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The Supervisor Of The Forest








From: The Forester's Daughter

Young Norcross, much as he admired Berrie, was not seeking to exchange
her favor for her lover's enmity, and he rode away with an uneasy feeling
of having innocently made trouble for himself, as well as for a fine,
true-hearted girl. "What a good friendly talk we were having," he said,
regretfully, "and to think she is to marry that big, scowling brute. How
could she turn Landon down for a savage like that?"

He was just leaving the outer gate when Belden came clattering up and
reined his horse across the path and called out: "See here, you young
skunk, you're a poor, white-livered tenderfoot, and I can't bust you as I
would a full-grown man, but I reckon you better not ride this trail any
more."

"Why not?" inquired Wayland.

Belden glared. "Because I tell you so. Your sympathy-hunting game has
just about run into the ground. You've worked this baby dodge about long
enough. You're not so almighty sick as you put up to be, and you'd better
hunt some other cure for lonesomeness, or I'll just about cave your chest
in."

All this was shockingly plain talk for a slender young scholar to listen
to, but Norcross remained calm. "I think you're unnecessarily excited,"
he remarked. "I have no desire to make trouble. I'm considering Miss
Berea, who is too fine to be worried by us."

His tone was conciliating, and the cowman, in spite of himself, responded
to it. "That's why I advise you to go. She was all right till you came.
Colorado's a big place, and there are plenty other fine ranges for men of
your complaint--why not try Routt County? This is certain, you can't stay
in the same valley with my girl. I serve notice of that."

"You're making a prodigious ass of yourself," observed Wayland, with calm
contempt.

"You think so--do you? Well, I'll make a jack-rabbit out of you if I find
you on this ranch again. You've worked on my girl in some way till she's
jest about quit me. I don't see how you did it, you measly little pup,
but you surely have turned her against me!" His rage burst into flame as
he thought of her last words. "If you were so much as half a man I'd
break you in two pieces right now; but you're not, you're nothing but a
dead-on-the-hoof lunger, and there's nothing to do but run you out. So
take this as your final notice. You straddle a horse and head east and
keep a-ridin', and if I catch you with my girl again, I'll deal you a
whole hatful of misery--now that's right!"

Thereupon, with a final glance of hate in his face, he whirled his horse
and galloped away, leaving Norcross dumb with resentment, intermingled
with wonder.

"Truly the West is a dramatic country! Here I am, involved in a lover's
wrath, and under sentence of banishment, all within a month! Well, I
suppose there's nothing to do but carry out Belden's orders. He's the
boss," he said as he rode on. "I wonder just what happened after I left?
Something stormy, evidently. She must have given him a sharp rebuff, or
he wouldn't have been so furious with me. Perhaps she even broke her
engagement with him. I sincerely hope she did. She's too good for him.
That's the truth."

And so, from point to point, he progressed till with fine indignation he
reached a resolution to stay and meet whatever came. "I certainly would
be a timorous animal if I let myself be scared into flight by that big
bonehead," he said at last. "I have as much right here as he has, and the
law must protect me. It can't be that this country is entirely
barbaric."

Nevertheless, he felt very weak and very much depressed as he rode up the
street of the little town and dismounted at the hotel. The sidewalks were
littered with loafing cowboys and lumber-jacks, and some of them quite
openly ridiculed his riding-breeches and his thin legs. Others merely
grinned, but in their grins lay something more insulting than words. "To
them I am a poor thing," he admitted; but as he lifted his eyes to the
mighty semicircular wall of the Bear Tooth Range, over which the daily
storm was playing, he forgot his small worries. What gorgeous pageantry!
What life-giving air! "If only civilized men and women possessed this
glorious valley, what a place it would be!" he exclaimed, and in the heat
of his indignant contempt he would have swept the valley clean.

As his eyes caught the flutter of the flag on its staff above the Forest
Service building, his heart went out to the men who unselfishly wrought
beneath that symbol of federal unity for the good of the future. "That is
civilized," he said; "that is prophetic," and alighted at the door in a
glow of confidence.

Nash, who was alone in the office, looked up from his work. "Come in," he
called, heartily. "Come in and report."

"Thank you. I'd like to do so; and may I use your desk? I have a letter
to write."

"Make yourself at home. Take any desk you like. The men are all out on
duty."

"You're very kind," replied Wayland, gratefully. There was something
reassuring in this greeting, and in the many signs of skill and
scientific reading which the place displayed. It was like a bit of
Washington in the midst of a careless, slovenly, lawless mountain town,
and Norcross took his seat and wrote his letter with a sense of
proprietorship.

"I'm getting up an enthusiasm for the Service just from hearing Alec
Belden rave against it," he said a few minutes later, as he looked up
from his letter.

Nash grinned. "How did you like Meeker?"

"He's a good man, but he has his peculiarities. Belden is your real
enemy. He is blue with malignity--so are most of the cowmen I met up
there. I wish I could do something for the Service. I'm a thoroughly
up-to-date analytical chemist and a passable mining engineer, and my
doctor says that for a year at least I must work in the open air. Is
there anything in this Forest Service for a weakling like me?"

Nash considered. "The Supervisor might put you on as a temporary guard.
I'll speak to him if you like?"

"I wish you would. Tell him to forget the pay. I'm not in need of money,
but I do require some incentive--something to do--something to give me
direction. It bores me stiff to fish, and I'm sick of loafing. If
McFarlane can employ me I shall be happy. The country is glorious, but I
can't live on scenery."

"I think we can employ you, but you'll have to go on as fire-guard or
something like that for the first year. You see, the work is getting to
be more and more technical each year. As a matter of fact"--here he
lowered his voice a little--"McFarlane is one of the old guard, and will
have to give way. He don't know a thing about forestry, and is too old to
learn. His girl knows more about it than he does. She helps him out on
office work, too."

Wayland wondered a little at the freedom of expression on the part of
Nash; but said: "If he runs his office as he runs his ranch he surely is
condemned to go."

"There's where the girl comes in. She keeps the boys in the office lined
up and maintains things in pretty fair shape. She knows the old man is in
danger of losing his job, and she's doing her best to hold him to it.
She's like a son to him and he relies on her judgment when a close
decision comes up. But it's only a matter of time when he and all he
represents must drift by. This is a big movement we're mixed with."

"I begin to feel that that's why I'd like to take it up. It's the only
thing out here that interests me--and I've got to do something. I can't
loaf."

"Well, you get Berrie to take up your case and you're all right. She has
the say about who goes on the force in this forest."

It was late in the afternoon before Wayland started back to Meeker's with
intent to repack his belongings and leave the ranch for good. He had
decided not to call at McFarlane's, a decision which came not so much
from fear of Clifford Belden as from a desire to shield Berea from
further trouble, but as he was passing the gate, the girl rose from
behind a clump of willows and called to him: "Oh, Mr. Norcross! Wait a
moment."

He drew rein, and, slipping from his horse, approached her. "What is it,
Miss Berrie?" he asked, with wondering politeness.

She confronted him with gravity. "It's too late for you to cross the
ridge. It'll be dark long before you reach the cut-off. You'd better not
try to make it."

"I think I can find my way," he answered, touched by her consideration.
"I'm not so helpless as I was when I came."

"Just the same you mustn't go on," she insisted. "Father told me to ask
you to come in and stay all night. He wants to meet you. I was afraid you
might ride by after what happened to-day, and so I came up here to head
you off." She took his horse by the rein, and flashed a smiling glance up
at him. "Come now, do as the Supervisor tells you."

"Wait a moment," he pleaded. "On second thought, I don't believe it's a
good thing for me to go home with you. It will only make further trouble
for--for us both."

She was almost as direct as Belden had been. "I know what you mean. I saw
Cliff follow you. He jumped you, didn't he?"

"He overtook me--yes."

"What did he say?"

He hesitated. "He was pretty hot, and said things he'll be sorry for when
he cools off."

"He told you not to come here any more--advised you to hit the out-going
trail--didn't he?"

He flushed with returning shame of it all, but quietly answered: "Yes, he
said something about riding east."

"Are you going to do it?"

"Not to-day; but I guess I'd better keep away from here."

She looked at him steadily. "Why?"

"Because you've been very kind to me, and I wouldn't for the world do
anything to hurt or embarrass you."

"Don't you mind about me," she responded, bluntly. "What happened this
morning wasn't your fault nor mine. Cliff made a mighty coarse play,
something he'll have to pay for. He knows that right now. He'll be back
in a day or two begging my pardon, and he won't get it. Don't you worry
about me, not for a minute--I can take care of myself--I grew up that
way, and don't you be chased out of the country by anybody. Come, father
will be looking for you."

With a feeling that he was involving both the girl and himself in still
darker storms, the young fellow yielded to her command, and together they
walked along the weed-bordered path, while she continued:

"This isn't the first time Cliff has started in to discipline me; but
it's obliged to be the last. He's the kind that think they own a girl
just as soon as they get her to wear an engagement ring; but Cliff don't
own me. I told him I wouldn't stand for his coarse ways, and I won't!"

Wayland tried to bring her back to humor. "You're a kind of 'new
woman.'"

She turned a stern look on him. "You bet I am! I was raised a free
citizen. No man can make a slave of me. I thought he understood that; but
it seems he didn't. He's all right in many ways--one of the best riders
in the country--but he's pretty tolerable domineering--I've always known
that--still, I never expected him to talk to me like he did to-day. It
certainly was raw." She broke off abruptly. "You mustn't let Frank Meeker
get the best of you, either," she advised. "He's a mean little weasel if
he gets started. I'll bet he put Cliff up to this business."

"Do you think so?"

"Yes, he just as good as told me he'd do it. I know Frank, he's my own
cousin, and someways I like him; but he's the limit when he gets going.
You see, he wanted to get even with Cliff and took that way of doing it.
I'll ride up there and give him a little good advice some Saturday."

He was no longer amused by her blunt speech, and her dark look saddened
him. She seemed so unlike the happy girl he met that first day, and the
change in her subtended a big, rough, and pitiless world of men against
which she was forced to contend all her life.

Mrs. McFarlane greeted Norcross with cordial word and earnest hand-clasp.
"I'm glad to see you looking so well," she said, with charming
sincerity.

"I'm browner, anyway," he answered, and turned to meet McFarlane, a
short, black-bearded man, with fine dark eyes and shapely hands--hands
that had never done anything more toilsome than to lift a bridle rein or
to clutch the handle of a gun. He was the horseman in all his training,
and though he owned hundreds of acres of land, he had never so much as
held a plow or plied a spade. His manner was that of the cow-boss, the
lord of great herds, the claimant of empires of government grass-land.
Poor as his house looked, he was in reality rich. Narrow-minded in
respect to his own interests, he was well in advance of his neighbors on
matters relating to the general welfare, a curious mixture of greed and
generosity, as most men are, and though he had been made Supervisor at a
time when political pull still crippled the Service, he was loyal to the
flag. "I'm mighty glad to see you," he heartily began. "We don't often
get a man from the sea-level, and when we do we squeeze him dry."

His voice, low, languid, and soft, was most insinuating, and for hours he
kept his guest talking of the East and its industries and prejudices; and
Berrie and her mother listened with deep admiration, for the youngster
had seen a good deal of the old world, and was unusually well read on
historical lines of inquiry. He talked well, too, inspired by his
attentive audience.

Berrie's eyes, wide and eager, were fixed upon him unwaveringly. He felt
her wonder, her admiration, and was inspired to do his best. Something in
her absorbed attention led him to speak of things so personal that he
wondered at himself for uttering them.

"I've been dilettante all my life," was one of his confessions. "I've
traveled; I've studied in a tepid sort of fashion; I went through college
without any idea of doing anything with what I got; I had a sort of pride
in keeping up with my fellows; and I had no idea of preparing for any
work in the world. Then came my breakdown, and my doctor ordered me out
here. I came intending to fish and loaf around, but I can't do that. I've
got to do something or go back home. I expected to have a chum of mine
with me, but his father was injured in an automobile accident, so he went
into the office to help out."

As he talked the girl discovered new graces, new allurements in him. His
smile, so subtly self-derisive, and his voice so flexible and so quietly
eloquent, completed her subjugation. She had no further care concerning
Clifford--indeed, she had forgotten him--for the time at least. The other
part of her--the highly civilized latent power drawn from her mother--was
in action. She lost her air of command, her sense of chieftainship, and
sat humbly at the feet of this shining visitor from the East.

At last Mrs. McFarlane rose, and Berea, reluctantly, like a child loath
to miss a fairy story, held out her hand to say good night, and the young
man saw on her face that look of adoration which marks the birth of
sudden love; but his voice was frank and his glance kindly as he said:

"Here I've done all the talking when I wanted you to tell me all sorts
of things."

"I can't tell you anything."

"Oh yes, you can; and, besides, I want you to intercede for me with your
father and get me into the Service. But we'll talk about that to-morrow.
Good night."

After the women left the room Norcross said:

"I really am in earnest about entering the Forest Service. Landon filled
me with enthusiasm about it. Never mind the pay. I'm not in immediate
need of money; but I do need an interest in life."

McFarlane stared at him with kindly perplexity. "I don't know exactly
what you can do, but I'll work you in somehow. You ought to work under a
man like Settle, one that could put you through a training in the
rudiments of the game. I'll see what can be done."

"Thank you for that half promise," said Wayland, and he went to his bed
happier than at any moment since leaving home.

Berrie, on her part, did not analyze her feeling for Wayland, she only
knew that he was as different from the men she knew as a hawk from a
sage-hen, and that he appealed to her in a higher way than any other had
done. His talk filled her with visions of great cities, and with thoughts
of books, for though she was profoundly loyal to her mountain valley, she
held other, more secret admirations. She was, in fact, compounded of two
opposing tendencies. Her quiet little mother longing--in secret--for the
placid, refined life of her native Kentucky town, had dowered her
daughter with some part of her desire. She had always hated the slovenly,
wasteful, and purposeless life of the cattle-rancher, and though she
still patiently bore with her husband's shortcomings, she covertly hoped
that Berea might find some other and more civilized lover than Clifford
Belden. She understood her daughter too well to attempt to dictate her
action; she merely said to her, as they were alone for a few moments: "I
don't wonder your father is interested in Mr. Norcross, he's very
intelligent--and very considerate."

"Too considerate," said Berrie, shortly; "he makes other men seem like
bears or pigs."

Mrs. McFarlane said no more, but she knew that Cliff was, for the time,
among the bears.





Next: The Golden Pathway

Previous: Wayland Receives A Warning



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