The Man of the Forest (Chapter 9, page 1 of 13)


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Chapter 9

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 found.

"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 on."

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.

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