The Man of the Forest (Chapter 8, page 1 of 15)

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Chapter 8

Once astride the horse again, Helen had to congratulate herself upon not being so crippled as she had imagined. Indeed, Bo made all the audible complaints.

Both girls had long water-proof coats, brand-new, and of which they were considerably proud. New clothes had not been a common event in their lives.

"Reckon I'll have to slit these," Dale had said, whipping out a huge knife.

"What for?" had been Bo's feeble protest.

"They wasn't made for ridin'. An' you'll get wet enough even if I do cut them. An' if I don't, you'll get soaked."

"Go ahead," had been Helen's reluctant permission.

So their long new coats were slit half-way up the back. The exigency of the case was manifest to Helen, when she saw how they came down over the cantles of the saddles and to their boot-tops.

The morning was gray and cold. A fine, misty rain fell and the trees dripped steadily. Helen was surprised to see the open country again and that apparently they were to leave the forest behind for a while. The country was wide and flat on the right, and to the left it rolled and heaved along a black, scalloped timber-line. Above this bordering of the forest low, drifting clouds obscured the mountains. The wind was at Helen's back and seemed to be growing stronger. Dale and Roy were ahead, traveling at a good trot, with the pack-animals bunched before them. Helen and Bo had enough to do to keep up.

The first hour's ride brought little change in weather or scenery, but it gave Helen an inkling of what she must endure if they kept that up all day. She began to welcome the places where the horses walked, but she disliked the levels. As for the descents, she hated those. Ranger would not go down slowly and the shake-up she received was unpleasant. Moreover, the spirited black horse insisted on jumping the ditches and washes. He sailed over them like a bird. Helen could not acquire the knack of sitting the saddle properly, and so, not only was her person bruised on these occasions, but her feelings were hurt. Helen had never before been conscious of vanity. Still, she had never rejoiced in looking at a disadvantage, and her exhibitions here must have been frightful. Bo always would forge to the front, and she seldom looked back, for which Helen was grateful.

Before long they struck into a broad, muddy belt, full of innumerable small hoof tracks. This, then, was the sheep trail Roy had advised following. They rode on it for three or four miles, and at length, coming to a gray-green valley, they saw a huge flock of sheep. Soon the air was full of bleats and baas as well as the odor of sheep, and a low, soft roar of pattering hoofs. The flock held a compact formation, covering several acres, and grazed along rapidly. There were three herders on horses and several pack-burros. Dale engaged one of the Mexicans in conversation, and passed something to him, then pointed northward and down along the trail. The Mexican grinned from ear to ear, and Helen caught the quick "SI, SENOR! GRACIAS, SENOR!" It was a pretty sight, that flock of sheep, as it rolled along like a rounded woolly stream of grays and browns and here and there a black. They were keeping to a trail over the flats. Dale headed into this trail and, if anything, trotted a little faster.

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