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Berrie's Vigil

From: The Forester's Daughter

The situation in which Berea now found herself would have disheartened
most women of mature age, but she remained not only composed, she was
filled with an irrational delight. The nurse that is in every woman was
aroused in her, and she looked forward with joy to a night of vigil,
confident that Wayland was not seriously injured and that he would soon
be able to ride. She had no fear of the forest or of the night. Nature
held no menace now that her tent was set and her fire alight.

Wayland, without really knowing anything about it, suspected that he owed
his life to her intervention, and this belief deepened the feeling of
admiration which he had hitherto felt toward her. He listened to her at
work around the fire with a deepening sense of his indebtedness to her,
and when she looked in to ask if she could do anything for him, his
throat filled with an emotion which rendered his answer difficult.

As his mind cleared he became very curious to know precisely what had
taken place, but he did not feel free to ask her. "She will tell me if
she wishes me to know." That she had vanquished Belden and sent him on
his way was evident, although he had not been able to hear what she had
said to him at the last. What lay between the enemy's furious onslaught
and the aid he lent in making the camp could only be surmised. "I wonder
if she used her pistol?" Wayland asked himself. "Something like death
must have stared him in the face."

"Strange how everything seems to throw me ever deeper into her debt," he
thought, a little later. But he did not quite dare put into words the
resentment which mingled with his gratitude. He hated to be put so
constantly into the position of the one protected, defended. And yet it
was his own fault. He had put himself among people and conditions where
she was the stronger. Having ventured out of his world into hers he must
take the consequences.

That she loved him with the complete passion of her powerful and simple
nature he knew, for her voice had reached through the daze of his
semi-unconsciousness with thrilling power. The touch of her lips to his,
the close clasp of her strong arms were of ever greater convincing
quality. And yet he wished the revelation had come in some other way. His
pride was abraded. His manhood seemed somehow lessened. It was a
disconcerting reversal of the ordinary relations between hero and
heroine, and he saw no way of re-establishing the normal attitude of the

Entirely unaware of what was passing in the mind of her patient, Berrie
went about her duties with a cheerfulness which astonished the sufferer
in the tent. She seemed about to hum a song as she set the skillet on the
fire, but a moment later she called out, in a tone of irritation: "Here
comes Nash!"

"I'm glad of that," answered Wayland, although he perceived something of
her displeasure.

Nash, on his way to join the Supervisor, raised a friendly greeting as he
saw the girl, and drew rein. "I expected to meet you farther down the
hill," he said. "Tony 'phoned that you had started. Where did you leave
the Supervisor?"

"Over at the station waiting for you. Where's your outfit?"

"Camped down the trail a mile or so. I thought I'd better push through
to-night. What about Norcross? Isn't he with you?"

She hesitated an instant. "He's in the tent. He fell and struck his head
on a rock, and I had to go into camp here."

Nash was deeply concerned. "Is that so? Well, that's hard luck. Is he
badly hurt?"

"Well, he had a terrible fall. But he's easier now. I think he's

"May I look in on him?"

"I don't think you'd better take the time. It's a long, hard ride from
here to the station. It will be deep night before you can make it--"

"Don't you think the Supervisor would want me to camp here to-night and
do what I could for you? If Norcross is badly injured you will need me."

She liked Nash, and she knew he was right, and yet she was reluctant to
give up the pleasure of her lone vigil. "He's not in any danger, and
we'll be able to ride on in the morning."

Nash, thinking of her as Clifford Belden's promised wife, had no
suspicion of her feeling toward Norcross. Therefore he gently urged that
to go on was quite out of order. "I can't think of leaving you here
alone--certainly not till I see Norcross and find out how badly he is

She yielded. "I reckon you're right," she said. "I'll go see if he is

He followed her to the door of the tent, apprehending something new and
inexplicable in her attitude. In the music of her voice as she spoke to
the sick man was the love-note of the mate. "You may come in," she called
back, and Nash, stooping, entered the small tent.

"Hello, old man, what you been doing with yourself? Hitting the high

Norcross smiled feebly. "No, the hill flew up and bumped me."

"How did it all happen?"

"I don't exactly know. It all came of a sudden. I had no share in it--I
didn't go for to do it."

"Whether you did or not, you seem to have made a good job of it."

Nash examined the wounded man carefully, and his skill and strength in
handling Norcross pleased Berrie, though she was jealous of the warm
friendship which seemed to exist between the men.

She had always liked Nash, but she resented him now, especially as he
insisted on taking charge of the case; but she gave way finally, and went
back to her pots and pans with pensive countenance.

A little later, when Nash came out to make report, she was not very
gracious in her manner. "He's pretty badly hurt," he said. "There's an
ugly gash in his scalp, and the shock has produced a good deal of pain
and confusion in his head; but he's going to be all right in a day or
two. For a man seeking rest and recuperation he certainly has had a tough
run of weather."

Though a serious-minded, honorable forester, determined to keep sternly
in mind that he was in the presence of the daughter of his chief, and
that she was engaged to marry another, Nash was, after all, a man, and
the witchery of the hour, the charm of the girl's graceful figure,
asserted their power over him. His eyes grew tender, and his voice
eloquent in spite of himself. His words he could guard, but it was hard
to keep from his speech the song of the lover. The thought that he was to
camp in her company, to help her about the fire, to see her from moment
to moment, with full liberty to speak to her, to meet her glance, pleased
him. It was the most romantic and moving episode in his life, and though
of a rather dry and analytic temperament he had a sense of poesy.

The night, black, oppressive, and silent, brought a closer bond of mutual
help and understanding between them. He built a fire of dry branches
close to the tent door, and there sat, side by side with the girl, in the
glow of embers, so close to the injured youth that they could talk
together, and as he spoke freely, yet modestly, of his experiences Berrie
found him more deeply interesting than she had hitherto believed him to
be. True, he saw things less poetically than Wayland, but he was finely
observant, and a man of studious and refined habits.

She grew friendlier, and asked him about his work, and especially about
his ambitions and plans for the future. They discussed the forest and its
enemies, and he wondered at her freedom in speaking of the Mill and
saloon. He said: "Of course you know that Alec Belden is a partner in
that business, and I'm told--of course I don't know this--that Clifford
Belden is also interested."

She offered no defense of young Belden, and this unconcern puzzled him.
He had expected indignant protest, but she merely replied: "I don't care
who owns it. It should be rooted out. I hate that kind of thing. It's
just another way of robbing those poor tie-jacks."

"Clifford should get out of it. Can't you persuade him to do so?"

"I don't think I can."

"His relationship to you--"

"He is not related to me."

Her tone amazed him. "You know what I mean."

"Of course I do, but you're mistaken. We're not related that way any

This silenced him for a few moments, then he said: "I'm rather glad of
that. He isn't anything like the man you thought he was--I couldn't say
these things before--but he is as greedy as Alec, only not so open about

All this comment, which moved the forester so deeply to utter, seemed not
to interest Berea. She sat staring at the fire with the calm brow of an
Indian. Clifford Belden had passed out of her life as completely as he
had vanished out of the landscape. She felt an immense relief at being
rid of him, and resented his being brought back even as a subject of

Wayland, listening, fancied he understood her desire, and said nothing
that might arouse Nash's curiosity.

Nash, on his part, knowing that she had broken with Belden, began to
understand the tenderness, the anxious care of her face and voice, as she
bent above young Norcross. As the night deepened and the cold air stung,
he asked: "Have you plenty of blankets for a bed?"

"Oh yes," she answered, "but I don't intend to sleep."

"Oh, you must!" he declared. "Go to bed. I will keep the fire going."

At last she consented. "I will make my bed right here at the mouth of the
tent close to the fire," she said, "and you can call me if you need me."

"Why not put your bed in the tent? It's going to be cold up here."

"I am all right outside," she protested.

"Put your bed inside, Miss Berrie. We can't let conventions count above
timber-line. I shall rest better if I know you are properly sheltered."

And so it happened that for the third time she shared the same roof with
her lover; but the nurse was uppermost in her now. At eleven thousand
feet above the sea--with a cold drizzle of fine rain in the air--one does
not consider the course of gossip as carefully as in a village, and
Berrie slept unbrokenly till daylight.

Nash was the first to arise in the dusk of dawn, and Berrie, awakened by
the crackle of his fire, soon joined him. There is no sweeter sound than
the voice of the flame at such a time, in such a place. It endows the
bleak mountainside with comfort, makes the ledge a hearthstone. It holds
the promise of savory meats and fragrant liquor, and robs the frosty air
of its terrors.

Wayland, hearing their voices, called out, with feeble humor: "Will some
one please turn on the steam in my room?"

Berrie uttered a happy word. "How do you feel this morning?" she asked.

"Not precisely like a pugilist--well, yes, I believe I do--like the
fellow who got second money."

"How is the bump?" inquired Nash, thrusting his head inside the door.

"Reduced to the size of a golf-ball as near as I can judge of it. I doubt
if I can wear a hat; but I'm feeling fine. I'm going to get up."

Berrie was greatly relieved. "I'm so glad! Do you feel like riding down
the hill?"

"Sure thing! I'm hungry, and as soon as I am fed I'm ready to start."

Berrie joined the surveyor at the fire.

"If you'll round up our horses, Mr. Nash, I'll rustle breakfast and we'll
get going," she said.

Nash, enthralled, lingered while she twisted her hair into place, then
went out to bring in the ponies.

Wayland came out a little uncertainly, but looking very well. "I think I
shall discourage my friends from coming to this region for their health,"
he said, ruefully. "If I were a novelist now all this would be grist for
my mill."

Beneath his joking he was profoundly chagrined. He had hoped by this time
to be as sinewy, as alert as Nash, instead of which here he sat,
shivering over the fire like a sick girl, his head swollen, his blood
sluggish; but this discouragement only increased Berea's tenderness--a
tenderness which melted all his reserve.

"I'm not worth all your care," he said to her, with poignant glance.

The sun rose clear and warm, and the fire, the coffee, put new courage
into him as well as into the others, and while the morning was yet early
and the forest chill and damp with rain, the surveyor brought up the
horses and started packing the outfit.

In this Berrie again took part, doing her half of the work quite as
dextrously as Nash himself. Indeed, the forester was noticeably confused
and not quite up to his usual level of adroit ease.

At last both packs were on, and as they stood together for a moment, Nash
said: "This has been a great experience--one I shall remember as long as
I live."

She stirred uneasily under his frank admiration. "I'm mightily obliged to
you," she replied, as heartily as she could command.

"Don't thank me, I'm indebted to you. There is so little in my life of
such companionship as you and Norcross give me."

"You'll find it lonesome over at the station, I'm afraid," said she. "But
Moore intends to put a crew of tie-cutters in over there--that will help
some." She smiled.

"I'm not partial to the society of tie-jacks."

"If you ride hard you may find that Moore girl in camp. She was there
when we left." There was a sparkle of mischief in her glance.

"I'm not interested in the Moore girl," he retorted.

"Do you know her?"

"I've seen her at the post-office once or twice; she is not my kind."

She gave him her hand. "Well, good-by. I'm all right now that Wayland can

He held her hand an instant. "I believe I'll ride back with you as far as
the camp."

"You'd better go on. Father is waiting for you. I'll send the men along."
There was dismissal in her voice, and yet she recognized as never before
the fine qualities that were his. "Please don't say anything of this to
others, and tell my father not to worry about us. We'll pull in all

He helped Norcross mount his horse, and as he put the lead rope into
Berrie's hand, he said: with much feeling: "Good luck to you. I shall
remember this night all the rest of my life."

"I hate to be going to the rear," called Wayland, whose bare, bandaged
head made him look like a wounded young officer. "But I guess it's better
for me to lay off for a week or two and recover my tone."

And so they parted, the surveyor riding his determined way up the naked
mountainside toward the clouds, while Berrie and her ward plunged at once
into the dark and dripping forest below. "If you can stand the grief,"
she said, "we'll go clear through."

Wayland had his misgivings, but did not say so. His confidence in his
guide was complete. She would do her part, that was certain. Several
times she was forced to dismount and blaze out a new path in order to
avoid some bog; but she sternly refused his aid. "You must not get off,"
she warned; "stay where you are. I can do this work better alone."

They were again in that green, gloomy, and silent zone of the range,
where giant spruces grow, and springs, oozing from the rocks, trickle
over the trail. It was very beautiful, but menacing, by reason of its
apparently endless thickets cut by stony ridges. It was here she met the
two young men, Downing and Travis, bringing forward the surveying outfit,
but she paused only to say: "Push along steadily. You are needed on the
other side."

After leaving the men, and with a knowledge that the remaining leagues of
the trail were solitary, Norcross grew fearful. "The fall of a horse, an
accident to that brave girl, and we would be helpless," he thought. "I
wish Nash had returned with us." Once his blood chilled with horror as he
watched his guide striking out across the marge of a grassy lake. This
meadow, as he divined, was really a carpet of sod floating above a
bottomless pool of muck, for it shook beneath her horse's feet.

"Come on, it's all right," she called back, cheerily. "We'll soon pick up
the other trail."

He wondered how she knew, for to him each hill was precisely like
another, each thicket a maze.

Her caution was all for him. She tried each dangerous slough first, and
thus was able to advise him which way was safest. His head throbbed with
pain and his knees were weary, but he rode on, manifesting such cheer as
he could, resolving not to complain at any cost; but his self-respect
ebbed steadily, leaving him in bitter, silent dejection.

At last they came into open ground on a high ridge, and were gladdened by
the valley outspread below them, for it was still radiant with color,
though not as brilliant as before the rain. It had been dimmed, but not
darkened. And yet it seemed that a month had passed since their ecstatic
ride upward through the golden forest, and Wayland said as much while
they stood for a moment surveying the majestic park with its wall of
guardian peaks.

But Berrie replied: "It seems only a few hours to me."

From this point the traveling was good, and they descended rapidly,
zigzagging from side to side of a long, sweeping ridge. By noon they were
once more down amid the aspens, basking in a world of sad gold leaves and
delicious September sunshine.

At one o'clock, on the bank of a clear stream, the girl halted. "I reckon
we'd better camp awhile. You look tired, and I am hungry."

He gratefully acquiesced in this stop, for his knees were trembling with
the strain of the stirrups; but he would not permit her to ease him down
from his saddle. Turning a wan glance upon her, he bitterly asked: "Must
I always play the weakling before you? I am ashamed of myself. Ride on
and leave me to rot here in the grass. I'm not worth keeping alive."

"You must not talk like that," she gently admonished him. "You're not to

"Yes, I am. I should never have ventured into this man's country."

"I'm glad you did," she answered, as if she were comforting a child. "For
if you hadn't I should never have known you."

"That would have been no loss--to you," he bitterly responded.

She unsaddled one pack-animal and spread some blankets on the grass. "Lie
down and rest while I boil some coffee," she commanded; and he obeyed,
too tired to make pretension toward assisting.

Lying so, feeling the magic of the sun, hearing the music of the water,
and watching the girl, he regained a serener mood, and when she came back
with his food he thanked her for it with a glance before which her eyes
fell. "I don't see why you are so kind to me, I really believe you like
to do things for me." Her head drooped to hide her face, and he went on:
"Why do you care for me? Tell me!"

"I don't know," she murmured. Then she added, with a flash of bravery:
"But I do."

"What a mystery it all is! You turn from a splendid fellow like Landon to
a 'skate' like me. Landon worships you--you know that--don't you?"

"I know--he--" she ended, vaguely distressed.

"Did he ask you to marry him?"


"Why didn't you? He's just the mate for you. He's a man of high character
and education." She made no answer to this, and he went on: "Dear girl,
I'm not worth your care--truly I'm not. I resented your engagement to
Belden, for he was a brute; but Landon is different. He thinks the world
of you. He'll go high in the service. I've never done anything in the
world--I never shall. It will be better for you if I go--to-morrow."

She took his hand and pressed it to her cheek, then, putting her arm
about his neck, drew him to her bosom and kissed him passionately. "You
break my heart when you talk like that," she protested, with tears. "You
mustn't say such gloomy things--I won't let you give up. You shall come
right home with me, and I will nurse you till you are well. It was all my
fault. If we had only stayed in camp at the lake daddy would have joined
us that night, and if I had not loitered on the mountain yesterday Cliff
would not have overtaken us. It's all my fault."

"I will not have it go that way," he said. "I've brought you only care
and unhappiness thus far. I'm an alien--my ways are not your ways."

"I can change," she answered. "I hate my ways, and I like yours."

As they argued she felt no shame, and he voiced no resentment. She knew
his mood. She understood his doubt, his depression. She pleaded as a man
might have done, ready to prove her love, eager to restore his
self-respect, while he remained both bitter and sadly contemptuous.

A cow-hand riding up the trail greeted Berrie respectfully, but a cynical
smile broke out on his lips as he passed on. Another witness--another

She did not care. She had no further concern of the valley's comment. Her
life's happiness hung on the drooping eyelashes of this wounded boy, and
to win him back to cheerful acceptance of life was her only concern.

"I've never had any motives," he confessed. "I've always done what
pleased me at the moment--or because it was easier to do as others were
doing. I went to college that way. Truth is, I never had any surplus
vitality, and my father never demanded anything of me. I haven't any
motives now. A few days ago I was interested in forestry. At this time it
all seems futile. What's the use of my trying to live?"

Part of all this despairing cry arose from weariness, and part from a
luxurious desire to be comforted, for it was sweet to feel her sympathy.
He even took a morbid pleasure in the distress of her eyes and lips while
her rich voice murmured in soothing protest.

She, on her part, was frightened for him, and as she thought of the long
ride still before them she wrung her hands. "Oh, what shall I do? What
shall I do?" she moaned.

Instantly smitten into shame, into manlier mood, he said: "Don't worry
about me, please don't. I can ride. I'm feeling better. You must not
weaken. Please forgive my selfish complaints. I'm done! You'll never hear
it again. Come, let us go on. I can ride."

"If we can reach Miller's ranch--"

"I can ride to your ranch," he declared, and rose with such new-found
resolution that she stared at him in wonder.

He was able to smile. "I've had my little crying spell. I've relieved my
heart of its load. I didn't mean to agonize you. It was only a slump." He
put his hand to his head. "I must be a comical figure. Wonder what that
cowboy thought of me?"

His sudden reversal to cheer was a little alarming to her, but at length
she perceived that he had in truth mastered his depression, and bringing
up the horses she saddled them, and helped him to mount. "If you get
tired or feel worse, tell me, and we'll go into camp," she urged as they
were about to start.

"You keep going till I give the sign," he replied; and his voice was so
firm and clear that her own sunny smile came back. "I don't know what to
make of you," she said. "I reckon you must be a poet."

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