The Man of the Forest (Chapter 9, page 2 of 13)


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Chapter 9

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 there.

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 fast-fading sunset.

"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.

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