Part Five
Chapter III
 

When Saturday evening came the men washed and shaved and put on clean garments. Bob, dog tired after a hard day, was more inclined to lie on his back.

"Ain't you-all goin' over to-night?" asked Jack Pollock.

"Over where?"

"Why," explained the younger man, "always after supper Saturdays all the boys who are in camp go over to spend the evenin' at headquarters."

Aggressively sleek and scrubbed, the little group marched down through the woods in the twilight. At headquarters Amy Thorne and her brother welcomed them and ushered them into the big room, with the stone fireplace. In this latter a fire of shake-bolts leaped and roared. The men crowded in, a trifle bashfully, found boxes and home-made chairs, and perched about talking occasionally in very low tones to the nearest neighbour. Amy sat in a rocking chair by the table lamp, sewing on something, paying little attention to the rangers, save to throw out an occasional random remark. Thorne had not yet entered. Finally Amy dropped the sewing in her lap.

"You're all as solemn as a camp-meeting," she told them severely. "How many times must I tell you to smoke up and be agreeable? Here, Mr. Ware, set them a good example."

She pushed a cigar box toward the older man. Bob saw it to be half full of the fine-flaked tobacco so much used in the West. Thus encouraged, Ware rolled himself a cigarette. Others followed suit. Still others produced and filled black old pipes. A formidable haze eddied through the apartment. Amy, still sewing, said, without looking up:

"One of you boys go rummage the store room for the corn popper. The corn's in a corn-meal sack on the far shelf."

Just then Thorne came in, bringing a draft of cold air with him.

"Well," said he, "this is a pretty full house for this time of year."

He walked directly to the rough, board shelf and from it took down a book.

"This man Kipling will do again for to-night," he remarked. "He knows more about our kind of fellow than most. I've sent for one or two other things you ought to know, but just now I want to read you a story that may remind you of something you've run against yourself. We've a few wild, red-headed Irishmen ourselves in these hills."

He walked briskly to the lamp, opened the volume, and at once began to read. Every once in a while he looked up from the book to explain a phrase in terms the men would understand, or to comment pithily on some similarity in their own experience. When he had finished, he looked about at them, challenging.

"There; what did I tell you? Isn't that just about the way they hand it out to us here? And this story took place the other side of the world! It's quite wonderful when you stop to think about it, isn't it? Listen to this--"

He pounced on another story. This led him to a second incursion on the meagre library. Bob did not recognize the practical, rather hard Thorne of everyday official life. The man was carried away by his eagerness to interpret the little East Indian to these comrade spirits of the West. The rangers listened with complete sympathy, every once in a while throwing in a comment or a criticism, never hesitating to interrupt when interruption seemed pertinent.

Finally Amy, who had all this time been sewing away unmoved, a half-tender, half-amused smile curving her lips, laid down her work with an air of decision.

"I'll call your attention," said she, "to the fact that I'm hungry. Shut up your book; I won't hear another word." She leaned across the table, and, in spite of Thorne's half-earnest protests, took possession of the volume.

"Besides," she remarked, "look at poor Jack Pollock; he's been popping corn like a little machine, and he must be nearly roasted himself."

Jack turned to her a face very red from the heat of the leaping pine fire.

"That's right," he grinned, "but I got about a dishpan done."

"You'll be in practice to fight fire," some one chaffed him.

"Oh, he'll fight fire all right, if there's somethin' to eat the other side," drawled Charley Morton.

"It's plenty," said Amy, referring to the quantity of popcorn.

"Why," spoke up California John in an aggrieved and surprised tone, "ain't there nobody going to eat popcorn but me?"

Amy disappeared only to return bearing a cake frosted with chocolate. The respect with which this was viewed proved that the men appreciated to the full what was represented by chocolate cake in this altitude of tiny stoves and scanty supplies. Again Amy dove into the store room. This time she bore back a huge enamel-ware pitcher which she set in the middle of the round table.

"There!" she cried, her cheeks red with triumph.

"What you got, Amy?" asked her brother.

Ross Fletcher leaned forward to look.

"Great guns!" he cried.

The men jostled around, striving for a glimpse, half in joke, half in genuine curiosity.

"Lemonade!" cried Ware.

"None of your lime juice either," pronounced California John; "look at the genuine article floatin' around on top."

They turned to Amy.

"Where did you get them?" they demanded.

But she shook her head, smiling, and declined to tell.

They devoured the popcorn and the chocolate cake to the last crumb, and emptied the pitcher of genuine lemonade. Then they went home. It was all simple enough: cheap tobacco; reading aloud; a little rude chaffing; lemonade, cake and popcorn! Bob smiled to himself as he thought of the consternation a recital of these ingredients would carry to the sophisticated souls of most of his friends. Yet he had enjoyed the party, enjoyed it deeply and thoroughly. He came away from it glowing with good-fellowship.