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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Forester's Daughter: A Romance Of The Bear-tooth Range - Chapter 9. Further Perplexities
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The Forester's Daughter: A Romance Of The Bear-tooth Range - Chapter 9. Further Perplexities Post by :sesam Category :Long Stories Author :Hamlin Garland Date :May 2012 Read :2683

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The Forester's Daughter: A Romance Of The Bear-tooth Range - Chapter 9. Further Perplexities

CHAPTER IX. FURTHER PERPLEXITIES

Wayland, for his part, was not deceived by Siona Moore. He knew her kind, and understood her method of attack. He liked her pert ways, for they brought back his days at college, when dozens of just such misses lent grace and humor and romance to the tennis court and to the football field. She carried with her the aroma of care-free, athletic girlhood. Flirtation was in her as charming and almost as meaningless as the preening of birds on the bank of a pool in the meadow.

Speaking aloud, he said: "Miss Moore travels the trail with all known accessories, and I've no doubt she thinks she is a grand campaigner; but I am wondering how she would stand such a trip as that you took last night. I don't believe she could have done as well as I. She's the imitation--you're the real thing."

The praise involved in this speech brought back a little of Berrie's humor. "I reckon those brown boots of hers would have melted," she said, with quaint smile.

He became very grave. "If it had not been for you, dear girl, I would be lying up there in the forest this minute. Nothing but your indomitable spirit kept me moving. I shall be deeply hurt if any harm comes to you on account of me."

"If it hadn't been for me you wouldn't have started on that trip last night. It was perfectly useless. It would have been better for us both if we had stayed in camp, for we wouldn't have met these people."

"That's true," he replied; "but we didn't know that at the time. We acted for the best, and we must not blame ourselves, no matter what comes of it."

They fell silent at this point, for each was again conscious of their new relationship. She, vaguely suffering, waited for him to resume the lover's tone, while he, oppressed by the sense of his own shortcomings and weakness, was planning an escape. "It's all nonsense, my remaining in the forest. I'm not fitted for it. It's too severe. I'll tell McFarlane so and get out."

Perceiving his returning weakness and depression, Berea insisted on his lying down again while she set to work preparing dinner. "There is no telling when father will get here," she said. "And Tony will be hungry when he comes. Lie down and rest."

He obeyed her silently, and, going to the bunk, at once fell asleep. How long he slept he could not tell, but he was awakened by the voice of the ranger, who was standing in the doorway and regarding Berrie with a round-eyed stare.

He was a tall, awkward fellow of about thirty-five, plainly of the frontier type; but a man of intelligence. At the end of a brief explanation Berrie said, with an air of authority: "Now you'd better ride up the trail and bring our camp outfit down. We can't go back that way, anyhow."

The ranger glanced toward Wayland. "All right, Miss Berrie, but perhaps your tenderfoot needs a doctor."

Wayland rose painfully but resolutely. "Oh no, I am not sick. I'm a little lame, that's all. I'll go along with you."

"No," said Berrie, decisively. "You're not well enough for that. Get up your horses, Tony, and by that time I'll have some dinner ready."

"All right, Miss Berrie," replied the man, and turned away.

Hardly had he crossed the bridge on his way to the pasture, when Berrie cried out: "There comes daddy."

Wayland joined her at the door, and stood beside her watching the Supervisor, as he came zigzagging down the steep hill to the east, with all his horses trailing behind him roped together head-to-tail.

"He's had to come round by Lost Lake," she exclaimed. "He'll be tired out, and absolutely starved. Wahoo!" she shouted in greeting, and the Supervisor waved his hand.

There was something superb in the calm seat of the veteran as he slid down the slope. He kept his place in the saddle with the air of the rider to whom hunger, fatigue, windfalls, and snowslides were all a part of the day's work; and when he reined in before the door and dropped from his horse, he put his arm about his daughter's neck with quiet word: "I thought I'd find you here. How is everything?"

"All right, daddy; but what about you? Where have you been?"

"Clean back to Mill Park. The blamed cayuses kept just ahead of me all the way."

"Poor old dad! And on top of that came the snow."

"Yes, and a whole hatful. I couldn't get back over the high pass. Had to go round by Lost Lake, and to cap all, Old Baldy took a notion not to lead. Oh, I've had a peach of a time; but here I am. Have you seen Moore and his party?"

"Yes, they're in camp up the trail. He and Alec Belden and two women. Are you hungry?"

He turned a comical glance upon her. "Am I hungry? Sister, I am a wolf. Norcross, take my horses down to the pasture."

She hastened to interpose. "Let me do that, daddy, Mr. Norcross is badly used up. You see, we started down here late yesterday afternoon. It was raining and horribly muddy, and I took the wrong trail. The darkness caught us and we didn't reach the station till nearly midnight."

Wayland acknowledged his weakness. "I guess I made a mistake, Supervisor; I'm not fitted for this strenuous life."

McFarlane was quick to understand. "I didn't intend to pitchfork you into the forest life quite so suddenly," he said. "Don't give up yet awhile. You'll harden to it."

"Here comes Tony," said Berrie. "He'll look after the ponies."

Nevertheless Wayland went out, believing that Berrie wished to be alone with her father for a short time.

As he took his seat McFarlane said: "You stayed in camp till yesterday afternoon, did you?"

"Yes, we were expecting you every moment."

He saw nothing in this to remark upon. "Did it snow at the lake?"

"Yes, a little; it mostly rained."

"It stormed up on the divide like a January blizzard. When did Moore and his party arrive?"

"About ten o'clock this morning."

"I'll ride right up and see them. What about the outfit? That's at the lake, I reckon?"

"Yes, I was just sending Tony after it. But, father, if you go up to Moore's camp, don't say too much about what has happened. Don't tell them just when you took the back-trail, and just how long Wayland and I were in camp."

"Why not?"

She reddened with confusion. "Because--You know what an old gossip Mrs. Belden is. I don't want her to know. She's an awful talker, and our being together up there all that time will give her a chance."

A light broke in on the Supervisor's brain. In the midst of his preoccupation as a forester he suddenly became the father. His eyes narrowed and his face darkened. "That's so. The old rip could make a whole lot of capital out of your being left in camp that way. At the same time I don't believe in dodging. The worst thing we could do would be to try to blind the trail. Was Tony here last night when you came?"

"No, he was down the valley after his mail."

His face darkened again. "That's another piece of bad luck, too. How much does the old woman know at present?"

"Nothing at all."

"Didn't she cross-examine you?"

"Sure she did; but Wayland side-tracked her. Of course it only delays things. She'll know all about it sooner or later. She's great at putting two and two together. Two and two with her always make five."

McFarlane mused. "Cliff will be plumb crazy if she gets his ear first."

"I don't care anything about Cliff, daddy. I don't care what he thinks or does, if he will only let Wayland alone."

"See here, daughter, you do seem to be terribly interested in this tourist."

"He's the finest man I ever knew, father."

He looked at her with tender, trusting glance. "He isn't your kind, daughter. He's a nice clean boy, but he's different. He don't belong in our world. He's only just stopping here. Don't forget that."

"I'm not forgetting that, daddy. I know he's different, that's why I like him." After a pause she added: "Nobody could have been nicer all through these days than he has been. He was like a brother."

McFarlane fixed a keen glance upon her. "Has he said anything to you? Did you come to an understanding?"

Her eyes fell. "Not the way you mean, daddy; but I think he--likes me. But do you know who he is? He's the son of W. W. Norcross, that big Michigan lumberman."

McFarlane started. "How do you know that?"

"Mr. Moore asked him if he was any relation to W.W. Norcross, and he said, 'Yes, a son.' You should have seen how that Moore girl changed her tune the moment he admitted that. She'd been very free with him up to that time; but when she found out he was a rich man's son she became as quiet and innocent as a kitten. I hate her; she's a deceitful snip."

"Well, now, daughter, that being the case, it's all the more certain that he don't belong to our world, and you mustn't fix your mind on keeping him here."

"A girl can't help fixing her mind, daddy."

"Or changing it." He smiled a little. "You used to like Cliff. You liked him well enough to promise to marry him."

"I know I did; but I despise him now."

"Poor Cliff! He isn't so much to blame after all. Any man is likely to flare out when he finds another fellow cutting in ahead of him. Why, here you are wanting to kill Siona Moore just for making up to your young tourist."

"But that's different."

He laughed. "Of course it is. But the thing we've got to guard against is old lady Belden's tongue. She and that Belden gang have it in for me, and all that has kept them from open war has been Cliff's relationship to you. They'll take a keen delight in making the worst of all this camping business." McFarlane was now very grave. "I wish your mother was here this minute. I guess we had better cut out this timber cruise and go right back."

"No, you mustn't do that; that would only make more talk. Go on with your plans. I'll stay here with you. It won't take you but a couple of days to do the work, and Wayland needs the rest."

"But suppose Cliff hears of this business between you and Norcross and comes galloping over the ridge?"

"Well, let him, he has no claim on me."

He rose uneasily. "It's all mighty risky business, and it's my fault. I should never have permitted you to start on this trip."

"Don't you worry about me, daddy, I'll pull through somehow. Anybody that knows me will understand how little there is in--in old lady Belden's gab. I've had a beautiful trip, and I won't let her nor anybody else spoil it for me."

McFarlane was not merely troubled. He was distracted. He was afraid to meet the Beldens. He dreaded their questions, their innuendoes. He had perfect faith in his daughter's purity and honesty, and he liked and trusted Norcross, and yet he knew that should Belden find it to his advantage to slander these young people, and to read into their action the lawlessness of his own youth, Berea's reputation, high as it was, would suffer, and her mother's heart be rent with anxiety. In his growing pain and perplexity he decided to speak frankly to young Norcross himself. "He's a gentleman, and knows the way of the world. Perhaps he'll have some suggestion to offer." In his heart he hoped to learn that Wayland loved his daughter and wished to marry her.

Wayland was down on the bridge leaning over the rail, listening to the song of the water.

McFarlane approached gravely, but when he spoke it was in his usual soft monotone. "Mr. Norcross," he began, with candid inflection, "I am very sorry to say it; but I wish you and my daughter had never started on this trip."

"I know what you mean, Supervisor, and I feel as you do about it. Of course, none of us foresaw any such complication as this, but now that we are snarled up in it we'll have to make the best of it. No one of us is to blame. It was all accidental."

The youth's frank words and his sympathetic voice disarmed McFarlane completely. Even the slight resentment he felt melted away. "It's no use saying _if_," he remarked, at length. "What we've got to meet is Seth Belden's report--Berrie has cut loose from Cliff, and he's red-headed already. When he drops onto this story, when he learns that I had to chase back after the horses, and that you and Berrie were alone together for three days, he'll have a fine club to swing, and he'll swing it; and Alec will help him. They're all waiting a chance to get me, and they're mean enough to get me through my girl."

"What can I do?" asked Wayland.

McFarlane pondered. "I'll try to head off Marm Belden, and I'll have a talk with Moore. He's a pretty reasonable chap."

"But you forget there's another tale-bearer. Moore's daughter is with them."

"That's so. I'd forgotten her. Good Lord! we are in for it. There's no use trying to cover anything up."

Here was the place for Norcross to speak up and say: "Never mind, I'm going to ask Berrie to be my wife." But he couldn't do it. Something rose in his throat which prevented speech. A strange repugnance, a kind of sullen resentment at being forced into a declaration, kept him silent, and McFarlane, disappointed, wondering and hurt, kept silence also.

Norcross was the first to speak. "Of course those who know your daughter will not listen for an instant to the story of an unclean old thing like Mrs. Belden."

"I'm not so sure about that," replied the father, gloomily. "People always listen to such stories, and a girl always gets the worst of a situation like this. Berrie's been brought up to take care of herself, and she's kept clear of criticism so far; but with Cliff on edge and this old rip snooping around--" His mind suddenly changed. "Your being the son of a rich man won't help any. Why didn't you tell me who you were?"

"I didn't think it necessary. What difference does it make? I have nothing to do with my father's business. His notions of forest speculation are not mine."

"It would have made a difference with me, and it might have made a difference with Berrie. She mightn't have been so free with you at the start, if she'd known who you were. You looked sick and kind of lonesome, and that worked on her sympathy."

"I _was sick and I was lonesome, and she has been very sweet and lovely to me, and it breaks my heart to think that her kindness and your friendship should bring all this trouble and suspicion upon her. Let's go up to the Moore camp and have it out with them. I'll make any statement you think best."

"I reckon the less said about it the better," responded the older man. "I'm going up to the camp, but not to talk about my daughter."

"How can you help it? They'll force the topic."

"If they do, I'll force them to let it alone," retorted McFarlane; but he went away disappointed and sorrowful. The young man's evident avoidance of the subject of marriage hurt him. He did not perceive, as Norcross did, that to make an announcement of his daughter's engagement at this moment would be taken as a confession of shameful need. It is probable that Berrie herself would not have seen this further complication.

Each hour added to Wayland's sense of helplessness and bitterness. "I am in a trap. I can neither help Berrie nor help myself. Nothing remains for me but flight, and flight will also be a confession of guilt."

Once again, and in far more definite terms, he perceived the injustice of the world toward women. Here with Berrie, as in ages upon ages of other times, the maiden must bear the burden of reproach. "In me it will be considered a joke, a romantic episode, in her a degrading misdemeanor. And yet what can I do?"

When he re-entered the cabin the Supervisor had returned from the camp, and something in his manner, as well as in Berrie's, revealed the fact that the situation had not improved.

"They forced me into a corner," McFarlane said to Wayland, peevishly. "I lied out of one night; but they know that you were here last night. Of course, they were respectful enough so long as I had an eye on them, but their tongues are wagging now."

The rest of the evening was spent in talk on the forest, and in going over the ranger's books, for the Supervisor continued to plan for Wayland's stay at this station, and the young fellow thought it best not to refuse at the moment.

As bedtime drew near Settle took a blanket and went to the corral, and Berrie insisted that her father and Wayland occupy the bunk.

Norcross protested; but the Supervisor said: "Let her alone. She's better able to sleep on the floor than either of us."

This was perfectly true; but, in spite of his bruised and aching body, the youth would gladly have taken her place beside the stove. It seemed pitifully unjust that she should have this physical hardship in addition to her uneasiness of mind.

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