S. Weir (Silas Weir) Mitchell.

Far in the forest, a story online

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" That's 'rithmetic," and, so saying, fled to the
house, while Miriam laughed.

" He might just play a little," she said. " We
don't get over that often."

Mrs. Preston, in a brown study, looked up. " He
must do his lessons. That is my rule. Ophelia
can wait."

The child's mother was silent. Then she said,
" That's the way. Boys have the best of it. Girls
must wait till they want them. It's the same with
us women. It's wait and wait."

" Really," said Mrs. Preston, " you are rather
discontented in your ideas, Miriam. It seems very
simple to me."

" And where's Mr. Riverius ?"

"He has gone to Olean for a week."

" You must miss him. He's just a lovely man ;
and his manners — he's just like a duke."

" I never saw a duke."

" But you miss him. I would. He don't come
over none now. It's funny, Mrs. Preston, but my
man's jealous of him."

" Oh, not really ?" The gossip annoyed her.
" You are sure you have not been foolish, Miriam ?
I, I mean — well, you know, it is quite natural Mr.
Riverius should think you handsome. The fact is,
you are. I fancy you know it."

" Yes, I suppose so. But, good gracious ! I like
Mr. Riverius, — of course I like him, — he's that
kind, but he ain't no more to compare to Philetus
Richmond than — than — well, I don't know w T hat.


He hasn't got his wisdom. And for looks, — well !
And Phil isn't drinking now."

" For that you may thank Mr. Riverius."

" And I do. I told Phil so Sunday."

" That was not very wise."

" I don't see why."

" You cannot know men, my dear, if you cannot
see that."

"He didn't like it, that's a fact." Then there
was a pause.

" How have your potatoes done ?"

" Oh, first-rate. And yours ?"

" Pretty well."

"Phil says the mill will be running in two


" They've got orders already."

" Yes."

" I hear Ance Vickers broke the jam. I wish
he'd stay away."

" Yes, it is desirable."

" There, I've dropped a stitch."

" Mrs. Richmond, Miriam, can I trust you ? I
want to ask you a question, and I want to feel sure
that you will never speak of it."

" Madam, I shall be as silent as Laertes."

Bessy Preston smiled. " We do not know how
well he kept his pledge, but that will answer."
She paused : speech was hard.

" Have you heard any one say anything unpleas-
ant about Mr. Riverius and me ?"

" Oh, nothing just unpleasant."


"Well, anything?"

" I might have heard something. Folks will
talk, but "

" You will do me a true kindness by being

" Well, they do say things."

" Such as " urged Bessy, firmly.

" Oh, foolishness. You know, in the camps and
around, men will talk."

" I must insist that you be more plain."

"Well, if I must. It's nothing more than just
the way they always talk."

" Oh, will you go on ?"

"It's nothing worse than that maybe you're a
little sweet on Mr. Riverius. They do laugh about
it a bit, Rollins and "

" Not Philetus, surely?"

" My man's not much better than the rest. He
will have his joke. You oughtn't to mind it any.
I've often heard folks saying such-like things about
me, — before I took Phil, of course ; not now. You
can be right sure I spoke up and gave them a piece
of my mind."

" Thank you," said Bessy. " Excuse me. I'll
be back in a minute." She went around the
kitchen, drew up the bucket from the cool well,
took a long draught, and went back. " We have
a few egg-plants, Miriam. Will you take some

" Thank you. And about that ?"

" Oh, we will drop it. I was curious, of course.
You will kindly remember not to speak of it."


" Not while I exist," said the actress, solemnly.

" And if — if it occurs again, be kind enough to
— well, don't defend me, that's all."

" Oh, it isn't worth while."

" No, it is not. Come in. I must hear Paul's

The day went by, and quite late Miriam had
gone away with the attractive Phely, who knew
neither pause nor rest and was as little like the shy
Ophelia as a babbling brook is like a mountain lake.
Glad to be alone, Mrs. Preston went through her
daily tasks next day, silent and absorbed in thought.
Time had been when she ceased to see or to think
of Riverius during his frequent absences. But now
she was annoyed to find that the face and form of
her friend haunted her. She began to have those
uneasy heart-stirs at his coming, and constancy of
remembrance when he was away, which at least to
the matured woman are full of meaning. Sud-
denly she said, aloud, " I cannot stand it. It is
dreadful. I must end it." She dropped her work
and went out. With slow, half-guided steps, she
went past the well, and, mechanically lifting her
skirts, passed among the blackened stumps and
came to the snake fence. Here she saw that she
had missed the point where four bars, loosely let
into the posts, answered for a gate-way. She turned
aside, let down a lower rail, stooped, and, passing
under, went on into the open grove of pines.

For a few weeks after her husband's death, she
had more than once stood beside his grave. It had
been hard to do. The thoughts and feelings conven-


tionally assigned to women in her situation were not
hers. She had looked at the heap on which the pine
needles were gathering, and had left it, angry with
herself, or at least troubled, because the far-away
remembrance of a golden morning had not power
to make her forget the clouded sadness of a later
time. She was capable of desiring to be honest
with herself about the man she left beneath the
pines, but revolted from facing the full truth, and
soon found for herself the excuse that there was
no need to balance the account between them. In
the dreadful revealing light of his later days she
had been led to see how little he had ever been
to her at his best, and had made haste to put it all
aside. But now, now it was otherwise. Myste-
rious impulses drew or urged her to stand again
where she had been but seldom since those first
sad visits, when the strong dutiful effort to forgive
had brought back to her such a host of miserable
memories that she had hesitated at last to repeat a
disastrous effort. Shred by shred he had torn
from her friends, position, her boy's means and her
own, and, worst of all, had as recklessly cast away
her enormous capacity to love, taking all that with
boundless generosity she gave, and giving ever less
and less in return. What another man might have
made of her proud, passionate, self-contained nature
she had had no chance to know. She was a woman
to be won through her exquisite joy in giving, and,
because he was feeble and needed her, the bond of
love had held her long. But now ! She was sore
beset. Two or three weeks had brought her face


to face with certain facts from which many other
women would have shyly retreated, putting off the
unpleasant day of self-reckoning. It was not her
way. She went always to meet danger, and pro-
tected herself by courageous settlements of a doubt
or difficulty. Moreover, she had a certain recti-
tude even in her sentiments. She looked sadly
on the grave, covered with pine needles. For
a half-hour she stood, silent, swayed by many
thoughts. At last she murmured, " Never, never !
Life is over. Ah, why am I a woman ? Good-
by." And she turned and went away, conscious
how terrible it was for her to stand there with the
full, indisputable knowledge that another love was
setting her heart in a tumult of shame and self-
reproach. For as to this, too, she had no margin
of doubt. Hope she had none. Riverius had been
always the cool, reserved, definitely friendly man.
Of his true life, station, and means she knew but
little. Clever enough to see that he felt that he
owed her a debt, and that he also liked her, she
was pleased that he ceased to embarrass her by too
much talk as to what she had done for him. She
was at no loss to see that he did not love her. But
how thoughtful he was ! In a dozen careless ways
he might have subjected her to the scandalous gos-
sip which now, with no shadow of reason, had at
last arisen. A hard task was before her. Would
Riverius understand her? She had some pleasant
confidence that he would. But — and she flushed
scarlet, giddy with the mounting blood — how
should she find words to speak? And yet she


must. It was Paul's life as well as her own that
was in question. That at last decided her.

Riverius came home in high good humor, and
went away at once to the mill. Thence he sent
hack Paul to bring him a measuring-tape and a
level. The boy searched in vain. At last he
crossed the clearing and asked his mother to aid
his search. " He is in an awful hurry, mother,"
he said.

She came to the fence. " I would rather not
look among his things, Paul. Tell him you can-
not find them."

" Oh, but do come !"

" Do as I say."

" All right," he answered, and returned to the
mill, where he simply related what had passed.

Riverius reflected. " Ach, we must wait till to-
morrow. Come along, Paul."

The boy chattered, asking, as usual, numberless
questions, to which his companion made but brief
reply. He, too, was beginning to think. He well
knew that had she done as Paul desired he would
not have liked it. She had been always a charming
companion, modest, reticent, reserved, intelligent,
full of the best tact, a thoroughly well-bred woman,
yet capable of simple, friendly interest, and now so
noble to see. The brown drift of hair had made
her look older when she was pale and worn ; now
it only served to emphasize the growing bloom of
cheek, the fuller form, the light easy strength of
movement, which could hurry without loss of
stately grace. Next his mind wandered away to


his Saxon home, and he strode along ignoring the
lad at his side. " It is well that I should go away,"
he thought. Some gossip of the camp had reached
him also. He would think of it alone that night.
"Der Teufel!" he muttered; " why did she not
fall out of that boat? I should have upset it,

and Well, all debts are disagreeable, and this

seems hopeless. Would she let me educate the
boy ? That would be worth doing. What a man
he will make ! And at home, — well, I suppose he
would be talked of as my son. Himmel ! This
world is a difficult place to live in."


Some days went by, and Mrs. Preston's inten-
tions were not carried out. She saw, in fact, little
of Riverius. He was here and there, hunting with
Paul, surveying land, chaffering with woodmen,
loggers, and raftsmen, — in fact, a restless, ardent
nature, interested in many things, and capable of
calm and thorough self-government.

And now the mill was finished, after much de-
lay. There were some improvements, — machines
for hauling logs up to the sharp jams of the saws,
— and as to these opinions differed in the woods
and among the loggers. Would Mrs. Preston go
over to see the mill start ? And perhaps he might
also ask Miriam and the little Ophelia. When
Riverius mentioned it to Philetus, he said that
Mrs. Richmond was busy making apple-butter and
couldn't come. Obstacles small or great in a less
or larger degree excited the German. He said no
more, but walked over the hills that afternoon and
promptly disposed of apple-butter and all other dif-
ficulties. When she so told Philetus, he said, " He
oughter took my word. I said, says I, 'Mr. Ryve-
rus, my wife's apple-butterin',' and that oughter of
answered for most folks."

"But I'm right glad it didn't, Phil. He was
that nice about it, and he said I was to persuade
you, because it was you had fixed it, and no other


man on the river could have thought to do it.
And the new log-drag, — he said you understood
that just as if you had invented it."

" Did he say all that 'ere, Myry ? You've got a
way of standin' up and actin' things like I can
seem to see you."

" Oh, he said it all."

" Then he said a heap too much," muttered the
blind man.

" What do you mean, Philetus ?"

" Oh, I ain't ear-blind."

"Look here, Philetus Richmond, you've been
a-saying things the past few weeks that hurts me
awful. I never looked at another man to liken
him to you since we were made one. Mr. Riverius
is a kind man and a gentleman, and you're making
a fool of yourself. The way you let that Rollins
talk about him and Mrs. Preston is a shame. Oh,
you needn't kiss me. I'm angry. That spoils
kissing. And whiskey kisses are not to my taste,
sir, — not at all. When you take a little drink you
get to be a fool. I don't believe Solomon could have
stood corn whiskey and just kept up being wise."

" Lord, Myry, what a tongue you've got ! I
ain't never had sech a goin'-over. As for Ryve-
rus "

" You just let him alone, Phil. For a right
smart man, you can get yourself to believe more
nonsense than the biggest ass in Rollins's camp.
If you think I 'ain't made a good wife, you'd best
say so. I'm getting wore out, what with your no-
tions and your visions."


The wifely indictment was just, and Philetus
knew it for the time. Morbidness like his is apt
enough to fall before the shaft of reason, sped from
the bow of whole-minded vigor.

" I don't say I ain't wrong, Myry. I'm kind of
flurried in the head these last weeks."

"It's whiskey, Phil."

"No, it ain't. A man that's a thinkin' man,
Myry, he gits some foolishness a-simmerin' in his
head, and then he jus' gits het up and sets all his
reason to bilin' his folly."

" Well, I wish it would boil over and put out the
fire and leave me some peace. Half the time of
late I can't tell what you mean."

The blind man swept a hand across his brow.
" What's the time of day, Myry ?"

She looked at him somewhat amazed. " About
five," she said. " The clock isn't right. It's 'most
a half-hour wrong."

Of a sudden, " I thought it was midnight. That's
strange. I guess I was dreamin'."

"You can't be just well, Phil. If you would
only quit liquor and see if it isn't that."

At this moment Ophelia appeared from without.
" Give me a ride on your shoulders," she cried.
He picked her up, glad of the diversion.

"What makes your breath smell so? Phely
doesn't like you when you smell bad."

He set her down silently, feeling that his troubles
were multiplying. "You're cryin', Myry," he said.

" She does cry right often," said Ophelia. " What
hurts mother?"


" I'm a bad man, baby," groaned the blind

" Ob, Phil, don't !" said the wife. " Don't,— not
before the child. I won't go to the mill."

" And I say you must," said Philetus. " Don't
you go to think I care for Pyverus."

" Phely will go," said the child.

" I don't seem to care about it."

" Well, you're a-goin', and Pve said it."

"Very well, I'll go."

On a pleasant day well into September the little
party left Mrs. Preston's cabin to see the work-
ing of the new machinery which had so much
interested the loggers. Above them the hickories
yellowed, the gum-tree cast its crimson leaves, the
maples were red and gold, and the dogwood wore
its livery of deepening red. Beneath their feet
the leaves were rustling thick, and the air was
full of sailing, drifting leaves, a Hitting rain of
varied colors. Decision had left her calm and less

" How different," she said, " our autumns must
be from those of Europe ! Ours are always so
beautiful that one is bribed to forget the sadness
of decay and change."

" Certainly our German autumn is more dreary,
the colors less bright. Look at that scarlet vine
around the dead pine, and on the rocks too against
the gray. You should see an autumn in Maine,
when no leaf has dropped and when a light snow
has fallen. The leaves set against its whiteness
are past belief as things of this earth."


" Well, to come back to it," said Mrs. Preston,
" I forgot to ask if you got your letters. There
were several. A man brought them over from
Olean. Paul left them in your cabin."

" Yes, I got them. They brought me bad news."

" I am very sorry."

" My brother is very ill." He said no more, —
nothing of his plans, nor of how the news affected
him. For a moment both were silent. Then she
said, firmly, —

" Mr. Riverius, you have been a good friend to
Paul and to me."

He looked up surprised. " I have wished to be."

" Has it ever happened to you to hear any — any
one talk lightly of me — it is very hard to say — and
of you?"

He glanced at her, and looked aside, not seeking
her flushed face again. "I respect you too much,
madam, not to answer honestly. Mrs. Richmond
did once hint to me "

" That will do. These long tongues are some-
times useful. I have heard as much, — quite too
much. I am alone ; my boy is all I have. It be-
comes me to be more than merely prudent. I have
made up my mind to go away. It is not, it will
not be, very easy, but I must do it. I shall go to
New York. I have some talents, as you know,
and I can get on, and after a while Paul will be
able to earn something."

He raised his hand.

"One moment," she said. "You are a gentle-
man. You will, I know, understand me, and —


and not try to read between my words when there
is nothing to read."

" Mrs. Preston "

" Please don't discuss it. It is very simple."

" I do not mean to discuss it. You are right ;
but there is an easier way. I have all my life been
cursed with a certain ridiculous aversion to talk
over my own affairs. I "

" There is no need to," she said, proudly.

" Oh, but there is. I came here a stranger, and
you saved my life. I would rather — well, I hardly
mean what I was about to say, that I would rather
you had not. But that would be absurd. Life
is pleasant to me, and more now than ever."

She trembled. What did he mean ?

" I have learned from you, madam, many lessons.
You have been a good friend. Of course I under-
stand you. If I had had more easy willingness
to talk about myself, I should have saved you an
unpleasantness. I had meant to go away as soon
as the mill was done. My news of to-day makes
most needful that I do go at once."

" It is quite as well," she answered, — " quite as
well. When do you go ?" She was vexed with
him and with herself.

" To-morrow. I shall hope not to be altogether
forgotten. And you will answer my letters ?"

" Perhaps."

" Oh, but you must."

"I dare say Paul will write to you." It was
getting to be a little too much for her. " How
lovely that sumach is ! Paul, Paul," she cried.


The boy looked back. " Be careful ; you will upset
the lunch."

Had Piverius been a vainer man, he would have
had some suspicion of the tumult in her heart.
Her great self-control aided to deceive him. She
said, with a pretty shyness which had a certain mys-
terious grace in a woman of her height and general
gravity —

" You will think me a very singular person, Mr.
Eiverius. But you will, I trust, allow something
for my free wood-life and the need one has here to
be decisive."

" If I say what I think of you, Mrs. Preston, it
will be that you have some of the best qualities
that belong to the best men. You will credit me
with the fact that I never paid you a compliment

Bessy Preston scarcely relished the compliment.
She laughed. " Well, that is a good thing for
Paul. Oh ! I see the mill. How large it is ! Ah,
my poor pines ! How they will go !"

" I did not tell you I had bought Simpson's tract.
We need the wood."

" Why, it is thirty thousand acres."

"A little more."

" Oh, is it?" She could not help reflecting that
he would at some time have to return. " Who
will look after the mill ?"

" I can trust Philetus until I come back. I
suppose now that you will not have to leave."

" No, I shall stay. Frankly, it would have been
difficult to go."


He did not say when he would return, and both
had by this time recovered their full self-control.
She, at least, was glad to escape so readily from a
position of overwhelming embarrassment; and as
for Riverius, he did not fully realize the feelings
which, beginning in simple friendliness of relation
with an unusual woman, might under other social
circumstances have s;rown to fruitage which was
unsuggested by the merely pleasant florescence of
what seemed to him hardly more than a grateful
comradeship. Then, also, he was much moved by
the morning's news. It was, as he knew, a serious
factor in his life, and, while it might leave him
more free in certain ways, was with his peculiar
ideas and education as likely to render him in
others far less independent. Should he tell her ?
And why not ? As far as his opportunities had
allowed, he had a subtle insight into Bessy Pres-
ton's character. Her proud dignity, her great self-
respect, had at first surprised and even half amused
him in a woman poor, friendless, and isolated. As
to her past life and position he guessed something,
but knew little, and in his ignorance of the pecu-
liarities of American society remained rather puz-
zled ; and this, perhaps, added to the interest she
excited. He had the idea that to tell her all would
be in a measure to widen the distance between
them; and this he was disinclined to risk. As
he walked on in silence, he grew perplexed over
what seemed to him so simple a matter. Then
he tried the useful test of mentally reversing their
relative conditions, and at once decided to wait.


In fact, there was in his mind a reserve influence
of faintly-felt possibilities, not vigorous enough to
help him, and yet such as served to make him

He went on to speak of Philetus, the business,
the mill, and of Paul, giving her useful hints as to
how to continue the boy's education and how to
fit herself to aid it. Then he said he would send
up some books and would leave his painting-ma-
terials. Never had he seemed to her more thought-
fully useful ; and her heart throbbed unpleasantly
at the idea of how much she should lose by his
absence. And now they had reached the mill.
She was sorry.

A half-dozen men, afoot or seated about on the
stumps, were talking over their doubts as to the
new machinery. Paul was everywhere, amused,
excited, and interested, and Philetus, with his wife
and Ophelia and Kinsman, stood on the open mill-
platform. Some of the men, smiling, nudged one
another, without much reserve, and to the Ger
man's annoyance. Mrs. Preston was coldly indif-
ferent, or seemed to be. At last two great iron
clutch-hooks were made fast to a huge pine trunk
which Consider had drawn to the foot of the
inclined plane, and, Philetus moving a lever, the
great sober water-wheel turned around and the log
on rollers passed up the slope and paused before
the saw.

"Now," said Riverius to Miriam, "pull this
lever." He had meant to ask Mrs. Preston, but
it occurred to him that it would be unwise to put



her forward, and he turned abruptly to Mrs. Rich-
mond. Bessy understood him at once. She was
proud to feel how well she always comprehended

Philetus was curiously excited. "Now let her
live!" he cried. "Let her work! Let her git a
soul !" Consider studied his face with admiration.
Miriam, much pleased, moved the lever, and at
once the steel began to flash, the teeth bit on the
log, the resinous saw-dust flew in yellow spouts
high in air, and the men on the bank hurrahed.
Only Ance, a little back in the woods, sat still, dis-
appointed as to his predictions of failure. Paul
cried out with delight. " Just hear it, Mr. Bi-
verius ! The saw says, ' Go it, go it.' Guess it
seems to like it."

Philetus laughed. " When you git a soul, you'll
talk too, Paul. Boys is only a gropin', like."

Then the log retreated, and was set to one side
a little, and again the saw gnawed at it briskly
until plank on plank fell from the great tree now
on its way to men's uses.

Presently Riverius saw Ance, and strolled away
until he came beside him. He felt happy in his
success, and was inclined to leave one less foe be-
hind him. Smiling at his own unaggressive and
kindly mood, which more things than the mill
might have helped to explain, he touched the
moody man on the shoulder.

" Halloo, Vickers," he said. " I am going away.
If you have forgotten our little quarrel and will
promise me not to drink while I am gone, I would


like you to go up to my new tract and boss my
wood-gang." It was thirty miles distant, and he
had the idea that Ance would be kept away for

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Online LibraryS. Weir (Silas Weir) MitchellFar in the forest, a story → online text (page 7 of 17)