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The Camp On The Pass








From: The Forester's Daughter

Berea suffered a restless night, the most painful and broken she had
known in all her life. She acknowledged that Siona Moore was prettier,
and that she stood more nearly on Wayland's plane than herself; but the
realization of this fact did not bring surrender--she was not of that
temper. All her life she had been called upon to combat the elements, to
hold her own amidst rude men and inconsiderate women, and she had no
intention of yielding her place to a pert coquette, no matter what the
gossips might say. She had seen this girl many times, but had refused to
visit her house. She had held her in contempt, now she quite cordially
hated her.

"She shall not have her way with Wayland," she decided. "I know what she
wants--she wants him at her side to-morrow; but I will not have it so.
She is trying to get him away from me."

The more she dwelt on this the hotter her jealous fever burned. The floor
on which she lay was full of knots. She could not lose herself in sleep,
tired as she was. The planks no longer turned their soft spots to her
flesh, and she rolled from side to side in torment. She would have arisen
and dressed only she did not care to disturb the men. The night seemed
interminable.

Her plan of action was simple. "I shall go home the morrow and take
Wayland with me. I will not have him going with that girl--that's
settled!" The very thought of his taking Siona's hand in greeting angered
her beyond reason.

She had put Cliff Belden completely out of her mind, and this was
characteristic of her. She had no divided interests, no subtleties, no
subterfuges. Forthright, hot-blooded, frank and simple, she had centered
all her care, all her desires, on this pale youth whose appeal was at
once mystic and maternal; but her pity was changing to something deeper,
for she was convinced that he was gaining in strength, that he was in no
danger of relapse. The hard trip of the day before had seemingly done him
no permanent injury; on the contrary, a few hours' rest had almost
restored him to his normal self. "To-morrow he will be able to ride
again." And this thought reconciled her to her hard bed. She did not look
beyond the long, delicious day which they must spend in returning to the
Springs.

She fell asleep at last, and was awakened only by her father tinkering
about the stove.

She rose alertly, signing to the Supervisor not to disturb her patient.

However, Norcross also heard the rattle of the poker, opened his eyes and
regarded Berrie with sleepy smile. "Good morning, if it is morning," he
said, slowly.

She laughed back at him. "It's almost sunup."

"You don't tell me! How could I have overslept like this? Makes me think
of the Irishman who, upon being awakened to an early breakfast like this,
ate it, then said to his employer, an extra thrifty farmer, 'Two suppers
in wan night--and hurrah for bed again.'"

This amused her greatly. "It's too bad. I hope you got some sleep?"

"All there was time for." His voice changed. "I feel like a hound-pup, to
be snoring on a downy couch like this while you were roughing it on the
floor. How did I come to do it? It's shameful!"

"Don't worry about me. How are you feeling this morning?"

He stretched and yawned. "Fine! That is, I'm sore here and there, but I'm
feeling wonderfully well. Do you know, I begin to hope that I can finally
dominate the wilderness. Wouldn't it be wonderful if I got so I could
ride and walk as you do, for instance? The fact that I'm not dead this
morning is encouraging." He drew on his shoes as he talked, while she
went about her toilet, which was quite as simple as his own. She had
spent two nights in her day dress with almost no bathing facilities; but
that didn't trouble her. It was a part of the game. She washed her face
and hands in Settle's tin basin, but drew the line at his rubber comb.

There was a distinct charm in seeing her thus adapting herself to the
cabin, a charm quite as powerful as that which emanated from Siona
Moore's dainty and theatrical personality. What it was he could not
define, but the forester's daughter had something primeval about her,
something close to the soil, something which aureoles the old Saxon
words--wife and home and fireplace. Seeing her through the savory
steam of the bacon she was frying, he forgot her marvelous skill as
horsewoman and pathfinder, and thought of her only as the housewife. She
belonged here, in this cabin. She was fitted to this landscape, whereas
the other woman was alien and dissonant.

He moved his arms about and shook his legs with comical effect of trying
to see if they were still properly hinged. "It's miraculous! I'm not lame
at all. No one can accuse me of being a 'lunger' now. Last night's sleep
has made a new man of me. I've met the forest and it is mine."

She beamed upon him with happy pride. "I'm mighty glad to hear you say
that. I was terribly afraid that long, hard walk in the rain had been too
much for you. I reckon you're all right for the work now."

He recalled, as she spoke, her anguish of pity while they stood in the
darkness of the trail, and it seemed that he could go no farther, and he
said, soberly: "It must have seemed to you one while as if I were all in.
I felt that way myself. I was numb from head to heel. I couldn't have
gone another mile."

Her face clouded with retrospective pain. "You mustn't try any more such
stunts--not for a few weeks, anyway. But get ready for breakfast."

He went out into the morning exultantly, and ran down to the river to
bathe his face and hands, allured by its splendid voice. The world seemed
very bright and beautiful and health-giving once more.

As soon as she was alone with her father, Berrie said: "I'm going home
to-day, dad."

"Going home! What for?"

"I've had enough of it."

He glanced at her bed on the floor. "I can't say I blame you any. This
has been a rough trip; but we'll go up and bring down the outfit, and
then we men can sleep in the tent and let you have the bunk--you'll be
comfortable to-night."

"Oh, I don't mind sleeping on the floor," she replied; "but I want to get
back. I don't want to meet those women. Another thing, you'd better use
Mr. Norcross at the Springs instead of leaving him here with Tony."

"Why so?"

"Well, he isn't quite well enough to run the risk. It's a long way from
here to a doctor."

"He 'pears to be on deck this morning. Besides, I haven't anything in the
office to offer him."

"Then send him up to Meeker. Landon needs help, and he's a better
forester than Tony, anyway."

"How about Cliff? He may make trouble."

Her face darkened. "Cliff will reach him if he wants to--no matter where
he is. And then, too, Landon likes Mr. Norcross and will see that he is
not abused."

McFarlane ruminated over her suggestion, well knowing that she was
planning this change in order that she might have Norcross a little
nearer, a little more accessible.

"I don't know but you're right. Landon is almost as good a hustler as
Tony, and a much better forester. I thought of sending Norcross up there
at first, but he told me that Frank and his gang had it in for him. Of
course, he's only nominally in the service; but I want him to begin
right."

Berrie went further. "I want him to ride back with me to-day."

He looked at her with grave inquiry. "Do you think that a wise thing to
do? Won't that make more talk?"

"We'll start early and ride straight through."

"You'll have to go by Lost Lake, and that means a long, hard hike. Can he
stand it?"

"Oh yes. He rides well. It's the walking at a high altitude that does him
up. Furthermore, Cliff may turn up here, and I don't want another
mix-up."

McFarlane was troubled. "I ought to go back with you; but Moore is over
here to line out a cutting, and I must stay on for a couple of days.
Suppose I send Tony along?"

"No, Tony would be a nuisance and would do no good. Another day on the
trail won't add to Mrs. Belden's story. If she wants to be mean she's got
all the material for it already."

In the end she had her way. McFarlane, perceiving that she had set her
heart on this ride, and having perfect faith in her skill and judgment on
the trail, finally said: "Well, if you do so, the quicker you start the
better. With the best of luck you can't pull in before eight o'clock, and
you'll have to ride hard to do that."

"If I find we can't make it I'll pull into a ranch. But I'm sure we
can."

When Wayland came in the Supervisor inquired: "Do you feel able to ride
back over the hill to-day?"

"Entirely so. It isn't the riding that uses me up; it is the walking;
and, besides, as candidate for promotion I must obey orders--especially
orders to march."

They breakfasted hurriedly, and while McFarlane and Tony were bringing in
the horses Wayland and Berrie set the cabin to rights. Working thus side
by side, she recovered her dominion over him, and at the same time
regained her own cheerful self-confidence.

"You're a wonder!" he exclaimed, as he watched her deft adjustment of the
dishes and furniture. "You're ambidextrous."

"I have to be to hold my job," she laughingly replied. "A feller must
play all the parts when he's up here."

It was still early morning as they mounted and set off up the trail; but
Moore's camp was astir, and as McFarlane turned in--much against Berrie's
will--the lumberman and his daughter both came out to meet them. "Come in
and have some breakfast," said Siona, with cordial inclusiveness, while
her eyes met Wayland's glance with mocking glee.

"Thank you," said McFarlane, "we can't stop. I'm going to set my daughter
over the divide. She has had enough camping, and Norcross is pretty well
battered up, so I'm going to help them across. I'll be back to-night, and
we'll take our turn up the valley to-morrow. Nash will be here then."

Berrie did not mind her father's explanation; on the contrary, she took a
distinct pleasure in letting the other girl know of the long and intimate
day she was about to spend with her young lover.

Siona, too adroit to display her disappointment, expressed polite regret.
"I hope you won't get storm-bound," she said, showing her white teeth in
a meaning smile.

"If there is any sign of a storm we won't cross," declared McFarlane.
"We're going round by the lower pass, anyhow. If I'm not here by dark,
you may know I've stayed to set 'em down at the Mill."

There was charm in Siona's alert poise, and in the neatness of her camp
dress. Her dainty tent, with its stools and rugs, made the wilderness
seem but a park. She reminded Norcross of the troops of tourists of the
Tyrol, and her tent was of a kind to harmonize with the tea-houses on the
path to the summit of the Matterhorn. Then, too, something triumphantly
feminine shone in her bright eyes and glowed in her softly rounded
cheeks. Her hand was little and pointed, not fitted like Berrie's for
tightening a cinch or wielding an ax, and as he said "Good-by," he added:
"I hope I shall see you again soon," and at the moment he meant it.

"We'll return to the Springs in a few days," she replied. "Come and see
us. Our bungalow is on the other side of the river--and you, too," she
addressed Berrie; but her tone was so conventionally polite that the
ranch-girl, burning with jealous heat, made no reply.

McFarlane led the way to the lake rapidly and in silence. The splendors
of the foliage, subdued by the rains, the grandeur of the peaks, the song
of the glorious stream--all were lost on Berrie, for she now felt herself
to be nothing but a big, clumsy, coarse-handed tomboy. Her worn gloves,
her faded skirt, and her man's shoes had been made hateful to her by that
smug, graceful, play-acting tourist with the cool, keen eyes and smirking
lips. "She pretends to be a kitten; but she isn't; she's a sly grown-up
cat," she bitterly accused, but she could not deny the charm of her
personality.

Wayland was forced to acknowledge that Berrie in this dark mood was not
the delightful companion she had hitherto been. Something sweet and
confiding had gone out of their relationship, and he was too keen-witted
not to know what it was. He estimated precisely the value of the
malicious parting words of Siona Moore. "She's a natural tease, the kind
of woman who loves to torment other and less fortunate women. She cares
nothing for me, of course, it's just her way of paying off old scores. It
would seem that Berrie has not encouraged her advances in times past."

That Berrie was suffering, and that her jealousy touchingly proved the
depth of her love for him, brought no elation, only perplexity. He was
not seeking such devotion. As a companion on the trail she had been a
joy--as a jealous sweetheart she was less admirable. He realized
perfectly that this return journey was of her arrangement, not
McFarlane's, and while he was not resentful of her care, he was in doubt
of the outcome. It hurried him into a further intimacy which might prove
embarrassing.

At the camp by the lake the Supervisor became sharply commanding. "Now
let's throw these packs on lively. It will be slippery on the high trail,
and you'll just naturally have to hit leather hard and keep jouncing if
you reach the wagon-road before dark. But you'll make it."

"Make it!" said Berrie. "Of course we'll make it. Don't you worry about
that for a minute. Once I get out of the green timber the dark won't
worry me. We'll push right through."

In packing the camp stuff on the saddles, Berrie, almost as swift and
powerful as her father, acted with perfect understanding of every task,
and Wayland's admiration of her skill increased mightily.

She insisted on her father's turning back. "We don't need you," she said.
"I can find the pass."

McFarlane's faith in his daughter had been tested many times, and yet he
was a little loath to have her start off on a trail new to her. He argued
against it briefly, but she laughed at his fears. "I can go anywhere you
can," she said. "Stand clear!" With final admonition he stood clear.

"You'll have to keep off the boggy meadows," he warned; "these rains will
have softened all those muck-holes on the other side; they'll be
bottomless pits; watch out for 'em. Good-by! If you meet Nash hurry him
along. Moore is anxious to run those lines. Keep in touch with Landon,
and if anybody turns up from the district office say I'll be back on
Friday. Good luck."

"Same to you. So long."

Berea led the way, and Norcross fell in behind the pack-horses, feeling
as unimportant as a small boy at the heels of a circus parade. His girl
captain was so competent, so self-reliant, and so sure that nothing he
could say or do assisted in the slightest degree. Her leadership was a
curiously close reproduction of her father's unhurried and graceful
action. Her seat in the saddle was as easy as Landon's, and her eyes were
alert to every rock and stream in the road. She was at home here, where
the other girl would have been a bewildered child, and his words of
praise lifted the shadow from her face.

The sky was cloudy, and a delicious feeling of autumn was in the
air--autumn that might turn to winter with a passing cloud, and the
forest was dankly gloomy and grimly silent, save from the roaring stream
which ran at times foam-white with speed. The high peaks, gray and
streaked with new-fallen snow, shone grandly, bleakly through the firs.
The radiant beauty of the road from the Springs, the golden glow of four
days before was utterly gone, and yet there was exultation in this ride.
A distinct pleasure, a delight of another sort, lay in thus daring the
majesty of an unknown wind-swept pass.

Wayland called out: "The air feels like Thanksgiving morning, doesn't
it?"

"It is Thanksgiving for me, and I'm going to get a grouse for dinner,"
she replied; and in less than an hour the snap of her rifle made good her
promise.

After leaving the upper lake she turned to the right and followed the
course of a swift and splendid stream, which came churning through a
cheerless, mossy swamp of spruce-trees. Inexperienced as he was, Wayland
knew that this was not a well-marked trail; but his confidence in his
guide was too great to permit of any worry over the pass, and he amused
himself by watching the water-robins as they flitted from stone to stone
in the torrent, and in calculating just where he would drop a line for
trout if he had time to do so, and in recovered serenity enjoyed his
ride. Gradually he put aside his perplexities concerning the future,
permitting his mind to prefigure nothing but his duties with Landon at
Meeker's Mill.

He was rather glad of the decision to send him there, for it promised
absorbing sport. "I shall see how Landon and Belden work out their
problem," he said. He had no fear of Frank Meeker now. "As a forest guard
with official duties to perform I can meet that young savage on other and
more nearly equal terms," he assured himself.

The trail grew slippery and in places ran full of water. "But there's a
bottom, somewhere," Berrie confidently declared, and pushed ahead with
resolute mien. It was noon when they rose above timber and entered upon
the wide, smooth slopes of the pass. Snow filled the grass here, and the
wind, keen, cutting, unhindered, came out of the desolate west with
savage fury; but the sun occasionally shone through the clouds with vivid
splendor. "It is December now," shouted Wayland, as he put on his slicker
and cowered low to his saddle. "It will be January soon."

"We will make it Christmas dinner," she laughed, and her glowing good
humor warmed his heart. She was entirely her cheerful self again.

As they rose, the view became magnificent, wintry, sparkling. The great
clouds, drifting like ancient warships heavy with armament, sent down
chill showers of hail over the frosted gold of the grassy slopes; but
when the shadows passed the sunlight descended in silent cataracts
deliriously spring-like. The conies squeaked from the rocky ridges, and a
brace of eagles circling about a lone crag, as if exulting in their
sovereign mastery of the air, screamed in shrill ecstatic duo. The sheer
cliffs, on their shadowed sides, were violently purple. Everywhere the
landscape exhibited crashing contrasts of primary pigments which bit into
consciousness like the flare of a martial band.

The youth would have lingered in spite of the cold; but the girl kept
steadily on, knowing well that the hardest part of their journey was
still before them, and he, though longing to ride by her side, and to
enjoy the views with her, was forced to remain in the rear in order to
hurry the reluctant pack-animals forward. They had now reached a point
twelve thousand feet above the sea, and range beyond range, to the west
and south, rose into sight like stupendous waves of a purple-green sea.
To the east the park lay level as a floor and carpeted in tawny velvet.

It was nearly two o'clock when they began to drop down behind the rocky
ridges of the eastern slope, and soon, in the bottom of a warm and
sheltered hollow just at timber-line, Berrie drew her horse to a stand
and slipped from the saddle. "We'll rest here an hour," she said, "and
cook our grouse; or are you too hungry to wait?"

"I can wait," he answered, dramatically. "But it seems as if I had never
eaten."

"Well, then, we'll save the grouse till to-morrow; but I'll make some
coffee. You bring some water while I start a fire."

And so, while the tired horses cropped the russet grass, she boiled some
coffee and laid out some bread and meat, while he sat by watching her and
absorbing the beauty of the scene, the charm of the hour. "It is exactly
like a warm afternoon in April," he said, "and here are some of the
spring flowers."

"There now, sit by and eat," she said, with humor; and in perfectly
restored tranquillity they ate and drank, with no thought of critics or
of rivals. They were alone, and content to be so.

It was deliciously sweet and restful there in that sunny hollow on the
breast of the mountain. The wind swept through the worn branches of the
dwarfed spruce with immemorial wistfulness; but these young souls heard
it only as a far-off song. Side by side on the soft Alpine clover they
rested and talked, looking away at the shining peaks, and down over the
dark-green billows of fir beneath them. Half the forest was under their
eyes at the moment, and the man said: "Is it not magnificent! It makes me
proud of my country. Just think, all this glorious spread of hill and
valley is under your father's direction. I may say under your
direction, for I notice he does just about what you tell him to do."

"You've noticed that?" she laughed. "If I were a man I'd rather be
Supervisor of this forest than Congressman."

"So would I," he agreed. "Nash says you are the Supervisor. I wonder if
your father realizes how efficient you are? Does he ever sorrow over your
not being a boy?"

Her eyes shone with mirth. "Not that I can notice. He 'pears contented."

"You're a good deal like a son to him, I imagine. You can do about all
that a boy can do, anyhow--more than I could ever do. Does he realize how
much you have to do with the management of his forest? I've never seen
your like. I really believe you could carry on the work as well as
he."

She flushed with pleasure. "You seem to think I'm a district forester in
disguise."

"I have eyes, Miss Supervisor, and also ears--which leads me to ask: Why
don't you clean out that saloon gang? Landon is sure there's crooked work
going on at that mill--certainly that open bar is a disgraceful and
corrupting thing."

Her face clouded. "We've tried to cut out that saloon, but it can't be
done. You see, it's on a patented claim--the claim was bogus, of course,
and we've made complaint, but the matter is hung up, and that gives 'em a
chance to go on."

"Well, let's not talk of that. It's too delicious an hour for any
question of business. It is a moment for poetry. I wish I could write
what I feel this moment. Why don't we camp here and watch the sun go down
and the moon rise? From our lofty vantage-ground the coming of dawn would
be an epic."

"We mustn't think of that," she protested. "We must be going."

"Not yet. The hour is too perfect. It may never come again. The wind in
the pines, the sunshine, the conies crying from their rocks, the
butterflies on the clover--my heart aches with the beauty of it. It's
been a wonderful trip. Even that staggering walk in the rain had its
splendid quality. I couldn't see the poetry in it then; but I do now.
These few days have made us comrades, haven't they--comrades of the
trail? You have been very considerate of me." He took her hand. "I've
never seen such hands. They are like steel, and yet they are feminine."

She drew her hands away. "I'm ashamed of my hands--they are so big and
rough and dingy."

"They're brown, of course, and calloused--a little--but they are not big,
and they are beautifully modeled." He looked at her speculatively. "I am
wondering how you would look in conventional dress."

"Do you mean--" She hesitated. "I'd look like a gawk in one of those
low-necked outfits. I'd never dare--and those tight skirts would sure
cripple me."

"Oh no, they wouldn't. You'd have to modify your stride a little; but
you'd negotiate it. You're equal to anything."

"You're making fun of me!"

"No, I'm not. I'm in earnest. You're the kind of American girl that can
go anywhere and do anything. My sisters would mortgage their share of the
golden streets for your abounding health--and so would I."

"You are all right now," she smiled. "You don't look or talk as you
did."

"It's this sunlight." He lifted a spread hand as if to clutch and hold
something. "I feel it soaking into me like some magical oil. No more
moping and whining for me. I've proved that hardship is good for me."

"Don't crow till you're out of the woods. It's a long ride down the hill,
and going down is harder on the tenderfoot than going up."

"I'm no longer a tenderfoot. All I need is another trip like this with
you and I shall be a master trailer."

All this was very sweet to her, and though she knew they should be going,
she lingered. Childishly reckless of the sinking sun, she played with the
wild flowers at her side and listened to his voice in complete content.
He was right. The hour was too beautiful to be shortened, although she
saw no reason why others equally delightful might not come to them both.
He was more of the lover than he had ever been before, that she knew, and
in the light of his eyes all that was not girlish and charming melted
away. She forgot her heavy shoes, her rough hands and sun-tanned face,
and listened with wondering joy and pride to his words, which were of a
fineness such as she had never heard spoken--only books contained such
unusual and exquisite phrases.

A cloud passing across the sun flung down a shadow of portentous chill
and darkness. She started to her feet with startled recollection of the
place and the hour.

"We must be going--at once!" she commanded.

"Not yet," he pleaded. "It's only a cloud. The sun is coming out again. I
have perfect confidence in your woodcraft. Why not spend another night on
the trail? It may be our last trip together."

He tempted her strongly, so frank and boyish and lovable were his glances
and his words. But she was vaguely afraid of herself, and though the long
ride at the moment seemed hard and dull, the thought of her mother
waiting decided her action.

"No, no!" she responded, firmly. "We've wasted too much time already. We
must ride."

He looked up at her with challenging glance. "Suppose I refuse--suppose I
decide to stay here?"

Upon her, as he talked, a sweet hesitation fell, a dream which held more
of happiness than she had ever known. "It is a long, hard ride," she
thought, "and another night on the trail will not matter." And so the
moments passed on velvet feet, and still she lingered, reluctant to break
the spell.

Suddenly, into their idyllic drowse of content, so sweet, so youthful,
and so pure of heart, broke the sound of a horse's hurrying, clashing,
steel-shod feet, and looking up Berrie saw a mounted man coming down the
mountainside with furious, reckless haste.

"It is Cliff!" she cried out. "He's on our trail!" And into her face came
a look of alarm. Her lips paled, her eyes widened. "He's mad--he's
dangerous! Leave him to me," she added, in a low, tense voice.





Next: The Death-grapple

Previous: Further Perplexities



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