"I am going down there," she said, turning her head toward the timber-line. "I am going with him my husband " Her voice choked her, and, drawing her hands suddenly from him, she went to the sledge and stood facing him. For a moment there was a glow of defiance in her eyes, as though she feared him and was ready to fight for herself and her dead.
To be almost as good as an Indian was a new ambition to cherish. When he had paid off the Indians and seen them depart, a stormy darkness was falling, and he was left alone, a thousand feet above timber-line, on the backbone of a mountain. Wet to the waist, famished and exhausted, he would have given a year's income for a fire and a cup of coffee.
In the distance rise the foot-hills crowned with stunted live-oaks. On the horizon tower the mountains, pine-clad to the timber-line, bare and desolate above. The outfit of Sweetwater Ranch has gathered for the round-up and the drive to the railroad.
This immortal shrub spreads down into Death Valley and up to the lower timber-line, odorous and medicinal as you might guess from the name, wandlike, with shining fretted foliage. Its vivid green is grateful to the eye in a wilderness of gray and greenish white shrubs.
These snö-flaks show no sign of life, not even the 'red-snow' tinge, and around each is a belt of barren earth, to testify that life and warmth can never be divorced. Birdless and lifeless, the gray-green snow-pied waste extends over all the stretch that is here between the timber-line and the snow-line, above which winter never quits its hold.
The mountains wall the horizon and dominate the mesa, their black forest-clad flanks crumpled and broken and gashed by cañons, lifting above timber-line peaks of bare brown rock that pierce the clouds floating along the range.
Meadows, little strips of alpine freshness, begin before the timber-line is reached. Here one treads on a carpet of dwarf willows, downy catkins of creditable size and the greatest economy of foliage and stems. No other plant of high altitudes knows its business so well.
I was sure he had not seen me, yet a chip of rock flying from where he had stood was my only satisfaction; he had dodged again. They are related to the woodchucks as well as to the hare, and they live wholly at or above timber-line, burrowing among the fallen and decomposing rocks which crown the summits of all the mountains.
They come to it about the level of the heather, but they have no such affinity for dampness as the tamarack pines. Scarcely any bird-note breaks the stillness of the timber-line, but chipmunks inhabit here, as may be guessed by the gnawed ruddy cones of the pines, and lowering hours the woodchucks come down to the water.
"Don't you remember, little girl," answered the Doctor, "what I told you about the timber-line on a mountain the height beyond which no trees grow, because it gets too cold for them up there? It is just the same if you go northward on flat ground like Orchard Farm; for when you have gone far enough there are no more trees to be seen.