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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Forester's Daughter: A Romance Of The Bear-tooth Range - Chapter 6. Storm-Bound
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The Forester's Daughter: A Romance Of The Bear-tooth Range - Chapter 6. Storm-Bound Post by :sesam Category :Long Stories Author :Hamlin Garland Date :May 2012 Read :3515

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The Forester's Daughter: A Romance Of The Bear-tooth Range - Chapter 6. Storm-Bound

CHAPTER VI. STORM-BOUND

Wayland was awakened by the mellow voice of his chief calling: "_All out! All out! Daylight down the creek!_" Breathing a prayer of thankfulness, the boy sat up and looked about him. "The long night is over at last, and I am alive!" he said, and congratulated himself.

He drew on his shoes and, stiff and shivering, stood about in helpless misery, while McFarlane kicked the scattered, charred logs together, and fanned the embers into a blaze with his hat. It was heartening to see the flames leap up, flinging wide their gorgeous banners of heat and light, and in their glow the tenderfoot ranger rapidly recovered his courage, though his teeth still chattered and the forest was dark.

"How did you sleep?" asked the Supervisor.

"First rate--at least during the latter part of the night," Wayland briskly lied.

"That's good. I was afraid that Adirondack bed of yours might let the white wolf in."

"My blankets did seem a trifle thin," confessed Norcross.

"It don't pay to sleep cold," the Supervisor went on. "A man wants to wake up refreshed, not tired out with fighting the night wind and frost. I always carry a good bed."

It was instructive to see how quietly and methodically the old mountaineer went about his task of getting the breakfast. First he cut and laid a couple of eight-inch logs on either side of the fire, so that the wind drew through them properly, then placing his dutch-oven cover on the fire, he laid the bottom part where the flames touched it. Next he filled his coffee-pot with water, and set it on the coals. From his pannier he took his dishes and the flour and salt and pepper, arranging them all within reach, and at last laid some slices of bacon in the skillet.

At this stage of the work a smothered cry, half yawn, half complaint, came from the tent. "Oh, hum! Is it morning?" inquired Berrie.

"Morning!" replied her father. "It's going toward noon. You get up or you'll have no breakfast."

Thereupon Wayland called: "Can I get you anything, Miss Berrie? Would you like some warm water?"

"What for?" interposed McFarlane, before the girl could reply.

"To bathe in," replied the youth.

"To bathe in! If a daughter of mine should ask for warm water to wash with I'd throw her in the creek."

Berrie chuckled. "Sometimes I think daddy has no feeling for me. I reckon he thinks I'm a boy."

"Hot water is debilitating, and very bad for the complexion," retorted her father. "Ice-cold water is what you need. And if you don't get out o' there in five minutes I'll dowse you with a dipperful."

This reminded Wayland that he had not yet made his own toilet, and, seizing soap, towel, and brushes, he hurried away down to the beach where he came face to face with the dawn. The splendor of it smote him full in the eyes. From the waveless surface of the water a spectral mist was rising, a light veil, through which the stupendous cliffs loomed three thousand feet in height, darkly shadowed, dim and far. The willows along the western marge burned as if dipped in liquid gold, and on the lofty crags the sun's coming created keen-edged shadows, violet as ink. Truly this forestry business was not so bad after all. It had its compensations.

Back at the camp-fire he found Berrie at work, glowing, vigorous, laughing. Her comradeship with her father was very charming, and at the moment she was rallying him on his method of bread-mixing. "You should rub the lard into the flour," she said. "Don't be afraid to get your hands into it--after they are clean. You can't mix bread with a spoon."

"Sis, I made camp bread for twenty years afore you were born."

"It's a wonder you lived to tell of it," she retorted, and took the pan away from him. "That's another thing _you must learn," she said to Wayland. "You must know how to make bread. You can't expect to find bake-shops or ranchers along the way."

In the heat of the fire, in the charm of the girl's presence, the young man forgot the discomforts of the night, and as they sat at breakfast, and the sun rising over the high summits flooded them with warmth and good cheer, and the frost melted like magic from the tent, the experience had all the satisfying elements of a picnic. It seemed that nothing remained to do; but McFarlane said: "Well, now, you youngsters wash up and pack whilst I reconnoiter the stock." And with his saddle and bridle on his shoulder he went away down the trail.

Under Berrie's direction Wayland worked busily putting the camp equipment in proper parcels, taking no special thought of time till the tent was down and folded, the panniers filled and closed, and the fire carefully covered. Then the girl said: "I hope the horses haven't been stampeded. There are bears in this valley, and horses are afraid of bears. Father ought to have been back before this. I hope they haven't quit us."

"Shall I go and see?"

"No, he'll bring 'em--if they're in the land of the living. He picketed his saddle-horse, so he's not afoot. Nobody can teach him anything about trailing horses, and, besides, you might get lost. You'd better keep close to camp."

Thereupon Wayland put aside all responsibility. "Let's see if we can catch some more fish," he urged.

To this she agreed, and together they went again to the outlet of the lake--where the trout could be seen darting to and fro on the clear, dark flood--and there cast their flies till they had secured ten good-sized fish.

"We'll stop now," declared the girl. "I don't believe in being wasteful."

Once more at the camp they prepared the fish for the pan. The sun suddenly burned hot and the lake was still as brass, but great, splendid, leisurely, gleaming clouds were sailing in from the west, all centering about Chief Audobon, and the experienced girl looked often at the sky. "I don't like the feel of the air. See that gray cloud spreading out over the summits of the range, that means something more than a shower. I do hope daddy will overtake the horses before they cross the divide. It's going to pour up there."

"What can I do?"

"Nothing. We'll stay right here and get dinner for him. He'll be hungry when he gets back."

As they were unpacking the panniers and getting out the dishes, thunder broke from the high crags above the lake, and the girl called out:

"Quick! It's going to rain! We must reset the tent and get things under cover."

Once more he was put to shame by the decision, the skill, and the strength with which she went about re-establishing the camp. She led, he followed in every action. In ten minutes the canvas was up, the beds rolled, the panniers protected, the food stored safely; but they were none too soon, for the thick gray veil of rain, which had clothed the loftiest crags for half an hour, swung out over the water--leaden-gray under its folds--and with a roar which began in the tall pines--a roar which deepened, hushed only when the thunder crashed resoundingly from crag to crest--the tempest fell upon the camp and the world of sun and odorous pine vanished almost instantly, and a dark, threatening, and forbidding world took its place.

But the young people--huddled close together beneath the tent--would have enjoyed the change had it not been for the thought of the Supervisor. "I hope he took his slicker," the girl said, between the tearing, ripping flashes of the lightning. "It's raining hard up there."

"How quickly it came. Who would have thought it could rain like this after so beautiful a morning?"

"It storms when it storms--in the mountains," she responded, with the sententious air of her father. "You never can tell what the sky is going to do up here. It is probably snowing on the high divide. Looks now as though those cayuses pulled out sometime in the night and have hit the trail for home. That's the trouble with stall-fed stock. They'll quit you any time they feel cold and hungry. Here comes the hail!" she shouted, as a sharper, more spiteful roar sounded far away and approaching. "Now keep from under!"

"What will your father do?" he called.

"Don't worry about him. He's at home any place there's a tree. He's probably under a balsam somewhere, waiting for this ice to spill out. The only point is, they may get over the divide, and if they do it will be slippery coming back."

For the first time the thought that the Supervisor might not be able to return entered Wayland's mind; but he said nothing of his fear.

The hail soon changed to snow, great, clinging, drowsy, soft, slow-moving flakes, and with their coming the roar died away and the forest became as silent as a grave of bronze. Nothing moved, save the thick-falling, feathery, frozen vapor, and the world was again very beautiful and very mysterious.

"We must keep the fire going," warned the girl. "It will be hard to start after this soaking."

He threw upon the fire all of the wood which lay near, and Berrie, taking the ax, went to the big fir and began to chop off the dry branches which hung beneath, working almost as effectively as a man. Wayland insisted on taking a turn with the tool; but his efforts were so awkward that she laughed and took it away again. "You'll have to take lessons in swinging an ax," she said. "That's part of the job."

Gradually the storm lightened, the snow changed back into rain, and finally to mist; but up on the heights the clouds still rolled wildly, and through their openings the white drifts bleakly shone.

"It's all in the trip," said Berrie. "You have to take the weather as it comes on the trail." As the storm lessened she resumed the business of cooking the midday meal, and at two o'clock they were able to eat in comparative comfort, though the unmelted snow still covered the trees, and water dripped from the branches.

"Isn't it beautiful!" exclaimed Wayland, with glowing boyish face. "The landscape is like a Christmas card. In its way it's quite as beautiful as that golden forest we rode through."

"It wouldn't be so beautiful if you had to wallow through ten miles of it," she sagely responded. "Daddy will be wet to the skin, for I found he didn't take his slicker. However, the sun may be out before night. That's the way the thing goes in the hills."

To the youth, though the peaks were storm-hid, the afternoon was joyous. Berrie was a sweet companion. Under her supervision he practised at chopping wood and took a hand at cooking. At her suggestion he stripped the tarpaulin from her father's bed and stretched it over a rope before the tent, thus providing a commodious kitchen and dining-room. Under this roof they sat and talked of everything except what they should do if the father did not return, and as they talked they grew to even closer understanding.

Though quite unlearned of books, she had something which was much more piquant than anything which theaters and novels could give--she possessed a marvelous understanding of the natural world in which she lived. As the companion of her father on many of his trips, she had absorbed from him, as well as from the forest, a thousand observations of plant and animal life. Seemingly she had nothing of the woman's fear of the wilderness, she scarcely acknowledged any awe of it. Of the bears, and other predatory beasts, she spoke carelessly.

"Bears are harmless if you let 'em alone," she said, "and the mountain-lion is a great big bluff. He won't fight, you can't make him fight; but the mother lion will. She's dangerous when she has cubs--most animals are. I was out hunting grouse one day with a little twenty-two rifle, when all at once, as I looked up along a rocky point I was crossing, I saw a mountain-lion looking at me. First I thought I'd let drive at him; but the chances were against my getting him from there, so I climbed up above him--or where I thought he was--and while I was looking for him I happened to glance to my right, and there he was about fifty feet away looking at me pleasant as you please. Didn't seem to be mad at all--'peared like he was just wondering what I'd do next. I jerked my gun into place, but he faded away. I crawled around to get behind him, and just when I reached the ledge on which he had been standing a few minutes before, I saw him just where I'd been. He had traded places with me. I began to have that creepy feeling. He was so silent and so kind of pleasant-looking I got leery of him. It just seemed like as though I'd dreamed him. He didn't seem real."

Wayland shuddered. "You foolish girl! Why didn't you run?"

"I did. I began to figure then that this was a mother lion, and that her cubs were close by, and that she could just as well sneak up and drop on me from above as not. So I got down and left her alone. It was her popping up now here and now there like a ghost that locoed me. I was sure scared."

Wayland did not enjoy this tale. "I never heard of such folly. Did your father learn of that adventure?"

"Yes, I told him."

"Didn't he forbid your hunting any more?"

"No, indeed! Why should he? He just said it probably was a lioness, and that it was just as well to let her alone. He knows I'm no chicken."

"How about your mother--does she approve of such expeditions?"

"No, mother worries more or less when I'm away; but then she knows it don't do any good. I'm taking all kinds of chances every day, anyhow."

He had to admit that she was better able to care for herself in the wilderness than most men--even Western men--and though he had not yet witnessed a display of her skill with a rifle, he was ready to believe that she could shoot as well as her sire. Nevertheless, he liked her better when engaged in purely feminine duties, and he led the talk back to subjects concerning which her speech was less blunt and manlike.

He liked her when she was joking, for delicious little curves of laughter played about her lips. She became very amusing, as she told of her "visits East," and of her embarrassments in the homes of city friends. "I just have to own up that about all the schooling I've got is from the magazines. Sometimes I wish I had pulled out for town when I was about fourteen; but, you see, I didn't feel like leaving mother, and she didn't feel like letting me go--and so I just got what I could at Bear Tooth." She sprang up. "There's a patch of blue sky. Let's go see if we can't get a grouse."

The snow had nearly all sunk into the ground on their level; but it still lay deep on the heights above, and the torn masses of vapor still clouded the range. "Father has surely had to go over the divide," she said, as they walked down the path along the lake shore. "He'll be late getting back, and a plate of hot chicken will seem good to him."

Together they strolled along the edge of the willows. "The grouse come down to feed about this time," she said. "We'll put up a covey soon."

It seemed to him as though he were re-living the experiences of his ancestors--the pioneers of Michigan--as he walked this wilderness with this intrepid huntress whose alert eyes took note of every moving thing. She was delightfully unconscious of self, of sex, of any doubt or fear. A lovely Diana--strong and true and sweet.

Within a quarter of a mile they found their birds, and she killed four with five shots. "This is all we need," she said, "and I don't believe in killing for the sake of killing. Rangers should set good examples in way of game preservation. They are deputy game-wardens in most states, and good ones, too."

They stopped for a time on a high bank above the lake, while the sunset turned the storm-clouds into mountains of brass and iron, with sulphurous caves and molten glowing ledges. This grandiose picture lasted but a few minutes, and then the Western gates closed and all was again gray and forbidding. "Open and shut is a sign of wet," quoted Berrie, cheerily.

The night rose formidably from the valley while they ate their supper; but Berrie remained tranquil. "Those horses probably went clean back to the ranch. If they did, daddy can't possibly get back before eight o'clock, and he may not get back till to-morrow."

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