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Far in the forest, a story online

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myself and of him too. Mein Gott, what a beast
you must be to bully a boy like that !"

" Rifles talk big," said Ance.

The German turned, set the rifle against a tree
back of him, half cocking it as he did so, threw
off his coat quietly, and turned.

" Now, my man, the rifle's done talking. What

" Oh, don't !" said Paul. " He'll kill you. He's
the best wrestler on the river. Oh, please don't !
I'll let him lick me."

" Stuff!" said Riverius. Then, to the surprise
of both, Ance replied, " I ain't got no quarrel with
you, Ryverus. You jus' go your way, an' I'll go

Assuredly the man was not afraid. What Paul


had said of his reputation for strength and skill
was true; but Ance was still conscious of the ener-
vating influence of liquor, was tired from his run,
and had in mind also certain prudential consid-
erations as to how his quasi-friend Philetus would
like the matter. Moreover, he dully reflected that
most probably the scared boy would confine him-
self to the hornet matter, and that on the whole it
was better to bide his time. He muttered under
his breath, " Hurt dogs has got long mem'ries,"
and walked slowly away.

" Come, now, Paul," said Riverius, picking up
coat and rifle, " what new scrape have you been
in ? This looks a little serious. Let's have it out."

" Yes, I want to tell ; but wait a little, till I get
the eggs," said the boy. " I am awfully blown."

" I will go with you," returned his companion.
The basket was found, and again they turned
homeward. The elder person had considerately
waited to give the lad time to recover his equa-
nimity. Now he repeated his query as he sat
down on a log, while Paul, glad of a rest, threw
himself on the moss at his feet.

" When I got to Myry Richmond's, there was
Ance Yickers. Well, he allowed he was going to
take a shingle to me."

" Oh, but what about?"

" He said I sassed him."

" Were saucy, I suppose you mean."

" Oh, you're worse than mother, Mr. Riverius.
Well, maybe I was saucy."

" What about ?"


The boy reflected. He was not to tell Philetus,
but this was different. He paused.

" Himmel ! can't you tell it out like a man V*

" He was impudent to Miriam, and I told him to
clear out. You know he comes after Phil and gets
him to drink, and Myry was pretty mad."

" I see."

" I said I wouldn't tell Philetus ; and you won't,
will you ? You see, I said I wouldn't."

" Who asked you ? — Miriam ?"


" Ach, bad, bad ! What next comes ?"

Then Paul, a little in doubt, related the hornet
business. The fan of it was too much for John
Riverius, and he laughed till he ached. " And so
he treed you, did he ? And are you sorry ?"

Paul glanced up at the shrewd clean-cut face and
yellow moustache. It was perfectly in control, and
gave no counsel to the alert young physiognomist.

" Sorry ? No, I'm not. I'm sorry I got you in
a row with that blackguard. He couldn't have
caught me. I would have cut his hand."

" I don't like knives."

" No, sir, I know ; but I couldn't help it, now,
could I?"

" I suppose not." And Riverius arose and began
thoughtfully to walk to and fro.

" There will come mischief out of this, Paul,
and your mother has had more than her share of
trouble." Paul was silent. He began to think
that there might be several sides to this question.

" I'll make it up with Ance," he said, at last.


" No, better to leave it to me, and say nothing
to your mother."

"All right, sir." It would be set straight if
John Riverius took it in hand; and with this con-
soling reflection Paul put it out of his mind in
a few days, or recalled it only to remember with
mirth the hornet dance of bow-legged Ance.


Two or three days passed, during which Riverius
sought in vain for a chance to talk with Vickers.
Then he went away down the river to Pittsburg,
and was gone two weeks. He reappeared at supper
one evening, and after it went over to his cabin,
and, coming back, put an envelope on the table.
" You will find within the account for my board,
Mrs. Preston."

" Thank you," she said. This monthly bit of
business unaccountably annoyed her. She put the
envelope in her pocket, adding, " You are a very
easy boarder."

" Am I, indeed ? I eat like a cormorant. I come,
I go. You must be very tired of so erratic a guest,
and you put my account in your pocket without a
look at it. It is hardly business-like. These wood-
men all cheat you about your pines." Riverius had
a faint sense of mischievous pleasure in dwelling on
their mutual commercial relations.

" This is not business at all," Bessy returned,
quite earnestly. " You pay me by the month and
are here one week out of three."

" So much the worse for me. How quiet the
time is! Will you walk with me a little in the
woods ?" It was the first time he had made any
such request, but of late he had acquired the habit
of sitting with her after meals while he smoked,


and now and then he had picked up a book and
read aloud, — usually after Paul had gone to bed.

" I shall be glad to go, if you will not discuss
money matters. I hate thein," she answered; and
they strolled away, leaving Paul deep in a volume
of travel. They walked on in silence for a while,
following in the twilight a disused ox-road.

" How wordless we are !" he said.

"Yes. There may be many reasons for that.
One may have nothing to say."

" Or too much." As he spoke she glanced at
him curiously.

" That is not my case, at least," she returned. " I
am undergoing mental desiccation." " Certainly
not physical," thought her companion, pleasantly
conscious of her look of easy strength and bloom.
He laughed. " What amuses you?" she asked.

" Oh, little. When one is happy and the world
goes well, a small thing makes merry. We are at
the windfall." As he spoke, they turned aside
into the dusking forest.

" Sit here," he said. As she sat on the huge
fallen moss-clad tree, it yielded beneath her weight,
a rotten shell of mouldered ruin. He caught her
hand, and, laughing, lifted her quickly as a dusty
powder of utterly dried-up and decayed wood rose
in the air. " This is better," he said, as they found
seats on a firmer log.

" What a strange ruin, and how grim and
solemn !" Perhaps a century back some fierce
cyclone had swept as with a giant scythe through
a mile of forest and left behind it a lane of tumbled


trees, a hundred yards in breadth. On either side
rose, tall and wholesome, a wall of great pines, em-
phasizing with their vigorous lines the wreck be-
tween, where, one on another, lay long and massive
trunks so clad with moss and beset with ferns as
to look like monstrous grave-heaps in the fading


" They are but as spectres of things long dead,"
he said. " At a touch they fall and are dust. I
would I could have seen it done. Think what a
sight it must have been. A battle is a poor human
trifle to that."

" You have seen battles ?"

" Yes ; they are small affairs, compared to this
riot of destruction."

" How sad it is ! I have been here often, and
always it seems to me each time more solemn."
Then they were still so long that Bessy, of a sudden
reflecting on the fact, recognized in it the gathering
nearness of friendly relation which made silence
possible. At last he said, —

" You forbade me to discuss business, but I want
to tell you that I have been thinking of building a
mill on your brook, if you will let me have land

" Why not? Take all you need."

" That is for you to say. It will be of great use
to you, to me, and indeed to all about here. I
think I will ask Philetus and Consider to take
charge of it. How would it do to sound Miriam
first ? For some reason, the old fellow does not like
me; and yet I should be glad to help him."


" You laugh at his talk too much."

" But he is so absurd."

" That is true ; yet why should you care ? He is
practical enough as to all business matters."

" Then you think well of my scheme ? I will see
his wife to-morrow."

" Perhaps that might be best," she said, thought-

" Why perhaps ?"

" I hardly know. I — yes, on the whole, that may
be the better plan. He is a strange man. At times
he seems to me quite unreasonable, — really odd,
you know." With a woman's ready intuition, she
had begun to suspect that Philetus disliked Miriam's
frank admiration of the German.

" Well, I will see her to-morrow and talk to you
afterwards. Has Paul told you of his trouble with
Ance Vickers ?"

" JSTo. Nothing serious, I trust ?"

" Oh, not very. How close-mouthed the lad can
be !" Then he gave her an account of Paul's mis-
chief, leaving out as much of Miriam's share as was

" I do not like it," she said.

" No, nor I ; but boys will be boys, and the mood
of mischief does not last. I will see Ance and try
to settle the matter."

" You will be a good friend, as you always are.
I will leave it to you."

" Thank you."

"And now for your reward." And she laughed
while he set curious eyes on her face.


"What is it?"

" Guess."

" I cannot, unless it is that you will sit an hour

" Oh, no, no," she said, rising. " It is time to go

" But my reward."

" Which hand will you choose ?" she cried,
smiling and light of heart.

" The left,— no, the right."

" You are lucky." And she dropped a large ring
into his palm.

" Where found you that ? It was my grand-
father's. The Elector gave it to his grandfather.
I lost it in the drifts that night when I pulled off
my gloves to tie my snow-shoe."

" I found it to-day by the fence."

" Ach ! always it is you who give."

" That is forbidden talk."

He slipped the ring on his thumb, after the Ger-
man fashion. " Thank you," he said, and put out
his hand. She gave him hers. He was minded to
kiss it, but hesitated, and now the chance was past,
and they turned and walked homeward, leaving the
windfall behind them to the gathering shadows.

The next day Biverius strolled across the woods
to carry out his plan. Now and then he looked
down at his ring, or, pausing, gathered a flower
and studied it for a few minutes. Then he began
to think over what he should say to Miriam. She
amused him, and he liked her society better than
that of the men about them. On the way he met


Ance Vickers, and quietly stopped to talk to him
and to ask a question as to the path. The man
was, as usual, the worse for liquor, — a thing which
always more or less irritated the German, who,
looking forth out of the too proudly governed king-
dom of his own nature, allowed little for the lower
planes of other men's lives and despised the mob-
rule of ungoverned passions. Ance was leaning
on his axe-blade and looking about him as he sat
on the slope above the brook.

" Good-morning, Ance," said Riverius, recog-
nizing his own feeling of annoyance, but desiring
to control it in Paul's interests.

" Mornin'," returned Ance, without looking up.

" I have been wanting to see you about Mrs.
Preston's boy. I don't think he meant to do more
than just such mischief as boys will do."

" Well, he done it."

" Yes, of course ; but really it is hardly a matter
for malice. Why should a great fellow like you
care to keep a lad scared? You punished him
quite enough."

" So you think and I don't."

" But there's his mother."

" Oh, his mother. That's the trouble, is it ? Let
her lick him well, and I'll quit thinkin' about the

Riverius was now much more than annoyed, but,
seeing how useless it was to talk to Ance in his
present condition, made no direct reply, and merely
asked, "Which is the nearer way to Richmond's?"

" The trail's plain enough," said Ance ; roughly.


" I asked you a civil question," returned Rive-
rius. " Why can't you answer civilly ?"

" A child might see. You go on straight to the
brook. Philetus is there, eatin\ Guess he'll tell

" I suppose you have both been drinking, or you
would have more decent manners."

" What's that your business ?"

" Why do you make that poor old fellow take

" What makes you go over to see that ther' wife
of his'n ?"

Riverius laughed, despite his sense of rising
wrath. " You'll get into trouble, my man, if you
don't keep a little better guard on your tongue."

" That's where you'll git, I guess."

" Pshaw !" said Riverius, controlling his anger,
and walked away biting his long moustache. Pres-
ently he came upon Philetus, and at once saw that
he had been sharing the other woodman's flask.
Such indulgence at first made him either merry
or contemplative, but soon or late suspicious and
cross-grained. He was eating his mid-day meal by
the brook. His quick ear detected the step.

" Good-morning," said the German. " I wanted
to see you."

" Well, Pm here and you're here."

" And I suppose Consider isn't far away, Phi-

" No, sir ; a man's got to keep his eyes near to
hand. £Tot that I needs 'em much, but I smelt a
bear pretty nigh this mornin', and bears wants eyes


until you come to close quarters, then they ain't no

" I like hest to look at them over the sight of a

" 'Tain't a fair thing, nuther, Mr. Ryverus. I've
often took notice of that sence I went blind. We're
awful mean lighters, men air. The devil he's a lot
fairer; he jus' runs in on you, and it's a squar'
rough-and-tumble. I've had times with him, —
times ; 'twasn't hypocrisy done it. That ain't my
failin'. That gits you in the teeth. Manuel Swe-
denborg says so. Anyways, some devil's got my
eyes, cause maybe they wasn't the Lord's servers."

Riverius listened, and at the close was silent a
moment. Vagueness was most unpleasant to him.
He said, abruptly, —

" What are you and Yickers doing here ?"

" God's work," he answered. He was in one of
the curious moods which a little drink and his own
nature were apt to create.

"Well, just what kind?"

" Seem' whar Ike Rollins kin put a mill on this
brook. Perhaps you're a-guessin' as that ain't
God's work."

" Why not ? It is all his work."

" There's ways and ways," urged Phil, keenly
disposed for discussion ; but the German diverged,
a little bored, and desirous to be on his way again.

" Isn't this Mrs. Preston's land ?"

" Yes, and a good mill-site, too. Quite a nat'ral
dam, and handy to the river."

" What will Rollins want to give her ?"


" I don't know, rightly. He kind of left it to
me and her."

" Then it's not settled yet ?"


" What is the way to your house, Richmond ?"

" Goin' thar, are you ? Well, ye're a bit off. It's
'stonishin' how you city folks git to lose yourselves
in a clean wood. Two miles off, you air. F oiler
the brook a mile, and take a ox-road to left. What's
goin' on now?"

" Nothing of moment. I am going to see your

" Well, that's the way." He was wondering why
a man should go to see another man's wife with no
object in view which he seemed to care to state.

" By the bye, Mrs. Richmond will tell you my
errand when you see her. You will be pleased, I
think. Good-by."

The woodman rose and heard his retreating
steps. " I'd give a lot fur to see that 'ere man's
face. Then I'd know. Ther's things goin' on,
goin' on Oh, Lord, fur to see !"

As Riverius approached Richmond's cabin he
came upon the child. " Halloo, kitten," he said,
mounting the young Ophelia on his broad shoulder,
" here's a box of sugar-plums from the big town."

" I love you. What makes you cut your hair so
short? Phely can't hold on."

"For beauty, kitten. Our affection is mutual.
Where's mother ?"

" Here," said Miriam's strong voice. " Come


" Glad to see you," he said. He was more easily
familiar with her than with her friend.

"Did you see my Phil, Mr. Riverius? He wasn't
home last night." She tried to say it steadily, but
her voice fell.

" Yes ; I met him at the run. He was with

"Ah, I understand. I thought that man was
down Olean way. You won't mind, sir, hut — but
— had Phil been drinking ?"

" Yes, Mrs. Richmond."

" Couldn't you speak to him ?"

" I will ; but Mrs. Preston has much more power
to influence him than I."

" I know ; that's so ; but she's tried and I've
tried." Miriam well knew that Philetus disliked
Riverius, but scarcely why.

" If Phil only just had some steady work, but
he's here and he's there. You know how it is;
and the logging-camps are just too awful."

" I came over to ask you about something which
may help you. I think of buying a hundred acres
along the run and building a saw-mill. That would
give Mrs. Preston a little money, at say ten dollars
an acre."

" Oh, it isn't worth it."

"Yes; it's the only mill-site for five miles

" Phil won't like that," she said, abruptly.

" And why not ?"

" He's promised it in a way to Rollins."

" Promised it !" said Riverius, haughtily. " It


is not his. How could he ? And why won't he
like it?"

She colored slightly. " "Well, he won't. He
won't like your coming in and bidding over Rollins;
and Rollins won't, either, for that matter."

" That matters little to me. What I want is to
put Phil and his deaf friend in charge to run it.
I will give good wages and steady employment.
That will keep him clear of Ance. Now suppose
you were to speak to Phil. If I talk to Mrs. Pres-
ton at once "

" Did Phil speak of it ?— about Rollins, 1 mean?"
she broke in.

" Yes."

" Then he won't like it. I'll try ; but he won't
like it. He's a man stands by his word, drunk or
sober." She spoke with a certain pride. " I'll
speak to him, anyway. It would keep him a heap
from home."

" Yes ; that cannot be helped."

Meanwhile, the fair Ophelia had been exhaust-
ing her devices to attract his notice. She tapped
his knee, looked up at his face, tried the lure of
peeping round a chair, and at last, in the pause at
the close of his last words, said, " I don't love you."

" Daughter of Eve !" he cried, laughing. " I
must go." Yet he stayed on, playing like an older
child with the little maid, showing her his watch,
which opened when she blew on it, and doing
simple conjuring tricks to her vast delight.

" You ought to have young ones of your own,
Mr. Riverius," said the happy, handsome mother.


" Acli !" he laughed, " not till I can get as hand-
some a mother."

" Looks are not much good up here," she said,
" and with a blind husband, too."

" He's got ears, though," said Philetus at the door.
Whether or not he had heard the German's frank
compliment could not be said, but Riverius promptly
answered, " You've got the handsomest wife on the
Alleghany, Philetus, and she the best-looking man."

"We're very well," returned the giant, rather
shortly. " Will you bide ?"

"No; Mrs. Richmond knows my errand. She
will tell you."

" I thought you hadn't no errand."

" I did not say so."

" I kinder so took it."

" You mustn't mind Phil," she said, as Riverius
passed by her at the door-way. He nodded, smiling,
and heard the small Ophelia's voice, " You come
back soon."

A day or two later, Philetus, quite sober, came
over and sat in Riverius's cabin. " I've come 'bout
that 'ere mill. Seem's you'd fixed it with Madam.
I'll come, and Consider will come too. Will you
take Ance Vickers ?"

" Himmel ! not I," said Riverius.

" I knowed you wouldn't. I ain't spoke none to
him about it. But Rollins he's that mad; says
you bought in afore him."

" Tell him to go to der Teufel."

" I ain't clear whar that may be. I'd a bit ruther
him and his loggin'-gang was in with you."


" "Not if I can help it. They are the worst lot
from here to Olean."

" He's pizin mad."

" Stuff! Go on and "build the mill; but no Ance

" All right : you knows yer business. Nex' time
you want to talk, Mr. Ryverus, you talk at me. I
ain't deef, and there ain't no call to be counsellin'
with women. You'll find me at the mill, — alius at
the mill." The offer was, in fact, too good to re-
ject; and Miriam had not been without influence.
He left the German mildly puzzled, but clear at
least that his visits to Miriam were not to her hus-
band's mind, — why he could not tell. Ance might
have enlightened him; yet the notion of jealousy
on the part of the blind man would have merely
amused him.

The mill was built, and the summer glided on to
its close. Late in September the money was to
be paid to Mrs. Preston. There had been some
trouble as to that, until she heard how much the
disappointed Rollins would have been willing to
give, and then it seemed natural enough. Riverius
had been over to Olean and returned.

" In the house ; mother's in the house," said

" I've brought you a rifle, Paul. Come over this
evening and get it. Come late. I have letters to
write." Then he went in.

Mrs. Preston had a bowl in her lap, and was
peeling potatoes. To his surprise, she wore a pair
of faded gloves.


" Come in," she said. He had paused at the
door, watching her a moment. Whatever she did
had a dexterous grace which gave pleasure to see.
" I wish you would finish those laurels," she said
" I was half tempted to try myself, only your box
is in your cabin, and "

"I will leave it here. Can you paint? You
never told me."

" Yes, a little, — not very well. I used to once.
I will try to-morrow."

"Perhaps you may like a lesson. Oh! and
here is a bank-book. You see you are credited
with a thousand dollars in the Olean Bank."

She took it, somewhat embarrassed. It was as
though he was giving her something. " Thank
you," she said.

" !No need to. It is a pure matter of business. I
am the gainer." And he smiled. " I see you have
done the potatoes. Suppose I bring the paints
now. The light is good."

In a few moments they were standing on two
chairs by the fireplace, with Paul on one side, hold-
ing the color-case. "You paint well," he said.
" What a pity we had not the laurels ! How glorious
they are ! Can you reach the upper spray ? A little
more purple. That's it. Take care !" As she
reached up, the chair tilted, and but for his quick
stay of her waist she would have fallen.

" Thank you," she said, flushing. " I think that
will do for to-day." And at once she descended.
The touch troubled her. " Why did you let go the
chair, Paul ?" she exclaimed, irritably.


Riverius looked puzzled. "We will finish to-
morrow," he said, but they did not. Mrs. Preston
said it was perhaps better for him to go on with the
roses. They were still in bloom here and there.
When the laurels came back they could do them,
if Mr. Riverius chanced to be on the Alleghany,
next spring.

The day after he spent the morning over the
birch-bark panels, working with swiftness and evi-
dent pleasure, while without Mrs. Preston sat be-
low the eaves, where the narrowing shadow now
and then caused her to rise and set her chair farther
back. Paul was cleaning the new rifle, certainly
for the second time that day. His mother looked
up from her sewing and back athwart the clearing
to the sparks of silver which shot through the
leafage from the shining river. The stumps in the
foreground were blackened by fire, or mouldering,
moss-clad and lichen-tinted. She reflected that they
were like material memories of things once beauti-
ful. Why should they be ugly and unpleasant?
By and by these mouldering memories would die.
Around them the violets had been in June, and
then the daisies, and now asters. The train of re-
flection had the sweet vagueness of the half-linked
thoughts and fancies which should be, nay, are,
the gentle privilege of the woman who sits nigh
the sunshine within scent of pine and spruce, the
fingers busy, the mind taking holiday from moment
to moment. She was happy and knew it. Why
was she yielding to half-morbid fancies ? All
memories must fade. Life itself is one long mem-


ory. That, too, will fade. Yet there was some
luxury in the melancholy fancies. She saw faintly
that once she had been so sad that she had not
dared to drift in thought. Stern repression had
been the needful rule of her life, for she had had a
deadly fear of morbid yieldings and instinctively
cherished what hope or zest was left in life. But
now, yes, she was happy, and had no need to coerce
her wayward, dreamy moods. She could afford the
luxury of melancholy. Almost she could aiford to

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Online LibraryS. Weir (Silas Weir) MitchellFar in the forest, a story → online text (page 5 of 17)