, what do you know about that!" breathlessly murmured Marion in her crooning voice. "A lake like that on top of a mountain—in weather like this, doesn't it sound like heaven?" She began to pick the pineapple out of her fruit salad, dabbing each morsel in the tiny mound of whipped cream.
"We'd need some outing clothes, of course. I've been thinking that a couple of plain khaki suits—you know—and these leggings that lace down the side, would be all we'd really need. I wish you'd go out home with me instead of going to a show. Fred will be home, and he can explain the details of this thing better than I can. If it were a difficult stanza of Browning, now—but I haven't much talent for business. And seriously, Marion, you must know all about this before you really say yes or no. And it's time you had some real object in life—time you settled down to regard your life seriously. I love you just the way you are, dear, but for your own sake you must learn to think for yourself and not act so much upon impulse. I couldn't bear to go off without you, and stay a whole year, maybe—but if you should go, not knowing just what it was going to be like, and then be disappointed—you see, dear, you might come to blaming poor Kate."
"Why, I wouldn't do anything of the kind! Even if it did turn out to be something I didn't care for, it would be so much better than staying here with you gone, that I don't see how I could mind very much. You know, Kate, I'm just crazy about the country. I'd like to sleep right outside! And I think a log cabin is the dearest way to live—don't you? And we'd hike, wouldn't we?—up to the lake and all around. I've got enough money to buy a gun, and if there's any hunting around there, we'll hunt! Kate, down in my heart I'm sick of massaging old ladies' double chins and kidding them into thinking they look young! And anyway," she added straightforwardly, "I don't suppose I'll be at the Martha much longer. They're going to let a lot of us girls out, and I'm almost sure to be one of them. There's enough of the older girls to do all the work there is now, till the tourist season begins again in the fall. I couldn't get in anywhere else, this time of the year, so I'd just about have to go out to one of the beaches and get a little tent house or something with some of the girls, and fool around until something opened up in the fall. And even if you live in your bathing suit all day, Kate, you just can't get by without spending a little money."
"Well, of course, you'd stay with me if I were here. I wouldn't hear to anything else. And even—why don't you come on out anyway, till we get ready to start? We could plan so much better. And don't you think, Marion, it would be much better for you if you didn't wait for the Martha to let you go but gave them notice instead?"
"Quit before I'm invited to leave? I believe I'd better do that, Kate. It won't be half bad to spring it on the girls that I'm going up in the mountains for the summer. I'll talk about that lake till—say, I'm just wild to start. How soon do you think it will be? Fred will have to teach me how to trout-fish—or whatever you call it. Only think of stepping out of our log cabin and catching trout, just any time you want to! And, Kate, I really am going to buy a gun. Down on Spring, in that sporting-goods house—you know, the one on the corner—they have got the cutest rifles! And by the way, they had some of the best looking outing suits in the window the other day. I'm going in there when I come down in the morning."
"Let Fred advise you about the rifle before you buy. Fred's tremendously clever about nature stuff, Marion. He'll know just what you want. I think a gun will maybe be necessary. You know there are bear—"
"Oh, good night!" cried Marion. But in the next breath she added, "I wonder if there are any nice hunters after the bears!"
GUARDIAN OF THE FORESTS
In mid July the pines and spruces and firs have lost their pale green fingertips which they wave to the world in spring, and have settled down to the placid business of growing new cones that shall bear the seed of future forests as stately as these. On the shadowed, needle-carpeted slopes there is always a whispery kind of calm; the calm of Nature moving quietly about her appointed tasks, without haste and without uncertainty, untorn by doubts or fears or futile questioning; like a broad-souled, deep-bosomed mother contentedly rearing her young in a sheltered home where love abides in the peace which passeth understanding.
Gray squirrels, sleek and bright-eyed and graceful always, lope over the brown needles, intent upon some urgent business of their own. Noisy little chipmunks sit up and nibble nervously at dainties they have found, and flirt their tails and gossip, and scold the carping bluejays that peer down from overhanging branches. Perhaps a hoot owl in the hollow trees overhead opens amber eyes and blinks irritatedly at the chattering, then wriggles his head farther down into his feathers, stretches a leg and a wing and settles himself for another nap.
Little streams go sliding down between banks of bright green grass, and fuss over the mossy rocks that lie in their beds. Deer lift heads often to listen and look and sniff the breeze between mouthfuls of the tender twigs they love. Shambling, slack-jointed bears move shuffling through the thickets, like the deer, lifting suspicious noses to test frequently the wind, lest some enemy steal upon them unaware.
From his glass-walled eyrie, Jack Corey gazed down upon the wooded slopes and dreamed of what they hid of beauty and menace and calm and of loneliness. He saw them once drenched with rain; but mostly they lay warm under the hot sunshine of summer. He saw them darkling with night shadows, he saw them silvered with morning fogs which turned rose tinted with the first rays of sunrise, he saw them lie soft-shaded in the sunset's after glow, saw them held in the unearthly beauty of the full moonlight.
Like the deer and the bear down there, his head was lifted often to look and to sniff the wind that blew strongly over the peak. For now the winds came too often tainted with the smoke of burning pines. The blue haze of the far distance deepened with the thickening air. Four times in the last ten days he had swung the pointer over the mapped table and sighted it upon brown puffballs that rose over the treetops—the first betraying marks of the licking flames below. He had watched the puff balls grow until they exploded into rolling clouds of smoke, yellow where the flames mounted high in some dead pine or into a cedar, black where a pitch stump took fire.
After he had telephoned the alarm to headquarters he would watch anxiously the spreading pall. To stand up there helpless while great trees that had been a hundred years or more in the growing died the death of fire, gave him a tragic feeling of having somehow betrayed his trust. Every pine that fell, whether by old age, fire or the woodmen's axe, touched him with a sense of personal loss. It was as though he himself had made the hills and clothed them with the majestic trees, and now stood godlike above, watching lest evil come upon them. But he did not feel godlike when through the telescope he watched great leaping flames go climbing up some giant pine, eating away its very life as they climbed; he was filled then with a blind, helpless rage at his own ineffectiveness, and he would stand and wonder why God refused to send the rain that would save these wonderful, living things, the trees.
At night, when the forests drew back into the darkness, he would watch the stars slide across the terrible depth of purple infinity that seemed to deepen hypnotically as he stared out into it. Venus, Mars, Jupiter—at first he could not tell one from another, though he watched them all. He had studied astronomy among other things in school, but then it had been merely a hated task to be shirked and slighted and forgotten as one's palate forgets the taste of bitter medicine. Up here, with the stars all around him and above him for many nights, he was ashamed because he could not call them all by name. He would train his telescope upon some particularly bright star and watch it and wonder—Jack did a great deal of wondering in those days, after his first panicky fight against the loneliness and silence had spent itself.
First of all, he awoke to the fact that he was about as important to the world as one of those little brown birds that hopped among the rocks and perked its head at him so knowingly, and preened its feathers with such a funny air of consequence. He could not even believe that his sudden disappearance had caused his mother any grief beyond her humiliation over the manner and the cause of his going. She would hire some one to take care of the car, and she would go to her teas and her club meetings and her formal receptions and to church just the same as though he were there—or had never been there. If he ever went back.... But he never could go back. He never could face his mother again, and listen to her calmly-condemnatory lectures that had no love to warm them or to give them the sweet tang of motherly scolding.
It sounds a strange thing to say of Jack Corey, that scattered-brained young fellow addicted to beach dancing and joy rides and all that goes with these essentially frothy pastimes; a strange thing to say of him that he was falling into a more affectionate attitude of personal nearness to the stars and to the mountains spread out below him than he had ever felt toward Mrs. Singleton Corey. Yet that is how he managed to live through the lonely days he spent up there in the lookout station.
When Hank was about to start with another load of supplies up the mountain, Jack had phoned down for all of the newspapers, magazines and novels which Forest Supervisor Ross could buy or borrow; also a double supply of smoking tobacco and a box of gum. When his tongue smarted from too much smoking, he would chew gum for comfort And he read and read, until his eyes prickled and the print blurred. But the next week he diffidently asked Ross if he thought he could get him a book on astronomy, explaining rather shame-facedly that there was something he wanted to look up. On his third trip Hank carried several government pamphlets on forestry. Which goes to prove how Jack was slowly adapting himself to his changed circumstances, and fitting himself into his surroundings.
He had to do that or go all warped and wrong, for he had no intention of leaving the peak, which was at once a refuge and a place where he could accumulate money; not much money, according to Jack's standard of reckoning—his mother had often spent as much for a gown or a ring as he could earn if he stayed all summer—but enough to help him out of the country if he saved it all.