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self. He looked up at the lop-sided moon. "My brother Cale 's too young for much help to father. You can't make a carpenter overnight, like he was a pair of shoes."
began to stamp it out. The charred brush hissed under his heels like a snake; the roasting boneset flowers smelled vilely. He danced up and down, panting, until no sparks shone; then he went to fill his hat with water
"My, the moon makes your hair at the creek, and flooded the spot in
look just green!"
"Does it? It's kind of light brown, reely. Only the sun 's took the color out of it."
"You 're funny," said the girl. She whirled and ran off along the street.
Blaine ran after her a hundred yards, and then pulled his long legs to a halt. It was highly indecent to run after a nice girl like that. He blushed and tramped away up the valley. Cool wind blew after him and puffed his shirt. His slow thoughts went aimlessly. Sometimes he walked through side ventures of the murmurous creek and sometimes he found his thighs lashed by brushwood. He meandered, peacefully grinning. The cobweb of the bridge appeared, properly gray, like Gloucester shingle. The moonlight faded from it as Blaine advanced: the mountains had covered the moon. Blaine shook his head and put his hat on soberly. He said, "Gee!" softly and walked along, looking down at rocks that jarred his boots. Then the breast of his shirt turned pink.
A cone of flame rose out of the cloudy brush a few yards ahead. The young man gaped. Miners went up and down the valley, smoking, and some one had probably dropped a burning match. The cone twisted into a whip-lash that slashed at farther brush. The pillars and cross-beams of the bridge were visible, rose-colored, with sparkling dots of bright nails. Blaine's body became wet in terror. He rushed on the flame, yelling, and
a dozen trips. The flame left a fire in his mind, for the wind could have blown that fury against the bridge. The bridge might have been burned. It was awful to think about. At dawn he was still thinking in every torment of conscience.
On the first of July a locomotive halted with a single car at the north end of the trestles. A man in a straw hat came down the ladder spiked to the cliff. He was fat, tall, and heavily whiskered. Blaine went to meet him, and the official held out the buff payenvelop. This was n't the usual paymaster. He jingled masonic charms on his watch-chain and blinked at the twelve pillars of the bridge, nodding.
"What you got to look out for," he said, "is fires. This wood, here, it dries up, and there ain't been much rain this spring. You got to look out for fires, son.”
"Yes, sir," said Blaine; "had two already. I been thinkin', if we put on a kind of tin coatin' about half-way up—"
The official stroked his whiskers and nodded.
"Ain't a bad idea. I'll speak to the chief engineer. Yes, you could n't risk a fire round here. And they start up quick, specially when there's a wind. You might walk down to town to mail a letter and come back and see the whole works burnin'."
"But I don't. There 's usu'ly three or four folks goes by a day, and I give
'em my letters to mail. I ain't been to town since eighth of May."
"Oh, well, there's no call to stick here as hard as all that." The official yawned. He plucked a white boneset flower and thrust it into his coat, then turned off, and mounted the slope to the ladder. Blaine walked after him, hoping the man would speak of something else, of Denver or politics or horses. But the official mounted the treads slowly, and at the top vanished with a last flicker of gold from his waistcoat. The whistle tooted; the rolling wheels sent down their petty thunder. Blaine sat on a rock and heard his breath go out in a sob.
The mule came up and looked placidly at Blaine, shaking its ears. The young man howled an oath at its contentment. He had come to hate the mule's nullity. It went silently away, rounded, and came back.
"Yeh," said Blaine, "that 's right. They got me here on a contrack, tied by my leg. What I'd ought of done was ask that man to have somebody else sent here."
He wiped sweat off his face and walked down to the hut. On its walls he had written in a dozen places, "September 1, 1884." His contract would be filled that day. He would go down to the settlement and talk to people. He would have the barber cut his hair, which was thick and curly on his neck now. He ranged about the hut and stared at the picture of the plaided girl clipped neatly from the magazine. Wind came up the valley, and a float of dust passed over his sill. Blaine cursed, and went down to the creek to swim. No one had passed to-day. Yesterday one of the girl's brothers had come wandering up, kicking the dust high, and Blaine had kept him for
an hour's talk. Now he sat in the failing creek and gazed down to where the water disappeared in the turning gorge. A freight-train went across. Blaine stood up to howl, but no head spotted the windows of the caboose. He shook his heavy arms after the pink cars and hated men. He said: "Tied! They got me tied!"
His meals had become irregular, interrupted by spurts of dust seen far off that might be smoke. He had a rag tacked to a wand before the hut so that he might judge the wind. At times, when the breeze was strong, he was filled with importance. The bridge depended on him. These four hundred tons of wood were n't safe without him. He would tramp down the valley, peering at plumes of dust in the brush. Fifty yards below the bridge a brook ran from the cliff to the creek and made the north side safer: but it was a narrow brook, a thread among pebbles. He sometimes tore the brush back from its margins and looked happily at the wider space between boughs; but at night, when there was not wind enough to cool the baked hut, the whole valley was unsafe. He dreamed of flame. Often he heard trains crashing through the brittle, burning trestles and women shriek. He would wake to know that the mule was kicking its shed. His simplicity was hurt by this thought of people killed through his fault. He had fights with passing miners who dropped matches on the trail. Sometimes in the heat of day he loathed the bridge. Its stolidity was inimical; it shut him off from talk and love. He would walk far up the valley, so that it dwindled to a blur in the gulf. But at night, when he was loneliest, he liked the thing, stood leaning on a
warm bulk nearest the creek, and patted the wood. He was its master. He could climb the ladder and stroll along the beams, staring down at the moony creek. This climbing thrilled him. It was a sign of mastery. He felt immense and powerful, standing midway between the rocks. Once a miner left him half a flask of whisky, and Blaine drank this, sitting on the bridge, his boots dangling thirty yards above stream. He lit matches and dropped them. He told the bridge, "See what I could do to you?" But in the morning he was ashamed and wondered if his brain was failing. He wrote severely to his brother Caleb, "You let whisky alone until you are grown up."
On July 30 he saw a cloud down the valley, although the rag before the hut showed no wind. Blaine seized a spade to beat out fire and raced along the creek; but the cloud had a woman on a dun horse for its heart. The storekeeper's wife rode sidewise, her brown linen skirt tucked decently about her gaunt ankles. She reined in beside the young man and gave him the frown of a martyr.
"This is Hattie's birthday, so we 're givin' a kind of a party to-night. We wanted you to come."
Blaine licked his lips, and rubbed his chin with the handle of the spade. He said:
"I'd like to, awful'." His struggle lasted a moment; then he wailed: "But I can't. They got me on a contrack until September first watchin' the bridge. It 's fires I 'm scared of. The timber 'd catch fire easy. That could happen."
"Hattie 'll be awful' sorry.' "So 'm I. Only I can't run offleave off watchin'. I'm tied."
She was immobile, perched on her horse. She lifted her patient eyes to the gray span of the bridge and sighed. She said angrily:
"Folks out here dunno how to raise children. They ain't responsible. I'll be glad to go home." She turned the horse, then said over her hard shoulder, "You 're a real nice boy."
The horse carried her off. Blaine gulped. He wanted to send the girl a message, but the horse was again involved in smoky whirls of dust. The cloud ebbed among the white and purple flowers. He slashed the dry brush with his spade and walked back to the bridge. Striding across the brook, he saw its bed almost dry. The water made a width of pebbles slick. The whisper was so soft that it sank below the little noise of the creek. The creek itself might dry to nothing in the blaze of August. Blaine shook his head. Everything worked to hurt the bridge and himself. In the hut he stared at his face, shown by the tin mirror. His brows were bleached, and a mask of dusty bronze covered his skin. He had never thought himself handsome; now the bridge was making him old and ugly at twentytwo.
After dark a ridiculous mood fell on him: he wanted to cry. Desire and heat had fried all common sense out of him, he thought. He stood under the bridge and composed apologies in a whisper. "You know I 'd ruther of come to your party than stayed up lookin' at that old bridge. You know that." It even appeared that the wind blowing up from the village brought smells of cocoanut cake and coffee. He leaned against a pillar and wiped his mouth with a palm. A horse snorted, coming down behind
Blaine. He saw a young miner ride by, his scarlet neckerchief apparent in the moonlight. Blaine had once seen this fellow idling at the counter and now abominated him. He was going to the birthday party. Blaine yelled: "Don't you go droppin' any matches round here!"
"I don't smoke," the miner called back.
Blaine had wanted to fight him. He was left without an excuse. He hit the nearest pillar with his doubled fist and wished the bridge human. The slap of the blow echoed delicately among the beams; the noise became a sighing laugh.
"Yeh," Blaine cried, "you think you 're smart!" His ears were invaded by a terrible buzzing as the cliffs took up a retort. He ran to the He ran to the hut and slammed the door.
He dreamed that the bridge was falling in a collapse of pillars that smote one another in appalling thuds. Under the dream Blaine knew that this was the mule kicking its shed. He thought scornfully, "I sha'n't get up for that," but he woke. The moon shone through his window in a sickly way. As he blinked, he began to cough. There was a waver of smoke between him and the moon. Blaine sat up and seized his trousers. The mule went on kicking heavily. As the young man ran out of the hut he saw the fire as a bright red worm lounging on the north side of the creek. He shouldered the spade and ran down the valley without knowing that he shouted, and so thought the echoes a noise of crackling wood. There was a strong breeze. Some one between the bridge and the settlement had
dropped a match. The fire burned from the cliff to the pebbles of the creek. Blaine went stamping up the slope to the rock and faced the flame there.
After an hour he knew it was useless to fight the flame itself. He beat down the blazing brush and the stiff grasses, but unseen sparks writhed forward when his back was turned. He would whirl and see a fresh advance lighting up the parched boneset flowers. Bushes went in great puffs of fleet gold. In the rear of the fire tall stumps of mountain-birch smouldered, and appeared as red fingers thrust up through the earth. The moon was gone. The turn of the gorge hid the terror from the settlement. Blaine sobbed, smiting down at a ring of fire by his boot. He must fall back to the drying brook and tear away brush, so that his enemy could not leap across. The bridge was completely pink with the illumination. He lurched back toward the brook, and smoke followed him. He reached the brook, then thought, and ran on fifty yards to the hut, where he found a pail. The mule steadily kicked its shed.
"Quit that," said Blaine, "I'll see you don't get hurt."
At the place where the brook joined the creek he filled his pail and began to dampen the brush beyond. The flame was still a hundred yards away. He went stumbling up and down the brook. Once he slipped on the wet pebbles and lost a whole pailful. As he emptied water on the brush he heard a strange sucking sound: the baked earth was drinking. This made him furious. He groaned, "I ain't raisin' flowers!"
The fire gained. Near the cliff it.