Part Four
Chapter II
 

Bob was finally late for supper, which he ate hastily and without much appetite. After finishing the meal, he hunted up Welton. He found the lumberman tilted back in a wooden armchair, his feet comfortably elevated to the low rail about the stove, his pipe in mouth, his coat off, and his waistcoat unbuttoned. At the sight of his homely, jolly countenance, Bob experienced a pleasant sensation of slipping back from an environment slightly off-focus to the normal, accustomed and real. Nevertheless, at the first opportunity, he tested his new doubts by Welton's common sense.

"I rode through our slash on 18," he remarked. "That's an awful mess."

"Slashes are," replied Welton succinctly.

"If the thing gets afire it will make a hot blaze."

"Sure thing," agreed Welton. "But we've never had one go yet--at least, while we were working. There's men enough to corral anything like that."

"But we've always worked in a wet country," Bob pointed out. "Here it's dry from April till October."

"Have to take chances, then; and jump on a fire quick if it starts," said Welton philosophically.

"These forest men advise certain methods of obviating the danger," Bob suggested.

"Pure theory," returned Welton. "The theory's a good one, too," he added. "That's where these college men are strong--only it isn't practical. They mean well enough, but they haven't the knowledge. When you look at anything broad enough, it looks easy. That's what busts so many people in the lumber business." He rolled out one of his jolly chuckles. "Lumber barons!" he chortled. "Oh, it's easy enough! Any mossback can make money lumbering! Here's your stumpage at a dollar a thousand, and there's your lumber at twenty! Simplest thing in the world. Just the same there are more failures in the lumber business than in any other I know anything about. Why is it?"

"Economic waste," put in Merker, who was leaning across the counter.

"Lack of experience," said Bob.

"A little of both," admitted Welton; "but it's more because the business is made up of ten thousand little businesses. You have to conduct a cruising business, and a full-fledged real estate and mortgage business; you have to build houses and factories, make roads, build railroads; you have to do a livery trade, and be on the market for a thousand little things. Between the one dollar you pay for stumpage and the twenty dollars you get for lumber lies all these things. Along comes your hardware man and says, Here, why don't you put in my new kind of spark arrestor; think how little it costs; what's fifty dollars to a half-million-dollar business? The spark arrester's a good thing all right, so you put it in. And then there's maybe a chance to use a little paint and make the shanties look like something besides shanties; that don't cost much, either, to a half-million-dollar business. And so on through a thousand things. And by and by it's costing twenty dollars and one cent to get your lumber to market; and it's B-U-S-T, bust!"

"That's economic waste," put in Merker.

"Or lack of experience," added Bob.

"No," said Welton, emphasizing his point with his pipe; "it's not sticking to business! It's not stripping her down to the bare necessities! It's going in for frills! When you get to be as old as I am, you learn not to monkey with the band wagon."

His round, red face relaxed into one of his good-humoured grins, and he relit his pipe.

"That's the trouble with this forestry monkey business. It's all right to fool with, if you want fooling. So's fancy farming. But it don't pay. If you are playing, why, it's all right to experiment. If you ain't, why, it's a good plan to stick to the methods of lumbering. The present system of doing things has been worked out pretty thorough by a lot of pretty shrewd business men. And it works!"

Bob laughed.

"Didn't know you could orate to that extent," he gibed. "Sic'em!"

Welton grinned a trifle abashed. "You don't want to get me started, then," said he.

"Oh, but I do!" Bob objected, for the second time that day.

"Now this slashing business," went on the old lumberman in a more moderate tone. "When the millennium comes, it would be a fine thing to clear up the old slashings." He turned suddenly to Bob. "How long do you think it would take you with a crew of a dozen men to cut and pile the waste stuff in 18?" he inquired.

Bob cast back the eye of his recollection to the hopeless tangle that cumbered the ground.

"Oh, Lord!" he ejaculated; "don't ask me!"

"If you were running a business would you feel like stopping work and sending your men--whom you are feeding and paying--back there to pile up that old truck?"

Bob's mind, trained to the eager hurry of the logging season, recoiled from this idea in dismay.

"I should say not!" he cried. Then as a second thought he added: "But what they want is to pile the tops while the work is going on."

"It takes just so much time to do so much work," stated Welton succinctly, "and it don't matter whether you do it all at once, or try to fool yourself by spraddling it out."

He pulled strongly at his pipe.

"Forest Reserves are all right enough," he acknowledged, "and maybe some day their theories will work out. But not now; not while taxes go on!"