S. Weir (Silas Weir) Mitchell.

Far in the forest, a story online

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" That sounds like Philetus," said Mrs. Preston,

"Well, he might have said it. When you live
with a man has as much wisdom as Phil, you get
so after a time you don't rightly know what's his
and what's your own. I do mind that he said it
showed how hard it was for us grown-up folks, or
else Christ wouldn't have said, ' Suffer,' just as if it
hurt us to let them go easy to him."

" Philetus is an interesting critic," said Bessy,
knowing; well what Riverius would have said in
reply to poor Phil's explanatory comments on Holy

" Yes, he is interesting," returned Miriam. " If
he had had a right good education there is no say-
ing what he couldn't have done. But I don't think
he'd have made anything of an actor."

" Hardly."

" That child might, though I don't consider the
stage for her yet." She spoke as if Ophelia were
grown up and had hut to choose.

" It is scarcely a life one would desire for a girl.
I have heard you say so, Miriam."

"You did; but, my gracious, Mrs. Preston, ain't
anything better than some man like Ance Vickers,
and sitting alone one-half the time, and — and winter
nights, and frying salt pork, and living on long
sweetenin' and bad flour ? I tell you, I get right
tired times. It ain't like having Hamlet talk to
you, fool as he was. I always did think he was a
fool. I used to want to tell him so."

" I wonder you did not," said Bessy, much de-


lighted. " However, as to the little one, there is
time enough to think. Philetus is better, it seems
to me."

"Yes, things are more comfortable, thanks to
you, and if Auce would go away, and Mr. Rive-
rius too, we would get along, I do think. I don't
like to say it, but Phil just hates him. I can
hardly speak a word about him ; and I do admire
to see him. I never saw a man hadn't been on the
stage that held himself like him ; and he's so gay,
too. Phil's a heap wiser, but for amusing he don't

" Take my advice and never mention him at
home. Your husband is not well in mind, and is,
I dare say, unreasonable."

" You've done him a heap of good, and I'll try
to take your advice ; but, bless me, I have a long
tongue, and it's right hard to keep not saying this
and not saying that. Men are worse than children."

" Well, perhaps. Come along, Paul. Come,

In a few moments a strange roar was heard above
them, and Miriam started. She was always inclined
to be nervous. " What's that?" she said.

" Logs on the slide," answered Paul. " There,
you can see it."

" Tell me," said the small inquirer at his side.

" Well, if there was only just a hill and the river
down below, they could cut a smooth place and
roll the logs down it. That's a ' brow.' But if
there are deep places like this to cross over, then
they make a slide."


" Like in winter ?" said Ophelia.

" No. You come, and I'll show you."

Ten minutes brought them out on the cleared
rocky summit, some eight hundred feet above the
Alleghany. There was Kollins, with Ance and
others, and a quantity of logs brought thither in
winter on bob-sleds and lying about ready to be
sent down to the river, to be made into rafts. The
spring had been dry, and the jam above had pre-
vented the coming down of the rafts, so that now,
taking advantage of a " fresh," all hands were busy
getting down logs and building these huge unwieldy
structures. Back of the hill-top and away from
the river, on a table-land, there had been a noble
grove of pines, which when cut down it was hard
to convey to the stream. To do so with least labor,
a lumber-slide had been built from the hill-top.
It consisted of a floor of roughly-squared timber
with hewn sides a foot high. As this primitive
freight-road could be carried on supports across the
several ravines between the table-land and the river,
it saved slow and difficult winter ox-sledding, and
enabled the logs, started at the top, to glide swiftly
to the stream. The course was slightly curved, and
the final drop from the bluff some twenty feet into
deep water.

As the women approached, Kollins and others
spoke to them. Vickers nodded and said good-
morning, and by and by edged over towards Paul,
who had taken occasion to escape from the persua-
sive Ophelia. Ance was in a good humor, and not
more full of whiskey than common. If on him


too frank Nature had set the mark of the brute in
the ignoble nose and rounded ears, somewhere she
had set, too, a more than brutish admiration of
beauty and some faint sense of chivalry and fair
play. His rare personal strength was his chief
pride, and to know that until Riverius had over-
come him he had been the unquestioned superior
in fight of any man on raft or in camp gratified
him greatly. The combination of qualities he
possessed was ruinous. Paul regarded him with
boyish dignity.

" 'Ain't seen you sence that scrimmage," said
Ance, grinning amicably.

"No," said Paul, prudently concerned to keep
on good terms.

" Ef I hadn't 'a' bin awful full that time, he'd
'a' bin wusted. Jim Pearson 'lowed that last
night," — which was true, as it was rather un-
pleasant at times to contradict Vickers. " We'll
have another bout some day, and then we'll see,

" Why, look here, Ance ; you can't lick that
man. He's got too much science."

" We'll see," said Ance. " Someway him and
roe's got to get even ; and Ance Yickers ain't the
man to hide it, nuther. I was a-wantin' to say to
you thet I ain't goin' to keep you skeered about
them hornets, and you're a right plucky boy.
'Tain't many boys would have come and wanted
me to lick 'em. Don't you try no more tricks on
me, and I'll say it's quits."

" All right," said Paul. He was, on the whole,


well pleased, having a dreadful memory of that
cracking limb and the wicked hairy red face. But
he too had his boy chivalry, and added, " I don't
mean I'm on your side. Mr. Riverius is my friend.
I'd stand by him any time." And he proudly felt
that he had done so. " Oh, they're going to start
a log!" And he ran away.

A movable derrick was so rigged as to swing a
huge shorn pine on to the head of the slide. Then
the chains were loosed, the wood-hooks let go, and
the great inert mass started slowly on its way. In
a moment it gained impetus, and presently slid
with gathering velocity down the slide with a sin-
gular rasping sound which rose to a roar as it dis-
appeared among the overgrowths. As it passed
around the curve a little smoke showed itself, and
then was heard the plunge into the river.

" Why does it make that smoke ?" said the little
maid, who was mounted on Consider's shoulder,
acutely attentive.

" It's friction," said Rollins, smiling. " It would
catch fire if we didn't look out."

"They have turned a spring into the slide,
mother," said Paul, " half-way down. That keeps
it from burning."

" Let Phely go down on that," said the enter-
prising young lady.

The men laughed, and Rollins said, " Ance went
down on it once, seated on a shovel, for a bet ; but
I guess he don't hanker after it again."

Ance grinned: "Found it warm, like, I did.
That 'ere shovel het up awful fast."


After seeing several logs go down, Mrs. Preston
asked who had conceived the idea of making the
slide. " Eiverius done it," said Rollins. " Said he
had seen them in his country. It's a great savin'
of cattle." And after this they went home.


The summer from May on had been dry. Rain
had once fallen in June, but only once, and now
the whole land was parched and thirsty. Mid-
August came, and still no rain, and the trees were
showing signs of wilting, while the brooks dried
up and the wells gave out. The utmost alarm
began to be felt as to fires, and no precautions were
thought too great to provide against the disaster.
Twice slight fires had arisen and twice had been in
haste beaten out. As to the summer crops, they
were ruined, and the parched earth, with wide
cracks in field and pasture, confessed its longing
for relief.

As yet, despite his letter, Riverius did not come.

One evening, with Paul, Bessy stood at the fence
back of the house, contemplating her withered
corn and shrivelled potato-vines. Suddenly a man
she did not know said, " Evening, ma'am. Does
one Riverius live about here ? I fetched his letters
from Olean."

"He is not here now," said Bessy; "but I will
see that he gets them when he comes."

" All right." And he gave her a bundle of papers
and letters wrapped in greasy brown paper.

" Are there any for me?"

" I don't know. Best to look."



" Go to the house, Paul," she said, "and give
the man something to eat."

As they moved away, the letters fell out of the
cover, and, gathering them up, Bessy leaned on the
fence and turned them over to see if there were one
for herself. "Ah!" she said, surprised. Usually
heretofore all his letters had been directed to Herr
Johann Riverius. Now all were addressed " To
the Baron Johann Biverius," etc.

" That is it," she said, with quick perception.
" His brother must have died while he was abroad,
and now he is Baron Riverius." Did this widen
the space between them ? She knew well enough
how little a title like that meant in many lands,
and how much it meant in some. With all her
personal pride, she did not untruthfully estimate her
friendless place in existence, her poverty, her rough
wood-life, and the effects against which she strug-
gled hard for both Paul and herself. She had but
a broken life and a burdened one to give. Did he
want it at all ? Yes, it might be so. Her womanly
perceptions were delicately apprehensive. Had this
change in his condition altered him ? There might
be reasons for that not altogether base, and her
early days and strong good sense had given her
power to feel and know that circumstances might
make it difficult for him to do as he might desire.
Trying to reverse their respective situations, she
saw the matter still more charitably, even if with
increasing pain. And suppose it lay in her power
to win him, — a gentle task, from which all her pride
of character shrunk, — would she do it ? "I could


make him happy," she said, aloud. " I could do
it. I would be good for him, too," she said, ap-
pealing to her reason. Then she rested her arms
on the top rail of the snake fence and leaned upon
them silent. " Will it ever be ?" she murmured.

" Guten Abend, Frau Preston," said a familiar
voice, and she turned with a start, blushing an
honest red despite herself.

" I came from Smethport," he added. " How
are you ?"

" Yery well, and most glad to see you."

" I have been long away, — too long ; but I had
much business."

" Come in and have some tea."

" Gladly. How you are all dried up ! No rain,
I hear, and much dread of fires. You should cut
that long grass. It is gone worthless, and is too
near the house. It would burn like hay. And how
is my friend Paul ?" He was in gay good humor.

"Here are your letters, baron," she said, de-

" Ach, you know that ! Well, I should have told
you. My brother died, and I am the head of the
house. I wished it never; but it has come."

" And now I suppose you will go home ?"

" I do not know. Yes, some time. I am very
happy here. I do not love place and station and
the harder forms of our social life. It sets cruel
limits at times on one's will, and even on one's just

" Why ?" she asked, with absolute appearance
of innocence.


" I do not mean that it does imperatively fetter a
man ; that depends ; but it may make life difficult.
That is all."

" I suppose so," said Bessy. " I remember your
speaking of this once." She was amazed at her
own audacity.

" And you refused to help me."

" I did. There are things no man should ask
to have decided for him."

"You are right. You are always right."

And so they went in, and Riverius was noisily
made welcome by Paul, and noted that the laurels
were finished and other flowers added. After his
supper he asked leave to smoke, as usual, and
apologized for reading his letters. Now and then
he looked up and said a word or two. " My vines
are doing well. We have one of the best vineyards
in Saxony. I should like to show you the hills from
the garden. Ach ! and we have had trouble with
the government wood-inspectors. I wonder how
the Herr Inspector would like it here. And how
is the quaint Philetus?"

She felt that for the first time he had begun to
let her freely into his life. She went on sewing
calmly, a flood of joy in all her being.

" Philetus is, or was, better. He drinks less ;
but I do think that he is not quite right in his

" In his mind ?"

"Yes. He has what he calls visions; and, to
speak frankly, he has come to regard you with an
utterly unreasonable hatred."


"I am sorry, but it does not matter much. I
mean to offer him a place to oversee some wood-
work at my coal-mines in Pennsylvania. It is
really on account of his wife and child, and be-
cause — well "

" Well, because what ?"

" Oh, only that I thought you would like it."

" I should," she said. " I should like it very
much. Whether he will or not is hard to say. It
does not appear to me a very available plan. At
times he seems to me quite out of his head ; and
then his blindness. Here he is at home in the
woods ; but in a strange place among new people
— it will hardly answer."

" I have thought of all that," he returned. " Of
course you understand that I shall insist upon hav-
ing Consider also. It would never do to break up
that queer partnership."

" But if the thing fails, — if poor old Philetus
prove unable to do the work you will expect, —
what then ?"

" What then ? Oh, I should find some trifling
task for him and regard him as a pensioner. The
thing is to get him away from that drunken brute
Ance. My plan may fail, but I mean to give them
a chance. Change may help him, and with Con-
sider to aid him I fancy that he will be quite able
to do what little I shall want. At all events, we
will try."

" We," thought Bessy.

"Besides," he added, gayly, " I have to begin to
pay my debts to you. I am still reasonably honest.


Oh, I am in earnest," he added, watching her face.
" It is serious."

" That is forbidden ground," said Bessy. " Par-
don me, but it seems to me ignoble to be unable to
accept a benefit without feeling it constantly as a
debt; and — and do you think that in my solitary
life your constant kindness, your thoughtful friend-
liness, have been nothing ?"

" That is more debt," he said, laughing.

" Let us drop the subject. Your scheme for
Philetus seems to me kind. It may answer, al-
though, as I said, I have my fears. Whether or
not he will accept is, as I suspect, rather doubtful.
He is working here still ; and perhaps if you could
manage to see Miriam first it might be the better
way." She hesitated to advise it, but then it would
be only for this once.

" I will go to-morrow. I have the book for you.
It is only a record of scientific travel in South
America." Then he rose. "It is early, but I
am tired." And he looked around him. " How
pleasant to be here again !"

" You must miss the vineyards."

" Himmel ! I wish they were under the sea, and
the old castle and all. Gute Nacht."

Bessy sat still and worked on, smiling a little to
herself at times, and happier than she had been
for many a day.

It is sometimes fortunate when love is introduced
by friendship. If love be blind, friendship, the
true friendship of large natures, is not, and may
be the firmest basis in matured persons for that


relation which is supposed to make keenness of
mental vision impossible. Soon or late the best love
must include a friendship as honest and respectful.
The friendship of man and woman has been much
discussed, and as much doubted, nor is it in its
fulness with the young a very frequently possible
relation ; yet for those past their first youth it has
or may have qualities which give it values far be-
yond a like tie between two of one sex. The
woman friend must always feel some of the limita-
tions which are imposed by her sex and from which
she can never wholly free herself; but for the man
her friend the bond has availabilities which no such
relation to one of his own sex can give. There goes
with it a possibility of confessing the delicacies of
sentiment which he never inclines to lay open to his
fellow-man. There are things he may wish to say
at which the man may smile, but which to the
woman are serious, — things as to which the friendly
masculine is cool or which he regards but lightly.
The men whose characters include certain feminine
characteristics by no means unworthy of the high-
est male creations are rare, but give us, when they
do exist, the noblest types of capacity for the fullest
friendship. The man w T ho has no woman friend is
unfortunate, and lacks a part of that breadth of
relation to his kind which liberal-minded men in-
stinctively crave.

Yery early in their acquaintance Riverius had
once said to Bessy carelessly that some kind of
love-ties are commonplace possibilities, but that
capacity for friendship in its loftier range is the


rarer gift, and that no one makes a good friend to
another who is not a true friend to himself. She
had smiled, only half understanding him. Now
she understood better. She had the gift, rare to
passionate natures, of being able to stand aloof
from her own feelings and to use her reason as she
might have done that of a friend, and at present
through her own self-knowledge she comprehended
in a measure the man to whom she felt that she
had given her unasked love. It was natural to
Bessy Preston to feel that the nobleness of giving
implied obligation to give. "When this man fell at
her door, and she had recalled him to life, she had
pledged herself to an interest in what she had
given. It is easier to give anew when one has once
given than to give at first. As time went by, Eive-
rius stood all the tests which an awkward situation
and unusual conditions applied before the vision of
a woman clear-sighted and thoughtfully on guard.
His reticence as to himself would have annoyed
some women. It pleased her. His indisposition
to talk of himself she respected. He leaped no
bounds abruptly, yet somehow each month she
knew him better, and came at last to understand
him as women do at times come to understand men.
His faults she saw, therefore, — his too sure trust
in himself, and the pride which made it hard for
him to receive with gracious acceptance and easy
for him to give generously. His intellectual con-
tempt of the vague or pretentious she disliked, as
needless, but the role of his better qualities her
head had taught her heart, and thus, clear of brain


and lovingly generous, she gave him, slowly, re-
spect, admiration, friendship, and at last knew of
a sudden that she had been too prodigal and had
given her love. At first this had made her un-
happy, but of late she was anything but this. She
felt, however, a growing need for self-control.
She mistrusted the stormy passion of which she
knew herself to be capable, and acknowledged
with a wild joy that she was competent to love
with such energy and intensity as once would have
seemed to her impossible. Many such thoughts
haunted her that night. At last she recalled some
things which made her resolute that Paul should
go with Riverius to Richmond's cabin. Accord-
ingly, she asked the lad on the following morning
to take to Miriam a small basket with some trifles
which she had commissioned the German to buy
for her.

While Paul filled his basket in the house, she
stood outside at the door with Riverius. Chatting
gayly, she trimmed the climbing roses and clipped
off* the dead leaves. Her graciousness of move-
ment was seen to full advantage. Fuller health
had given her breadth and color, and the riper
curves of neck and chest suggested vigorous youth.
There was, as he saw her, a dignified calmness in
all her simplest acts which was typical of the
woman's character. Riverius looked at her gravely,
but with a keen sense of the mysterious changes
which a little time had wrought. The traditions
and prejudices of a life were crumbling in his joy-
fully-troubled soul, and he knew it. As she lifted


both hands to seize a branch, the noble vase-like
curves of chest and bust startled him, and the faint
vertigo of intoxicated senses overcame him for a
moment. The feeling of weakness — and he dis-
liked all such indications of want of self-control —
did nevertheless please him. He laughed aloud;
and he had the rare and gentle art of laughing well.

" What amuses you ?" she said, without turning
her head.

" Oh, nothing."

" Then you are delightfully easy to amuse. I
used to wonder that you laughed so little; but I
really think that you are improving, — absolutely

" There is room in many ways." She made no
answer. " What do you think ?" he added. " Am
I very naughty ?"

" Well, they say so hereabouts."

" Oh, they say so. Do you suppose I care, un-
less "

"But you should. That is one of your faults.
There, you wanted to know. How these thorns
prickle !"

" You mean that I do not enough consider the
opinions of men. Was that it ?"

" No, you do not, if they are socially beneath
you. As to how it is with others, your equals, I
do not know. I have no chance of knowing."

" And yet you are my equal."

" Am I? You are very good. I always thought
I was your superior." And she smiled over her


"You are," he said, quietly.

" And how ? That is interesting."

" I will tell you. I am more unreserved than
you. I do not at all mind telling you."

" Well ?" Her heart beat joyous music in her
breast. She liked the light talk and pretty little
play at confessions, " the marge of perils sweet."

"You are unprejudiced, and I am full of preju-
dices. You are frank and unsuspicious."

" Ah !" she murmured.

« I am "

"Pardon me, I did not ask for a comparative
statement of vices and virtues."

" But, being penitent, as you see, I am disposed
to confess."

" I do not like confessions."

" ETo."

" But I can stand any amount of abuse."

" And that I am incapable of."

"Yes, I always thought your character rather
defective. If you had been a reasonably consti-
tuted man, you would not have watched me for
five minutes trying to seize this branch, when with
the least exertion "

" And you want it badly ?"

" Dreadfully."

" What will you give to have it ?" The way, the
tones, the playfulness, were all unlike the man.

" I do not want it," she said. " It is the part
of wisdom to abandon vain efforts."

" Ach ! not whenever I saw Mrs. Preston. You
should have been a man,"


" I wish I were !"


" I would get that branch."

" I thought you had given it up."

" Please to get it."

"If you will give me the rose I see on the

" I will give you this bud."

" No, I want the rose."

" But why ?"

" A bud is incomplete."

A slight womanly mutiny arose in her mind.
" You cannot have it," she said. " The bud or

" Then nothing,' he returned, and, reaching up,
drew down the branch.

" Thank you," she said, faintly.

He returned, gravely, " Perhaps you repent. I
would wish that you do repent."

"I have not been wicked enough. — Ah, Paul,
have you all the things ?"

He said he was sure, and, with Eiverius, who
was suddenly serious and silent, walked across the
clearing. They were a hundred yards away, and
she watched them, — shall we say him ? " Ah,"
she cried. " I should be ashamed of myself! I
have been, I have been — silly ? But how pleasant
it was!" Then she looked again. They were in
the woods. He seemed to her to be going away,
away from her, and a flood of passionate blood
surged hotly to her temples and overcame her.
"Paul!" she cried, "Paul!"


He came back in haste, while Riverius stayed
leaning against a tree-trunk, deep in thought.

" She loves me. Why did she play with me ?
Surely she knew."

In a moment or two Paul returned. " I don't
see why mother forgets so lately. She wanted to
send some flowers to Miriam Richmond, and she
said I was to give you this one. I don't see what
a man wants a rose for."

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Online LibraryS. Weir (Silas Weir) MitchellFar in the forest, a story → online text (page 12 of 17)