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The Walk In The Rain








From: The Forester's Daughter

Norcross, with his city training, was acutely conscious of the delicacy
of the situation. In his sister's circle a girl left alone in this way
with a man would have been very seriously embarrassed; but it was evident
that Berrie took it all joyously, innocently. Their being together was
something which had happened in the natural course of weather, a
condition for which they were in no way responsible. Therefore she
permitted herself to be frankly happy in the charm of their enforced
intimacy.

She had never known a youth of his quality. He was so considerate, so
refined, so quick of understanding, and so swift to serve. He filled her
mind to the exclusion of unimportant matters like the snow, which was
beginning again; indeed, her only anxiety concerned his health, and as he
toiled amid the falling flakes, intent upon heaping up wood enough to
last out the night, she became solicitous.

"You will be soaked," she warningly cried. "Don't stay out any more. Come

to the fire. I'll bring in the wood."

Something primeval, some strength he did not know he possessed sustained
him, and he toiled on. "Suppose this snow keeps falling?" he retorted.
"The Supervisor will not be able to get back to-night--perhaps not for a
couple of nights. We will need a lot of fuel."

He did not voice the fear of the storm which filled his thought; but the
girl understood it. "It won't be very cold," she calmly replied. "It
never is during these early blizzards; and, besides, all we need to do is
to drop down the trail ten miles and we'll be entirely out of it."

"I'll feel safer with plenty of wood," he argued; but soon found it
necessary to rest from his labors. Coming in to camp, he seated himself
beside her on a roll of blankets, and so together they tended the fire
and watched the darkness roll over the lake till the shining crystals
seemed to drop from a measureless black arch, soundless and oppressive.
The wind died away, and the trees stood as if turned into bronze,
moveless, save when a small branch gave way and dropped its rimy burden,
or a squirrel leaped from one top to another. Even the voice of the
waterfall seemed muffled and remote.

"I'm a long way from home and mother," Wayland said, with a smile;
"but--I like it."

"Isn't it fun?" she responded. "In a way it's nicer on account of the
storm. But you are not dressed right; you should have waterproof boots.
You never can tell when you may be set afoot. You should always go
prepared for rain and snow, and, above all, have an extra pair of thick
stockings. Your feet are soaked now, aren't they?"

"They are; but your father told me to always dry my boots on my feet,
otherwise they'd shrink out of shape."

"That's right, too; but you'd better take 'em off and wring out your
socks or else put on dry ones."

"You insist on my playing the invalid," he complained, "and that makes me
angry. When I've been over here a month you'll find me a glutton for
hardship. I shall be a bear, a grizzly, fearful to contemplate. My roar
will affright you."

She laughed like a child at his ferocity. "You'll have to change a whole
lot," she said, and drew the blanket closer about his shoulders. "Just
now your job is to keep warm and dry. I hope you won't get lonesome over
here."

"I'm not going to open a book or read a newspaper. I'm not going to write
to a single soul except you. I'll be obliged to report to you, won't I?"

"I'm not the Supervisor."

"You're the next thing to it," he quickly retorted. "You've been my board
of health from the very first. I should have fled for home long ago had
it not been for you."

Her eyes fell under his glance. "You'll get pretty tired of things over
here. It's one of the lonesomest stations in the forest."

"I'll get lonesome for you; but not for the East." This remark, or rather
the tone in which it was uttered, brought another flush of consciousness
to the girl's face.

"What time is it now?" she asked, abruptly.

He looked at his watch. "Half after eight."

"If father isn't on this side of the divide now he won't try to cross. If
he's coming down the slope he'll be here in an hour, although that trail
is a tolerably tough proposition this minute. A patch of dead timber on a
dark night is sure a nuisance, even to a good man. He may not make it."

"Shall I fire my gun?"

"What for?"

"As a signal to him."

This amused her. "Daddy don't need any hint about direction--what he
needs is a light to see the twist of the trail through those fallen
logs."

"Couldn't I rig up a torch and go to meet him?"

She put her hand on his arm. "You stay right here!" she commanded. "You
couldn't follow that trail five minutes."

"You have a very poor opinion of my skill."

"No, I haven't; but I know how hard it is to keep direction on a night
like this and I don't want you wandering around in the timber. Father can
take care of himself. He's probably sitting under a big tree smoking his
pipe before his fire--or else he's at home. He knows we're all right, and
we are. We have wood and grub, and plenty of blankets, and a roof over
us. You can make your bed under this fly," she said, looking up at the
canvas. "It beats the old balsam as a roof. You mustn't sleep cold
again."

"I think I'd better sit up and keep the fire going," he replied,
heroically. "There's a big log out there that I'm going to bring in to
roll up on the windward side."

"It'll be cold and wet early in the morning, and I don't like to hunt
kindling in the snow," she said. "I always get everything ready the night
before. I wish you had a better bed. It seems selfish of me to have the
tent while you are cold."

One by one--under her supervision--he made preparations for morning. He
cut some shavings from a dead, dry branch of fir and put them under the
fly, and brought a bucket of water from the creek, and then together they
dragged up the dead tree.

Had the young man been other than he was, the girl's purity, candor, and
self-reliance would have conquered him, and when she withdrew to the
little tent and let fall the frail barrier between them, she was as safe
from intrusion as if she had taken refuge behind gates of triple brass.
Nothing in all his life had moved him so deeply as her solicitude, her
sweet trust in his honor, and he sat long in profound meditation. Any man
would be rich in the ownership of her love, he admitted. That he
possessed her pity and her friendship he knew, and he began to wonder if
he had made a deeper appeal to her than this.

"Can it be that I am really a man to her," he thought, "I who am only a
poor weakling whom the rain and snow can appall?"

Then he thought of the effect of this night upon her life. What would
Clifford Belden do now? To what deeps would his rage descend if he should
come to know of it?

Berrie was serene. Twice she spoke from her couch to say: "You'd better
go to bed. Daddy can't get here till to-morrow now."

"I'll stay up awhile yet. My boots aren't entirely dried out."

As the flame sank low the cold bit, and he built up the half-burned logs
so that they blazed again. He worked as silently as he could; but the
girl again spoke, with sweet authority: "Haven't you gone to bed yet?"

"Oh yes, I've been asleep. I only got up to rebuild the fire."

"I'm afraid you're cold."

"I'm as comfortable as I deserve; it's all schooling, you know. Please go
to sleep again." His teeth were chattering as he spoke, but he added:
"I'm all right."

After a silence she said: "You must not get chilled. Bring your bed into
the tent. There is room for you."

"Oh no, that isn't necessary. I'm standing it very well."

"You'll be sick!" she urged, in a voice of alarm. "Please drag your bed
inside the door. What would I do if you should have pneumonia to-morrow?
You must not take any risk of a fever."

The thought of a sheltered spot, of something to break the remorseless
wind, overcame his scruples, and he drew his bed inside the tent and
rearranged it there.

"You're half frozen," she said. "Your teeth are chattering."

"It isn't so much the cold," he stammered. "I'm tired."

"You poor boy!" she exclaimed, and rose in her bed. "I'll get up and heat
some water for you."

"I'll be all right, in a few moments," he said. "Please go to sleep. I
shall be snug as a bug in a moment."

She watched his shadowy motions from her bed, and when at last he had
nestled into his blankets, she said: "If you don't lose your chill I'll
heat a rock and put at your feet."

He was ready to cry out in shame of his weakness; but he lay silent till
he could command his voice, then he said: "That would drive me from the
country in disgrace. Think of what the fellows down below will say when
they know of my cold feet."

"They won't hear of it; and, besides, it is better to carry a hot-water
bag than to be laid up with a fever."

Her anxiety lessened as his voice resumed its pleasant tenor flow. "Dear
girl," he said, "no one could have been sweeter--more like a guardian
angel to me. Don't place me under any greater obligation. Go to sleep. I
am better--much better now."

She did not speak for a few moments, then in a voice that conveyed to him
a knowledge that his words of endearment had deeply moved her, she softly
said: "Good night."

He heard her sigh drowsily thereafter once or twice, and then she slept,
and her slumber redoubled in him his sense of guardianship, of
responsibility. Lying there in the shelter of her tent, the whole
situation seemed simple, innocent, and poetic; but looked at from the
standpoint of Clifford Belden it held an accusation.

"It cannot be helped," he said. "The only thing we can do is to conceal
the fact that we spent the night beneath this tent alone."

In the belief that the way would clear with the dawn, he, too, fell
asleep, while the fire sputtered and smudged in the fitful mountain
wind.

The second dawn came slowly, as though crippled by the storm and walled
back by the clouds. Gradually, austerely, the bleak, white peaks began to
define themselves above the firs. The camp-birds called cheerily from the
wet branches which overhung the smoldering embers of the fire, and so at
last day was abroad in the sky.

With a dull ache in his bones, Wayland crept out to the fire and set to
work fanning the coals with his hat, as he had seen the Supervisor do. He
worked desperately till one of the embers began to angrily sparkle and to
smoke. Then slipping away out of earshot he broke an armful of dry fir
branches to heap above the wet, charred logs. Soon these twigs broke into
flame, and Berrie, awakened by the crackle of the pine branches, called
out: "Is it daylight?"

"Yes, but it's a very dark daylight. Don't leave your warm bed for the
dampness and cold out here; stay where you are; I'll get breakfast."

"How are you this morning? Did you sleep?"

"Fine!"

"I'm afraid you had a bad night," she insisted, in a tone which indicated
her knowledge of his suffering.

"Camp life has its disadvantages," he admitted, as he put the coffee-pot
on the fire. "But I'm feeling better now. I never fried a bird in my
life, but I'm going to try it this morning. I have some water heating for
your bath." He put the soap, towel, and basin of hot water just inside
the tent flap. "Here it is. I'm going to bathe in the lake. I must show
my hardihood."

He heard her protesting as he went off down the bank, but his heart was
resolute. "I'm not dead yet," he said, grimly. "An invalid who can spend
two such nights as these, and still face a cold wind, has some vitality
in his bones after all."

When he returned he found the girl full dressed, alert, and glowing; but
she greeted him with a touch of shyness and self-consciousness new to
her, and her eyes veiled themselves before his glance.

"Now, where do you suppose the Supervisor is?" he asked.

"I hope he's at home," she replied, quite seriously. "I'd hate to think
of him camped in the high country without bedding or tent."

"Oughtn't I to take a turn up the trail and see? I feel guilty somehow--I
must do something!"

"You can't help matters any by hoofing about in the mud. No, we'll just
hold the fort till he comes, that's what he'll expect us to do."

He submitted once more to the force of her argument, and they ate
breakfast in such intimacy and good cheer that the night's discomforts
and anxieties counted for little. As the sun broke through the clouds
Berrie hung out the bedding in order that its dampness might be warmed
away.

"We may have to camp here again to-night," she explained, demurely.

"Worse things could happen than that," he gallantly answered. "I wouldn't
mind a month of it, only I shouldn't want it to rain or snow all the
time."

"Poor boy! You did suffer, didn't you? I was afraid you would. Did you
sleep at all?" she asked, tenderly.

"Oh yes, after I came inside; but, of course, I was more or less restless
expecting your father to ride up, and then it's all rather exciting
business to a novice. I could hear all sorts of birds and beasts stepping
and fluttering about. I was scared in spite of my best resolution."

"That's funny; I never feel that way. I slept like a log after I knew you
were comfortable. You must have a better bed and more blankets. It's
always cold up here."

The sunlight was short-lived. The clouds settled over the peaks, and
ragged wisps of gray vapor dropped down the timbered slopes of the
prodigious amphitheater in which the lake lay. Again Berrie made
everything snug while her young woodsman toiled at bringing logs for the
fire.

In truth, he was more elated than he had been since leaving school, for
he was not only doing a man's work in the world, he was serving a woman
in the immemorial way of the hewer of wood and the carrier of water. His
fatigue and the chill of the morning wore away, and he took vast pride in
dragging long poles down the hillside, forcing Berrie to acknowledge that
he was astonishingly strong. "But don't overdo it," she warned.

At last fully provided for, they sat contentedly side by side under the
awning and watched the falling rain as it splashed and sizzled on the
sturdy fire. "It's a little like being shipwrecked on a desert island,
isn't it?" he said. "As if our boats had drifted away."

At noon she again prepared an elaborate meal. She served potatoes and
grouse, hot biscuit with sugar syrup, and canned peaches, and coffee done
to just the right color and aroma. He declared it wonderful, and they ate
with repeated wishes that the Supervisor might turn up in time to share
their feast; but he did not. Then Berrie said, firmly: "Now you must take
a snooze, you look tired."

He was, in truth, not only drowsy but lame and tired. Therefore, he
yielded to her suggestion.

She covered him with blankets and put him away like a child. "Now you
have a good sleep," she said, tenderly. "I'll call you when daddy
comes."

With a delicious sense of her protecting care he lay for a few moments
listening to the drip of the water on the tent, then drifted away into
peace and silence.

When he woke the ground was again covered with snow, and the girl was
feeding the fire with wood which her own hands had supplied.

Hearing him stir, she turned and fixed her eyes upon him with clear, soft
gaze. "How do you feel by now?" she asked.

"Quite made over," he replied, rising alertly.

His cheer, however, was only pretense. He was greatly worried. "Something
has happened to your father," he said. "His horse has thrown him, or he
has slipped and fallen." His peace and exultation were gone. "How far is
it down to the ranger station?"

"About twelve miles."

"Don't you think we'd better close camp and go down there? It is now
three o'clock; we can walk it in five hours."

She shook her head. "No, I think we'd better stay right here. It's a
long, hard walk, and the trail is muddy."

"But, dear girl," he began, desperately, "it won't do for us to camp
here--alone--in this way another night. What will Cliff say?"

She flamed red, then whitened. "I don't care what Cliff thinks--I'm done
with him--and no one that I really care about would blame us." She was
fully aware of his anxiety now. "It isn't our fault."

"It will be my fault if I keep you here longer!" he answered. "We must
reach a telephone and send word out. Something may have happened to your
father."

"I'm not worried a bit about him. It may be that there's been a big
snowfall up above us--or else a windstorm. The trail may be blocked; but
don't worry. He may have to go round by Lost Lake pass." She pondered a
moment. "I reckon you're right. We'd better pack up and rack down the
trail to the ranger's cabin. Not on my account, but on yours. I'm afraid
you've taken cold."

"I'm all right, except I'm very lame; but I am anxious to go on. By the
way, is this ranger Settle married?"

"No, his station is one of the lonesomest cabins on the forest. No woman
will stay there."

This made Wayland ponder. "Nevertheless," he decided, "we'll go. After
all, the man is a forest officer, and you are the Supervisor's
daughter."

She made no further protest, but busied herself closing the panniers and
putting away the camp utensils. She seemed to recognize that his judgment
was sound.

It was after three when they left the tent and started down the trail,
carrying nothing but a few toilet articles.

He stopped at the edge of the clearing. "Should we have left a note for
the Supervisor?"

She pointed to their footprints. "There's all the writing he needs," she
assured him, leading the way at a pace which made him ache. She plashed
plumply into the first puddle in the path. "No use dodging 'em," she
called over her shoulder, and he soon saw that she was right.

The trees were dripping, the willows heavy with water, and the mud
ankle-deep--in places--but she pushed on steadily, and he, following in
her tracks, could only marvel at her strength and sturdy self-reliance.
The swing of her shoulders, the poise of her head, and the lithe movement
of her waist, made his own body seem a poor thing.

For two hours they zigzagged down a narrow canyon heavily timbered with
fir and spruce--a dark, stern avenue, crossed by roaring streams, and
filled with frequent boggy meadows whereon the water lay mid-leg deep.

"We'll get out of this very soon," she called, cheerily.

By degrees the gorge widened, grew more open, more genial. Aspen thickets
of pale-gold flashed upon their eyes like sunlight, and grassy bunches
afforded firmer footing, but on the slopes their feet slipped and slid
painfully. Still Berea kept her stride. "We must get to the middle fork
before dark," she stopped to explain, "for I don't know the trail down
there, and there's a lot of down timber just above the station. Now that
we're cut loose from our camp I feel nervous. As long as I have a tent I
am all right; but now we are in the open I worry. How are you standing
it?" She studied him with keen and anxious glance, her hand upon his
arm.

"Fine as a fiddle," he replied, assuming a spirit he did not possess,
"but you are marvelous. I thought cowgirls couldn't walk?"

"I can do anything when I have to," she replied. "We've got three hours
more of it." And she warningly exclaimed: "Look back there!"

They had reached a point from which the range could be seen, and behold
it was covered deep with a seamless robe of new snow.

"That's why dad didn't get back last night. He's probably wallowing along
up there this minute." And she set off again with resolute stride.
Wayland's pale face and labored breath alarmed her. She was filled with
love and pity, but she pressed forward desperately.

As he grew tired, Wayland's boots, loaded with mud, became fetters, and
every slope greasy with mire seemed an almost insurmountable barricade.
He fell several times, but made no outcry. "I will not add to her
anxiety," he said to himself.

At last they came to the valley floor, over which a devastating fire had
run some years before, and which was still covered with fallen trees in
desolate confusion. Here the girl made her first mistake. She kept on
toward the river, although Wayland called attention to a trail leading to
the right up over the low grassy hills. For a mile the path was clear,
but she soon found herself confronted by an endless maze of blackened
tree-trunks, and at last the path ended abruptly.

Dismayed and halting, she said: "We've got to go back to that trail which
branched off to the right. I reckon that was the highland trail which
Settle made to keep out of the swamp. I thought it was a trail from
Cameron Peak, but it wasn't. Back we go."

She was suffering keenly now, not on her own account, but on his, for she
could see that he was very tired, and to climb up that hill again was
like punishing him a second time.

When she picked up the blazed trail it was so dark that she could
scarcely follow it; but she felt her way onward, turning often to be sure
that he was following. Once she saw him fall, and cried out: "It's a
shame to make you climb this hill again. It's all my fault. I ought to
have known that that lower road led down into the timber."

Standing close beside him in the darkness, knowing that he was weary,
wet, and ill, she permitted herself the expression of her love and pity.
Putting her arm about him, she drew his cheek against her own, saying:
"Poor boy, your hands are cold as ice." She took them in her own warm
clasp. "Oh, I wish we had never left the camp! What does it matter what
people say?" Then she broke down and wailed. "I shall never forgive
myself if you--" Her voice failed her.

He bravely reassured her: "I'm not defeated, I'm just tired. That's all.
I can go on."

"But you are shaking."

"That is merely a nervous chill. I'm good for another hour. It's better
to keep moving, anyhow."

She thrust her hand under his coat and laid it over his heart. "You are
tired out," she said, and there was anguish in her voice. "Your heart is
pounding terribly. You mustn't do any more climbing. And, hark, there's a
wolf!"

He listened. "I hear him; but we are both armed. There's no danger from
wild animals."

"Come!" she said, instantly recovering her natural resolution. "We can't
stand here. The station can't be far away. We must go on."





Next: The Other Girl

Previous: Storm-bound



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