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The Other Girl








From: The Forester's Daughter

The girl's voice stirred the benumbed youth into action again, and he
followed her mechanically. His slender stock of physical strength was
almost gone, but his will remained unbroken. At every rough place she
came back to him to support him, to hearten him, and so he crept on
through the darkness, falling often, stumbling against the trees,
slipping and sliding, till at last his guide, pitching down a sharp
slope, came directly upon a wire fence.

"Glory be!" she called. "Here is a fence, and the cabin should be near,
although I see no light. Hello! Tony!"

No voice replied, and, keeping Wayland's hand, she felt her way along the
fence till it revealed a gate; then she turned toward the roaring of the
stream, which grew louder as they advanced. "The cabin is near the falls,
that much I know," she assured him. Then a moment later she joyfully
cried out: "Here it is!"

Out of the darkness a blacker, sharper shadow rose. Again she called, but
no one answered. "The ranger is away," she exclaimed, in a voice of
indignant alarm. "I do hope he left the door unlocked."

Too numb with fatigue, and too dazed by the darkness to offer any aid,
Wayland waited--swaying unsteadily on his feet--while she tried the door.
It was bolted, and with but a moment's hesitation, she said: "It looks
like a case of breaking and entering. I'll try a window." The windows,
too, were securely fastened. After trying them all, she came back to
where Wayland stood. "Tony didn't intend to have anybody pushing in," she
decided. "But if the windows will not raise they will smash."

A crash of glass followed, and with a feeling that it was all part of a
dream, Wayland waited while the girl made way through the broken sash
into the dark interior. Her next utterance was a cry of joy: "Oh, but
it's nice and warm in here! I can't open the door. You'll have to come in
the same way I did."

He was too weak and too irresolute to respond immediately, and, reaching
out, she took him by the arms and dragged him across the sill. Her
strength seemed prodigious. A delicious warmth, a grateful dryness, a
sense of shelter enfolded him like a garment. The place smelled
deliciously of food, of fire, of tobacco.

Leading him toward the middle of the room, Berrie said: "Stand here till
I strike a light."

As her match flamed up Norcross found himself in a rough-walled cabin, in
which stood a square cook-stove, a rude table littered with dishes, and
three stools made of slabs. It was all very rude; but it had all the
value of a palace at the moment.

The girl's quick eye saw much else. She located an oil-lamp, some
pine-wood, and a corner cupboard. In a few moments the lamp was lit, the
stove refilled with fuel, and she was stripping Wayland's wet coat from
his back, cheerily discoursing as she did so. "Here's one of Tony's old
jackets, put that on while I see if I can't find some dry stockings for
you. Sit right down here by the stove; put your feet in the oven. I'll
have a fire in a jiffy. There, that's right. Now I'll start the
coffee-pot." She soon found the coffee, but it was unground. "Wonder,
where he keeps his coffee-mill." She rummaged about for a few minutes,
then gave up the search. "Well, no matter, here's the coffee, and here's
a hammer. One of the laws of the trail is this: If you can't do a thing
one way, do it another."

She poured the coffee beans into an empty tomato-can and began to pound
them with the end of the hammer handle, laughing at Wayland's look of
wonder and admiration. "Necessity sure is the mother of invention out
here. How do you feel by now? Isn't it nice to own a roof and four walls?
I'm going to close up that window as soon as I get the coffee started.
Are you warming up?"

"Oh yes, I'm all right now," he replied; but he didn't look it, and her
own cheer was rather forced. He was in the grasp of a nervous chill, and
she was deeply apprehensive of what the result of his exposure might be.
It seemed as if the coffee would never come to a boil.

"I depend on that to brace you up," she said.

After hanging a blanket over the broken window, she set out some cold
meat and a half dozen baking-powder biscuits, which she found in the
cupboard, and as soon as the coffee was ready she poured it for him; but
she would not let him leave the fire. She brought his supper to him and
sat beside him while he ate and drank.

"You must go right to bed," she urged, as she studied his weary eyes.
"You ought to sleep for twenty-four hours."

The hot, strong coffee revived him physically and brought back a little
of his courage, and he said: "I'm ashamed to be such a weakling."

"Now hush," she commanded. "It's not your fault that you are weak. Now,
while I am eating my supper you slip off your wet clothes and creep into
Tony's bunk, and I'll fill one of these syrup-cans with hot water to put
at your feet."

It was of no use for him to protest against her further care. She
insisted, and while she ate he meekly carried out her instructions, and
from the delicious warmth and security of his bed watched her moving
about the stove till the shadows of the room became one with the dusky
figures of his sleep.

A moment later something falling on the floor woke him with a start, and,
looking up, he found the sun shining, and Berrie confronting him with
anxious face. "Did I waken you?" she asked. "I'm awfully sorry. I'm
trying to be extra quiet. I dropped a pan. How do you feel this
morning?"

He pondered this question a moment. "Is it to-morrow or the next week?"

She laughed happily. "It's only the next day. Just keep where you are
till the sun gets a little higher." She drew near and put a hand on his
brow. "You don't feel feverish. Oh, I hope this trip hasn't set you
back."

He laid his hands together, and then felt of his pulse. "I don't seem to
have a temperature. I just feel lazy, limp and lazy; but I'm going to get
up, if you'll just leave the room for a moment--"

"Don't try it now. Wait till you have had your breakfast. You'll feel
stronger then."

He yielded again to the force of her will, and fell back into a luxurious
drowse hearing the stove roar and the bacon sizzle in the pan. There was
something primitive and broadly poetic in the girl's actions. Through the
haze of the kitchen smoke she enlarged till she became the typical
frontier wife, the goddess of the skillet and the coffee-pot, the consort
of the pioneer, equally skilled with the rifle and the rolling-pin. How
many millions of times had this scene been enacted on the long march of
the borderman from the Susquehanna to the Bear Tooth Range?

Into his epic vision the pitiful absurdity of his own part in the play
broke like a sad discord. "Of course, it is not my fault that I am a
weakling," he argued. "Only it was foolish for me to thrust myself into
this stern world. If I come safely out of this adventure I will go back
to the sheltered places where I belong."

At this point came again the disturbing realization that this night of
struggle, and the ministrations of his brave companion had involved him
deeper in a mesh from which honorable escape was almost impossible. The
ranger's cabin, so far from being an end of their compromising intimacy,
had added and was still adding to the weight of evidence against them
both. The presence of the ranger or the Supervisor himself could not now
save Berea from the gossips.

She brought his breakfast to him, and sat beside him while he ate,
chatting the while of their good fortune. "It is glorious outside, and I
am sure daddy will get across to-day, and Tony is certain to turn up
before noon. He probably went down to Coal City to get his mail."

"I must get up at once," he said, in a panic of fear and shame. "The
Supervisor must not find me laid out on my back. Please leave me alone
for a moment."

She went out, closing the door behind her, and as he crawled from his bed
every muscle in his body seemed to cry out against being moved.
Nevertheless, he persisted, and at last succeeded in putting on his
clothes, even his shoes--though he found tying the laces the hardest task
of all--and he was at the wash-basin bathing his face and hands when
Berrie hurriedly re-entered. "Some tourists are coming," she announced,
in an excited tone. "A party of five or six people, a woman among them,
is just coming down the slope. Now, who do you suppose it can be? It
would be just our luck if it should turn out to be some one from the
Mill."

He divined at once the reason for her dismay. The visit of a woman at
this moment would not merely embarrass them both, it would torture
Berrie. "What is to be done?" he asked, roused to alertness.

"Nothing; all we can do is to stand pat and act as if we belonged here."

"Very well," he replied, moving stiffly toward the door. "Here's where I
can be of some service. I am an excellent white liar."

As our hero crawled out into the brilliant sunshine some part of his
courage came back to him. Though lame in every muscle, he was not ill.
That was the surprising thing. His head was clear, and his breath full
and deep. "My lungs are all right," he said to himself. "I'm not going to
collapse." And he looked round him with a new-born admiration of the
wooded hills which rose in somber majesty on either side the roaring
stream. "How different it all looks this morning," he said, remembering
the deep blackness of the night.

The beat of hoofs upon the bridge drew his attention to the cavalcade,
which the keen eyes of the girl had detected as it came over the ridge to
the east. The party consisted of two men and two women and three
pack-horses completely outfitted for the trail.

One of the women, spurring her horse to the front, rode serenely up to
where Wayland stood, and called out: "Good morning. Are you the ranger?"

"No, I'm only the guard. The ranger has gone down the trail."

He perceived at once that the speaker was an alien like himself, for she
wore tan-colored riding-boots, a divided skirt of expensive cloth, and a
jaunty, wide-rimmed sombrero. She looked, indeed, precisely like the
heroine of the prevalent Western drama. Her sleeves, rolled to the elbow,
disclosed shapely brown arms, and her neck, bare to her bosom, was
equally sun-smit; but she was so round-cheeked, so childishly charming,
that the most critical observer could find no fault with her make-up.

One of the men rode up. "Hello, Norcross. What are you doing over here?"

The youth smiled blandly. "Good morning, Mr. Belden. I'm serving my
apprenticeship. I'm in the service now."

"The mischief you are!" exclaimed the other. "Where's Tony?"

"Gone for his mail. He'll return soon. What are you doing over here,
may I ask?"

"I'm here as guide to Mr. Moore. Mr. Moore, this is Norcross, one of
McFarlane's men. Mr. Moore is connected with the tie-camp operations of
the railway."

Moore was a tall, thin man with a gray beard and keen blue eyes. "Where's
McFarlane? We were to meet him here. Didn't he come over with you?"

"We started together, but the horses got away, and he was obliged to go
back after them. He also is likely to turn up soon."

"I am frightfully hungry," interrupted the girl. "Can't you hand me out a
hunk of bread and meat? We've been riding since daylight."

Berrie suddenly appeared at the door. "Sure thing," she called out.
"Slide down and come in."

Moore removed his hat and bowed. "Good morning, Miss McFarlane, I didn't
know you were here. You know my daughter Siona?"

Berrie nodded coldly. "I've met her."

He indicated the other woman. "And Mrs. Belden, of course, you know."

Mrs. Belden, the fourth member of the party, a middle-aged, rather flabby
person, just being eased down from her horse, turned on Berrie with a
battery of questions. "Good Lord! Berrie McFarlane, what are you doing
over in this forsaken hole? Where's your dad? And where is Tony? If Cliff
had known you was over here he'd have come, too."

Berrie retained her self-possession. "Come in and get some coffee, and
we'll straighten things out."

Apparently Mrs. Belden did not know that Cliff and Berrie had quarreled,
for she treated the girl with maternal familiarity. She was a
good-natured, well-intentioned old sloven, but a most renowned tattler,
and the girl feared her more than she feared any other woman in the
valley. She had always avoided her, but she showed nothing of this
dislike at the moment.

Wayland drew the younger woman's attention by saying: "It's plain that
you, like myself, do not belong to these parts, Miss Moore."

"What makes you think so?" she brightly queried.

"Your costume is too appropriate. Haven't you noticed that the women who
live out here carefully avoid convenient and artistic dress? Now your
outfit is precisely what they should wear and don't."

This amused her. "I know, but they all say they have to wear out their
Sunday go-to-meeting clothes, whereas I can 'rag out proper.' I'm glad
you like my 'rig.'"

"When I look at you," he said, "I'm back on old Broadway at the Herald
Square Theater. The play is 'Little Blossom, or the Cowgirl's Revenge.'
The heroine has just come into the miner's cabin--"

"Oh, go 'long," she replied, seizing her cue and speaking in character,
"you're stringin' me."

"Not on your life! Your outfit is a peacherino," he declared. "I am glad
you rode by."

At the moment he was bent on drawing the girl's attention from Berrie,
but as she went on he came to like her. She said: "No, I don't belong
here; but I come out every year during vacation with my father. I love
this country. It's so big and wide and wild. Father has built a little
bungalow down at the lower mill, and we enjoy every day of our stay."

"You're a Smith girl," he abruptly asserted.

"What makes you think so?"

"Oh, there's something about you Smith girls that gives you dead away."

"Gives us away! I like that!"

"My phrase was unfortunate. I like Smith girls," he hastened to say; and
in five minutes they were on the friendliest terms--talking of mutual
acquaintances--a fact which both puzzled and hurt Berea. Their laughter
angered her, and whenever she glanced at them and detected Siona looking
into Wayland's face with coquettish simper, she was embittered. She was
glad when Moore came in and interrupted the dialogue.

Norcross did not relax, though he considered the dangers of
cross-examination almost entirely passed. In this he was mistaken, for no
sooner was the keen edge of Mrs. Belden's hunger dulled than her
curiosity sharpened.

"Where did you say the Supervisor was?" she repeated.

"The horses got away, and he had to go back after them," again responded
Berrie, who found the scrutiny of the other girl deeply disconcerting.

"When do you expect him back?"

"Any minute now," she replied, and in this she was not deceiving them,
although she did not intend to volunteer any information which might
embarrass either Wayland or herself.

Norcross tried to create a diversion. "Isn't this a charming valley?"

Siona took up the cue. "Isn't it! It's romantic enough to be the
back-drop in a Bret Harte play. I love it!"

Moore turned to Wayland. "I know a Norcross, a Michigan lumberman,
Vice-President of the Association. Is he, by any chance, a relative?"

"Only a father," retorted Wayland, with a smile. "But don't hold me
responsible for anything he has done. We seldom agree."

Moore's manner changed abruptly. "Indeed! And what is the son of W. W.
Norcross doing out here in the Forest Service?"

The change in her father's tone was not lost upon Siona, who ceased her
banter and studied the young man with deeper interest, while Mrs. Belden,
detecting some restraint in Berrie's tone, renewed her questioning:
"Where did you camp last night?"

"Right here."

"I don't see how the horses got away. There's a pasture here, for we rode
right through it."

Berrie was aware that each moment of delay in explaining the situation
looked like evasion, and deepened the significance of her predicament,
and yet she could not bring herself to the task of minutely accounting
for her time during the last two days.

Belden came to her relief. "Well, well! We'll have to be moving on. We're
going into camp at the mouth of the West Fork," he said, as he rose.
"Tell Tony and the Supervisor that we want to line out that timber at the
earliest possible moment."

Siona, who was now distinctly coquetting with Wayland, held out her hand.
"I hope you'll find time to come up and see us. I know we have other
mutual friends, if we had time to get at them."

His answer was humorous. "I am a soldier. I am on duty. I'm not at all
sure that I shall have a moment's leave; but I will call if I can
possibly do so."

They started off at last without having learned in detail anything of the
intimate relationship into which the Supervisor's daughter and young
Norcross had been thrown, and Mrs. Belden was still so much in the dark
that she called to Berrie: "I'm going to send word to Cliff that you are
over here. He'll be crazy to come the minute he finds it out."

"Don't do that!" protested Berrie.

Wayland turned to Berrie. "That would be pleasant," he said, smilingly.

But she did not return his smile. On the contrary, she remained very
grave. "I wish that old tale-bearer had kept away. She's going to make
trouble for us all. And that girl, isn't she a spectacle? I never could
bear her."

"Why, what's wrong with her? She seems a very nice, sprightly person."

"She's a regular play actor. I don't like made-up people. Why does she go
around with her sleeves rolled up that way, and--and her dress open at
the throat?"

"Oh, those are the affectations of the moment. She wants to look tough
and boisterous. That's the fad with all the girls, just now. It's only a
harmless piece of foolishness."

She could not tell him how deeply she resented his ready tone of
camaraderie with the other girl; but she was secretly suffering. It hurt
her to think that he could forget his aches and be so free and easy with
a stranger at a moment's notice. Under the influence of that girl's smile
he seemed to have quite forgotten his exhaustion and his pain. It was
wonderful how cheerful he had been while she was in sight.

In all this Berrie did him an injustice. He had been keenly conscious,
during every moment of the time, not only of his bodily ills, but of
Berrie, and he had kept a brave face in order that he might prevent
further questioning on the part of a malicious girl. It was his only way
of being heroic. Now that the crisis was passed he was quite as much of a
wreck as ever.

A new anxiety beset her. "I hope they won't happen to meet father on the
trail."

"Perhaps I should go with them and warn him."

"Oh, it doesn't matter," she wearily answered. "Old Mrs. Belden will
never rest till she finds out just where we've been, and just what we've
done. She's that kind. She knows everything that goes on."

He understood her fear, and yet he was unable to comfort her in the only
way she could be comforted. That brief encounter with Siona Moore--a girl
of his own world--had made all thought of marriage with Berea suddenly
absurd. Without losing in any degree the sense of gratitude he felt for
her protecting care, and with full acknowledgment of her heroic support
of his faltering feet, he revolted from putting into words a proposal of
marriage. "I love her," he confessed to himself, "and she is a dear,
brave girl; but I do not love her as a man should love the woman he is to
marry."

A gray shadow had plainly fallen between them. Berea sensed the change in
his attitude, and traced it to the influence of the coquette whose
smiling eyes and bared arms had openly challenged admiration. It saddened
her to think that one so fine as he had seemed could yield even momentary
tribute to an open and silly coquette.





Next: Further Perplexities

Previous: The Walk In The Rain



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