A Ride In The Rain





There are two Colorados within the boundaries of the state of that name,

distinct, almost irreconcilable. One is a plain (smooth, dry,

monotonous), gently declining to the east, a land of sage-brush,

wheat-fields, and alfalfa meadows--a rather commonplace region now, given

over to humdrum folk intent on digging a living from the soil; but the

other is an army of peaks, a region of storms, a spread of dark and

tangled forests. In the one, shallow rivers trickle on their sandy way to

the Gulf of Mexico; from the other, the waters rush, uniting to make the

mighty stream whose silt-laden floods are slowly filling the Gulf of

California.



If you stand on one of the great naked crests which form the dividing

wall, the rampart of the plains, you can see the Colorado of tradition to

the west, still rolling in wave after wave of stupendous altitudes, each

range cutting into the sky with a purple saw-tooth edge. The landscape

seems to contain nothing but rocks and towering crags, a treasure-house

for those who mine. But this is illusive. Between these purple heights

charming valleys wind and meadows lie in which rich grasses grow and

cattle feed.



On certain slopes--where the devastating miners have not yet played their

relentless game--dark forests rise to the high, bold summits of the

chiefest mountains, and it is to guard these timbered tracts, growing

each year more valuable, that the government has established its Forest

Service to protect and develop the wealth-producing power of the

watersheds.



Chief among the wooded areas of this mighty inland empire of crag and

stream is the Bear Tooth Forest, containing nearly eight hundred thousand

acres of rock and trees, whose seat of administration is Bear Tooth

Springs, the small town in which our young traveler found himself.



He carefully explained to the landlord of the Cottage Hotel that he had

never been in this valley before, and that he was filled with

astonishment and delight of the scenery.



"Scenery! Yes, too much scenery. What we want is settlers," retorted the

landlord, who was shabby and sour and rather contemptuous, for the reason

that he considered Norcross a poor consumptive, and a fool to boot--"one

of those chaps who wait till they are nearly dead, then come out here

expecting to live on climate."



The hotel was hardly larger than the log shanty of a railway-grading

camp; but the meat was edible, and just outside the door roared Bear

Creek, which came down directly from Dome Mountain, and the young

Easterner went to sleep beneath its singing that night. He should have

dreamed of the happy mountain girl, but he did not; on the contrary, he

imagined himself back at college in the midst of innumerable freshmen,

yelling, "Bill McCoy, Bill McCoy!"



He woke a little bewildered by his strange surroundings, and when he

became aware of the cheap bed, the flimsy wash-stand, the ugly wallpaper,

and thought how far he was from home and friends, he not only sighed, he

shivered. The room was chill, the pitcher of water cold almost to the

freezing-point, and his joints were stiff and painful from his ride. What

folly to come so far into the wilderness at this time.



As he crawled from his bed and looked from the window he was still

further disheartened. In the foreground stood a half dozen frame

buildings, graceless and cheap, without tree or shrub to give shadow or

charm of line--all was bare, bleak, sere; but under his window the stream

was singing its glorious mountain song, and away to the west rose the

aspiring peaks from which it came. Romance brooded in that shadow, and on

the lower foot-hills the frost-touched foliage glowed like a mosaic of

jewels.



Dressing hurriedly he went down to the small bar-room, whose litter of

duffle-bags, guns, saddles, and camp utensils gave evidence of the

presence of many hunters and fishermen. The slovenly landlord was poring

over a newspaper, while a discouraged half-grown youth was sludging the

floor with a mop; but a cheerful clamor from an open door at the back of

the hall told that breakfast was on.



Venturing over the threshold, Norcross found himself seated at table with

some five or six men in corduroy jackets and laced boots, who were, in

fact, merchants and professional men from Denver and Pueblo out for fish

and such game as the law allowed, and all in holiday mood. They joked the

waiter-girls, and joshed one another in noisy good-fellowship, ignoring

the slim youth in English riding-suit, who came in with an air of mingled

melancholy and timidity and took a seat at the lower corner of the long

table.



The landlady, tall, thin, worried, and inquisitive, was New

England--Norcross recognized her type even before she came to him with a

question on her lips. "So you're from the East, are you?"



"I've been at school there."



"Well, I'm glad to see you. My folks came from York State. I don't often

get any one from the real East. Come out to fish, I s'pose?"



"Yes," he replied, thinking this the easiest way out.



"Well, they's plenty of fishing--and they's plenty of air, not much of

anything else."



As he looked about the room, the tourist's eye was attracted by four

young fellows seated at a small table to his right. They wore rough

shirts of an olive-green shade, and their faces were wind-scorched; but

their voices held a pleasant tone, and something in the manner of the

landlady toward them made them noticeable. Norcross asked her who they

were.



"They're forestry boys."



"Forestry boys?"



"Yes; the Supervisor's office is here, and these are his help."



This information added to Norcross's interest and cheered him a little.

He knew something of the Forest Service, and had been told that many of

the rangers were college men. He resolved to make their acquaintance. "If

I'm to stay here they will help me endure the exile," he said.



After breakfast he went forth to find the post-office, expecting a letter

of instructions from Meeker. He found nothing of the sort, and this quite

disconcerted him.



"The stage is gone," the postmistress told him, "and you can't get up

till day after to-morrow. You might reach Meeker by using the government

'phone, however."



"Where will I find the government 'phone?"



"Down in the Supervisor's office. They're very accommodating; they'll let

you use it, if you tell them who you want to reach."



It was impossible to miss the forestry building for the reason that a

handsome flag fluttered above it. The door being open, Norcross perceived

from the threshold a young clerk at work on a typewriter, while in a

corner close by the window another and older man was working intently on

a map.



"Is this the office of the Forest Supervisor?" asked the youth.



The man at the machine looked up, and pleasantly answered: "It is, but

the Supervisor is not in yet. Is there anything I can do for you?"



"It may be you can. I am on my way to Meeker's Mill for a little outing.

Perhaps you could tell me where Meeker's Mill is, and how I can best get

there."



The man at the map meditated. "It's not far, some eighteen or twenty

miles; but it's over a pretty rough trail."



"What kind of a place is it?"



"Very charming. You'll like it. Real mountain country."



This officer was a plain-featured man of about thirty-five, with keen and

clear eyes. His voice, though strongly nasal, possessed a note of manly

sincerity. As he studied his visitor, he smiled.



"You look brand-new--haven't had time to season-check, have you?"



"No; I'm a stranger in a strange land."



"Out for your health?"



"Yes. My name is Norcross. I'm just getting over a severe illness, and

I'm up here to lay around and fish and recuperate--if I can."



"You can--you will. You can't help it," the other assured him. "Join one

of our surveying crews for a week and I'll mellow that suit of yours and

make a real mountaineer of you. I see you wear a Sigma Chi pin. What

was your school?"



"I am a 'Son of Eli.' Last year's class."



The other man displayed his fob. "I'm ten classes ahead of you. My name

is Nash. I'm what they call an 'expert.' I'm up here doing some

estimating and surveying for a big ditch they're putting in. I was rather

in hopes you had come to join our ranks. We sons of Eli are holding the

conservation fort these days, and we need help."



"My knowledge of your work is rather vague," admitted Norcross. "My

father is in the lumber business; but his point of view isn't exactly

yours."



"He slays 'em, does he?"



"He did. He helped devastate Michigan."



"After me the deluge! I know the kind. Why not make yourself a sort of

vicarious atonement?"



Norcross smiled. "I had not thought of that. It would help some, wouldn't

it?"



"It certainly would. There's no great money in the work; but it's about

the most enlightened of all the governmental bureaus."



Norcross was strongly drawn to this forester, whose tone was that of a

highly trained specialist. "I rode up on the stage yesterday with Miss

Berrie McFarlane."



"The Supervisor's daughter?"



"She seemed a fine Western type."



"She's not a type; she's an individual. She hasn't her like anywhere I've

gone. She cuts a wide swath up here. Being an only child she's both son

and daughter to McFarlane. She knows more about forestry than her father.

In fact, half the time he depends on her judgment."



Norcross was interested, but did not want to take up valuable time. He

said: "Will you let me use your telephone to Meeker's?"



"Very sorry, but our line is out of order. You'll have to wait a day or

so--or use the mails. You're too late for to-day's stage, but it's only a

short ride across. Come outside and I'll show you."



Norcross followed him to the walk, and stood in silence while his guide

indicated the pass over the range. It all looked very formidable to the

Eastern youth. Thunderous clouds hung low upon the peaks, and the great

crags to left and right of the notch were stern and barren. "I think I'll

wait for the stage," he said, with candid weakness. "I couldn't make that

trip alone."



"You'll have to take many such a ride over that range in the night--if

you join the service," Nash warningly replied.



As they were standing there a girl came galloping up to the hitching-post

and slid from her horse. It was Berea McFarlane. "Good morning, Emery,"

she called to the surveyor. "Good morning," she nodded at Norcross. "How

do you find yourself this morning?"



"Homesick," he replied, smilingly.



"Why so?"



"I'm disappointed in the town."



"What's the matter with the town?"



"It's so commonplace. I expected it to be--well, different. It's just

like any other plains town."



Berrie looked round at the forlorn shops, the irregular sidewalks, the

grassless yards. "It isn't very pretty, that's a fact; but you can always

forget it by just looking up at the high country. When you going up to

the mill?"



"I don't know. I haven't had any word from Meeker, and I can't reach him

by telephone."



"I know, the line is short-circuited somewhere; but they've sent a man

out. He may close it any minute."



"Where's the Supervisor?" asked Nash.



"He's gone over to Moore's cutting. How are you getting on with those

plats?"



"Very well. I'll have 'em all in shape by Saturday."



"Come in and make yourself at home," said the girl to Norcross. "You'll

find the papers two or three days old," she smiled. "We never know about

anything here till other people have forgotten it."



Norcross followed her into the office, curious to know more about her.

She was so changed from his previous conception of her that he was

puzzled. She had the directness and the brevity of phrase of a business

man, as she opened letters and discussed their contents with the men.



"Truly she is different," thought Norcross, and yet she lost something

by reason of the display of her proficiency as a clerk. "I wish she would

leave business to some one else," he inwardly grumbled as he rose to go.



She looked up from her desk. "Come in again later. We may be able to

reach the mill."



He thanked her and went back to his hotel, where he overhauled his outfit

and wrote some letters. His disgust of the town was lessened by the

presence of that handsome girl, and the hope that he might see her at

luncheon made him impatient of the clock.



She did not appear in the dining-room, and when Norcross inquired of Nash

whether she took her meals at the hotel or not, the expert replied: "No,

she goes home. The ranch is only a few miles down the valley.

Occasionally we invite her, but she don't think much of the cooking."



One of the young surveyors put in a word: "I shouldn't think she would.

I'd ride ten miles any time to eat one of Mrs. McFarlane's dinners."



"Yes," agreed Nash with a reflective look in his eyes. "She's a mighty

fine girl, and I join the boys in wishing her better luck than marrying

Cliff Belden."



"Is it settled that way?" asked Norcross.



"Yes; the Supervisor warned us all, but even he never has any good words

for Belden. He's a surly cuss, and violently opposed to the service. His

brother is one of the proprietors of the Meeker mill, and they have all

tried to bulldoze Landon, our ranger over there. By the way, you'll like

Landon. He's a Harvard man, and a good ranger. His shack is only a

half-mile from Meeker's house. It's a pretty well-known fact that Alec

Belden is part proprietor of a saloon over there that worries the

Supervisor worse than anything. Cliff swears he's not connected with it;

but he's more or less sympathetic with the crowd."



Norcross, already deeply interested in the present and future of a girl

whom he had met for the first time only the day before, was quite ready

to give up his trip to Meeker. After the men went back to work he

wandered about the town for an hour or two, and then dropped in at the

office to inquire if the telephone line had been repaired.



"No, it's still dead."



"Did Miss McFarlane return?"



"No. She said she had work to do at home. This is ironing-day, I

believe."



"She plays all the parts, don't she?"



"She sure does; and she plays one part as well as another. She can rope

and tie a steer or bake a cake as well as play the piano."



"Don't tell me she plays the piano!"



Nash laughed. "She does; but it's one of those you operate with your

feet."



"I'm relieved to hear that. She seems almost weirdly gifted as it is."

After a moment he broke in with: "What can a man do in this town?"



"Work, nothing else."



"What do you do for amusement?"



"Once in a while there is a dance in the hall over the drug-store, and on

Sunday you can listen to a wretched sermon in the log church. The rest of

the time you work or loaf in the saloons--or read. Old Nature has done

her part here. But man--! Ever been in the Tyrol?"



"Yes."



"Well, some day the people of the plains will have sense enough to use

these mountains, these streams, the way they do over there."



It required only a few hours for Norcross to size up the valley and its

people. Aside from Nash and his associates, and one or two families

connected with the mill to the north, the villagers were poor,

thriftless, and uninteresting. They were lacking in the picturesque

quality of ranchers and miners, and had not yet the grace of

town-dwellers. They were, indeed, depressingly nondescript.



Early on the second morning he went to the post-office--which was also

the telephone station--to get a letter or message from Meeker. He found

neither; but as he was standing in the door undecided about taking the

stage, Berea came into town riding a fine bay pony, and leading a

blaze-face buckskin behind her.



Her face shone cordially, as she called out: "Well, how do you stack up

this morning?"



"Tip-top," he answered, in an attempt to match her cheery greeting.



"Do you like our town better?"



"Not a bit! But the hills are magnificent."



"Anybody turned up from the mill?"



"No, I haven't heard a word from there. The telephone is still out of

commission."



"They can't locate the break. Uncle Joe sent word by the stage-driver

asking us to keep an eye out for you and send you over. I've come to take

you over myself."



"That's mighty good of you; but it's a good deal to ask."



"I want to see Uncle Joe on business, anyhow, and you'll like the ride

better than the journey by stage."



Leaving the horses standing with their bridle-reins hanging on the

ground, she led the way to the office.



"When father comes in, tell him where I've gone, and send Mr. Norcross's

packs by the first wagon. Is your outfit ready?" she asked.



"Not quite. I can get it ready soon."



He hurried away in pleasant excitement, and in twenty minutes was at the

door ready to ride.



"You'd better take my bay," said Berea. "Old Paint-face there is a little

notional."



Norcross approached his mount with a caution which indicated that he had

at least been instructed in range-horse psychology, and as he gathered

his reins together to mount, Berrie remarked:



"I hope you're saddle-wise."



"I had a few lessons in a riding-school," he replied, modestly.



Young Downing approached the girl with a low-voiced protest: "You

oughtn't to ride old Paint. He nearly pitched the Supervisor the other

day."



"I'm not worried," she said, and swung to her saddle.



The ugly beast made off in a tearing sidewise rush, but she smilingly

called back: "All set." And Norcross followed her in high admiration.



Eventually she brought her bronco to subjection, and they trotted off

together along the wagon-road quite comfortably. By this time the youth

had forgotten his depression, his homesickness of the morning. The valley

was again enchanted ground. Its vistas led to lofty heights. The air was

regenerative, and though a part of this elation was due, no doubt, to the

power of his singularly attractive guide, he laid it discreetly to the

climate.



After shacking along between some rather sorry fields of grain for a mile

or two, Berea swung into a side-trail. "I want you to meet my mother,"

she said.



The grassy road led to a long, one-story, half-log, half-slab house,

which stood on the bank of a small, swift, willow-bordered stream.



"This is our ranch," she explained. "All the meadow in sight belongs to

us."



The young Easterner looked about in astonishment. Not a tree bigger than

his thumb gave shade. The gate of the cattle corral stood but a few feet

from the kitchen door, and rusty beef-bones, bleaching skulls, and scraps

of sun-dried hides littered the ground or hung upon the fence. Exteriorly

the low cabin made a drab, depressing picture; but as he alighted--upon

Berea's invitation--and entered the house, he was met by a sweet-faced,

brown-haired little woman in a neat gown, whose bearing was not in the

least awkward or embarrassed.



"This is Mr. Norcross, the tourist I told you about," explained Berrie.



Mrs. McFarlane extended her small hand with friendly impulse. "I'm very

glad to meet you, sir. Are you going to spend some time at the Mill?"



"I don't know. I have a letter to Mr. Meeker from a friend of mine who

hunted with him last year--a Mr. Sutler."



"Mr. Sutler! Oh, we know him very well. Won't you sit down?"



The interior of the house was not only well kept, but presented many

evidences of refinement. A mechanical piano stood against the log wall,

and books and magazines, dog-eared with use, littered the table; and

Norcross, feeling the force of Nash's half-expressed criticism of his

"superior," listened intently to Mrs. McFarlane's apologies for the

condition of the farmyard.



"Well," said Berea, sharply, "if we're to reach Uncle Joe's for dinner

we'd better be scratching the hills." And to her mother she added: "I'll

pull in about dark."



The mother offered no objection to her daughter's plan, and the young

people rode off together directly toward the high peaks to the east.



"I'm going by way of the cut-off," Berrie explained; and Norcross,

content and unafraid, nodded in acquiescence. "Here is the line," she

called a few minutes later, pointing at a sign nailed to a tree at the

foot of the first wooded hill.



The notice, printed in black ink on a white square of cloth, proclaimed

this to be the boundary of the Bear Tooth National Forest, and pleaded

with all men to be watchful of fires. Its tone was not at all that of a

strong government; it was deprecatory.



The trail, hardly more than a wood road, grew wilder and lonelier as they

climbed. Cattle fed on the hillsides in scattered bands like elk. Here

and there a small cabin stood on the bank of a stream; but, for the most

part, the trail mounted the high slopes in perfect solitude.



The girl talked easily and leisurely, reading the brands of the ranchers,

revealing the number of cattle they owned, quite as a young farmer would

have done. She seemed not to be embarrassed in the slightest degree by

the fact that she was guiding a strange man over a lonely road, and gave

no outward sign of special interest in him till she suddenly turned to

ask: "What kind of a slicker--I mean a raincoat--did you bring?"



He looked blank. "I don't believe I brought any. I've a leather

shooting-jacket, however."



She shrugged her shoulders and looked up at the sky. "We're in for a

storm. You'd ought 'o have a slicker, no fancy 'raincoat,' but a real

old-fashioned cow-puncher's oilskin. They make a business of shedding

rain. Leather's no good, neither is canvas; I've tried 'em all."



She rode on for a few minutes in silence, as if disgusted with his folly,

but she was really worrying about him. "Poor chap," she said to herself.

"He can't stand a chill. I ought to have thought of his slicker myself.

He's helpless as a baby."



They were climbing fast now, winding upward along the bank of a stream,

and the sky had grown suddenly gray, and the woodland path was dark and

chill. The mountains were not less beautiful; but they were decidedly

less amiable, and the youth shivered, casting an apprehensive eye at the

thickening clouds.



Berea perceived something of his dismay, and, drawing rein, dismounted.

Behind her saddle was a tightly rolled bundle which, being untied and

shaken out, proved to be a horseman's rainproof oilskin coat. "Put this

on!" she commanded.



"Oh no," he protested, "I can't take your coat."



"Yes you can! You must! Don't you worry about me, I'm used to weather.

Put this on over your jacket and all. You'll need it. Rain won't hurt

me; but it will just about finish you."



The worst of this lay in its truth, and Norcross lost all his pride of

sex for the moment. A wetting would not dim this girl's splendid color,

nor reduce her vitality one degree, while to him it might be a

death-warrant. "You could throw me over my own horse," he admitted, in a

kind of bitter admiration, and slipped the coat on, shivering with cold

as he did so.



"You think me a poor excuse of a trailer, don't you?" he said, ruefully,

as the thunder began to roll.



"You've got to be all made over new," she replied, tolerantly. "Stay here

a year and you'll be able to stand anything."



Remounting, she again led the way with cheery cry. The rain came dashing

down in fitful, misty streams; but she merely pulled the rim of her

sombrero closer over her eyes, and rode steadily on, while he followed,

plunged in gloom as cold and gray as the storm. The splitting crashes of

thunder echoed from the high peaks like the voices of siege-guns, and the

lightning stabbed here and there as though blindly seeking some hidden

foe. Long veils of falling water twisted and trailed through the valleys

with swishing roar.



"These mountain showers don't last long," the girl called back, her face

shining like a rose. "We'll get the sun in a few minutes."



And so it turned out. In less than an hour they rode into the warm light

again, and in spite of himself Norcross returned her smile, though he

said: "I feel like a selfish fool. You are soaked."



"Hardly wet through," she reassured him. "My jacket and skirt turn water

pretty well. I'll be dry in a jiffy. It does a body good to be wet once

in a while."



The shame of his action remained; but a closer friendship was

established, and as he took off the coat and handed it back to her, he

again apologized. "I feel like a pig. I don't see how I came to do it.

The thunder and the chill scared me, that's the truth of it. You

hypnotized me into taking it. How wet you are!" he exclaimed,

remorsefully. "You'll surely take cold."



"I never take cold," she returned. "I'm used to all kinds of weather.

Don't you bother about me."



Topping a low divide the youth caught a glimpse of the range to the

southeast, which took his breath. "Isn't that superb!" he exclaimed.

"It's like the shining roof of the world!"



"Yes, that's the Continental Divide," she confirmed, casually; but the

lyrical note which he struck again reached her heart. The men she knew

had so few words for the beautiful in life. She wondered whether this

man's illness had given him this refinement or whether it was native to

his kind. "I'm glad he took my coat," was her thought.



She pushed on down the slope, riding hard, but it was nearly two o'clock

when they drew up at Meeker's house, which was a long, low, stone

structure built along the north side of the road. The place was

distinguished not merely by its masonry, but also by its picket fence,

which had once been whitewashed. Farm-wagons of various degrees of decay

stood by the gate, and in the barn-yard plows and harrows--deeply buried

by the weeds--were rusting forlornly away. A little farther up the stream

the tall pipe of a sawmill rose above the firs.



A pack of dogs of all sizes and signs came clamoring to the fence,

followed by a big, slovenly dressed, red-bearded man of sixty or

thereabouts.



"Hello, Uncle Joe," called the girl, in offhand boyish fashion. "How are

you to-day?"



"Howdy, girl," answered Meeker, gravely. "What brings you up here this

time?"



She laughed. "Here's a boarder who wants to learn how to raise cattle."



Meeker's face lightened. "I reckon you're Mr. Norcross? I'm glad to see

ye. Light off and make yourself to home. Turn your horses into the

corral, the boys will feed 'em."



"Am I in America?" Norcross asked himself, as he followed the slouchy old

rancher into the unkempt yard. "This certainly is a long way from New

Haven."



Without ceremony Meeker led his guests directly into the dining-room, a

long and rather narrow room, wherein a woman and six or seven roughly

dressed young men were sitting at a rudely appointed table.



"Earth and seas!" exclaimed Mrs. Meeker. "Here's Berrie, and I'll bet

that's Sutler's friend, our boarder."



"That's what, mother," admitted her husband. "Berrie brought him up."



"You'd ought 'o gone for him yourself, you big lump," she retorted.



Mrs. Meeker, who was as big as her husband, greeted Norcross warmly, and

made a place for him beside her own chair.



"Highst along there, boys, and give the company a chance," she commanded,

sharply. "Our dinner's turrible late to-day."



The boys--they were in reality full-grown cubs of eighteen or twenty--did

as they were bid with much noise, chaffing Berrie with blunt humor. The

table was covered with a red oil-cloth, and set with heavy blue-and-white

china. The forks were two-tined, steel-pronged, and not very polished,

and the food was of the simplest sort; but the girl seemed at home

there--as she did everywhere--and was soon deep in a discussion of the

price of beef, and whether it was advisable to ship now or wait a month.



Meeker read Sutler's letter, which Norcross had handed him, and, after

deliberation, remarked: "All right, we'll do the best we can for you, Mr.

Norcross; but we haven't any fancy accommodations."



"He don't expect any," replied Berrie. "What he needs is a little

roughing it."



"There's plinty of that to be had," said one of the herders, who sat

below the salt. "'is the soft life I'm nadin'."



"Pat's strong on soft jobs," said another; and Berea joined the laugh

which followed this pointless joke. She appeared to be one of them, and

it troubled Norcross a little. She had so little the sex feeling and

demanded so few of the rights and privileges of a girl. The men all

admired her, that was evident, almost too evident, and one or two of the

older men felt the charm of her young womanhood too deeply even to meet

her eyes; but of this Norcross was happily ignorant. Already in these two

days he had acquired a distinct sense of proprietorship in her, a feeling

which made him jealous of her good name.



Meeker, it turned out, was an Englishman by way of Canada, and this was

his second American wife. His first had been a sister to Mrs. McFarlane.

He was a man of much reading--of the periodical sort--and the big

sitting-room was littered with magazines both English and American, and

his talk abounded in radical and rather foolish utterances. Norcross

considered it the most disorderly home he had ever seen, and yet it was

not without a certain dignity. The rooms were large and amply provided

with furniture of a very mixed and gaudy sort, and the table was spread

with abundance.



One of the lads, Frank Meeker, a dark, intense youth of about twenty, was

Berea's full cousin. The others were merely hired hands, but they all

eyed the new-comer with disfavor. The fact that Berrie had brought him

and that she seemed interested in him added to the effect of the smart

riding-suit which he wore. "I'd like to roll him in the creek," muttered

one of them to his neighbor.



This dislike Berrie perceived--in some degree--and to Frank she privately

said: "Now you fellows have got to treat Mr. Norcross right. He's been

very sick."



Frank maliciously grinned. "Oh, we'll treat him right. We won't do a

thing to him!"



"Now, Frank," she warned, "if you try any of your tricks on him you'll

hear from me."



"Why all this worry on your part?" he asked, keenly. "How long since you

found him?"



"We rode up on the stage day before yesterday, and he seemed so kind o'

blue and lonesome I couldn't help trying to chirk him up."



"How will Cliff take all this chirking business?"



"Cliff ain't my guardian--yet," she laughingly responded. "Mr. Norcross

is a college man, and not used to our ways--"



"Mister Norcross--what's his front name?"



"Wayland."



He snorted. "Wayland! If he gets past us without being called 'pasty'

he's in luck. He's a 'lunger' if there ever was one."



The girl was shrewd enough to see that the more she sought to soften the

wind to her Eastern tenderfoot the more surely he was to be shorn, so she

gave over her effort in that direction, and turned to the old folks. To

Mrs. Meeker she privately said: "Mr. Norcross ain't used to rough ways,

and he's not very rugged, you ought 'o kind o' favor him for a while."



The girl herself did not understand the vital and almost painful interest

which this young man had roused in her. He was both child and poet to

her, and as she watched him trying to make friends with the men, her

indignation rose against their clownish offishness. She understood fully

that his neat speech, his Eastern accent, together with his tailor-cut

clothing and the delicacy of his table manners, would surely mark him for

slaughter among the cow-hands, and the wish to shield him made her face

graver than anybody had ever seen it.



"I don't feel right in leaving you here," she said, at last; "but I must

be ridin'." And while Meeker ordered her horse brought out, she walked to

the gate with Norcross at her side.



"I'm tremendously obliged to you," he said, and his voice was vibrant.

"You have been most kind. How can I repay you?"



"Oh, that's all right," she replied, in true Western fashion. "I wanted

to see the folks up here, anyhow. This is no jaunt at all for me." And,

looking at her powerful figure, and feeling the trap-like grip of her

cinch hand, he knew she spoke the truth.



Frank had saddled his own horse, and was planning to ride over the hill

with her; but to this she objected. "I'm going to leave Pete here for Mr.

Norcross to ride," she said, "and there's no need of your going."



Frank's face soured, and with instant perception of the effect her

refusal might have on the fortunes of the stranger, she reconsidered.



"Oh, come along! I reckon you want to get shut of some mean job."



And so she rode away, leaving her ward to adjust himself to his new and

strange surroundings as best he could, and with her going the whole

valley darkened for the convalescent.





A Ride From Sunrise To Sunset A Rifle Practice facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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