The Walk In The Rain





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."





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