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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Forester's Daughter: A Romance Of The Bear-tooth Range - Chapter 14. The Summons
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The Forester's Daughter: A Romance Of The Bear-tooth Range - Chapter 14. The Summons Post by :sesam Category :Long Stories Author :Hamlin Garland Date :May 2012 Read :944

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The Forester's Daughter: A Romance Of The Bear-tooth Range - Chapter 14. The Summons


When Wayland caught the startled look on Berrie's face he knew that she had learned from her father the contents of his telegram, and that she would require an explanation.

"Are you going away?" she asked.

"Yes. At least, I must go down to Denver to see my father. I shall be gone only over night."

"And will you tell him about our trip?" she pursued, with unflinching directness. "And about--me?"

He gave her a chair, and took a seat himself before replying. "Yes, I shall tell him all about it, and about you and your father and mother. He shall know how kind you've all been to me."

He said this bravely, and at the moment he meant it; but as his father's big, impassive face and cold, keen eyes came back to him his courage sank, and in spite of his firm resolution some part of his secret anxiety communicated itself to the girl, who asked many questions, with intent to find out more particularly what kind of man the elder Norcross was.

Wayland's replies did not entirely reassure her. He admitted that his father was harsh and domineering in character, and that he was ambitious to have his son take up and carry forward his work. "He was willing enough to have me go to college till he found I was specializing on wrong lines. Then I had to fight in order to keep my place. He's glad I'm out here, for he thinks I'm regaining my strength. But just as soon as I'm well enough he expects me to go to Chicago and take charge of the Western office. Of course, I don't want to do that. I'd rather work out some problem in chemistry that interests me; but I may have to give in, for a time at least."

"Will your mother and sisters be with your father?"

"No, indeed! You couldn't get any one of them west of the Hudson River with a log-chain. My sisters were both born in Michigan, but they want to forget it--they pretend they have forgotten it. They both have New-Yorkitis. Nothing but the Plaza will do them now."

"I suppose they think we're all 'Injuns' out here?"

"Oh no, not so bad as that; but they wouldn't comprehend anything about you except your muscle. That would catch 'em. They'd worship your splendid health, just as I do. It's pitiful the way they both try to put on weight. They're always testing some new food, some new tonic--they'll do anything except exercise regularly and go to bed at ten o'clock."

All that he said of his family deepened her dismay. Their interests were so alien to her own.

"I'm afraid to have you go even for a day," she admitted, with simple honesty, which moved him deeply. "I don't know what I should do if you went away. I think of nothing but you now."

Her face was pitiful, and he put his arm about her neck as if she were a child. "You mustn't do that. You must go on with your life just as if I'd never been. Think of your father's job--of the forest and the ranch."

"I can't do it. I've lost interest in the service. I never want to go into the high country again, and I don't want you to go, either. It's too savage and cruel."

"That is only a mood," he said, confidently. "It is splendid up there. I shall certainly go back some time."

He could not divine, and she could not tell him, how poignantly she had sensed the menace of the cold and darkness during his illness. For the first time in her life she had realized to the full the unrelenting enmity of the clouds, the wind, the night; and during that interminable ride toward home, when she saw him bending lower and lower over his saddle-bow, her allegiance to the trail, her devotion to the stirrup was broken. His weariness and pain had changed the universe for her. Never again would she look upon the range with the eyes of the care-free girl. The other, the civilized, the domestic, side of her was now dominant. A new desire, a bigger aspiration, had taken possession of her.

Little by little he realized this change in her, and was touched with the wonder of it. He had never had any great self-love either as man or scholar, and the thought of this fine, self-sufficient womanly soul centering all its interests on him was humbling. Each moment his responsibility deepened, and he heard her voice but dimly as she went on.

"Of course we are not rich; but we are not poor, and my mother's family is one of the oldest in Kentucky." She uttered this with a touch of her mother's quiet dignity. "Your father need not despise us."

"So far as my father is concerned, family don't count, and neither does money. But he confidently expects me to take up his business in Chicago, and I suppose it is my duty to do so. If he finds me looking fit he may order me into the ranks at once."

"I'll go there--I'll do anything you want me to do," she urged. "You can tell your father that I'll help you in the office. I can learn. I'm ready to use a typewriter--anything."

He was silent in the face of her naive expression of self-sacrificing love, and after a moment she added, hesitatingly: "I wish I could meet your father. Perhaps he'd come up here if you asked him to do so?"

He seized upon the suggestion. "By George! I believe he would. I don't want to go to town. I just believe I'll wire him that I'm laid up here and can't come." Then a shade of new trouble came over his face. How would the stern, methodical old business man regard this slovenly ranch and its primitive ways? She felt the question in his face.

"You're afraid to have him come," she said, with the same disconcerting penetration which had marked every moment of her interview thus far. "You're afraid he wouldn't like me?"

With almost equal frankness he replied: "No. I think he'd like _you_, but this town and the people up here would gall him. Order is a religion with him. Then he's got a vicious slant against all this conservation business--calls it tommy-rot. He and your father might lock horns first crack out of the box. But I'll risk it. I'll wire him at once."

A knock at the door interrupted him, and Mrs. McFarlane's voice, filled with new excitement, called out: "Berrie, the District office is on the wire."

Berrie opened the door and confronted her mother, who said: "Mr. Evingham 'phones that the afternoon papers contain an account of a fight at Coal City between Settle and one of Alec Belden's men, and that the District Forester is coming down to investigate it."

"Let him come," answered Berrie, defiantly. "He can't do us any harm. What was the row about?"

"I didn't hear much of it. Your father was at the 'phone."

McFarlane, with the receiver to his ear, was saying: "Don't know a thing about it, Mr. Evingham. Settle was at the station when I left. I didn't know he was going down to Coal City. No, that's a mistake. My daughter was never engaged to Alec Belden. Alec Belden is the older of the brothers, and is married. I can't go into that just now. If you come down I'll explain fully."

He hung up the receiver and slowly turned toward his wife and daughter. "This sure is our day of trouble," he said, with dejected countenance.

"What is it all about?" asked Berrie.

"Why, it seems that after I left yesterday Settle rode down the valley with Belden's outfit, and they all got to drinking, ending in a row, and Tony beat one of Belden's men almost to death. The sheriff has gone over to get Tony, and the Beldens declare they're going to railroad him. That means we'll all be brought into it. Belden has seized the moment to prefer charges against me for keeping Settle in the service and for putting a non-resident on the roll as guard. The whelp will dig up everything he can to queer me with the office. All that kept him from doing it before was Cliff's interest in you."

"He can't make any of his charges stick," declared Berrie.

"Of course he can't. He knows that. But he can bring us all into court. You and Mr. Norcross will both be called as witnesses, for it seems that Tony was defending your name. The papers call it 'a fight for a girl.' Oh, it's a sweet mess."

For the first time Berrie betrayed alarm. "What shall we do? I can't go on the stand! They can't make me do that, can they?" She turned to Wayland. "Now you _must go away. It is a shame to have you mixed up in such a trial."

"I shall not run away and leave you and the Supervisor to bear all the burden of this fight."

He anticipated in imagination--as they all did--some of the consequences of this trial. The entire story of the camping trip would be dragged in, distorted into a scandal, and flashed over the country as a disgraceful episode. The country would ring with laughter and coarse jest. Berrie's testimony would be a feast for court-room loafers.

"There's only one thing to do," said McFarlane, after a few moments of thought. "You and Berrie and Mrs. McFarlane must get out of here before you are subpoenaed."

"And leave you to fight it out alone?" exclaimed his wife. "I shall do nothing of the kind. Berrie and Mr. Norcross can go."

"That won't do," retorted McFarlane, quickly. "That won't do at all. You must go with them. I can take care of myself. I will not have you dragged into this muck-hole. We've got to think quick and act quick. There won't be any delay about their side of the game. I don't think they'll do anything to-day; but you've got to fade out of the valley. You all get ready and I'll have one of the boys hook up the surrey as if for a little drive, and you can pull out over the old stage-road to Flume and catch the narrow-gage morning train for Denver. You've been wanting for some time to go down the line. Now here's a good time to start."

Berrie now argued against running away. Her blood was up. She joined her mother. "We won't leave you to inherit all this trouble. Who will look after the ranch? Who will keep house for you?"

McFarlane remained firm. "I'll manage. Don't worry about me. Just get out of reach. The more I consider this thing, the more worrisome it gets. Suppose Cliff should come back to testify?"

"He won't. If he does I'll have him arrested for trying to kill Wayland," retorted Berrie.

"And make the whole thing worse! No. You are all going to cross the range. You can start out as if for a little turn round the valley, and just naturally keep going. It can't do any harm, and it may save a nasty time in court."

"One would think we were a lot of criminals," remarked Wayland.

"That's the way you'll be treated," retorted McFarlane. "Belden has retained old Whitby, the foulest old brute in the business, and he'll bring you all into it if he can."

"But running away from it will not prevent talk," argued his wife.

"Not entirely; but talk and testimony are two different things. Suppose they call daughter to the stand? Do you want her cross-examined as to what basis there was for this gossip? They know something of Cliff's being let out, and that will inflame them. He may be at the mill this minute."

"I guess you're right," said Norcross, sadly. "Our delightful excursion into the forest has led us into a predicament from which there is only one way of escape, and that is flight."

Back of all this talk, this argument, there remained still unanswered the most vital, most important question: "Shall I speak of marriage at this time? Would it be a source of comfort to them as well as a joy to her?" At the moment he was ready to speak, for he felt himself to be the direct cause of all their embarrassment. But closer thought made it clear that a hasty ceremony would only be considered a cloak to cover something illicit. "I'll leave it to the future," he decided.

McFarlane was again called to the telephone. Landon, with characteristic brevity, conveyed to him the fact that Mrs. Belden was at home and busily 'phoning scandalous stories about the country. "If you don't stop her she's going to poison every ear in the valley," ended the ranger.

"You'd think they'd all know my daughter well enough not to believe anything Mrs. Belden says," responded McFarlane, bitterly.

"All the boys are ready to do what Tony did. But nobody can stop this old fool's mouth but you. Cliff has disappeared, and that adds to the excitement."

"Thank the boys for me," said McFarlane, "and tell them not to fight. Tell 'em to keep cool. It will all be cleared up soon."

As McFarlane went out to order the horses hooked up, Wayland followed him as far as the bars. "I'm conscience-smitten over this thing, Supervisor, for I am aware that I am the cause of all your trouble."

"Don't let that worry you," responded the older man. But he spoke with effort. "It can't be helped. It was all unavoidable."

"The most appalling thing to me is the fact that not even your daughter's popularity can neutralize the gossip of a woman like Mrs. Belden. My being an outsider counts against Berrie, and I'm ready to do anything--anything," he repeated, earnestly. "I love your daughter, Mr. McFarlane, and I'm ready to marry her at once if you think best. She's a noble girl, and I cannot bear to be the cause of her calumniation."

There was mist in the Supervisor's eyes as he turned them on the young man. "I'm right glad to hear you say that, my boy." He reached out his hand, and Wayland took it. "I knew you'd say the word when the time came. I didn't know how strongly she felt toward you till to-day. I knew she liked you, of course, for she said so, but I didn't know that she had plum set her heart on you. I didn't expect her to marry a city man; but--I like you and--well, she's the doctor! What suits her suits me. Don't you be afraid of her not meeting all comers." He went on after a pause, "She's never seen much of city life, but she'll hold her own anywhere, you can gamble on that."

"She has wonderful adaptability, I know," answered Wayland, slowly. "But I don't like to take her away from here--from you."

"If you hadn't come she would have married Cliff--and what kind of a life would she have led with him?" demanded McFarlane. "I knew Cliff was rough, but I couldn't convince her that he was cheap. I live only for her happiness, my boy, and, though I know you will take her away from me, I believe you can make her happy, and so--I give her over to you. As to time and place, arrange that--with--her mother." He turned and walked away, unable to utter another word.

Wayland's throat was aching also, and he went back into the house with a sense of responsibility which exalted him into sturdier manhood.

Berea met him in a pretty gown, a dress he had never seen her wear, a costume which transformed her into something entirely feminine.

She seemed to have put away the self-reliant manner of the trail, and in its stead presented the lambent gaze, the tremulous lips of the bride. As he looked at her thus transfigured his heart cast out its hesitancy and he entered upon his new adventure without further question or regret.

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