Lew watched the ranger until he disappeared from view. Charley scarcely glanced at him. He was lost in thought. Evidently his thoughts were not pleasant, for from time to time he scowled.
“Lew,” he said, at length, “I never realized until this minute just what that sign on the old hemlock meant.” And he quoted: “’Everybody loses when timber burns.’ It’s true. Everybody loses—positively everybody. The sportsmen lose game, the fishermen lose fish, the towns lose their water-supply, the mills lose their water-power, civilization loses wood. Why, Lew, civilization’s built of wood. How could we live without it? And as for me, think what I’ve lost through forest fires. I’ve lost an opportunity to own half of a boat. I’ve suffered from thirst. I’ve lost a chance to catch some fish. And, Lew, I’ve lost a college education! I never understood it before. If the cost of lumber hadn’t gone up so much, Dad could have paid for his house easily and helped me through college. Now I’ve got to give up going to college. I’ve got to work two or three years for Dad and if ever I get married and want to build a home, I see where I’ve got to slave for the rest of my life to pay for the lumber that’s in it, and the wooden furnishings inside of it. Think of it, Lew! You and I and all the rest of us have to work for years and years just to pay for what a lot of reckless people did before we were born. It’s terrible, Lew, terrible. I’ve got to spend three years in a factory because of it. I thought for a minute that I might get a job here in the forest. That would have been grand. But there’s no such luck. It’s the factory for me. I’m sure of it. I don’t know how I’ll ever stand it, Lew.”
A Lost Opportunity
Half an hour later the two boys were all but ready to go on. Before rolling his pack, Charley filled his coffee-pot in the run and thoroughly soaked the last embers of their fire.
“You’ll never burn any timber,” he said, as he poured on the last potful. Then he stowed the coffee-pot in his pack and in a few moments the two boys were once more afoot.
They struck directly for the top of the knob, as the ranger had told them to do. The slope of the ground alone guided them. So dense was the stand of timber that the huge trunks shut off the view in all directions. It was almost as though they were encircled by palisades. And so thick was the shade that rarely did a sunbeam reach the earth. They were in the forest primeval, a land of perpetual gloom. There was no underbrush and they could travel rapidly. In a very short time they came to the top of the knob.
The summit had been entirely cleared of timber. On the very highest point one lone tree remained. A long pole had been planted near its trunk, with its top fastened to a branch of the tree. Crossbars between the tree and the pole made a sort of rude ladder of the affair. And well up the tree a rough staging had been constructed of small limbs. The boys saw at once that this was a rude sort of watch-tower, and they suspected that the ranger had been in the tree when he discovered the smoke from their fire.