Having murdered his brother-in-law, Orrin Brower of Kentucky was a fugitive from justice. From the county jail where he had been confined to await his trial he had escaped by knocking down his jailer with an iron bar, robbing him of his ke... Read more of An Arrest at Scary Stories.caInformational Site Network Informational
   Home - Science Fiction Stories - Western Stories

Wayland Receives A Warning

From: The Forester's Daughter

Distance is no barrier to gossip. It amazed young Norcross to observe how
minutely the ranchers of the valley followed one another's most intimate
domestic affairs. Not merely was each man in full possession of the color
and number of every calf in his neighbor's herd, it seemed that nothing
could happen in the most remote cabin and remain concealed. Any event
which broke the monotony of their life loomed large, and in all matters
of courtship curiosity was something more than keen, it was remorseless.

Living miles apart, and riding the roads but seldom, these lonely gossips
tore to tatters every scrap of rumor. No citizen came or went without
being studied, characterized, accounted for, and every woman was
scrutinized as closely as a stray horse, and if there was within her, the
slightest wayward impulse some lawless centaur came to know it, to exult
over it, to make test of it. Her every word, her minutest expression of a
natural coquetry was enlarged upon as a sign of weakness, of yielding.
Every personable female was the focus of a natural desire, intensified by
lonely brooding on the part of the men.

It was soon apparent to the Eastern observer that the entire male
population for thirty miles around not only knew McFarlane's girl; but
that every unmarried man--and some who were both husbands and
fathers--kept a deeply interested eye upon her daily motion, and certain
shameless ones openly boasted among their fellows of their intention to
win her favor, while the shy ones reveled in secret exultation over every
chance meeting with her. She was the topic of every lumber-camp, and the
shining lure of every dance to which the ranch hands often rode over long
and lonely trails.

Part of this intense interest was due, naturally, to the scarcity of
desirable women, but a larger part was called out by Berea's frank
freedom of manner. Her ready camaraderie was taken for carelessness, and
the candid grip of her hand was often misunderstood; and yet most of the
men respected her, and some feared her. After her avowed choice of
Clifford Belden they all kept aloof, for he was hot-tempered and
formidably swift to avenge an insult.

At the end of a week Norcross found himself restless and discontented
with the Meekers. He was tired of fishing, tired of the old man's endless
arguments, and tired of the obscene cow-hands. The men around the mill
did not interest him, and their Saturday night spree at the saloon
disgusted him. The one person who piqued his curiosity was Landon, the
ranger who was stationed not far away, and who could be seen occasionally
riding by on a handsome black horse. There was something in his bearing,
in his neat and serviceable drab uniform, which attracted the
convalescent, and on Sunday morning he decided to venture a call,
although Frank Meeker had said the ranger was a "grouch."

His cabin, a neat log structure, stood just above the road on a huge
natural terrace of grassy boulders, and the flag which fluttered from a
tall staff before it could be seen for several miles--the bright sign of
federal control, the symbol of law and order, just as the saloon and the
mill were signs of lawless vice and destructive greed. Around the door
flowers bloomed and kittens played; while at the door of the dive broken
bottles, swarms of flies, and heaps of refuse menaced every corner, and
the mill immured itself in its own debris like a foul beast.

It was strangely moving to come upon this flower-like place and this
garden in the wilderness. A spring, which crept from the high wall back
of "the station" (as these ranger headquarters are called), gave its
delicious water into several winding ditches, trickled musically down the
other side of the terrace in little life-giving cascades, and so finally,
reunited in a single current, fell away into the creek. It was plain that
loving care, and much of it, had been given to this tiny system of

The cabin's interior pleased Wayland almost as much as the garden. It was
built of pine logs neatly matched and hewed on one side. There were but
two rooms--one which served as sleeping-chamber and office, and one which
was at once kitchen and dining-room. In the larger room a quaint
fireplace with a flat arch, a bunk, a table supporting a typewriter, and
several shelves full of books made up the furnishing. On the walls hung a
rifle, a revolver in its belt, a couple of uniforms, and a yellow oilskin

The ranger, spurred and belted, with his cuffs turned back, was pounding
the typewriter when Wayland appeared at the open door; but he rose with
grave courtesy. "Come in," he said, and his voice had a pleasant

"I'm interrupting."

"Nothing serious, just a letter. There's no hurry. I'm always glad of an
excuse to rest from this job." He was at once keenly interested in his
visitor, for he perceived in him the gentleman and, of course, the

Wayland, with something of the feeling of a civilian reporting to an
officer, explained his presence in the neighborhood.

"I've heard of you," responded the ranger, "and I've been hoping you'd
look in on me. The Supervisor's daughter has just written me to look
after you. She said you were not very well."

Again Wayland protested that he was not a consumptive, only a student who
needed mountain air; but he added: "It is very kind of Miss McFarlane to
think of me."

"Oh, she thinks of everybody," the young fellow declared. "She's one of
the most unselfish creatures in the world."

Something in the music of this speech, and something in the look of the
ranger's eyes, caused Wayland to wonder if here were not still another of
Berrie's subjects. He became certain of it as the young officer went on,
with pleasing frankness, and it was not long before he had conveyed to
Wayland his cause for sadness. "She's engaged to a man that is not her
equal. In a certain sense no man is her equal; but Belden is a pretty
hard type, and I believe, although I can't prove it, that he is part
owner of the saloon over there."

"How does that saloon happen to be here?"

"It's on patented land--a so-called 'placer claim'--experts have reported
against it. McFarlane has protested against it, but nothing is done. The
mill is also on deeded land, and together they are a plague spot. I'm
their enemy, and they know it; and they've threatened to burn me out. Of
course they won't do that, but they're ready to play any kind of trick on

"I can well believe that, for I am getting my share of practical jokes at

"They're not a bad lot over there--only just rowdy. I suppose they're
initiating you," said Landon.

"I didn't come out here to be a cowboy," responded Norcross. "But Frank
Meeker seems to be anxious to show me all the good old cowboy courtesies.
On Monday he slipped a burr under my horse's saddle, and I came near to
having my neck broken. Then he or some one else concealed a frog in my
bed, and fouled my hair-brushes. In fact, I go to sleep each night in
expectation of some new attack; but the air and the riding are doing me a
great deal of good, and so I stay."

"Come and bunk with me," urged Landon. "I'll be glad to have you. I get
terribly lonesome here sometimes, although I'm supposed to have the best
station in the forest. Bring your outfit and stay as long as you like."

This offer touched Norcross deeply. "That's very kind of you; but I guess
I'll stick it out. I hate to let those hoodlums drive me out."

"All right, but come and see me often. I get so blue some days I wonder
what's the use of it all. There's one fatal condition about this ranger
business--it's a solitary job, it cuts out marriage for most of us. Many
of the stations are fifteen or twenty miles from a post-office; then,
too, the lines of promotion are few. I guess I'll have to get out,
although I like the work. Come in any time and take a snack with me."

Thereafter Wayland spent nearly every day with the ranger, either in his
cabin or riding the trail, and during these hours confidence grew until
at last Landon confessed that his unrest arose from his rejection by

"She was not to blame. She's so kind and free with every one, I thought I
had a chance. I was conceited enough to feel sorry for the other fellows,
and now I can't even feel sorry for myself. I'm just dazed and hanging to
the ropes. She was mighty gentle about it--you know how sunny her face
is--well, she just got grave and kind o' faint-voiced, and said--Oh, you
know what she said! She let me know there was another man. I didn't ask
her who, and when I found out, I lost my grip entirely. At first I
thought I'd resign and get out of the country; but I couldn't do it--I
can't yet. The chance of seeing her--of hearing from her once in a
while--she never writes except on business for her father; but--you'll
laugh--I can't see her signature without a tremor." He smiled, but his
eyes were desperately sad. "I ought to resign, because I can't do my work
as well as I ought to. As I ride the trail I'm thinking of her. I sit
here half the night writing imaginary letters to her. And when I see her,
and she takes my hand in hers--you know what a hand she has--my mind goes
blank. Oh, I'm crazy! I admit it. I didn't know such a thing could happen
to me; but it has."

"I suppose it's being alone so much," Wayland started to argue, but the
other would not have it so.

"No, it's the girl herself. She's not only beautiful in body, she's all
sweetness and sincerity in mind. There isn't a petty thing about her. And
her happy smile--do you know, I have times when I resent that smile? How
can she be so happy without me? That's crazy, too, but I think it,
sometimes. Then I think of the time when she will not smile--when that
brute Belden will begin to treat her as he does his sisters--then I get

As Wayland listened to this outpouring he wondered at the intensity of
the forester's passion. He marveled, too, at Berrie's choice, for there
was something fine and high in Landon's worship. A college man with a
mining engineer's training, he should go high in the service. "He made
the mistake of being too precipitate as a lover," concluded Wayland. "His
forthright courtship repelled her."

Meanwhile his own troubles increased. Frank's dislike had grown to an
impish vindictiveness, and if the old man Meeker had any knowledge of his
son's deviltries, he gave no sign. Mrs. Meeker, however, openly reproved
the scamp.

"You ought to be ashamed of worrying a sick man," she protested,

"He ain't so sick as all that; and, besides, he needs the starch taken
out of him," was the boy's pitiless answer.

"I don't know why I stay," Wayland wrote to Berea. "I'm disgusted with
the men up here--they're all tiresome except Landon--but I hate to slink
away, and besides, the country is glorious. I'd like to come down and see
you this week. May I do so? Please send word that I may."

She did not reply, and wondering whether she had received his letter or
not, he mounted his horse one beautiful morning and rode away up the
trail with a sense of elation, of eager joy, with intent to call upon her
at the ranch as he went by.

Hardly had he vanished among the pines when Clifford Belden rode in from
his ranch on Hat Creek, and called at Meeker's for his mail.

Frank Meeker was in the office, and as he both feared and disliked this
big contemptuous young cattleman, he set to work to make him jealous.

"You want to watch this one-lung boarder of ours," he warned, with a
grin. "He's been writing to Berrie, and he's just gone down to see her.
His highfalutin ways, and his fine white hands, have put her on the

Belden fixed a pair of cold, gray-blue eyes on his tormentor, and said:
"You be careful of your tongue or I'll put you on the slant."

"I'm her own cousin," retorted Frank. "I reckon I can say what I please
about her. I don't want that dude Easterner to cut you out. She guided
him over here, and gave him her slicker to keep him dry, and I can see
she's terribly taken with him. She's headstrong as a mule, once she gets
started, and if she takes a notion to Norcross it's all up with you."

"I'm not worrying," retorted Belden.

"You'd better be. I was down there the other day, and it 'peared like she
couldn't talk of anything else but Mister Norcross, Mister Norcross, till
I was sick of his name."

An hour later Belden left the mill and set off up the trail behind
Norcross, his face fallen into stern lines. Frank writhed in delight.
"There goes Cliff, hot under the collar, chasing Norcross. If he finds
out that Berrie is interested in him, he'll just about wring that dude's

Meanwhile Wayland was riding through the pass with lightening heart, his
thought dwelling on the girl at the end of his journey. Aside from Landon
and Nash, she was the one soul in all this mountain world in whom he took
the slightest interest. Her pity still hurt him, but he hoped to show her
such change of color, such gain in horsemanship, that she could no longer
consider him an invalid. His mind kept so closely to these interior
matters that he hardly saw the path, but his horse led him safely back
with precise knowledge and eager haste.

As he reached the McFarlane ranch it seemed deserted of men, but a faint
column of smoke rising from the roof of the kitchen gave evidence of a
cook, and at his knock Berrie came to the door with a boyish word of
frank surprise and pleasure. She was dressed in a blue-and-white calico
gown with the collar turned in and the sleeves rolled up; but she seemed
quite unembarrassed, and her pleasure in his coming quite repaid him for
his long and tiresome ride.

"I've been wondering about you," she said. "I'm mighty glad to see you.
How do you stand it?"

"You got my letter?"

"I did--and I was going to write and tell you to come down, but I've had
some special work to do at the office."

She took the horse's rein from him, and together they started toward
the stables. As she stepped over and around the old hoofs and
meat-bones--which littered the way--without comment, Wayland again
wondered at her apparent failure to realize the disgusting disorder of
the yard. "Why don't she urge the men to clean it up?" he thought.

This action of stabling the horses--a perfectly innocent and natural one
for her--led one of the hands, a coarse-minded sneak, to watch them from
a corral. "I wonder how Cliff would like that?" he evilly remarked.

Berea was frankly pleased to see Wayland, and spoke of the improvement
which had taken place in him. "You're looking fine," she said, as they
were returning to the house. "But how do you get on with the boys?"

"Not very well," he admitted. "They seem to have it in for me. It's a
constant fight."

"How about Frank?"

"He's the worst of them all. He never speaks to me that he doesn't insult
me. I don't know why. I've tried my best to get into his good graces, but
I can't. Your uncle I like, and Mrs. Meeker is very kind; but all the
others seem to be sworn enemies. I don't think I could stand it if it
weren't for Landon. I spend a good deal of time with him."

Her face grew grave. "I reckon you got started wrong," she said at last.
"They'll like you better when you get browned up, and your clothes get
dirty--you're a little too fancy for them just now."

"But you see," he said, "I'm not trying for their admiration. I haven't
the slightest ambition to shine as a cow-puncher, and if those fellows
are fair samples I don't want anybody to mistake me for one."

"Don't let that get around," she smilingly replied. "They'd run you out
if they knew you despised them."

"I've come down here to confer with you," he declared, as they reached
the door. "I don't believe I want any more of their company. What's the
use? As you say, I've started wrong with them, and I don't see any
prospect of getting right; and, besides, I like the rangers better.
Landon thinks I might work into the service. I wonder if I could? It
would give me something to do."

She considered a moment. "We'll think about that. Come into the kitchen.
I'm cook to-day, mother's gone to town."

The kitchen was clean and ample, and the delicious odor of new-made bread
filled it with cheer. As the girl resumed her apron, Wayland settled into
a chair with a sigh of content. "I like this," he said aloud. "There's
nothing cowgirl about you now, you're the Anglo-Saxon housewife. You
might be a Michigan or Connecticut girl at this moment."

Her cheeks were ruddy with the heat, and her eyes intent on her work; but
she caught enough of his meaning to be pleased with it. "Oh, I have to
take a hand at the pots and pans now and then. I can't give all my time
to the service; but I'd like to."

He boldly announced his errand. "I wish you'd take me to board? I'm sure
your cooking would build up my shattered system a good deal quicker than
your aunt's."

She laughed, but shook her head. "You ought to be on the hills riding
hard every day. What you need is the high country and the air of the

"I'm not feeling any lack of scenery or pine-tree air," he retorted. "I'm
perfectly satisfied right here. Civilized bread and the sight of you will
do me more good than boiled beans and camp bread. I hate to say it, but
the Meeker menu runs largely to beef. Moreover, just seeing you would
help my recovery."

She became self-conscious at this, and he hastened to add:

"Not that I'm really sick. Mrs. Meeker, like yourself, persists in
treating me as if I were. I'm feeling fine--perfectly well, only I'm not
as rugged as I want to be."

She had read that victims of the white plague always talk in this
cheerful way about themselves, and she worked on without replying, and
this gave him an excellent opportunity to study her closely. She was
taller than most women and lithely powerful. There was nothing delicate
about her--nothing spirituelle--on the contrary, she was markedly
full-veined, cheerful and humorous, and yet she had responded several
times to an allusive phrase with surprising quickness. She did so now as
he remarked: "Somebody, I think it was Lowell, has said 'Nature is all
very well for a vacation, but a poor substitute for the society of good
men and women.' It's beautiful up at the mill, but I want some one to
enjoy it with, and there is no one to turn to, except Landon, and he's
rather sad and self-absorbed--you know why. If I were here--in the
valley--you and I could ride together now and then, and you could show me
all the trails. Why not let me come here and board? I'm going to ask your
mother, if I may not do so?"

Quite naturally he grew more and more personal. He told her of his
father, the busy director of a lumber company, and of his mother, sickly
and inert.

"She ought never to have married," he said, with darkened brow. "Not one
of her children has even a decent constitution. I'm the most robust of
them all, and I must seem a pretty poor lot to you. However, I wasn't
always like this, and if that young devil, Frank Meeker, hadn't tormented
me out of my sleep, I would have shown you still greater improvement.
Don't you see that it is your duty to let me stay here where I can build
up on your cooking?"

She turned this aside. "Mother don't think much of my cooking. She says I
can handle a brandin'-iron a heap better than I can a rollin'-pin."

"You certainly can ride," he replied, with admiring accent. "I shall
never forget the picture you made that first time I saw you racing to
intercept the stage. Do you know how fine you are physically? You're a
wonder." She uttered some protest, but he went on: "When I think of my
mother and sisters in comparison with you, they seem like caricatures of
women. I know I oughtn't to say such things of my mother--she really is
an exceptional person--but a woman should be something more than mind. My
sisters could no more do what you do than a lame duck can lead a ballet.
I suppose it is because I have had to live with a lot of ailing women all
my life that I feel as I do toward you. I worship your health and
strength. I really do. Your care of me on that trip was very sweet--and
yet it stung."

"I didn't mean to hurt you."

"I know you didn't, and I'm not complaining. I'm only wishing I could
come here and be 'bossed' by you until I could hold my own against any
weather. You make me feel just as I used to do when I went to a circus
and watched the athletes, men and women, file past me in the sawdust.
They seemed like demigods. As I sit here now I have a fierce desire to be
as well, as strong, as full of life as you are. I hate being thin and
timid. You have the physical perfection that queens ought to have."

Her face was flushed with inward heat as she listened to his strange
words, which sprang, she feared, from the heart of a man hopelessly ill;
but she again protested. "It's all right to be able to throw a rope and
ride a mean horse, but you have got something else--something I can never
get. Learning is a thousand times finer than muscle."

"Learning does not compensate for nine-inch shoulders and spindle legs,"
he answered. "But I'm going to get well. Knowing you has given me renewed
desire to be a man. I'm going to ride and rough it, and sleep out of
doors till I can follow you anywhere. You'll be proud of me before the
month is out. But I'm going to cut the Meeker outfit. I won't subject
myself to their vulgarities another day. Why should I? It's false pride
in me to hang on up there any longer."

"Of course you can come here," she said. "Mother will be glad to have
you, although our ranch isn't a bit pretty. Perhaps father will send you
out with one of the rangers as a fire-guard. I'll ask him to-night."

"I wish you would. I like these foresters. What I've seen of them. I
wouldn't mind serving under a man like Landon. He's fine."

Upon this pleasant conference Cliff Belden unexpectedly burst. Pushing
the door open with a slam, he confronted Berrie with dark and angry

"Why, Cliff, where did you come from?" she asked, rising in some
confusion. "I didn't hear you ride up."

"Apparently not," he sneeringly answered. "I reckon you were too much

She tried to laugh away his black mood. "That's right, I was. I'm chief
cook to-day. Come in and sit down. Mother's gone to town, and I'm playing
her part," she explained, ignoring his sullen displeasure. "Cliff, this
is Mr. Norcross, who is visiting Uncle Joe. Mr. Norcross, shake hands
with Mr. Belden." She made this introduction with some awkwardness, for
her lover's failure to even say, "Howdy," informed her that his jealous
heart was aflame, and she went on, quickly: "Mr. Norcross dropped in on
his way to the post-office, and I'm collecting a snack for him."

Recognizing Belden's claims upon the girl, Wayland rose. "I must be
going. It's a long ride over the hill."

"Come again soon," urged Berrie; "father wants to see you."

"Thank you. I will look in very shortly," he replied, and went out with
such dignity as he could command, feeling, however, very much like a dog
that has been kicked over the threshold.

Closing the door behind him, Belden turned upon the girl. "What's that
consumptive 'dogie' doing here? He 'peared to be very much at home with
you--too dern much at home!"

She was prepared for his displeasure, but not for words like these. She
answered, quietly: "He just dropped in on his way to town, and he's not a
dogie!" She resented his tone as well as his words.

"I've heard about you taking him over to Meeker's and lending him your
only slicker," he went on; "but I didn't expect to find him sittin' here
like he owned you and the place. You're taking altogether too much pains
with him. Can't he put his own horse out? Do you have to go to the stable
with him? You never did have any sense about your actions with men.
You've all along been too free of your reputation, and now I'm going to
take care of it for you. I won't have you nursin' this runt any longer!"

She perceived now the full measure of his base rage, and her face grew
pale and set. "You're making a perfect fool of yourself, Cliff," she
said, with portentous calmness.

"Am I?" he asked.

"You sure are, and you'll see it yourself by and by. You've no call to
get wire-edged about Mr. Norcross. He's not very strong. He's just
getting well of a long sickness. I knew a chill would finish him, that's
why I gave him my slicker. It didn't hurt me, and maybe it saved his
life. I'd do it again if necessary."

"Since when did you start a hospital for Eastern tenderfeet?" he sneered;
then his tone changed to one of downright command. "You want to cut this
all out, I tell you! I won't have any more of it! The boys up at the mill
are all talkin' about your interest in this little whelp, and I'm getting
the branding-iron from every one I meet. Sam saw you go into the barn
with that dude, and that would have been all over the country
to-morrow, if I hadn't told him I'd sew his mouth up if he said a word
about it. Of course, I don't think you mean anything by this coddlin'."

"Oh, thank you," she interrupted, with flaming, quick, indignant fury.
"That's mighty nice of you. I went to the barn to show Mr. Norcross where
to stall his horse. I didn't know Sam was here."

He sneered: "No, I bet you didn't."

She fired at this. "Come now! Spit it out! Something nasty is in your
mind. Go on! What have I done? What makes you so hot?"

He began to weaken. "I don't accuse you of anything. I--but I--"

"Yes you do--in your heart you distrust me--you just as much as said

He was losing his high air of command. "Never mind what I said, Berrie,

She was blazing now. "But I do mind--I mind a whole lot--I didn't think
it of you," she added, as she realized his cheapness, his coarseness. "I
didn't suppose you could even think such things of me. I don't like
it," she repeated, and her tone hardened, "and I guess you'd better pull
out of here--for good. If you've no more faith in me than that, I want
you to go and never come back."

"You don't mean that!"

"Yes, I do! You've shown this yellow streak before, and I'm tired of it.
This is the limit. I'm done with you."

She stood between tears and benumbing anger now, and he was scared.
"Don't say that, Berrie!" he pleaded, trying to put his arm about her.

"Keep away from me!" She dashed his hands aside. "I hate you. I never
want to see you again!" She ran into her own room and slammed the door
behind her.

Belden stood for a long time with his back against the wall, the heat of
his resentment utterly gone, an empty, aching place in his heart. He
called her twice, but she made no answer, and so, at last, he mounted his
horse and rode away.

Next: The Supervisor Of The Forest

Previous: A Ride In The Rain

Add to Informational Site Network

Viewed 583