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The Private Car








From: The Forester's Daughter

After he went away Berrie turned to her mother with a look in which humor
and awe were blent. "Am I dreaming, mother, or am I actually sitting here
in the city? My head is dizzy with it all." Then, without waiting for an
answer, she fervently added: "Isn't he fine! I'm the tenderfoot now. I
hope his father won't despise me."

With justifiable pride in her child, the mother replied: "He can't help
liking you, honey. You look exactly like your grandmother at this moment.
Meet Mr. Norcross in her spirit."

"I'll try; but I feel like a woodchuck out of his hole."

Mrs. McFarlane continued: "I'm glad we were forced out of the valley. You
might have been shut in there all your life as I have been with your
father."

"You don't blame father, do you?"

"Not entirely. And yet he always was rather easy-going, and you know how
untidy the ranch is. He's always been kindness and sympathy itself; but
his lack of order is a cross. Perhaps now he will resign, rent the ranch,
and move over here. I should like to live in the city for a while, and
I'd like to travel a little."

"Wouldn't it be fine if you could! You could live at this hotel if you
wanted to. Yes, you're right. You need a rest from the ranch and
dish-washing."

Wayland returned with an increase of tension in his face.

"He's here! I've sent word saying, 'I am lunching in the cafe with
ladies.' I think he'll come round. But don't be afraid of him. He's a
good deal rougher on the outside than he is at heart. Of course, he's a
bluff old business man, and not at all pretty, and he'll transfix you
with a kind of estimating glare as if you were a tree; but he's actually
very easy to manage if you know how to handle him. Now, I'm not going to
try to explain everything to him at the beginning. I'm going to introduce
him to you in a casual kind of way and give him time to take to you both.
He forms his likes and dislikes very quickly."

"What if he don't like us?" inquired Berrie, with troubled brow.

"He can't help it." His tone was so positive that her eyes misted with
happiness. "But here comes our food. I hope you aren't too nervous to
eat. Here is where I shine as provider. This is the kind of camp fare I
can recommend."

Berrie's healthy appetite rose above her apprehension, and she ate with
the keen enjoyment of a child, and her mother said, "It surely is a treat
to get a chance at somebody else's cooking."

"Don't you slander your home fare," warned Wayland. "It's as good as
this, only different."

He sat where he could watch the door, and despite his jocund pose his
eyes expressed growing impatience and some anxiety. They were all well
into their dessert before he called out: "Here he is!"

Mrs. McFarlane could not see the new-comer from where she sat, but Berrie
rose in great excitement as a heavy-set, full-faced man with short, gray
mustache and high, smooth brow entered the room. He did not smile as he
greeted his son, and his penetrating glance questioned even before he
spoke. He seemed to silently ask: "Well, what's all this? How do you
happen to be here? Who are these women?"

Wayland said: "Mrs. McFarlane, this is my father. Father, this is Miss
Berea McFarlane, of Bear Tooth Springs."

The elder Norcross shook hands with Mrs. McFarlane politely, coldly; but
he betrayed surprise as Berea took his fingers in her grip. At his son's
solicitation he accepted a seat opposite Berea, but refused dessert.

Wayland explained: "Mrs. McFarlane and her daughter quite saved my life
over in the valley. Their ranch is the best health resort in Colorado."

"Your complexion indicates that," his father responded, dryly. "You look
something the way a man of your age ought to look. I needn't ask how
you're feeling."

"You needn't, but you may. I'm feeling like a new fiddle--barring a
bruise at the back of my head, which makes a 'hard hat' a burden. I may
as well tell you first off that Mrs. McFarlane is the wife of the Forest
Supervisor at Bear Tooth, and Miss Berea is the able assistant of her
father. We are all rank conservationists."

Norcross, Senior, examined Berrie precisely as if his eyes were a couple
of X-ray tubes, and as she flushed under his slow scrutiny he said: "I
was not expecting to find the Forest Service in such hands."

Wayland laughed.

"I hope you didn't mash his fingers, Berrie."

She smiled guiltily. "I'm afraid I did. I hope I didn't hurt
you--sometimes I forget."

Norcross, Senior, was waking up. "You have a most extraordinary grip.
What did it? Piano practice?"

Wayland grinned. "Piano! No--the cinch."

"The what?"

Wayland explained. "Miss McFarlane was brought up on a ranch. She can
rope and tie a steer, saddle her own horse, pack an outfit, and all the
rest of it."

"Oh! Kind of cowgirl, eh?"

Mrs. McFarlane, eager to put Berrie's better part forward, explained:
"She's our only child, Mr. Norcross, and as such has been a constant
companion to her father. She's not all cow-hand. She's been to school,
and she can cook and sew as well."

He looked from one to the other. "Neither of you correspond exactly to my
notions of a forester's wife and daughter."

"Mrs. McFarlane comes from an old Kentucky family, father. Her
grandfather helped to found a college down there."

Wayland's anxious desire to create a favorable impression of the women
did not escape the lumberman, but his face remained quite expressionless
as he replied:

"If the life of a cow-hand would give you the vigor this young lady
appears to possess, I'm not sure but you'd better stick to it."

Wayland and the two women exchanged glances of relief.

"Why not tell him now?" they seemed to ask. But he said: "There's a long
story to tell before we decide on my career. Let's finish our lunch. How
is mother, and how are the girls?"

Once, in the midst of a lame pursuit of other topics, the elder Norcross
again fixed his eyes on Berea, saying: "I wish my girls had your weight
and color." He paused a moment, then resumed with weary infliction: "Mrs.
Norcross has always been delicate, and all her children--even her
son--take after her. I've maintained a private and very expensive
hospital for nearly thirty years."

This regretful note in his father's voice gave Wayland confidence. His
spirits rose.

"Come, let's adjourn to the parlor and talk things over at our ease."

They all followed him, and after showing the mother and daughter to their
seats near a window he drew his father into a corner, and in rapid
undertone related the story of his first meeting with Berrie, of his
trouble with young Belden, of his camping trip, minutely describing the
encounter on the mountainside, and ended by saying, with manly
directness: "I would be up there in the mountains in a box if Berrie had
not intervened. She's a noble girl, father, and is foolish enough to like
me, and I'm going to marry her and try to make her happy."

The old lumberman, who had listened intently all through this impassioned
story, displayed no sign of surprise at its closing declaration; but his
eyes explored his son's soul with calm abstraction. "Send her over to
me," he said, at last. "Marriage is a serious matter. I want to talk with
her--alone."

Wayland went back to the women with an air of victory. "He wants to see
you, Berrie. He's mellowing. Don't be afraid of him."

She might have resented the father's lack of gallantry; but she did not.
On the contrary, she rose and walked resolutely over to where he sat,
quite ready to defend herself. He did not rise to meet her, but she did
not count that against him, for there was nothing essentially rude in his
manner. He was merely her elder, and inert.

"Sit down," he said, not unkindly. "I want to have you tell me about my
son. He has been telling me all about you. Now let's have your side of
the story."

She took a seat and faced him with eyes as steady as his own. "Where
shall I begin?" she bluntly challenged.

"He wants to marry you. Now, it seems to me that seven weeks is very
short acquaintance for a decision like that. Are you sure you want him?"

"Yes, sir; I am." Her answer was most decided.

His voice was slightly cynical as he went on. "But you were tolerably
sure about that other fellow--that rancher with the fancy name--weren't
you?" She flushed at this, but waited for him to go on. "Don't you think
it possible that your fancy for Wayland is also temporary?"

"No, sir!" she bravely declared. "I never felt toward any one the way I
do toward Wayland. He's different. I shall never change toward him."

Her tone, her expression of eyes stopped this line of inquiry. He took up
another. "Now, my dear young lady, I am a business man as well as a
father, and the marriage of my son is a weighty matter. He is my main
dependence. I am hoping to have him take up and carry on my business. To
be quite candid, I didn't expect him to select his wife from a Colorado
ranch. I considered him out of the danger-zone. I have always understood
that women were scarce in the mountains. Now don't misunderstand me. I'm
not one of those fools who are always trying to marry their sons and
daughters into the ranks of the idle rich. I don't care a hang about
social position, and I've got money enough for my son and my son's wife.
But he's all the boy I have, and I don't want him to make a mistake."

"Neither do I," she answered, simply, her eyes suffused with tears. "If I
thought he would be sorry--"

He interrupted again. "Oh, you can't tell that now. Any marriage is a
risk. I don't say he's making a mistake in selecting you. You may be just
the woman he needs. Only I want to be consulted. I want to know more
about you. He tells me you have taken an active part in the management of
the ranch and the forest. Is that true?"

"I've always worked with my father--yes, sir."

"You like that kind of life?"

"I don't know much about any other kind. Yes, I like it. But I've had
enough of it. I'm willing to change."

"Well, how about city life--housekeeping and all that?"

"So long as I am with Wayland I sha'n't mind what I do or where I live."

"At the same time you figure he's going to have a large income, I
suppose? He's told you of his rich father, hasn't he?"

Berrie's tone was a shade resentful of his insinuation. "He has never
said much about his family one way or another. He only said you wanted
him to go into business in Chicago, and that he wanted to do something
else. Of course, I could see by his ways and the clothes he wore that
he'd been brought up in what we'd call luxury, but we never inquired into
his affairs."

"And you didn't care?"

"Well, not that, exactly. But money don't count for as much with us in
the valley as it does in the East. Wayland seemed so kind of sick and
lonesome, and I felt sorry for him the first time I saw him. I felt like
mothering him. And then his way of talking, of looking at things was so
new and beautiful to me I couldn't help caring for him. I had never met
any one like him. I thought he was a 'lunger'--"

"A what?"

"A consumptive; that is, I did at first. And it bothered me. It seemed
terrible that any one so fine should be condemned like that--and so--I
did all I could to help him, to make him happy. I thought he hadn't long
to live. Everything he said and did was wonderful to me, like poetry and
music. And then when he began to grow stronger and I saw that he was
going to get well, and Cliff went on the rampage and showed the yellow
streak, and I gave him back his ring--I didn't know even then how much
Wayland meant to me. But on our trip over the Range I understood. He
meant everything to me. He made Cliff seem like a savage, and I wanted
him to know it. I'm not ashamed of loving him. I want to make him happy,
and if he wishes me to be his wife I'll go anywhere he says--only I think
he should stay out here till he gets entirely well."

The old man's eyes softened during her plea, and at its close a slight
smile moved the corners of his mouth. "You've thought it all out, I see.
Your mind is clear and your conscience easy. Well, I like your spirit. I
guess he's right. The decision is up to you. But if he takes you and
stays in Colorado he can't expect me to share the profits of my business
with him, can he? He'll have to make his own way." He rose and held out
his hand. "However, I'm persuaded he's in good hands."

She took his hand, not knowing just what to reply. He examined her
fingers with intent gaze.

"I didn't know any woman could have such a grip." He thoughtfully took
her biceps in his left hand. "You are magnificent." Then, in ironical
protest, he added: "Good God, no! I can't have you come into my family.
You'd make caricatures of my wife and daughters. Are all the girls out in
the valley like you?"

She laughed. "No. Most of them pride themselves on not being
horsewomen. Mighty few of 'em ever ride a horse. I'm a kind of a tomboy
to them."

"I'm sorry to hear that. It's the same old story. I suppose they'd all
like to live in the city and wear low-necked gowns and high-heeled shoes.
No, I can't consent to your marriage with my son. I must save you from
corruption. Go back to the ranch. I can see already signs of your
deterioration. Except for your color and that grip you already look like
upper Broadway. The next thing will be a slit skirt and a diamond
garter."

She flushed redly, conscious of her new corset, her silk stockings, and
her pinching shoes. "It's all on the outside," she declared. "Under this
toggery I'm the same old trailer. It don't take long to get rid of these
things. I'm just playing a part to-day--for you."

He smiled and dropped her hand. "No, no. You've said good-by to the
cinch, I can see that. You're on the road to opera boxes and limousines.
What is your plan? What would you advise Wayland to do if you knew I was
hard against his marrying you? Come, now, I can see you're a
clear-sighted individual. What can he do to earn a living? How will you
live without my aid? Have you figured on these things?"

"Yes; I'm going to ask my father to buy a ranch near here, where mother
can have more of the comforts of life, and where we can all live together
till Wayland is able to stand city life again. Then, if you want him to
go East, I will go with him."

They had moved slowly back toward the others, and as Wayland came to meet
them Norcross said, with dry humor: "I admire your lady of the cinch
hand. She seems to be a person of singular good nature and most uncommon
shrewd--"

Wayland, interrupting, caught at his father's hand and wrung it
frenziedly. "I'm glad--"

"Here! Here!" A look of pain covered the father's face. "That's the fist
she put in the press."

They all laughed at his joke, and then he gravely resumed. "I say I
admire her, but it's a shame to ask such a girl to marry an invalid like
you. Furthermore, I won't have her taken East. She'd bleach out and lose
that grip in a year. I won't have her contaminated by the city." He mused
deeply while looking at his son. "Would life on a wheat-ranch accessible
to this hotel by motor-car be endurable to you?"

"You mean with Berea?"

"If she'll go. Mind you, I don't advise her to do it!" he added,
interrupting his son's outcry. "I think she's taking all the chances." He
turned to Mrs. McFarlane. "I'm old-fashioned in my notions of marriage,
Mrs. McFarlane. I grew up when women were helpmates, such as, I judge,
you've been. Of course, it's all guesswork to me at the moment; but I
have an impression that my son has fallen into an unusual run of luck. As
I understand it, you're all out for a pleasure trip. Now, my private car
is over in the yards, and I suggest you all come along with me to
California--"

"Governor, you're a wonder!" exclaimed Wayland.

"That'll give us time to get better acquainted, and if we all like one
another just as well when we get back--well, we'll buy the best farm in
the North Platte and--"

"It's a cinch we get that ranch," interrupted Wayland, with a triumphant
glance at Berea.

"Don't be so sure of it!" replied the lumberman. "A private car, like a
yacht, is a terrible test of friendship." But his warning held no terrors
for the young lovers. They had entered upon certainties.





Next: A Branch Road

Previous: A Matter Of Millinery



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