The Tenderfoot from Yale by Will C. Barnes
"The trouble with this here forest service business nowadays is, that
they're sendin' out, from the effete and luxurious East, a lot of
half-baked kids, what never seen a mountain in all their lives, don't
know whether beans is picked from trees or made in a factory at Battle
Creek, an' generally ain't got savvy enough to find their way home after
"Now here's this kid we've drawed in the last deal; nice enough boy, I
reckon, but who's goin' to play nursey to him up in these here hills?"
The speaker glared at his companion as if defying him to meet his
charges against the newcomer and his kind.
"But he's got eddication, Jack," replied his listener, "an' that's what
counts in these days. We got into the service in them good old days when
it was a case of ability to ride a pitchin' bronc, rope a maverick,
chase sheep herders off the earth, shoot the eyes out of a wildcat at
forty yards an' all them things. Nowadays they picks 'em out by their
brand of learnin' an' not by their high-heeled boots."
"Howsomever," he continued, "there's some of them that makes good in
spite of their eddicational handicap. Over on the Sierra last fall we
was all a-settin' in camp one Sunday afternoon when the phone rings like
they was trying to wake the dead with it. The old man gits up to answer
it. When he says, sort of startled-like, 'Fire, where?' we all pricks up
our ears. 'Twas a mighty dry time an' every one was a-prayin' for rain,
for we'd been fightin' fire for the last month and was all in.
"We had a fire lookout station up on top of a high peak an' a man, with
the best glasses money could buy, a-sittin' there who could see all over
the range for fifty miles.
"We had a fire lookout station on top of a high peak"
"Say, people got so they was afraid to make a campfire anywheres in them
hills, an' the rangers swore they had to go behind a tree to light their
pipes, lest he'd see the smoke an' send in a fire call.
"'Shut-eye,' said the old man, meaning the lookout, 'Shut-eye says
there's a big smoke a-comin' out of the caņon below Gold Gulch to the
left of Greyback Peak, an' I reckon we'd better be a-movin' that way.'
"It didn't take us long to saddle up, slap a pack onto a couple of
mules, an' hit the trail. 'Twas a good ten-mile over a rough country,
an' it was mighty nigh dark afore we gets to where we could see smoke
a-boiling out of the caņon over a ridge ahead of us.
"We was all old-timers at the work, 'ceptin' a young feller fresh from
the Yale Forestry School, what had come out for a sort of post-graduate
course in forestry, an' some of them boys was seein' to it he got it all
"He had all the fixin's them fellers bring along with them, fancy ridin'
panties, a muley saddle, a wind bed an' a automatic six-pistol, one of
them things what, after she once gits to shootin', you jist got to throw
her into the creek to stop her goin'.
"'Bout two miles from the ridge where we reckoned we'd git our first
view of the fire we meets up with Hank Strong an' his wife. You know,
Hank's woman is just about as crazy to go to a fire as a boy to the
circus, an' she always comes in mighty handy to start a camp, take care
of the boys' horses an' the packs while we're a-workin'.
"Generally she'd make up a big pot of coffee and fetch it out to the
line. Once she comes a-ridin' along carryin' a pot full an' a bear
skeered her hoss—but that's nothin' to do with this yarn.
"Hank says that there's also a big smoke comin' up from the vicinity of
Granite Basin, an' the old man he says some one better go over there an'
see what's goin' on. Thar's a chap named Brown a-livin' in the Basin,
an' the Super, he's afraid, mebbe so he'd get caught in the fire an' be
singed some, the Basin bein' in the allfiredest lot of chapparal brush
you ever see.
"This feller Brown, he's a sort of pet of them boys over that a-way, him
bein' a lunger an' not able to do much but draw funny pictures for the
Sunday supplements. Seems he broke down back East an' comes West to try
an' git over it.
"There he sets a-drawin' pictures for them funny papers an' sendin' 'em
in regular, while he ses he's jist a-walkin' around to beat the
"Nobody else is a-livin' in the basin, there bein' nothin' but a little
old cabin, what a bee-man put up once, an' a few hives of bees Brown
bought along with the cabin. 'Them bees is jist to teach me habits of
industry,' ses Brown, when some of the boys asked him if he calculated
to git rich on the output of them hives.
"The old man he reckons he can't spare any of us old hands to go over
there, an' so he says to the young tenderfoot: 'Son,' he says, 'do you
reckon you can make it over there in the dark and find out what's doin'
in Granite Basin an' come back an' let us know?'
"The boy he ses he reckoned he could, only he didn't know the trail all
the way. Then Hank's wife she speaks up an' says she can go along as far
as the top of the mountain, an' show him the trail down into the basin.
"It sort of hacked the kid to have a woman show him the trail, but the
old man said it were the very idee, an' so she an' the boy struck off,
leavin' us to take care of the fire ahead.
"There wa'n't but one way into the basin an' that was down a graded
trail about two miles long from top to bottom that the bee man had made
to git in and out on.
"The lower part of this basin was one great mass of brush, an' as thick
as the hair on a dog's back, so you couldn't git through it only where
the brush had been cut out.
"When they gits to the top an' could see over the basin there wa'n't any
doubt but there was a fire all right an' it was mighty plain that if
Brown wa'n't already out of there it was time he was startin'.
"Hank's wife were a-dyin' to go down with him, but the kid he ses, 'This
here's my job, please,' and bluffed her out.
"'You look out you don't get cut off on the trail,' she warns him, 'the
way that fire's a-eatin' along the side of the basin, it's a-goin' to
reach the trail inside of an hour, an' there ain't no other way out
'ceptin' a foot path what goes up the side of the basin back of the
cabin, but it's more like a ladder than a trail an' you can't take your
hoss there a-tall.'
"Down into the basin goes the boy, while instead of goin' back to the
outfit the woman stopped there on a little point of rock where she could
look all over the basin an' waited to see what'd happen.
"Brown slep' out under a big ole oak-tree, an' as he gits near the cabin
the kid he lets out a yell or two to wake him an' finds Brown settin' up
in bed sort of half-dazed, what with the yellin' an' onnatural
brightness of the skies all abouts.
"Inside of five minutes they was a-ridin' for the trail up the mountain
with Brown a-settin' behind on the kid's horse. But it were too late.
When they reached the foot of the trail they could see where 'bout half
way up the whole blamed mountain was afire. Nothin' could pass through
it an' live, so there wa'n't nothin' to do but go back an' try to get
out on the foot trail.
"Brown he begs the kid to go an' leave him an' save hisself. 'I'm only a
worn-out shell, anyhow,' he ses, 'an' it's jist a question of time till
it's all over for me an' I cash in, but you got something to live for
ahead of you.'
"But the kid wouldn't stand for it.
"'Don't you talk to me 'bout leavin' you here like a rat in a trap,' ses
he, 'we'll make it up that trail all right; jist you hang onto me and
we'll make the hoss pack us as far as he can go, an' then we'll take it
afoot. If it comes to a showdown I can carry you easy enough.'
"So they rides the hoss up the trail till where it runs into a cliff
'bout twenty feet high. Here thar was a ladder to git up the cliff, an'
the kid he strips off the saddle, takes his water bag, an' turns his
hoss to shift fer hisself. Time they gits up that ladder pore Brown he
were all in an' had to lie down on the ground a-coughin' fit to kill
"This trail was jist a foot trail cut through the chapparal, an' the
smoke an' heat was already a-rollin' down onto 'em where they was like a
blast from a furnace. The kid he wets their handkerchiefs from his water
bag an' they each tied 'em about their faces to sort of protect 'em a
"The boy, he looks mighty anxiouslike at them big high walls of flames
a-comin' down toward 'em, an' fairly forced Brown to git on his back
'pick-a-back' like you'd take a little kid, an' started slowly up the
"Foot by foot he climbed to'rd the top. Sometimes the smoke got so thick
they had to lie down a minute clost to the ground to git their breath,
sometimes the wind dropped big blazin' brands onto 'em an' set their
clothes afire, an' he'd have to stop an' rub it out with his hands.
"Every time he took a look up to'rds the top, he'd see the fire a-comin'
closter an' closter to the trail. Pore Brown he tried to help him some
by walkin', but between the excitement an' the smoke gittin' into his
lungs, it were too much for him, an' he dropped down helpless as a
"The kid, he takes a survey of things an', little as he knowed 'bout
fires in the chapparal, he seen mighty plain, that they were at the
critical pint, an' if they didn't git past the next hundred feet mighty
soon, the fire would cut 'em off, an' it would be good-bye gay world to
"Then he hears a moan from Brown an', lookin' round, sees him lyin' flat
on the ground with one hand clapped over his mouth, an' tricklin'
between his fingers was a stream of blood. Didn't take him but a second
to know it were a hemorrhage; beats all what them fellers do learn at
them colleges, don't it?
"Brown were a-workin' away with one hand at the little pocket in his
shirt an', in his eagerness an' excitement, the button wouldn't come
open. The boy jumped to his side, tore the button loose, an' pulled from
the pocket a little tobacco sack with something in it. Brown he holds
out one hand palm up, an' nodded to the boy to open the sack, which he
did, an' then poured out into his hand a little pile of common table
salt. You know them lunger-fellers most of 'em carries a little sack of
salt agin' jist such emergencies. Brown he throwed his head back an'
swallowed every grain of it an', bimeby, the blood stopped running so
hard. He struggled to his feet, then waved his hand to'rd the top an',
with a beseechin' look in his eyes, tried to git the kid to savvy that
he was to go on an' leave him to die.
"But the boy he wa'n't made of that sort of stuff. He's jist about
skeered to death at the sight of the blood, but he pulls hisself
together, grabs Brown in his arms agin, an' grits his teeth for another
fight for their lives.
"Finally, he comes to a place where, about ten feet ahead, the fire was
clean acrost the trail. He puts Brown down for a minute, pulls off his
coat, lays it on the ground, an' pours over it what water was left in
his water bag. Then he wraps Brown's head an' shoulders in the coat an',
grabbing him up in his arms, agin makes a last dash through the smoke
"Seems like he hears a woman's voice above the roar of the fire an' he
sort of wonders is he gittin' a little loco with it all. Next he knows
he's a-drawin' in big gulps of air that ain't full of smoke, an' there's
a woman a-walkin' longside of him, steadyin' him as he staggers under
his load an' a-rubbin' out, with a wet gunny sack, the places where his
an' Brown's clothes are a-smokin'.
"It all appears as a horrible dream to him, an' fust thing he knows, he
don't know nothin', for he's gone an' keeled over in a dead faint. Don't
laugh, you fool; didn't you ever work at a fire till it seemed as if
your lungs was a-goin' to bust an' your heart was a-beatin' like a cock
patridge on a log?
"Then he gits a quart or more of cold water slap in the face, opens his
eyes, an' there's Hank's wife a-standin' over him. Clost by was Brown,
alive an' apparently uninjured. She knowed if he got through a-tall he's
bound to come out right about there and was a-watchin' for him.
"When we comes along 'bout three hours later, we finds the boy and the
woman hard at work, back-firin' along the old stage road an' the fire
pretty well under control on that side.
"Say, that kid were a sight to look at. He ain't got no more eyebrows or
lashes than a rabbit, an' that there curly mop of his was singed an'
scorched like the rats had been a chawin' onto it."
"And Brown?" asked Jack.
"Oh, Brown, why he come through all right. Saw a lot of his funny
pictures in the Sunday supplement last week. 'Peared like the fire done