S. Weir (Silas Weir) Mitchell.

Far in the forest, a story online

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stranger with a queer, boyish sense of being the
host. In a few minutes they were talking of the
drifts, and the German was describing to Paul a
glacier, and chamois-hunting. Mrs. Preston stood
for a little while and listened, but presently was
summoned by Becky and went back to her husband.
Then the German said, " Has your father been
long ill f»

" Yes, sir, a good while. Mother says he is very
sick, and Becky says he is going to die. Do you
think he will die ?"

Riverius glanced at him with fresh interest. He
was tall and neatly built, with promise of strength,
and had the cloud-blue eyes of the mother.

"I do not know, my lad. What is it that he
has ? What sickness ?"

Paul knew but too well. He colored. " Mother
knows. I don't rightly understand, sir."

" Ah !" exclaimed Riverius, quickly. " I can ask
her. Perhaps I may be of some use."

"Shall I call her?"

" No, — oh, no. Presently I will talk to her."

" Here is breakfast."

The German stopped his hostess as she passed
through the room an hour later. " Pardon me,"
he said, " but I have travelled much, and know a
little medicine. Let me see your husband."

" Ah, if you would !" she said, eagerly. " Come
in ; come in. He won't know. He is worse." He
followed her and stood by the bed, took the cold
hand, felt the colder feet, and looked up, drawing


back a pace from the bed. She glanced at him
inquiringly. He shook his head slowly. She un-

"Is he dying?"

" It will not be long. He suffers not now."

At intervals Paul Preston ceased to breathe,
then drew a deep draught of air, and then a less and
a lesser, with regardless eyes staring up at the log
rafters. By and by he moved uneasily, revived a
little, and put forth a hand, which fell on that of
Riverius resting on the bedside. The dying man
shut his damp lingers on it, muttering words which
Riverius could not understand. Both of the lookers-
on saw the mistake, but neither stirred. " Ah,"
said Bessy, catching the meaning of the broken
phrases. The words called back to the woman her
young life, its gradual extinction of joy, of energy,
and at last of hope. Then she turned to the bed and
stood with one palm on the moist brow, and, as if
forgetful of any other presence, said aloud, " Thank
God, I never failed ! Oh, Paul, Paul, did you ever
know "

The German drew away quietly and walked to
the fireplace. In a few moments she crossed the
room to him.

" I think he must be dead. Will you see ?" He
had been dead to her long before. There are such
living corpses in many homes. She sat down and
stared dully into the fire, while the chance-comer
stood by the bed and was about to close the set
eyes. Suddenly she was beside him.

"Oh, no, no! I! I! No one else!" Andtremu-


lously but resolutely she did for the dead the little
needful office.

Riverius went out. In the kitchen he met Becky.
" He is gone," he said.

The next day the drifts were firmer, and a man
from a cabin across the river was sent off for help,
and two or three woodsmen came in from a lumber-
camp. Later in the morning, as Riverius stood at
the door in the sun with Paul, he saw crossing the
clearing a tall man and a large, fair woman, both
on snow-shoes.

" Who is that ?" said the German.

" Oh, that's Philetus Richmond ; he's blind.
Sometimes he works here. Miriam's with him.
She's his wife. They live down the river a bit, a
good bit back. — Where's Phely?" he said to the
woman, as they came nearer.

" I left Ophelia at Mr. Rollins's camp with Mrs.
Rollins. How is your mother, Paul ?"

" Better, to-day. Go in, please. This is Mr.
Riverius, Myry. — Philetus, this is Mr. Riverius."

" I did not know you in your muffles," said the
German. " We have met before."

In a day or two Paul Preston was laid at rest
among the pines a few hundred yards back of the
house, and those he left behind him set about by
degrees to readjust their lives as seemed possible or
best. Meanwhile, Riverius had induced Philetus
to take him in as a boarder, much to the satisfac-
tion of his wife Miriam, and very soon to that of
the little Ophelia. To women, Riverius showed
his best side, and now found Mrs. Richmond kindly


and acceptable. As to Philetus, he had met him
often in the lumber-camps, and knew him well.

Some three weeks later Riverius came to Mrs.
Preston and said as she sat at her sewing, " I go
away to-morrow. I hope to be back and forward
for a while. Will you let me ask Philetus to put up
for me a cabin outside of your clearing ? I shall
hope to be able sometimes to return, and then per-
haps you will let me make some arrangement by
which I can get my meals with you."

" As you please," she said, inertly. She was suf-
fering from a bewildering sense of having nothing
now to do, and from the sort of remorse such deaths
leave to the woman who feels that she ousrht to be
crushed and desolated and yet is not.

" Thank you," he said, simply ; " and when I re-
turn, we can easily arrange the business part of it."
Next day he was off at daybreak.

In the brief time since Paul Preston's death,
Riverius had been, as was natural, a very frequent
guest at Mrs. Preston's table. He provided trout,
caught through holes in the ice, and some easily-
gotten game, and, above all, made rapid and close
acquaintance with the young Paul, who now reigned
in the place of the father.

Riverius had been at school in England and
France, but nowhere had he known the kind of lad
who now excited his ever-ready interest. It seemed
a thing worth study, a creature at the ductile age,
bold, mischievous, thoughtless of consequences as
a destructive kitten, surrounded by the physical
lures with which nature wooes us back towards


barbarous life, and restrained and modified by the
ever more difficult rule of a woman, the force of
whose influence Riverius saw but could not as yet

The value of physical courage the German per-
haps over-esteemed, and the boy's fearlessness
pleased him. The reckless fondness for dangerous
sports and ventures attracted him. The good, well-
taught manners and general frank pleasantness of
the boy were to his mind, and he knew life well
enough to guess that the dogged obstinacy of a
clever, vain youthhood may become the reasoning
resoluteness of the more intelligent man. It may
by this time have been seen that Riverius was of
those, the few, who with no ulterior object find the
mere study of character attractive. Our own indi-
vidualism prevents us from seeing our resemblances
to others, and it was this, perhaps, which shut out
from the German's mind the idea that in many ways
the boy was like himself, John Riverius. Also
Paul returned his liking in kind. There is mys-
terious and irresistible flattery in the dog you do
not know who comes to rest his muzzle on your
knee, and in the little one who of a sudden takes
you into its life and shyly gives you to understand
that you are an accepted friend. Very proud and
reserved men often get on with boys as they do not
with their equals in age, allow liberties, and enjoy
with them a friendly freedom. And so it was that
in a week or two of wandering and shooting with
Paul, Riverius found himself talking of himself and
his past life with an amount of ease, and even com-


fort, that at times surprised him. As to Mrs. Pres-
ton, he gave himself, save as to one thing, little
thought. She was a faded woman, with handsome
hair, certainly graceful, listless, apathetic, or self-
absorbed in thoughts more or less painful, now and
then beset with self-evident need to make certain
decisions, which she feebly postponed from day to
day. All her life she had been dutiful, and now to
fail hurt her. She could not know that the will in
a too weak body is like a proud king without an
army. A vast sense of discomfiture oppressed her,
and all life was for the time unreal and valueless.
Riverius knew too little of this aspect of existence
to take in or sympathize with her peculiar state.
She was simply a lady in trouble, and he owed her
the infinite obligation of a life saved. She, herself,
just now had ceased to think of it. Any woodsman
would have been cared for, fed, and housed, just as
he had been, and the incident was, after all, com-
monplace in these woods, where in winter it was
not rare that men perished of cold.


Eiverius was destined to remain away far longer
than he had meant to be. It was June before he
reappeared. Twice he had written formal letters
of inquiry, — letters which lay in the post-office
at Olean until some one was found who would
promise to deliver them. Late in May, Mrs. Rich-
mond persuaded her husband to let her go over
with her child and stay near Mrs. Preston in the
cabin Philetus had built for Riverius. She had the
good sense to know how useful for the lonely forest
child were Mrs. Preston and Paul, and for some
little time the former had been urging them to
come, with an increasing sense of need for other
company than the indomitable and abrupt Becky.
And now Paul was indeed very happy. The buds
were everywhere unfolding, arbutus had come, and
all the hill-sides were rich with its scent. An early
spring had brought out the silvery dogwood-blos-
soms so that the forest spaces were lit with their
starry multitude, and the Judas-trees showed a
deep pink between.

Mrs. Preston sat on the grass with Miriam, and
not far away Paul was building a vast pagoda with
red and white corn-cobs, a delightful task, while on
a stump near by the small Ophelia sat impatient at
the lack of notice from the too-occupied architect.

The child was in many ways a curious contrast


to her parents, — intensely, even amazingly femi-
nine, rather pale, or with the faintest pink in her
cheeks, a delicately-made little person, slender of
foot and hand, quick to see, eager to notice, inno-
cently craving homage from those about her, and
most of all from any male within reach of her

Mrs. Preston was filling a dish on her lap with
arbutus-blossoms, and now and then regaling her-
self with the odors of that most delicious of the
gifts of spring. Miriam Richmond, seated beside
her, was sewing buttons on a red flannel shirt.
They gossiped gently of the loggers, the small
news of the woods, of the children, and at last of

" I wonder," said Miriam, " when he'll come

" In about three weeks, he writes. What should
bring him here, or why he wants to stay, I really
cannot see."

" He's a right handsome man. He just stands
up, like. Now, my Phil ain't an ill-lookin' man,
but he don't hold himself up like that Riverius."

" Yes, I suppose he is rather nice-looking," said
the widow. " Philetus mi^ht have been the better-
looking; but this wood-life's so hard on the

"Well, I never did see a man just like that
German. Phil says he's stuck up."

11 1 know what Philetus means. It is natural to
one of Mr. Riverius's class, — his — well, his train-
ing, I mean."


" Wonder where he came from ? Didn't you
never ask him V •


" Dear me ! I'm that curious, I'd want to know.
Don't you ?"

"No. By the way, that reminds me that Hies-
kill brought a letter over from Olean to-day from
Mr. Biverius to my boy. How proud Paul will be !
— Paul, Paul," she cried. " Here, my son," she
said, as he came, — " here is a letter for you from
Mr. Riverius."

It was the boy's first letter. The importance of
the event was immense. He walked back to the
girl and sat down on the ground.

" What have you got, Paul ?" she said, in a small,
soft, caressing voice. "Let Phely see."

" Only a letter," returned the boy, in a large,
indifferent way.

" You might let me see."

Paul was otherwise minded. He opened it with
care, and examined the post-mark and the large red
seal, stamped with a coat of arms.

" What's that ?— that red thing ?"

He took no notice, but proceeded to spell out the
not very easily read writing.

"Paul, I'm very nice. You like me."

He was re-reading this important document, out
of which he had taken a ten-dollar note and put it
in his pocket amidst a quaint collection of bits of
string, a broken knife, horse-hair for trout-snoods,
and the like.

" I've got a new dress."


Still no answer. Then the little maid got off
her stump and came to his side.

" Me kiss you, Paul."

" Oh, don't bother !"

Thus rejected, she went over to the corn-cob
castle and gave it a kick. Down it came in ruin.
She looked up with a pretty little defiant expression
to observe what would come of it. She had won
his attention at last.

" You're a mean, bad girl !" he said. " I'll fi.x
you." But the little sinner was away and had her
head in her mother's lap before he could catch her.

" Paul, Paul," Mrs. Preston said, warningly. He
paused. " I won't play with her again." And, so
saying, he walked around the house.

"Here, Becky," he said, " this is from Mr. Rive-
rius. He says he hopes you're a good girl, and no
one is to know about the money. Now you mind

" Oh, I'm an awful good girl," said Becky. " I'm
ten dollars gooder than I was," and plunged anew
into the wash-tub.

Paul went back to his ruined castle.

" What does he say ?" said his mother.

" Oh, he just says he's coming soon, and — and
there's a secret. The rest's a secret."

" Tell me," said Miriam.

"I guess not."

The two women laughed.

" He'll tell me," said the small maid.

" No, he won't," said Paul. Then she proceeded
to assist him in the work of reconstruction, gra-


ciously handing him the corn-cobs, one by one, and
prattling incessantly.

" You ought to be proud of her," said Mrs.
Preston. " She is really a winning little lady."

" Ophelia, — sweet Ophelia," said the mother.

Mrs. Preston laughed with genuine enjoyment.
" My young Hamlet doesn't seem easily captured.
What company the child is ! She really seems to
think it her business to entertain one. When she
gets older, you will be troubled about her educa-
tion. I suppose thinking of Paul makes me think
of her too."

" That's the worst of this wilderness," said
Miriam. " I don't mind its being lonely, but you
can go away. I can't, and Phil blind. Oh, it's
pretty hard to fix things."

" But I can't go away. I can live here, if this be
life, but my lad's future terrifies me at times; and
he is so masterful, as Philetus says."

Certainly Ophelia Richmond was distinctly a
little lady of nature's cunning make. The good
dame in this new land seems to have indulged her
capricious self to the full. A rough, strong, Western 1
man, a plain, fair-featured wife, and, behold, a child.
If fortune favors him with wealth, the girl shares
its advantages. By and by there is a handsome,
noble-looking woman, quick to learn the ways of
any greater world, adaptive, ready-witted, intensely
feminine in her power, — a growth from the social
soil of one generation, a thing elsewhere not pos-

The visitors were good for Bessy Preston. In


another world, such as the widow had left behind
her, she would never have chanced upon Miriam,
or their ways could never have run together. Mrs.
Richmond looked up to her with an approach to
reverence. Circumstances in her earlier life had
made her of necessity studious of manners, and she
felt that if the small maid ever grew to have the
ease and control and pleasant fashions of this
woman, it would leave little in that direction to be
desired. She felt herself greatly flattered by their
friendly relation, and did not estimate how much
of it was due to the necessities which pushed them
into alliance. And yet Bessy liked her well, as
she liked truth and steadfastness wherever found.
Together they worked, taught their children, read
a little, and lived along in company with the May-
days, until at last Miriam went away with little
Phelia on the ox-cart.

Late at night a fortnight later, and early in June,
a like rude conveyance came to a halt at the door
of Riverius's cabin, having been sent to the river to
meet his canoes. Riverius opened the door, went
in, struck a match, and, seeing a candle, lit it.
" Ach, Himmel !" he exclaimed. The bed was
neatly made. There were four or five rough seats.
Nets were tacked in the window-openings, an indis-
pensable comfort. On the table were fresh rolls
and cold bacon, and to one side a few flowers, be-
lated arbutus chiefly, in a common soup-plate. For
the first time he smelled the loveliest of wild
flowers. The odor affected him curiously, and
those who have not his intensity of appreciation


would find it hard to realize how it acted upon him.
He felt faint for a moment, and then, again smelling
the flowers, had a sense of joy he did not analyze.

" Ach, that was friendly," he said, and so went
to bed, leaving his bundles and trunks out in the
moonlight, and feeling perfectly at ease as to their

When next morning at six he passed over the
dewy clearing to breakfast at Mrs. Preston's, he
saw of a sudden something which surprised him.
Out of the door came to welcome him a tall woman,
whom at a distance he did not instantly recognize.
" She walks well," he said to himself. And it was
true. There was ease, and for him some sense of
strength with grace, or rather spaciousness, in her
steps. " It is Mrs. Preston," he exclaimed to him-
self. There was a slight color in her cheeks, a little
more flesh everywhere. The great coil of hair
above the cloud-blue eyes mysteriously suited the
face below and brought out the vivid red of the
geranium spray her boy had laughingly set in its
coils a few moments before. Remembering when
and under what circumstances they had last parted,
she set herself with a faint sense of sudden em-
barrassment to look grave. The grim death-bed,
the fierce resolute contest with another death, which
had seemed as near the fair blond and manly visage,
and then the German as she recalled him in the
scattered sunlight beside the grave, under the
pines, came back to her in succession. She was
shocked, actually shocked, because, with all, there
was an overtone in her mind of satisfaction in see-


ing this stranger. In fact, she was yet young, full
of unexhausted resources, and, without distinctly
knowing it, had begun anew to have the instinctive
craving for the company of others of her own class
and tastes and manners. She saluted him with a
certain sobriety of greeting which did not quite
fairly represent the satisfaction she had in a new
face and intelligent society. " Paul will be very
glad to see you," she said, giving him her hand.

At the breakfast-table he chatted gayly, talking
of the people he had seen in and about Pottsville,
and of the vast coal resources in its neighbor-
hood. He had brought with him, to Bessy's de-
light, many books and some comforts for his own
cabin and hers.

"I shall be back and forward," he said, " and it
is a pleasant thing to feel that one has a home.
How shall we settle our business affairs ? I want to
own my cabin and a few acres around it."

Bessy laughed. "It would be hard to value.
The best pine is mostly cut, and really, Mr. Rive ri us,
it is of no importance. I am only too well pleased
for Paul's sake to have you near us when you are in
these parts."

" Well, then, I am to be your tenant, and we
shall have to set a rent."

" That will answer," she said, glad to be rid of
the question. " You can think over what will be
right. Whatever you say will satisfy me."

" I will consider it," he returned, gravely. " Becky
will look after my cabin, and I shall pay her."

" As you choose."


" I ought to add that you will find me trouble-
some. I must ask you to keep my letters or re-
address them according to what directions I may
give. It seems a good deal to ask, at least for one
who has only the claim of being already deep in
your debt."

" You make too much of my small service. I
shall be glad to do whatever I can."

" The giver may readily forget," he returned.
" For my own part, and speaking with entire frank-
ness, I know that if life be anything I owe it to
you. I am young enough to value it, I assure you ;
and, if you will put yourself in my place, you will
see that I may with reason feel a certain embarrass-

She understood him, and liked the feeling he
showed. " I can't very well realize what I have
never felt," she said, and then, more lightly, " nor
can I rearrange the chess-board of life and leave
you with no sense of obligation. Let it suffice that
I am glad to have helped you and that you feel
it does not make me less pleased. I said once that
I would have done the same for any one; but I
may plainly admit that I would rather have done it
for one of my own class than for Ance Yickers, or
even Philetus."

" That is all very well, but it does not quite dis-
pose of the matter for me. One often reads or
hears of cases where a person saves another's life,
and I have often wondered, in hearing or reading of
such instances, how the obliged person felt and
what he was called on to do."


" I see the difficulty ; but I imagine many people
do not feel the debt as you seem to do."

" As I do."

" Well, then, as you do." And she laughed. " I
accept your amendment. But really you make too
much of it."

" No." Then he paused, and added abruptly, " I
hate debts that never can be cancelled."

" That is hardly a noble sentiment. Pardon my

" Well, take it for a mere weakness, and forgive
its folly."

" I think you had better deal with it yourself,"
she answered, smiling. " You forget that I am a
woman, alone, without friends, a waif drifted off
from my own kind. You can give me what I value
and shall find helpful, — a friendship. My life has
been, as you know, a failure. Surely you can see
that the accident which brought you to my door
also brought me help in a day of great trouble. I
am already repaid."

" You are more than kind, Mrs. Preston."

Then he took his rifle and went away into the
woods with Paul. Mrs. Preston stood at the door,
following them with her eyes as they went. The
German had given a fresh flavor to her life, and of
late, from Philetus, Miriam, and the woodsmen who
at times paused at her door, she had heard many
comments on the man who had come among them
and acquired large interests and whose ways and
manners were not altogether to the taste of the
lumber-camps. To Elizabeth Preston it was clear


that he was highly educated, a gentleman, with the
reserve of his class. The fact that he was too posi-
tive at times to he popular with the dwellers in the
forest was also plain to her. That he was calmly
kind and helpful, she also felt; but he was never so
long with them as to enable her to learn more,
even if her own nature had not made the task diffi-

"With Paul he was on much easier terms. He
liked to teach him, to talk to him, and to have him
with him in his restless wanderings in the almost
trackless forest about them. Certainly his company
was good, and helpful for her boy. Now and then
he spoke of leaving, and of the need to be absent
long ; but, save for brief journeys to the little towns
in New York, he seemed to be intently busy with
land and lumber interests. In fact, he liked the
life, and by degrees had gone into large purchases
which agreeably occupied his time and attention,
so that he was beginning seriously to contemplate
a permanent residence in the new country.


On a quiet noon of a warm day in July, Paul sat
on a tall stump in the woods, his interest and at-
tention divided between Philetus and the pungies,
black flies and mosquitoes.

" Them pungies must be awful thick, Paul, the
way you're a-slappin' 'em. Git up and build a

The boy rose. He smiled pleasantly, and, look-
ing about with a pair of observant eyes, replied, as
he gathered some dry sticks and piled on them a
little rotten and damp wood, " I'd like to know
what pungies are for, anyway. I wish I had them
all in a bag on top of this lire. I guess they
wouldn't be missed, — not much." And he struck
a match with emphasis on the back of his polished
and not over-clean corduroys.

The dark pungent smoke rose up to windward of
the tall man, and swirled around his broad shoulders.
He smiled, and, as he turned, it was seen that his

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