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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Forester's Daughter: A Romance Of The Bear-tooth Range - Chapter 8. The Other Girl
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The Forester's Daughter: A Romance Of The Bear-tooth Range - Chapter 8. The Other Girl Post by :sesam Category :Long Stories Author :Hamlin Garland Date :May 2012 Read :3203

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The Forester's Daughter: A Romance Of The Bear-tooth Range - Chapter 8. The Other Girl


The girl's voice stirred the benumbed youth into action again, and he followed her mechanically. His slender stock of physical strength was almost gone, but his will remained unbroken. At every rough place she came back to him to support him, to hearten him, and so he crept on through the darkness, falling often, stumbling against the trees, slipping and sliding, till at last his guide, pitching down a sharp slope, came directly upon a wire fence.

"Glory be!" she called. "Here is a fence, and the cabin should be near, although I see no light. Hello! Tony!"

No voice replied, and, keeping Wayland's hand, she felt her way along the fence till it revealed a gate; then she turned toward the roaring of the stream, which grew louder as they advanced. "The cabin is near the falls, that much I know," she assured him. Then a moment later she joyfully cried out: "Here it is!"

Out of the darkness a blacker, sharper shadow rose. Again she called, but no one answered. "The ranger is away," she exclaimed, in a voice of indignant alarm. "I do hope he left the door unlocked."

Too numb with fatigue, and too dazed by the darkness to offer any aid, Wayland waited--swaying unsteadily on his feet--while she tried the door. It was bolted, and with but a moment's hesitation, she said: "It looks like a case of breaking and entering. I'll try a window." The windows, too, were securely fastened. After trying them all, she came back to where Wayland stood. "Tony didn't intend to have anybody pushing in," she decided. "But if the windows will not raise they will smash."

A crash of glass followed, and with a feeling that it was all part of a dream, Wayland waited while the girl made way through the broken sash into the dark interior. Her next utterance was a cry of joy: "Oh, but it's nice and warm in here! I can't open the door. You'll have to come in the same way I did."

He was too weak and too irresolute to respond immediately, and, reaching out, she took him by the arms and dragged him across the sill. Her strength seemed prodigious. A delicious warmth, a grateful dryness, a sense of shelter enfolded him like a garment. The place smelled deliciously of food, of fire, of tobacco.

Leading him toward the middle of the room, Berrie said: "Stand here till I strike a light."

As her match flamed up Norcross found himself in a rough-walled cabin, in which stood a square cook-stove, a rude table littered with dishes, and three stools made of slabs. It was all very rude; but it had all the value of a palace at the moment.

The girl's quick eye saw much else. She located an oil-lamp, some pine-wood, and a corner cupboard. In a few moments the lamp was lit, the stove refilled with fuel, and she was stripping Wayland's wet coat from his back, cheerily discoursing as she did so. "Here's one of Tony's old jackets, put that on while I see if I can't find some dry stockings for you. Sit right down here by the stove; put your feet in the oven. I'll have a fire in a jiffy. There, that's right. Now I'll start the coffee-pot." She soon found the coffee, but it was unground. "Wonder, where he keeps his coffee-mill." She rummaged about for a few minutes, then gave up the search. "Well, no matter, here's the coffee, and here's a hammer. One of the laws of the trail is this: If you can't do a thing one way, do it another."

She poured the coffee beans into an empty tomato-can and began to pound them with the end of the hammer handle, laughing at Wayland's look of wonder and admiration. "Necessity sure is the mother of invention out here. How do you feel by now? Isn't it nice to own a roof and four walls? I'm going to close up that window as soon as I get the coffee started. Are you warming up?"

"Oh yes, I'm all right now," he replied; but he didn't look it, and her own cheer was rather forced. He was in the grasp of a nervous chill, and she was deeply apprehensive of what the result of his exposure might be. It seemed as if the coffee would never come to a boil.

"I depend on that to brace you up," she said.

After hanging a blanket over the broken window, she set out some cold meat and a half dozen baking-powder biscuits, which she found in the cupboard, and as soon as the coffee was ready she poured it for him; but she would not let him leave the fire. She brought his supper to him and sat beside him while he ate and drank.

"You must go right to bed," she urged, as she studied his weary eyes. "You ought to sleep for twenty-four hours."

The hot, strong coffee revived him physically and brought back a little of his courage, and he said: "I'm ashamed to be such a weakling."

"Now hush," she commanded. "It's not your fault that you are weak. Now, while I am eating my supper you slip off your wet clothes and creep into Tony's bunk, and I'll fill one of these syrup-cans with hot water to put at your feet."

It was of no use for him to protest against her further care. She insisted, and while she ate he meekly carried out her instructions, and from the delicious warmth and security of his bed watched her moving about the stove till the shadows of the room became one with the dusky figures of his sleep.

A moment later something falling on the floor woke him with a start, and, looking up, he found the sun shining, and Berrie confronting him with anxious face. "Did I waken you?" she asked. "I'm awfully sorry. I'm trying to be extra quiet. I dropped a pan. How do you feel this _morning_?"

He pondered this question a moment. "Is it to-morrow or the next week?"

She laughed happily. "It's only the next day. Just keep where you are till the sun gets a little higher." She drew near and put a hand on his brow. "You don't feel feverish. Oh, I hope this trip hasn't set you back."

He laid his hands together, and then felt of his pulse. "I don't seem to have a temperature. I just feel lazy, limp and lazy; but I'm going to get up, if you'll just leave the room for a moment--"

"Don't try it now. Wait till you have had your breakfast. You'll feel stronger then."

He yielded again to the force of her will, and fell back into a luxurious drowse hearing the stove roar and the bacon sizzle in the pan. There was something primitive and broadly poetic in the girl's actions. Through the haze of the kitchen smoke she enlarged till she became the typical frontier wife, the goddess of the skillet and the coffee-pot, the consort of the pioneer, equally skilled with the rifle and the rolling-pin. How many millions of times had this scene been enacted on the long march of the borderman from the Susquehanna to the Bear Tooth Range?

Into his epic vision the pitiful absurdity of his own part in the play broke like a sad discord. "Of course, it is not my fault that I am a weakling," he argued. "Only it was foolish for me to thrust myself into this stern world. If I come safely out of this adventure I will go back to the sheltered places where I belong."

At this point came again the disturbing realization that this night of struggle, and the ministrations of his brave companion had involved him deeper in a mesh from which honorable escape was almost impossible. The ranger's cabin, so far from being an end of their compromising intimacy, had added and was still adding to the weight of evidence against them both. The presence of the ranger or the Supervisor himself could not now save Berea from the gossips.

She brought his breakfast to him, and sat beside him while he ate, chatting the while of their good fortune. "It is glorious outside, and I am sure daddy will get across to-day, and Tony is certain to turn up before noon. He probably went down to Coal City to get his mail."

"I must get up at once," he said, in a panic of fear and shame. "The Supervisor must not find me laid out on my back. Please leave me alone for a moment."

She went out, closing the door behind her, and as he crawled from his bed every muscle in his body seemed to cry out against being moved. Nevertheless, he persisted, and at last succeeded in putting on his clothes, even his shoes--though he found tying the laces the hardest task of all--and he was at the wash-basin bathing his face and hands when Berrie hurriedly re-entered. "Some tourists are coming," she announced, in an excited tone. "A party of five or six people, a woman among them, is just coming down the slope. Now, who do you suppose it can be? It would be just our luck if it should turn out to be some one from the Mill."

He divined at once the reason for her dismay. The visit of a woman at this moment would not merely embarrass them both, it would torture Berrie. "What is to be done?" he asked, roused to alertness.

"Nothing; all we can do is to stand pat and act as if we belonged here."

"Very well," he replied, moving stiffly toward the door. "Here's where I can be of some service. I am an excellent white liar."

As our hero crawled out into the brilliant sunshine some part of his courage came back to him. Though lame in every muscle, he was not ill. That was the surprising thing. His head was clear, and his breath full and deep. "My lungs are all right," he said to himself. "I'm not going to collapse." And he looked round him with a new-born admiration of the wooded hills which rose in somber majesty on either side the roaring stream. "How different it all looks this morning," he said, remembering the deep blackness of the night.

The beat of hoofs upon the bridge drew his attention to the cavalcade, which the keen eyes of the girl had detected as it came over the ridge to the east. The party consisted of two men and two women and three pack-horses completely outfitted for the trail.

One of the women, spurring her horse to the front, rode serenely up to where Wayland stood, and called out: "Good morning. Are you the ranger?"

"No, I'm only the guard. The ranger has gone down the trail."

He perceived at once that the speaker was an alien like himself, for she wore tan-colored riding-boots, a divided skirt of expensive cloth, and a jaunty, wide-rimmed sombrero. She looked, indeed, precisely like the heroine of the prevalent Western drama. Her sleeves, rolled to the elbow, disclosed shapely brown arms, and her neck, bare to her bosom, was equally sun-smit; but she was so round-cheeked, so childishly charming, that the most critical observer could find no fault with her make-up.

One of the men rode up. "Hello, Norcross. What are you doing over here?"

The youth smiled blandly. "Good morning, Mr. Belden. I'm serving my apprenticeship. I'm in the service now."

"The mischief you are!" exclaimed the other. "Where's Tony?"

"Gone for his mail. He'll return soon. What are _you doing over here, may I ask?"

"I'm here as guide to Mr. Moore. Mr. Moore, this is Norcross, one of McFarlane's men. Mr. Moore is connected with the tie-camp operations of the railway."

Moore was a tall, thin man with a gray beard and keen blue eyes. "Where's McFarlane? We were to meet him here. Didn't he come over with you?"

"We started together, but the horses got away, and he was obliged to go back after them. He also is likely to turn up soon."

"I am frightfully hungry," interrupted the girl. "Can't you hand me out a hunk of bread and meat? We've been riding since daylight."

Berrie suddenly appeared at the door. "Sure thing," she called out. "Slide down and come in."

Moore removed his hat and bowed. "Good morning, Miss McFarlane, I didn't know you were here. You know my daughter Siona?"

Berrie nodded coldly. "I've met her."

He indicated the other woman. "And Mrs. Belden, of course, you know."

Mrs. Belden, the fourth member of the party, a middle-aged, rather flabby person, just being eased down from her horse, turned on Berrie with a battery of questions. "Good Lord! Berrie McFarlane, what are you doing over in this forsaken hole? Where's your dad? And where is Tony? If Cliff had known you was over here he'd have come, too."

Berrie retained her self-possession. "Come in and get some coffee, and we'll straighten things out."

Apparently Mrs. Belden did not know that Cliff and Berrie had quarreled, for she treated the girl with maternal familiarity. She was a good-natured, well-intentioned old sloven, but a most renowned tattler, and the girl feared her more than she feared any other woman in the valley. She had always avoided her, but she showed nothing of this dislike at the moment.

Wayland drew the younger woman's attention by saying: "It's plain that you, like myself, do not belong to these parts, Miss Moore."

"What makes you think so?" she brightly queried.

"Your costume is too appropriate. Haven't you noticed that the women who live out here carefully avoid convenient and artistic dress? Now your outfit is precisely what they should wear and don't."

This amused her. "I know, but they all say they have to wear out their Sunday go-to-meeting clothes, whereas I can 'rag out proper.' I'm glad you like my 'rig.'"

"When I look at you," he said, "I'm back on old Broadway at the Herald Square Theater. The play is 'Little Blossom, or the Cowgirl's Revenge.' The heroine has just come into the miner's cabin--"

"Oh, go 'long," she replied, seizing her cue and speaking in character, "you're stringin' me."

"Not on your life! Your outfit is a peacherino," he declared. "I am glad you rode by."

At the moment he was bent on drawing the girl's attention from Berrie, but as she went on he came to like her. She said: "No, I don't belong here; but I come out every year during vacation with my father. I love this country. It's so big and wide and wild. Father has built a little bungalow down at the lower mill, and we enjoy every day of our stay."

"You're a Smith girl," he abruptly asserted.

"What makes you think so?"

"Oh, there's something about you Smith girls that gives you dead away."

"Gives us away! I like that!"

"My phrase was unfortunate. I like Smith girls," he hastened to say; and in five minutes they were on the friendliest terms--talking of mutual acquaintances--a fact which both puzzled and hurt Berea. Their laughter angered her, and whenever she glanced at them and detected Siona looking into Wayland's face with coquettish simper, she was embittered. She was glad when Moore came in and interrupted the dialogue.

Norcross did not relax, though he considered the dangers of cross-examination almost entirely passed. In this he was mistaken, for no sooner was the keen edge of Mrs. Belden's hunger dulled than her curiosity sharpened.

"Where did you say the Supervisor was?" she repeated.

"The horses got away, and he had to go back after them," again responded Berrie, who found the scrutiny of the other girl deeply disconcerting.

"When do you expect him back?"

"Any minute now," she replied, and in this she was not deceiving them, although she did not intend to volunteer any information which might embarrass either Wayland or herself.

Norcross tried to create a diversion. "Isn't this a charming valley?"

Siona took up the cue. "Isn't it! It's romantic enough to be the back-drop in a Bret Harte play. I love it!"

Moore turned to Wayland. "I know a Norcross, a Michigan lumberman, Vice-President of the Association. Is he, by any chance, a relative?"

"Only a father," retorted Wayland, with a smile. "But don't hold me responsible for anything he has done. We seldom agree."

Moore's manner changed abruptly. "Indeed! And what is the son of W. W. Norcross doing out here in the Forest Service?"

The change in her father's tone was not lost upon Siona, who ceased her banter and studied the young man with deeper interest, while Mrs. Belden, detecting some restraint in Berrie's tone, renewed her questioning: "Where did you camp last night?"

"Right here."

"I don't see how the horses got away. There's a pasture here, for we rode right through it."

Berrie was aware that each moment of delay in explaining the situation looked like evasion, and deepened the significance of her predicament, and yet she could not bring herself to the task of minutely accounting for her time during the last two days.

Belden came to her relief. "Well, well! We'll have to be moving on. We're going into camp at the mouth of the West Fork," he said, as he rose. "Tell Tony and the Supervisor that we want to line out that timber at the earliest possible moment."

Siona, who was now distinctly coquetting with Wayland, held out her hand. "I hope you'll find time to come up and see us. I know we have other mutual friends, if we had time to get at them."

His answer was humorous. "I am a soldier. I am on duty. I'm not at all sure that I shall have a moment's leave; but I will call if I can possibly do so."

They started off at last without having learned in detail anything of the intimate relationship into which the Supervisor's daughter and young Norcross had been thrown, and Mrs. Belden was still so much in the dark that she called to Berrie: "I'm going to send word to Cliff that you are over here. He'll be crazy to come the minute he finds it out."

"Don't do that!" protested Berrie.

Wayland turned to Berrie. "That would be pleasant," he said, smilingly.

But she did not return his smile. On the contrary, she remained very grave. "I wish that old tale-bearer had kept away. She's going to make trouble for us all. And that girl, isn't she a spectacle? I never could bear her."

"Why, what's wrong with her? She seems a very nice, sprightly person."

"She's a regular play actor. I don't like made-up people. Why does she go around with her sleeves rolled up that way, and--and her dress open at the throat?"

"Oh, those are the affectations of the moment. She wants to look tough and boisterous. That's the fad with all the girls, just now. It's only a harmless piece of foolishness."

She could not tell him how deeply she resented his ready tone of camaraderie with the other girl; but she was secretly suffering. It hurt her to think that he could forget his aches and be so free and easy with a stranger at a moment's notice. Under the influence of that girl's smile he seemed to have quite forgotten his exhaustion and his pain. It was wonderful how cheerful he had been while she was in sight.

In all this Berrie did him an injustice. He had been keenly conscious, during every moment of the time, not only of his bodily ills, but of Berrie, and he had kept a brave face in order that he might prevent further questioning on the part of a malicious girl. It was his only way of being heroic. Now that the crisis was passed he was quite as much of a wreck as ever.

A new anxiety beset her. "I hope they won't happen to meet father on the trail."

"Perhaps I should go with them and warn him."

"Oh, it doesn't matter," she wearily answered. "Old Mrs. Belden will never rest till she finds out just where we've been, and just what we've done. She's that kind. She knows everything that goes on."

He understood her fear, and yet he was unable to comfort her in the only way she could be comforted. That brief encounter with Siona Moore--a girl of his own world--had made all thought of marriage with Berea suddenly absurd. Without losing in any degree the sense of gratitude he felt for her protecting care, and with full acknowledgment of her heroic support of his faltering feet, he revolted from putting into words a proposal of marriage. "I love her," he confessed to himself, "and she is a dear, brave girl; but I do not love her as a man should love the woman he is to marry."

A gray shadow had plainly fallen between them. Berea sensed the change in his attitude, and traced it to the influence of the coquette whose smiling eyes and bared arms had openly challenged admiration. It saddened her to think that one so fine as he had seemed could yield even momentary tribute to an open and silly coquette.

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