Part Three
Chapter III
 

The next morning Bob was awakened to a cold dawn that became still more shivery when he had dressed and stepped outside. Even a hot breakfast helped little; and when the buckboard was brought around, he mounted to his seat without any great enthusiasm. The mountain rose dark and forbidding, high against the eastern sky, and a cold wind breathed down its defiles. When the wiry little ponies slowed to the first stretches of the tiresome climb, Bob was glad to walk alongside.

Almost immediately the pines began. They were short and scrubby as yet, but beautiful in the velvet of their dark green needles. Bob glanced at them critically. They were perhaps eighty to a hundred feet high and from a foot to thirty inches in diameter.

"Fair timber," he commented to his companion.

Welton snorted. "Timber!" he cried. "That isn't timber; it's weeds. There's no timber on this slope of the mountain."

Slowly the ponies toiled up the steep grade, pausing often for breath. Among the pines grew many oaks, buckthorns, tall manzanitas and the like. As the valley dropped beneath, they came upon an occasional budding dogwood. Over the slopes of some of the hills spread a mantle of velvety vivid green, fair as the grass of a lawn, but indescribably soft and mobile. It lent those declivities on which it grew a spacious, well-kept, park appearance, on which Bob exclaimed with delight.

But Welton would have none of it.

"Bear clover," said he, "full of pitch as an old jack-pine. Burns like coal oil, and you can't hardly cut it with a hoe. Worst stuff to carry fire and to fight fire in you ever saw. Pick a piece and smell it."

Bob broke off one of the tough, woody stems. A pungent odour exactly like that of extract of hamamelis met his nostrils. Then he realized that all the time he had been aware of this perfume faintly disengaging itself from the hills. In spite of Mr. Welton's disgust, Bob liked its clean, pungent suggestion.

The road mounted always, following the contour of the mountains. Thus it alternately emerged and crept on around bold points, and bent back into the recesses of ravines. Clear, beautiful streams dashed and sang down the latter; from the former, often, Bob could look out over the valley from which they had mounted, across the foothills, to the distant, yellowing plains far on the horizon, lost finally in brown heat waves. Sycamore Flats lay almost directly below. Always it became smaller, and more and more like a coloured relief-map with tiny, Noah's-ark houses. The forest grew sturdily on the steep mountain. Bob's eyes were on a level with the tops of trees growing but a few hundred feet away. The horizon line was almost at eleven o'clock above him.

"How'd you handle this kind of a proposition?" he inquired. "Looks to me like hard sledding."

"This stuff is no good," said Welton. "These little, yellow pines ain't worth cutting. This is all Forest Reserve stuff."

Bob glanced again down the aisles of what looked to him like a noble forest, but said nothing. He was learning, in this land of surprises, to keep his mouth shut.

At the end of two hours Welton drew up beside a new water trough to water the ponies.

"There," he remarked casually, "is the first sugar pine."

Bob's eye followed the indication of his whip to the spreading, graceful arms of a free so far up the bed of the stream that he could make out only its top. The ponies, refreshed, resumed their methodical plodding.

Insensibly, as they mounted, the season had changed. The oaks that, at the level of Sycamore Flats, had been in full leaf, here showed but the tender pinks and russets of the first foliage. The dogwoods were quite dormant. Rivulets of seepage and surface water trickled in the most unexpected places as though from snow recently melted.

Of climbing there seemed no end. False skylines recurrently deceived Bob into a belief that the buckboard was about to surmount the top. Always the rise proved to be preliminary to another. The road dipped behind little spurs, climbed ravines, lost itself between deep cuts. Only rarely did the forest growths permit a view, and then only in glimpses between the tops of trees. In the valley and against the foothills now intervened the peaceful and calm blue atmosphere of distance.

"I'd no idea from looking at it this mountain was so high," he told Welton.

"You never do," said Welton. "They always fool you. We're pretty nigh the top now."

Indeed, for a little space the forest had perforce to thin because of lack of footing. The slope became almost a precipice, ending in a bold comb above which once more could be glimpsed the tops of trees. Quite ingeniously the road discovered a cleft up which it laboured mightily, to land breathless after a heart-breaking pull. Just over the top Welton drew rein to breathe his horses--and to hear what Bob had to say about it.

The buckboard stood at the head of a long, gentle slope descending, perhaps fifty feet, to a plateau; which, in turn, rose to another crest some miles distant. The level of this plateau, which comprised, perhaps, thirty thousand acres all told, supported a noble and unbroken forest.

Mere statistics are singularly unavailing to convey even an idea of a California woodland at its best. We are not here dealing with the so-called "Big Trees," but with the ordinary--or extraordinary--pines and spruces. The forest is free from dense undergrowths; the individual trees are enormous, yet so symmetrical that the eye can realize their size only when it catches sight of some usual and accustomed object, such as men or horses or the buildings in which they live. Even then it is quite as likely that the measures will appear to have been struck small, as that the measured will show in their true grandeur of proportion. The eye refuses to be convinced off-hand that its education has been faulty.

"Now," said Welton decidedly. "We may as well have it over with right now. How big is that young tree over there?"

He pointed out a half-grown specimen of sugar pine.

"About twenty inches in diameter," replied Bob promptly.

Welton silently handed him a tape line. Bob descended.

"Thirty-seven!" he cried with vast astonishment, when his measurements were taken and his computations made.

"Now that one," commanded Welton, indicating a larger tree.

Bob sized it up.

"No fair looking at the other for comparison," warned the older man.

"Forty," hesitated Bob, "and I don't believe it's that!" he added. "Four feet," he amended when he had measured.

"Climb in," said Welton; "now you're in a proper frame of mind to listen to me with respect. The usual run of tree you see down through here is from five to eight feet in diameter. They are about all over two hundred feet tall, and some run close to three hundred."

Bob sighed. "All right. Drive on. I'll get used to it in time." His face lighted up with a grin. "Say, wouldn't you like to see Roaring Dick trying to handle one of those logs with a peavie? As for driving a stream full of them! Oh, Lord! You'd have to send 'em down one at a time, fitted out with staterooms for the crew, a rudder and a gasoline engine!"

The ponies jogged cheerfully along the winding road. Water ran everywhere, or stood in pools. Under the young spruces were the last snowbanks. Pushing up through the wet soil, already showed early snowplants, those strange, waxlike towers of crimson. After a time they came to a sidehill where the woods thinned. There still stood many trees, but as the buckboard approached, Bob could see that they were cedars, or spruce, or smaller specimens of the pines. Prone upon the ground, like naked giants, gleamed white and monstrous the peeled bodies of great trees. A litter of "slash," beaten down by the winter, cumbered the ground, and retained beneath its faded boughs soggy and melting drifts.

"Had some 'fallers' in here last year," explained Welton briefly. "Thought we'd have some logs on hand when it came time to start up."

"Wait a minute," requested Bob. He sprang lightly from the vehicle, and scrambled over to stand alongside the nearest of the fallen monsters. He could just see over it comfortably. "My good heavens!" said he soberly, resuming his seat. "How in blazes do you handle them?"

Welton drove on a few paces, then pointed with his whip. A narrow trough made of small peeled logs laid parallel and pegged and mortised together at the ends, ran straight over the next hill.

"That's a chute," he explained briefly. "We hitch a wire cable to the log and just naturally yank it over to the chute."

"How yank it?" demanded Bob.

"By a good, husky donkey engine. Then the chute poles are slushed, we hitch cables on four or five logs, and just tow them over the hill to the mill."

Bob's enthusiasm, as always, was growing with the presentation of this new and mighty problem of engineering so succinctly presented. It sounded simple; but from his two years' experience he knew better. He was becoming accustomed to filling in the outlines of pure theory. At a glance he realized the importance of such things as adequate anchors for the donkey engines; of figuring on straight pulls, horse power and the breaking strain of steel cables; of arranging curves in such manner as to obviate ditching the logs, of selecting grades and routes in such wise as to avoid the lift of the stretched cable; and more dimly he guessed at other accidents, problems and necessities which only the emergency could fully disclose. All he said was:

"So that's why you bark them all--so they'll slide. I wondered."

But now the ponies, who had often made this same trip, pricked up their ears and accelerated their pace. In a moment they had rounded a hill and brought their masters into full view of the mill itself.

The site was in a wide, natural clearing occupied originally by a green meadow perhaps a dozen acres in extent. From the borders of this park the forest had drawn back to a dark fringe. Now among the trees at the upper end gleamed the yellow of new, unpainted shanties. Square against the prospect was the mill, a huge structure, built of axe-hewn timbers, rough boards, and the hand-rived shingles known as shakes. Piece by piece the machinery had been hauled up the mountain road until enough had been assembled on the space provided for it by the axe men to begin sawing. Then, like some strange monster, it had eaten out for itself at once a space in the forest and the materials for its shell and for the construction of its lesser dependents, the shanties, the cook-houses, the offices and the shops. Welton pointed out with pride the various arrangements; here the flats and the trestles for the yards where the new-sawn lumber was to be stacked; there the dump for the sawdust and slabs; yonder the banking ground constructed of great logs laid close together, wherein the timber-logs would be deposited to await the saw.

From the lower end of the yard a trestle supporting a V-shaped trough disappeared over the edge of a hill. Near its head a clear stream cascaded down the slope.

"That's the flume," explained the lumberman. "Brought the stream around from the head of the meadow in a ditch. We'll flume the sawn lumber down the mountain. For the present we'll have to team it out to the railroad. Your friend Baker's figuring on an electric road to meet us, though, and I guess we'll fix it up with him inside a few years, anyway."

"Where's Stone Creek from here?" asked Bob.

"Over the farther ridge. The mountain drops off again there to Stone Creek three or four thousand feet."

"We ought to hear from the fire, soon."

"If we don't, we'll ride over that way and take a look down," replied Welton.

They drove down the empty yards to a stable where already was established their old barn-boss of the Michigan woods. Four or five big freight wagons stood outside, and a score of powerful mules rolled and sunned themselves in the largest corral. Welton nodded toward several horses in another enclosure.

"Pick your saddle horse, Bob," said he. "Straw boss has to ride in this country."

"Make it the oldest, then," said Bob.

At the cookhouse they were just in time for the noon meal. The long, narrow room, fresh with new wood, new tables and new benches in preparation for the crew to come, looked bare and empty with its handful of guests huddled at one end. These were the teamsters, the stablemen, the caretakers and a few early arrivals. The remainder of the crew was expected two days later.

After lunch Bob wandered out into the dazzling sunlight. The sky was wonderfully blue, the trees softly green, the new boards and the tiny pile of sawdust vividly yellow. These primary colours made all the world. The air breathed crisp and bracing, with just a dash of cold in the nostrils that contrasted paradoxically with the warm balminess of the sunlight. It was as though these two opposed qualities, warmth and cold, were here held suspended in the same medium and at the same time. Birds flashed like spangles against the blue. Others sang and darted and scratched and chirped everywhere. Tiny chipmunks no bigger than half-grown rats scampered fearlessly about. What Bob took for larger chipmunks--the Douglas Squirrels--perched on the new fence posts. The world seemed alive--alive through its creatures, through the solemn, uplifting vitality of its forests, through the sprouting, budding spring growths just bursting into green, through the wine-draught of its very air, through the hurrying, busy preoccupied murmur of its streams. Bob breathed his lungs full again and again, and tingled from head to foot.

"How high are we here?" he called to Welton.

"About six thousand. Why? Getting short-winded?"

"I could run ten miles," replied Bob. "Come on. I'm going to look at the stream."

"Not at a run," protested Welton. "No, sir! At a nice, middle-aged, dignified, fat walk!"

They sauntered down the length of the trestle, with its miniature steel tracks, to where the flume began. It proved to be a very solidly built V-trough, alongside which ran a footboard. Welton pointed to the telephone wire that paralleled it.

"When we get going," said he, "we just turn the stream in here, clamp our sawn lumber into bundles of the right size, and 'let her went!' There'll be three stations along the line, connected by 'phone, to see that things go all right. That flume's six mile long."

Bob strode to the gate, and after some heaving and hauling succeeded in throwing water into the flume.

"I wanted to see her go," he explained.

"Now if you want some real fun," said Welton, gazing after the foaming advance wave as it ripped its way down the chute. "You make you a sort of three-cornered boat just to fit the angle of the flume; and then you lie down in it and go to Sycamore Flats, in about six minutes more or less."

"You mean to say that's done?" cried Bob.

"Often. It only means knocking together a plank or so."

"Doesn't the lumber ever jump the flume?"

"Once in a great while."

"Suppose the boat should do it?"

"Then," said Welton drily, "it's probable you'd have to begin learning to tune a harp."

"Not for mine," said Bob with fervour. "Any time I yearn for Sycamore Flats real hard, I'll go by hand."

He shut off the water, and the two walked a little farther to a bold point that pressed itself beyond the trees.

Below them the cliff dropped away so steeply that they looked out above the treetops as from the summit of a true precipice. Almost directly below them lay the wooded valley of Sycamore Flats, maplike, tiny. It was just possible to make out the roofs of houses, like gray dots. Roads showed as white filaments threading the irregular patches of green and brown. From beneath flowed the wide oak and brush-clad foothills, rising always with the apparent cup of the earth until almost at the height of the eye the shimmering, dim plains substituted their brown for the dark green of the hills. The country that yesterday had seemed mountainous, full of canons, ridges and ranges, now showed gently undulating, flattened, like a carpet spread before the feet of the Sierras. To the north were tumbled, blue, pine-clad mountains as far as the eye could see, receding into the dimness of great distance. At one point, but so far away as to be distinguishable only by a slight effort of the imagination, hovered like soap-bubbles against an ethereal sky the forms of snow mountains. Welton pointed out the approximate position of Yosemite.

They returned to camp where Welton showed the clean and painted little house built for Bob and himself. It was quite simply a row of rooms with a verandah in front of them all. But the interiors were furnished with matting for the floors, curtains to the windows, white iron bedsteads, running water and open fireplaces.

"I'm sick of camping," said Welton. "This is our summer quarters for some time. I'm going to be comfortable."

Bob sighed.

"This is the bulliest place I ever saw!" he cried boyishly.

"Well, you're going to have time enough to get used to it," said Welton drily.