“Fire-clay,” he said. “That’s probably worth something. I’ll take a sample along.”
He dug away more top-soil and scooped out a big ball of clay. Then he filled in the holes he had made, covering up all traces of the clay deposit, and blazed a tree near by to identify the spot.
The journey back to the camp was made by a route different from the one taken in the morning, the boys following the stream down the valley for a distance before crossing back to their own valley. The first fishermen they had encountered were seen on the return trip. The men were wading in the stream below the boys and so did not observe the young fire guards behind them. Charley and Lew instantly slipped behind trees, and after watching the men until they were lost to sight, struck off toward their camp. They got there shortly before sunset. While Lew prepared supper, Charley once more made his way up to the watch tree, where he remained until dusk.
Early in the evening they got into touch with their friends at Central City, and through them sent a reassuring good-night to the forester. Then, too tired to listen to the night’s news, they wrapped themselves in their blankets and were soon sound asleep.
The Trail in the Forest
The following day the two young patrols were to report to their ranger at the appointed place in the forest. Although the ranger had much farther to travel than they did, the boys knew from experience that he was afoot early during the fire season, and they felt certain he would be at the meeting-place before the appointed hour. Charley wanted to be as prompt as his ranger, and so the two boys were astir by the time the first streaks of light tinged the eastern skies.
It was still dark enough to risk a little blaze in their fireplace and the warmth was grateful, for the early morning air was chill enough. Breakfast was soon cooked and their camp put to rights. Then, taking their fishing-rods again, they set forth to patrol the forest. The pup was tied in the tent, lest he should get into trouble with a porcupine or some other creature of the forest, and so make them tardy for their appointment.
Their plan was to travel down their own valley for a distance, then pass through a gap to a fire trail in the next bottom, which would lead to other trails that would take them close to their destination. They had studied out their route carefully on the map, and they made their way with both speed and certainty.
For a long time nothing of moment happened to them. The sun came up bright and clear, flirting with the fleecy clouds in the sky, that now plunged the land in deep shadow and again drew aside so that the forest was bathed in golden sunlight. The earth sent forth fragrant exhalations. A gentle breeze lent a tonic quality to the atmosphere. The leaves sparkled with dew, and the stream in the bottom flashed in the sunlight, filling the woods with its sonorous babble. So inviting was the scene that despite their haste, the boys could not resist the temptation to drop their hooks in promising pools as they moved along. Without half trying, they accumulated a dozen fine trout. The smaller ones they carefully unhooked and threw back into the stream.