The Man of the Forest (Chapter 6, page 1 of 10)


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Chapter 6

The horses trotted. And the exercise soon warmed Helen, until she was fairly comfortable except in her fingers. In mind, however, she grew more miserable as she more fully realized her situation. The night now became so dark that, although the head of her horse was alongside the flank of Bo's, she could scarcely see Bo. From time to time Helen's anxious query brought from her sister the answer that she was all right.

Helen had not ridden a horse for more than a year, and for several years she had not ridden with any regularity. Despite her thrills upon mounting, she had entertained misgivings. But she was agreeably surprised, for the horse, Ranger, had an easy gait, and she found she had not forgotten how to ride. Bo, having been used to riding on a farm near home, might be expected to acquit herself admirably. It occurred to Helen what a plight they would have been in but for the thick, comfortable riding outfits.

Dark as the night was, Helen could dimly make out the road underneath. It was rocky, and apparently little used. When Dale turned off the road into the low brush or sage of what seemed a level plain, the traveling was harder, rougher, and yet no slower. The horses kept to the gait of the leaders. Helen, discovering it unnecessary, ceased attempting to guide Ranger. There were dim shapes in the gloom ahead, and always they gave Helen uneasiness, until closer approach proved them to be rocks or low, scrubby trees. These increased in both size and number as the horses progressed. Often Helen looked back into the gloom behind. This act was involuntary and occasioned her sensations of dread. Dale expected to be pursued. And Helen experienced, along with the dread, flashes of unfamiliar resentment. Not only was there an attempt afoot to rob her of her heritage, but even her personal liberty. Then she shuddered at the significance of Dale's words regarding her possible abduction by this hired gang. It seemed monstrous, impossible. Yet, manifestly it was true enough to Dale and his allies. The West, then, in reality was raw, hard, inevitable.

Suddenly her horse stopped. He had come up alongside Bo's horse. Dale had halted ahead, and apparently was listening. Roy and the pack-train were out of sight in the gloom.

"What is it?" whispered Helen.

"Reckon I heard a wolf," replied Dale.

"Was that cry a wolf's?" asked Bo. "I heard. It was wild."

"We're gettin' up close to the foot-hills," said Dale. "Feel how much colder the air is."

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