The Young Wireless Operator—As a Fire Patrol
The Story of a Young Wireless Amateur Who Made Good as a Fire Patrol
Lewis E. Theiss
Illustrated by Frank T. Merrill
W. A. Wilde Company Chicago Boston
Copyright, 1921, By W. A. Wilde Company All rights reserved
The Young Wireless Operator—As A Fire Patrol.
This book is dedicated to
sometime forester for the United States of America, and now Commissioner of Forestry for Pennsylvania, whose ceaseless and undiscouraged efforts to save from spoliation the vast timber stands and other natural resources of America have inspired this story
Boys and dogs go well together. So do boys and trees. When a boy gets to love the forest and can live in it, that is best of all. For the forest makes real boys and real men.
Not only does the forest do that, but it keeps the Nation alive. No one can eat a meal without the help of the forest, for it takes more than half the wood cut every year in the United States to enable the farmer to grow the food and the fibres to feed and clothe the Nation. No one can live in a house without the help of the forest, for whether we speak of it as a wooden house, a brick house, a stone house, or a concrete house, still there is wood in it, and without wood it could not have been built.
We are apt to think of the city dwellers as people who are not dependent on the forest. As a matter of fact, they are the most dependent of all, for the cities would be deserted, the houses empty, and the streets dead, except for the things which could not be grown nor mined nor manufactured nor transported without the help of wood from the forest.
Pennsylvania—Penn's Woods—is the greatest industrial commonwealth in the world. Without its woods, it could never have been made so. Unless its woods are restored, it cannot continue to be so, and unless forest fires are stopped, there is no way to restore Penn's Woods.
I have read "The Young Wireless Operator—As a Fire Patrol" with the keenest interest, not only because it is about the forest, but because it is a thrillingly interesting story of a real boy and the real things he did in the woods. I like it from end to end, and that is why, when Mr. Theiss asked me to write this foreword, I gladly consented.
No one loves the woods more than I, as boy and man, or loves to be in them better. One of the things I want most is to see more and better forests in our great State of Pennsylvania, and in the whole United States. Without our forests we could not have become great, nor can we continue to be so. For the men and boys who love the forest and understand it are of the kind without whom great nations are impossible.
I. Vacation Plans II. What Came of Them III. Off to the Mountains IV. In the Burned Forest V. A Lost Opportunity VI. Trout Fishing in the Wilderness VII. The Forest Afire VIII. Making an Investigation IX. Charley Becomes a Fire Patrol X. An Encounter with a Bear XI. The Secret Camp in the Wilderness XII. On the Trail of the Timber Thieves XIII. Spying Out the Land XIV. The Trail in the Forest XV. The Telltale Thumb-Print XVI. Good News for the Fire Patrol XVII. An Accident in the Wilderness XVIII. The First Clue to the Incendiary XIX. The Forester's Problem XX. Charley Wins His First Promotion XXI. A Trouble Maker XXII. Charley Finds Another Clue XXIII. A Startling Discovery XXIV. Checkmated XXV. The Crisis XXVI. More Thumb-Prints XXVII. Trapped XXVIII. Victory
The Young Wireless Operator—As a Fire Patrol
Charley Russell sat before a table in the workshop in his father's back yard. In front of him were the shining instruments of his wireless outfit—his coupler, his condenser, his helix, his spark-gap, and the other parts, practically all of which he had made with his own hands. Ordinarily he would have looked at them fondly, but now he gave them hardly a thought. He was waiting for his chum, Lew Heinsling, and his mind was busy with the problem of his own future. Charley was a senior in high school and was pondering over the question of what the world had in store for him. While he sat meditating, Lew arrived. In his hand was a copy of the New York Sun and Herald. He held it out to Charley and pointed to the marine news.
"The Lycoming reaches New York to-day," he said. "Roy will send us a wireless message to-night. Gee! I wish we had a battery strong enough to talk back."
But Charley paid slight heed to the suggestion. Instead he said: "Roy Mercer's a lucky dog. Think of being the wireless man on a big ocean steamer when you're only nineteen. I wish I knew what I am going to do after I graduate from high school."
Roy Mercer, like Charley and Lew, was a member of the Camp Brady Wireless Patrol. With his fellows he had taken part in the capture of the German spies who were trying to dynamite the Elk City reservoir and so wreck a great munitions centre during the war; and with three other members of the Wireless Patrol, especially selected for their skill in wireless, he had later gone to New York with their leader, Captain Hardy, to assist the government Secret Service in its search for the secret wireless that was keeping the German Admiralty informed of the movements of American vessels.
His fellows both envied and loved him. Roy warmly returned their affection, and his vessel never came into port that he did not, regularly at nine o'clock in the evening, flash out some message of greeting to his former comrades of the Wireless Patrol. It was always a one-sided conversation, however, because none of the boys in the Wireless Patrol owned a battery powerful enough to carry a message from Central City to New York. Just now each lad was engaged in trying to earn money so that the club could buy a battery or dynamo strong enough for this purpose. So each boy was working at any job he could pick up after school, and saving all he earned. Both Charley and Lew had already earned more than their share of the purchase money.
"You never can tell what will happen," said Lew presently. "Who ever expected Roy to get the job he has? You may land in another just as good. You stand pretty near the head of your class, and everybody knows you're a corking good wireless operator."
"I can tell well enough what will happen, Lew. The minute I'm out of high school, I'll have to go to work with Dad in Miller's factory. Gee! How I hate the place! Think of working nine hours a day in such a dirty, smoky, noisy old hole, where you can't get a breath of fresh air, or see the sky, or hear the birds. Just to think about it is enough to make a fellow feel blue."
"But maybe you won't have to go into the factory at all," argued Lew. "Maybe you can find some other job you like better."
"No, I shall have to go into the factory," repeated Charley sadly. "Dad says I've got to get to work the minute I've graduated, and earn the most money possible. And there's no other place where I can get as much as they pay at Miller's. Dad says I can get two-fifty a day at the start and maybe three dollars."
Charley paused and sighed, then added, "What's three dollars a day if you have to be penned up like an animal to earn it? I'd rather take half as much if I could work out in the open and do something I like."
"Why don't you tell your father so?"
"I have—dozens of times. But he says it isn't a question of what I want to do. It's a question of making the most money possible and helping him. He says he's supported me for more than eighteen years and now I have to help him for a year or two anyway."
"That's a shame!" cried Lew.
"No, it isn't, Lew," explained Charley. "It's all right about helping Dad. He's been mighty good to me, and he's in the hole now. You see, Dad and Mother have been married twenty years and Dad's worked hard all this time and saved his money to build a house. And just about the time Dad was ready to begin building, prices began to go up. Dad held off, thinking they would drop. But they got higher instead, and finally Dad told the carpenters to go ahead, lest prices should go higher still. Now the house is going to cost almost double what Dad expected it would, and the awful prices of everything else take every cent Dad can earn. With such a big mortgage on the place, Dad says he's just got to have my help or he may lose the house and all he has saved in those twenty years. It's all right about helping Dad, Lew. I want to do that, but I can't bear to think of going to work in that factory."
"It's too bad, Charley. I had hoped so much that we could go to college together."
"Lew, if I could go to college I'd work my head off to do it. You know that. If only I could go to college and learn about the birds and flowers and rocks and trees and animals, I'd be willing to do anything—even to work in Miller's factory for a time. But Dad will need every cent I can earn until I am twenty-one, and I can't see how I can possibly go to college."
"Never mind, Charley. You never can tell what will happen. Look at Roy. He was worse off than you are, for his father died suddenly and Roy had to care for both himself and his mother. And see what came of it. He isn't much older than we are, yet he's got a fine job. Just keep your eyes open and you may pick up something, too."
"It'll have to come quick, then," sighed Charley. "Here it is almost Easter vacation, and I am to graduate in June. This will probably be the last vacation I shall have in a long time."
"Then let's enjoy this vacation. I've been thinking what we could do, and it occurred to me that it would be lots of fun for the Wireless Patrol to make a trip up the river to that old camp of ours. It won't be too cold to camp out if we take out our tents and our little collapsible stoves. Suckers ought to be running good and we can catch a fine mess of fish, take a hike or two, and have a bully trip up the river and back. Let's go tell the rest of the fellows."
Lew jumped up and started for the door. Then he stopped suddenly and a look of disappointment came over his face. "I'll bet none of 'em can go," he said. "They've all got jobs for the vacation. I'm glad we've got our money earned."
"I just thought of another difficulty," sighed Charley. "Not one of us owns a boat."
"We can borrow one," said Lew.
"I hate to borrow things," replied Charley. "You remember how I borrowed old man Packer's bob-sled and broke it and then had to pay to have it remade. No more borrowing for me."
"Why can't we make a boat? There's plenty of time between now and vacation. If we do the work ourselves, it oughtn't to cost more than two or three dollars and then we'd have a boat of our own."
"Bully!" cried Charley. "We can make it as good as anybody. We'll do it."
"All right. I'll go down-town and find the price of oars and rowlocks, and you go over to Hank Cooley's and find out how his father made that boat of his. It's a dandy and just what we need."
The two boys rushed off in opposite directions, each full of enthusiasm over the plan to build a new boat and make a trip up the river during their Easter vacation.
What Came of Them
A few hours later Charley Russell again sat before the bench in the little wireless house in his father's yard. Before him lay some patterns for a rowboat, and on a piece of paper Charley was trying to figure out how much lumber it would take to build the boat.
"We'll need two sixteen-foot boards, each a foot wide for the sides," he said, looking across the table at his chum, who sat ready, with pencil and paper, to jot down the figures Charley gave him.
"Thirty-two feet," said Lew, setting down the number on his paper.
Charley bent over his patterns, measuring and estimating in silence. "It'll take three more like 'em for the bottom," he said presently.
"That's forty-eight more," replied Lew, jotting down the number.
"And these cross braces," added Charley, after another period of calculation, "will take ten feet more."
Again Lew set down the number.
"That provides for everything but the decks," said Charley. "They will take seven or eight feet more. Better call it ten. That's all. What does it make?"
Lew put down ten and added the column of figures. "One hundred feet exactly," he said.
"Bully good!" replied Charley. "A hundred feet oughtn't to cost much of anything. The rub's going to be to get the oars. You say they want five dollars for the cheapest pair at the hardware store, and the sporting goods store wants six-fifty."
"The robbers!" cried Lew. "Think of it. Six-fifty for about fifteen cents' worth of wood. Maybe we can get a pair of second-hand oars somewhere. Six-fifty is as much as we can afford to spend on the whole outfit."
"It will be all right to get second-hand oars," said Charley, "for we can get new ones later, when we have the money. Besides, we want to put most of our money into the boat itself. As long as we are going to build it, we want to make it the very best boat possible. We want the best wood in the market and we want our boat light enough so that the two of us can carry it. I reckon it may cost two or three dollars if we buy such good wood as that. But it will be worth while. We can get along with cheap oars for a time. Let's go down to the lumber-yard and get our boards."
The two chums left the shop and hurried down the street toward the lumber-yard.
"If we can get our lumber to-day," said Charley, "I'm certain we can get our boat made before the spring vacation. We ought to be able to put in three hours apiece every afternoon after high school lets out, and we can get in another hour apiece before school, if we get up early enough. That's four hours apiece, or eight hours a day. We certainly ought to get it finished and painted inside of ten days."
"Sure," replied Lew. "We'll have her done all right. And we'll have just about the finest boat in town."
"And I reckon we'll have just about the finest trip ever," went on Charley. "If we start right after school closes for the Easter vacation we can row up-stream that afternoon as far as Hillman's Grove, and camp there for the night. That will give us almost half a day's extra time. Then we can reach our old camping ground the next day and get the tent up and our wood cut and maybe even catch some fish before dark. We'll have everything ready so we can jump right into the boat and pull out the minute school is over."
"Sure," assented Lew. Then, after a moment's pause, he added, "Ain't it a shame none of the other members of the Wireless Patrol can go along? We'll miss 'em, particularly Roy. And now that he's wireless man on the Lycoming, he'll probably never go on another trip with the Camp Brady Patrol."
"It's too bad for us, but mighty nice for Roy," said Charley. "Just think of being the wireless man on a great ocean steamship when you're only nineteen. He's made for life. Gee! I wish I knew what I am going to do."
"I know how you feel, Charley. Maybe something will turn up so that you won't need to go into the factory after all. But here we are at the lumber-yard. Let's get the boards and begin our boat at once. We'll have a good time this vacation, no matter what happens afterward."
"Well, boys, what can I do for you?" inquired the lumber dealer, as Charley and Lew approached him.
"We want one hundred feet of the lightest and best boards you have," replied Charley. "We are going to build a boat and we want it to be strong but light, so that the two of us can handle it."
"White pine would be just the thing for you," replied the dealer, "but I haven't a foot of it in the place and can't get any. I have some fine cedar boards that would make a good light boat. Just come over to this pile of lumber." And he led the way across the yard.
"That will suit us all right if it's wide enough," said Charley. "We want foot boards."
"Well, that's what these are. And a good inch thick, too. They're mighty good boards. Hardly a knot in 'em. We don't see much lumber like that nowadays."
"They'll do all right," assented Charley, after examining the boards. "What do they cost a hundred?"
"Ten dollars!" cried Charley in consternation. Then a smile came on his face. "Quit your kidding," he said. "What do they come at?"
"Ten dollars," replied the lumber dealer soberly.
The two boys stared at him incredulously.
"Impossible!" cried Lew. "What are they really worth?"
"Ten dollars," replied the man. His voice was sharp and a frown had gathered on his forehead. "Ten dollars, and cheap at that."
Charley turned to his companion with a look of dismay. "We can never build our boat with wood at such a price," he cried. "With five dollars to pay for oars, and two dollars for paint, and some more for nails and rowlocks, and lock and chain, the boat would cost eighteen or twenty dollars just for the materials. That's three times as much as we have got."
After an instant the look on Charley's face changed to one of intense indignation. He had a quick temper, and now he turned to the lumber dealer in anger.
"I guess the sugar profiteers are not the only ones who ought to be in the penitentiary," he said hotly. "You can keep your old boards. And I hope they rot for you."
Then he turned on his heel and started toward the gate, followed by Lew.
"Come back here!"
The words rang out sharp and sudden. The voice was commanding and compelling. Involuntarily the two boys turned back. The lumber dealer stood before them, his face ablaze with indignation. Under his fiery glances the boys were speechless. For a moment the man said nothing. Evidently he was struggling with his temper. When he had gotten control of himself he spoke. His voice was deep and low, but harsh and cutting.
"Before you make a fool of yourself again, young man," he said, speaking directly to Charley, "you had better know what you are talking about. You called me a profiteer for asking $100 a thousand feet for those cedar boards. Young man, those boards cost me $90 a thousand in the cars at the station. That leaves me a margin of $10 a thousand for handling them. Out of that I have to pay to have the boards hauled from the station, pay for insurance on them, pay their proportionate share of overhead expense, and pay for hauling them to customers. How much of that $10 do you think is left for profit? So little it almost requires a microscope to see it. I have to handle a good many hundred feet of lumber to make as much as the cheapest sort of laborer gets for a day's pay. The fact is, young man, that far from profiteering on that lumber, I am selling it at a smaller profit than I ever sold any lumber before in my life. Some lumber I am handling at a loss. But in these critical days, with factories closing everywhere, and men by the thousands being thrown out of work, the best thing a man can do, either for himself or for his country, is to keep business moving. That's why I am selling lumber without profit."
Charley was suddenly abashed. "I'm awfully sorry I called you a profiteer," he said humbly. "I beg your pardon."
"It's all right, young man," said the lumber dealer, a smile once more lighting up his face. "You are too young to understand how critical the business situation really is. But be careful in future how you call people names."
"I certainly will," agreed Charley. "But I'd like to know this. Who is profiteering in lumber? Who is responsible for such terrible prices?"
"Well, there has been profiteering in lumber, as in everything else. But there is a real reason why the price of lumber is so high, and that is the scarcity of timber."
"Scarcity!" cried Charley incredulously. "Why, the forests are full of timber."
"And what is it like?" demanded the lumber dealer. "Go out to the forests and look at it. There's nothing but little poles that will scarcely make six-inch boards. We don't produce one-fourth of the lumber we use in this state, and we are using wood ten times as fast as our forests are growing it."
"I thought Pennsylvania was a great lumbering state," protested Lew.
"For a good many years it led the nation in the production of lumber, young man, but now it ranks twentieth among the states. If only fire could be kept out of the forests, we might some day raise our own timber again. But the lumbermen chopped down the big trees and fire has destroyed the little ones and even burned the forest soil so that nothing grows in it again. We have not only destroyed our forests, but we have so injured the land that new trees do not grow to take the place of those we cut."
The two boys stared at the lumberman in amazement. "Where do we get our lumber from?" demanded Lew.
"Practically all of it comes from the South. That's one reason lumber costs so much here. The people of Pennsylvania pay $25,000,000 a year in freight charges on the lumber they use. That's one of the reasons those cedar boards you were looking at cost so much. When the new freight rates go into effect the cost of hauling our lumber to us will be something like $40,000,000 a year."
The two boys were very thoughtful as they made their way back to Charley's shop.
"What are people going to do for wood pretty soon?" Lew inquired of his companion. "If we can't build a little boat because the wood costs too much, how are people going to get homes and furniture and wagons and motor-cars and a thousand other things? Seems to me pretty much everything we use is made of wood."
"I don't know," replied Charley. "But what bothers me more just now is to know what we are going to do during Easter vacation. It may be the last vacation I shall ever have, and I'd like to have a good time."
"Why not follow the lumber dealer's suggestion and go out to the forests? Easter doesn't come this year until after the trout season opens. We could go out to our old camp in the mountains and spend the vacation there, fishing and hiking."
"That's a mighty good suggestion, Lew. If we have our packs ready, we can start from high school the minute it is dismissed. We can make that early afternoon train and get off at that little flag-station at the foot of Stone Mountain. Then we can hike through the notch and reach the far slope of Old Ironsides before dark. We shall have to camp overnight along the run from the spring there, as it is the only water for miles around. Then the next day we can go on into that little valley where we saw so many trout. That is so hard to reach that not many fishermen ever go there. The little stream from the spring on Old Ironsides runs into that brook. Do you remember what lots of little trout we saw not far below the spring? They will have become big fellows by this time and moved down into the larger stream. There ought to be some fine fishing there this spring."
"They say it's an ill wind that blows nobody good. I'm sorry we can't build the boat, but we shall have just as good a time in the mountains as we should have had on the river. We'll borrow that little pup tent of Johnnie Lee's, and take our blankets, hatchets, fishing-rods, and grub."
"I'd rather leave the tent at home and build a lean-to after we get there. Then we could take a portable wireless outfit and talk to the fellows at home here in the evening. Half a dozen dry cells would give us one-sixth of a kilowatt of current, and that ought to carry a message twenty-five or thirty miles easily. At night we might be able to talk fifty miles. We can carry six cells easily. The remainder of the outfit won't weigh much. We'll have to go as light as we can, for it's a mighty tough hike over Old Ironsides and on into that little valley."
"Shall we take our pistols?" asked Charley.
"We'd better have at least one. You never can tell when you're going to need a pistol in the forest. Remember the time that bear treed me on the first hike of the Wireless Patrol? I don't ever want to get into another situation like that without something to shoot with."
Charley chuckled. "It wasn't a pistol that saved you then," he smiled, "but Willie Brown and his spark-gap."
"Then we'll be doubly armed," replied Lew. "Since you have so much faith in wireless, you can carry the outfit. I'll pack the gun. We're almost certain to have some kind of adventure, for every time the Wireless Patrol or any of its members venture into the woods, something exciting happens."
Off to the Mountains
Busy, indeed, were the succeeding ten days. The outfit that the two boys were to carry was packed and repacked several times, and each time it was overhauled something was eliminated from the packs; for both boys knew well enough that the trip before them would test their endurance even with the lightest of packs. Finally their outfit was reduced to two fishing-rods, one hatchet, a first-aid kit, a flash-light, the necessary food and dishes, one canteen, and one pistol, with the wireless equipment.
This was made as simple as possible. Six new dry cells were to be taken to provide current. Then there were a spark-gap, a spark-coil, a key, and a detector, with the receiving set, switch, and aerial. To be sure, the entire aerial was not packed, but merely the wires and insulators, as spreaders could be made in the forest. Then there was an additional coil of wire to be used for lead-in and suspension wires. No tuning instrument was necessary, because the wireless outfits of all the members of the Camp Brady Wireless Patrol were exactly alike and so were already in tune with one another. Without a tuning instrument, to be sure, it might not be possible for Charley and Lew to talk with anybody except their fellows of the Wireless Patrol, but in the present circumstances that made no difference to them. They had no intention of talking to anybody else.
The various instruments were carefully packed so that they could be carried without injury. The dishes were nested as well as possible. Then all were stowed away in the pack bags, together with the food supplies. The two blankets were tightly folded and tied, ready to be slung over the shoulders. Long before that last session of school, everything was in readiness. When finally that last session was over, the two lads had only to strap their packs on their backs, sling their blankets into place, and pick up their little fishing-rods, unjointed and compactly packed in cloth cases. Lew buckled the pistol to his belt and suspended the canteen from his shoulder, while Charley sheathed his little axe and hung it on his hip. Then, completely ready, the two lads waved farewell to their envious comrades and hastened away to the train. In less than an hour the train stopped to let them off at the little flag-station at the foot of Stone Mountain. In a moment more it had gone whistling around the shoulder of the hill, leaving the two boys alone on the edge of the wilderness.
Quickly they adjusted their packs and started back along the railroad-track toward the gap through which they were to pass to Old Ironsides. Rapidly they made their way along the road-bed.
"We'd better hustle while the going's good," commented Lew, glancing at the heavy clouds that obscured the sun, "for it will get dark early to-night. It'll be slow enough going once we leave the track."
"There's one thing sure," replied Charley. "We won't be bothered with wet ground. I think I never saw the earth so dry at this season of the year. There was almost no snow last winter and we've hardly had a rain this spring. Usually it rains every day at this time of year."
Charley's prediction proved true. When the boys at last reached the notch in the mountains and left the railroad-track, they found the way almost as dry as a village street. Years before, the timber had been cut from Stone Mountain, and a logging trail had passed up the very gap through which the boys were now traveling. But brush and brambles had come in soon after the lumbermen left and now a thick stand of saplings also helped to choke the path. The briars tore at the boys' clothing and blankets. The bushy growths caught in their packs and straps and wrapped themselves about their feet and legs. Very quickly it became evident that a hard struggle lay before them.
Back from the trail, in the forest proper, there was little underbrush, but the stand of young trees was dense and the way underfoot was so rough and uneven that it was almost impossible to make any headway there. For Stone Mountain was a stone mountain in very truth. It appeared to be just one enormous heap of rocks and boulders. In a very little while both boys were perspiring profusely from their efforts, and both were conscious that they were tiring fast; for the grade up the notch was steep.
"Gee!" said Lew, at last. "This is tougher than anything I ever saw when I was in the Maine woods with Dad. We've got to take it easy or we'll be tuckered out before we get through this gap. Let's rest a bit."
He sat down on a stone and Charley followed his example. As they rested, they looked sharply about them. They could see for some distance through the naked forest. The tree trunks stood straight and tall, and seemed to be crowded as close together as pickets on a fence.
"This sure is a fine stand of poles," remarked Lew, "but it's just as that lumber dealer said. There isn't a tree in it that would make a board wider than six inches. But there's some good timber farther back in the mountains. Do you remember the fine stand of pines in that little valley we're heading for? When we were there three years ago there hadn't been a tree cut in that valley. There must be millions and millions of feet of lumber there."
"And do you remember," replied Charley, "how dark it was under those pines, and how cold the water in the run was, and what schools of trout we saw? Gee! I wish it had been trout season then! But we ought to get'em now. Oh boy! I can hardly wait to get there."
"Then we had better be jogging on. It'll be dark before we know it."
"All right," returned Charley, "but I'm going to get a drink before I go any farther."
"I want one, too. Guess I'll fill the canteen. Then we won't have to, stop every time we want a drink."
The two boys scrambled down the slope to the brook. The lumber trail was near the bottom of the notch and they had only a few yards to go. The little run was rushing tumultuously down the notch, splashing over rocks, scurrying over little sandy stretches, ever singing, ever murmuring, in its downward course. Their packs and blankets made it difficult to stretch out flat and drink from the stream, so Lew rinsed out the canteen, filled it, and handed it to his companion. Charley took a good drink and passed the canteen silently back to his chum.
"If you didn't really know it was the brook," said Lew, "you'd be willing to swear you could hear somebody talking. You can hear voices just as plain as can be. And you can almost make out what they say. Many a time I've caught myself listening hard to try to make out the words, when I heard a brook talking."
"It's no wonder people get scared and pretty nearly go crazy when they are lost in the forest," replied Lew. "Without half trying, you can imagine the forest is full of people or spooks or animals or something, creeping up behind your back."
Lew bent down and once more filled the canteen. He corked it tight and dipped it bodily into the run to wet the cloth cover, so that the water within would be kept cool by evaporation. Then he slung the canteen over his shoulder.
"I never saw a mountain stream so low at this time of the year," he remarked, as he followed his companion up the trail. "You might think it was August. But with no snow to melt and no rainfall this spring, it isn't to be wondered at."
On they went up the trail. For a long time neither boy spoke. The brambles still tore at their clothes and the bushes tripped them. In places the young saplings were so dense that to force a way among them was a difficult task. Their packs began to grow very heavy. But they had one advantage. As Charley had suggested, the ground was perfectly dry. There were no slippery sticks to tread on, nor any moss-covered stones, treacherous with their soggy coats. So they could give more attention to the obstacles above ground. But at best it was a hard, difficult climb.
As they mounted higher and higher, the stream in the bottom constantly dwindled. Long before the crest was reached, the brook had become a very feeble stream, indeed. It had its source near the top of the pass, in a great spring that welled up under a large rock. A single hemlock had sprung up here in years past, and, watered by the spring, had grown to enormous size. For some reason the lumbermen had passed it by. Now it reared its giant bulk high above the younger growths around it, casting a dense shade over the spring basin. Practically nothing grew in this deep shade, so that the space above the spring was open and free from bushes. On the trunk of this giant hemlock, where it could be seen by all who came to the spring, was a white sign that read:
Everybody loses when timber burns. Pennsylvania Department of Forestry.
"After our fight with the forest fire, when we were in camp at Fort Brady, they don't need to tell any member of the Wireless Patrol to be careful with fire," observed Lew. "But there are lots of people who do need to be warned."
He dipped the canteen in the spring and passed on. "We're almost at the top," he said, "and I'm not sorry."
"The light is already growing fainter," said Charley, "and it will bother us to see before so very long. It's going to get dark awful early to-night. We'd better hustle."
They reached the summit of the pass and started down the other slope. The trail continued. At first it was choked with briars and bushes. But suddenly they found the trail open. It had been cleared of all obstructions and enlarged until it was several feet wide. Even the roots of the bushes had been grubbed out, so that the path was smooth and clean. The cut saplings and brush had been burned in the trail itself, but the work had been done so carefully that never a tree had been scorched. Even the marks of fire had been obliterated by the subsequent grubbing of the roots.
"Bully good!" cried Lew, when he saw the path lying smooth and open before him. "The forest rangers have been making a fire trail of this old path. We can make great time here."
He pushed on at top speed. Charley hung close at his heels. Neither boy said a word, each saving his breath for the task in hand; for with the packs on their backs even a down-hill trail was not easy.
"We can go scout pace here," said Lew over his shoulder, and suiting his action to his words, he broke into a trot. Fifty steps he went at that gait, then walked fifty. Then he ran fifty more. So they went down the mountain in a mere fraction of the time it had taken them to ascend. But long before they reached the bottom, Lew dropped back to a steady walk.
"We've got to save our wind for the climb up Old Ironsides," he said over his shoulder.
It was well he did so. Before them a long, high mountain stretched across their way, like a giant caterpillar. No notch cut through its rugged side, to give an easy way to the valley beyond. Only by climbing directly over the rugged monster could the two boys reach the snug little valley on its far side, where they expected to find the trout teeming tinder the dark pines. Old Ironsides was the rocky barrier that confronted them. Even Stone Mountain was not more rugged and rocky. Like Stone Mountain it seemed to be a mammoth rock pile. Rocks of every size and description covered its steep slope. Mostly the mountain was shaded by a good stand of second-growth timber; but in places there were vast areas of rounded stones, like flattish heaps of potatoes, that for acres covered the soil of the hill so deeply as to prevent all plant growth. Old Ironsides could have been called Stone Mountain as appropriately as its neighbor, for truly it was rock-ribbed. But the stones on its slopes, unlike those of Stone Mountain, contained a small percentage of iron. Hence its name. The nearer slope of this hill was as dry as it was stony. Not a spring or the tiniest trickle of water wet its rocky side for miles. But part way down the farther slope a splendid stream gushed forth among the rocks. It was this spring, or the stream issuing from it, that Charley and Lew hoped to reach before they made their camp for the night.
Thanks to the work of the forest rangers in clearing the fire trail, it looked as though the two boys would reach their goal before dark. Could they have gone straight up the slope of Old Ironsides, they would have come almost directly to the spring itself. But the grade was far too steep to permit that. They would have to zigzag up the hill and find the stream after they topped the crest. Because of the peculiar formation of the land below this spring, the water did not run directly down the hill toward the bottom, but flowed off to one side and made its way diagonally down the slope.
At the bottom of the fire trail Lew and Charley sat down and rested for five minutes. Then they began their difficult climb upward. And difficult it was. There was no semblance of a path. The way led over jagged masses of rock, through dense little stands of trees, and among growths that were hard to penetrate because of their very thinness; for where the stand was sparse the trees had many low limbs to catch and trip and pull at those who sought to pass through.
There were great areas of bare stones to be crossed—stones rounded and weathered by the elements through thousands of years, and finally heaped together like flattish piles of pumpkins on a barn floor. Acres and acres were covered by these great deposits of rounded, lichened rocks.
In crossing these rocky areas it was necessary to use the greatest caution. Many of the stones rested so insecurely that the slightest pressure would send them rolling downward. If one stone started, others might follow, and great numbers of rocks might go rushing down the hill as coal pours down a chute into a cellar. Serious injury was certain to result if either of the lads got caught in such a slide; for some of the stones in these piles weighed hundreds of pounds.
Rattlesnakes constituted a second danger. The mountains hereabout were full of them. One never could tell at what instant a rattler might be found lying among the stones, or coiled on a flat rock that had been warmed by the sun. So like the rocks themselves in color were these snakes that in the dull light it would have been easily possible to step on one of them without seeing it. So the two boys advanced slowly and cautiously across these barren stretches, stepping gingerly on stones that looked insecure and ever keeping a sharp watch for anything that might suggest snakes.
Up they went and still upward. Across bare rock patches, through brushy growths and among dense stands of young trees, the two boys forced their way, ever ascending, ever working upward toward the summit. Now they made their way to the right, now to the left, and sometimes they climbed straight upward in their efforts to avoid obstacles.
"Gee!" cried Charley after they had been climbing for some time. "This is what I call tough going. Let's have a drink."
They sat down on a stone to rest. Perspiration was pouring down their faces. Both boys were breathing hard. The canteen was uncorked and they took a good drink.
"Not too much," cautioned Lew, as Charley started to take a second draught. "You can't climb if you fill up too full."
After a short rest they went on again. The way grew rockier. There were fewer piles of loose stones, but more outcropping rocks, the bare bones of the earth. Constantly the light dwindled. Their progress grew slower. From time to time they paused to drink and rest.
"We're never going to make it before dark," said Charley, again pausing to get his breath. He took a drink and passed the canteen to his companion.
"Then we'll have to make it after dark," said Lew. "For the canteen is about empty and we've got to have water. I'm so thirsty I could drink a gallon."
They said no more, but pushed ahead as fast as their weary legs would carry them.
"We're not far from the top now," Lew said after a time. "I see our old landmark over to the left. It isn't more than half a mile from that to the water. We'll make it all right."
But he had hardly gone fifty yards before he stopped and cried out. Before him lay a blackened, desolate area that stretched the remainder of the way to the summit. Fire had swept over the spot. But it was not the fact that fire had been through the region that made Lew cry out. Fire and subsequent storms had practically leveled the stand of trees between the spot where Lew stood and the summit. Here and there a blackened tree thrust its bare trunk upward, limbless, its top gone, a ragged, spectral, pitiful remnant of what had been a beautiful tree. But mostly the thick stand of young poles had been laid low even as a scythe levels a field of grain. And these fallen poles lay in almost impassable confusion, twisted and tangled and in places heaped in towering masses. A barbed wire entanglement would hardly have been a worse obstacle. To penetrate the mass, even in the light of noon, would have been no easy work; but to cross the area now, with dusk fast deepening to darkness, was indeed a difficult task.
"Well," said Lew, after a few searching glances at the burned area, "we've got to go on, and we might as well plow straight through it. I can't see that one way looks any easier than another."
They went on, slowly, painfully. Now they were forced to crawl underneath a fallen tree, now to climb over one. Again and again their way was completely blocked by high barriers of interlocked trunks and branches. Sometimes they had to mount the fallen trunks and cautiously walk from one to another. Darkness came on apace. They could hardly see. The flash-light was brought forth, the last drop in the canteen swallowed, and they started forward on their final push.
"It's only a few hundred yards to the top, now," said Lew. "It will be easier going down the other side."
Painfully slow was their progress. More than once each of them tripped and fell. The sharp ends of the broken branches tore their clothes and scratched them badly. But silently, doggedly, they pushed on. At last there remained but one barrier between them and the summit. It was a great pile of fallen trunks that had no visible ending. There was nothing to do but go over it. From one log to another they scrambled up, each helping the other, advancing a foot at a time, feeling the way with hands and feet and searching out a path with the little light. So high were the trees piled that at times the boys walked ten feet in air, making their way gingerly along the slender trunks. Eventually they got beyond the log barrier and the remainder of the way to the top was more open. At last they stood on the very summit.
"I wonder where our landmark is," queried Lew, flashing his light this way and that. "I understand now why we saw it so plainly from below. There were no standing trees to hide it. We never saw it from so far away before."
The landmark was a great, upright rock like a huge chimney. It was not far distant and presently Lew found it. The boys made their way to it.
"Now," said Lew, with a sigh of relief, "we go straight down. We should come to the brook flowing from the spring in a few minutes. We'll have to make it soon or I'll die of thirst."
They started down the slope. The fire had swept over the summit and the way before them was like the area they had just crossed. But they were now going down-hill and it was far easier to force their way. A few yards at a time they advanced, now held back by a fallen log or turned aside by dense entanglements of prostrate trunks.
Presently Lew gave a cry. "Do you see that big stone like an altar, Charley?" he called, turning the light on a great rock. "That's the stone where we made our fire the last time we were here. It stands within twenty-five feet of the brook."
"Thank goodness!" answered Charley. "My back is about broken. This pack weighs a ton! And I'll die if I don't get water soon."
Recklessly they pushed forward, almost running in their eager haste.
"Here we are," exulted Lew, a moment later. "Here's the brook."
Before him he could dimly make out the depression in the earth where the stream ran. He dropped his pack and ran forward, then threw himself flat in the darkness and felt in the stream bed for a pool deep enough to drink from. His fingers touched only dry sand and stones.
"The light, Charley," he panted. "Bring the light, quick."
His comrade flung his own pack on the earth and ran forward to the bank of the stream. He turned his light downward and flashed it right and left along the bed of the brook. There was no answering sparkle of light. The bed of the brook was not even moist. The spring had gone dry.
In the Burned Forest
The two boys were almost stunned by their discovery. For a moment neither spoke. Indeed neither dared to speak. Their disappointment was so keen, their thirst so intense, that both boys were near to tears. But presently they got command of themselves.
"I knew it had been a mighty dry season," said Lew, in amazement, "but I never imagined it was anything like this. I supposed that spring never went dry."
The two lads stood looking at each other in consternation.
"What in the world shall we do?" asked Charley, slowly.
"I don't see that we can do anything," rejoined Lew. "I'm all in myself. I couldn't go another rod if somebody would pay me. We'll just have to make the best of it."
"Well, we can eat if we can't drink," said Charley. "Start a fire and I'll get out the grub."
Charley began to unroll his pack, while Lew gathered up a few twigs and made a cone-shaped little pile of them close beside the great rock. He struck a match and in a moment flames were drawing upward through the twigs. With the hatchet Lew cut some short lengths of heavier wood and soon the flames were leaping high, lighting up the forest for rods around.
Dismal, indeed, was the sight the two lads looked upon. Nowhere could they see anything green, save a few scattered ferns. Everywhere gaunt, ragged, blackened trees thrust their sorrowful looking trunks aloft. The earth was littered with blackened debris—burned and partly charred limbs and fallen trees. The very rocks were fire-scarred and scorched. Hardly could the mind of man conceive a picture more desolate. As the two boys looked at the scene before them, Lew quoted the sign on the hemlock.
"Everybody loses when timber burns," he said. But though both boys were looking directly at what seemed the very acme of destruction and loss, neither as yet comprehended the full significance of the statement Lew was quoting.
Charley spread the grub out on his blanket and put the dishes together near the fire. While he was waiting for a bed of coals to form, he cut some bread and spread the slices with butter. Presently he put the little frying-pan over the coals and began to cook some meat. Every time he bent over his pile of grub, he smelled the coffee. The odor was tantalizing, almost torturing. Never, it seemed to him, had he ever wanted anything so much as he now wanted a drink of coffee. But with no water they could have no coffee. Finally Charley put the package of coffee in the coffee-pot and clamped down the lid so that the odor could reach him no longer. From time to time Lew quietly stirred the coals. Charley fried the meat in silence. Neither boy felt like talking.
When the meal was ready, they sat down on the dry ground and in silence ate their food.
Presently Lew broke the quiet. "I wonder what Roy had to say to-night. I thought maybe we'd be able to get our wireless up and listen in. But I'm too tired to bother with any wireless to-night, even from Roy. It'll be the hay for mine, quick."
He began to look for a place where they could sleep. When he had selected a spot, he took the hatchet and with the back of it smoothed the ground, removing all stones and little stumps. Charley, meantime, put the food away and piled the dishes. They could not be washed. Then the two boys rolled themselves in their blankets, put their pack bags under their heads and were asleep almost instantly. Their difficult climb had tired them utterly.
The next morning found them fully refreshed. No clouds hung above them, and the sun's rays awoke them early. Aside from their intense thirst, neither felt any the worse for his hard experience.
"It's still early," said Lew, as he looked at the sun that had hardly more than cleared the summit of the eastern hills. "Let's push on down to the bottom and cook breakfast after we reach water. It won't take very long to get down, and then we can have some coffee. Oh boy! I never knew how good coffee was."
"I could drink anything—even medicine," smiled Charley, "so it was wet."
Rapidly the packs were assembled and the blankets rolled. "Put things together good," said Lew, "for it will be a tough journey even if we are going down-hill. I've been looking at some of the tangles we came through last night and I don't see how we ever made it."
"Sometimes," replied Charley, "it's a good thing a fellow can't know exactly what he's attempting. If he did know, maybe he'd never have the nerve to try."
They started down the slope, their packs and blankets securely slung about them and even tied fast with strings, to prevent them from catching among the fallen trees. Unintentionally they followed the dry bed of the stream. It led along a slight depression that ran diagonally down the mountainside. But quickly they realized that this was the most difficult path they could have chosen. For along the margins of the brook, the timber, fed by the flow of water, had been much denser and larger than the timber farther from the bank of the stream. So dense was the tangle now that at first the boys could see only a few hundred yards ahead of them. Presently they noticed that they were traveling through the thickest part of the timber, or what had been timber. If possible, their way was more difficult than it had been in ascending the mountain. But daylight and the fact that they were going down-hill made it possible for them to travel with comparative rapidity. Once they noticed that they were advancing by the most difficult route, they left the margin of the brook and cut straight down the slope.
Now the way was more open. They could see farther. But both were so preoccupied with what lay immediately around them that for a time neither gave heed to more distant views. Furthermore, the bottom was still obscured by a heavy night mist. The warm spring sun rapidly dissipated this, opening the valley to view as though some invisible hand had rolled back a giant cover. Presently Lew reached a little area that was swept absolutely bare of everything. Nothing remained but the nude rocks and soil. Lew, who was leading the way, paused to spy out the best path. Then he cried out in dismay. A moment later Charley stood by his side and both boys gazed in speechless horror at the scene before them.
The magnificent stand of pines that they had expected to see in the bottom was no more. For miles the valley before them was a blackened waste. Like giant jackstraws the huge pine sticks, that they had last seen as magnificent, towering trees, were heaped in inextricable confusion or still stood, broken, blasted, gaunt, limbless, spectral, awful remnants of their former selves. No words could convey the terrible desolation of the scene. Where formerly these giant pines had risen heavenward, higher and more stately than the most exquisite church spires or cathedral columns, there were now only scattered and blasted stumps, while the floor of the valley was strewn with the horrible debris. The scene was sickening, appalling.
For a moment neither lad spoke. The scene before them oppressed them, made them sick at heart. They knew no language that would convey what was in their minds. But even yet they did not fully understand the tragedy of a forest fire. They were soon to learn. Silently they went on; but they had gone no more than a hundred yards when they came upon a sight that fairly sickened them. In a little circle, as though the animals had crowded close together in their terror and helplessness, lay the remains of a number of deer. The flesh had either been burned or had rotted away; but the most of the bones and parts of the hides remained. There could be no mistake as to the identity of the dead animals. The very positions of the skeletons told a pitiful story. Blinded by smoke and flame, made frantic by the red death that was sweeping the forest, confused, terror-stricken, weakened by gas and fumes, the poor beasts had finally crowded together and perished under the onrushing wave of fire. For a moment the boys gazed at the scene in fascinated horror; then they turned away, to shut out the picture. They were oppressed, almost stunned.
They went on. Not a vestige of its former magnificent vegetation covered the slope. Nothing in the world could be more awful, more desolate, more disheartening to behold than the area the two chums were now crossing. Never had either seen anything that so oppressed him. For not only had the slope of Old Ironsides been laid waste, but the entire bottom had been swept by fire, and the opposite mountain slope devastated. Before them was nothing but desolation.
Soon they were near enough to see the sparkle of water in the bottom. In their horror at their immediate surroundings they had temporarily forgotten even their terrible thirst. The sight of water recalled their need.
"Thank God water can't burn!" cried Lew, as the sparkle of the brook caught his eye. "We'd be in a fine pickle if the brook had been consumed, too."
The prospect of a drink stirred them. They threw off the spell that so depressed them and hastened downward, reckless alike of menacing branches and loose stones and obstructing tree trunks. Headlong they pushed downward. But fortune was with them and neither a broken bone nor a strained ligament resulted, though more than once each lad slipped and fell. Presently they reached the bottom of the slope and came to the very brink of the run. Almost frantically they flung themselves on the ground and drank.
Long, copious draughts they drank; and it was not until they had quenched their thirst that they really noticed how shrunken the brook was. Instead of the deep, rushing mountain stream they had seen when last they visited the spot, they now found but a slender rivulet that flowed quietly along the middle of the stream bed, leaving bare, bordering ribbons of stony bottom along its margins. Nowhere did the water seem to reach from bank to bank, excepting where some obstruction in the stream bed dammed the current back. Like the forest, the brook was also a sorrowful picture. But there was this difference. The forest was dead, whereas the brook, though feeble, still lived.
The full significance of the shrunken stream did not strike the two boys until they had traveled for some distance up the bank of the run. Presently they came to a spot they recognized as a favorite trout-hole. A great boulder jutted out from one bank, while opposite it, on the other shore, stood or had stood, a mammoth hemlock. These obstructions had formed a little pool, and the current had eaten away much earth from beneath the roots of the great tree, forming an ideal lurking place for trout. And in this dark, deep, secure retreat great fish had lived since time immemorial. More than one huge trout had the two chums taken here. Never was the pool without its giant occupant, for when one big fellow was caught another moved in to take his place, the run being fully stocked from year to year by the smaller fishes from the spring brooks, like the vanished rivulet above. But now no trout hid under the hemlock's roots. They stood high and dry, while the puny stream that trickled beneath them would hardly have covered a minnow. The two boys looked at each other in dismay.
"You don't suppose the entire stream is like that, do you, Lew?" asked Charley. "There won't be a trout in it if it is." Then, after a pause, he added: "What in the world do you suppose has become of the trout, anyway?"
His question was soon answered, at least in part. Continuing along the bank of the run, the boys presently came to one of the deepest pools in the stream. In the crystal water they could see many trout, for there were no hiding-places in the pool at this low stage of water. Some of the fish were large. At the approach of the boys the frightened trout darted frantically about in the pool, vainly seeking cover.
Around the margins of this pool were innumerable little tracks in the earth. "Raccoons!" exclaimed Lew. "There must have been dozens of them here."
But not until he found some little piles of fish-bones near the farther end of the pool did he grasp the significance of the tracks. He stopped in amazement.
"Look here, Charley," he called, pointing to the piles of fish-bones. "Those coons have been catching and eating trout." Then, after a moment's thought, he added, "If this stream is like this in April, what will it be in August? There will be hardly a drop of water or a trout left. Why, this brook is ruined for years as a trout-stream—maybe forever. And it used to be absolutely the finest trout-stream in this part of the mountains."
Depressed and silent, the two lads continued along the brook. The mountains on either side of them and the entire bottom between lay black and desolate. But far up the run they could now see green foliage again, where the fire had been stopped.
"Let's go on to those pines before we eat our breakfast," said Charley. "It would make me sick to eat here in these ruins."
"That's exactly the way I feel, too," replied Lew. "It is the most awful thing I ever saw. Let's get out of it."
As rapidly as they could, they forced their way up-stream. The valley became narrower as they advanced. It was shaped like a huge wish-bone; and they were nearing the small end, where the mountains came together and formed a high knob. As the valley narrowed, the grade became much steeper, and their progress was correspondingly slower.
The pines they were heading for stood almost at the top of the knob at the crotch of the wish-bone. They were, therefore, at a considerable elevation. From the edge of these pines one would have to travel only a short distance to reach the very summit of the knob. After a hard walk the boys reached the end of the burned tract. They penetrated into the living forest far enough to shut out the sight of the dead forest they had just traversed. Then they threw down their packs and hastily set about cooking their breakfast.
"Gee!" cried Lew. "I never was so glad to get away from anything in my life. I hope I shall never again see a sight like that. It fairly makes a fellow sick."
In their haste to start cooking, they were not as careful as they might have been in building their fire, and they made considerable smoke. Before they were half done eating, a man appeared farther up the run, advancing through the pines at great speed. He seemed to be in a big hurry until he caught sight of the two boys as they sat on the dry pine-needles. After that he came forward at an ordinary gait.
"Good-morning, boys," he said pleasantly, as he drew near. Then, catching sight of their rods, he added, "If you came to get fish, you struck a mighty poor place."
"It used to be the best place for trout I ever saw," replied Lew. "This brook used to be full of 'em—big ones, too. But the season has been so dry, the brook has almost disappeared."
"You mean that the fires that have swept this valley have burned it up," replied the stranger.
"It's too awful a thing to joke about," replied Lew.
"A joke!" exclaimed the stranger, frowning.
"It's the literal truth—and a most terrible truth, at that."
"I don't understand," said Lew, slowly. "How can fire burn water? I supposed the lack of snow last winter and of rain this spring had made the brook shrink."
"Not for a minute, young man, not for a minute. If fires hadn't swept this valley the past two or three years, there would have been plenty of water in the run, rain or no rain."
"I—I don't exactly understand," said Lew hesitatingly.
"It's like this," said the stranger. "The forest floor is like a great sponge. The decayed leaves and twigs are so light and porous that they soak up most of the rain as it falls and hold the water indefinitely. That keeps the springs full, and the springs feed the brooks, and so there is water all the year round. It is nature's method of storing up water. When a fire sweeps through the forest, especially such awful fires as have gone through this valley, the leaves and twigs above ground are burned, and even the roots and the decaying vegetable matter under the earth are consumed. Nothing is left but mineral matter—particles of rock, stones, sand, and the like. The rain will no longer sink into the ground, nor will the earth hold the water as the rotting leaves do. Then when it rains, the water runs off as fast as it falls. The brooks are flooded for a few hours and then they dry up until another rain comes. So you see I meant exactly what I said. This trout-stream was burned up by the forest fires. Likewise many of the trout were burned up with it, for in places the fire made the water hotter than trout can stand. Thousands of them were literally cooked."
For a while both boys were silent. The idea was a new one to them.
Presently Charley spoke. "I knew that fire burned up our timber," he said, "but I never thought about its burning up our water, too. I know we're getting awful short of lumber. Is there any danger of our running out of water? But that can't be, surely."
"It surely can be," said the stranger. "I judge you boys have been here before, and——-"
"We have," interrupted Lew.
"Then you know what a magnificent stream this run used to be. Look at it now. I don't believe there is one-tenth as much water in it as there used to be. Suppose all the mountains in this state should be devastated like this valley. Where would the towns and cities get their water?"
"Great Caesar!" said Lew. "I never thought of that. There wouldn't be any water for them to get. If the brooks dried up, the rivers would dry up, too. Why—why—what in the world would we do? There wouldn't be any water to drink or wash in or cook with or run our factories. Why, great Caesar! If the forests vanished, I guess we'd be up against it. I never thought of the forests as furnishing anything but lumber. And I never thought much about that until we tried to buy a little lumber the other day and the dealer wanted ten dollars for half a dozen boards."
"Exactly!" said the stranger. "That's the price you and I and the rest of us in Pennsylvania pay for allowing our forests to be destroyed."
"They haven't all been destroyed," protested Lew.
"No, but the greater part of them have been."
"You don't mean really destroyed, do you?" asked Lew.
"Yes, sir. Absolutely destroyed. You came up this valley, didn't you?"
"Sure," said Charley.
"Would you call the forest there destroyed?"
"If it isn't, I don't know how you would describe it," said Lew.
"All right, then. There are some 45,000 square miles in this state. Originally practically all of that area was dense forests. The early settlers thought the timber would last forever and they cut and destroyed it recklessly. The lumbermen that followed were just as wasteful. It was all right to clear the land that was good for farming. But there are more than 20,000 square miles in this state just like these mountains—land that is fit for nothing but the production of timber. None of that land is producing as much timber as it should. Much of it yields very little. And more than 6,400 square miles are absolutely desert, as bare and hideous as the burned valley below us. That's one acre in every seven in Pennsylvania. Think of it! Six thousand, four hundred square miles, an area larger than the states of Connecticut and Rhode Island put together, that is absolute desert! Every foot of that land ought to be producing timber for us. Then we should have lumber at a fraction of its present cost. You see the freight charges alone on the lumber used in this state are enormous."
"That lumber dealer told us they amounted to $25,000,000 a year," replied Lew.
"They do," assented the stranger. "And when the new freight rates go into effect the amount will be $40,000,000. What it will be when we get our wood from the Pacific coast I have no idea, but I suppose it will be at least double what it is now, anyway."
"The Pacific coast!" cried Lew. "Why should we get lumber from the Pacific coast when we can get it from the South? The lumber dealer told us that practically all the wood we use now conies from the South."
"He was right. But we shall presently be getting our lumber from the far West for the same reason that we now get it from the South. In ten or a dozen years there won't be any lumber left in the South for us to buy. They will do well to supply themselves. Then we must bring our lumber from Idaho and Oregon and Washington and California. The freight charges will be something terrific, and the wood itself will cost a good deal more than it now does because it will be so scarce."
"Great Caesar!" cried Lew. "What will a poor devil do then if he wants to build a boat?"
"Or if he wants to build a house?" suggested the stranger. "You know lots of folks have to build houses every year. Look at all the people who get married and build homes. Why, when I was a little boy, you could buy the finest kind of lumber for ten or fifteen dollars a thousand. It didn't cost much then to build a house. Now a man has to work for years before he can save enough to pay for a home, even a very modest one. And what it will cost when the wood from the South and the far West is all gone I hate to imagine."
"The wood from the far West all gone!" cried Charley. "Surely that can never be. Why, the forests there are enormous. I've read all about them."
"The forests here were enormous, too, young man. Forty years ago Pennsylvania supplied a large part of the nation with its lumber. And to-day we don't grow more than one-tenth of the wood we use. Yes, sir; within twenty-five years or so after we have finished up the wood in the South, there won't be any left in the far West, either."
"What in the world are we going to do?" asked Lew.
"God knows," said the stranger solemnly. "But there is one thing we've got to do right now. Get these mountains to growing timber again. We must take care of what has already started to grow and plant trees where there are none. Most important of all, we must be careful with fire. I came down here just to warn you boys to be careful with your fire."
"It wasn't necessary," said Lew. "We fought a forest fire once, and nobody but an idiot would ever be careless with fire if he had seen what we have seen this morning."
"Well, I must be moving, boys. There are lots of other fishermen that are not as careful as you are. Good-bye."
The man started on, then turned back. "If you came here to fish," he said slowly, "you're up against it. But I can tell you where to go to get all the trout you want. Go on up to the top of this knob. Face exactly east and you will see a gap in the second range of mountains. Make your way through that gap and you'll find as fine a trout-stream as God ever made. This is state forest and the Forestry Department wants everybody to use and enjoy the forests. We are always glad to help campers."
"Are you connected with the State Forest Service?" asked Charley, all interest.
"Of course," smiled the stranger. "I'm a forest-ranger," and he threw back his coat, exhibiting a keystone shaped badge on his breast.
"And it's your duty to protect the forest from fire?" asked Charley.
"Yes; and do a lot more besides. A forest-ranger has to look after the forest just as a gardener has to tend a garden. And that means we must care for everything in the forest—birds and animals and fish as well as trees, though, of course, the game wardens have particular charge of the animals."
"And how do you take care of the animals and the trees?" demanded Charley eagerly.
"Young man," he said, "it would take me all day to answer your question. We do whatever is necessary to the welfare of the forest and its inhabitants. We take out wolf trees, make improvement cuttings, plant little trees, keep our telephone-line in shape, and do a million other things, as we find them necessary. If I had time just now, I'd go down this run and pile some stones in the pools for the trout to hide under. I was through here the other day and I noticed that the coons are playing hob with the fish."
"And does the state pay you for doing this work?"
"Certainly. Pays me well, too."
"Tell me how I could——-" began Charley.
But the ranger interrupted him. "I can't tell you another thing now," he said. "I must be moving. You never can tell when some careless fisherman will set the forest on fire. The fact is I ought to be at headquarters with the other rangers. The chief keeps us pretty close to the office during the fire season, so as to have a fire crew at hand to respond instantly to an alarm. But we have had such difficulty in securing fire patrols this spring that some of us rangers have to do patrol duty. This piece of timber you are in is the most valuable part of this entire forest. It is virgin pine. It would cut close to 100,000 feet to the acre. There is very little timber left in all Pennsylvania as fine as this. A good part of it has already been burned. We are keeping close watch on what is left. You never can tell when or where fires will start and we want to grab them at the first possible minute. So I must shake a leg."
"How do you grab a fire?" demanded Charley. "Please tell us. Maybe we could help put one out some day if we knew how."
The ranger laughed. "You're a persistent Indian," he said, "and I'm glad you like the forest."
"Like it!" exclaimed Charley. "I love it."
He poured a cup of hot coffee and handed it to the ranger. "Tell us how you put out a fire," he pleaded.
The ranger chuckled. "You're a diplomat as well as a forest lover, I see," he said. "Well, I shall keep moving through this tract of timber all day long. If I see a fire I shall hurry to it, the way I came down to your big smoke. I'll put it out, if possible. And if I can't get it out, I'll summon help. Then we'll fight it until we do get it out."
"How could you get help, when you're alone in the deep forest?"
"I'd make my way out to the highway where our wire runs and connect up this portable telephone," and the ranger pointed to a little leather case, like a kodak box, that hung from his shoulder by a leather strap. "In a minute's time a fire crew would be on the way to my assistance in a motor-truck."
The ranger handed Charley the empty cup and thanked him.
"Have some more coffee?" urged Charley.
"'Get thee behind me, Satan,'" quoted the ranger. "I believe you'd keep me here all day if you could. I must be moving."
"Just a minute," pleaded Charley. "You said it was difficult to find fire patrols. Could I get a job as a fire patrol? I don't know as much about fighting fire as you do, but I can patrol the forest and report fires as well as anybody."
"I wish you could be a patrol," replied the ranger heartily. "I'm sure you'd make a good one. You seem to like the forest. But I don't believe it is possible. The chief never hires anybody under twenty-one years of age excepting in very unusual circumstances. In fact, I know of only two such cases. And those two boys were almost of age and were unusualy well qualified. I'm sorry, for I'd like to see you in the Forest Service. Good-bye." He turned on his heel and was gone.
Lew watched the ranger until he disappeared from view. Charley scarcely glanced at him. He was lost in thought. Evidently his thoughts were not pleasant, for from time to time he scowled.
"Lew," he said, at length, "I never realized until this minute just what that sign on the old hemlock meant." And he quoted: "'Everybody loses when timber burns.' It's true. Everybody loses—positively everybody. The sportsmen lose game, the fishermen lose fish, the towns lose their water-supply, the mills lose their water-power, civilization loses wood. Why, Lew, civilization's built of wood. How could we live without it? And as for me, think what I've lost through forest fires. I've lost an opportunity to own half of a boat. I've suffered from thirst. I've lost a chance to catch some fish. And, Lew, I've lost a college education! I never understood it before. If the cost of lumber hadn't gone up so much, Dad could have paid for his house easily and helped me through college. Now I've got to give up going to college. I've got to work two or three years for Dad and if ever I get married and want to build a home, I see where I've got to slave for the rest of my life to pay for the lumber that's in it, and the wooden furnishings inside of it. Think of it, Lew! You and I and all the rest of us have to work for years and years just to pay for what a lot of reckless people did before we were born. It's terrible, Lew, terrible. I've got to spend three years in a factory because of it. I thought for a minute that I might get a job here in the forest. That would have been grand. But there's no such luck. It's the factory for me. I'm sure of it. I don't know how I'll ever stand it, Lew."
A Lost Opportunity
Half an hour later the two boys were all but ready to go on. Before rolling his pack, Charley filled his coffee-pot in the run and thoroughly soaked the last embers of their fire.
"You'll never burn any timber," he said, as he poured on the last potful. Then he stowed the coffee-pot in his pack and in a few moments the two boys were once more afoot.
They struck directly for the top of the knob, as the ranger had told them to do. The slope of the ground alone guided them. So dense was the stand of timber that the huge trunks shut off the view in all directions. It was almost as though they were encircled by palisades. And so thick was the shade that rarely did a sunbeam reach the earth. They were in the forest primeval, a land of perpetual gloom. There was no underbrush and they could travel rapidly. In a very short time they came to the top of the knob.
The summit had been entirely cleared of timber. On the very highest point one lone tree remained. A long pole had been planted near its trunk, with its top fastened to a branch of the tree. Crossbars between the tree and the pole made a sort of rude ladder of the affair. And well up the tree a rough staging had been constructed of small limbs. The boys saw at once that this was a rude sort of watch-tower, and they suspected that the ranger had been in the tree when he discovered the smoke from their fire.
They climbed up the tree and surveyed the scene before them in silence. Indeed, it was too sublime for words. On every side stretched the forest. Mile upon mile, league after league, east, west, north, south, far as the eye could reach, spread the leafy roof of the forest, seemingly illimitable, boundless, vast as the ocean, a sea of trees. And like a sea the forest rose and fell in huge billows. On either hand great mountains reared their huge bulk heavenward. Beyond them other ranges heaved their rugged crests aloft. And still other ranges lay beyond these. Over all was a cover of living green, the canopy of the forest. Sublime, majestic, awesome, almost overpowering was the spectacle. And neither lad could find words to express the emotion that arose within him. So they stood and looked in silent wonder. Finally Charley spoke.
"It's worth all we've been through, Lew, just to see this," he said. "I shall be well paid for the trip, even if we never get a fish."
Presently Lew looked up at the sun. Then he examined the mountains a little to the left of the sun.
"There's where we go," he said, pointing over the nearest ridge to a gap in the mountain beyond it. "The trout-stream will be in the third valley. We've got to travel due east. And it will be some hike, too—over a mountain and through a high gap. Let's pick out our landmarks and get under way. It will take us a good many hours to make it, but we ought to be there in time to have trout for supper."
For a few moments the boys examined the way in silence.
"See that bunch of rocks on the summit?" asked Lew. "They look like chimney-rocks from here. Anyway, they stick up higher than any other part of the mountain. And there's three tall pines right beside them. That's a good landmark. It's exactly in a straight line for the gap. We can find that mark if we can find anything. But you can't see very clearly through this timber. Was there ever anything like it?"
"Finest timber I ever set eyes on, Lew. Isn't it wonderful? and to think that the whole state was once covered with timber like that!"
They climbed down the rude ladder, slipped their packs over their shoulders, and set off down the mountainside at a fast pace. And they could go fast in such timber. No underbrush tripped them or caught in their sacks. No low limbs impeded their progress. Indeed there was hardly a limb nearer the ground than fifty feet. Their only care was for the rocks and the roughness underfoot. From time to time they paused as they came to some mammoth pine, and gazed in awed wonder at its huge bulk.
As they got down into the bottom the timber seemed to be even larger than it was on the slope. The forest floor was soft and springy. Their feet sank into it as into a soft, thick rug. The top of this leafy covering was dry enough; but a few inches under the surface, the forest mold was as moist as though a shower had just fallen. Yet there had been almost no rain for months. Not only did the leaves hold the moisture, but the very shade itself conserved it by preventing evaporation.
In the very centre of the valley ran a little stream. Long before they could see it, they heard the brook talking to itself. The forest was filled with a gentle murmur, which grew to a distinct rushing sound as they approached the stream.
"Can't you just hear it speak?" said Lew. "What do you suppose it is saying?"
"Those really are voices," insisted Charley.
"Now who's getting dippy?" laughed Lew. "You'll be as bad as I am if you keep on."
"But I do hear voices," protested Charley. "I plainly heard the word 'six.' Listen. Somebody said 'eight,' just as plain as could be."
Lew looked puzzled. "Of course there might be some fishermen in here besides ourselves," he said.
They looked carefully about them, but at first saw nothing. Then a voice distinctly said, "Hemlock—five." There could no longer be any doubt. Some one besides themselves was in the forest.
They made their way in the direction of the sound. Presently they saw three men. Two of them carried calipers and walked in advance. The third came behind and held a pencil and note-book.
"Wonder who they are and what they are doing," Charley said quietly.
"Let's watch and see."
But in a moment the approaching party caught sight of them. "Good-morning, boys," said the man with the note-book. "Out for trout?"
"Surest thing you know," replied Lew. "But we've had hard luck. We intended to fish in the valley back of us. It used to be a fine place for trout. But it's been burned over and there are no trout left."
"I know," said the man. "I've seen it. Be careful with your fires, boys. We don't want any more of this fine timber burned."
"Are you a forest-ranger, too?" asked Charley eagerly.
"No; I'm the forester. I have charge of this forest."
"Why, I thought you were at headquarters with your fire crew," cried Charley, hardly realizing what he was saying.
The man looked at him sharply. "I ought to be and I wish I were," he said. "I don't like this a bit. But I was ordered by the Commissioner to send in an immediate estimate on the amount of timber in this stand. There's a big sale on and they have to know how much there is to sell." He paused and then added: "How in the world did you know I was supposed to be at headquarters with the fire crew?"
"A ranger told us so. We met him over in the other valley. He said he wished he was with you."
"Oh! That would be Morton," said the forester. "I sent him out on patrol because we were short of fire patrols."
"Could you use me as a fire patrol?" said Charley quickly.
The forester looked at him searchingly. "Why do you want to be a fire patrol?" he asked.
"I've got to go to work at something," said Charley, "and I'd love to help care for the forest. You see, I'm almost through high school and I've got to go to work and help Dad the minute I've graduated. He wants me to go into the factory with him. I hate factories. But I love the woods. You'd never be sorry, if you hired me, sir."
"Are you sure it isn't work rather than the factory you dislike?" demanded the forester bluntly.
"No, no!" protested Charley. "I'd work day and night gladly if I could do what I want to do. And there's nothing I can think of I'd rather do than help take care of the forest."
"Very good," said the forester, "but I need patrols now, not after school closes in June."
"Maybe I could get excused for the rest of the term," pleaded Charley.
"And throw away your chance to graduate? I don't think I want that kind of a boy for a fire patrol," said the forester with a frown. "You might decide to quit this job, too, about the time we stacked up against a hot fire."
Lew spoke up. "You don't understand what Charley means, sir," he explained. "Charley is away ahead of most of us in his school work. He's done enough now to give him his diploma."
"Indeed!" replied the forester.
Then he turned to Charley in apology. "I beg your pardon, young man. I misjudged you. I should like to have such an exemplary young man for a patrol, but you are too young. We practically never employ a man not yet of age as a fire patrol. A boy would have to have very unusual qualifications if we did take him. I'm sorry, my lad. I believe you are a fine boy, and I'd like to hire you. But you are too young."
Charley turned his head away to hide the tears that he could not keep back as he saw the opportunity slipping away from him. Then he dashed his hand across his eyes and again faced the forester.
"You do not understand who we are," he said with determination, "nor what our qualifications are. I am accustomed to the woods, sir. I know something of woodcraft. I have fought fire in the forest. I have spent weeks in the mountains. And I am a wireless operator, sir. Are any of your patrols better qualified?"
The forester looked at him with renewed interest. "As a patrol," he remarked, "you would have to deal with grown men. You would find yourself in many situations that you could not handle. Grown men do not like to take orders from boys."
"I have handled men, sir; that is, I have helped to handle them. I helped to capture the German dynamiters at Elk City, sir, when the Camp Brady Wireless Patrol saved that place from destruction."
"Are you a member of that organization?" asked the forester with increasing interest. "I remember reading about that."
"We both are," said Charley. "And I could help you so much with my wireless, sir. Your ranger told us this morning that if he found a fire he couldn't handle, he would have to go clear out to the highway before he could summon help. With the wireless, help could be summoned almost instantly."
The forester smiled indulgently. "It sounds good," he commented. "But you forget that we have no wireless and that none of us knows anything about radio-telegraphy. No; I am afraid I can't use you, though I'd like to. If you still want a job when you are of age, come to me. I can use you as a patrol and I might even have a place for you as a ranger. We have mighty few rangers as well educated and equipped as you will be. Or you might even decide to go to Mont Alto and take a degree in forestry and become a forester like myself. I would like to see you in the service, but I can't take you in now. I must get on with my work and hurry back to my office. Good-bye and good luck to you. And don't forget about your fires."
Turning to the elder of his two companions, he said, "All right, Finnegan. Go ahead."
The man stepped to the nearest tree, slipped his calipers on it breast-high, then glanced aloft. "White pine, forty-three, five," he called.
The forester put down the figures in his cruising book.
"Hemlock, twenty-eight, four," called the other man.
The men were experienced timber cruisers. They were measuring the amount of wood in the forest. The first man meant that the white pine tree he was measuring was forty-three inches in diameter breast-high and would make five standard logs, each sixteen feet long. The second scaler had measured a hemlock twenty-eight inches in diameter and long enough for four logs. They were measuring the timber on a few acres, so as to form an estimate of the amount for sale.
The work interested Lew greatly, but Charley had no heart for anything. He had fought hard and apparently his last chance had slipped away from him.
He was very quiet as they made their way through the valley. Even the run in the bottom failed to stir him, though he loved the little mountain streams passionately. Yet he did notice that here, beneath the lofty pines, where the forest mold lay deep and spongy, the brook flowed strongly. It sang as it rushed along between its rugged banks. But there was no music in its song for Charley. So alluring was the stream that Lew wanted to fish, but Charley had no heart even to try for a trout; though it was practically a certainty that there were trout aplenty to be had. Time heals all wounds. It would heal Charley's: but not enough time had yet elapsed for the healing process to begin. At present he could think of nothing but his dismal prospects.
So they went on through the bottom and slowly ascended the opposite mountain. As they had suspected might be the case, it was impossible to distinguish the landmarks they had chosen. The innumerable great trunks of the pines cut off their vision as effectually as a high board fence could have done. But the slope of the land told them which way to go, and the freedom from underbrush made it possible for them to travel in a comparatively straight line. So they reached the crest of the mountain, after a stiff climb, not far from the spot which they had selected.
The summit was sparsely timbered and they had no difficulty either in finding their landmarks or in mapping out their way down the farther slope and across the valley to the gap beyond. This second valley was also well timbered. In the middle of this second valley another fine brook flowed. And here they rested and had a bite to eat, with a cold drink from the stream. Then they filled the canteen again and pressed on. The afternoon was well advanced before they had climbed through the pass and reached the valley that was to be their home for the next few days.
Like the valley in which they had met the forester, this bottom contained some wonderful pines, though it was really a mixed stand of timber with hardwoods beneath and the pine tops rising high above them. There were countless numbers of these mammoth pines that towered a hundred to a hundred and twenty-five feet in air. The hardwoods, though shut out from some of the light, were also wonderful for size and vigor. It was a splendid example of a "two-storied-forest." The resulting shade was so dense that it was like twilight at the ground level. And the stream that went rushing among the trees was a joy to behold. Deep, dark, crystal clear, and almost as cold as ice, it was an ideal haunt for trout.
By the time they reached it, Charley had recovered his spirits. "Oh boy!" he cried, when they reached the margin of the run. "Look at this brook." As he stopped and dipped his hand in the water, he added, "It's cold enough to freeze a fellow. Thank goodness, there isn't any underbrush here. We won't have to wade. I'll wager this place is full of fish."
Hardly had he spoken before a great trout darted across the stream, almost at their feet. Charley extended his rod over the water and waved it vigorously a few times. Instantly trout darted out from a dozen different points.
"Gee whiz!" shouted Charley. "Did you see 'em, Lew? I can hardly wait to get a line in."
"We've got to get our camp made before we do any fishing," replied Lew. "Let's hustle up and find a good camp site."
They walked rapidly up the valley, keeping a few yards back from the brook so as not to alarm the trout.
"I don't know how our wireless will work among all these trees," said Lew. "If we could find an open spot I'm sure it would be better."
Presently they came to exactly the sort of place they desired. At some time, evidently within a few months, for no brush had as yet sprung up, a hurricane had swept through the forest: and where it had passed lay a windrow of trees as flat as a swath of grain after the scythe has gone through it. The windrow was several rods in width, and not a tree remained standing within that space. The fallen trees were piled upon one another in confused masses.
For a time the boys gazed at the scene with awe. "That opening will make a fine place to hang our aerial if we can get the wires up," said Lew. "I believe that we have enough wire to hang 'em up pretty high and still have a long lead-in wire. If there is, then we can camp back here under the trees close to the run. We have no tent and the dense tops will protect us from dew. It'll be much warmer back among the trees, too."
Speedily they found a place that suited them. They put their packs on the ground and got out their wireless instruments. Then they made some rude spreaders from branches that Lew cut in the windrow. When the aerial was ready to hang up, Charley took a length of wire and made his way across the windrow and up a slender tree that stood on the farther edge of the opening. He fastened one end of the wire to the spreader and the other end he attached to the tree. Lew was duplicating his movements on the other side of the opening. In no time the aerial was swinging above the windrow, and the lead-in wire had been brought back through the trees to the camp site. Here the instruments were connected and the wire coupled to them. The dry cells were next wired and the outfit was then ready. Lew sat down beside the spark-gap and pressed the key. Bright flashes leaped from point to point. He adjusted the gap, so as to get the best spark, then laid the pack bags over the instruments.
"We missed out on listening to Roy this time," he said, "but I'll bet we can raise the rest of the bunch. She works fine. We've got a dandy spark."
"Good!" cried Charley. "It won't be long before it is dark. It's already twilight under these trees. Now for the trout."
Trout Fishing in the Wilderness
"Shall we go up-stream or down?" asked Lew, as he jointed his little rod and fastened a hook to his line.
"Let's go down. We can't fish very long, and we know there is no brush along the stream below us. We can try it up-stream to-morrow."
"To-morrow we'll fish on opposite sides of the run," said Lew as they buckled on their bait boxes and started. "I don't see any way to cross now and there's no time to hunt for a way."
"It's full of 'em. I'll bet on that," smiled Charley. "We'll catch a mess in no time. Here goes with a worm."
He threaded one on his hook, crouched down, and cautiously drew near the bank. A dexterous flick of his rod landed the worm fairly in the middle of the run. Hardly had it hit the water before something grabbed it, and Charley drew forth a flopping fish. But it proved to be only a fingerling. In disgust Charley wet his hand and carefully unhooked the little fish.
"Shows they're here, anyway," he said, as he tossed the little trout back into the stream.
But if they were there, they were strangely shy in making their presence known. Rod after rod the hoys advanced, careful not to show themselves, making their casts with greatest caution, and keeping as quiet as possible. But no fish so much as smelled their bait. Again and again they let their hooks float down into promising pools, but never a strike resulted.