Further Perplexities





Wayland, for his part, was not deceived by Siona Moore. He knew her kind,

and understood her method of attack. He liked her pert ways, for they

brought back his days at college, when dozens of just such misses lent

grace and humor and romance to the tennis court and to the football

field. She carried with her the aroma of care-free, athletic girlhood.

Flirtation was in her as charming and almost as meaningless as the

preening of birds on the bank of a pool in the meadow.



Speaking aloud, he said: "Miss Moore travels the trail with all known

accessories, and I've no doubt she thinks she is a grand campaigner; but

I am wondering how she would stand such a trip as that you took last

night. I don't believe she could have done as well as I. She's the

imitation--you're the real thing."



The praise involved in this speech brought back a little of Berrie's

humor. "I reckon those brown boots of hers would have melted," she said,

with quaint smile.



He became very grave. "If it had not been for you, dear girl, I would be

lying up there in the forest this minute. Nothing but your indomitable

spirit kept me moving. I shall be deeply hurt if any harm comes to you on

account of me."



"If it hadn't been for me you wouldn't have started on that trip last

night. It was perfectly useless. It would have been better for us both if

we had stayed in camp, for we wouldn't have met these people."



"That's true," he replied; "but we didn't know that at the time. We acted

for the best, and we must not blame ourselves, no matter what comes of

it."



They fell silent at this point, for each was again conscious of their new

relationship. She, vaguely suffering, waited for him to resume the

lover's tone, while he, oppressed by the sense of his own shortcomings

and weakness, was planning an escape. "It's all nonsense, my remaining in

the forest. I'm not fitted for it. It's too severe. I'll tell McFarlane

so and get out."



Perceiving his returning weakness and depression, Berea insisted on his

lying down again while she set to work preparing dinner. "There is no

telling when father will get here," she said. "And Tony will be hungry

when he comes. Lie down and rest."



He obeyed her silently, and, going to the bunk, at once fell asleep. How

long he slept he could not tell, but he was awakened by the voice of the

ranger, who was standing in the doorway and regarding Berrie with a

round-eyed stare.



He was a tall, awkward fellow of about thirty-five, plainly of the

frontier type; but a man of intelligence. At the end of a brief

explanation Berrie said, with an air of authority: "Now you'd better ride

up the trail and bring our camp outfit down. We can't go back that way,

anyhow."



The ranger glanced toward Wayland. "All right, Miss Berrie, but perhaps

your tenderfoot needs a doctor."



Wayland rose painfully but resolutely. "Oh no, I am not sick. I'm a

little lame, that's all. I'll go along with you."



"No," said Berrie, decisively. "You're not well enough for that. Get up

your horses, Tony, and by that time I'll have some dinner ready."



"All right, Miss Berrie," replied the man, and turned away.



Hardly had he crossed the bridge on his way to the pasture, when Berrie

cried out: "There comes daddy."



Wayland joined her at the door, and stood beside her watching the

Supervisor, as he came zigzagging down the steep hill to the east, with

all his horses trailing behind him roped together head-to-tail.



"He's had to come round by Lost Lake," she exclaimed. "He'll be tired

out, and absolutely starved. Wahoo!" she shouted in greeting, and the

Supervisor waved his hand.



There was something superb in the calm seat of the veteran as he slid

down the slope. He kept his place in the saddle with the air of the rider

to whom hunger, fatigue, windfalls, and snowslides were all a part of the

day's work; and when he reined in before the door and dropped from his

horse, he put his arm about his daughter's neck with quiet word: "I

thought I'd find you here. How is everything?"



"All right, daddy; but what about you? Where have you been?"



"Clean back to Mill Park. The blamed cayuses kept just ahead of me all

the way."



"Poor old dad! And on top of that came the snow."



"Yes, and a whole hatful. I couldn't get back over the high pass. Had to

go round by Lost Lake, and to cap all, Old Baldy took a notion not to

lead. Oh, I've had a peach of a time; but here I am. Have you seen Moore

and his party?"



"Yes, they're in camp up the trail. He and Alec Belden and two women. Are

you hungry?"



He turned a comical glance upon her. "Am I hungry? Sister, I am a wolf.

Norcross, take my horses down to the pasture."



She hastened to interpose. "Let me do that, daddy, Mr. Norcross is badly

used up. You see, we started down here late yesterday afternoon. It was

raining and horribly muddy, and I took the wrong trail. The darkness

caught us and we didn't reach the station till nearly midnight."



Wayland acknowledged his weakness. "I guess I made a mistake, Supervisor;

I'm not fitted for this strenuous life."



McFarlane was quick to understand. "I didn't intend to pitchfork you into

the forest life quite so suddenly," he said. "Don't give up yet awhile.

You'll harden to it."



"Here comes Tony," said Berrie. "He'll look after the ponies."



Nevertheless Wayland went out, believing that Berrie wished to be alone

with her father for a short time.



As he took his seat McFarlane said: "You stayed in camp till yesterday

afternoon, did you?"



"Yes, we were expecting you every moment."



He saw nothing in this to remark upon. "Did it snow at the lake?"



"Yes, a little; it mostly rained."



"It stormed up on the divide like a January blizzard. When did Moore and

his party arrive?"



"About ten o'clock this morning."



"I'll ride right up and see them. What about the outfit? That's at the

lake, I reckon?"



"Yes, I was just sending Tony after it. But, father, if you go up to

Moore's camp, don't say too much about what has happened. Don't tell them

just when you took the back-trail, and just how long Wayland and I were

in camp."



"Why not?"



She reddened with confusion. "Because--You know what an old gossip Mrs.

Belden is. I don't want her to know. She's an awful talker, and our being

together up there all that time will give her a chance."



A light broke in on the Supervisor's brain. In the midst of his

preoccupation as a forester he suddenly became the father. His eyes

narrowed and his face darkened. "That's so. The old rip could make a

whole lot of capital out of your being left in camp that way. At the same

time I don't believe in dodging. The worst thing we could do would be to

try to blind the trail. Was Tony here last night when you came?"



"No, he was down the valley after his mail."



His face darkened again. "That's another piece of bad luck, too. How much

does the old woman know at present?"



"Nothing at all."



"Didn't she cross-examine you?"



"Sure she did; but Wayland side-tracked her. Of course it only delays

things. She'll know all about it sooner or later. She's great at putting

two and two together. Two and two with her always make five."



McFarlane mused. "Cliff will be plumb crazy if she gets his ear first."



"I don't care anything about Cliff, daddy. I don't care what he thinks or

does, if he will only let Wayland alone."



"See here, daughter, you do seem to be terribly interested in this

tourist."



"He's the finest man I ever knew, father."



He looked at her with tender, trusting glance. "He isn't your kind,

daughter. He's a nice clean boy, but he's different. He don't belong in

our world. He's only just stopping here. Don't forget that."



"I'm not forgetting that, daddy. I know he's different, that's why I like

him." After a pause she added: "Nobody could have been nicer all through

these days than he has been. He was like a brother."



McFarlane fixed a keen glance upon her. "Has he said anything to you? Did

you come to an understanding?"



Her eyes fell. "Not the way you mean, daddy; but I think he--likes me.

But do you know who he is? He's the son of W. W. Norcross, that big

Michigan lumberman."



McFarlane started. "How do you know that?"



"Mr. Moore asked him if he was any relation to W.W. Norcross, and he

said, 'Yes, a son.' You should have seen how that Moore girl changed her

tune the moment he admitted that. She'd been very free with him up to

that time; but when she found out he was a rich man's son she became as

quiet and innocent as a kitten. I hate her; she's a deceitful snip."



"Well, now, daughter, that being the case, it's all the more certain that

he don't belong to our world, and you mustn't fix your mind on keeping

him here."



"A girl can't help fixing her mind, daddy."



"Or changing it." He smiled a little. "You used to like Cliff. You liked

him well enough to promise to marry him."



"I know I did; but I despise him now."



"Poor Cliff! He isn't so much to blame after all. Any man is likely to

flare out when he finds another fellow cutting in ahead of him. Why, here

you are wanting to kill Siona Moore just for making up to your young

tourist."



"But that's different."



He laughed. "Of course it is. But the thing we've got to guard against is

old lady Belden's tongue. She and that Belden gang have it in for me, and

all that has kept them from open war has been Cliff's relationship to

you. They'll take a keen delight in making the worst of all this camping

business." McFarlane was now very grave. "I wish your mother was here

this minute. I guess we had better cut out this timber cruise and go

right back."



"No, you mustn't do that; that would only make more talk. Go on with your

plans. I'll stay here with you. It won't take you but a couple of days to

do the work, and Wayland needs the rest."



"But suppose Cliff hears of this business between you and Norcross and

comes galloping over the ridge?"



"Well, let him, he has no claim on me."



He rose uneasily. "It's all mighty risky business, and it's my fault. I

should never have permitted you to start on this trip."



"Don't you worry about me, daddy, I'll pull through somehow. Anybody that

knows me will understand how little there is in--in old lady Belden's

gab. I've had a beautiful trip, and I won't let her nor anybody else

spoil it for me."



McFarlane was not merely troubled. He was distracted. He was afraid to

meet the Beldens. He dreaded their questions, their innuendoes. He had

perfect faith in his daughter's purity and honesty, and he liked and

trusted Norcross, and yet he knew that should Belden find it to his

advantage to slander these young people, and to read into their action

the lawlessness of his own youth, Berea's reputation, high as it was,

would suffer, and her mother's heart be rent with anxiety. In his growing

pain and perplexity he decided to speak frankly to young Norcross

himself. "He's a gentleman, and knows the way of the world. Perhaps he'll

have some suggestion to offer." In his heart he hoped to learn that

Wayland loved his daughter and wished to marry her.



Wayland was down on the bridge leaning over the rail, listening to the

song of the water.



McFarlane approached gravely, but when he spoke it was in his usual soft

monotone. "Mr. Norcross," he began, with candid inflection, "I am very

sorry to say it; but I wish you and my daughter had never started on this

trip."



"I know what you mean, Supervisor, and I feel as you do about it. Of

course, none of us foresaw any such complication as this, but now that we

are snarled up in it we'll have to make the best of it. No one of us is

to blame. It was all accidental."



The youth's frank words and his sympathetic voice disarmed McFarlane

completely. Even the slight resentment he felt melted away. "It's no use

saying if," he remarked, at length. "What we've got to meet is Seth

Belden's report--Berrie has cut loose from Cliff, and he's red-headed

already. When he drops onto this story, when he learns that I had to

chase back after the horses, and that you and Berrie were alone together

for three days, he'll have a fine club to swing, and he'll swing it; and

Alec will help him. They're all waiting a chance to get me, and they're

mean enough to get me through my girl."



"What can I do?" asked Wayland.



McFarlane pondered. "I'll try to head off Marm Belden, and I'll have a

talk with Moore. He's a pretty reasonable chap."



"But you forget there's another tale-bearer. Moore's daughter is with

them."



"That's so. I'd forgotten her. Good Lord! we are in for it. There's no

use trying to cover anything up."



Here was the place for Norcross to speak up and say: "Never mind, I'm

going to ask Berrie to be my wife." But he couldn't do it. Something rose

in his throat which prevented speech. A strange repugnance, a kind of

sullen resentment at being forced into a declaration, kept him silent,

and McFarlane, disappointed, wondering and hurt, kept silence also.



Norcross was the first to speak. "Of course those who know your daughter

will not listen for an instant to the story of an unclean old thing like

Mrs. Belden."



"I'm not so sure about that," replied the father, gloomily. "People

always listen to such stories, and a girl always gets the worst of a

situation like this. Berrie's been brought up to take care of herself,

and she's kept clear of criticism so far; but with Cliff on edge and this

old rip snooping around--" His mind suddenly changed. "Your being the son

of a rich man won't help any. Why didn't you tell me who you were?"



"I didn't think it necessary. What difference does it make? I have

nothing to do with my father's business. His notions of forest

speculation are not mine."



"It would have made a difference with me, and it might have made a

difference with Berrie. She mightn't have been so free with you at the

start, if she'd known who you were. You looked sick and kind of lonesome,

and that worked on her sympathy."



"I was sick and I was lonesome, and she has been very sweet and lovely

to me, and it breaks my heart to think that her kindness and your

friendship should bring all this trouble and suspicion upon her. Let's go

up to the Moore camp and have it out with them. I'll make any statement

you think best."



"I reckon the less said about it the better," responded the older man.

"I'm going up to the camp, but not to talk about my daughter."



"How can you help it? They'll force the topic."



"If they do, I'll force them to let it alone," retorted McFarlane; but he

went away disappointed and sorrowful. The young man's evident avoidance

of the subject of marriage hurt him. He did not perceive, as Norcross

did, that to make an announcement of his daughter's engagement at this

moment would be taken as a confession of shameful need. It is probable

that Berrie herself would not have seen this further complication.



Each hour added to Wayland's sense of helplessness and bitterness. "I am

in a trap. I can neither help Berrie nor help myself. Nothing remains for

me but flight, and flight will also be a confession of guilt."



Once again, and in far more definite terms, he perceived the injustice of

the world toward women. Here with Berrie, as in ages upon ages of other

times, the maiden must bear the burden of reproach. "In me it will be

considered a joke, a romantic episode, in her a degrading misdemeanor.

And yet what can I do?"



When he re-entered the cabin the Supervisor had returned from the camp,

and something in his manner, as well as in Berrie's, revealed the fact

that the situation had not improved.



"They forced me into a corner," McFarlane said to Wayland, peevishly. "I

lied out of one night; but they know that you were here last night. Of

course, they were respectful enough so long as I had an eye on them, but

their tongues are wagging now."



The rest of the evening was spent in talk on the forest, and in going

over the ranger's books, for the Supervisor continued to plan for

Wayland's stay at this station, and the young fellow thought it best not

to refuse at the moment.



As bedtime drew near Settle took a blanket and went to the corral, and

Berrie insisted that her father and Wayland occupy the bunk.



Norcross protested; but the Supervisor said: "Let her alone. She's better

able to sleep on the floor than either of us."



This was perfectly true; but, in spite of his bruised and aching body,

the youth would gladly have taken her place beside the stove. It seemed

pitifully unjust that she should have this physical hardship in addition

to her uneasiness of mind.





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