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 dark.

"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.

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 "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 right.

"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 undertaker.

"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 hisself.

"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 little.

"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 trail.

"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 newborn baby.

"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 'em both.

"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 an' fire.

"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 him good."