S. Weir (Silas Weir) Mitchell.

Far in the forest, a story online

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Riverius took the rose. It was full-blown. He
turned and looked back, a morning dawn of joy
in his face. Bessy was gone. She was seated in
the painted room. " How could I do it ?" she said.
Meanwhile, Riverius strode along in silence. He
had not counted on this abrupt surrender, but he
did not undervalue the sacrifice it must have cost
her pride. He knew that only of late had he been
able to set aside the doubts and difficulties made for
him by education and traditions, and he could not
know how long it was since Bessy had learned with
a certain dread that her heart had been given in
advance. But now the benediction of a frank and
noble love was on him. He smiled scornfully, re-
membering the barriers he had set in his own way.
The sense of deep humility which goes with worthy
loving came over him, and he walked on reflecting
what now life ought to be. At last Paul's talk,
which usually he liked, annoyed him, and he said,
" Could you go to my wood-camp and ask James
to come over to-night?"

" All right," said the boy ; " but you will have
to carry the basket and these roses."


" I will see that they get there safe. Tell your
mother 1 sent you to camp. I shall be at home by

Alone and happy in the uninterrupted opportu-
nity to think, Riverius went on, and an hour later
entered Richmond's cabin. It is quite certain that
happiness agrees with some people, and that to
some misfortune is surely productive of moral in-
digestion. Riverius was not a man easily swayed
by external circumstance, good or bad. But what
had overcome him now was a novel experience in
his life, and affected him as great physical influ-
ences affect the material world, causing dislocations
and rearrangements, shattering, dissolving, dis-
placing, seeming to confuse. By and by in either
case there come tranquillity, and permanent or
temporary results according to the nature of the
thing disturbed. Just now his answered love was
to Riverius like sudden sunshine to a waiting world
of ready spring-time things. Bessy had sped him
on an errand of mercy. It should be done with
flavor of her liberal graciousness. He liked the
idea, and played with it pleasantly.


As Riverius drew near the cabin, Mrs. Richmond
came to the door. He was struck with her look of
worry, and, as always, with the large-limbed robust-
ness of the woman, and wondered a moment how
she and the rugged blind man could have been
the parents of the finely-made, quick-witted child
who appeared of a sudden beside her.

" When did you come, Mr. Riverius ?" said

"Last night."

" Oh ! that is why Philetus didn't happen to tell

" He does not know of my return. I have not
seen him."

Turning, Miriam glanced hastily at the small
noisy Yankee clock on the wall. It was but a little
after nine. No one — certainly not Philetus — was
likely to appear before noon. She might feel at

Said Ophelia, promptly, " You got something in
that basket for Phely. What you got in that basket
for Phely ? Give me some roses."

" The roses are for your mother, from Mrs.
Preston. There is a doll for you, and a little book."
Here he produced these articles, to which for the
time Ophelia paid not the least attention.

" What else you got there ?" When she found


there were no other matters of possible interest, she
sat down and submitted the new doll to an accurate
anatomical study.

"She has one leg longer than the other. What
color are her eyes, Mr. Riverius V

The baron was much amused. " She must have
some French blood," he said. " Let her go away
for a little ; or shall we walk outside ? I want to
talk to you of some business matters best to be
discussed alone." The fair Ophelia understood at
once that she was to be separated for a time from
her audience.

" Phely quite comf 'able," she said. " Phely
wants to stay inside."

" Take the doll and the book and go down to
your baby-house and stay until I call you," said
Miriam. " Until I call you. Do you hear,

The young person searched a moment Mrs.
Richmond's troubled face, and concluded to obey,
being well aware that in certain of her mother's
moods of late the large hands had been apt to be
unpleasant. " Phely will pound the doll with a
stone if she don't say her lessons," returned the
maid, with a defiant air.

" Out with you ! You just try any such naughty
tricks ! And don't you come till I call."

The mutinous, pretty little creature went down
the slope, and at the far corner of the clearing
seated herself by a miniature cabin, the gift of
Consider Kinsman. Here, under the shade of a
great maple, she was soon busy presenting to the


new doll a headless sister and a collection of snail-
shells, stones, broken china, and corn-cobs. Mean-
while, Mrs. Richmond dusted with her apron a
chair for her guest, and then sat down to talk with

" I have to be sharp with her sometimes, she's
that persistent ; and as to talking before her about
anything you don't want known to anybody else,
you might just as well tell it yourself."

" I have nothing very serious to say; but, on the
whole, I did think it well to be alone with you.
Eeally it mattered little."

"She'll stay now till I call her. What's the
matter? Anything wrong?" Poor Miriam was
in such a hopeless state of mind that any good news
seemed to her improbable.

" I came over here to see you because I want you
and Philetus to go and live on some lands of mine
in the coal-country near Pottsville."

« But "

" Wait a little, until I am through. I shall expect
your husband to look after my lumber interests,
and before long to attend to other duties connected
with a mine I am opening. He will have a house,
and be paid, I should say, about ^ve times his
present wages. Then there is a school quite near,
and Pottsville not far away, and neighbors close

" Mr. Riverius !"

" One moment. I know that Philetus is not
well. I know that to get him away from Ance
Vickers is his only chance ; and it seemed — well,



it seemed best to Mrs. Preston that I saw you first.
If I were to talk to Philetus he would not under-
stand me. At least that might be the case. This
is all I have to say."

To his surprise, she made no reply, but sat look-
ing out of the open door, some unusual twitching
movements about the chin, her eyes filling too fast
for natural drainage. Then came an outburst of
sobbing, her face in her apron, the large, bare white
arms shaking with the convulsive motions of the
head her hands sustained.

" I ain't — used — to kindness — not — from men.
I thank — thank you. Do — don't — think I don't
thank you."

The German looked aside out into the sunshine.
There was something uncomfortable about his
throat. " Ach, Himmel !" he said, aloud. " Don't
cry. What is it to make a fuss for ?"

By this time Miriam had rubbed her face red
and searched out the moisture in the corners of
her eyes and set her features in order.

" You must excuse me, sir. I haven't cried, not
that way, for many a day. There is crying that
blesses, and crying that curses, and — and "

" Please don't begin again," said Riverius, with
all of a man's utter helplessness before a tearful

" I don't see why you want to do it. He — well,
there's no use in hiding it, he hates you. I don't
want to have you making him this offer and you
not know that."

" But I do know it."


" Then you ain't like other men, that's all I've
got to say."

The pride that made the husband's dislike seem
to him but a trifle Miriam could not have under-
stood, nor altogether Riverius's desire to help the
weak who are in trouble through no wrong of their
own doing, nor also his other motives. As to the
German himself, it was but a small matter, and he
was getting more thanks and more affluence of
admiration than he relished.

" Mrs. Preston thought I had best see you about

" Oh !" exclaimed Miriam, smiling a little.
" Guess I'll thank Mrs. Preston when I see her.
You're a good man, Mr. Riverius, and you just
hate to be told it."

" Oh, don't !" said Riverius.

" It's no use. You've got to take it. When you
shake an apple-tree and the pippins come a-tumbling
down on your head you 'ain't any reason to com-
plain. The quality of your mercy ain't strained, or
it ain't strained through a fine sieve. I "

The German held up a hand of appeal, shaking
his head the while.

" Keep the rest for Mrs. Preston. I must go.
"When you have seen Philetus, if he is at all reason-
able, we can talk it over as to details. Oh ! and
tell him I will take Consider also. I forgot that.
It is essential. Good-by." And he put out his
hand. She had a wish to kiss it. How could she
show the gratitude with which her soul was full ?
Philetus would not like that. She dropped the


hand, stood before him, tall, shapely, pure white
and red, with the look of woman strength in hip
and chest, like some largely-modelled caryatid.

" God bless you !" she said. " God thank you !
I cannot; I know, I know. God bless you both !"

He only smiled, lifted his cap courteously as to
a lady of his own rank, and, turning, walked down
the hill and was soon lost to her view in the trees
as she stood and watched him. Then she too
turned and went into the house and fell on her
knees and prayed God with thankfulness as she
had been unable to do for many a day. When she
rose, more composed, the little maid was still out
of her thoughts. By and by the mother glanced
through a window, and saw her going to and fro,
busy in a little world of her own creation. Miriam
took a jacket of Phil's, and, sitting down, began to
sew, and also, thus aided, to think, as women will
at their work. Would Philetus accept? Oh, he
must. And why was he so strange about Riverius
and so careless about Ance ? She profoundly ad-
mired the manly German gentleman, but she had
always been a woman above reproach, and of late
had been very careful never even to mention his
name ; yet the visions continued, and her husband
had been wandering in speech at times, talking as
if in his blindness the German had been hiding
near the cabin. What did it all mean ? She could
not understand it. But now she must speak out,
and make Philetus comprehend that the man was
his friend and had never been other than just. She
rose to call the child.


At this moment a shadow fell through the door-
way. She leaped to her feet as Anson Yickers
entered. " What do you want ?" she cried, fiercely.
"I told you yesterday I would tell Phil if you
came again. Begone, I say ! Go !"

" I won't hurt you," he said. " Lord, but you're
a beauty ! Come, let's talk a little. You be quiet,
now, and I won't say nuthin' 'bout that ther' Ry-
verus. Guess ef Phil knowed how long he stayed
here to-day, he'd wish he'd a pair of eyes to lay
along a rifle-sight. He's a nice-lookin' man, that

If he meant to scare her he was sadly astray.
A fury of rage, of ungovernable anger, arose within
her. Gratitude, respect, sense of repeated insult,
lent it fuel.

" You spy ! you devil !" she cried ; " you fiery
beast, with your lying whiskey-fed tongue !" She
turned aside with a swift motion, caught Phil's
rifle, which she knew well how to use, cocked it,
and, covering the amazed and now furious man,
" Out, out, dog !" she screamed, " or I will kill
you !"

Ance was courageous and unpractised in fear.
A certain look of fascination lit up his bleared
eyes and to the woman's instinctive appreciations
coarsely spoke of horrible peril. She had never
realized it as now. It disturbed her visibly. In
an instant, stooping quickly to avoid the shot, he
rose, seizing her hand and tearing it from the trig-
ger. As he fell back, the rifle in his grasp, she
caught at the barrel, and struggled while he strove


to wrench the weapon from her. She cried aloud
for help, and only the distant child, hearing faintly,
listened undisturbed and then went on with her
play. The powerful woman was no easy prey.
At last, 'cursing, he tore the weapon from her
hands, which slid in wild vain effort along the
smooth barrel. The trigger caught on some part
of Yickers's coat. There was a sudden explosion,
a smoke, silence, a staggering reeling thing before
his eyes, a heavy fall, and Ance recoiled, seeing on
the floor her tall, large form, the face whitening,
a quick red stream leaping in jets from the neck
and spraying the nail-dented boards of the floor.
His eyes opened wide, his jaw fell. Then of a sud-
den he dropped the weapon, knelt, tore off her
white apron, and tried to stanch the merciless flow
which soaked it. It was vain. The ball had gone
upwards through the brain, cutting a large artery
in the neck. He ceased, stood up, and knew that
it was useless. As he looked, her lips stirred.
Her round white arms twitched. Something like
a strange smile convulsed her face, and all was still
in the cabin except the click, cluck of the wooden
clock on the wall. Of a sudden he became afraid.
Before that he had been simply shocked. The
change from the noble, amply-modelled woman, all
life and rage, who had aroused his worst passions,
to the white inert mass on the floor, had at first for
him the amazement of a miracle. But now he was
afraid. He backed slowly to the door, then, still
watching her, stooped to pluck his straw hat from
the floor, glanced around, saw no one, and suddenly


ran, like a beast pursued, down the hill and into the
woods. After a half-hour he sat down, exhausted,
by a brook, and for the first time became capable of
thought after his kind. Before this he may be said
to have merely felt the emotions of astonishment
and sorrow, and at last of pure terror. At length
he had come to a sense of personal danger. Look-
ing about him, he became suddenly aware that he
had still in his left hand Miriam's apron red with
blood. He placed the rolled garment in the brook,
covering it with a large stone which he lifted from
the bed of the stream. Then he washed his hands
and coat with care, and, standing up, followed with
his eyes the faint stains in the slow current until
they were lost to view. After this he turned and
walked slowly until he came to his lonely cabin
on the far slope of Laurel Mountain. He entered
it, shut the door, and sat down on a rough settle.
His lack of imagination spared him some forms of
mental distress. The refinements of self-torture
he escaped. The extremity of pure fear at times
returned, and he groaned aloud, but of the child
and helpless blind Philetus he thought but vaguely.
He had, however, a shameful sense of having hurt
a woman, and yet knew that as far as intention was
concerned he would as lief have killed himself. Of
that self as a creator of the causes which led to her
death he also failed to take cognizance. Withal
there was a dreadful confusion about it in his brain,
long weakened by drink, so that at times it was all
dull and indistinct to, him. Simple, brutal, with
only a redeeming love of fair play, he had never


been known to use a knife or to take a revenge save
in the way of a direct personal contest, and, al-
though feared for his great strength and courage,
was on the whole liked as a rough, generous man
who used no base advantages. He took a long
drink of whiskey and walked about restlessly. It
was clear even to his slow mind that flight was vain
and likely to result in capture, and what would come
after he also understood. Moreover, to fly was to
fix suspicion; and how now could any one think
of him as guilty ? He knew that he must as soon
as possible face his fellows, and again and again said
to himself that it was just an accident. But then
what right had he to be there ? He was not so stupid
as not to know what sinful temptation took him to
his comrade's cabin. Except the habitual pride in
his reputation for fair play, which worked for good,
he had few possibilities of gentle development save
the one which might have come to him from the love
of a woman. That she had been in an evil sense
unattainable had set her away from him for all pos-
sible kindly helpfulness in life. Take, in the arith-
metic of being, what we can get from what we
want, and the remainder is often that despair which
arrests the honest and sets the sensual fool stagger-
ing along the road to crime.

The coarse animal, now a little revived by drink,
had a wild impulse to go back and see the thing he
had loved or craved and killed. But dread for
himself, the instinct of self-preservation, was dom-
inant, and increasingly so as the hours went by.
Remorse, the torture of the imaginative, he had


not, only fear, sense of shame, of loss, of stupid
regret. He drank again, and, going out, took the
road to Rollins's camp, where two or three men
were arranging sleds and cabin for the winter tree-
falling. It was now afternoon, and getting towards
dusk. As the shadows lengthened, he began to
desire company of man, and moved along more


On his homeward way, Paul wandered somewhat
in search of squirrels, and about noon, beginning
to feel hungry, struck across the woods for home
and dinner. On his way he came upon Philetus
at his work and about to leave for Mrs. Preston's
on a like errand.

"Halloo, Phil," said the boy. "I've got eight
squirrels. Here's four for Myry." And he laid
them by the old man's coat.

" Whar have you bin ?" said Philetus.

"Well, I started out with Mr. Riverius to go
over to your house with a lot of things he brought
mother for your folks, and "

" Whar's he gone now?" returned the woodman,
abruptly, turning his large useless eyes on Paul.

" Oh, he sent me over to camp and took the
things himself."

" And he's went thar alone ?"

" Yes."

"Consider! Whar's Consider? Do you see
him? Ef you see Consider, tell him I've gone
home. He'll foller me ef you tell him."

" I don't see him."

" Set me in the ox-road, Paul. I'm that dazed

Paul took his hand and led him a rod to left,
a little puzzled, because, as a rule, Philetus was


strangely competent to find his way. " You've
left your hat and coat and the squirrels," said Paul.
"I'll get them for you."

" Yes, yes," said Philetus.

When Paul came back, the man had gone. The
boy saw his broad shoulders at a distance, and
called after him, but got no response. He stood
in astonishment. "Well, that is queer," he ex-
claimed. " I'll take them home." And, so say-
ing, he slung the garment on his arm, put the hat
on top of his own, and, shouldering the wood-
man's axe and his own rifle, went away wondering.

" Philetus has gone home and left his things,
mother," he said as he entered the cabin. " I don't
know what's wrong with him. He's getting to
be very queer." Then he told how Riverius had
sent him (Paul) to the camp. " He didn't want to
talk, mother. Mostly he likes it. I think he is as
queer as Philetus."

" But why did you not go with him, as I told

" How could I? He said it was important to get
word to James ; and of course I had to go. It
didn't make any matter."

" Yes, it did." She seemed to him unreasonable,
and she was really troubled in mind. " And Phi-
letus has. gone home?"

" Yes ; and I was to send Consider after him."

" Send him at once. Tell him to hurry. He is at
the well. There, go. Do you hear me ? Do as I
tell you, at once." Paul was standing before her,
thinking all his little world was becoming strange.


However, he did her errand, which she hastened
by a few words to Consider. She wrote them large
on the small slate he carried, urging him to hurry
and that Philetus was ill. Far ahead of him the
blind woodman was going swiftly along the road.
His unbridled imaginations were away with him
on a path of vague fears. The wolves of anger,
jealousy, insane suspicion, pursued his blind yet
rapid steps. Now and then he paused and touched
tree or stump or listened to hear the sound of a
brook. He knew the way. Almost his feet knew
it; but when in his wild eagerness he ran and
struck against a tree, he hesitated, cursing his lost
sight. At last, breathless, he came out on his
clearing. Oh but to see ! He called, " Myry,
Myry!" Then the child ran from her play-house
and took his hand.

" Where's mother, Phely ?" he said.

" Mother and Mr. Kiverius they wanted to talk
secrets. Phely had to go away."

" How long was he there ?"

"Phely don't know. Oh, very long."

" Come," he said, and, as she moved too slowly,
he carried her, and, not listening to her incessant
prattle, set her down at the door. She ran in be-
fore him.

" Myry !" he cried, and followed the little one.
" What's the matter? Somethin's wrong."

" Mother's lying down on the floor, and, oh, she's
all red — oh, pretty red — all over ! Who tore your
clothes, mother ? Here ! here !" she cried, pulling
at his hand.


He stooped and touched the still form on the
floor, then, in agonized haste, felt face and breast,
rose, swayed, and at last fell again on his knees
beside her and caught up the poor dead limp form
he had loved, and kissed it over and over. " Oh,
Christ," he said, " she is dead ! My Myry is dead !
I cannot see. She cannot see." He lifted her large
figure and laid it on the bed, tenderly set out the
strong limbs, and closed the eyes, trembling as he
touched them. Meanwhile, the child was quiet
and awed. At last, as he stood by the bed, staring
visionless at the form below him, the child said,
" You all red too, on the hands."

" Who's that ?" he cried. It was Consider.

"It's me, Phil. It's Consider," said the deaf
man, announcing himself with a touch. " What !
Myry! Why, she ain't dead! Surely! She's
shot ! Who done that ? Your rifle's on the floor."
He leaned over her, fearing to touch her, and keep-
ing his hands behind him. " It's awful, Phil. It's
in the neck. She's dead, sure enough. Who done

" Who's been here, Phely ?"

" Mr. Riverius, he's been," said the child.

"He's the man," said Philetus. "I knowed it
was a-comin'. I knowed somethin' was a-comin'."
He seized the deaf man's sleeve and pointed to the
door. " Rollins," he said, distinctly, " and the
rest," and opened and shut his fingers to show that
he wanted all the men to come back with him.
Then he took the child in his lap, and waited,
sitting silent before her many questions.


Meanwhile, Consider ran down the slope and
into the woods. In an hour, as he came near to
Rollins's camp, he met Ance Vickers.

" What's up ?" said Ance, boldly, seizing his
sleeve. The deaf man, as if hearing him, an-
swered, " Myry Richmond's killed. Phil he says
Riverius done it." Ance started. " Little Phely
she says he were thar. I don't take it as that Ger-
man done it; I don't. He ain't that sort."

For a moment Ance stood still, while Consider
went by to the camp in hot haste. A sense of re-
lief at suspicion being directed away from him was
Vickers's first feeling. He would have time to
think, and would be easier about meeting the men.
Then, too, a grim idea came into his mind that at
last his enemy would be humbled. His resent-
ment was somehow intensified by his own mishap,
and he did not readily forgive a defeat. That it all
might mean something more grave to Riverius he
did not stay to consider. His mental horizons were
limited. The haughty gentleman would suffer.
Ance liked that, and just now that was all. He
went on into camp, where all was wild confusion.
Mrs. Rollins, who was with her husband, together
with Rollins and a half-dozen men, went away at
once with Consider. Ance said he would come
later, as soon as he had had a bite, or, as Rollins
said was better, he might join them at Mrs. Pres-
ton's, where they would seek Riverius if he had
not already fled. " If he is the man he won't get
much time from this crowd," added Rollins; " but
what's done's got to be done just, and no hurryin'."


Then he hastened away, leaving Ance to his rather
troubled reflections. These were simple if not brief.
He knew at once that the public opinion of the
camps would be against Riverius. He knew also
that in this lawless wilderness retribution was apt
to be swift and not over-thoughtful. As to the evi-
dence against the German, he could tell little ; but
if — if it should be enough to hang him ? Ance did

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Online LibraryS. Weir (Silas Weir) MitchellFar in the forest, a story → online text (page 13 of 17)