The Man of the Forest
Part 3 out of 9
knees were as wet as if she had waded in water. And they
were cold. Her gloves, too, had not been intended for rain,
and they were wet through. The cold bit at her fingers so
that she had to beat her hands together. Ranger
misunderstood this to mean that he was to trot faster, which
event was worse for Helen than freezing.
She saw another black, scudding mass of clouds bearing down
with its trailing sheets of rain, and this one appeared
streaked with white. Snow! The wind was now piercingly cold.
Helen's body kept warm, but her extremities and ears began
to suffer exceedingly. She gazed ahead grimly. There was no
help; she had to go on. Dale and Roy were hunched down in
their saddles, probably wet through, for they wore no
rain-proof coats. Bo kept close behind them, and plain it
was that she felt the cold.
This second storm was not so bad as the first, because there
was less rain. Still, the icy keenness of the wind bit into
the marrow. It lasted for an hour, during which the horses
trotted on, trotted on. Again the gray torrent roared away,
the fine mist blew, the clouds lifted and separated, and,
closing again, darkened for another onslaught. This one
brought sleet. The driving pellets stung Helen's neck and
cheeks, and for a while they fell so thick and so hard upon
her back that she was afraid she could not hold up under
them. The bare places on the ground showed a sparkling
coverlet of marbles of ice.
Thus, storm after storm rolled over Helen's head. Her feet
grew numb and ceased to hurt. But her fingers, because of
her ceaseless efforts to keep up the circulation, retained
the stinging pain. And now the wind pierced right through
her. She marveled at her endurance, and there were many
times that she believed she could not ride farther. Yet she
kept on. All the winters she had ever lived had not brought
such a day as this. Hard and cold, wet and windy, at an
increasing elevation -- that was the explanation. The air
did not have sufficient oxygen for her blood.
Still, during all those interminable hours, Helen watched
where she was traveling, and if she ever returned over that
trail she would recognize it. The afternoon appeared far
advanced when Dale and Roy led down into an immense basin
where a reedy lake spread over the flats. They rode along
its margin, splashing up to the knees of the horses. Cranes
and herons flew on with lumbering motion; flocks of ducks
winged swift flight from one side to the other. Beyond this
depression the land sloped rather abruptly; outcroppings of
rock circled along the edge of the highest ground, and again
a dark fringe of trees appeared.
How many miles! wondered Helen. They seemed as many and as
long as the hours. But at last, just as another hard rain
came, the pines were reached. They proved to be widely
scattered and afforded little protection from the storm.
Helen sat her saddle, a dead weight. Whenever Ranger
quickened his gait or crossed a ditch she held on to the
pommel to keep from falling off. Her mind harbored only
sensations of misery, and a persistent thought -- why did
she ever leave home for the West? Her solicitude for Bo had
been forgotten. Nevertheless, any marked change in the
topography of the country was registered, perhaps
photographed on her memory by the torturing vividness of her
The forest grew more level and denser. Shadows of twilight
or gloom lay under the trees. Presently Dale and Roy,
disappeared, going downhill, and likewise Bo. Then Helen's
ears suddenly filled with a roar of rapid water. Ranger
trotted faster. Soon Helen came to the edge of a great
valley, black and gray, so full of obscurity that she could
not see across or down into it. But she knew there was a
rushing river at the bottom. The sound was deep, continuous,
a heavy, murmuring roar, singularly musical. The trail was
steep. Helen had not lost all feeling, as she had believed
and hoped. Her poor, mistreated body still responded
excruciatingly to concussions, jars, wrenches, and all the
other horrible movements making up a horse-trot.
For long Helen did not look up. When she did so there lay a
green, willow-bordered, treeless space at the bottom of the
valley, through which a brown-white stream rushed with
steady, ear-filling roar.
Dale and Roy drove the pack-animals across the stream, and
followed, going deep to the flanks of their horses. Bo rode
into the foaming water as if she had been used to it all her
days. A slip, a fall, would have meant that Bo must drown in
that mountain torrent.
Ranger trotted straight to the edge, and there, obedient to
Helen's clutch on the bridle, he halted. The stream was
fifty feet wide, shallow on the near side, deep on the
opposite, with fast current and big waves. Helen was simply
too frightened to follow.
"Let him come!" yelled Dale. "Stick on now! . . . Ranger!"
The big black plunged in, making the water fly. That stream
was nothing for him, though it seemed impassable to Helen.
She had not the strength left to lift her stirrups and the
water surged over them. Ranger, in two more plunges,
surmounted the bank, and then, trotting across the green to
where the other horses stood steaming under some pines, he
gave a great heave and halted.
Roy reached up to help her off.
"Thirty miles, Miss Helen," he said, and the way he spoke
was a compliment.
He had to lift her off and help her to the tree where Bo
leaned. Dale had ripped off a saddle and was spreading
saddle-blankets on the ground under the pine.
"Nell -- you swore -- you loved me!" was Bo's mournful
greeting. The girl was pale, drawn, blue-lipped, and she
could not stand up.
"Bo, I never did -- or I'd never have brought you to this --
wretch that I am!" cried Helen. "Oh, what a horrible ride!"
Rain was falling, the trees were dripping, the sky was
lowering. All the ground was soaking wet, with pools and
puddles everywhere. Helen could imagine nothing but a
heartless, dreary, cold prospect. Just then home was vivid
and poignant in her thoughts. Indeed, so utterly miserable
was she that the exquisite relief of sitting down, of a
cessation of movement, of a release from that infernal
perpetual-trotting horse, seemed only a mockery. It could
not be true that the time had come for rest.
Evidently this place had been a camp site for hunters or
sheep-herders, for there were remains of a fire. Dale lifted
the burnt end of a log and brought it down hard upon the
ground, splitting off pieces. Several times he did this. It
was amazing to see his strength, his facility, as he split
off handfuls of splinters. He collected a bundle of them,
and, laying them down, he bent over them. Roy wielded the ax
on another log, and each stroke split off a long strip. Then
a tiny column of smoke drifted up over Dale's shoulder as he
leaned, bareheaded, sheltering the splinters with his hat. A
blaze leaped up. Roy came with an armful of strips all white
and dry, out of the inside of a log. Crosswise these were
laid over the blaze, and it began to roar. Then piece by
piece the men built up a frame upon which they added heavier
woods, branches and stumps and logs, erecting a pyramid
through which flames and smoke roared upward. It had not
taken two minutes. Already Helen felt the warmth on her icy
face. She held up her bare, numb hands.
Both Dale and Roy were wet through to the skin, yet they did
not tarry beside the fire. They relieved the horses. A lasso
went up between two pines, and a tarpaulin over it, V-shaped
and pegged down at the four ends. The packs containing the
baggage of the girls and the supplies and bedding were
placed under this shelter.
Helen thought this might have taken five minutes more. In
this short space of time the fire had leaped and flamed
until it was huge and hot. Rain was falling steadily all
around, but over and near that roaring blaze, ten feet high,
no water fell. It evaporated. The ground began to steam and
to dry. Helen suffered at first while the heat was driving
out the cold. But presently the pain ceased.
"Nell, I never knew before how good a fire could feel,"
And therein lay more food for Helen's reflection.
In ten minutes Helen was dry and hot. Darkness came down
upon the dreary, sodden forest, but that great camp-fire
made it a different world from the one Helen had
anticipated. It blazed and roared, cracked like a pistol,
hissed and sputtered, shot sparks everywhere, and sent aloft
a dense, yellow, whirling column of smoke. It began to have
a heart of gold.
Dale took a long pole and raked out a pile of red embers
upon which the coffee-pot and oven soon began to steam.
"Roy, I promised the girls turkey to-night," said the
"Mebbe to-morrow, if the wind shifts. This 's turkey
"Roy, a potato will do me!" exclaimed Bo.
"Never again will I ask for cake and pie! I never
appreciated good things to eat. And I've been a little pig,
always. I never -- never knew what it was to be hungry --
Dale glanced up quickly.
"Lass, it's worth learnin'," he said.
Helen's thought was too deep for words. In such brief space
had she been transformed from misery to comfort!
The rain kept on falling, though it appeared to grow softer
as night settled down black. The wind died away and the
forest was still, except for the steady roar of the stream.
A folded tarpaulin was laid between the pine and the fire,
well in the light and warmth, and upon it the men set
steaming pots and plates and cups, the fragrance from which
was strong and inviting.
"Fetch the saddle-blanket an' set with your backs to the
fire," said Roy.
Later, when the girls were tucked away snugly in their
blankets and sheltered from the rain, Helen remained awake
after Bo had fallen asleep. The big blaze made the
improvised tent as bright as day. She could see the smoke,
the trunk of the big pine towering aloft, and a blank space
of sky. The stream hummed a song, seemingly musical at
times, and then discordant and dull, now low, now roaring,
and always rushing, gurgling, babbling, flowing, chafing in
Presently the hunter and his friend returned from hobbling
the horses, and beside the fire they conversed in low tones.
"Wal, thet trail we made to-day will be hid, I reckon," said
Roy, with satisfaction.
"What wasn't sheeped over would be washed out. We've had
luck. An' now I ain't worryin'," returned Dale.
"Worryin'? Then it's the first I ever knowed you to do."
"Man, I never had a job like this," protested the hunter.
"Wal, thet's so."
"Now, Roy, when old Al Auchincloss finds out about this
deal, as he's bound to when you or the boys get back to
Pine, he's goin' to roar."
"Do you reckon folks will side with him against Beasley?"
"Some of them. But Al, like as not, will tell folks to go
where it's hot. He'll bunch his men an' strike for the
mountains to find his nieces."
"Wal, all you've got to do is to keep the girls hid till I
can guide him up to your camp. Or, failin' thet, till you
can slip the girls down to Pine."
"No one but you an' your brothers ever seen my senaca. But
it could be found easy enough."
"Anson might blunder on it. But thet ain't likely."
"Why ain't it?"
"Because I'll stick to thet sheep-thief's tracks like a wolf
after a bleedin' deer. An' if he ever gets near your camp
I'll ride in ahead of him."
"Good!" declared Dale. "I was calculatin' you'd go down to
Pine, sooner or later."
"Not unless Anson goes. I told John thet in case there was
no fight on the stage to make a bee-line back to Pine. He
was to tell Al an' offer his services along with Joe an'
"One way or another, then, there's bound to be blood spilled
"Shore! An' high time. I jest hope I get a look down my old
'forty-four' at thet Beasley."
"In that case I hope you hold straighter than times I've
"Milt Dale, I'm a good shot," declared Roy, stoutly.
"You're no good on movin' targets."
"Wal, mebbe so. But I'm not lookin' for a movin' target when
I meet up with Beasley. I'm a hossman, not a hunter. You're
used to shootin' flies off deer's horns, jest for practice."
"Roy, can we make my camp by to-morrow night?" queried Dale,
"We will, if each of us has to carry one of the girls. But
they'll do it or die. Dale, did you ever see a gamer girl
than thet kid Bo?"
"Me! Where'd I ever see any girls?" ejaculated Dale. "I
remember some when I was a boy, but I was only fourteen
then. Never had much use for girls."
"I'd like to have a wife like that Bo," declared Roy,
There ensued a moment's silence.
"Roy, you're a Mormon an' you already got a wife," was
"Now, Milt, have you lived so long in the woods thet you
never heard of a Mormon with two wives?" returned Roy, and
then he laughed heartily.
"I never could stomach what I did hear pertainin' to more
than one wife for a man."
"Wal, my friend, you go an' get yourself ONE. An' see then
if you wouldn't like to have TWO."
"I reckon one 'd be more than enough for Milt Dale."
"Milt, old man, let me tell you thet I always envied you
your freedom," said Roy, earnestly. "But it ain't life."
"You mean life is love of a woman?"
"No. Thet's only part. I mean a son -- a boy thet's like you
-- thet you feel will go on with your life after you're
"I've thought of that -- thought it all out, watchin' the
birds an' animals mate in the woods. . . . If I have no son
I'll never live hereafter."
"Wal," replied Roy, hesitatingly, "I don't go in so deep as
thet. I mean a son goes on with your blood an' your work."
"Exactly. . . An', Roy, I envy you what you ve got, because
it's out of all bounds for Milt Dale."
Those words, sad and deep, ended the conversation. Again the
rumbling, rushing stream dominated the forest. An owl hooted
dismally. A horse trod thuddingly near by and from that
direction came a cutting tear of teeth on grass.
A voice pierced Helen's deep dreams and, awaking, she found
Bo shaking and calling her.
"Are you dead?" came the gay voice.
"Almost. Oh, my back's broken," replied Helen. The desire to
move seemed clamped in a vise, and even if that came she
believed the effort would be impossible.
"Roy called us," said Bo. "He said hurry. I thought I'd die
just sitting up, and I'd give you a million dollars to lace
my boots. Wait, sister, till you try to pull on one of those
With heroic and violent spirit Helen sat up to find that in
the act her aches and pains appeared beyond number. Reaching
for her boots, she found them cold and stiff. Helen unlaced
one and, opening it wide, essayed to get her sore foot down
into it. But her foot appeared swollen and the boot appeared
shrunken. She could not get it half on, though she expended
what little strength seemed left in her aching arms. She
Bo laughed wickedly. Her hair was tousled, her eyes dancing,
her cheeks red.
"Be game!" she said. "Stand up like a real Western girl and
PULL your boot on."
Whether Bo's scorn or advice made the task easier did not
occur to Helen, but the fact was that she got into her
boots. Walking and moving a little appeared to loosen the
stiff joints and ease that tired feeling. The water of the
stream where the girls washed was colder than any ice Helen
had ever felt. It almost paralyzed her hands. Bo mumbled,
and blew like a porpoise. They had to run to the fire before
being able to comb their hair. The air was wonderfully keen.
The dawn was clear, bright, with a red glow in the east
where the sun was about to rise.
"All ready, girls," called Roy. "Reckon you can help
yourselves. Milt ain't comin' in very fast with the hosses.
I'll rustle off to help him. We've got a hard day before us.
Yesterday wasn't nowhere to what to-day 'll be."
"But the sun's going to shine?" implored Bo.
"Wal, you bet," rejoined Roy, as he strode off.
Helen and Bo ate breakfast and had the camp to themselves
for perhaps half an hour; then the horses came thudding
down, with Dale and Roy riding bareback.
By the time all was in readiness to start the sun was up,
melting the frost and ice, so that a dazzling, bright mist,
full of rainbows, shone under the trees.
Dale looked Ranger over, and tried the cinches of Bo's
"What's your choice -- a long ride behind the packs with me
-- or a short cut over the hills with Roy?" he asked.
"I choose the lesser of two rides," replied Helen, smiling.
"Reckon that 'll be easier, but you'll know you've had a
ride," said Dale, significantly.
"What was that we had yesterday?" asked Bo, archly.
"Only thirty miles, but cold an' wet. To-day will be fine
"Milt, I'll take a blanket an' some grub in case you don't
meet us to-night," said Roy. "An' I reckon we'll split up
here where I'll have to strike out on thet short cut."
Bo mounted without a helping hand, but Helen's limbs were so
stiff that she could not get astride the high Ranger without
assistance. The hunter headed up the slope of the canuon,
which on that side was not steep. It was brown pine forest,
with here and there a clump of dark, silver-pointed
evergreens that Roy called spruce. By the time this slope
was surmounted Helen's aches were not so bad. The saddle
appeared to fit her better, and the gait of the horse was
not so unfamiliar. She reflected, however, that she always
had done pretty well uphill. Here it was beautiful
forest-land, uneven and wilder. They rode for a time along
the rim, with the white rushing stream in plain sight far
below, with its melodious roar ever thrumming in the ear.
Dale reined in and peered down at the pine-mat.
"Fresh deer sign all along here," he said, pointing.
"Wal, I seen thet long ago," rejoined Roy.
Helen's scrutiny was rewarded by descrying several tiny
depressions in the pine-needles, dark in color and sharply
"We may never get a better chance," said Dale. "Those deer
are workin' up our way. Get your rifle out."
Travel was resumed then, with Roy a little in advance of the
pack-train. Presently he dismounted, threw his bridle, and
cautiously peered ahead. Then, turning, he waved his
sombrero. The pack-animals halted in a bunch. Dale beckoned
for the girls to follow and rode up to Roy's horse. This
point, Helen saw, was at the top of an intersecting canuon.
Dale dismounted, without drawing his rifle from its
saddle-sheath, and approached Roy.
"Buck an' two does," he said, low-voiced. "An' they've
winded us, but don't see us yet. . . . Girls, ride up
Following the directions indicated by Dale's long arm, Helen
looked down the slope. It was open, with tall pines here and
there, and clumps of silver spruce, and aspens shining like
gold in the morning sunlight. Presently Bo exclaimed: "Oh,
look! I see! I see!" Then Helen's roving glance passed
something different from green and gold and brown. Shifting
back to it she saw a magnificent stag, with noble spreading
antlers, standing like a statue, his head up in alert and
wild posture. His color was gray. Beside him grazed two deer
of slighter and more graceful build, without horns.
"It's downhill," whispered Dale. "An' you're goin' to
Then Helen saw that Roy had his rifle leveled.
"Oh, don't!" she cried.
Dale's remark evidently nettled Roy. He lowered the rifle.
"Milt, it's me lookin' over this gun. How can you stand
there an' tell me I'm goin' to shoot high? I had a dead bead
"Roy, you didn't allow for downhill . . . Hurry. He sees us
Roy leveled the rifle and, taking aim as before, he fired.
The buck stood perfectly motionless, as if he had indeed
been stone. The does, however, jumped with a start, and
gazed in fright in every direction.
"Told you! I seen where your bullet hit thet pine -- half a
foot over his shoulder. Try again an' aim at his legs."
Roy now took a quicker aim and pulled trigger. A puff of
dust right at the feet of the buck showed where Roy's lead
had struck this time. With a single bound, wonderful to see,
the big deer was out of sight behind trees and brush. The
does leaped after him.
"Doggone the luck!" ejaculated Roy, red in the face, as he
worked the lever of his rifle. "Never could shoot downhill,
His rueful apology to the girls for missing brought a merry
laugh from Bo.
"Not for worlds would I have had you kill that beautiful
deer!" she exclaimed.
"We won't have venison steak off him, that's certain,"
remarked Dale, dryly. "An' maybe none off any deer, if Roy
does the shootin'."
They resumed travel, sheering off to the right and keeping
to the edge of the intersecting canuon. At length they rode
down to the bottom, where a tiny brook babbled through
willows, and they followed this for a mile or so down to
where it flowed into the larger stream. A dim trail
overgrown with grass showed at this point.
"Here's where we part," said Dale. "You'll beat me into my
camp, but I'll get there sometime after dark."
"Hey, Milt, I forgot about thet darned pet cougar of yours
an' the rest of your menagerie. Reckon they won't scare the
girls? Especially old Tom?"
"You won't see Tom till I get home," replied Dale.
"Ain't he corralled or tied up?"
"No. He has the run of the place."
"Wal, good-by, then, an' rustle along."
Dale nodded to the girls, and, turning his horse, he drove
the pack-train before him up the open space between the
stream and the wooded slope.
Roy stepped off his horse with that single action which
appeared such a feat to Helen.
"Guess I'd better cinch up," he said, as he threw a stirrup
up over the pommel of his saddle. "You girls are goin' to
see wild country."
"Who's old Tom?" queried Bo, curiously.
"Why, he's Milt's pet cougar."
"Cougar? That's a panther -- a mountain-lion, didn't he
"Shore is. Tom is a beauty. An' if he takes a likin' to you
he'll love you, play with you, maul you half to death."
Bo was all eyes.
"Dale has other pets, too?" she questioned, eagerly.
"I never was up to his camp but what it was overrun with
birds an' squirrels an' vermin of all kinds, as tame as tame
as cows. Too darn tame, Milt says. But I can't figger thet.
You girls will never want to leave thet senaca of his."
"What's a senaca?" asked Helen, as she shifted her foot to
let him tighten the cinches on her saddle.
"Thet's Mexican for park, I guess," he replied. "These
mountains are full of parks; an', say, I don't ever want to
see no prettier place till I get to heaven. . . . There,
Ranger, old boy, thet's tight."
He slapped the horse affectionately, and, turning to his
own, he stepped and swung his long length up.
"It ain't deep crossin' here. Come on," he called, and
spurred his bay.
The stream here was wide and it looked deep, but turned out
to be deceptive.
"Wal, girls, here beginneth the second lesson," he drawled,
cheerily. "Ride one behind the other -- stick close to me --
do what I do -- an' holler when you want to rest or if
somethin' goes bad."
With that he spurred into the thicket. Bo went next and
Helen followed. The willows dragged at her so hard that she
was unable to watch Roy, and the result was that a
low-sweeping branch of a tree knocked her hard on the head.
It hurt and startled her, and roused her mettle. Roy was
keeping to the easy trot that covered ground so well, and he
led up a slope to the open pine forest. Here the ride for
several miles was straight, level, and open. Helen liked the
forest to-day. It was brown and green, with patches of gold
where the sun struck. She saw her first bird -- big blue
grouse that whirred up from under her horse, and little
checkered gray quail that appeared awkward on the wing.
Several times Roy pointed out deer flashing gray across some
forest aisle, and often when he pointed Helen was not quick
enough to see.
Helen realized that this ride would make up for the hideous
one of yesterday. So far she had been only barely conscious
of sore places and aching bones. These she would bear with.
She loved the wild and the beautiful, both of which
increased manifestly with every mile. The sun was warm, the
air fragrant and cool, the sky blue as azure and so deep
that she imagined that she could look far up into it.
Suddenly Roy reined in so sharply that he pulled the bay up
"Look!" he called, sharply.
"Not thet way! Here! Aw, he's gone!"
"Nell! It was a bear! I saw it! Oh! not like circus bears at
all!" cried Bo.
Helen had missed her opportunity.
"Reckon he was a grizzly, an' I'm jest as well pleased thet
he loped off," said Roy. Altering his course somewhat, he
led to an old rotten log that the bear had been digging in.
"After grubs. There, see his track. He was a whopper shore
They rode on, out to a high point that overlooked canuon and
range, gorge and ridge, green and black as far as Helen
could see. The ranges were bold and long, climbing to the
central uplift, where a number of fringed peaks raised their
heads to the vast bare dome of Old Baldy. Far as vision
could see, to the right lay one rolling forest of pine,
beautiful and serene. Somewhere down beyond must have lain
the desert, but it was not in sight.
"I see turkeys 'way down there," said Roy, backing away.
"We'll go down and around an' mebbe I'll get a shot."
Descent beyond a rocky point was made through thick brush.
This slope consisted of wide benches covered with copses and
scattered pines and many oaks. Helen was delighted to see
the familiar trees, although these were different from
Missouri oaks. Rugged and gnarled, but not tall, these trees
spread wide branches, the leaves of which were yellowing.
Roy led into a grassy glade, and, leaping off his horse,
rifle in hand, he prepared to shoot at something. Again Bo
cried out, but this time it was in delight. Then Helen saw
an immense flock of turkeys, apparently like the turkeys she
knew at home, but these had bronze and checks of white, and
they looked wild. There must have been a hundred in the
flock, most of them hens. A few gobblers on the far side
began the flight, running swiftly off. Helen plainly heard
the thud of their feet. Roy shot once -- twice -- three
times. Then rose a great commotion. and thumping, and a loud
roar of many wings. Dust and leaves whirling in the air were
left where the turkeys had been.
"Wal, I got two," said Roy, and he strode forward to pick up
his game. Returning, he tied two shiny, plump gobblers back
of his saddle and remounted his horse. "We'll have turkey
to-night, if Milt gets to camp in time."
The ride was resumed. Helen never would have tired riding
through those oak groves, brown and sear and yellow, with
leaves and acorns falling.
"Bears have been workin' in here already," said Roy. "I see
tracks all over. They eat acorns in the fall. An' mebbe
we'll run into one yet."
The farther down he led the wilder and thicker grew the
trees, so that dodging branches was no light task. Ranger
did not seem to care how close he passed a tree or under a
limb, so that he missed them himself; but Helen thereby got
some additional bruises. Particularly hard was it, when
passing a tree, to get her knee out of the way in time.
Roy halted next at what appeared a large green pond full of
vegetation and in places covered with a thick scum. But it
had a current and an outlet, proving it to be a huge,
spring. Roy pointed down at a muddy place.
"Bear-wallow. He heard us comin'. Look at thet little track.
Cub track. An' look at these scratches on this tree, higher
'n my head. An old she-bear stood up, an' scratched them."
Roy sat his saddle and reached up to touch fresh marks on
"Woods's full of big bears," he said, grinning. "An' I take
it particular kind of this old she rustlin' off with her
cub. She-bears with cubs are dangerous."
The next place to stir Helen to enthusiasm was the glen at
the bottom of this canuon. Beech-trees, maples, aspens,
overtopped by lofty pines, made dense shade over a brook
where trout splashed on the brown, swirling current, and
leaves drifted down, and stray flecks of golden sunlight
lightened the gloom. Here was hard riding to and fro across
the brook, between huge mossy boulders, and between aspens
so close together that Helen could scarce squeeze her knees
Once more Roy climbed out of that canuon, over a ridge into
another, down long wooded slopes and through scrub-oak
thickets, on and on till the sun stood straight overhead.
Then he halted for a short rest, unsaddled the horses to let
them roll, and gave the girls some cold lunch that he had
packed. He strolled off with his gun, and, upon returning,
resaddled and gave the word to start.
That was the last of rest and easy traveling for the girls.
The forest that he struck into seemed ribbed like a
washboard with deep ravines so steep of slope as to make
precarious travel. Mostly he kept to the bottom where dry
washes afforded a kind of trail. But it was necessary to
cross these ravines when they were too long to be headed,
and this crossing was work.
The locust thickets characteristic of these slopes were
thorny and close knit. They tore and scratched and stung
both horses and riders. Ranger appeared to be the most
intelligent of the horses and suffered less. Bo's white
mustang dragged her through more than one brambly place. On
the other hand, some of these steep slopes, were
comparatively free of underbrush. Great firs and pines
loomed up on all sides. The earth was soft and the hoofs
sank deep. Toward the bottom of a descent Ranger would brace
his front feet and then slide down on his haunches. This
mode facilitated travel, but it frightened Helen. The climb
out then on the other side had to be done on foot.
After half a dozen slopes surmounted in this way Helen's
strength was spent and her breath was gone. She felt
light-headed. She could not get enough air. Her feet felt
like lead, and her riding-coat was a burden. A hundred
times, hot and wet and throbbing, she was compelled to stop.
Always she had been a splendid walker and climber. And here,
to break up the long ride, she was glad to be on her feet.
But she could only drag one foot up after the other. Then,
when her nose began to bleed, she realized that it was the
elevation which was causing all the trouble. Her heart,
however, did not hurt her, though she was conscious of an
oppression on her breast.
At last Roy led into a ravine so deep and wide and full of
forest verdure that it appeared impossible to cross.
Nevertheless, he started down, dismounting after a little
way. Helen found that leading Ranger down was worse than
riding him. He came fast and he would step right in her
tracks. She was not quick enough to get, away from him.
Twice he stepped on her foot, and again his broad chest hit
her shoulder and threw her flat. When he began to slide,
near the bottom, Helen had to run for her life.
"Oh, Nell! Isn't -- this -- great?" panted Bo, from
"Bo -- your -- mind's -- gone," panted Helen, in reply.
Roy tried several places to climb out, and failed in each.
Leading down the ravine for a hundred yards or more, he
essayed another attempt. Here there had been a slide, and in
part the earth was bare. When he had worked up this, he
halted above, and called:
"Bad place! Keep on the up side of the hosses!"
This appeared easier said than done. Helen could not watch
Bo, because Ranger would not wait. He pulled at the bridle
"Faster you come the better," called Roy.
Helen could not see the sense of that, but she tried. Roy
and Bo had dug a deep trail zigzag up that treacherous
slide. Helen made the mistake of starting to follow in their
tracks, and when she realized this Ranger was climbing fast,
almost dragging her, and it was too late to get above. Helen
began to labor. She slid down right in front of Ranger. The
intelligent animal, with a snort, plunged out of the trail
to keep from stepping on her. Then he was above her.
"Lookout down there," yelled Roy, in warning. "Get on the up
But that did not appear possible. The earth began to slide
under Ranger, and that impeded Helen's progress. He got in
advance of her, straining on the bridle.
"Let go!" yelled Roy.
Helen dropped the bridle just as a heavy slide began to move
with Ranger. He snorted fiercely, and, rearing high, in a
mighty plunge he gained solid ground. Helen was buried to
her knees, but, extricating herself, she crawled to a safe
point and rested before climbing farther.
"Bad cave-in, thet," was Roy's comment, when at last she
joined him and Bo at the top.
Roy appeared at a loss as to which way to go. He rode to
high ground and looked in all directions. To Helen, one way
appeared as wild and rough as another, and all was yellow,
green, and black under the westering sun. Roy rode a short
distance in one direction, then changed for another.
Presently he stopped.
"Wal, I'm shore turned round," he said.
"You're not lost?" cried Bo.
"Reckon I've been thet for a couple of hours," he replied,
cheerfully. "Never did ride across here I had the direction,
but I'm blamed now if I can tell which way thet was."
Helen gazed at him in consternation.
"Lost!" she echoed.
A silence ensued, fraught with poignant fear for Helen, as
she gazed into Bo's whitening face. She read her sister's
mind. Bo was remembering tales of lost people who never were
"Me an' Milt get lost every day," said Roy. "You don't
suppose any man can know all this big country. It's nothin'
for us to be lost."
"Oh! . . . I was lost when I was little," said Bo.
"Wal, I reckon it'd been better not to tell you so offhand
like," replied Roy, contritely. "Don't feel bad, now. All I
need is a peek at Old Baldy. Then I'll have my bearin'. Come
Helen's confidence returned as Roy led off at a fast trot.
He rode toward the westering sun, keeping to the ridge they
had ascended, until once more he came out upon a promontory.
Old Baldy loomed there, blacker and higher and closer. The
dark forest showed round, yellow, bare spots like parks.
"Not so far off the track," said Roy, as he wheeled his
horse. "We'll make camp in Milt's senaca to-night."
He led down off the ridge into a valley and then up to
higher altitude, where the character of the forest changed.
The trees were no longer pines, but firs and spruce, growing
thin and exceedingly tall, with few branches below the
topmost foliage. So dense was this forest that twilight
seemed to have come.
Travel was arduous. Everywhere were windfalls that had to be
avoided, and not a rod was there without a fallen tree. The
horses, laboring slowly, sometimes sank knee-deep into the
brown duff. Gray moss festooned the tree-trunks and an
amber-green moss grew thick on the rotting logs.
Helen loved this forest primeval. It was so still, so dark,
so gloomy, so full of shadows and shade, and a dank smell of
rotting wood, and sweet fragrance of spruce. The great
windfalls, where trees were jammed together in dozens,
showed the savagery of the storms. Wherever a single monarch
lay uprooted there had sprung up a number of ambitious sons,
jealous of one another, fighting for place. Even the trees
fought one another! The forest was a place of mystery, but
its strife could be read by any eye. The lightnings had
split firs clear to the roots, and others it had circled
with ripping tear from top to trunk.
Time came, however, when the exceeding wildness of the
forest, in density and fallen timber, made it imperative for
Helen to put all her attention on the ground and trees in
her immediate vicinity. So the pleasure of gazing ahead at
the beautiful wilderness was denied her. Thereafter travel
became toil and the hours endless.
Roy led on, and Ranger followed, while the shadows darkened
under the trees. She was reeling in her saddle, half blind
and sick, when Roy called out cheerily that they were almost
Whatever his idea was, to Helen it seemed many miles that
she followed him farther, out of the heavy-timbered forest
down upon slopes of low spruce, like evergreen, which
descended sharply to another level, where dark, shallow
streams flowed gently and the solemn stillness held a low
murmur of falling water, and at last the wood ended upon a
wonderful park full of a thick, rich, golden light of
"Smell the smoke," said Roy. "By Solomon! if Milt ain't here
ahead of me!"
He rode on. Helen's weary gaze took in the round senaca, the
circling black slopes, leading up to craggy rims all gold
and red in the last flare of the sun; then all the spirit
left in her flashed up in thrilling wonder at this
exquisite, wild, and colorful spot.
Horses were grazing out in the long grass and there were
deer grazing with them. Roy led round a corner of the
fringed, bordering woodland, and there, under lofty trees,
shone a camp-fire. Huge gray rocks loomed beyond, and then
cliffs rose step by step to a notch in the mountain wall,
over which poured a thin, lacy waterfall. As Helen gazed in
rapture the sunset gold faded to white and all the western
slope of the amphitheater darkened.
Dale's tall form appeared.
"Reckon you're late," he said, as with a comprehensive flash
of eye he took in the three.
"Milt, I got lost," replied Roy.
"I feared as much. . . . You girls look like you'd done
better to ride with me," went on Dale, as he offered a hand
to help Bo off. She took it, tried to get her foot out of
the stirrups, and then she slid from the saddle into Dale's
arms. He placed her on her feet and, supporting her, said,
solicitously: "A hundred-mile ride in three days for a
tenderfoot is somethin' your uncle Al won't believe. . . .
Come, walk if it kills you!"
Whereupon he led Bo, very much as if he were teaching a
child to walk. The fact that the voluble Bo had nothing to
say was significant to Helen, who was following, with the
assistance of Roy.
One of the huge rocks resembled a sea-shell in that it
contained a hollow over which the wide-spreading shelf
flared out. It reached toward branches of great pines. A
spring burst from a crack in the solid rock. The campfire
blazed under a pine, and the blue column of smoke rose just
in front of the shelving rock. Packs were lying on the grass
and some of them were open. There were no signs here of a
permanent habitation of the hunter. But farther on were
other huge rocks, leaning, cracked, and forming caverns,
some of which perhaps he utilized.
"My camp is just back," said Dale, as if he had read Helen's
mind. "To-morrow we'll fix up comfortable-like round here
for you girls."
Helen and Bo were made as easy as blankets and saddles could
make them, and the men went about their tasks.
"Nell -- isn't this -- a dream?" murmured Bo.
"No, child. It's real -- terribly real," replied Helen. "Now
that we're here -- with that awful ride over -- we can
"It's so pretty -- here," yawned Bo. "I'd just as lief Uncle
Al didn't find us very soon."
"Bo! He's a sick man. Think what the worry will be to him."
"I'll bet if he knows Dale he won't be so worried."
"Dale told us Uncle Al disliked him."
"Pooh! What difference does that make? . . . Oh, I don't
know which I am -- hungrier or tireder!"
"I couldn't eat to-night," said Helen, wearily.
When she stretched out she had a vague, delicious sensation
that that was the end of Helen Rayner, and she was glad.
Above her, through the lacy, fernlike pine-needles, she saw
blue sky and a pale star just showing. Twilight was stealing
down swiftly. The silence was beautiful, seemingly
undisturbed by the soft, silky, dreamy fall of water. Helen
closed her eyes, ready for sleep, with the physical
commotion within her body gradually yielding. In some places
her bones felt as if they had come out through her flesh; in
others throbbed deep-seated aches; her muscles appeared
slowly to subside, to relax, with the quivering twinges
ceasing one by one; through muscle and bone, through all her
body, pulsed a burning current.
Bo's head dropped on Helen's shoulder. Sense became vague to
Helen. She lost the low murmur of the waterfall, and then
the sound or feeling of some one at the campfire. And her
last conscious thought was that she tried to open her eyes
and could not.
When she awoke all was bright. The sun shone almost directly
overhead. Helen was astounded. Bo lay wrapped in deep sleep,
her face flushed, with beads of perspiration on her brow and
the chestnut curls damp. Helen threw down the blankets, and
then, gathering courage -- for she felt as if her back was
broken -- she endeavored to sit up. In vain! Her spirit was
willing, but her muscles refused to act. It must take a
violent spasmodic effort. She tried it with shut eyes, and,
succeeding, sat there trembling. The commotion she had made
in the blankets awoke Bo, and she blinked her surprised blue
eyes in the sunlight.
"Hello -- Nell! do I have to -- get up?" she asked,
"Can you?" queried Helen.
"Can I what?" Bo was now thoroughly awake and lay there
staring at her sister.
"Why -- get up."
"I'd like to know why not," retorted Bo, as she made the
effort. She got one arm and shoulder up, only to flop back
like a crippled thing. And she uttered the most piteous
little moan. "I'm dead! I know -- I am!"
"Well, if you're going to be a Western girl you'd better
have spunk enough to move."
"A-huh!" ejaculated Bo. Then she rolled over, not without
groans, and, once upon her face, she raised herself on her
hands and turned to a sitting posture. "Where's everybody? .
. . Oh, Nell, it's perfectly lovely here. Paradise!"
Helen looked around. A fire was smoldering. No one was in
sight. Wonderful distant colors seemed to strike her glance
as she tried to fix it upon near-by objects. A beautiful
little green tent or shack had been erected out of spruce
boughs. It had a slanting roof that sloped all the way from
a ridge-pole to the ground; half of the opening in front was
closed, as were the sides. The spruce boughs appeared all to
be laid in the same direction, giving it a smooth, compact
appearance, actually as if it had grown there.
"That lean-to wasn't there last night?" inquired Bo.
"I didn't see it. Lean-to? Where'd you get that name?"
"It's Western, my dear. I'll bet they put it up for us. . .
. Sure, I see our bags inside. Let's get up. It must be
The girls had considerable fun as well as pain in getting up
and keeping each other erect until their limbs would hold
them firmly. They were delighted with the spruce lean-to. It
faced the open and stood just under the wide-spreading shelf
of rock. The tiny outlet from the spring flowed beside it
and spilled its clear water over a stone, to fall into a
little pool. The floor of this woodland habitation consisted
of tips of spruce boughs to about a foot in depth, all laid
one way, smooth and springy, and so sweetly odorous that the
air seemed intoxicating. Helen and Bo opened their baggage,
and what with use of the cold water, brush and comb, and
clean blouses, they made themselves feel as comfortable as
possible, considering the excruciating aches. Then they went
out to the campfire.
Helen's eye was attracted by moving objects near at hand.
Then simultaneously with Bo's cry of delight Helen saw a
beautiful doe approaching under the trees. Dale walked
"You sure had a long sleep," was the hunter's greeting. "I
reckon you both look better."
"Good morning. Or is it afternoon? We're just able to move
about," said Helen.
"I could ride," declared Bo, stoutly. "Oh, Nell, look at the
deer! It's coming to me."
The doe had hung back a little as Dale reached the
camp-fire. It was a gray, slender creature, smooth as silk,
with great dark eyes. It stood a moment, long ears erect,
and then with a graceful little trot came up to Bo and
reached a slim nose for her outstretched hand. All about it,
except the beautiful soft eyes, seemed wild, and yet it was
as tame as a kitten. Then, suddenly, as Bo fondled the long
ears, it gave a start and, breaking away, ran back out of
sight under the pines.
"What frightened it?" asked Bo.
Dale pointed up at the wall under the shelving roof of rock.
There, twenty feet from the ground, curled up on a ledge,
lay a huge tawny animal with a face like that of a cat.
"She's afraid of Tom," replied Dale. "Recognizes him as a
hereditary foe, I guess. I can't make friends of them."
"Oh! So that's Tom -- the pet lion!" exclaimed Bo. "Ugh! No
wonder that deer ran off!"
"How long has he been up there?" queried Helen, gazing
fascinated at Dale's famous pet.
"I couldn't say. Tom comes an' goes," replied Dale. "But I
sent him up there last night."
"And he was there -- perfectly free -- right over us --
while we slept!" burst out Bo.
"Yes. An' I reckon you slept the safer for that."
"Of all things! Nell, isn't he a monster? But he doesn't
look like a lion -- an African lion. He's a panther. I saw
his like at the circus once."
"He's a cougar," said Dale. "The panther is long and slim.
Tom is not only long, but thick an' round. I've had him four
years. An' he was a kitten no bigger 'n my fist when I got
"Is he perfectly tame -- safe?" asked Helen, anxiously.
"I've never told anybody that Tom was safe, but he is,"
replied Dale. "You can absolutely believe it. A wild cougar
wouldn't attack a man unless cornered or starved. An' Tom is
like a big kitten."
The beast raised his great catlike face, with its sleepy,
half-shut eyes, and looked down upon them.
"Shall I call him down?" inquired Dale.
For once Bo did not find her voice.
"Let us -- get a little more used to him -- at a distance,"
replied Helen, with a little laugh.
"If he comes to you, just rub his head an' you'll see how
tame he is," said Dale. "Reckon you're both hungry?"
"Not so very," returned Helen, aware of his penetrating gray
gaze upon her.
"Well, I am," vouchsafed Bo.
"Soon as the turkey's done we'll eat. My camp is round
between the rocks. I'll call you."
Not until his broad back was turned did Helen notice that
the hunter looked different. Then she saw he wore a lighter,
cleaner suit of buckskin, with no coat, and instead of the
high-heeled horseman's boots he wore moccasins and leggings.
The change made him appear more lithe.
"Nell, I don't know what you think, but _I_ call him
handsome," declared Bo.
Helen had no idea what she thought.
"Let's try to walk some," she suggested.
So they essayed that painful task and got as far as a pine
log some few rods from their camp. This point was close to
the edge of the park, from which there was an unobstructed
"My! What a place!" exclaimed Bo, with eyes wide and round.
"Oh, beautiful!" breathed Helen.
An unexpected blaze of color drew her gaze first. Out of the
black spruce slopes shone patches of aspens, gloriously red
and gold, and low down along the edge of timber troops of
aspens ran out into the park, not yet so blazing as those
above, but purple and yellow and white in the sunshine.
Masses of silver spruce, like trees in moonlight, bordered
the park, sending out here and there an isolated tree, sharp
as a spear, with under-branches close to the ground. Long
golden-green grass, resembling half-ripe wheat, covered the
entire floor of the park, gently waving to the wind. Above
sheered the black, gold-patched slopes, steep and
unscalable, rising to buttresses of dark, iron-hued rock.
And to the east circled the rows of cliff-bench, gray and
old and fringed, splitting at the top in the notch where the
lacy, slumberous waterfall, like white smoke, fell and
vanished, to reappear in wider sheet of lace, only to fall
and vanish again in the green depths.
It was a verdant valley, deep-set in the mountain walls,
wild and sad and lonesome. The waterfall dominated the
spirit of the place, dreamy and sleepy and tranquil; it
murmured sweetly on one breath of wind, and lulled with
another, and sometimes died out altogether, only to come
again in soft, strange roar.
"Paradise Park!" whispered Bo to herself.
A call from Dale disturbed their raptures. Turning, they
hobbled with eager but painful steps in the direction of a
larger camp-fire, situated to the right of the great rock
that sheltered their lean-to. No hut or house showed there
and none was needed. Hiding-places and homes for a hundred
hunters were there in the sections of caverned cliffs, split
off in bygone ages from the mountain wall above. A few
stately pines stood out from the rocks, and a clump of
silver spruce ran down to a brown brook. This camp was only
a step from the lean-to, round the corner of a huge rock,
yet it had been out of sight. Here indeed was evidence of a
hunter's home -- pelts and skins and antlers, a neat pile of
split fire-wood, a long ledge of rock, well sheltered, and
loaded with bags like a huge pantry-shelf, packs and ropes
and saddles, tools and weapons, and a platform of dry brush
as shelter for a fire around which hung on poles a various
assortment of utensils for camp.
"Hyar -- you git!" shouted Dale, and he threw a stick at
something. A bear cub scampered away in haste. He was small
and woolly and brown, and he grunted as he ran. Soon he
"That's Bud," said Dale, as the girls came up. "Guess he
near starved in my absence. An' now he wants everythin',
especially the sugar. We don't have sugar often up here."
"Isn't he dear? Oh, I love him!" cried Bo. "Come back, Bud.
The cub, however, kept his distance, watching Dale with
bright little eyes.
"Where's Mr. Roy?" asked Helen.
"Roy's gone. He was sorry not to say good-by. But it's
important he gets down in the pines on Anson's trail. He'll
hang to Anson, an' in case they get near Pine he'll ride in
to see where your uncle is."
"What do you expect?" questioned Helen, gravely.
"'Most anythin'," he replied. "Al, I reckon, knows now.
Maybe he's rustlin' into the mountains by this time. If he
meets up with Anson, well an' good, for Roy won't be far
off. An' sure if he runs across Roy, why they'll soon be
here. But if I were you I wouldn't count on seein' your
uncle very soon. I'm sorry. I've done my best. It sure is a
"Don't think me ungracious," replied Helen, hastily. How
plainly he had intimated that it must be privation and
annoyance for her to be compelled to accept his hospitality!
"You are good -- kind. I owe you much. I'll be eternally
Dale straightened as he looked at her. His glance was
intent, piercing. He seemed to be receiving a strange or
unusual portent. No need for him to say he had never before
been spoken to like that!
"You may have to stay here with me -- for weeks -- maybe
months -- if we've the bad luck to get snowed in," he said,
slowly, as if startled at this deduction. "You're safe here.
No sheep-thief could ever find this camp. I'll take risks to
get you safe into Al's hands. But I'm goin' to be pretty
sure about what I'm doin'. . . . So -- there's plenty to eat
an' it's a pretty place."
"Pretty! Why, it's grand!" exclaimed Bo. "I've called it
"Paradise Park," he repeated, weighing the words. "You've
named it an' also the creek. Paradise Creek! I've been here
twelve years with no fit name for my home till you said
"Oh, that pleases me!" returned Bo, with shining eyes.
"Eat now," said Dale. "An' I reckon you'll like that
There was a clean tarpaulin upon which were spread steaming,
fragrant pans -- roast turkey, hot biscuits and gravy,
mashed potatoes as white as if prepared at home, stewed
dried apples, and butter and coffee. This bounteous repast
surprised and delighted the girls; when they had once tasted
the roast wild turkey, then Milt Dale had occasion to blush
at their encomiums.
"I hope -- Uncle Al -- doesn't come for a month," declared
Bo, as she tried to get her breath. There was a brown spot
on her nose and one on each cheek, suspiciously close to her
Dale laughed. It was pleasant to hear him, for his laugh
seemed unused and deep, as if it came from tranquil depths.
"Won't you eat with us?" asked Helen.
"Reckon I will," he said. "it'll save time, an' hot grub
Quite an interval of silence ensued, which presently was
broken by Dale.
"Here comes Tom."
Helen observed with a thrill that the cougar was
magnificent, seen erect on all-fours, approaching with slow,
sinuous grace. His color was tawny, with spots of whitish
gray. He had bow-legs, big and round and furry, and a huge
head with great tawny eyes. No matter how tame he was said
to be, he looked wild. Like a dog he walked right up, and it
so happened that he was directly behind Bo, within reach of
her when she turned.
"Oh, Lord!" cried Bo, and up went both of her hands, in one
of which was a huge piece of turkey. Tom took it, not
viciously, but nevertheless with a snap that made Helen
jump. As if by magic the turkey vanished. And Tom took a
closer step toward Bo. Her expression of fright changed to
"He stole my turkey!"
"Tom, come here," ordered Dale, sharply. The cougar glided
round rather sheepishly. "Now lie down an' behave."
Tom crouched on all-fours, his head resting on his paws,
with his beautiful tawny eyes, light and piercing, fixed
upon the hunter.
"Don't grab," said Dale, holding out a piece of turkey.
Whereupon Tom took it less voraciously.
As it happened, the little bear cub saw this transaction,
and he plainly indicated his opinion of the preference shown
"Oh, the dear!" exclaimed Bo. "He means it's not fair. . . .
Come, Bud -- come on."
But Bud would not approach the group until called by Dale.
Then he scrambled to them with every manifestation of
delight. Bo almost forgot her own needs in feeding him and
getting acquainted with him. Tom plainly showed his jealousy
of Bud, and Bud likewise showed his fear of the great cat.
Helen could not believe the evidence of her eyes -- that she
was in the woods calmly and hungrily partaking of sweet,
wild-flavored meat -- that a full-grown mountain lion lay on
one side of her and a baby brown bear sat on the other --
that a strange hunter, a man of the forest, there in his
lonely and isolated fastness, appealed to the romance in her
and interested her as no one else she had ever met.
When the wonderful meal was at last finished Bo enticed the
bear cub around to the camp of the girls, and there soon
became great comrades with him. Helen, watching Bo play, was
inclined to envy her. No matter where Bo was placed, she
always got something out of it. She adapted herself. She,
who could have a good time with almost any one or anything,
would find the hours sweet and fleeting in this beautiful
park of wild wonders.
But merely objective actions -- merely physical movements,
had never yet contented Helen. She could run and climb and
ride and play with hearty and healthy abandon, but those
things would not suffice long for her, and her mind needed
food. Helen was a thinker. One reason she had desired to
make her home in the West was that by taking up a life of
the open, of action, she might think and dream and brood
less. And here she was in the wild West, after the three
most strenuously active days of her career, and still the
same old giant revolved her mind and turned it upon herself
and upon all she saw.
"What can I do?" she asked Bo, almost helplessly.
"Why, rest, you silly!" retorted Bo. "You walk like an old,
crippled woman with only one leg."
Helen hoped the comparison was undeserved, but the advice
was sound. The blankets spread out on the grass looked
inviting and they felt comfortably warm in the sunshine. The
breeze was slow, languorous, fragrant, and it brought the
low hum of the murmuring waterfall, like a melody of bees.
Helen made a pillow and lay down to rest. The green
pine-needles, so thin and fine in their crisscross network,
showed clearly against the blue sky. She looked in vain for
birds. Then her gaze went. wonderingly to the lofty fringed
rim of the great amphitheater, and as she studied it she
began to grasp its remoteness, how far away it was in the
rarefied atmosphere. A black eagle, sweeping along, looked
of tiny size, and yet he was far under the heights above.
How pleasant she fancied it to be up there! And drowsy fancy
lulled her to sleep.
Helen slept all afternoon, and upon awakening, toward
sunset, found Bo curled beside her. Dale had thoughtfully
covered them with a blanket; also he had built a camp-fire.
The air was growing keen and cold.
Later, when they had put their coats on and made comfortable
seats beside the fire, Dale came over, apparently to visit
"I reckon you can't sleep all the time," he said. "An' bein'
city girls, you'll get lonesome."
"Lonesome!" echoed Helen. The idea of her being lonesome
here had not occurred to her.
"I've thought that all out," went on Dale, as he sat down,
Indian fashion, before the blaze. "It's natural you'd find
time drag up here, bein' used to lots of people an'
goin's-on, an' work, an' all girls like."
"I'd never be lonesome here," replied Helen, with her direct
Dale did not betray surprise, but he showed that his mistake
was something to ponder over.
"Excuse me," he said, presently, as his gray eyes held hers.
"That's how I had it. As I remember girls -- an' it doesn't
seem long since I left home -- most of them would die of
lonesomeness up here." Then he addressed himself to Bo. "How
about you? You see, I figured you'd be the one that liked
it, an' your sister the one who wouldn't."
"I won't get lonesome very soon," replied Bo.
"I'm glad. It worried me some -- not ever havin' girls as
company before. An' in a day or so, when you're rested, I'll
help you pass the time."
Bo's eyes were full of flashing interest, and Helen asked
It was a sincere expression of her curiosity and not
doubtful or ironic challenge of an educated woman to a man
of the forest. But as a challenge he took it.
"How!" he repeated, and a strange smile flitted across his
face. "Why, by givin' you rides an' climbs to beautiful
places. An' then, if you're interested,' to show you how
little so-called civilized people know of nature."
Helen realized then that whatever his calling, hunter or
wanderer or hermit, he was not uneducated, even if he
"I'll be happy to learn from you," she said.
"Me, too!" chimed in Bo. "You can't tell too much to any one
He smiled, and that warmed Helen to him, for then he seemed
less removed from other people. About this hunter there
began to be something of the very nature of which he spoke
-- a stillness, aloofness, an unbreakable tranquillity, a
cold, clear spirit like that in the mountain air, a physical
something not unlike the tamed wildness of his pets or the
strength of the pines.
"I'll bet I can tell you more 'n you'll ever remember," he
"What 'll you bet?" retorted Bo.
"Well, more roast turkey against -- say somethin' nice when
you're safe an' home to your uncle Al's, runnin' his ranch."
"Agreed. Nell, you hear?"
Helen nodded her head.
"All right. We'll leave it to Nell," began Dale, half
seriously. "Now I'll tell you, first, for the fun of passin'
time we'll ride an' race my horses out in the park. An'
we'll fish in the brooks an' hunt in the woods. There's an
old silvertip around that you can see me kill. An' we'll
climb to the peaks an' see wonderful sights. . . . So much
for that. Now, if you really want to learn -- or if you only
want me to tell you -- well, that's no matter. Only I'll win
the bet! . . . You'll see how this park lies in the crater
of a volcano an' was once full of water -- an' how the snow
blows in on one side in winter, a hundred feet deep, when
there's none on the other. An' the trees -- how they grow
an' live an' fight one another an' depend on one another,
an' protect the forest from storm-winds. An' how they hold
the water that is the fountains of the great rivers. An' how
the creatures an' things that live in them or on them are
good for them, an' neither could live without the other. An'
then I'll show you my pets tame an' untamed, an' tell you
how it's man that makes any creature wild -- how easy they
are to tame -- an' how they learn to love you. An' there's
the life of the forest, the strife of it -- how the bear
lives, an' the cats, an' the wolves, an' the deer. You'll
see how cruel nature is how savage an' wild the wolf or
cougar tears down the deer -- how a wolf loves fresh, hot
blood, an' how a cougar unrolls the skin of a deer back from
his neck. An' you'll see that this cruelty of nature -- this
work of the wolf an' cougar -- is what makes the deer so
beautiful an' healthy an' swift an' sensitive. Without his
deadly foes the deer would deteriorate an' die out. An'
you'll see how this principle works out among all creatures
of the forest. Strife! It's the meanin' of all creation, an'
the salvation. If you're quick to see, you'll learn that the
nature here in the wilds is the same as that of men -- only
men are no longer cannibals. Trees fight to live -- birds
fight -- animals fight -- men fight. They all live off one
another. An' it's this fightin' that brings them all closer
an' closer to bein' perfect. But nothin' will ever be
"But how about religion?" interrupted Helen, earnestly.
"Nature has a religion, an' it's to live -- to grow -- to
reproduce, each of its kind."
"But that is not God or the immortality of the soul,"
"Well, it's as close to God an' immortality as nature ever
"Oh, you would rob me of my religion!"
"No, I just talk as I see life," replied Dale, reflectively,
as he poked a stick into the red embers of the fire. "Maybe
I have a religion. I don't know. But it's not the kind you
have -- not the Bible kind. That kind doesn't keep the men
in Pine an' Snowdrop an' all over -- sheepmen an' ranchers
an' farmers an' travelers, such as I've known -- the
religion they profess doesn't keep them from lyin',
cheatin', stealin', an' killin'. I reckon no man who lives
as I do -- which perhaps is my religion -- will lie or cheat
or steal or kill, unless it's to kill in self-defense or
like I'd do if Snake Anson would ride up here now. My
religion, maybe, is love of life -- wild life as it was in
the beginnin' -- an' the wind that blows secrets from
everywhere, an' the water that sings all day an' night, an'
the stars that shine constant, an' the trees that speak
somehow, an' the rocks that aren't dead. I'm never alone
here or on the trails. There's somethin' unseen, but always
with me. An' that's It! Call it God if you like. But what
stalls me is -- where was that Spirit when this earth was a
ball of fiery gas? Where will that Spirit be when all life
is frozen out or burned out on this globe an' it hangs dead
in space like the moon? That time will come. There's no
waste in nature. Not the littlest atom is destroyed. It
changes, that's all, as you see this pine wood go up in
smoke an' feel somethin' that's heat come out of it. Where
does that go? It's not lost. Nothin' is lost. So, the
beautiful an' savin' thought is, maybe all rock an' wood,
water an' blood an' flesh, are resolved back into the
elements, to come to life somewhere again sometime."
"Oh, what you say is wonderful, but it's terrible!"
exclaimed Helen. He had struck deep into her soul.
"Terrible? I reckon," he replied, sadly.
Then ensued a little interval of silence.
"Milt Dale, I lose the bet," declared Bo, with earnestness
behind her frivolity.
"I'd forgotten that. Reckon I talked a lot," he said,
apologetically. "You see, I don't get much chance to talk,
except to myself or Tom. Years ago, when I found the habit
of silence settlin' down on me, I took to thinkin' out loud
an' talkin' to anythin'."
"I could listen to you all night," returned Bo, dreamily.
"Do you read -- do you have books?" inquired Helen,
"Yes, I read tolerable well; a good deal better than I talk
or write," he replied. "I went to school till I was fifteen.
Always hated study, but liked to read. Years ago an old
friend of mine down here at Pine -- Widow Cass -- she gave
me a lot of old books. An' I packed them up here. Winter's
the time I read."
Conversation lagged after that, except for desultory
remarks, and presently Dale bade the girls good night and
left them. Helen watched his tall form vanish in the gloom
under the pines, and after he had disappeared she still
"Nell!" called Bo, shrilly. "I've called you three times. I
want to go to bed."
"Oh! I -- I was thinking," rejoined Helen, half embarrassed,
half wondering at herself. "I didn't hear you."
"I should smile you didn't," retorted Bo. "Wish you could
just have seen your eyes. Nell, do you want me to tell you
"Why -- yes," said Helen, rather feebly. She did not at all,
when Bo talked like that.
"You're going to fall in love with that wild hunter,"
declared Bo in a voice that rang like a bell.
Helen was not only amazed, but enraged. She caught her
breath preparatory to giving this incorrigible sister a
piece of her mind. Bo went calmly on.
"I can feel it in my bones."
"Bo, you're a little fool -- a sentimental, romancing, gushy
little fool!" retorted Helen. "All you seem to hold in your
head is some rot about love. To hear you talk one would
think there's nothing else in the world but love."
Bo's eyes were bright, shrewd, affectionate, and laughing as
she bent their steady gaze upon Helen.
"Nell, that's just it. There IS nothing else!"
The night of sleep was so short that it was difficult for
Helen to believe that hours had passed. Bo appeared livelier
this morning, with less complaint of aches.
"Nell, you've got color!" exclaimed Bo. "And your eyes are
bright. Isn't the morning perfectly lovely? . . . Couldn't
you get drunk on that air? I smell flowers. And oh! I'm
"Bo, our host will soon have need of his hunting abilities
if your appetite holds," said Helen, as she tried to keep
her hair out of her eyes while she laced her boots.
"Look! there's a big dog -- a hound."
Helen looked as Bo directed, and saw a hound of unusually
large proportions, black and tan in color, with long,
drooping ears. Curiously he trotted nearer to the door of
their hut and then stopped to gaze at them. His head was
noble, his eyes shone dark and sad. He seemed neither
friendly nor unfriendly.
"Hello, doggie! Come right in -- we won't hurt you," called
Bo, but without enthusiasm.
This made Helen laugh. "Bo, you're simply delicious," she
said. "You're afraid of that dog."
"Sure. Wonder if he's Dale's. Of course he must be."
Presently the hound trotted away out of sight. When the
girls presented themselves at the camp-fire they espied
their curious canine visitor lying down. His ears were so
long that half of them lay on the ground.
"I sent Pedro over to wake you girls up," said Dale, after
greeting them. "Did he scare you?"
"Pedro. So that's his name. No, he didn't exactly scare me.
He did Nell, though. She's an awful tenderfoot," replied Bo.
"He's a splendid-looking dog," said Helen, ignoring her
sister's sally. "I love dogs. Will he make friends?"
"He's shy an' wild. You see, when I leave camp he won't hang
around. He an' Tom are jealous of each other. I had a pack
of hounds an' lost all but Pedro on account of Tom. I think
you can make friends with Pedro. Try it."
Whereupon Helen made overtures to Pedro, and not wholly in
vain. The dog was matured, of almost stern aloofness, and
manifestly not used to people. His deep, wine-dark eyes
seemed to search Helen's soul. They were honest and wise,
with a strange sadness.
"He looks intelligent," observed Helen, as she smoothed the
long, dark ears.
"That hound is nigh human," responded Dale. "Come, an' while
you eat I'll tell you about Pedro."
Dale had gotten the hound as a pup from a Mexican
sheep-herder who claimed he was part California bloodhound.
He grew up, becoming attached to Dale. In his younger days
he did not get along well with Dale's other pets and Dale
gave him to a rancher down in the valley. Pedro was back in
Dale's camp next day. From that day Dale began to care more
for the hound, but he did not want to keep him, for various
reasons, chief of which was the fact that Pedro was too fine
a dog to be left alone half the time to shift for himself.
That fall Dale had need to go to the farthest village,
Snowdrop, where he left Pedro with a friend. Then Dale rode
to Show Down and Pine, and the camp of the Beemans' and with
them he trailed some wild horses for a hundred miles, over
into New Mexico. The snow was flying when Dale got back to
his camp in the mountains. And there was Pedro, gaunt and
worn, overjoyed to welcome him home. Roy Beeman visited Dale
that October and told that Dale's friend in Snowdrop had not
been able to keep Pedro. He broke a chain and scaled a
ten-foot fence to escape. He trailed Dale to Show Down,
where one of Dale's friends, recognizing the hound, caught
him, and meant to keep him until Dale's return. But Pedro
refused to eat. It happened that a freighter was going out
to the Beeman camp, and Dale's friend boxed Pedro up and put
him on the wagon. Pedro broke out of the box, returned to
Show Down, took up Dale's trail to Pine, and then on to the
Beeman camp. That was as far as Roy could trace the
movements of the hound. But he believed, and so did Dale,
that Pedro had trailed them out on the wild-horse hunt. The
following spring Dale learned more from the herder of a
sheepman at whose camp he and the Beemans; had rested on the
way into New Mexico. It appeared that after Dale had left
this camp Pedro had arrived, and another Mexican herder had
stolen the hound. But Pedro got away.
"An' he was here when I arrived," concluded Dale, smiling.
"I never wanted to get rid of him after that. He's turned
out to be the finest dog I ever knew. He knows what I say.
He can almost talk. An' I swear he can cry. He does whenever
I start off without him."
"How perfectly wonderful!" exclaimed Bo. "Aren't animals
great? . . . But I love horses best."
It seemed to Helen that Pedro understood they were talking
about him, for he looked ashamed, and swallowed hard, and
dropped his gaze. She knew something of the truth about the
love of dogs for their owners. This story of Dale's,
however, was stranger than any she had ever heard.
Tom, the cougar, put in an appearance then, and there was
scarcely love in the tawny eyes he bent upon Pedro. But the
hound did not deign to notice him. Tom sidled up to Bo, who
sat on the farther side of the tarpaulin table-cloth, and
manifestly wanted part of her breakfast.
"Gee! I love the look of him," she said. "But when he's
close he makes my flesh creep."
"Beasts are as queer as people," observed Dale. "They take
likes an' dislikes. I believe Tom has taken a shine to you
an' Pedro begins to be interested in your sister. I can
"Where's Bud?" inquired Bo.
"He's asleep or around somewhere. Now, soon as I get the
work done, what would you girls like to do?"
"Ride!" declared Bo, eagerly.
"Aren't you sore an' stiff?"
"I am that. But I don't care. Besides, when I used to go out
to my uncle's farm near Saint Joe I always found riding to
be a cure for aches."
"Sure is, if you can stand it. An' what will your sister
like to do?" returned Dale, turning to Helen.
"Oh, I'll rest, and watch you folks -- and dream," replied
"But after you've rested you must be active," said Dale,
seriously. "You must do things. It doesn't matter what, just
as long as you don't sit idle."
"Why?" queried Helen, in surprise. "Why not be idle here in
this beautiful, wild place? just to dream away the hours --
the days! I could do it."
"But you mustn't. It took me years to learn how bad that was
for me. An' right now I would love nothin' more than to
forget my work, my horses an' pets -- everythin', an' just
lay around, seein' an' feelin'."
"Seeing and feeling? Yes, that must be what I mean. But why
-- what is it? There are the beauty and color -- the wild,
shaggy slopes -- the gray cliffs -- the singing wind -- the
lulling water -- the clouds -- the sky. And the silence,
loneliness, sweetness of it all."
"It's a driftin' back. What I love to do an' yet fear most.
It's what makes a lone hunter of a man. An' it can grow so
strong that it binds a man to the wilds."
"How strange!" murmured Helen. "But that could never bind
ME. Why, I must live and fulfil my mission, my work in the
It seemed to Helen that Dale almost imperceptibly shrank at
her earnest words.
"The ways of Nature are strange," he said. "I look at it
different. Nature's just as keen to wean you back to a
savage state as you are to be civilized. An' if Nature won,
you would carry out her design all the better."
This hunter's talk shocked Helen and yet stimulated her
"Me -- a savage? Oh no!" she exclaimed. "But, if that were
possible, what would Nature's design be?"
"You spoke of your mission in life," he replied. "A woman's
mission is to have children. The female of any species has
only one mission -- to reproduce its kind. An' Nature has
only one mission -- toward greater strength, virility,
efficiency -- absolute perfection, which is unattainable."
"What of mental and spiritual development of man and woman?"
"Both are direct obstacles to the design of Nature. Nature
is physical. To create for limitless endurance for eternal
life. That must be Nature's inscrutable design. An' why she
"But the soul!" whispered Helen.
"Ah! When you speak of the soul an' I speak of life we mean
the same. You an' I will have some talks while you're here.
I must brush up my thoughts."
"So must I, it seems," said Helen, with a slow smile. She
had been rendered grave and thoughtful. "But I guess I'll
risk dreaming under the pines."
Bo had been watching them with her keen blue eyes.
"Nell, it'd take a thousand years to make a savage of you,"
she said. "But a week will do for me."
"Bo, you were one before you left Saint Joe," replied Helen.
"Don't you remember that school-teacher Barnes who said you
were a wildcat and an Indian mixed? He spanked you with a
"Never! He missed me," retorted Bo, with red in her cheeks.
"Nell, I wish you'd not tell things about me when I was a
"That was only two years ago," expostulated Helen, in mild
"Suppose it was. I was a kid all right. I'll bet you -" Bo
broke up abruptly, and, tossing her head, she gave Tom a pat
and then ran away around the corner of cliff wall.
Helen followed leisurely.
"Say, Nell," said Bo, when Helen arrived at their little
green ledge-pole hut, "do you know that hunter fellow will
upset some of your theories?"
"Maybe. I'll admit he amazes me -- and affronts me, too, I'm
afraid," replied Helen. "What surprises me is that in spite
of his evident lack of schooling he's not raw or crude. He's
"Sister dear, wake up. The man's wonderful. You can learn
more from him than you ever learned in your life. So can I.
I always hated books, anyway."
When, a little later, Dale approached carrying some bridles,
the hound Pedro trotted at his heels.
"I reckon you'd better ride the horse you had," he said to
"Whatever you say. But I hope you let me ride them all, by
"Sure. I've a mustang out there you'll like. But he pitches
a little," he rejoined, and turned away toward the park. The
hound looked after him and then at Helen.
"Come, Pedro. Stay with me," called Helen.
Dale, hearing her, motioned the hound back. Obediently Pedro
trotted to her, still shy and soberly watchful, as if not
sure of her intentions, but with something of friendliness
about him now. Helen found a soft, restful seat in the sun
facing the park, and there composed herself for what she
felt would be slow, sweet, idle hours. Pedro curled down
beside her. The tall form of Dale stalked across the park,
out toward the straggling horses. Again she saw a deer
grazing among them. How erect and motionless it stood
watching Dale! Presently it bounded away toward the edge of
the forest. Some of the horses whistled and ran, kicking
heels high in the air. The shrill whistles rang clear in the
"Gee! Look at them go!" exclaimed Bo, gleefully, coming up
to where Helen sat. Bo threw herself down upon the fragrant
pine-needles and stretched herself languorously, like a lazy
kitten. There was something feline in her lithe, graceful
outline. She lay flat and looked up through the pines.
"Wouldn't it be great, now," she murmured, dreamily, half to
herself, "if that Las Vegas cowboy would happen somehow to
come, and then an earthquake would shut us up here in this
Paradise valley so we'd never get out?"
"Bo! What would mother say to such talk as that?" gasped
"But, Nell, wouldn't it be great?"
"It would be terrible."
"Oh, there never was any romance in you, Nell Rayner,"
replied Bo. "That very thing has actually happened out here
in this wonderful country of wild places. You need not tell
me! Sure it's happened. With the cliff-dwellers and the
Indians and then white people. Every place I look makes me
feel that. Nell, you'd have to see people in the moon
through a telescope before you'd believe that."
"I'm practical and sensible, thank goodness!"
"But, for the sake of argument," protested Bo, with flashing
eyes, "suppose it MIGHT happen. Just to please me, suppose
we DID get shut up here with Dale and that cowboy we saw
from the train. Shut in without any hope of ever climbing
out. . . . What would you do? Would you give up and pine
away and die? Or would you fight for life and whatever joy
it might mean?"
"Self-preservation is the first instinct," replied Helen,
surprised at a strange, deep thrill in the depths of her.
"I'd fight for life, of course."
"Yes. Well, really, when I think seriously I don't want
anything like that to happen. But, just the same, if it DID
happen I would glory in it."
While they were talking Dale returned with the horses.
"Can you bridle an' saddle your own horse?" he asked.
"No. I'm ashamed to say I can't," replied Bo.
"Time to learn then. Come on. Watch me first when I saddle
Bo was all eyes while Dale slipped off the bridle from his
horse and then with slow, plain action readjusted it. Next
he smoothed the back of the horse, shook out the blanket,
and, folding it half over, he threw it in place, being
careful to explain to Bo just the right position. He lifted
his saddle in a certain way and put that in place, and then
he tightened the cinches.
"Now you try," he said.
According to Helen's judgment Bo might have been a Western
girl all her days. But Dale shook his head and made her do
"That was better. Of course, the saddle is too heavy for you
to sling it up. You can learn that with a light one. Now put
the bridle on again. Don't be afraid of your hands. He won't
bite. Slip the bit in sideways. . . . There. Now let's see
When Bo got into the saddle Dale continued: "You went up
quick an' light, but the wrong way. Watch me."
Bo had to mount several times before Dale was satisfied.
Then he told her to ride off a little distance. When Bo had
gotten out of earshot Dale said to Helen: "She'll take to a
horse like a duck takes to water." Then, mounting, he rode
out after her.
Helen watched them trotting and galloping and running the
horses round the grassy park, and rather regretted she had
not gone with them. Eventually Bo rode back, to dismount and
fling herself down, red-cheeked and radiant, with disheveled
hair, and curls damp on her temples. How alive she seemed!
Helen's senses thrilled with the grace and charm and
vitality of this surprising sister, and she was aware of a
sheer physical joy in her presence. Bo rested, but she did
not rest long. She was soon off to play with Bud. Then she
coaxed the tame doe to eat out of her hand. She dragged
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