S. Weir (Silas Weir) Mitchell.

Far in the forest, a story online

. (page 8 of 17)
Online LibraryS. Weir (Silas Weir) MitchellFar in the forest, a story → online text (page 8 of 17)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

some months and that Mrs. Preston's fears as to
Ance and Paul would be at an end.

" I don't want none of your work, Mr. Ryverus,"
said Ance.

" The wages will be good if you boss the gang."
The offer was tempting.

" Darn the wages ! Look here ; you and me
ain't even. I ain't no man to be bought. Now, I
just tell you I ain't. You had whip -hand of me
once, and I 'ain't forgot it."

" But you could not expect me to stand by and
see you kill that boy. You would both have
dropped thirty feet the next moment. I can tell
you, my man, I did you a good service." Resist-
ance from his inferiors annoyed him, and he was
getting vexed.

" Then why the thunder didn't you lick the boy,
or let me lick him ? I'd have basted him well."

" That was not possible," said Riverius.

" Oh, I reckon not. Little gentlemen can't be
licked when they play tricks. Mother wouldn't
like it."

The German grew pale, and controlled himself
by an unusual effort.

u I came here to do a kind act. I am not fond
of quarrels. I see that I might have saved myself
the trouble."

" That's so," said Ance, insolently.

The German turned and left him.

130 FAR IN m ® FOREST.

" He ain't afeard," soliloquized the woodman.
" I'd 'a' done it, and let the thing slide, but he's
that air stuck up, it riles a man. I'd jus' like to
throw him once wrastlin' ; then I'd let the thing
slide." And he kept this mood until he was drunk
again and amused the loggers by threats of what
he meant to do some day.


At break of day Riverius was gone. He had
settled his affairs and said a quiet good-bj the night
before and left a note asking Mrs. Preston to see
after his cabin.

The fall came fast ; the leaves drifted in gold and
red from the trees, and at last, in October, the first
snow fell. Paul was growing strong and looked
well. The German had said some things to him
when they parted which had made the gay lad more
serious, and, except as to an occasional struggle
concerning lessons when the skates Riverius sent
with the books were available, he gave Bessy little
cause for trouble. Now and then came a letter to
Philetus, who was too much with Ance for his own
good. Indeed, Consider being ill for a month,
Richmond, despite Riverius's positive orders, gave
his tempter work at the mill till it ceased to run,
and then in the wood-gang. Ance had always a
supply of whiskey. His wages were good, and,
being unmarried, he had no mouths to feed save
his own. The bribe was too great for Philetus;
and, as the man was now constantly at their house,
poor Miriam was in the utmost trouble. She ap-
pealed in vain to Philetus, and at last to Mrs. Pres-
ton, who, however, found that as Philetus drank
more and more, her words were of little effect.
When, Anally, Mrs. Richmond in despair declared


to her husband that Ance had been rude to her,
and she did not dare to say more, the blind wood-
man laughed. Ance, bow-legged, ugly Ance, pre-
sented to him no such possibilities of annoyance as
did the quiet, handsome German, with his domi-
nating ways and gentle manners. If she had said
as much of Riverius, there would have been no
limits to her husband's rage ; but Ance, who helped
him and drank with him, was too near for suspicion.
He told her roughly that she was a fool, and gave
Ance to understand that maybe somebody had been
making mischief. Mrs. Preston once or twice re-
solved to write to Riverius, as he had given her a
banker's address in London ; but she found it hard
to do, and the more so because he had written to
Paul but once, and not at all to her. Perhaps, too,
it would be unwise to interfere.

At last, when winter was well on them, Paul
spoke. The boy surprised her at times, as one's
children occasionally do, by his sudden attainment
of thoughtful ness and new capacities to act.

" Mother," he said, " we haven't got in wood
enough, and I went over to the mill, after what you
said, to get Consider to help me a day or two.
Well, he was sick ; and — do you know ? — Ance
Yickers was helping to get down the saw. I told
Phil, when I got a chance, Mr. Riverius wouldn't
like that, — Ance being there, I mean."

" You were unwise, Paul."

" I told him, anyhow."

"What did he say?"

" Said it wasn't any of my business."


" That was true. Men do not like boys to re-
prove them."

" But he was smoking, — smoking about a mill !
Next thing there will be a fire."

She was amused at the lad.

" You have eased your conscience, Paul. You
got no one to help about the wood ?"

" Yes ; I met Pearson. He says he'll let us have
a man."

" Very well. Now call Becky."

Paul had by no means eased his conscience. He
was clearly of the opinion that it was not his mother's
business to interfere, but he was not at all satisfied
that, as the friend of Riverius, it was not his own
duty, and Paul in his small way was beginning to
feel, under the strong maternal rule, that duties are
aggressive things and will not let you alone. He
had also, of course, a lad's sense of the importance
of being mixed up with the affairs of men. Aftei
much boyish reflection, he wrote to Riverius as
follows :

"Dear Sir, — I hope you received my last letter.
This one is more important. Ance Yickers is at
work at the mill. I mean, he was at work. And
he is in your gang, too. It is my opinion the mill
will get burned down entirely to the ground, be-
cause Ance was smoking. Of course it is not
burned yet, and Ance is in the woods ; so perhaps
it will not burn down, — which would be a great
misfortune. I thought I would let you know. This
is not on account of my not liking Ance Yickers.


Mother is not well. [Here, when Kiverius read
this grave epistle, he made haste to turn the leaf.]
It is only a headache. She often talks about you.
[If Mrs. Preston could have seen this !] I told her
last week I did wish you would come back, and
I asked her if she did not wish so too. But she
did not say. I guess she does. I got two ground-
hogs yesterday, and before snow fell I dug out three
hell-benders. They are in a tub of water; but
Becky wants it to wash, and I really do not know
what to do with them. Perhaps you will not think
this a long letter, but Jo Pearson says he can't wait ;
and so

" I am your friend,

" Paul Preston."

" P.S. — I open this again to tell you I killed four
rattlesnakes in September. One was four feet long
and had seven rattles."

Paul's conscience was a little uneasy as to this
letter, and before long Bessy found out the truth,
but, to her son's surprise, she said very little, ex-
cept to remark that he must be careful not to
speak of it to Philetus, — a remark which in-
wardly Paul considered as rather disparaging to
his wisdom.

Altogether, Mrs. Preston had a dull winter. The
snow-blockade began early. Even the rough wood-
visitors who came to ask rest, warmth, or a meal
were rare. Miriam was cut off also, and of late,
indeed, had been but sorry company. Thaws came
at unusually brief intervals, so that the firm-frozen,


easily-traversed snow surfaces were wanting, and
the drifts were deep and perilous. At times Mrs.
Preston ventured out on snow-shoes, or, imprisoned
at home, listened to the frequent complaints of
Becky, who was always going to leave, and never
went. There was painting, also, and Paul's les-
sons, and too often hours of unexpressed anxiety
when the boy was away hunting on snow-shoes and
the night fell without his return. She had tried to
take a man's views of his needs and life, and often,
when in terror at his long absence and the cruel
storm without, was able to welcome him calmly
and with deceitful appearance of having been quite
at her ease. The more she thought of Riverius,
the more she longed for and yet dreaded his re-
turn. What would he say? How would he look?
How should she meet him? She would be very
quiet and cool, but not too cool. That would
not do. Then she reproached herself with folly
and rushed fiercely into some manual work. Time
and loneliness are potent ferments, and both were

About this time Riverius answered Paul. He
said, however, but little as regarded Ance. In
March he wrote to Mrs. Preston :

"My dear Mrs. Preston, — My hope to yet
soon return to the woods I love well is growing
less and less. My brother's illness continues, and
it does seem probable that I must go with him
in summer to Switzerland. I tire here of a life
to which I have grown unaccustomed, and de-


sire to be where now most of worldly interests
lie, and with the duties they bring." Then he
went on, in a friendly way, to speak of Paul. To
this letter she replied in the same tone, saying
only as to his possible return that he would be
always welcome.

The summer came and went, each month filling
her with discontent before unknown. At times the
loneliness seemed intolerable ; and when autumn
passed once more into winter and the evenings
grew long, she often sat silent over her work, won-
dering how long she could endure it. At times
Riverius wrote to Paul, and once again to her a too
brief note, in which he said little except that he
hoped soon to see them. It helped her to feel that
there was even a chance of his return. It was now
February, some eighteen months since he had left.
He wrote often to Philetus, but he was so anxious
about matters nearer home, that Ance had passed
out of his mind for the time, and the evident mis-
management of his affairs which he inferred from
the letters Miriam wrote for Philetus did not so
annoy him as under other circumstances it might
have done.

It was now February. For once the snow was
frozen hard, after a warm rain, and the trees were
clad in mail of ice to the tips of every twig. The
pines and spruces were great white cones of snow
and ice, and the wind in the woods filled all the
air with crackle and snap of the shivered ice gar-
ments on tree and shrub. Looking out, Bessie
saw coming through the jewelry of frost-work


Philetus Kichniond, muscular and large in his
great fur coat and gloves.

" There is Philetus, Paul," she said. " Put on a
log or two, and let him in."

He did so, and Philetus, in leggings, moccasins,
and snow-shoes, entered. He had not been drink-
ing : that was clear.

" I am glad to see you," she said. " How are
your wife and Ophelia? We miss them. Why,
good gracious, isn't that Ophelia?" A little red
face, well muffled in furs, peeped over his shoulder.

" Phely is come for a visit. Phely's nose is cold."
The child was wrapped in furs and strapped on
the strong father's back. He undid the straps,
unrolled her shawl, and set her down.

"Phely like this house," she remarked, com-
placently looking about her. " Who made all the
flowers ?"

"Nothing escapes her," said Mrs. Preston,

" How do you do, Paul ? You want to see me.
I very nice girl."

" Oh, very," said Paul. " Nicest girl I ever saw.
But your nose is awful red."

She marched towards a small glass, climbed on a
chair, and surveyed herself.

" I like my nose red." Then she got down and
went on a tour of inspection.

" Who has made some new flowers ? Was it
you, Paul ?"

"No; mother made them."

" You can't make flowers ?"


" No."

Meanwhile, Phil took off his snow-shoes and sat
by the hard-wood fire.

" Came over to see how you git on. Myry
wanted to come ; but I wasn't that sure of the

" And you carried the baby."

" Phely not a baby. I a girl."

" Oh, she's no great heft to her." And he turned
his blind eyes towards the mite with a look of
affection. " I want to make a swop, Madam Pres-
ton. I want to take Paul for two days. I am
goin' over to our camp, — not Rollins's ; ourn, — and
we might find a deer handy on the way."

" Oh, mother, I never killed a deer," said Paul.

"Take Ophelia and go into the kitchen, and
close the door," said Bessy.

" But, mother "

" Do as I tell you."

He rose, took Ophelia's hand, and went out.

"Philetus," she said, "I am afraid."

" Of what, ma'am ?"

" Of you. You drink nowadays. You have
that man Yickers about your house. I used to be
able to trust you."

"You kin. I 'ain't drunk none in a week, not
nigh a'most on to nine days. Myry she's been
makin' a row."

" I should have made a worse one lon^ a^o."

" You ain't that kind, ma'am. Not that Myry
ain't right. I admits that."

" Then why do you drink ?"


" I git lonesome in the woods, and Consider he's
that deef, and Ance "

" Well, that will do. I suppose no man knows
why he ruins his home and makes his wife hate

" I won't drink none, I promise, — not a drop.
Nary a drop. And we won't stop only fur a night
in Rollins's camp. And Ance — I've let him go.
He ain't workin' for us none now."

" Indeed ?"

" Have you heerd from Mr. Ryverus ?"


" I got a letter last week. Bin a heap of time
comin'. Barstow fetched it over. Shouldn't won-
der ef Ryverus was to turn up here 'fore long.
The letter didn't name no time of comin'." It
had caused Philetus to take the prudent step of
advising his boon companion to find work else-

" Well, Paul may go; and I shall be charmed to
keep Ophelia. How amusing she is !"

" Yes ; she's as good as a baby circus. Might I
call Paul ?"

" Certainly."

In an hour or two they set off. Phil's affections
were curiously strong. As to Ance, his regard
was due at first to his having saved him during the
sudden break-up of a jam, years before, and he
felt it now disloyal to break with him, as in his
wiser moments he was inclined to do. But for
Paul he had a distinct admiration, and found in
him a ready listener, — a thing he liked well and


rarely found. They strode along swiftly, with the
curious swinging, shuffling gait the snow-shoes
exact, and soon were deep in the woods.

" Shall we have to camp at Rollins's ?" said Paul.

" Yes, ef he 'ain't moved. If he has, we'll make
a wickey up and bide out. Rollins he's had a row
'bout wages. He's just as close-fisted as a fern in
May. Never noticed them May ferns ? Then you
look next spring."

" Isn't there coal about this country, Phil ?"

" Lots ! That's what fetched us here fust.
There's coal on that Pearson tract, and that air
man Ryverus knowed it. As for me, it won't do
no good in this world. And when it comes to
another I hopes to git where no coal ain't wanted."

" And you will see in that world," said Paul,

"And Consider, he'll hear. That'll be cur'us.
Consider '11 hear. Talkin' of seein', air we in the
ox-track ? I oughter of fetched Consider."

" Yes. There are the marks of the hubs on the
bark ; but it's well snowed up. I'll tell you if we
get off it."

" What's that ?" He paused.

" I heard nothing."

" I heerd something. Boys 'ain't no ears. Look
about you to left, on the ground."

" By George, it's a bear ! Here's the tracks."

" Lemme see." And, lying down, Philetus re-
moved his mittens and carefully studied the foot-
marks with his fingers. At last, looking up, he
said, " They're fresh sence the rain. I can smell


him. He ain't far. What's he doin' around this
time of year ? Guess the warm day's sot his blood
a-goin'. Let's foller. Kin you see the trail right
well ?"

" Yes." And they went on. Presently Paul
stopped. "I see him. He's behind a rock. I
can see his ears. We've got the wind right."

" Now look here, Paul," whispered Philetus.
" Slip round to right. Git near a tree, mind that,
— a smallish one. Step aside when you fires, to
clear the smoke, and load at once. And don't git
buck-fever, nuther. It's business. I'll wait here."

The boy, tremulous with joy, moved cautiously,
stooped, rested an elbow on one knee, and fired.
Then he leaped to one side, loaded, and looked.
He heard a growl, and saw the bear, which was
hit in the shoulder, advancing only too quickly.
The guide heard him. "Up a tree!" he cried.
"Quick! Dern it, you've wounded him." The
boy was not minded to fly just yet. As the bear
rose over a log not twelve yards away, Paul fired
again, and then waited. " He's dead," he said,
and, reloading, went forward with caution. " All
right," he added. " Clean shot through the mouth."

Philetus came up. "Gosh, but he's big!" he
said. " Here, cut off his tail, or they won't be-
lieve down at Rollins's. Don't think I'll go bearin'
ag'in with you : you're too resky. We'll git his
back and hide to-morrow. Come along now. It's
gittin' on."

With many a lingering look of pride, the young
hunter moved away, the tail in his belt.


" Now keep a-lookin' sharp. Think I smell fried
bacon now ; but it's a matter of three miles. Eyes
ain't no account ag'in' smell, and smells stick to
the ground, and that's why beasts is on all-fours.
A man's kind of canted up on his hind legs, built
for to keep sarchin' with his eyes. My smeller's
a-gittin' better every year. I kin pretty nigh see
things with my nose."

"I should think, Phil," said Paul, "you would
be wanting to go around on all-fours pretty soon."

" And don't I, when I'm givin' my smell its
rights ? Didn't I git down to smell that bar ?
Consider 'lows I can't really smell a bar." Then
the old fellow paused, and slowly added, as if to
himself, but quite aloud, " 'Tain't all clear gain.
I'm gittin' nigh on to the beasts some Ways."
The boy looked around at him, but was tactful
enough to make no comment.

" Oughter be black oaks hereabouts," he went
on, touching the trees to left and right, and in-
stantly naming them as he did so. " Know 'em by
their hides, Paul. Some I likes, some I don't.
Poplars I hates." And, dropping now and then
his odd bits of woodcraft, they sped on over the
creaking, crackling, ice-clad drifts, until the dusky
woods grew strange in the moonlight. At last
they missed the ox-road, and, after careful search
and some use of Paul's compass, found it again.

And now the moon was well up. Vast shadows
of the pine and spruce lay black on the clean,
shining snow. A windless night, cold and dry.
Now and then a sharp clatter of ice falling from a


branch was heard, or the sharp crack of a branch
overweighted and broken. Once or twice a faint
breeze stirred the stiffened leafage of the ever-
greens, and then all the still forest awoke with
innumerable sounds of tinkling and complex noises,
like the dull roar of surges crushing on a distant
beach. All the notes so heard had a marvellous
distinctness in the dry, clear air, where at times
the noiselessness was absolute. Once they stayed
to tighten the snow-shoe straps and to clear them
of twigs, and stood then a moment awed by the
unearthly silence of the moonlight spaces. Sud-
denly there were quick crunching sounds to left,
as the sharp feet of a superb doe broke through the
surface at each bound. She came from behind a
mass of rocks, and plunged with labor and wearily
through the yielding snow-crust, — an easy prey,
and vast to the eye, in the dimly-lit woods, against
the white drifts beyond. Paul raised his rifle, —
when, to his surprise, Philetus said, abruptly, —

"Don't ye do it, Paul. She's a doe. I don't
hear no horns rustle."

"Oh, confound it!" said the boy. "What a
shot! What made you stop me? I've lost her.
Let's follow."

" Thought I heerd no horns ao*'iu' the branches,"
returned Philetus. "It air too like killin' things
in a church on a Sabbath. Seems most like God's
Sabbath in this here wood. Don't you mind.
Deers is plenty."

" But I never shot a deer," cried Paul.

" Well, you kind of give me that 'ere doe, Paul.



I were a-thinkin' of Myry jus' then. Queer, weren't
it? I were a-thinkin' ef ever I come home and
found Myry gone — or dead, like that 'ere pretty
doe might 'a' ben."

The excess of sentiment astonished the boy less
than it would have done in any other of the rough
men about him. He was accustomed to the sin-
gular moods of his companion, who at times was
thought by his comrades to be, as they said, a bit
strange. " You will have to get me another shot,
Philetus. I can wait."

" All right. You're a boy as kin understand a
man. You ain't so sot up as Ryverus. He 'ain't no
comprehension of any man's ways 'cept his own.
And he don't talk out, nuther. Seems as ef he was
alius a-hidin' things, and, soon's ever he's made up
his mind, speaks out like he was a capting. He'll
git in trouble, sure, some day."

Philetus had always a certain sense of disturb-
ance when the handsome and decisive German
came into his thoughts, and to argue with him on
this matter was only to make things worse, as
Paul very clearly knew.

" Well, he's gone, Phil, and he isn't very likely
to come back soon."

" Oh, but he is."

" What makes you think that, Phil ?"

"He's bin a-writin' to me."

" Indeed ? I wish he would come."

" And I don't. He ain't wanted none."

Paul thought it singular, and walked on, wonder-
ing why the German, so pleasant to him, should


be so little liked by others ; for Philetus was by
no means alone in his opinion. But the boy held
his peace, and Philetus went on :

" Don't you go to tell them men in camp 'bout
that 'ere doe. It ain't no man's business but yourn
and mine; and you don't mind a-losin' it. One
man he's got one way of thinkin', and another he's
got another way of thinkin', and it don't do no
good to mix 'em up. As fur boys, they ain't called
on to think. Their souls ain't growed enough.
Kin you smell that bacon yit ?"

" Of course," said Paul ; " and very good it

" Halloo ! there's camp, sure 'nough. Don't you
go to lettin' none of them men persuade you to
take no whiskey. You won't see me takin' none."

" I take whiskey !" said Paul. " Not I." And
he laughed as they came up to the huge log house
full of chinks, through which the red light shot in
widening bars out on to the snow and tree-trunks.


They opened the door and entered. In the cen-
tre a vast wood fire sought exit for so much of its
smoke as got out at all through an opening in the
roof overhead. The atmosphere was stifling. On
rough wooden bunks around the walls a score of
men lay smoking in lazy attitudes. Around the
fire half as many more were gathered, lying on the
ground or seated on rude benches. Rollins was
there, and Ance Yickers, and many of the worst
of the men more or less known to Paul. A noisy
welcome greeted them as they entered and began
to unlace their moccasins and kick off their snow-

" Any news ?" said Rollins.

" None but Paul's shot a bear, — a buster, — clean
through the mouth, and awful nigh, too."

" What ! that boy ?" said Ance. " Don't believe

" I didn't steal his tail," said Paul, displaying the

" Confound it if he hasn't !" said Rollins. Then
the 1 adventure was discussed, and bear-stories be-
came for an hour the chief talk, until Rollins rose
and said, " Time for roostin'," and one by one the
motley crew took to their nests.

"Let's get out of this, Phil," said the lad, with


" I'm with you. We'll camp. Ther's a lean-to
just outside." And in this, with a roaring fire at
their feet, they found a more cleanly and more
wholesome lodging, where, rolled in their blankets,
they slept soundly.

The late dawn of winter made the camp slow in
rising, and, moreover, a warm rain falling towards
mornins: rendered the drifts treacherous and dim-
cult. Hence, as Rollins and the camp-boss gave
no sign of urgency, every one was late. The
softening ice-crust and the increasing rain decided
Philetus not to risk immediate travel. The boy
spoke at once of the pledge Phil had given Mrs.
Preston not to remain in Rolling's camp except for
one night; but Philetus either thought or affected
to think that it was unsafe to travel, and, as Rol-
lins confirmed his judgment, Paul had nothing bet-
ter to do than to wait. Once or twice he was
tempted to return home and so fulfil the pledge by
which in a way he felt that he also was bound.
But to desert Philetus, blind, when his friend Con-
sider was absent, seemed to the boy unfair, since,
as he knew, the blind man at this season was less
able to find his way than when the snows were
gone. Moreover, without Phil's help that bear-
skin would be hardly attainable, and the frozen
carcass would be hard to skin even with the wood-
man's aid. Then, too, he was stiff from the walk
of the day before ; and so, as is usual in human

1 2 3 4 5 6 8 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

Online LibraryS. Weir (Silas Weir) MitchellFar in the forest, a story → online text (page 8 of 17)