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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Forester's Daughter: A Romance Of The Bear-tooth Range - Chapter 16. The Private Car
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The Forester's Daughter: A Romance Of The Bear-tooth Range - Chapter 16. The Private Car Post by :sesam Category :Long Stories Author :Hamlin Garland Date :May 2012 Read :2434

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The Forester's Daughter: A Romance Of The Bear-tooth Range - Chapter 16. The Private Car

CHAPTER XVI. THE PRIVATE CAR

After he went away Berrie turned to her mother with a look in which humor and awe were blent. "Am I dreaming, mother, or am I actually sitting here in the city? My head is dizzy with it all." Then, without waiting for an answer, she fervently added: "Isn't he fine! I'm the tenderfoot now. I hope his father won't despise me."

With justifiable pride in her child, the mother replied: "He can't help liking you, honey. You look exactly like your grandmother at this moment. Meet Mr. Norcross in her spirit."

"I'll try; but I feel like a woodchuck out of his hole."

Mrs. McFarlane continued: "I'm glad we were forced out of the valley. You might have been shut in there all your life as I have been with your father."

"You don't blame father, do you?"

"Not entirely. And yet he always was rather easy-going, and you know how untidy the ranch is. He's always been kindness and sympathy itself; but his lack of order is a cross. Perhaps now he will resign, rent the ranch, and move over here. I should like to live in the city for a while, and I'd like to travel a little."

"Wouldn't it be fine if you could! You could live at this hotel if you wanted to. Yes, you're right. You need a rest from the ranch and dish-washing."

Wayland returned with an increase of tension in his face.

"He's here! I've sent word saying, 'I am lunching in the cafe with ladies.' I think he'll come round. But don't be afraid of him. He's a good deal rougher on the outside than he is at heart. Of course, he's a bluff old business man, and not at all pretty, and he'll transfix you with a kind of estimating glare as if you were a tree; but he's actually very easy to manage if you know how to handle him. Now, I'm not going to try to explain everything to him at the beginning. I'm going to introduce him to you in a casual kind of way and give him time to take to you both. He forms his likes and dislikes very quickly."

"What if he don't like us?" inquired Berrie, with troubled brow.

"He can't help it." His tone was so positive that her eyes misted with happiness. "But here comes our food. I hope you aren't too nervous to eat. Here is where I shine as provider. This is the kind of camp fare I can recommend."

Berrie's healthy appetite rose above her apprehension, and she ate with the keen enjoyment of a child, and her mother said, "It surely is a treat to get a chance at somebody else's cooking."

"Don't you slander your home fare," warned Wayland. "It's as good as this, only different."

He sat where he could watch the door, and despite his jocund pose his eyes expressed growing impatience and some anxiety. They were all well into their dessert before he called out: "Here he is!"

Mrs. McFarlane could not see the new-comer from where she sat, but Berrie rose in great excitement as a heavy-set, full-faced man with short, gray mustache and high, smooth brow entered the room. He did not smile as he greeted his son, and his penetrating glance questioned even before he spoke. He seemed to silently ask: "Well, what's all this? How do you happen to be here? Who are these women?"

Wayland said: "Mrs. McFarlane, this is my father. Father, this is Miss Berea McFarlane, of Bear Tooth Springs."

The elder Norcross shook hands with Mrs. McFarlane politely, coldly; but he betrayed surprise as Berea took his fingers in her grip. At his son's solicitation he accepted a seat opposite Berea, but refused dessert.

Wayland explained: "Mrs. McFarlane and her daughter quite saved my life over in the valley. Their ranch is the best health resort in Colorado."

"Your complexion indicates that," his father responded, dryly. "You look something the way a man of your age ought to look. I needn't ask how you're feeling."

"You needn't, but you may. I'm feeling like a new fiddle--barring a bruise at the back of my head, which makes a 'hard hat' a burden. I may as well tell you first off that Mrs. McFarlane is the wife of the Forest Supervisor at Bear Tooth, and Miss Berea is the able assistant of her father. We are all rank conservationists."

Norcross, Senior, examined Berrie precisely as if his eyes were a couple of X-ray tubes, and as she flushed under his slow scrutiny he said: "I was not expecting to find the Forest Service in such hands."

Wayland laughed.

"I hope you didn't mash his fingers, Berrie."

She smiled guiltily. "I'm afraid I did. I hope I didn't hurt you--sometimes I forget."

Norcross, Senior, was waking up. "You have a most extraordinary grip. What did it? Piano practice?"

Wayland grinned. "Piano! No--the cinch."

"The what?"

Wayland explained. "Miss McFarlane was brought up on a ranch. She can rope and tie a steer, saddle her own horse, pack an outfit, and all the rest of it."

"Oh! Kind of cowgirl, eh?"

Mrs. McFarlane, eager to put Berrie's better part forward, explained: "She's our only child, Mr. Norcross, and as such has been a constant companion to her father. She's not all cow-hand. She's been to school, and she can cook and sew as well."

He looked from one to the other. "Neither of you correspond exactly to my notions of a forester's wife and daughter."

"Mrs. McFarlane comes from an old Kentucky family, father. Her grandfather helped to found a college down there."

Wayland's anxious desire to create a favorable impression of the women did not escape the lumberman, but his face remained quite expressionless as he replied:

"If the life of a cow-hand would give you the vigor this young lady appears to possess, I'm not sure but you'd better stick to it."

Wayland and the two women exchanged glances of relief.

"Why not tell him now?" they seemed to ask. But he said: "There's a long story to tell before we decide on my career. Let's finish our lunch. How is mother, and how are the girls?"

Once, in the midst of a lame pursuit of other topics, the elder Norcross again fixed his eyes on Berea, saying: "I wish my girls had your weight and color." He paused a moment, then resumed with weary infliction: "Mrs. Norcross has always been delicate, and all her children--even her son--take after her. I've maintained a private and very expensive hospital for nearly thirty years."

This regretful note in his father's voice gave Wayland confidence. His spirits rose.

"Come, let's adjourn to the parlor and talk things over at our ease."

They all followed him, and after showing the mother and daughter to their seats near a window he drew his father into a corner, and in rapid undertone related the story of his first meeting with Berrie, of his trouble with young Belden, of his camping trip, minutely describing the encounter on the mountainside, and ended by saying, with manly directness: "I would be up there in the mountains in a box if Berrie had not intervened. She's a noble girl, father, and is foolish enough to like me, and I'm going to marry her and try to make her happy."

The old lumberman, who had listened intently all through this impassioned story, displayed no sign of surprise at its closing declaration; but his eyes explored his son's soul with calm abstraction. "Send her over to me," he said, at last. "Marriage is a serious matter. I want to talk with her--alone."

Wayland went back to the women with an air of victory. "He wants to see you, Berrie. He's mellowing. Don't be afraid of him."

She might have resented the father's lack of gallantry; but she did not. On the contrary, she rose and walked resolutely over to where he sat, quite ready to defend herself. He did not rise to meet her, but she did not count that against him, for there was nothing essentially rude in his manner. He was merely her elder, and inert.

"Sit down," he said, not unkindly. "I want to have _you tell me about my son. He has been telling me all about you. Now let's have your side of the story."

She took a seat and faced him with eyes as steady as his own. "Where shall I begin?" she bluntly challenged.

"He wants to marry you. Now, it seems to me that seven weeks is very short acquaintance for a decision like that. Are you sure you want him?"

"Yes, sir; I am." Her answer was most decided.

His voice was slightly cynical as he went on. "But you were tolerably sure about that other fellow--that rancher with the fancy name--weren't you?" She flushed at this, but waited for him to go on. "Don't you think it possible that your fancy for Wayland is also temporary?"

"No, sir!" she bravely declared. "I never felt toward any one the way I do toward Wayland. He's different. I shall _never change toward him."

Her tone, her expression of eyes stopped this line of inquiry. He took up another. "Now, my dear young lady, I am a business man as well as a father, and the marriage of my son is a weighty matter. He is my main dependence. I am hoping to have him take up and carry on my business. To be quite candid, I didn't expect him to select his wife from a Colorado ranch. I considered him out of the danger-zone. I have always understood that women were scarce in the mountains. Now don't misunderstand me. I'm not one of those fools who are always trying to marry their sons and daughters into the ranks of the idle rich. I don't care a hang about social position, and I've got money enough for my son and my son's wife. But he's all the boy I have, and I don't want him to make a mistake."

"Neither do I," she answered, simply, her eyes suffused with tears. "If I thought he would be sorry--"

He interrupted again. "Oh, you can't tell that now. Any marriage is a risk. I don't say he's making a mistake in selecting you. You may be just the woman he needs. Only I want to be consulted. I want to know more about you. He tells me you have taken an active part in the management of the ranch and the forest. Is that true?"

"I've always worked with my father--yes, sir."

"You like that kind of life?"

"I don't know much about any other kind. Yes, I like it. But I've had enough of it. I'm willing to change."

"Well, how about city life--housekeeping and all that?"

"So long as I am with Wayland I sha'n't mind what I do or where I live."

"At the same time you figure he's going to have a large income, I suppose? He's told you of his rich father, hasn't he?"

Berrie's tone was a shade resentful of his insinuation. "He has never said much about his family one way or another. He only said you wanted him to go into business in Chicago, and that he wanted to do something else. Of course, I could see by his ways and the clothes he wore that he'd been brought up in what we'd call luxury, but we never inquired into his affairs."

"And you didn't care?"

"Well, not that, exactly. But money don't count for as much with us in the valley as it does in the East. Wayland seemed so kind of sick and lonesome, and I felt sorry for him the first time I saw him. I felt like mothering him. And then his way of talking, of looking at things was so new and beautiful to me I couldn't help caring for him. I had never met any one like him. I thought he was a 'lunger'--"

"A what?"

"A consumptive; that is, I did at first. And it bothered me. It seemed terrible that any one so fine should be condemned like that--and so--I did all I could to help him, to make him happy. I thought he hadn't long to live. Everything he said and did was wonderful to me, like poetry and music. And then when he began to grow stronger and I saw that he was going to get well, and Cliff went on the rampage and showed the yellow streak, and I gave him back his ring--I didn't know even then how much Wayland meant to me. But on our trip over the Range I understood. He meant everything to me. He made Cliff seem like a savage, and I wanted him to know it. I'm not ashamed of loving him. I want to make him happy, and if he wishes me to be his wife I'll go anywhere he says--only I think he should stay out here till he gets entirely well."

The old man's eyes softened during her plea, and at its close a slight smile moved the corners of his mouth. "You've thought it all out, I see. Your mind is clear and your conscience easy. Well, I like your spirit. I guess he's right. The decision is up to you. But if he takes you and stays in Colorado he can't expect me to share the profits of my business with him, can he? He'll have to make his own way." He rose and held out his hand. "However, I'm persuaded he's in good hands."

She took his hand, not knowing just what to reply. He examined her fingers with intent gaze.

"I didn't know any woman could have such a grip." He thoughtfully took her biceps in his left hand. "You are magnificent." Then, in ironical protest, he added: "Good God, no! I can't have you come into my family. You'd make caricatures of my wife and daughters. Are all the girls out in the valley like you?"

She laughed. "No. Most of them pride themselves on _not being horsewomen. Mighty few of 'em ever ride a horse. I'm a kind of a tomboy to them."

"I'm sorry to hear that. It's the same old story. I suppose they'd all like to live in the city and wear low-necked gowns and high-heeled shoes. No, I can't consent to your marriage with my son. I must save you from corruption. Go back to the ranch. I can see already signs of your deterioration. Except for your color and that grip you already look like upper Broadway. The next thing will be a slit skirt and a diamond garter."

She flushed redly, conscious of her new corset, her silk stockings, and her pinching shoes. "It's all on the outside," she declared. "Under this toggery I'm the same old trailer. It don't take long to get rid of these things. I'm just playing a part to-day--for you."

He smiled and dropped her hand. "No, no. You've said good-by to the cinch, I can see that. You're on the road to opera boxes and limousines. What is your plan? What would you advise Wayland to do if you knew I was hard against his marrying you? Come, now, I can see you're a clear-sighted individual. What can he do to earn a living? How will you live without my aid? Have you figured on these things?"

"Yes; I'm going to ask my father to buy a ranch near here, where mother can have more of the comforts of life, and where we can all live together till Wayland is able to stand city life again. Then, if you want him to go East, I will go with him."

They had moved slowly back toward the others, and as Wayland came to meet them Norcross said, with dry humor: "I admire your lady of the cinch hand. She seems to be a person of singular good nature and most uncommon shrewd--"

Wayland, interrupting, caught at his father's hand and wrung it frenziedly. "I'm glad--"

"Here! Here!" A look of pain covered the father's face. "That's the fist she put in the press."

They all laughed at his joke, and then he gravely resumed. "I say I admire her, but it's a shame to ask such a girl to marry an invalid like you. Furthermore, I won't have her taken East. She'd bleach out and lose that grip in a year. I won't have her contaminated by the city." He mused deeply while looking at his son. "Would life on a wheat-ranch accessible to this hotel by motor-car be endurable to you?"

"You mean with Berea?"

"If she'll go. Mind you, I don't advise her to do it!" he added, interrupting his son's outcry. "I think she's taking all the chances." He turned to Mrs. McFarlane. "I'm old-fashioned in my notions of marriage, Mrs. McFarlane. I grew up when women were helpmates, such as, I judge, you've been. Of course, it's all guesswork to me at the moment; but I have an impression that my son has fallen into an unusual run of luck. As I understand it, you're all out for a pleasure trip. Now, my private car is over in the yards, and I suggest you all come along with me to California--"

"Governor, you're a wonder!" exclaimed Wayland.

"That'll give us time to get better acquainted, and if we all like one another just as well when we get back--well, we'll buy the best farm in the North Platte and--"

"It's a cinch we get that ranch," interrupted Wayland, with a triumphant glance at Berea.

"Don't be so sure of it!" replied the lumberman. "A private car, like a yacht, is a terrible test of friendship." But his warning held no terrors for the young lovers. They had entered upon certainties.


(THE END)
Hamlin Garland's Novel: Forester's Daughter: A Romance of the Bear-Tooth Range

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