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- Tales of Trail and Town - 30/36 -
hero he was, even if he did not fulfill her ideal,--it was only SHE that was not a heroine. Perhaps if he had been more like what she wished she would have felt this less keenly; love leaves little room for the exercise of moral ethics. So Miss Amy Forester, being a good girl at bottom, and not exactly loving this man, felt towards him a frank and tender consideration which a more romantic passion would have shrunk from showing. Consequently, when Tenbrook entered a moment later, he found Amy paler and more thoughtful, but, as he fancied, much prettier than before, looking up at him with eyes of the sincerest solicitude.
Nevertheless, he remained standing near the door, as if indicating a possible intrusion, his face wearing a look of lowering abstraction. It struck her that this might be the effect of his long hair and general uncouthness, and this only spurred her to a fuller recognition of his other qualities.
"I am afraid," she began, with a charming embarrassment, "that instead of resting satisfied with your kindness in carrying me up here, I will have to burden you again with my dreadful weakness, and ask you to carry me down also. But all this seems so little after what you have just done and for which I can never, NEVER hope to thank you!" She clasped her two little hands together, holding her gloves between, and brought them down upon her lap in a gesture as prettily helpless as it was unaffected.
"I have done scarcely anything," he said, glancing away towards the fire, "and--your father has thanked me."
"You have saved my life!"
"No! no!" he said quickly. "Not that! You were in no danger, except from my rifle, had I missed."
"I see," she said eagerly, with a little posthumous thrill at having been after all a kind of heroine, "and it was a wonderful shot, for you were so careful not to touch me."
"Please don't say any more," he said, with a slight movement of half awkwardness, half impatience. "It was a rough job, but it's over now."
He stopped and chafed his red hands abstractedly together. She could see that he had evidently just washed them--and the glaring ring was more in evidence than ever. But the thought gave her an inspiration.
"You'll at least let me shake hands with you!" she said, extending both her own with childish frankness.
"Hold on, Miss Forester," he said, with sudden desperation. "It ain't the square thing! Look here! I can't play this thing on you!--I can't let you play it on me any longer! You weren't in any danger,--you NEVER were! That bear was only a half-wild thing I helped to ra'r myself! It's taken sugar from my hand night after night at the door of this cabin as it might have taken it from yours here if it was alive now. It slept night after night in the brush, not fifty yards away. The morning's never come yet--till now," he said hastily, to cover an odd break in his voice, "when it didn't brush along the whole side of this cabin to kinder wake me up and say 'So long,' afore it browsed away into the canyon. Thar ain't a man along the whole Divide who didn't know it; thar ain't a man along the whole Divide that would have drawn a bead or pulled a trigger on it till now. It never had an enemy but the bees; it never even knew why horses and cattle were frightened of it. It wasn't much of a pet, you'd say, Miss Forester; it wasn't much to meet a lady's eye; but we of the woods must take our friends where we find 'em and of our own kind. It ain't no fault of yours, Miss, that you didn't know it; it ain't no fault of yours what happened; but when it comes to your THANKING me for it, why--it's--it's rather rough, you see--and gets me." He stopped short as desperately and as abruptly as he had begun, and stared blankly at the fire.
A wave of pity and shame swept over the young girl and left its high tide on her cheek. But even then it was closely followed by the feminine instinct of defence and defiance. The REAL hero--the GENTLEMAN--she reasoned bitterly, would have spared her all this knowledge.
"But why," she said, with knitted brows, "why, if you knew it was so precious and so harmless--why did you fire upon it?"
"Because," he said almost fiercely, turning upon her, "because you SCREAMED, and THEN I KNEW IT HAD FRIGHTENED YOU!" He stopped instantly as she momentarily recoiled from him, but the very brusqueness of his action had dislodged a tear from his dark eyes that fell warm on the back of her hand, and seemed to blot out the indignity. "Listen, Miss," he went on hurriedly, as if to cover up his momentary unmanliness. "I knew the bear was missing to-night, and when I heard the horses scurrying about I reckoned what was up. I knew no harm could come to you, for the horses were unharnessed and away from the wagon. I pelted down that trail ahead of them all like grim death, calkilatin' to get there before the bear; they wouldn't have understood me; I was too high up to call to the creature when he did come out, and I kinder hoped you wouldn't see him. Even when he turned towards the wagon, I knew it wasn't YOU he was after, but suthin' else, and I kinder hoped, Miss, that you, being different and quicker-minded than the rest, would see it too. All the while them folks were yellin' behind me to fire--as if I didn't know my work. I was half-way down--and then you screamed! And then I forgot everything,--everything but standing clear of hitting you,--and I fired. I was that savage that I wanted to believe that he'd gone mad, and would have touched you, till I got down there and found the honey-pot lying alongside of him. But there,--it's all over now! I wouldn't have let on a word to you only I couldn't bear to take YOUR THANKS for it, and I couldn't bear to have you thinking me a brute for dodgin' them." He stopped, walked to the fire, leaned against the chimney under the shallow pretext of kicking the dull embers into a blaze, which, however, had only the effect of revealing his two glistening eyes as he turned back again and came towards her. "Well," he said, with an ineffectual laugh, "it's all over now, it's all in the day's work, I reckon,--and now, Miss, if you're ready, and will just fix yourself your own way so as to ride easy, I'll carry you down." And slightly bending his strong figure, he dropped on one knee beside her with extended arms.
Now it is one thing to be carried up a hill in temperate, unconscious blood and practical business fashion by a tall, powerful man with steadfast, glowering eyes, but quite another thing to be carried down again by the same man, who has been crying, and when you are conscious that you are going to cry too, and your tears may be apt to mingle. So Miss Amy Forester said: "Oh, wait, please! Sit down a moment. Oh, Mr. Tenbrook, I am so very, very sorry," and, clapping her hand to her eyes, burst into tears.
"Oh, please, please don't, Miss Forester," said Jack, sitting down on the end of the bunk with frightened eyes, "please don't do that! It ain't worth it. I'm only a brute to have said anything."
"No, no! You are SO noble, SO forgiving!" sobbed Miss Forester, "and I have made you go and kill the only thing you cared for, that was all your own."
"No, Miss,--not all my own, either,--and that makes it so rough. For it was only left in trust with me by a friend. It was her only companion."
"HER only companion?" echoed Miss Forester, sharply lifting her bowed head.
"Except," said Jack hurriedly, miscomprehending the emphasis with masculine fatuity,--"except the dying man for whom she lived and sacrificed her whole life. She gave me this ring, to always remind me of my trust. I suppose," he added ruefully, looking down upon it, "it's no use now. I'd better take it off."
Then Amy eyed the monstrous object with angelic simplicity. "I certainly should," she said with infinite sweetness; "it would only remind you of your loss. But," she added, with a sudden, swift, imploring look of her blue eyes, "if you could part with it to me, it would be such a reminder and token of--of your forgiveness."
Jack instantly handed it to her. "And now," he said, "let me carry you down."
"I think," she said hesitatingly, "that--I had better try to walk," and she rose to her feet.
"Then I shall know that you have not forgiven me," said Jack sadly.
"But I have no right to trouble"--
Alas! she had no time to finish her polite objection, for the next moment she felt herself lifted in the air, smelled the bark thatch within an inch of her nose, saw the firelight vanish behind her, and subsiding into his curved arms as in a hammock, the two passed forth into the night together.
"I can't find, your bracelet anywhere, Amy," said her father, when they reached the wagon.
"It was on the floor in the lint," said Amy reproachfully. "But, of course, you never thought of that!"
. . . . . .
My pen halts with some diffidence between two conclusions to this veracious chronicle. As they agree in result, though not in theory or intention, I may venture to give them both. To one coming from the lips of the charming heroine herself I naturally yield the precedence. "Oh, the bear story! I don't really remember whether that was before I was engaged to John or after. But I had known him for some time; father introduced him at the Governor's ball at Sacramento. Let me see!--I think it was in the winter of '56. Yes! it was very amusing; I always used to charge John with having trained that bear to attack our carriage so that he might come in as a hero! Oh, of course, there are a hundred absurd stories about him,--they used to say that he lived all alone in a cabin like a savage, and all that sort of thing, and was a friend of a dubious woman in the locality, whom the common people made a heroine of,-- Miggles, or Wiggles, or some such preposterous name. But look at John there; can you conceive it?" The listener, glancing at a very handsome, clean-shaven fellow, faultlessly attired, could not conceive such an absurdity. So I therefore simply give the opinion of Joshua Bixley, Superintendent of the Long Divide Tunnel Company, for what it is worth: "I never took much stock in that bear story, and its captivating old Forester's daughter. Old Forester knew a
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