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A Ride In The Rain








From: The Forester's Daughter

There are two Colorados within the boundaries of the state of that name,
distinct, almost irreconcilable. One is a plain (smooth, dry,
monotonous), gently declining to the east, a land of sage-brush,
wheat-fields, and alfalfa meadows--a rather commonplace region now, given
over to humdrum folk intent on digging a living from the soil; but the
other is an army of peaks, a region of storms, a spread of dark and
tangled forests. In the one, shallow rivers trickle on their sandy way to
the Gulf of Mexico; from the other, the waters rush, uniting to make the
mighty stream whose silt-laden floods are slowly filling the Gulf of
California.

If you stand on one of the great naked crests which form the dividing
wall, the rampart of the plains, you can see the Colorado of tradition to
the west, still rolling in wave after wave of stupendous altitudes, each
range cutting into the sky with a purple saw-tooth edge. The landscape
seems to contain nothing but rocks and towering crags, a treasure-house
for those who mine. But this is illusive. Between these purple heights
charming valleys wind and meadows lie in which rich grasses grow and
cattle feed.

On certain slopes--where the devastating miners have not yet played their
relentless game--dark forests rise to the high, bold summits of the
chiefest mountains, and it is to guard these timbered tracts, growing
each year more valuable, that the government has established its Forest
Service to protect and develop the wealth-producing power of the
watersheds.

Chief among the wooded areas of this mighty inland empire of crag and
stream is the Bear Tooth Forest, containing nearly eight hundred thousand
acres of rock and trees, whose seat of administration is Bear Tooth
Springs, the small town in which our young traveler found himself.

He carefully explained to the landlord of the Cottage Hotel that he had
never been in this valley before, and that he was filled with
astonishment and delight of the scenery.

"Scenery! Yes, too much scenery. What we want is settlers," retorted the
landlord, who was shabby and sour and rather contemptuous, for the reason
that he considered Norcross a poor consumptive, and a fool to boot--"one
of those chaps who wait till they are nearly dead, then come out here
expecting to live on climate."

The hotel was hardly larger than the log shanty of a railway-grading
camp; but the meat was edible, and just outside the door roared Bear
Creek, which came down directly from Dome Mountain, and the young
Easterner went to sleep beneath its singing that night. He should have
dreamed of the happy mountain girl, but he did not; on the contrary, he
imagined himself back at college in the midst of innumerable freshmen,
yelling, "Bill McCoy, Bill McCoy!"

He woke a little bewildered by his strange surroundings, and when he
became aware of the cheap bed, the flimsy wash-stand, the ugly wallpaper,
and thought how far he was from home and friends, he not only sighed, he
shivered. The room was chill, the pitcher of water cold almost to the
freezing-point, and his joints were stiff and painful from his ride. What
folly to come so far into the wilderness at this time.

As he crawled from his bed and looked from the window he was still
further disheartened. In the foreground stood a half dozen frame
buildings, graceless and cheap, without tree or shrub to give shadow or
charm of line--all was bare, bleak, sere; but under his window the stream
was singing its glorious mountain song, and away to the west rose the
aspiring peaks from which it came. Romance brooded in that shadow, and on
the lower foot-hills the frost-touched foliage glowed like a mosaic of
jewels.

Dressing hurriedly he went down to the small bar-room, whose litter of
duffle-bags, guns, saddles, and camp utensils gave evidence of the
presence of many hunters and fishermen. The slovenly landlord was poring
over a newspaper, while a discouraged half-grown youth was sludging the
floor with a mop; but a cheerful clamor from an open door at the back of
the hall told that breakfast was on.

Venturing over the threshold, Norcross found himself seated at table with
some five or six men in corduroy jackets and laced boots, who were, in
fact, merchants and professional men from Denver and Pueblo out for fish
and such game as the law allowed, and all in holiday mood. They joked the
waiter-girls, and joshed one another in noisy good-fellowship, ignoring
the slim youth in English riding-suit, who came in with an air of mingled
melancholy and timidity and took a seat at the lower corner of the long
table.

The landlady, tall, thin, worried, and inquisitive, was New
England--Norcross recognized her type even before she came to him with a
question on her lips. "So you're from the East, are you?"

"I've been at school there."

"Well, I'm glad to see you. My folks came from York State. I don't often
get any one from the real East. Come out to fish, I s'pose?"

"Yes," he replied, thinking this the easiest way out.

"Well, they's plenty of fishing--and they's plenty of air, not much of
anything else."

As he looked about the room, the tourist's eye was attracted by four
young fellows seated at a small table to his right. They wore rough
shirts of an olive-green shade, and their faces were wind-scorched; but
their voices held a pleasant tone, and something in the manner of the
landlady toward them made them noticeable. Norcross asked her who they
were.

"They're forestry boys."

"Forestry boys?"

"Yes; the Supervisor's office is here, and these are his help."

This information added to Norcross's interest and cheered him a little.
He knew something of the Forest Service, and had been told that many of
the rangers were college men. He resolved to make their acquaintance. "If
I'm to stay here they will help me endure the exile," he said.

After breakfast he went forth to find the post-office, expecting a letter
of instructions from Meeker. He found nothing of the sort, and this quite
disconcerted him.

"The stage is gone," the postmistress told him, "and you can't get up
till day after to-morrow. You might reach Meeker by using the government
'phone, however."

"Where will I find the government 'phone?"

"Down in the Supervisor's office. They're very accommodating; they'll let
you use it, if you tell them who you want to reach."

It was impossible to miss the forestry building for the reason that a
handsome flag fluttered above it. The door being open, Norcross perceived
from the threshold a young clerk at work on a typewriter, while in a
corner close by the window another and older man was working intently on
a map.

"Is this the office of the Forest Supervisor?" asked the youth.

The man at the machine looked up, and pleasantly answered: "It is, but
the Supervisor is not in yet. Is there anything I can do for you?"

"It may be you can. I am on my way to Meeker's Mill for a little outing.
Perhaps you could tell me where Meeker's Mill is, and how I can best get
there."

The man at the map meditated. "It's not far, some eighteen or twenty
miles; but it's over a pretty rough trail."

"What kind of a place is it?"

"Very charming. You'll like it. Real mountain country."

This officer was a plain-featured man of about thirty-five, with keen and
clear eyes. His voice, though strongly nasal, possessed a note of manly
sincerity. As he studied his visitor, he smiled.

"You look brand-new--haven't had time to season-check, have you?"

"No; I'm a stranger in a strange land."

"Out for your health?"

"Yes. My name is Norcross. I'm just getting over a severe illness, and
I'm up here to lay around and fish and recuperate--if I can."

"You can--you will. You can't help it," the other assured him. "Join one
of our surveying crews for a week and I'll mellow that suit of yours and
make a real mountaineer of you. I see you wear a Sigma Chi pin. What
was your school?"

"I am a 'Son of Eli.' Last year's class."

The other man displayed his fob. "I'm ten classes ahead of you. My name
is Nash. I'm what they call an 'expert.' I'm up here doing some
estimating and surveying for a big ditch they're putting in. I was rather
in hopes you had come to join our ranks. We sons of Eli are holding the
conservation fort these days, and we need help."

"My knowledge of your work is rather vague," admitted Norcross. "My
father is in the lumber business; but his point of view isn't exactly
yours."

"He slays 'em, does he?"

"He did. He helped devastate Michigan."

"After me the deluge! I know the kind. Why not make yourself a sort of
vicarious atonement?"

Norcross smiled. "I had not thought of that. It would help some, wouldn't
it?"

"It certainly would. There's no great money in the work; but it's about
the most enlightened of all the governmental bureaus."

Norcross was strongly drawn to this forester, whose tone was that of a
highly trained specialist. "I rode up on the stage yesterday with Miss
Berrie McFarlane."

"The Supervisor's daughter?"

"She seemed a fine Western type."

"She's not a type; she's an individual. She hasn't her like anywhere I've
gone. She cuts a wide swath up here. Being an only child she's both son
and daughter to McFarlane. She knows more about forestry than her father.
In fact, half the time he depends on her judgment."

Norcross was interested, but did not want to take up valuable time. He
said: "Will you let me use your telephone to Meeker's?"

"Very sorry, but our line is out of order. You'll have to wait a day or
so--or use the mails. You're too late for to-day's stage, but it's only a
short ride across. Come outside and I'll show you."

Norcross followed him to the walk, and stood in silence while his guide
indicated the pass over the range. It all looked very formidable to the
Eastern youth. Thunderous clouds hung low upon the peaks, and the great
crags to left and right of the notch were stern and barren. "I think I'll
wait for the stage," he said, with candid weakness. "I couldn't make that
trip alone."

"You'll have to take many such a ride over that range in the night--if
you join the service," Nash warningly replied.

As they were standing there a girl came galloping up to the hitching-post
and slid from her horse. It was Berea McFarlane. "Good morning, Emery,"
she called to the surveyor. "Good morning," she nodded at Norcross. "How
do you find yourself this morning?"

"Homesick," he replied, smilingly.

"Why so?"

"I'm disappointed in the town."

"What's the matter with the town?"

"It's so commonplace. I expected it to be--well, different. It's just
like any other plains town."

Berrie looked round at the forlorn shops, the irregular sidewalks, the
grassless yards. "It isn't very pretty, that's a fact; but you can always
forget it by just looking up at the high country. When you going up to
the mill?"

"I don't know. I haven't had any word from Meeker, and I can't reach him
by telephone."

"I know, the line is short-circuited somewhere; but they've sent a man
out. He may close it any minute."

"Where's the Supervisor?" asked Nash.

"He's gone over to Moore's cutting. How are you getting on with those
plats?"

"Very well. I'll have 'em all in shape by Saturday."

"Come in and make yourself at home," said the girl to Norcross. "You'll
find the papers two or three days old," she smiled. "We never know about
anything here till other people have forgotten it."

Norcross followed her into the office, curious to know more about her.
She was so changed from his previous conception of her that he was
puzzled. She had the directness and the brevity of phrase of a business
man, as she opened letters and discussed their contents with the men.

"Truly she is different," thought Norcross, and yet she lost something
by reason of the display of her proficiency as a clerk. "I wish she would
leave business to some one else," he inwardly grumbled as he rose to go.

She looked up from her desk. "Come in again later. We may be able to
reach the mill."

He thanked her and went back to his hotel, where he overhauled his outfit
and wrote some letters. His disgust of the town was lessened by the
presence of that handsome girl, and the hope that he might see her at
luncheon made him impatient of the clock.

She did not appear in the dining-room, and when Norcross inquired of Nash
whether she took her meals at the hotel or not, the expert replied: "No,
she goes home. The ranch is only a few miles down the valley.
Occasionally we invite her, but she don't think much of the cooking."

One of the young surveyors put in a word: "I shouldn't think she would.
I'd ride ten miles any time to eat one of Mrs. McFarlane's dinners."

"Yes," agreed Nash with a reflective look in his eyes. "She's a mighty
fine girl, and I join the boys in wishing her better luck than marrying
Cliff Belden."

"Is it settled that way?" asked Norcross.

"Yes; the Supervisor warned us all, but even he never has any good words
for Belden. He's a surly cuss, and violently opposed to the service. His
brother is one of the proprietors of the Meeker mill, and they have all
tried to bulldoze Landon, our ranger over there. By the way, you'll like
Landon. He's a Harvard man, and a good ranger. His shack is only a
half-mile from Meeker's house. It's a pretty well-known fact that Alec
Belden is part proprietor of a saloon over there that worries the
Supervisor worse than anything. Cliff swears he's not connected with it;
but he's more or less sympathetic with the crowd."

Norcross, already deeply interested in the present and future of a girl
whom he had met for the first time only the day before, was quite ready
to give up his trip to Meeker. After the men went back to work he
wandered about the town for an hour or two, and then dropped in at the
office to inquire if the telephone line had been repaired.

"No, it's still dead."

"Did Miss McFarlane return?"

"No. She said she had work to do at home. This is ironing-day, I
believe."

"She plays all the parts, don't she?"

"She sure does; and she plays one part as well as another. She can rope
and tie a steer or bake a cake as well as play the piano."

"Don't tell me she plays the piano!"

Nash laughed. "She does; but it's one of those you operate with your
feet."

"I'm relieved to hear that. She seems almost weirdly gifted as it is."
After a moment he broke in with: "What can a man do in this town?"

"Work, nothing else."

"What do you do for amusement?"

"Once in a while there is a dance in the hall over the drug-store, and on
Sunday you can listen to a wretched sermon in the log church. The rest of
the time you work or loaf in the saloons--or read. Old Nature has done
her part here. But man--! Ever been in the Tyrol?"

"Yes."

"Well, some day the people of the plains will have sense enough to use
these mountains, these streams, the way they do over there."

It required only a few hours for Norcross to size up the valley and its
people. Aside from Nash and his associates, and one or two families
connected with the mill to the north, the villagers were poor,
thriftless, and uninteresting. They were lacking in the picturesque
quality of ranchers and miners, and had not yet the grace of
town-dwellers. They were, indeed, depressingly nondescript.

Early on the second morning he went to the post-office--which was also
the telephone station--to get a letter or message from Meeker. He found
neither; but as he was standing in the door undecided about taking the
stage, Berea came into town riding a fine bay pony, and leading a
blaze-face buckskin behind her.

Her face shone cordially, as she called out: "Well, how do you stack up
this morning?"

"Tip-top," he answered, in an attempt to match her cheery greeting.

"Do you like our town better?"

"Not a bit! But the hills are magnificent."

"Anybody turned up from the mill?"

"No, I haven't heard a word from there. The telephone is still out of
commission."

"They can't locate the break. Uncle Joe sent word by the stage-driver
asking us to keep an eye out for you and send you over. I've come to take
you over myself."

"That's mighty good of you; but it's a good deal to ask."

"I want to see Uncle Joe on business, anyhow, and you'll like the ride
better than the journey by stage."

Leaving the horses standing with their bridle-reins hanging on the
ground, she led the way to the office.

"When father comes in, tell him where I've gone, and send Mr. Norcross's
packs by the first wagon. Is your outfit ready?" she asked.

"Not quite. I can get it ready soon."

He hurried away in pleasant excitement, and in twenty minutes was at the
door ready to ride.

"You'd better take my bay," said Berea. "Old Paint-face there is a little
notional."

Norcross approached his mount with a caution which indicated that he had
at least been instructed in range-horse psychology, and as he gathered
his reins together to mount, Berrie remarked:

"I hope you're saddle-wise."

"I had a few lessons in a riding-school," he replied, modestly.

Young Downing approached the girl with a low-voiced protest: "You
oughtn't to ride old Paint. He nearly pitched the Supervisor the other
day."

"I'm not worried," she said, and swung to her saddle.

The ugly beast made off in a tearing sidewise rush, but she smilingly
called back: "All set." And Norcross followed her in high admiration.

Eventually she brought her bronco to subjection, and they trotted off
together along the wagon-road quite comfortably. By this time the youth
had forgotten his depression, his homesickness of the morning. The valley
was again enchanted ground. Its vistas led to lofty heights. The air was
regenerative, and though a part of this elation was due, no doubt, to the
power of his singularly attractive guide, he laid it discreetly to the
climate.

After shacking along between some rather sorry fields of grain for a mile
or two, Berea swung into a side-trail. "I want you to meet my mother,"
she said.

The grassy road led to a long, one-story, half-log, half-slab house,
which stood on the bank of a small, swift, willow-bordered stream.

"This is our ranch," she explained. "All the meadow in sight belongs to
us."

The young Easterner looked about in astonishment. Not a tree bigger than
his thumb gave shade. The gate of the cattle corral stood but a few feet
from the kitchen door, and rusty beef-bones, bleaching skulls, and scraps
of sun-dried hides littered the ground or hung upon the fence. Exteriorly
the low cabin made a drab, depressing picture; but as he alighted--upon
Berea's invitation--and entered the house, he was met by a sweet-faced,
brown-haired little woman in a neat gown, whose bearing was not in the
least awkward or embarrassed.

"This is Mr. Norcross, the tourist I told you about," explained Berrie.

Mrs. McFarlane extended her small hand with friendly impulse. "I'm very
glad to meet you, sir. Are you going to spend some time at the Mill?"

"I don't know. I have a letter to Mr. Meeker from a friend of mine who
hunted with him last year--a Mr. Sutler."

"Mr. Sutler! Oh, we know him very well. Won't you sit down?"

The interior of the house was not only well kept, but presented many
evidences of refinement. A mechanical piano stood against the log wall,
and books and magazines, dog-eared with use, littered the table; and
Norcross, feeling the force of Nash's half-expressed criticism of his
"superior," listened intently to Mrs. McFarlane's apologies for the
condition of the farmyard.

"Well," said Berea, sharply, "if we're to reach Uncle Joe's for dinner
we'd better be scratching the hills." And to her mother she added: "I'll
pull in about dark."

The mother offered no objection to her daughter's plan, and the young
people rode off together directly toward the high peaks to the east.

"I'm going by way of the cut-off," Berrie explained; and Norcross,
content and unafraid, nodded in acquiescence. "Here is the line," she
called a few minutes later, pointing at a sign nailed to a tree at the
foot of the first wooded hill.

The notice, printed in black ink on a white square of cloth, proclaimed
this to be the boundary of the Bear Tooth National Forest, and pleaded
with all men to be watchful of fires. Its tone was not at all that of a
strong government; it was deprecatory.

The trail, hardly more than a wood road, grew wilder and lonelier as they
climbed. Cattle fed on the hillsides in scattered bands like elk. Here
and there a small cabin stood on the bank of a stream; but, for the most
part, the trail mounted the high slopes in perfect solitude.

The girl talked easily and leisurely, reading the brands of the ranchers,
revealing the number of cattle they owned, quite as a young farmer would
have done. She seemed not to be embarrassed in the slightest degree by
the fact that she was guiding a strange man over a lonely road, and gave
no outward sign of special interest in him till she suddenly turned to
ask: "What kind of a slicker--I mean a raincoat--did you bring?"

He looked blank. "I don't believe I brought any. I've a leather
shooting-jacket, however."

She shrugged her shoulders and looked up at the sky. "We're in for a
storm. You'd ought 'o have a slicker, no fancy 'raincoat,' but a real
old-fashioned cow-puncher's oilskin. They make a business of shedding
rain. Leather's no good, neither is canvas; I've tried 'em all."

She rode on for a few minutes in silence, as if disgusted with his folly,
but she was really worrying about him. "Poor chap," she said to herself.
"He can't stand a chill. I ought to have thought of his slicker myself.
He's helpless as a baby."

They were climbing fast now, winding upward along the bank of a stream,
and the sky had grown suddenly gray, and the woodland path was dark and
chill. The mountains were not less beautiful; but they were decidedly
less amiable, and the youth shivered, casting an apprehensive eye at the
thickening clouds.

Berea perceived something of his dismay, and, drawing rein, dismounted.
Behind her saddle was a tightly rolled bundle which, being untied and
shaken out, proved to be a horseman's rainproof oilskin coat. "Put this
on!" she commanded.

"Oh no," he protested, "I can't take your coat."

"Yes you can! You must! Don't you worry about me, I'm used to weather.
Put this on over your jacket and all. You'll need it. Rain won't hurt
me; but it will just about finish you."

The worst of this lay in its truth, and Norcross lost all his pride of
sex for the moment. A wetting would not dim this girl's splendid color,
nor reduce her vitality one degree, while to him it might be a
death-warrant. "You could throw me over my own horse," he admitted, in a
kind of bitter admiration, and slipped the coat on, shivering with cold
as he did so.

"You think me a poor excuse of a trailer, don't you?" he said, ruefully,
as the thunder began to roll.

"You've got to be all made over new," she replied, tolerantly. "Stay here
a year and you'll be able to stand anything."

Remounting, she again led the way with cheery cry. The rain came dashing
down in fitful, misty streams; but she merely pulled the rim of her
sombrero closer over her eyes, and rode steadily on, while he followed,
plunged in gloom as cold and gray as the storm. The splitting crashes of
thunder echoed from the high peaks like the voices of siege-guns, and the
lightning stabbed here and there as though blindly seeking some hidden
foe. Long veils of falling water twisted and trailed through the valleys
with swishing roar.

"These mountain showers don't last long," the girl called back, her face
shining like a rose. "We'll get the sun in a few minutes."

And so it turned out. In less than an hour they rode into the warm light
again, and in spite of himself Norcross returned her smile, though he
said: "I feel like a selfish fool. You are soaked."

"Hardly wet through," she reassured him. "My jacket and skirt turn water
pretty well. I'll be dry in a jiffy. It does a body good to be wet once
in a while."

The shame of his action remained; but a closer friendship was
established, and as he took off the coat and handed it back to her, he
again apologized. "I feel like a pig. I don't see how I came to do it.
The thunder and the chill scared me, that's the truth of it. You
hypnotized me into taking it. How wet you are!" he exclaimed,
remorsefully. "You'll surely take cold."

"I never take cold," she returned. "I'm used to all kinds of weather.
Don't you bother about me."

Topping a low divide the youth caught a glimpse of the range to the
southeast, which took his breath. "Isn't that superb!" he exclaimed.
"It's like the shining roof of the world!"

"Yes, that's the Continental Divide," she confirmed, casually; but the
lyrical note which he struck again reached her heart. The men she knew
had so few words for the beautiful in life. She wondered whether this
man's illness had given him this refinement or whether it was native to
his kind. "I'm glad he took my coat," was her thought.

She pushed on down the slope, riding hard, but it was nearly two o'clock
when they drew up at Meeker's house, which was a long, low, stone
structure built along the north side of the road. The place was
distinguished not merely by its masonry, but also by its picket fence,
which had once been whitewashed. Farm-wagons of various degrees of decay
stood by the gate, and in the barn-yard plows and harrows--deeply buried
by the weeds--were rusting forlornly away. A little farther up the stream
the tall pipe of a sawmill rose above the firs.

A pack of dogs of all sizes and signs came clamoring to the fence,
followed by a big, slovenly dressed, red-bearded man of sixty or
thereabouts.

"Hello, Uncle Joe," called the girl, in offhand boyish fashion. "How are
you to-day?"

"Howdy, girl," answered Meeker, gravely. "What brings you up here this
time?"

She laughed. "Here's a boarder who wants to learn how to raise cattle."

Meeker's face lightened. "I reckon you're Mr. Norcross? I'm glad to see
ye. Light off and make yourself to home. Turn your horses into the
corral, the boys will feed 'em."

"Am I in America?" Norcross asked himself, as he followed the slouchy old
rancher into the unkempt yard. "This certainly is a long way from New
Haven."

Without ceremony Meeker led his guests directly into the dining-room, a
long and rather narrow room, wherein a woman and six or seven roughly
dressed young men were sitting at a rudely appointed table.

"Earth and seas!" exclaimed Mrs. Meeker. "Here's Berrie, and I'll bet
that's Sutler's friend, our boarder."

"That's what, mother," admitted her husband. "Berrie brought him up."

"You'd ought 'o gone for him yourself, you big lump," she retorted.

Mrs. Meeker, who was as big as her husband, greeted Norcross warmly, and
made a place for him beside her own chair.

"Highst along there, boys, and give the company a chance," she commanded,
sharply. "Our dinner's turrible late to-day."

The boys--they were in reality full-grown cubs of eighteen or twenty--did
as they were bid with much noise, chaffing Berrie with blunt humor. The
table was covered with a red oil-cloth, and set with heavy blue-and-white
china. The forks were two-tined, steel-pronged, and not very polished,
and the food was of the simplest sort; but the girl seemed at home
there--as she did everywhere--and was soon deep in a discussion of the
price of beef, and whether it was advisable to ship now or wait a month.

Meeker read Sutler's letter, which Norcross had handed him, and, after
deliberation, remarked: "All right, we'll do the best we can for you, Mr.
Norcross; but we haven't any fancy accommodations."

"He don't expect any," replied Berrie. "What he needs is a little
roughing it."

"There's plinty of that to be had," said one of the herders, who sat
below the salt. "'is the soft life I'm nadin'."

"Pat's strong on soft jobs," said another; and Berea joined the laugh
which followed this pointless joke. She appeared to be one of them, and
it troubled Norcross a little. She had so little the sex feeling and
demanded so few of the rights and privileges of a girl. The men all
admired her, that was evident, almost too evident, and one or two of the
older men felt the charm of her young womanhood too deeply even to meet
her eyes; but of this Norcross was happily ignorant. Already in these two
days he had acquired a distinct sense of proprietorship in her, a feeling
which made him jealous of her good name.

Meeker, it turned out, was an Englishman by way of Canada, and this was
his second American wife. His first had been a sister to Mrs. McFarlane.
He was a man of much reading--of the periodical sort--and the big
sitting-room was littered with magazines both English and American, and
his talk abounded in radical and rather foolish utterances. Norcross
considered it the most disorderly home he had ever seen, and yet it was
not without a certain dignity. The rooms were large and amply provided
with furniture of a very mixed and gaudy sort, and the table was spread
with abundance.

One of the lads, Frank Meeker, a dark, intense youth of about twenty, was
Berea's full cousin. The others were merely hired hands, but they all
eyed the new-comer with disfavor. The fact that Berrie had brought him
and that she seemed interested in him added to the effect of the smart
riding-suit which he wore. "I'd like to roll him in the creek," muttered
one of them to his neighbor.

This dislike Berrie perceived--in some degree--and to Frank she privately
said: "Now you fellows have got to treat Mr. Norcross right. He's been
very sick."

Frank maliciously grinned. "Oh, we'll treat him right. We won't do a
thing to him!"

"Now, Frank," she warned, "if you try any of your tricks on him you'll
hear from me."

"Why all this worry on your part?" he asked, keenly. "How long since you
found him?"

"We rode up on the stage day before yesterday, and he seemed so kind o'
blue and lonesome I couldn't help trying to chirk him up."

"How will Cliff take all this chirking business?"

"Cliff ain't my guardian--yet," she laughingly responded. "Mr. Norcross
is a college man, and not used to our ways--"

"Mister Norcross--what's his front name?"

"Wayland."

He snorted. "Wayland! If he gets past us without being called 'pasty'
he's in luck. He's a 'lunger' if there ever was one."

The girl was shrewd enough to see that the more she sought to soften the
wind to her Eastern tenderfoot the more surely he was to be shorn, so she
gave over her effort in that direction, and turned to the old folks. To
Mrs. Meeker she privately said: "Mr. Norcross ain't used to rough ways,
and he's not very rugged, you ought 'o kind o' favor him for a while."

The girl herself did not understand the vital and almost painful interest
which this young man had roused in her. He was both child and poet to
her, and as she watched him trying to make friends with the men, her
indignation rose against their clownish offishness. She understood fully
that his neat speech, his Eastern accent, together with his tailor-cut
clothing and the delicacy of his table manners, would surely mark him for
slaughter among the cow-hands, and the wish to shield him made her face
graver than anybody had ever seen it.

"I don't feel right in leaving you here," she said, at last; "but I must
be ridin'." And while Meeker ordered her horse brought out, she walked to
the gate with Norcross at her side.

"I'm tremendously obliged to you," he said, and his voice was vibrant.
"You have been most kind. How can I repay you?"

"Oh, that's all right," she replied, in true Western fashion. "I wanted
to see the folks up here, anyhow. This is no jaunt at all for me." And,
looking at her powerful figure, and feeling the trap-like grip of her
cinch hand, he knew she spoke the truth.

Frank had saddled his own horse, and was planning to ride over the hill
with her; but to this she objected. "I'm going to leave Pete here for Mr.
Norcross to ride," she said, "and there's no need of your going."

Frank's face soured, and with instant perception of the effect her
refusal might have on the fortunes of the stranger, she reconsidered.

"Oh, come along! I reckon you want to get shut of some mean job."

And so she rode away, leaving her ward to adjust himself to his new and
strange surroundings as best he could, and with her going the whole
valley darkened for the convalescent.





Next: Wayland Receives A Warning

Previous: The Happy Girl



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