S. Weir (Silas Weir) Mitchell.

Far in the forest, a story online

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not like that. Confession was not in Vickers's
mind, but the idea that another should die for an
accident he, Ance, had caused was a thing grave
enough to one who valued himself on fair play and
absence of treachery. He rose at once, and after a
half-hour of rapid trot through the woods came to
Riverius's cabin. The German as he knocked said,
" Come in," and looked up in surpri&e, adding,
" What do you want ?" The faint chivalry of the
woodman failed him a little at his rather cool re-
ception, and he wished he had not been in such a
hurry to act. But Riverius was at present in a sun-
shiny humor, and saw, too, some sign of anxiety
in the red wild visage before him. " Sit down,
Ance," he said.

" I came over — I want to speak to you." He
was blown from exertion.

"Well, I am here. What is it? Can I help
you in any way ? If you would only quit the bot-
tle I would be always ready to help you. I was
never glad a fellow had been drinking until that
night we had our fight. It was lucky for me. You
are a brave man, Ance Yickers, and you have no
business to drink."


Ance was pleased. A rough word would have
stopped him. " I ain't as bad as some folks makes
me out, Mr. Ryverus. I wouldn't mind tryin' a
fall with you ag'in; but now that ain't my arrand.
And ther' ain't no time to lose. Myry Richmond's
bin killed this mornin'."

" What ! Killed ! Myra killed ?"

" It's so. It's my notion she's had a accident ;
but the men say you done it, and little Phely she
says you was thar to-day, and Philetus he's awful
sot ag'in' you, and I jus' come over to tell you to
git out of this, quick. They'll hang you, sure as

" Mein Gott !" exclaimed Riverius, rising. " This
is horrible !"

"Don't you stay to talk. Jus' you git away.
Take the dug-out and the river."

Riverius reflected for a moment. " What made
you come to warn me ?"

" Well, I don't think you done it. It's a acci-
dent. You couldn't of done it, noways."

" Thank you," said Riverius. " Thank you. I
shall not forget this." And he put out his hand,
which Ance took. He felt better. The German
could escape, still suspected. He would further
counsel him how to avoid pursuit. All the night
was before him for flight, and thus Ance would
remain free from immediate peril, and, what was
worse, of having a man die for his fault. " You'll
go quick ?" he said. " You 'ain't any time to lose."

" Gott in Himmel ! you do not suppose I shall
run away ?"


" Then you're a dead man. Mind, I tell you."

" I shall not go."

" You must be crazy like, to stay. You don't
know Rollins and the rest."

" I shall stay. Thank you all the same."

Ance did not like the outlook. " If them fellers
knowed I give you warnin' it 'd be bad fur me."

" You may feel sure that I shall not mention you,
no matter what happens. Now get away. If you
are seen here you will be suspected."

Ance went out. At the door he turned back.
" You'd best think about it."

" I have. Good-day." And Ance, puzzled, went
out into the woods, and waited again in awful per-

As to Riverius, he sat down, and, with little ma-
terial to aid him, thought over the peril about to
come. It was simply absurd, incredible. But as
for Bessy Preston, — oh, that was the worst of all !
He, too, waited.



In about half an hour, Riverius saw, at the door
he had left open, Rollins, Philetus, and a half-dozen
others, all armed and grave, and behind them
Ance Vickers. Through the door-way he also saw
Mrs. Preston, looking over at the group.

" Come in," he said. " What is it ?"

Rollins entered at once. " Myry Richmond's been
murdered to-day," he said, " and you are the man
that did it."

Riverius rose quietly. He did not see at once
that it was his role to seem surprised, and his cool-
ness served to injure his cause.

" Indeed !" he said. " That is strange. And
you mean to say I did it. Come in, men, — and
you, Philetus. Now listen. I have nothing to hide.
The thing you tell me is terrible, but I shall show
you that it is impossible that I could have done it."

" That's what we want," said a man.

" I Lad no cause to dislike her."

" Guess not," said one at the door.

" I went over to see her to offer Philetus a place
with large wages near Pottsville. I have always
been good to her and to him. What reason on
earth have you to think I — I of all people — would
hi>rt a woman ?"

"■I've got to talk here," said Philetus. "No,
no; I ain't goin' to kill him," he added, as Rollins


put a band on the rifle the blind man carried more
from force of habit than for hope of use.

" This here man's been a-comin' to my house off

and on, and my wife that's dead she Oh,

Lord! what fetched him thar in the night times?
Many's the night I've got up and sarched my
clearin'; but I 'ain't no eyes, and what was the
use ? He come when he liked. I don't credit none
of that 'bout a place. What did he turn me off
fur, and go to talkin' 'bout a place now ? It's ag'in'

" I think you know better," said Riverius.

" 'Twasn't reason enough to turn me off. 'Bout
this murder, I say he done it. I've got thinkin'
eyes, ef I 'ain't got seein' eyes. That man killed
my Myry. God knows what went on thar. Her
clothes was tore. You seed 'em ; all of you seed
'em. And my gal she said he sent her out, and
Myry she told her not to come in soon. She told
her that. Oh, Lord, Lord, forgive her! And
didn't Paul Preston tell me as he sent him away
too ?" A murmur went up from the men.

At this moment Mrs. Preston appeared. In a
few words outside Consider had told her all. " Let
me pass," she said. " What is all this, Mr. Rollins ?"

" It ain't no place for women," said Rollins.
" Mr. Ryverus is a good deal more than suspected
of having killed Myry Richmond. No one else
was there to-day. The child was made to go out
and leave them. He sent Paul off on an errand.
She says no one else was there."

" It is nonsense," said Mrs. Preston. " She may


have killed herself. Philetus had made her un-
happy enough for that or anything."

" Yes, or anything," groaned Philetus.

" Why did Mr. Ryverus go over there ?" said

" To ask Richmond's wife to talk to him about
taking a place on his coal-land near Pottsville."

" Why didn't he speak to Phil ?"

She was silent.

" Speak out," said Riverius. " I desire no con-

" He hated Mr. Riverius."

" And he had a right to," said the blind man.

"Do you suppose, Mrs. Preston," said Rollins,
" any one will believe Ryverus wanted just for
nothing to help a man he knowed despised him ?"

" Yes," she said ; but the men laughed. Then
she added, " Mr. Riverius wished to help Mrs.
Richmond and her child. He had no personal
quarrel with Philetus, and you will do well to hesi-
tate as to this business. Philetus is not, I think, a
sane man. His evidence is worthless." Again
there was an angry murmur.

" Mrs. Preston," said Riverius, " I beg of you to
leave us. I am among men who will see fair play.
But first I wish to say that I reached Richmond's
cabin about nine, that Paul went with me and left
me on the way."

" What for ?" said Philetus.

" I sent him to my camp with a message for

" Oh !" exclaimed one or two. The deliberate


desire to be alone with Miriam shown in getting
both children away seemed clear to them, and the
fact that no one else had been there appeared also

" You surely," said Riverius, " will think much
before you act rashly. I am alone, a stranger. No
man can say I have done evil while among you."

" And I say it," said Philetus.

Riverius went on : "I go to see Mrs. Richmond
on an errand of mercy, and wish of course to talk
with her alone. On this you lay a charge of

" It might have been an accident," said Ance.

" It wasn't that," said Rollins. " Anyways, it
ain't a matter to settle this fashion. I've sent for
Pearson and the lower camp. To-morrow morning
we'll just go over the whole thing and try this man
fair. If he didn't do it, he'll get off; and if he did
— well, justice is justice. Here, Mr. Ryverus,
you've got to be made safe. Jones, do you and
Wilson keep guard round this cabin. Tie his
hands, Ance. There, take that snow-shoe lacin'."

Riverius grew white. " Mr. Rollins," he said,
" I pledge you my honor I will not try to escape."

" We don't take no man's word in this sort of
business. We'll just make sure you don't get away.
Come, clear the cabin."

Ance hated it. As he came towards Riverius,
the men turned to go.

" Hush," said Ance, behind the prisoner. " I'm
fur you. Give me your hands." Riverius quietly
obeyed. Rollins walked back and looked at the


German. " Take his rifle, Ance." Strict orders
were given as to the guard, the door was closed, and
Riverius was left to his reflections. He heard at
times the steps of the guards. The insects troubled
him. He lay down or stood up, uncomfortable,
furious, or in grim wonderment at the absurdity
of his situation. He had been in battles, he had
faced wild creatures and wilder men in many lands,
and was by nature and by habit brave. The danger
did not greatly trouble him. In no way could he
bring it strongly home to himself that here outside
were men who believed that he, John, Baron Eive-
rius, had killed a peasant woman. He thought of
the old castle, the great hall, the windows with
their heraldic blazonry, the arms upon the walls,
each with its familiar story, and then of his own
study and the resolute features of his father look-
ing from the canvas above the fire. He glanced
about him, laughed outright, and said aloud, " Der
Teufel ! the things that bite ! Halloo, there !" he
cried. At his second call Jones entered.

" What do you want ?" he said, roughly.

"Want? I don't want to, die of midges and

"Oh, that's all? Well, here's Paul Preston's
fetched your supper. Git him to build a smudge."

Paul came in, silent, and in dreadful trouble. It
was now quite dark.

"I'm awful sorry, Mr. Riverius," said the lad.
" I've brought your supper. Oh, they've tied your
hands. Let me cut it. Oh, I'd kill them !" And
he burst into tears


" Don't cry," said Riverius. " Just brush off
these mosquitoes and build me a smudge. The
pot's in the hearth. No use to cut the cords ; best
not. And give me the milk to drink. So ; now
that is all I want; but tell your mother to come and
see me to-night. She must manage it. Thank you,
old fellow. Now don't cry. We'll pull through

The scene without would not have reassured
him. By degrees threescore rough lumbermen
had been over to Richmond's and seen the still
corpse, and heard the tale in divers versions, and
come away to Mrs. Preston's to sit around the fires
in her clearing or to relieve guard or discuss the
murder. Only Ance and Consider were at all
friendly to the accused, and the blind wretched old
Philetus wandered from group to group, relating
his hallucinations as realities to men devoid of
judgment, until Rollins and Pearson saw that it
was becoming hard to control or influence the wild
mob about them. Pearson was desirous to send the
prisoner to Smethport for trial ; but this was not
the way of the woods, and Rollins knew, with
much doubt in his mind as he discussed the matter,
that in one fashion or another the fate of Riverius
would be settled at early morn. He meant at least
that he should be fairly dealt with.

The evening wore away, and about nine Mrs.
Preston sent for Rollins. She pointed to a seat.
" Mr. Rollins," she said, " you are going to get into

" How ?"


" Mr. Riverius is a German nobleman. He is
rich, well known, and powerful, and has friends.
Just reflect how absurd it all is. The want of
motive, — the chance that she did it herself."

" Oh, that couldn't be. There had been a strug-

" Well, the chance that another did it. These
woods are full of bad men."

" That's so ; but who else could have done it?"

" Will you help me and him ?"

He was disturbed. He hated Riverius, but it
was one thing to hate, and another to send a man
possibly innocent to death.

" It would be as much as my life's worth."

" And what will it be worth if — if — oh, if you
hang an honest gentleman and learn in a week who
really did this awful thing ?"

"I'm not everybody," he said, and began to
wish he had been less urgent.

" Well, get him away. You can do it. I will
give you a thousand dollars, — all my land, — any-

" It's no use," he said. " I haven't got the

" Then take care of yourself in future," she said,

He looked at her sharply and went out.

" She's a good bit of a man, that woman is," he

It was a little after this when Mrs. Preston re-
ceived her message from Paul. She rose at once
and went out to find Rollins. The men looked up


curious as she passed among them. She found
Rollins talking earnestly to some of his lumbermen.

" I won't have it," he said, as she came up. " It
ain't too sure, and he's got to have a fair trial, and
Pearson's men aren't all here. You wait till they
come." He stepped forward to meet Mrs. Preston.

" I want to see Mr. Riverius," she said.

" I don't know about that," he returned.

" Do you think any one will stop me ? You're a
poor set of men. "What can a woman do that you
need fear ?"

" Oh, let her go," cried one of the men.

" Thank you. There is one man here with a

" Come, then," said Rollins, who never had the
same opinion for two minutes.

" I want a half-hour."

" All right." And he preceded her, said a word
to the guard, opened the door, let her in, and,
closing it, waited without.


" It is I," she said, — " Bessy," trying to see him,
as she entered the dark room.

" I am over here," he said, quietly, rising from
the hed. " My wrists are tied. No doubt Paul
told you. Sit down by me." She did so, her hands
on her lap.

"You are a good and brave woman. I have
little hope of escape. Don't cry." She was sob-
bing like a child.

" Listen. Do you know how I love you ?"


" I was a fool, — a weak fool. I hesitated. Edu-
cation and traditions are cruel bonds. I am ashamed
to speak of it, but I must."

" No, no ; I understand. I always understood.
You love me. That is enough."

" I want to hear you say I am forgiven."

She bent over and kissed his cheek, he feeling
her tears wet his face and instinctively straining a
moment to release his hands.

" My God !" he groaned, " but life is sweet, and
I might have spared you all this if I had but been
less a fool."

" Don't ! don't ! I cannot bear that. There is a
fate in it. I — I sent you to Miriam's, and I might
have known better. Oh, yes, I might have known


He was calmed by her despair. " Do not let us
hurt each other this way," he said. " Try to attend
to what I say. It is most needful. You can do me
no better service. Try, dear."

She put her arm behind him and caught the
bound hands, whose touch as she felt the cords
seemed to drain life of power to suffer. He waited,
and, as the dulled sound of oath and laugh and the
increasing clamorous talk without reached them,
she sat up stiffly, instinctively governing body and
shakeu mind at once.

" Now go on. I can listen."

Even in this bitter hour he had pleasure in the
way in which his pride in her was justified.

" Take off my ring."

She did as he directed. He wore it on his thumb,
after the German way which had much surprised
poor Miriam.

" Keep it," he said.

" Yes."

"In my portfolio are papers, deeds, and ad-
dresses. They will tell you all you will need to
know. Keep whatever in my trunk you want.
Give Paul my rifle and books. You must write
to Fritz. He will have the old place. Tell him
everything, not soon, but when you feel able. That
is all, I think." She remained silent, waiting to
know what else he had to say. He went on, " I
did want to take you to my home. I was so proud
of you. I had written of my hope to a friend.
Fritz will send you a miniature. Keep it. Keep
it where I can see you. And pray for me, Bessy.


Ah, with you I should have been better, wiser.
Don't stay here to-morrow. Go away to-night."

" I shall be by you, if — if you die," she said.
"Do not fear for me."

" If?" he said, tranquilly. " Ah, my child, there
is no ' if ' here. Listen." The tumult without was
growing. " Have no delusion about this. Another
woman than you I would cheat with hope. It is
best not, — best to face it, to feel sure that I am a
lost man to this world."

She rose as he spoke. " I cannot bear it," she
said. " I cannot make it seem possible. God will
help us."

" Yes, in his way, not ours. I want you to go
now. Before you go, I want to say to you that there
is no measure of earthly love I do not give you.
Take that with you. A day will come when it
will be pleasant to recall. Kiss me, and don't stay.
I want you to go."

" Why must I ? I cannot."

" I at least do not deceive myself. I know these
men. My time may be brief. I want to be alone
with my thoughts. With you here I cannot think.
All life and all its joys reel round me at your touch.
I must get away from these, from time. You un-
derstand. Kiss me."

She threw herself on his neck and clung to him,
kissing him amidst a rain of tears.

"Do you want to weaken me, Bessy ?"

She rose up at once.

" Good-by. It will not, shall not be. God will
help us."


" Do not deceive yourself," he said, again, " and
do not bear useless malice. Learn to live again.
You owe something to Paul. These men are as
beasts, who know not what they are doing."

" I shall neither forget nor forgive."

" Bessy !"

" It is so. I shall go mad. Oh, men, men !"
And she fled violently, casting the door open and
going haughtily through the groups and past the

" Mein Gott !" he said, " that was hard."

Meanwhile, another was almost as anxious as she.
Ance went about among the lumbermen and heard
their talk. Whiskey was plenty and passions were
high. Perhaps even more clearly than Rollins he
saw the nearness of the danger. A word, a mo-
ment, would bring death. As he passed a fire, he
paused, hearing Rollins warn the men to be careful,
as the whole country was like tinder, no rain having
fallen for two months. Rollins moved off to repeat
his caution, and a man called to Ance, " Come and
have a drink."

" I don't want none."

" That's queer. Anyhow, set down and help rig
this here noose. It'll be wanted to-morrow, or
sooner, maybe."

" Rig it for yourself," he replied. " You'll need
it some day."

Suddenly he saw a long mass of gray moss pen-
dent from the limbs of a dead pine. Dimly seen in
the wood by the leaping firelight, it took the shape
of a man's body suspended. " That's awful !" he


groaned. " I've got to do it some way. Lord,
git me off this thing, and I'll never drink no more."
It was the nearest approach to a prayer that had
passed his lips for many a year.

The suggestion of fire left in his brain a dull
hope. He stood still a moment, and then went
over to Mrs. Preston's through the men.


Vickers approached the cabin cautiously from
the back door. He knocked and waited. Then a
voice said, " Come in." He entered. Mrs. Preston
was sitting in troubled thought.

"Who is that?"

« Me,— Ance Vickers." And he shut the door.

"What do you want?"

" Kin you trust a man ?"

" Yes," she said, alertly.

" You're his friend."

" I should have been his wife."

"He didn't do that thing; and, as sure as day,
there'll be murder done before sun-up."

" I know it."

" Look here. Are you grit to do a big thing?"

" Go on, and hurry. I can do anything."

" Then do you and Paul take some matches and
go into the woods and git apart a bit and light three
or four birches. Git well back, a good five hundred
yards. Then run for the river, and keep under the
bank, and back to your clearin', and come right up,
so as no one don't see you."

" A thousand dollars if you save him."

" I don't want it. It ain't that. I know he never
done it. But run, run like mad, when you've lit
the birches. The whole country 'ill go. They'd
kill 'most any one they ketched, man or woman."


" Good !" she said.

" Mind, it's your doin', and there won't be a stick
from here to Smith's tract that won't go."

" Let it burn," she said. " But as to Mr. Rive-
rius, what shall you do ?"

" You fire them birches with this wind a-blowin',
and I'll look arter him. And there'll be resks for

" What ! These men ? Thank God ! I trust
you, Ance."

" Then in half an hour."

She called Paul from the outside and calmly told
him. He listened in his usual patient way. Then
he said, " I see. It will work. Ance will do it."
And together they slipped out and passed into the

It was hot, and a strong gale was roaring in the
pines and blowing on their backs as they went.
Meanwhile, Ance found Rollins.

" I'll just look after- that knot a bit. Couldn't I
leave it off for the night? The flies is awful."

" Oh, do as you like," said Rollins. Ready to
rush into danger, he cooled off visibly as the risks

On his way Yickers met the blind Philetus.
" Ance," he said, " did you see Phely ?"

" Yes ; she's with Consider."

" She 'ain't no mother now, and I've got to quit
drink. Don't you never go to make me drink

" I won't, Phil."

" Did you see my Myry ?"


" "No," said Alice, faintly.

" They said she was that white, and her face
like a angel's. You'd like to come over and see
her 'fore she's put in the ground ?"

" Yes. Oh, Lord !" groaned Ance, as he moved
away. For the first time, the awfulness of the
calamity to others oppressed him. The motherless
child, the helpless blind man, troubled him. His
own safety being assured, he was open to under-
stand and measurably pity what he now saw, — the
consequences to Phil, who admired his strength
and courage, and to the child, who liked him as she
liked all masculine beings. Of late, Phil had been
physically failing, as the camps knew well ; and now
what would become of Phely and of him ? Want,
Ance could appreciate. He had felt it. That
needed no conjuring fancy to bring it sharply before
his mind. Serious beliefs the man had not of any
definiteness. These need for sustentation in such
natures frequent reminders and example and usage.
Some vague God there was for him, no doubt, but
more the memory of a child's faith than a definite
belief. Certainly all his reflections now were per-
sonally directed and limited to the lower levels of
consequence. And yet, by degrees, his awkward,
rusty mental and moral machinery, fed by time and
chance, was competently grinding out torments,
and was also pinching into capacities for human
use faculties for feeling long benumbed by drink
and disuse. These mills of God which grind so
slowly grind out at last the bread of a larger, better


Ance wound in and out among the men, troubled
by Philetus, who clung to him, held his sleeve, and
sbowed an increasing sense of dependence. Once
Rollins called him back and urged him to take care
the prisoner did not get away. Ance grinned.
" He's got two hearts, like an Injun," he muttered;
" don't know what he wants." At last he was free
to enter the German's cabin, but he had lost ten
precious minutes. At the door he turned and
looked about him. Several camp-fires blazed on
the clearing, — none over fifty yards away. No
leave had been asked. Around them lay some of
the men, drinking, and in wild clamorous discus-
sion. Others moved to and fro. Beyond was
Mrs. Preston's, and the woods were all around, but
far more open towards the river, where trees had
been felled to let in the air. Riverius's cabin was
set back in the forest, and well shaded. Around
it two men walked with loaded rifles. For the
first time since the death of Miriam, Ance had a
dull sense of pleasure. Danger, conflict, chance for
action, strung to normal tension the slack nerves
of the man, hitherto hustled about by brute emo-
tions and without power or hope to resist. The
idea of material difficulty at once helped him. A
dim sense of courted peril as expiatory was in his
blunted consciousness, and, with a renewed sense
of efficiency, he smiled as he said to the sentries, —

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