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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Forester's Daughter: A Romance Of The Bear-tooth Range - Chapter 15. A Matter Of Millinery
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The Forester's Daughter: A Romance Of The Bear-tooth Range - Chapter 15. A Matter Of Millinery Post by :sesam Category :Long Stories Author :Hamlin Garland Date :May 2012 Read :2157

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The Forester's Daughter: A Romance Of The Bear-tooth Range - Chapter 15. A Matter Of Millinery

CHAPTER XV. A MATTER OF MILLINERY

It was three o'clock of a fine, clear, golden afternoon as they said good-by to McFarlane and started eastward, as if for a little drive. Berrie held the reins in spite of Wayland's protestations. "These bronchos are only about half busted," she said. "They need watching. I know them better than you do." Therefore he submitted, well knowing that she was entirely competent and fully informed.

Mrs. McFarlane, while looking back at her husband, sadly exclaimed: "I feel like a coward running away like this."

"Forget it, mother," commanded her daughter, cheerily. "Just imagine we're off for a short vacation. I'm for going clear through to Chicago. So long as we _must go, let's go whooping. Father's better off without us."

Her voice was gay, her eyes shining, and Wayland saw her as she had been that first day in the coach--the care-free, laughing girl. The trouble they were fleeing from was less real to her than the happiness toward which she rode.

Her hand on the reins, her foot on the brake, brought back her confidence; but Wayland did not feel so sure of his part in the adventure. She seemed so unalterably a part of this life, so fitted to this landscape, that the thought of transplanting her to the East brought uneasiness and question. Could such a creature of the open air be content with the walls of a city?

For several miles the road ran over the level floor of the valley, and she urged the team to full speed. "I don't want to meet anybody if I can help it. Once we reach the old stage route the chances of being scouted are few. Nobody uses that road since the broad-gauge reached Cragg's."

Mrs. McFarlane could not rid herself of the resentment with which she suffered this enforced departure; but she had small opportunity to protest, for the wagon bumped and clattered over the stony stretches with a motion which confused as well as silenced her. It was all so humiliating, so unlike the position which she had imagined herself to have attained in the eyes of her neighbors. Furthermore, she was going away without a trunk, with only one small bag for herself and Berrie--running away like a criminal from an intangible foe. However, she was somewhat comforted by the gaiety of the young people before her. They were indeed jocund as jaybirds. With the resiliency of youth they had accepted the situation, and were making the best of it.

"Here comes somebody," called Berrie, pulling her ponies to a walk. "Throw a blanket over that valise." She was chuckling as if it were all a good joke. "It's old Jake Proudfoot. I can smell him. Now hang on. I'm going to pass him on the jump."

Wayland, who was riding with his hat in his hand because he could not make it cover his bump, held it up as if to keep the wind from his face, and so defeated the round-eyed, owl-like stare of the inquisitive rancher, who brought his team to a full stop in order to peer after them, muttering in a stupor of resentment and surprise.

"He'll worry himself sick over us," predicted Berrie. "He'll wonder where we're going and what was under that blanket till the end of summer. He is as curious as a fool hen."

A few minutes more and they were at the fork in the way, and, leaving the trail to Cragg's, the girl pulled into the grass-grown, less-traveled trail to the south, which entered the timber at this point and began to climb with steady grade. Letting the reins fall slack, she turned to her mother with reassuring words. "There! Now we're safe. We won't meet anybody on this road except possibly a mover's outfit. We're in the forest again," she added.

For two hours they crawled slowly upward, with a roaring stream on one side and the pine-covered slopes on the other. Jays and camp-birds called from the trees. Water-robins fluttered from rock to rock in the foaming flood. Squirrels and minute chipmunks raced across the fallen tree-trunks or clattered from great boulders, and in the peace and order and beauty of the forest they all recovered a serener outlook on the noisome tumult they were leaving behind them. Invisible as well as inaudible, the serpent of slander lost its terror.

Once, as they paused to rest the horses, Wayland said: "It is hard to realize that down in that ethereal valley people like old Jake and Mrs. Belden have their dwelling-place."

This moved Mrs. McFarlane to admit that it might all turn out a blessing in disguise. "Mr. McFarlane may resign and move to Denver, as I've long wanted him to do."

"I wish he would," exclaimed Berrie, fervently. "It's time you had a rest. Daddy will hate to quit under fire, but he'd better do it."

Peak by peak the Bear Tooth Range rose behind them, while before them the smooth, grassy slopes of the pass told that they were nearing timber-line. The air was chill, the sun was hidden by old Solidor, and the stream had diminished to a silent rill winding among sear grass and yellowed willows. The valley behind them was vague with mist. The southern boundary of the forest was in sight.

At last the topmost looming crags of the Continental Divide cut the sky-line, and then in the smooth hollow between two rounded grassy summits Berrie halted, and they all silently contemplated the two worlds. To the west and north lay an endless spread of mountains, wave on wave, snow-lined, savage, sullen in the dying light; while to the east and southeast the foot-hills faded into the plain, whose dim cities, insubstantial as flecks in a veil of violet mist, were hardly distinguishable without the aid of glasses.

To the girl there was something splendid, something heroical in that majestic, menacing landscape to the west. In one of its folds she had begun her life. In another she had grown to womanhood and self-confident power. The rough men, the coarse, ungainly women of that land seemed less hateful now that she was leaving them, perhaps forever, and a confused memory of the many splendid dawns and purple sunsets she had loved filled her thought.

Wayland, divining some part of what was moving in her mind, cheerily remarked, "Yes, it's a splendid place for a summer vacation, but a stern place in winter-time, and for a lifelong residence it is not inspiring."

Mrs. McFarlane agreed with him in this estimate. "It _is terribly lonesome in there at times. I've had enough of it. I'm ready for the comforts of civilization."

Berrie turned in her seat, and was about to take up the reins when Wayland asserted himself. "Wait a moment. Here's where my dominion begins. Here's where you change seats with me. I am the driver now."

She looked at him with questioning, smiling glance. "Can you drive? It's all the way down-hill--and steep?"

"If I can't I'll ask your aid. I'm old enough to remember the family carriage. I've even driven a four-in-hand."

She surrendered her seat doubtfully, and smiled to see him take up the reins as if he were starting a four-horse coach. He proved adequate and careful, and she was proud of him as, with foot on the brake and the bronchos well in hand, he swung down the long looping road to the railway. She was pleased, too, by his care of the weary animals, easing them down the steepest slopes and sending them along on the comparatively level spots.

Their descent was rapid, but it was long after dark before they reached Flume, which lay up the valley to the right. It was a poor little decaying mining-town set against the hillside, and had but one hotel, a sun-warped and sagging pine building just above the station.

"Not much like the Profile House," said Wayland, as he drew up to the porch. "But I see no choice."

"There isn't any," Berrie assured him.

"Well, now," he went on, "I am in command of this expedition. From this on I lead this outfit. When it comes to hotels, railways, and the like o' that, I'm head ranger."

Mrs. McFarlane, tired, hungry, and a little dismayed, accepted his control gladly; but Berrie could not at once slip aside her responsibility. "Tell the hostler--"

"Not a word!" commanded Norcross; and the girl with a smile submitted to his guidance, and thereafter his efficiency, his self-possession, his tact delighted her. He persuaded the sullen landlady to get them supper. He secured the best rooms in the house, and arranged for the care of the team, and when they were all seated around the dim, fly-specked oil-lamp at the end of the crumby dining-room table he discovered such a gay and confident mien that the women looked at each other in surprise.

Berrie was correspondingly less masculine. In drawing off her buckskin driving-gloves she had put away the cowgirl, and was silent, a little sad even, in the midst of her enjoyment of his dictatorship. And when he said, "If my father reaches Denver in time I want you to meet him," she looked the dismay she felt.

"I'll do it--but I'm scared of him."

"You needn't be. I'll see him first and draw his fire."

Mrs. McFarlane interposed. "We must do a little shopping first. We can't meet your father as we are."

"Very well. I'll go with you if you'll let me. I'm a great little shopper. I have infallible taste, so my sisters say. If it's a case of buying new hats, for instance, I'm the final authority with them." This amused Berrie, but her mother took it seriously.

"Of course, I'm anxious to have my daughter make the best possible impression."

"Very well. It is arranged. We get in, I find, about noon. We'll go straight to the biggest shop in town. If we work with speed we'll be able to lunch with my father. He'll be at the Palmer House at one."

Berrie said nothing, either in acceptance or rejection of his plan. Her mind was concerned with new conceptions, new relationships, and when in the hall he took her face between his hands and said, "Cheer up! All is not lost," she put her arms about his neck and laid her cheek against his breast to hide her tears. "Oh, Wayland! I'm such an idiot in the city. I'm afraid your father will despise me."

What he said was not very cogent, and not in the least literary, but it was reassuring and lover-like, and when he turned her over to her mother she was composed, though unwontedly grave.

She woke to a new life next morning--a life of compliance, of following, of dependence upon the judgment of another. She stood in silence while her lover paid the bills, bought the tickets, and telegraphed their coming to his father. She acquiesced when he prevented her mother from telephoning to the ranch. She complied when he countermanded her order to have the team sent back at once. His judgment ruled, and she enjoyed her sudden freedom from responsibility. It was novel, and it was very sweet to think that she was being cared for as she had cared for and shielded him in the world of the trail.

In the little railway-coach, which held a score of passengers, she found herself among some Eastern travelers who had taken the trip up the Valley of the Flume in the full belief that they were piercing the heart of the Rocky Mountains! It amused Wayland almost as much as it amused Berrie when one man said to his wife:

"Well, I'm glad we've seen the Rockies."

"He really believes it!" exclaimed Norcross.

After an hour's ride Wayland tactfully withdrew, leaving mother and daughter to discuss clothes undisturbed by his presence.

"We must look our best, honey," said Mrs. McFarlane. "We will go right to Mme. Crosby at Battle's, and she'll fit us out. I wish we had more time; but we haven't, so we must do the best we can."

"I want Wayland to choose my hat and traveling-suit," replied Berrie.

"Of course. But you've got to have a lot of other things besides." And they bent to the joyous work of making out a list of goods to be purchased as soon as they reached Chicago.

Wayland came back with a Denver paper in his hand and a look of disgust on his face. "It's all in here--at least, the outlines of it."

Berrie took the journal, and there read the details of Settle's assault upon the foreman. "The fight arose from a remark concerning the Forest Supervisor's daughter. Ranger Settle resented the gossip, and fell upon the other man, beating him with the butt of his revolver. Friends of the foreman claim that the ranger is a drunken bully, and should have been discharged long ago. The Supervisor for some mysterious reason retains this man, although he is an incompetent. It is also claimed that McFarlane put a man on the roll without examination." The Supervisor was the protagonist of the play, which was plainly political. The attack upon him was bitter and unjust, and Mrs. McFarlane again declared her intention of returning to help him in his fight. However, Wayland again proved to her that her presence would only embarrass the Supervisor. "You would not aid him in the slightest degree. Nash and Landon are with him, and will refute all these charges."

This newspaper story took the light out of their day and the smile from Berrie's lips, and the women entered the city silent and distressed in spite of the efforts of their young guide. The nearer the girl came to the ordeal of facing the elder Norcross, the more she feared the outcome; but Wayland kept his air of easy confidence, and drove them directly to the shopping center, believing that under the influence of hats and gloves they would regain their customary cheer.

In this he was largely justified. They had a delightful hour trying on millinery and coats and gloves. The forewoman, who knew Mrs. McFarlane, gladly accepted her commission, and, while suspecting the tender relationship between the girl and the man, she was tactful enough to conceal her suspicion. "The gentleman is right; you carry simple things best," she remarked to Berrie, thus showing her own good judgment. "Smartly tailored gray or blue suits are your style."

Silent, blushing, tousled by the hands of her decorators, Berrie permitted hats to be perched on her head and jackets buttoned and unbuttoned about her shoulders till she felt like a worn clothes-horse. Wayland beamed with delight, but she was far less satisfied than he; and when at last selection was made, she still had her doubts, not of the clothes, but of her ability to wear them. They seemed so alien to her, so restrictive and enslaving.

"You're an easy fitter," said the saleswoman. "But"--here she lowered her voice--"you need a new corset. This old one is out of date. Nobody is wearing hips now."

Thereupon Berrie meekly permitted herself to be led away to a torture-room. Wayland waited patiently, and when she reappeared all traces of Bear Tooth Forest had vanished. In a neat tailored suit and a very "chic" hat, with shoes, gloves, and stockings to match, she was so transformed, so charmingly girlish in her self-conscious glory, that he was tempted to embrace her in the presence of the saleswoman. But he didn't. He merely said: "I see the governor's finish! Let's go to lunch. You are stunning!"

"I don't know myself," responded Berrie. "The only thing that feels natural is my hand. They cinched me so tight I can't eat a thing, and my shoes hurt." She laughed as she said this, for her use of the vernacular was conscious. "I'm a fraud. Your father will spot my brand first shot. Look at my face--red as a saddle!"

"Don't let that trouble you. This is the time of year when tan is fashionable. Don't you be afraid of the governor. Just smile at him, give him your grip, and he'll melt."

"I'm the one to melt. I'm beginning now."

"I know how you feel, but you'll get used to the conventional boiler-plate and all the rest of it. We all groan and growl when we come back to it each autumn; but it's a part of being civilized, and we submit."

Notwithstanding his confident advice, Wayland led the two silent and inwardly dismayed women into the showy cafe of the hotel with some degree of personal apprehension concerning the approaching interview with his father. Of course, he did not permit this to appear in the slightest degree. On the contrary, he gaily ordered a choice lunch, and did his best to keep his companions from sinking into deeper depression.

It pleased him to observe the admiring glances which were turned upon Berrie, whose hat became her mightily, and, leaning over, he said in a low voice to Mrs. McFarlane: "Who is the lovely young lady opposite? Won't you introduce me?"

This rejoiced the mother almost as much as it pleased the daughter, and she answered, "She looks like one of the Radburns of Lexington, but I think she's from Louisville."

This little play being over, he said, "Now, while our order is coming I'll run out to the desk and see if the governor has come in or not."

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