S. Weir (Silas Weir) Mitchell.

Far in the forest, a story online

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affairs, a group of motives influenced his decision.

A few men were sent out from the camp to such
work as was near. Oxen were fed, and the bob-


sleds overhauled. Some sharpened axes on the
grindstone, which one of them turned. A few lit
fires, and, regardless of the rain, stretched under
a lean-to or a blanket on sticks, played with dirty
packs of cards. Paul wandered from group to group
of laughing and cursing men whose wages were
accumulating in the hands of the few skilful gam-
blers always to be met with in every large wood-
gang. Here and there a man or two slipped into
the woods to drink unwatched, for liquor was for-
bidden in the day, and, indeed, as a rule, not too
much was taken at any time in the better camps.

The boy found it unpleasant. The coarse tales
disgusted a nature trained to better things; the
wild oaths, pausing at no name, however sacred,
the dirt, the disorder, the bones and scraps of rag
or paper, the close ill-smelling cabin, all combined to
make him eager to get away ; and Philetus, whose
talk he liked, was missing. Towards noon, Paul
took his rifle and strayed away into the woods, but,
after a long round which took yesterday's tire out
of his legs and to-day's disgust out of his mind,
came back at dusk in a better humor, though with-
out game of any kind. The rain was over, the air
again cooler, and a vast fire was blazing in the open
a little way from the cabin. Around it were lying
on blankets a dozen or so of men, smoking, talking,
and roughly chafiing one another. It was dark
beyond the irregular flaring cone of flame which
lit up with rosy flashes the white snow at a distance,
and a noble blaze rose high overhead from the great
trunks lavishly cast upon the fire. To Paul's sur-


prise, Philetus was standing facing him beyond the
fire, too plainly a little under the influence of whis-
key. Like most blind men, he usually carried his
head far back, as if for security, but when he had
been taking stimulus he lost this attitude and re-
sumed the ordinary position of those who see. Paul
had heard Riverius remark the peculiarity. At the
blind man's feet lay Ance Yickers. Troubled at
what he saw, Paul moved unnoticed arouud the
outside of the ring, about the fire, catching with
interest as he went the name of Riverius repeated
with an unpleasant variety of angry or mocking
comments. Presently the boy understood that the
men were teasing Philetus.

" Ther' ain't no man kin boss Philetus Rich-
mond," said the blind man.

" You're liquor pert," said one man.

" Jus' wait till he hears you've been a-takin' on
Ance Yickers to work at that mill," said Rollins's
foreman, rolling his tobacco in his palms prepara-
tory to a smoke. " You wait and see."

" Why, you're a-talkin' as if Phil was skeered,"
said Ance, rising, his red hair and face glaring in
the firelight. " Don't you fellers go to thinkin' as
a man that kin handle any one of you is skeered at
a furriner like him. I bet on Phil."

" Myry Richmond 'ill be glad to see him," cried
a coarse young fellow nearer to Paul.

" Shut up !" said the blind man, a look of savage
pain in his rugged face. " Fer derned little, I'd
pitch you in the fire, Jo Blake."

" Ketch me first," answered the woodman.


" I kin ketch you, and hold you too," said Alice.
" You 'ain't no call to talk that 'ere way to a blinded
man, Jo Blake."

" I didn't go to say nuthin'. It ain't no business
of mine."

" That's so," said another. " Here comes the
gentleman. Git up and bow, boys."

A silence, however, fell on the group as the Ger-
man advanced from the cabin to the fire. He had
been forced to take refuge in Eollins's camp for a
night much against his will, and for an hour or two
had been changing his outer dress and foot-gear,
and now, smiling and comfortable, approached the
camp-fire. Then, seeing Paul, he made a circuit,
and, coming to his side, after a hearty greeting,
drew him away a little from the men.

" Oh, I am so glad to see you !" said the boy.
" Mother was saying yesterday that you never
would come till summer. Only yesterday she said

she missed you so much, and " Paul suddenly

had a dim sense such as comes to a well-bred lad
that the talk had been for himself alone, and so
paused of a sudden in his revelations.

" Any one might be proud to know that a woman
like your mother thinks kindly of him. You were
about to say "

" Oh, nothing," said Paul, as they stepped back
from the fire.

" But it was something," cried Riverius, laugh-
ing, and laying a hand on the lad's shoulder.

"It wasn't anything, sir, only I just remembered
mother doesn't like me to repeat things she says.


Really, it wasn't anything." And he wondered at
the German's unusual curiosity. As to the latter,
Time, the pleasant artist, had been at his work of
sketching a hundred charming pictures of Bessy
Preston. At home, in courts, and while travelling,
these came and went with backgrounds of the past
and more delightful backgrounds of a future not
of the woods. Difficulties which Riverius knew to
be weak and imaginary, prejudices he only scorned,
even some words of a younger brother, had been
in and out of his mind, and left him always a little
ashamed and more annoyed, but ever with a pre-
dictive sense that in the end another and nobler
group of motives would prevail. What the boy
had not said, his growing eagerness misappre-
hended. The heart is a deceitful courtier, and
says only pleasant things to the sovereign brain.

" You are quite right, Paul," he returned, referring
to the boy's reticence as to his mother's words, " I
am back for a few days only, but I shall be here more
or less. I landed last week. The voyage was long
and stormy. "What brought you to this dog-hole ?"

Paul explained.

" I see," said Riverius, glancing at Philetus. " I
overheard enough. What brutes drink can make
of men !"

" When did you get here, sir ?" said Paul.

" An hour ago. I did not want to stop, but I
had to break the journey. I shall be off at day-
break. I am cold. Let us °:et a little of our share
of the fire." And, so saying, he drew near again to
the blazing logs. One or two of the men sullenly


made place for them, and, casting themselves or.
Paul's doubled blanket, they chatted quietly in an
undertone. In a few moments Riverius looked up,
rose to his feet, and, walking part-way around the
lire, paused beside Philetus, to whom since Paul's
return he had said nothing. At once expectant
silence fell on the group.

Riverius touched the blind man on the arm.
"You were talking about me, Richmond. Of
course I overheard you." He felt that it was
meant he should hear. " Come into the cabin
with me a few moments."

" Guess we'll talk right here," exclaimed Phil,
doggedly. " I 'ain't no reason to hide myself."

" I did not ask that. You were speaking of what
concerns only you and me. Come, Phil."

" No, I ain't a-comin'."

" Family consarns," said Ance, who also had
been drinking rather freely.

Riverius did not so much as turn his head.
" Come, Phil," he repeated, quite gently.

" I'll talk to-morrer," said Phil. " Have a drink,
Ry verus ?"

The German flushed, and was turning away,
when Ance Vickers remarked, " I'll talk to you,
ef you want a little conversation. I was a-tellin'
Phil you'd fix him for takin' me on to work. He
ain't afeerd to say, and I ain't, nuther. That's
what we was a-sayin', ef you want to know."

" Is that true ?" asked Riverius, turning to Philetus.

" Yes, that's true. I ain't the man to shirk. Don't
you be a-goin' to say that."


" I said no such thing. Come to me to-morrow,
and we will have a settlement. Of course this
ends our relation. I would have said it privately,
but I have been forced to speak."

" All right," answered Philetus.

There were loud and forcible expressions of disap-
probation among the nearer men who heard the talk.

" I call it pretty cussed mean," cried Ance, —
" and a blind man, too."

" It is none of your business, my man," said Ri-
verius, shortly.

" ' Your man' ! I'm my own man. You'd best git
out of this camp. We don't want no furriners here."

Riverius moved aside, and then, as Ance stepped
again before him, said, calmly, " Allow me to pass."

" Well, you kin." But he did not move.

" Then, if you will," said Riverius, and lightly,
with seemingly but little effort, struck out from the
shoulder, and Ance rolled over on the ground. In-
stantly there was confusion ; but, as Ance rose
furious and a little dazed, Rollins interposed and
in a loud voice quieted the gathering group. " Of
course this has got to be fought out," he said ; " but
no knives. Mind that. ISTo knives."'

" Chut !" said Riverius. " I never carried a knife
in my life."

" And I don't need none for this here matter,"
cried Ance, savagely. " You wait a minute." So
saying, he walked to the cabin and entered. He
was enough sobered to know that the man who
struck such a blow was more formidable than he
had believed, and now he meant once for all to


settle this business. One or two men followed him.
He asked one to pour a bucket of water over his
head, then rubbed himself dry, kicked off his boots,
tightened his belt, and threw aside his jacket and
waistcoat. As he turned to go out, Paul was at
his side, pale and alarmed, but resolute as he faced
Ance. He well knew the strength and had wit-
nessed the anger of the man. He was afraid.

"Well?" said Ance.

" You are not going to fight Mr. Riverius ?" said
the boy, faintly.

"Ain't I, just? You wait and see. Don't you
bet on him none."

" Ance, Ance Vickers, if you won't fight him, —
T — I — you may lick me as hard as ever you like."

Ance looked down on the small man with sur-
prise, and not without the admiration which cour-
age always excited in his heart. " You're a brave
little cuss. I'll count you and me's even when I'm
done with Ryverus."

"But you won't. Please, Ance. He isn't as
strong as you. It's mean," he added, seeing the
relentless face. Ance smiled.

" I won't kill him. Don't you be afeerd of that.
He won't take much hurtin'."

Then the boy's soul rose for his friend at the
note of scorn in Ance's voice. " Kill him !" he
cried, proudly. " You haven't licked him yet."

"Derned ef I wouldn't like to have a young un
like you," said Ance, laughing. " Git out. This
air men's work." And he turned and went out,
followed by the boy, who, fearful and troubled, but


still curious, climbed on to a tall stump and with
beating heart stood to watch the result.

The ring opened, and Ance entered. As he came
forward, Riverius threw oft* his coat and waistcoat,
rolled his shirt-sleeves tranquilly up a pair of white,
well-modelled arms, and, turning, faced his foe.
There were quick words and phrases all around
them, and the German knew that he was surrounded
by enemies. Looking about him, he caught sight
of Paul's serious face, and, laughing lightly, kissed
his hand to the boy, understanding his anxiety.

"Back, there !" said Rollins. " Give them room."

" He'll guess a bar's got him," said one. " He'll
need nussin'," said another.

Vickers advanced with care, meaning to make it
a wrestling-bout. Then he ran in. Riverius caught
him with left and right, two savage blows. At this
Ance, surprised and furious, lost his head and made
a less skilful rush. Riverius leaped aside and struck
Ance below the ear. Poor Ance went down like a
bullock in the shambles, and for a moment did not
rise. Riverius fell back a pace and smiled grimly,
remembering his days at Eton and their rough
training. A murmur of amazed exclamations arose
as Ance got up slowly and passed a hand across his
face. He was bewildered and giddy, but again
turned, facing his man. Some one cried out, " Take
time, Ance. Give him a drink."

" I am in no hurry," said Riverius. " Have you
had enough? Come, now," he added, gravely: "you
haven't got the trick of it. Let's shake hands."

Ance stood still, looking about him at the sur-


prise and amusement in the men's faces. " Derned
ef Anee ain't licked," said one. " No, he ain't,"
cried another. Suddenly Ance ran forward,
dropped on his knee, caught the German by the
legs, and threw him forward. " It's Alice's old
fall." "By George!"

Had Riverius lit on his head, the fight would
have had a serious ending; but Ance was out of
condition, and Riverius, falling on his side, was in-
stantly on his feet with cat-like agility. As Ance
turned on him again, he struck him furiously, and,
following hot with wrath, left him no chance to re-
cover until, with the blood flying from his face, he
was driven back helpless and dropped beaten among
his friends. Riverius retreated and waited amidst
a storm of admiring or derisive cries. Presently
Ance came forward, blinded and bruised.

" Got enough ?" said Riverius, sternly. " Con-
found it, I don't want to kill you. Here; shake

" I've got enough," said Ance. " I've got enough
for this time. And as fur shakin' hands, ef I'd
licked you I'd 'a' shook hands quick enough. I
'ain't and I won't. You'll keep, I guess."

One of the men laughed. Riverius turned. " It's
easy to laugh," he said. " If any of you think you
are better men than Ance Vickers, — well, I'm not
very tired." No one answered. Ance, amazed,
looked up through his swollen eyes.

" You're the best of the lot, Mr. Ryverus. I'd
like you ef I could. I jus' can't." And he moved
away through the crowd.


Riverius turned to Rollins. " I see," he said,
"that I am not over-welcome here, and I assure
you I did not stop at your camp because I wanted
to. — Come, Paul, let's get out of this."

Rollins said, " Well, you had fair play. You
can't gainsay that."

" No ; I am obliged to you. — Come, Paul."

As he passed Philetus, the blind man said, " Mr.

" Well ?"

"You ain't done me justice, and you wouldn't
stay none to listen."

" And I do not mean to now. You are a lot of
curs. — Hurry, Paul."

An angry murmur arose, but Philetus said no
word in reply, and soon Riverius and the boy were
away through the woods.

After a few moments of silence Paul spoke : "I
was afraid for you, sir, at first."

" Oh, he hadn't a chance. He is a good bit of a
man, too. He did that fall well. I had a near thing
of it. Do not let your mother know of it, and some
day you must learn to spar."

A half-mile from camp the pair stopped, built a
fire, made a lean-to of bark and blanket, and, with
their feet to the fire, turned in. At dawn they were
up and off, and in an hour found the bear, of whose
defeat the boy had much to say. The carcass was
still warm within, and, talking as they worked,
Riverius skilfully skinned it, and then, loaded with
meat and the fur, they went on again.


When Bessy, coming from the door-way, saw the
two familiar figures, she stood still to quiet the
violence of emotion which of a sudden disturbed
her. Then she went out, meeting her friend with
both hands as he offered his, and frankly showing
her pleasure with such tranquillity as she could
command. They took quick note of each other
as they stood for a moment, and until she drew
back he held her fast and looked seriously into the
eyes which he had not forgotten. She met smiling
his attentive survey. How handsome and gracious
she was ! Her size and pride of carriage lent some
strange emphasis to the half-concealed gladness of
her simple welcome.

" You look tired," she said.

" Yes, I am. Since I left you, I have had sor-
row and known trouble." He did not say what.
" How well Paul looks ! And he has killed a bear.
There will be no living with him after that."

" Indeed ! So I see. How was it, Paul ?"

He told his story, while at times she stole looks
at Riverius. Then the latter explained that he had
found Philetus drinking and had brought the boy
away from Rollins's camp.

For a few days Riverius was greatly occupied
in the woods, so that she saw him but little. He
was away to Olean, or down to Smethport, or in


the camp, readjusting his affairs. He himself felt
that he was restless. She learned by and by, to
her surprise, that he had a new head to his wood-
gangs. When at home he was apt to be visited by
one or another of his men or of those with whom
he was in some way dealing, and it soon leaked
out that for the first time Ance had met his match.
Then she questioned Paul, who was now forced to
speak, and so at last she heard all about Philetus
and the boy's account of the famous battle. That
the German was right and had been just she was
sure, but she began to feel that the matter had sad
aspects for Miriam. At length she determined to
take advantage of a clear, cold day, and, with Paul
for guide, set off on snow-shoes to visit Mrs. Rich-
mond. It was a long walk, but she was well trained
to this mode of progression, and surprised herself
by her skill.

The little cabin was hot and close. Miriam, paler
than common, but still in fair rosiness of over-
bloom, was charmed to see her. With her quick
woman eyes Bessy saw at a glance that the custom-
ary neatness of the home was somewhat wanting.
"How are you, Miriam?" she said. "And my
little maid, — how is she? I thought I certainly
must come over and see you. Where have you
been ?" Usually Miriam managed to visit her
from time to time. She made no answer. " What
is wrong, my friend ?" said Bessy. " What is the

Poor Miriam burst into tears. " Everything's
wrong, — everything! Philetus is drinking. Mr.


Riverius has turned him off. The wood-gangs are
full. Consider he's abed and can't go round with
him; and — and Ance Yickers comes here. He
comes when Phil's away. And — oh, that man !
If I tell Phil he'd kill him. One day he'd kill
him, and one day he'd just laugh at me. I wish I
was dead." And she hid her face in her hands.

"Well, Miriam, here are troubles enough, surely.
By the way, Paul has a basket of things for you
and a trifle for the child, — just a pretty frock. I
made it myself. Come, let us see if it fits. I am
here for the clay. We have time enough."

The little lady was pleased with the gown, and
surveyed herself with delight. Then she went
away and sat down and smoothed out the skirt
and showed a feminine joy in the novelty.

" How pretty she is !" said Bessy. " How
dainty !"

" And what will become of her ?"

"Hush. Come into the kitchen. There, now,
there is nothing like a good talk. In the first
place, I want to lend you some money."

" I can't— I can't take it."

" Nonsense !" And Bessy stuffed the notes into
Miriam's pocket. " And now about Phil."

" Couldn't you ask Mr. Riverius to take him on
again ? He's tbat down now, and really sometimes
he seems so strange it just frightens me. He says
he sees visions."

" Visions ?"

" Yes ; it's a w^ay he has sometimes ; but now — ■
oh, I don't know."


"I do not see how I can ask Mr. Eiverius to
take him back."

" Is he so hard ?"

" !N"o, he is not, but he is angry, and reasonably
so. I will think about it. I hardly see my way."

At this moment they heard little Ophelia cry
out, " Oh, father, come and see my frock. Come
and feel it. It's so pretty. Me just like a lady."

"Here is Mrs. Preston, Phil," said Miriam, as
he entered the kitchen.

" I am glad to see you, Philetus," said Bessy.

" Mornin', ma'am," he returned. " How's all
you? How's Paul? Where's Mr. Ryverus?" he
added, suddenly.

" He has gone to Smethport for three days. I
am sorry you and he have fallen out."

" Well, I'm not. He's a hard man. He don't
make no 'lowance for folks."

" Do you ?" said Bessy. " I am afraid not."

" Well, I'm tired a lot. No eyes, no work, and
Consider got the black-leg." 1

" Come over and chop for me. We are running
short of wood."

" I'll do it, and thanks. Air Mr. Ryverus a
friend of yourn, Mrs. Preston ?" He spoke ab-

" Certainly," she said, in surprise.

" Then you tell him to git away from these here
parts. I don't mind him much, but there's some
as don't hanker arter him."

1 A form of scurvy common among the ill-fed lumbermen.


" What is it you fear ? I wish you would speak

"Well, maybe I dreamed he was in trouble.
Anyways, he'd best go."

" It is hard for me to see why you talk in this
way, Philetus. It puzzles me. Mr. Riverius has
been away eighteen months. I know that he has
dismissed you ; but I know, and you know, that he
had good cause to be angry."

" It ain't that. He's stirred up things sence he
come back so's to make a lot of trouble. He gives
big wages, and that takes the best men out'r other
gangs. And then it's jus' a word and go. Things has
got to go 'long like men was machines. Him and
me ain't friends, — never was, and never will be."

" But you took his wages and did his work."

" Might be so, but I air done the like for the
devil in my time, — more's the shame."


" Anyways, it's on my mind to tell you right out.
There'll be trouble. I wish he'd 'a' stayed away.
He ain't nothin' to me, and ef he hadn't bin your
friend I wouldn't 'a' bothered none to speak."

" I will certainly tell him, Philetus ; but he is the
kind of man who does not give up easily. I incline
to think that the very way to make him stay as
Ions: as he can is to tell him that there is risk in
his staying."

" I kind of wonder what he keeps round here
for, anyways. I heerd he was meanin' to put in
another set of saws at the mill. That'll be a big


" He spoke of it the other clay. I suppose that
may help to detain him ; but really, Philetus, it is
hardly my affair, and you have put yourself out of
it by your own action."

" The man he's got can't run it."

Bessy smiled. "You may be sure it will be
made to run if Mr. Riverius stays a year."

" A year ! a year !" said the blind man. " Lord !
the wickedness kin be hatched in a year !" And
he went out, Bessy looking after him anxiously.

Later in the day Miriam said to her, " I hope
you will warn Mr. Riverius. Somehow they are
all against him ; and you know what these men

" I know," said Bessy, shuddering.

" And tell him on no account to come here."

" He is not likely to do so."

" "Well, it seemed to me I must tell you. Phil —
well, guess I won't say no more : guess I've said
all I ought to." And she added nothing further.

Three days later, Riverius came back, and in the
afternoon sat down to talk to her while Paul was
away setting traps.

" I really have hardly seen you," he said. " Tell
me everything."

She laughed a happy laugh, looking up at the
German across her sewing. " You do not mean to
stay here long ?" It was a hope akin to fear.

" No," he said, gravely, " I have not forgotten."

" I do not mean that. How could you think it ?"
she returned, coloring. " The gangs, for some
reason, I believe for little, are set against you, and


men's lives are little valued in this wilderness. A
shot, a blow, — anything is so easy."

" Am I so unpopular ? I wonder why." He felt
his own difficulty of being on equal terms with the
wood-people, and, also disliking the results, still
wondered at the fact. He knew that he tried to be

" Let me ask you, is there any real cause ?"

" Oh, apart from Vickers, who isn't as bad as he
looks, and Philetus "

" You are stern at times."

" Do you think so ?"

" And they say — well, hard and haughty."


"I think not, except in manner."

" But that is the only way in which haughtiness
shows. Honestly, I do not mean to be haughty. I
suppose it is education ; perhaps, too, a matter of
caste. Why do you live up here?" he added,
abruptly. " Why not go away ?"

"I cannot afford to go," she said, simply, and
went on sewing.

He made no reply, but sat looking over at the
sweet, proud face and nimble hands.

" You are horribly frank," he said, at last.

" Am I ? That is a matter of character, I sup-
pose, and also, perhaps, of this open out-door life
away from all social bonds. I often wonder if it
is good for one. It simplifies life in a way."

" Yes, here it suits, or seems to. If to be uncon-
ventional always simplifies life, I doubt. But habits
are strong fetters. I find no effort needed to take


up anew even the absurdities of our most conven-

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Online LibraryS. Weir (Silas Weir) MitchellFar in the forest, a story → online text (page 9 of 17)