S. Weir (Silas Weir) Mitchell.

Far in the forest, a story online

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it all, and fully. I suppose you can tell me."

They were seated, the one on a rough settle, the
other, Ance, on the bunk. The excitement of the
escape, the fire, and the need for action had in a
measure helped Vickers to put away sight and
present memory of the great fair woman he had
left in a pool of blood on the floor. Now a word
had brought her back again. And yet speak he

" 'Twas an accident. That's what I say. No-
body murdered her."

" But they told me there had been a struggle,
that her dress was torn, her apron gone. How
could it have been an accident ?"

" Well, there's no knowinV He thought with

gathering horror of the red-stained apron. If

there came a flood, and it should wash away the

4 stone and the thing should be found! Then he

reflected that it could tell nothing new.

" Where was she shot ?"

" Oh, I don't know. In the neck." He spoke
impatiently, and was in fact in torment.

" Did she die at once ?"

" Oh, Lord! how do I know? I wasn't there.
Don't ip.t's talk about it."


" But I must know. I must talk. It is needful.
I shall never rest until I learn who did it. "Why
cannot you see that I am forever a hunted, ruined
man until I can put my hand on the brute who
killed her?"

" It won't he no use. It wasn't you, that's sure."

Riverius reflected that it was strange how this
coarse, dull-witted man should be almost alone and
positive in this belief.

" I was told that the poor little child found her
first. How pitiful that seems ! Rollins told me
most of it. He said the child thought the blood
was paint. How horrible ! And to call her mother
and get no answer !"

Ance sat in the darkness writhing and twisting
hands wet with the sweat of torture. " I don't
want to talk about it, Mr. Ryverus. I liked that

" No one can like to talk of it ; but for me to
think it over and learn all I can is merely a reason-
able effort to discover the true murderer. I shall
have no peace till I find him. I wish I could see
the place again. A little thinking it over there
would possibly be of use. What will become of
poor old half-crazy Philetus ? I think that blind
man standing in darkness by the dead body and
the child is the most pitiful "

"If you don't stop," said Ance, "by heaven
I'll kill you !" And he bounded to his feet.

A sudden wild light of intelligent insight smote
Riverius as with a rude physical buffet. He too


" You killed that woman, Ance."

" Yes, I done it."

The darkness was profound, and in it the two
men stood silent a moment.

" I am sorry for you, Ance. You could not have
meant to do it."

" She p'inted the rifle at me, and I tried to take
it away. It went off, — caught somethin'. Went
off! — my God ! it went off! Didn't I say it wer'
an accident?"

Riverius guessed the rest. He was mercifully
silent. As to Ance, he had dropped again on the
bed. The confession wrung from him by the rack
on which the German's successive comments
stretched him was simply an indescribable relief.
He had told it. Another knew it. He had been
able to explain it, and this man, this haughty gen-
tleman, was sorry for him, pitied him. There is
inexplicable mystery in such solace, and it is very
real. It left Ance disturbed by a clearer sense of
the ruin he had brought to Philetus. At last he
said, " What will you do now?"

" You must get away, Ance. I know you have
told me the truth. 'Now I see why you wanted to
help me."

" Lord, sir, you don't think I'd 'a' bin that mean
to let 'em hang you for what I didn't go to do? I
ain't that bad."

" I am sure you are not." Nevertheless, it is to
be doubted if at utmost need Ance would have
done other than obey the brute instinct of self-
preservation. " Once out of this country, you must


find some way to clear me. I will think it over.
I believe you have told me the truth ; and if you
have not, I must leave you to settle that with God.
Now I must try to sleep a bit."

" All right, sir. I'll go out, and keep watch."

Then Riverius lay down in the bunk, and at
least rested; sleep he could not. Before Ance's
outburst, the German had begun to have some
vague suspicion of the truth. For a moment he
nad expected a life-and-death struggle with the
man beside him, but instantly this idea was dis-
pelled, and he saw clearly that the confession had
left him in a measure less wretched. He himself
was now forced to seek and keep the company of
the slayer, to make sure that in the end the truth
should be made apparent. It seemed to Riverius
a strange fate. For suppose that Ance had lied, —
and the business had been bad enough, — here was
he, a gentleman, aiding the flight of a murderer !
Nor was it easy to see how, without a free state-
ment by Ance, Riverius could clear his own good

Despite the agony Riverius had inflicted on
Vickers, and the perilous confession wrung from
him, the woodman did not for a moment fear
that the German would betray him. This was
characteristic of Ance, that he looked for fair play.
He did not ask for any pledge, but early next morn-
ing went quietly away on his errand to Mrs. Pres-
ton. Not having even a pencil, Riverius had been
forced to send only a verbal message.

By Yickers's advice he shut and secured the


cabin from within, and waited impatiently for his
return. The day seemed of disoal length. He
looked at his watch. It recorded only the hour of
his plunge into the rapids. He opened it and set
it in the dulled sunlit window to dry, and glanced
at it now and then to see if it would revive and go
to work again. Ance had warned him not to
smoke. That was hard. He watched a spider and
rescued a fly, — why, he could not have said. The
spider should live, he reflected, and, if not con-
structed to eat turnips, what right had he, Riverius,
to stop him in the mid-joy of successful fly-stab-
bing ? When a mosquito fell next to the spider,
the German looked on unmoved, remembering that
things of the kind destroyed had of late made life
a little harder for him. Next he considered as to
whether this justified his ceasing to act as an in-
tervening providence as against spiders and in the
interest of flies and biting things. Comparisons
between these deaths and the tragedy which had
involved him arose in his mind, and he reflected
upon all the vast tyrannical machinery of nature
implacably grinding out agony. There was time
indeed for philosophic thought such as Eiverius
well loved, but he laughed when over and over
amidst some prospering well-linked success in
binding cause and consequence the sweet notes of
an old love-song rang in joyful riot through his
brain. Then of a sudden Bessy was there before
him in almost natural distinctness, with that pride
which made her gentle, and such supple grace of
timid womanhood as led him to reflect with wonder


at the courage she had shown. Riverius had, like
some proud men, hidden deep down in his heart the
over-sensitive sentiment of a girl. He did not want
this sweet company here in the brute woodman's
cabin. He would have taken it with him out into
the woods, if it had not been that he desired to run
no risks for Yickers. At last he fell asleep, tired,
and yet not unhappy.

It was ten o'clock when Ance reached Mrs.
Preston's. Presently he saw Paul, and said, cau-
tiously, " Who's about, Paul ?"

" "No one but mother, and Becky out in the corn-
field. Rollins hasn't come back, nor the men, ex-
cept Consider, and he has taken Phil over home.
They are going to bury Miriam out under the pines
down near the brook. Mother wanted to go, but
I told her she had better not." Paul was much
impressed just now with his own importance.

" She didn't go ?"

" No. Isn't it awful, Ance ? You ought to have
seen poor old Phil. He's just like — well, just like
a bird with a broken wing. It's awful, Ance ! He
is so helpless, you know ; and if Consider was to
go off anywhere, I don't know what he would do.
He was asking for you. He says you and Con are
his only friends."

"He said that!"

" Yes. Come in."

Ance followed him. The bearded red face was
haggard and strangely white. The eyes were
watchful and restless. He looked about and now
and then behind him. At the door he met Ophelia.


" How you do, Ance ?" she said. " Where's my
father ? Where's mother ?"

" At home," he answered, hoarsely.

" Take me home. Phely wants to see her.
Phely is very good to-day. Ride Phely on your

Ance, like many rough men, had a liking for
children; they made some mysterious appeal to
him ; and at Richmond's house, when present with
Philetus, he had been fond of playing with the
child, and could too well remember how often
Miriam had watched them, displeased at his pres-
ence. An overwhelming sense of the moral lone-
liness which crime inflicts came upon him. He
liked company, as men do who lack interior re-
sources, and yet felt that now it was to be feared.
He longed to talk of his misery, and dreaded op-
portunity. A horrible desire to tell the child arose
in his mind. He made no reply to her appeals, but
went by her in haste, she clinging to his jacket and
calling, " Ance, Ance," as she danced beside him.
"When will Ance come to see mother again?"

" Take her away, Paul," said the man. " Where
is your mother? I 'ain't got no time to lose."

Paul secured the attention of the little one as his
mother appeared from her own room, and went out
with her at a sign from Mrs. Preston.

" Sit down, Ance," she said. " Is there news

" He is in my cabin, safe as long as the fire lasts.
Rollins and the rest's got the'r hands full. Further
away it gits the better fur him. 'Bout Saturday


ther' ain't no moon to speak on, and then I'll git
him down the river. Two days' run'll clear us. He
said I was to tell you it was all right."

" Why did he not write ?"

" He hadn't nothin' to write with."

" He will have to hide to-day and until day after
to-morrow night."

" If the men git round, he'll have to lay by longer.
I ain't goin' to run no resk." Then he paused.
" Did Paul cut away that air deer-thong ?"

" Yes."

" Then he done me a service. Wilson he come
back and looked. You ought to 'a' heerd him
tellin' the men how Ryverus tripped him up." And
Ance grinned and was suddenly surprised at his
own mirth.

" I owe you a great debt," she said, rising and
seeking his hand. He took it eagerly. " A debt
I shall never forget, — never. If ever I can help
you, I will do it. Do you want money ?"

"No; Mr. Ryverus he's got lots, he says."

" One thing more. Don't drink, Ance. I can't
help thinking it was some drunken lumberman did
that awful thing. Think how he must feel. I
should think it would punish him enough only to
see poor old Phil and that child."

" Ef he was drunk it wouldn't be the same as ef
he was sober."

" No ; but every wise man ought to know that
there is murder and every other crime in the
whiskey-jug. For God's sake, don't drink any
more. Let this thing warn you. Philetus likes


you, and, so far, you have only used his liking to
make him drink."

" That's so. I don't deny it none."

"And did he not save your life once? I have
heard so."

" Yes."

"Promise me."

"I'll never touch liquor ag'in, so help me God!"

" And come over to-morrow, if you can."

" Yes, ma'am, ef I kin." He went out, and by
and by came back. " You've got to look sharp
for ' drop-fires,' Mrs. Preston. Them sparks goes
up, and comes down a man don't know where. It's
bin a awful fire. The old burned tracks stayed it
to the easterd; but you can't tell."

" How far will it burn, Ance ?"

" Lord knows." She stood thoughtful as he
went out. In the air he paused, took off his cap,
looked up, and, as if registering an oath, said,
" I've touched my last liquor. Hadn't bin for
liquor, it mightn't of bin." Then he walked over
to Ophelia, picked her up, kissed her, and set her

" Mother says Phely mustn't kiss you. Mother
says you're bad."

" I was," he said, and walked away, Paul mean
while looking after him, puzzled and curious.


Ance did not return. To avoid suspicion, he
found it needful to see Rollins and ask for some
work. Meanwhile, Mrs. Preston became more
ani more anxious. Now and then a lumberman
came by, and she learned to her comfort that Rive-
rius had not been heard from, and that the fire
had been checked by old burnt districts and the
river. An immense belt of ruin, however, lay to
the northeast, and oxen, sleds, and cabins had gone.
As yet a heavy pall of smoke, now high in air,
hung over the whole land, and all things looked
strange in the sallow sunlight which filtered through
it. As the dry weather persisted, there was still
peril and alarm, and every one knew that at any
moment the fire might renew its ravage. Philetus
was still absent, and the child's pretty and incessant
talk disturbed and annoyed Mrs. Preston. At last,
on the third day, Paul proposed to take the little
one to pick berries. His mother gladly assented.

" Where will you go ?" she said.

" Oh, down to Laurel Mountain."

" This side only."

" Yes ; they're plenty in the lower gorge."

"Well, don't go far, and on no account on the

She had told Paul nothing of Riverius's place of
hiding, thinking it best to keep it to herself. He


only knew that their friend had escaped. The
charge against him made but slight impression on
Paul, and his mother, refusing to discuss it, had
scornfully put the matter aside. She had at once
said, as she had done to Ance, that the death of
Miriam lay at the door of some one of the many
villains who found in the woods a shelter and a
means of living out of reach of the civilization
which had been too restrictive for their wants or

Riverius was much on Paul's mind, and now he
went away with Ophelia thoughtful of his friend
and gladly relieving his mother of the child, whose
talk of the dead Miriam more and more disturbed
Mrs. Preston as her gathering anxiety for Riverius
increased. She, too, understood very well the doubt-
ful position he now held. She reasoned on it, how-
ever, with less pain than it gave him, and was more
concerned as to his present safety.

As Paul and Ophelia wandered along, the boy
gave himself up at last to her pretty, caressingly
persistent ways, and ceased to think of the German,
the murder, or the fire. On the lower slopes the
huckleberries were still abundant. After a while
they climbed a little, and, as usual at this season,,
found the berries still more plenty as they rose.
At last Paul sat down and leaned back against
a mossy old beech-trunk. It was very comfort-
able, and the fair Ophelia had quite exhausted
him by her quest for berries and her craving for
attention. lie watched her awhile as she went to
and fro, pleased with the tints of the sumach, and


gathering the leaves of reddening gum-trees. Now
and then the smoke, which everywhere since the
fire began was at times unpleasantly thick, became
somewhat more dense. The afternoon had worn
away, and now, although it was but six o'clock, the
day seemed near its close. Looking up, Paul saw
that the sky was overcast, and noted here and there
in the woods the trees swaying in little gusts of
wind which appeared to blow up the river, and
which, as he lay and thought, seemed to him to ex-
plain the increase of the smokiness, now very ob-
vious. It would rain, perhaps, and that was all — or
at least the last thing — he could afterwards recall.
For three nights he had been up late and risen early.
Twice he had been aroused by Becky or his mother
and sent out to see if the " drop-fires" had by chance
fallen anywhere near them. His head fell. He
half roused himself, saw Phely near by, fell off
again, and slept as only a tired boy can sleep.
When at last he awakened, he leaped to his feet
in alarm. The air was more full of smoke. It
seemed to be moving towards him in irregular
currents. Overhead the sky was darkening fast
with the gathering clouds of a summer thunder-
storm. Now and then sudden puflfs of wind shook
the lower trees about him, and overhead the tall
trees swayed, roaring in the strong upper currents
of the coming storm. Ophelia was gone. He
looked about him, searching the vistas in vain.
He called aloud, but got no answer. He ran hither
and thither, sadly perplexed, and full of self-re-
proaches. At last, in despair, he climbed a dead


tree and called again and again. Then he heard,
or thought he heard, a faint cry from the steep
slope above. Meanwhile, the increasing smoke
which came over the hill and through the gorges
alarmed him. There must have been a new lire
awakened by the aid of the storm, and if so it
w T ould surely sweep through the deep ravines full
of birches and pines which on either side of the
mountain lay nearly parallel with the river. He
was down in a moment and away up the hill. As
he went, swirls of smoke came around the moun-
tain on both sides. He pushed on, increasingly
anxious. As he climbed upward he saw of a
sudden a dull glare of light on his left and far
away. He called anew, and, getting no answer,
ran on, tearing through the dense laurels. He was
now on the granite summit of a lower knob of the
mountain, which still rose some two hundred feet
above him. He could dimly see at times through
the thickening smoke the line of the lumber-slide.
He shouted till he was hoarse, and set out down
the side of the intervening gorge. Suddenly a
blast of smoke nearly blinded him, and he paused.
It was hot, and the sparks were falling thick about
him, whilst the wind of the coming tempest roared
in the pines above his head. He saw that they
came directly over the mountain-top. At last, worn
out, he stopped, and called once more. As he stood,
another fierce gust went over him, and he saw be-
tween him and the river a half-dozen birch-trees
flaming upwards with the fierce howl he knew so
well. At times the smoke, heaving like sea-waves,



revealed again and again these plumes of fire, all
of them, as he guessed, quite near the river. A
moment after, he reeled, blinded, coughing and
gasping in the acrid fumes. This time it was si
blast from around the landward side of the hill.
He fell on his face for breathing-space, knowing-
well that the heated smoke would lie above him.
For the time he was safe, and more easy. A foot
or more above his head the air was almost clear.
He drew long breaths, and gathered himself for
decisive action. To go on was to die, unless he
could win the bold summit before the fire swept
around the mountain, and then, even there, he felt
that he would not be able to decide what to do,
and was well aware that he had no time to lose.
To wait was impossible ; and Ophelia ! Meanwhile,
as he lay, he heard a fierce rush through the laurels,
and caught a glimpse of a flying buck. A rabbit
jumped aside from his lifted head, a huge rattle-
snake fled swiftly by, passing under his arm, eager
only to escape, careless of its human foe. As Paul
rose, fierce lightning flashed overhead, instantly
followed by the echoing roll of thunder, and the
storm-wind rushing over the rounded mountain-
top drew the fire into the traversing gorges, along
which it swept roaring as if through vast chim-
neys. The heat was every instant greater, and over
him the dusking heavens were reddening fast. He
still hesitated. His inborn hatred of defeat was
backed by a terrible sense of his failure to care for
the child. Something struck his arm. It was a
scorched, half- choked squirrel. Tamed by the fire,


the wild little savage clung to his arm. The next
moment a man shot by him in swift flight down the
hill. Paul called, turning as he did so, " Halloo !"
The man stopped just below him, out of sight in
the dense vapors.

" Who is it ? Where are you ?"

" It's Riverius," cried Paul. " I,— -I !" he cried.
" It's Paul ! I'll come !" And he bounded down
the rocks, slipping, and at last rolled over at the
feet of the German, who instantly pulled him up.

" Come," he said. " Quick, at once. Run. We
have not a minute to lose. Mein Gott, what a
time !" Paul tried to speak, but choked and could
only obey. And now to either side the woods a
quarter of a mile away were ablaze, and over them,
here and there, the dry pine-tops were aflame, and
sparks and lighted twigs falling around them found
new fuel in the dry moss and half-baked pine-
needles. At last, breathless, they won the lower
levels and got among the deciduous maples. The
smoke was thinner, the trees less numerous. They
caught glad chests-full of clearer air.

Riverius paused. " Where is your mother ?"

Paul pointed. He could not yet speak.

" At home. We must reach her. She must cross
the river at once. Every stick on this side will go.

" Stop ! stop !" the boy managed to cry out.

"Well, quick."

" I was with Phely. I fell asleep. She got away.
I lost her. Oh, Mr. Riverius, it was my fault. I
wish I was dead !"


" Dead ! Himmel ! death cures no mistakes.
Come." And he strode away. " We must think
of your mother. Can you run ?"

They bounded over the snake fence, ran across
the clearing, and then met Becky.

" Mrs. Preston she's down at the dug-out," she
cried. " She left me to tell Paul. She was afeerd
for Paul." The woman looked curiously at Rive-
rius. " I wouldn't go over the river," she said.
" Rollins has crossed, and I see Consider and Phil
come down in a dug-out. Guess they'd a notion to
save the wood-shoot. Anyways, they're there."
And she pointed across the Alleghany.

" Mein gute Becky," said Riverius, coolly, " to he
hanged is unpleasant; to be burned alive worse.
I propose neither. Mind, you have not seen me."

"I ain't no fool, Mr. Ryverus."


They had talked as they hastened towards the
Alleghany. The circuit of the mountain a half-
mile away to left was a belt of growing flame, least
towards the river, where the trees were mostly ma-
ples and cherry. At the boat stood Mrs. Preston.

" Where is Ophelia ?" she said.

Paul pointed to the mountain and burst into tears.

" Don't talk now," said Riverius. " The boy
behaved like a man, — like a brave man. — Come,
take over your mother and Becky, Paul. Say you
are going back for these blankets; you forgot
them. Leave them here, Becky. Now off with
you, Paul."

As he spoke, the dug-out shot out athwart the


stream. The smoke rolling up the river hid them
from view. Caught by the downward rush of the
rapids, it was shot upward and rolled curling over
on the waves, — a strange sight for one more at ease
to note it. " Wet something," he called after them.
" Cover your mouths." They obeyed him, and
were gone across and down the stream, guided by
Paul's agile figure and quick-falling pole. Riverius
threw himself on the edge and drew long breaths.

In an hour or less, Paul came back. " Now up
stream," said Riverius, leaping into the boat and
seizing a pole. " I will leave you two miles above,
at Split Rock. To-night about ten fetch me the
dug-out, and I will risk a run down stream alone."
He was all energy, quiet and self-possessed. As
they landed, he said, "Paul, I have not had a mo-
ment to tell you that Ance is on the mountain.
I thought he had followed me. He was at my side
when we saw we had to leave. Then I heard him
say something, and missed him. He is too clever
a woodman to be caught, and I think he will get
out. However, it is as God wills."

" And Phely ?"

" Ah, who can say ? Don't cry, my boy. Trouble
comes to us all. Look well after your mother. And
if the river seems too thick with smoke, don't re-
turn for me ; don't venture. I will find my way
down the banks. Good-by, and God keep and help

Paul silently wrung his hand, and the boat darted
away into the rolling smoke.


When Ance turned back from their downward
flight, it was with a strange wild joy in his heart.
He had heard, with his well-trained sense, a human
cry in the gorge. Calling to Kiverius to go on, he
turned to the left and bounded down the craggy
slope with a word or two more which escaped his
companion. Then he paused. The smoke was
stifling, and far worse than on the granite summit.
Inland, where the country fell away from the moun-
tain, there were for a long distance only low bushes,

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