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Further Perplexities








From: The Forester's Daughter

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.





Next: The Camp On The Pass

Previous: The Other Girl



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