How Grayson Lost His Diary
Not every fox can lie down with the hound, help the hound on the scent, and persuade the hound to give him free license. This old fox did.
IF OLD BILL had not got gloriously and riotously drunk, and jazzed with wicked ankle and hob-nailed boots on Mike’s newly imported billiard table, the chances are that he would still be outlawed by the Forestry Branch, a thorn in the autocratic sides of the Rangers, instead of, well—listen.
It was one of those cases where out of immediate evil came eventual understanding. Mind, I’m defending neither Bill nor booze—he ought to have known better than to get drunk, or to boast in his cups; but to rile Mike, that was his crowning folly.
Mike took the news straight to headquarters. Bill had a big cache of funs, protected furs mostly, and was only waiting for the river to break up and get normal before making his get-away downstream, to that underworld market where no questions are asked.
Grayson was put on his track, Grayson the slim, the elegant, with the steely eyes and the gentle drawl—a newcomer to the Reserve.
Everybody round that neck o’ the woods knew old Bill for what he wasa hard bitten old reprobate, who had lived in and by the jungles for more years than the oldest of old-timers knew or cared to guess. He had an abode, half log shack, half dug-out, way back from civilization in the heart of an excellent fur and game country. That this same fur-bearing tract embraced a goodly portion of the Reserve bothered him not at all. He was there before it was a Reserve, he and the moose had made the only tracks in that part, and to his code, that constituted ’squatting rights’ for anything he could catch or shoot. I’ll say this for him, he only shot for the pot, never for the lust of killing. As for Rangers—he scoffed openly at them, and defied them to get the goods on him. Many had tried, and finished up in the “also-rans.” Particularly did he vent his picturesque spleen on Grayson. “Sister” Grayson, he called him, and when he discovered that Grayson was to sleuth him, his mirth grew' boisterous. But then, he didn’t know Grayson, and there was none to enlighten him. He had made a poor job of sizing up his man, nor would he depart from his original estimate until too late.
SPRING was late, the first tw'o w'eeks of April catching the country in its winter garb. Then came a violent Chinook. Day after day, night after night blew that sou’west wind, melting first the southern slopes, then the river flats, before searching out the timber snows. The creeks daily grew bigger, the river quickly became a turbulent dirty browm flood. Towrard the end of the month, the countryside was dry and hard save for the odd low spot.
Grayson was out with his ponies, ostensibly scouting trails, but this deceived nobody, least of all Bill. They met several times—it was Bill’s wish that they should, and their meetings w'ere productive only of offensive repartee from Bill, to the consequent strengthening of the
Ranger’s resolve to hang him by the heels. Grayson was sore, but discovered nothing. Then he hit on the idea of doing foolish green-horn stunts. Bill would insist he was a city dude; very well, he could keep on thinking that way. Of course Bill was watching, and he chuckled to himself, yet Grayson was careful not to overdo the business.
Came the end of the month, and Grayson packed up and departed. Bill knew the Service regulations—knew, and had often made fun of that sacred rite, the turning in of the monthly diary and report “on the first, prompt.” He watched Grayson go, and decided that he had a certain four clear days. The river was still running high and was dangerous, but—four days; it ought to be considerably lower by then.
Grayson, however, had ideas of his own the first of the month notwithstanding. He guessed Bill had watched him pull out, guessed that he would surely watch from the crest, where the town trail is visible for many miles as it meanders through a desolate burn. Once he was through the burn, and effectually hidden, he unsaddled both his ponies, smacked them smartly across the flank, and watched them light out for the station where they had been fed and barned all winter. Then he packed a scanty supply of food in his haversack, cached the rest of his belongings, and struck east towards the river, swinging north again as the lay of the land shielded him from observation. By nightfall he was back in the vicinity of Bill’s cabin.
BILL meanwhile, had not been idle. As soon as hé had seen the dark speck that was Grayson, disappear through the gap on the south end of the burn, he collected some tools and hit for the river, and started building his raft. Cunning as ever, he took no chances of the woods echoing from his labor, and like Solomon’s temple, no sound of axe or hammer was heard during the construction. He built on a slope secure from any great observation, so that it would be an easy matter to launch it by rollers, when he was ready. The river was still too ugly to attempt, but was lowering daily.
The next day, he returned to the raft, with various of his goods and chattels necessary for the trip, and discovered—a foot-print, not his own. So far from doing the Robinson Crusoe stunt, and standing as one thunderstruck, he carried blithely on with his preparations, piling his junk on spruce boughs and covering the whole with a tarpaulin. His eyes, however, and his ears, were working overtime.
Grayson, watching from the vantage point of a
prominent spruce some distance away, could discern nothing unusual in Bill’s actions, nothing to convey to him the fact that his presence had been duly noted.
Under cover of nightfall, old Bill again struck the river, this time way upstream from his raft, and worked long and silently. By dawn, raft number two was lying snugly at anchor in the river, with paddles and poles complete, ready at a moment’s notice, and the river was still falling.
During the day, Bill made two trips to his first raft with loads of hefty size. Grayson watching, observed these final preparations, and his heart was glad within him. Soon the memory of those barbed words would be wiped out. What he did not see, was that Bill had also cached a pile of bundles in a near-by thicket—Bill had made sure of that. Neither could he tell that Bill himself was watching the raft from the self-same thicket. He knew Bill would not be crazy enough to attempt the river during the night, and relaxed in his perch.
As soon as it was dark enough to work unobserved, Bill hastily transferred his thicket cache to the raft, leaving the tarpaulin over it, while the raft cache went into the thicket. Towards midnight, Grayson awoke from his uneasy doze with that sense of something unusual happening close at hand. Listening intently, he heard nothing, so crept forward to reconnoitre the raft. Here things were apparently just as they were before dark, with no sign of Bill. He retired into the shelter of the brush, where, the moon being up, he could watch the raft from cover. As luck would have it, his hiding place was a scant ten paces from the thicket cache. Thither came Bill, unconscious of the near presence of the Ranger. It was too dark for Grayson to see just what was happening, but as something blundered past him the second time, he caught a silhouette of Bill with a pack on his back. This had him guessing. Bill was neither heading for his raft, nor his shack, but straight up the river. He followed as closely as he dared, at times losing sight and sound of his quarry and emerging perilously near for concealment. Once he actually had Bill headed off, but he found this out before giving the show away, and Bill in his conceit was quite unaware and a little careless. Bill emerged into the open and disappeared. Grayson following, stopped at the brink, and gazed in astonishment. There below him, in the moonlight, he could see a raft snubbed to the bank. A couple of packs lay just above the raft, ready for instant departure, while Bill w'as slipping, sliding down the incline. At the bottom of the slope, he flung his pack with the others paused long enough to bite off a chew of tobacco, and started climbing again. Grayson flopped, and Bill breathing wheezily, from his climb, passed him within touching distance.
Grayson was in a dilemma. Two rafts, two outfits, but which one? True this was the more likely, it was all ready, yet Bill was crafty enough for anything. He wished he
had taken time to investigate under that tarpaulin. He would see what the old fox had here anyway.
The sound of Bill ceased, and down the bank slid Grayson. He felt at the first pack. Blankets and dunnage, no doubt about that. The second proved to be grub—a huge chunk of moose meat, and sacks containing biscuits and tea. The last was a small folding stove, and some cooking utensils. No furs. Yet this was Bill’s camping outfit. He would have to take a chance; give Bill time to make a return trip. The other raft was not in the water. He might still have time to catch Bill there. He looked at his watch. Two-thirty. Before four it would be streaking daylight. He would give Bill until then to show up. If he didn’t appear, he would cast the raft off, and beat it downstream.
Daylight was faintly greying in the north-east, when Bill appeared carrying an immense pack. He made no attempt at concealment. Why should he—was not that dude Grayson watching the other raft? Planking down his pack with the others, he produced an ancient corncob, which he filled and lit. Then he looked to the lashings of his bundles, tightening ropes and doing sundry adjustments. While he was at this, a gentle voice broke on his ear.
“Hello, Bill!” said the voice, “You’re astir early this morning.”
Bill jumped around like twisted rubber, his hand to his hip. Grayson was seated on a driftwood log, thoughtfully regarding him, his hands playing carelessly with a shiny automatic. The hipward movement was not unnoticed.
“I wouldn’t if I were you, Bill. It might be dangerous.” Grayson’s voice was still soft, but his eyes had narrowed. “You’d better stick up your hands in the meantime, while I trouble you for the loan of that gat.”
Bill scowled, but raised his hands slowly, and Grayson removed his weapon, broke it and extracted the shells.
“That’s much better, Bill,” he remarked cheerfully. “Now we can talk more comfortably. I’d like to see what
you’ve got in that big bundle, Bill. Open it for me, will you?”
Bill submitted with no good grace, but at the sight of his fine array of pelts, the scowl vanished from his face. His old eyes glistened with love and pride. He forgot he was a captured outlaw.
“Lookee here, Grayson!” he cried eagerly. “Ain’t that a pretty mess o’ furs? Them beavers are as good as ever I did see, an’ I’ve seen a few in my time. Good season for color this was. Here, what d’ye think of this?” He held up a dark cross fox pelt, and ran his hands lovingly through the glossy fur.
“Yes!” assented Grayson, “that’s a beauty, and they’re a very fine bunch all right, but I’ve seen all I want to right now. Beter do them up again, and bid goodbye to your raft. To-day we lodge at your shack. To-morrow we hit the pike for town.”
He unloosed the raft and sent it whirling into the current, while Bill re-tied the furs. Then he gave the command to travel, and Bill led the way with his beloved pelts, while Grayson with watchful eye followed with the grub and blankets.
Arrived at the shack, Bill set about kindling a fire and getting breakfast. Grayson stretched at ease on the bunk, watched his captive with quiet amusement. Once again Bill had forgotten that he was a law-breaker in custody. He was host, and was acting that part to the rigid exclusion of all else. He kept up a running chatter of cheery conversation and anecdote, and the Ranger found himself liking the old chap. Grayson did ample justice to the fried moose steak and stack of hot-cakes with syrup—he hadn’t eaten for two days.
“Bill,” he said at length, “you may be a hoary old reprobate, but you’re a darned good cook. Pass the coffee.”
Bill’s wrinkled old face lit up with pleasure. “'Well,” he answered, “I’ve sure had lots of practice.”
Breakfast over, the two sat yarning and smoking, and mentally sizing up the situation. Bill had now allowed a
certain amount of revision in his estimate of Grayson. Somehow or other, luck, he guessed, he had been caught with the goods right on him, and Grayson had done the trick. True, the Ranger hadn’t got him and his pelts to town yet ; a lot might, probably would, happen before then.
Grayson, on his part, was fully aware that his hardest task was yet before him. Two days on the trail, at least. Bill was as cunning an o!d fox as ever travelled the jungle. He would escape if he could, and take his pelts if possible.
He suggested to Bill that he cook sufficient food to last them the trip in. Bill after the compliment to his cooking, was nothing loth, and soon a huge joint of moose meat was in the pot boiling, and the first batch of biscuits in the oven.
Grayson was not far from the point of physical exhaustion, from his long fast and sleepless chilly nights, and had much trouble to keep awake. Directly after supper, he insisted on securely binding Bill much to the latter’s disgust, and giving him a pile of blankets on the floor. Satisfied that all was well, he turned into the bunk, and was soon in a dreamless slumber.
XTOW, I’m not suggesting that the white powder that ^ Bill put into the last cup of tea, was other than Bill swears it was, milk powder, but I do know that Grayson failed to see him put it in. Also, I do know that Grayson was about played out from his weary vigils, and that it was a high sun that greeted him when he drowsily reached out after the substantial things of life next morning.
He sat up, and rubbed his eyes. Bill had disappeared, likewise had the bundle of pelts faded from the picture. Grayson was annoyed—distinctly so. His language proved that. More than that, he was ravenously hungry, and—the grub Bill had cooked for the trip to town w*as also missing. It was too bad, too profanely bad, after all his trouble and discomfort, but—he must eat first, and there was enough food in the raw to tide him over a
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How Grayson Lost His Diary
famine. That was a little to be thankful for.
Hastily he kindled a fire, and set about breakfast. Afterwards he would try that first raft. If too late, town and the wires buzzing, they might pick up Bill before he unloaded those furs.
In the midst of his breakfast, he heard a yell. Buckling on his automatic, he opened the door. Glory! Old Bill was returning—on high. What was his game anyhow?
When Bill got within range, he cried, “Grayson, there’s a fire over on the Goat —headed this way.”
The Ranger was frankly sceptical, had an idea that there still was something of importance that Bill had come back for.
“What’s the little game, Bill? Repented and joined the Forestry, or—”
Bill’s eager voice cut short the words of the Ranger. “Don’t be a fool, Grayson. This is straight goods. Jest come up on that ridge and see for yourself. Better take some tools. The grub’s up there now. Guess we got jest about one chance of stoppin’ it—if we get a hustle on.”
Grayson waited no longer, and taking the tools indicated followed Bill to the crest of the ridge. Before them opened out a wide vista of timbered valleys flanked by serrated hills, of desolate muskeg, of canyoned creeks. Far away to the nor’west a dirty white column of smoke ascended into the deep blue of a cloudless sky. Bill pointed with gnarled forefinger.
“See that hogsback at the far end of this valley?” he said. “If we c’n get there an’ hold it till night, we’re safe. Way the wind is, the Goat’ll hold it in the north, an’ the long muskeg’ll funnel it down. It’ll rain or snow before mornin’—my rheumatiky bones don’t tell no lies.” “Let’s go,” replied Grayson. “Guess you know all the short cuts round these jungles, so ‘Lead on Macduff.’ ”
“Sure do,” said Bill, hoisting the grub sack. “There’s an old moose trail ’bout a quarter of a mile from here that’ll take us right there.”
Down the hill and into the virgin forest the two strode, a heavy growth of pine and spruce closing over them, shutting out sun and vision alike. Noon found them at the hogsback, the north end of which was cut away by the washing of the Goat, the south terminating in the long muskeg.
Bill with his knowledge of the country and general’s eye for strategy, had chosen well. This was the only place that two men would have the ghost of a chance of holding a blaze—just three hundred yards across with a down hill grade. Behind them, the Goat swung away at right angles to the north, while the muskeg headed in a south-easterly direction, bounding the finest stand of green timber in a day’s travel.
THE fire was still some miles away, but coming furiously, driven by an ever increasing wind. As if by natural right, Bill took command.
“If we c’n get some kind of a guard clear across, we c’n back-fire,” he said, “but I’m kinda scared of these young pines: they’ll flare like oil. We’ll start at the south. I’ll cut the sod with the grub-hoe an’ you c’n follow behind with the shovel and turn it back.”
Steadily, tirelessly, they worked, while denser grew the smoke whirling and eddying round the corners and top of the hogsback. They had scarcely finished when, with a great roar, the fire cleared the crest, throwing myriads of sparks far in advance. Bill twisted a bunch of grass into a torch, and called to Grayson to do the same, and backfire as fast as he knew how. Their back-fire was too close up to do much good, but it gave them a chance to size up the situation.
“It’s these cussed sparks we gotta watch, Grayson. You take the north end, an’ if anything looks like gettin’ away from you, give a yell. Keep an eye to your rear. I’ll yell if I need you.”
It was Bill who yelled first. Grayson hurried across, and grimly they fought to keep the blaze out of the timber. That under control, the Ranger found he had a couple of fires in his sector to quell. Bill rendered yeoman service, and the fight went on. The eddying of the wind caused numerous small fires to start, yet assisted the two by retarding the direct path of j the fire towards the timber.
Far into the night, back and forth, now with a lull in the wind and a slight relaxation, again a hurricane and an avalanche of sparks, old fires re-starting, new ones springing up. With darkness, the wind became increasingly violent, and veered more to the nor’-west, giving a direct blast to the scene of the fight. One tree outside their guard caught and roared its swan song, starting a second and third. It looked as if they were beaten. The fourth tree started, but a vagary of the wind swept back the flame and sparks towards the area already stricken. Bill and Grayson hurried into the breach, and subdued the ground fire.
“Stay with it, Grayson!” croaked Bill. “Felt a spot of rain a minute ago . . . | Half-an-hour and we’re jake.” Grayson : nodded, his voice failing him.
All their previous fighting paled into insignificance compared with that last half-hour. Cramped, aching muscles, combined with the direct blow of the wind rendered their task almost superhuman. At the end of their tether, the rain came, blinding sheets of it. They had j won.
Grayson crawled under the nearest spruce and collapsed. Bill, in hardly j better shape, but more aware of their j physical necessity, kindled a fire, and brewed some stout coffee, shaking the Ranger awake and forcing some down his throat. Then he threw some pine roots on the fire and crawled in beside Grayson, j
IT WAS the younger man who first came to his senses in the morning, and looked out on a snow-clad world. Bill was nestled against him sleeping peacefully. A look of , something akin to affection crept into 1 Grayson’s eyes. Gently he eased the old j chap to a comfortable position, and sought the axe and food. When Bill awoke, it was to an appetizing smell of fried meat, and the cheery glow of a big fire. Silently he watched the Ranger throw the coffee in the pot. His face creased to a slow smile, as Grayson took from his pocket a cloth bound book from which he extracted sundry papers, consigning the rest to the flames. Then Bill broke silence.
“And that’s that,” he said.
Grayson, who thought the old man had been still asleep, looked round in surprise. Then he smiled.
“Yes, Bill! As you so wisely remarked, that’s that! There was altogether too j much in it concerning the naughty past of one, called Bill.”
Bill chuckled. “I kinda figured it was your diary,” he said. “You’re a bad boy. You’ll get a black mark chalked up agin your name at the office.”
“Maybe,old-timer,”replied the Ranger, “but I’m here to tell you. Bill, that office or no, you've earned your freedom to this particularchunkof His Gracious Majesty’s Forest Reserve, and as long as I’m in this district, you can do as you darned well please.”
“That’s mighty good of you, sonny, and I sure appreciate it.”
Grayson continued. “But tell me, Bill. What made you come back to report the fire, and fight like a demon to stop it, when you had a clean get-away?”
Bill reached for the coffee pot. “I’ve I always liked the green timber,” he said slowly, “and—”
He stopped. Grayson’s eyes sought his, and queried the finish of the sentence.
“Well, guess it’s all right now, partner: I’ll tell you. This here valley is my pet hunting ground—the best valley for marten and game in your whole tarnation Reserve.”