THE PATTERSON LIMIT
A Girl Fire-ranger Makes Good Complete in Two Issues
LAC ST. DENNIS rushed to meet Ray Lane with unexpected suddenness. The train A came to a grinding stop with a sibilant whistling of air released from the brakes. The girl gathered up her belongings and resolutely descended to the tiny station platform
She took swift note of her surroundings. The village offered nothing in the way of surprises. It was typical of its kind—a terrible blemish on the face of superlatively beautiful country, making one marvel at the generosity of God in sharing His creation with such worms as men— men, who not only accepted it with little or no gratitude, but despoiled it; who cut and burned His forests that they might build unspeakably hideous dwellings, and who scattered their spawn abroad to prey upon the children of the wilds.
The prominent buildings were a Magasin General, par Napoleon Dubois, an Hotel Ouimet, par Hyacinth Ouimet, and the office of the Patterson Pulp and Paper Company.
This last stood in the centre of a cluster of hovels that showed all the varying shades possible to lumber which had been left to withstand, unaided, the violence of wind and weather. These houses argued a paucity of imagina-
tion in the matter of architectural design, but displayed a startling degree of originality where their position was concerned. Some faced the road, some opened an untidy kitchen door thereon, and others stood at right angles or angles that were far from right.
The girl fought off the depression first impressions brought to her and hurried forward.
At that moment, Richard Devine, assistant to Jeremiah Cox, the limits manager, was submerged in the darkest of melancholy reflections. He had definitely decided that old Cox was an ass, and that life in the humble capacity of a clerk in the bush office of the Patterson Pulp and Paper Company held about the lowest ebb of monotonous existence.
He looked up and out of the window, vacantly at first, then a tremor starched his spine as he stared across the road over which the young woman was picking her steps. He held his breath, unable to believe that she was actually making her way directly to the office. Half turning on his
stool, he breathed very softly into Cox’s ear: “Compose yourself, good sir! The Day of Judgment is at hand! A flock of angels is already on its way. The shadow of the first one falls athwart our door. Look!”
The old man turned in time to see Ray run lightly up the steps and into the room.
“Are you the manager?” she asked.
Mr. Cox admitted the company’s good fortune with elaborate modesty. He was a short, rotund, pinkish little man, who looked like a middle-aged Kewpie, and he peered at the vision before him through his heavily ground spectacles, trying to look more business-like than curious or kind.
“I have come a good many miles to see you,” the girl continued, “for the purpose of offering my services as ranger on the Patterson limit. I hope the position is still vacant.”
Cox reeled. Whatever her object in coming, this was the last thing that he had suspected. Even Devine was jarred out of his accustomed complacency.
“You don’t mean that you want the job?” Cox managed to say.
"Very much! More than I ever wanted anything'in all my life'”
The old man was evidently undecided as to his best move; w hether to clout this lovely young lunatic over the head with an ink-well, or whether to humor her until a distracted attendant should trail her to the office and take her once more into custody.
He adopted a mealy tone. "But, my dear young lady I regret that what you ask is impossible. We could not consider a woman for the position. Fire-ranging is a man's job "
"So was acting, and doctoring, and legislating, and ambulance driving, and traffic regulating, and flying," she (lung back at him. eagerly, "yet women have proved their capabilities in all these spheres once they were given a chance’ Don't allow your prejudice to stand in the way of my appointment! Consider my qualifications, not my sex’"
"The two are so closely related as to be dependent the one or. the other." Cox returned, much pleased at this neat rejoinder. "In considering your application. I must necessarily consider your sex. and as a woman could not possibly do the work required of our ranger. 1 am afraid you've taken your trip for nothing."
The girl showed only the slightest suggestion of discouragement. and pluckily held her ground.
"I know the woods well." she pleaded. "1 was brought up in the forest and am perfectly familiar with the work and requirements of a fire-ranger. Indeed, I have held the position of of er er a sort of field assistant to one of the pioneers of the Forest Conservation mox-ement, and in that way 1 have acquired both practical and technical experience that the ordinary fire-ranger never gets Surely that counts for something.”
"Granting that it dot's, you are no nearer the position. The conditions here are peculiar and—well, frankly—I have no confidence in your ability to hold down the job."
RAY S sensitive, mobile face reflected the emotions that alternately possessed her. Her natural shyness gave way to courage, her desperation to confidence and back to desperation again. She was baffled and determined Failure seemed imminent, but she was resolved to achieve success. Job-hunting was a new venture for her. and while she was prepared to be received politely, she had no wish to strain courtesy too far. Above all, she had made up her mind to convince the Patterson manager of he: fitness for the position and she did not intend to leave until this had been accomplished. She stood silent A moment just looking at him.
And then, an almost imperceptible movement attracted her glance to the young man on the stool. He sat at her right, behind Mr. Cox and quite beyond his range of vision. Without turning her head Ray could see him, and as their eyes met, she recognized in his friendly glance a signal of explicit encouragement. It was as though he said. Go to it. friend if at first, you don’t succeed.. . the battering-ram method cannot fail!”
Ray's eyes flew back to the manager’s face. “It is a litt.“ difficult to sing one’s own praises so loudly,” she said, but I must convince you that I am a good woodsman and a capable ranger. Don’t I look as capable as any other applicant? I protest that I can swing an axe with the best of them."
Cox did not make an immediate answer. He was comparing her—contrasting her, rather—xvith the
wretched little specimen of a man called Therien, whose application was the only one he had been given an opportunity to consider. The result was a natural impulse to apologize to the g:rl.
He regarded her ashrewdly as he was able, and saw a tali, “lend“: figure, clad in a khaki camping costume—a r.eat box coat, short tight skirt and leather leggings. A khaki ram made no pretence to cover all her glittering hair. ;r, which red turned to gold, and gold to red again. Little puffy curls clustered over her ears, and Cox was reminded of his favorite picture, that of “Lorna Doone.” Her eyes were warm and brown, set wide apart, and suggesting the faintest hint of an Oriental slant at the corn-:- soft, but full of fire; expressive and yet mystical; and -hey were shaded by a generous fringe of long sweeping lashes. Fearless eyes, but not bold; eyes that could gee rr.u dr. that was invisible to ordinary sight, and eyes that possessed a strange compelling power.
Cox snifted a shade uneasily, flung a glance at her nose, and fell into an abstracted contemplation of her mouth. He fancied himself a psychologist if the truth must be known, and because he had no idea what course he should rake he was doubly anxious to appear thoroughly deter-
7he m uth w as a little large in line, but it did not have the effe t occupying the whole of the girl’s sensitive face. Ever, when .she talked, he had been no more than pleasantly conscious of it. Red as an autumn berry, it slipped into curves of speech and silence with equal gnat“, ar.d it harmonized with her complexion as richlycoloreu maple leaves harmonize with one another in the
Cox did his best to be firm. He produced a multitude of objections ar.d strengthened each with the announce-
ment, "So, you see, your appointment is quite out of the question!” Indeed, he achieved quite an impressive effect with these words, as though he were both clergyman and congregation chanting some weird and unfamiliar litany.
"The range is an exceptionally difficult one,
So, pon see, pour appointment is quite out of the
"It is only half blazed and requires a great deal of clearing.
So, pou see, pour appointment is quite out of the question!”
"It is two miles distant from the base of supplies,
So, pou see, pour appointment is quite out of the question!”
"The isolation—trying enough for a man, but impossible for a woman,
Makes pour application quite out of the question!”
"Moreover, the cabin occupied for several years by the deceased ranger, would be utterly unsuitable for you,tenanted, as I fear it is, with unmentionable lesser dependents of the legions Janisse!”
The girl wraved the first objections aside as though they were too trivial to warrant serious consideration, but at th mention of the cabin, she interrupted to say: “I
shouldn’t dream of dispossessing the ranger’s family. If there’s no other cabin, I can live in a tent. It wouldn’t be the first time!”
At this point, Cox’s protests became tinged with a sort of ferocious paternalism. He “dear young lady-ed” her, until Devine’s fingers itched to throttle him.
Later, he confessed that it was not only the irregularity of the thing, the probability of her failure, and the consequent criticism from head office, that made him reluctant to give her the job, but it was the conviction that in allowing this lovely young creature to subject herself to the discomforts and hardships, the danger from man and beast—“both man and beast, sir,”—living alone in the heart of the forest, he was false to the chivalry that was in him.
“There are some women who have to be saved from themselves,” he declared, sapiently, “and I shall not be surprised to find that our applicant is one of them.”
Mr. Cox had been bred in the city and he-could not overcome his shivering dread of the forest. The hoot of an owl in the moonlight would cause his scant pale hair to rise, the laughter of the loon would set his fat little body a-quiver, and the cry of the distant wolf would rouse him from the soundest slumber and bathe him in an icy sweat of terror.
He had never slept in the woods in his life and fervently hoped that he would never be required to do so.
That this girl, so young, so radiant, s.o beautiful, should consider sleeping in a tent, and virtually beyond the reach of human protection, produced in him a sensation that was not unlike physical sickness. However, he capitulated in a characteristic manner.
“The thing will never work,” he said, “Never! But so long as you are here, and there’s no train down until to-morrow afternoon, I don’t mind your having a look over the limit. If after that, you still think fire-ranging a woman’s job, drop in to see me again.”
A wonderful smile broke over the girl’s face, raising its ninety-eight per cent, attraction another two degrees.
“I may be busy to-morrow afternoon,” she said, “clearing a good location for my camp. It would be better to get the matter settled now before I leave the office.”
Old Cox had to smile in spite of himself.
“Only as a trial, mind!” he warned her. “There’s nothing definite or binding, you understand?”
“Yes, thank y ou, I understand.”
“What is your name?”
“Crump,” the girl replied, “Ann Crump.” With a dazzling smile, she went quickly from the office, as though afraid he might change his mind.
And after her departure, Mr. Cox’s thoughts took the form of a fervent pray er:—
“I hope,” he said within himself, “that Mr. Patterson wall delay his inspection trip until after the girl’s term of service is over.”
AT THE precise moment that Mr. Cox was offering up his silent pray er, Archer Patterson sat in his Toronto office doing his best to frustrate it. His every conscious thought resolved itself into a craving for the woods, and he was supported by the hope that before long he could arrange to spend several weeks on his St. Dennis limit.
The face of Ray Lane haunted him; he saw it everywhere, nebulous but vivid. Across the pages of his morning paper, against the calendar in his office, on the menu card at his club—upon w hatever object he fixed his gaze, her features persistently formed, and neither distraction nor effort of will seemed to effect more than their temporary banishment.
He felt that he had come to the end of his tether, that he must have some relief from the vicious round of
business and social obligations, or collapse. And there was no relief, he had learned after much experimental failing, save that to be found in the woods.
He had managed through the winter fairly well. From November to April, he was able to subdue the longing that would not be utterly extinguished, but with the coming of spring, old memories revived, more poignant than ever, and he knew that this hunger for the forest was the result of a mad desire to bring back days that belonged to the dead past.
He sat at his desk absently turning the leaves of the calendar that lay before him. Like a detached spectator, he was reviewing a scene that had occurred in this very office seven years previous, when, standing before the chair in which he now sat, Archer Patterson had given to Fort Conservation his first serious thought.
He remembered he had strolled tolerantly into his father’s room as one who confers a favor.
“You sent for me, father?” he had asked.
“Yes, my son, I want to speak to you about your summer plans.”
He remembered wondering if the time was ripe for mentioning a trip up the Great Lakes in Dan Somerville’s yacht, or the purchase of a houseboat for the purpose of dawdling along the St. Clair Flats. There'was a girl he had met at the graduation shindy who thought that would be a splendid way of spending the summer. And, of course, there was the matter of a few bills for preand postgraduate affairs that would need to be mentioned at some time. But he had hesitated.
“I have completed your summer plans, Archer,” the older man had said. “I have arranged for you to go camping.”
“Camping?” he had echoed blankly. “But Somerville is expecting me to go cruising with him down the St. Lawrence. We’ll be gone about five weeks, sir.... ”
“The camping trip will occupy a somewhat longer period,” his father had interrupted. “I think you will find it both beneficial and enjoyable.”
“But, father,....” he had stammered, “where.... what party.... who will be. . . . ?”
“I want, you to learn something of timber in general and our limits in particular. I suppose that your passion for serious study must have been relieved by an occasional lapse, as, for instance, a casual reflection upon your future. Did you never think of succeeding to the business?”
As a matter of fact, young Patterson had not. His ideas had been too large, too vague, to be limited by the Patterson Pulp and Paper Company. He had thought that promoting, or organizing, or even representing Governments— something of that sort—would do very well later on—much later on!
“Our New Brunswick property is, I think, exceptionally valuable,” his father went on, ignoring his grumpy silence, “although no accurate estimate has ever been placed upon it. Your party will camp there, and will consist of a man named Lane and as many guides as he sees fit to employ. Lane has big ideas, especially about forestry. For some ten years now, he has been carrying on, almost single-handed, a campaign against wastage of timber. He converted me last year to the need for greater protection and scientific conservation; judicious clearing; the building of look-outs; the installation of rangers who know their work; and that is the knowledge I should like you to acquire, for the day will come when you won’t be able to raise a dollar of insurance on limits thatare not adequately protected. At the same time I feel convinced you will enjoy yourself. Y'ou can’thelp liking Lane. He is one of the finest fellows I know—the type of man I should like my son to be.”
1 OOKING back on that epoch-making summer, Archer Patterson saw a very surly young camper setting out a few days later, and he wondered why his father had not kicked him into a more plastic frame of mind.
The violent expressions of regret, wired, telephoned, and written by Somerville and others of his party, served to mitigate but slightly the harshness of fate. Every tree that flashed past the Pullman window added to his bitterness of spirit, and he damned forest conservation perfervidly.
Lane met him. He had resolved to dislike the man and to show his indifference towards all that he represented: doubtless an uncouth, unshaven, illiterate sort of person; rugged, nearly honest, loud-voiced and free of speech and manner.
Imagination could hardly have led him farther astray. Indeed, so opposed to his idea was the man himself, that Patterson suffered a violent revulsion of feeling and doubted that anyone so good-looking, so well-groomed, so fastidious could be a real woodsman, after all.
“Y ou are Patterson, of course," Lane had said. "Couldn't fail to recognize you by your likeness to your father. My name is Lane." He caught the other s hand in a cordial clasp. "Hope you w on’t mind stretching your legs a bit. The natives believe in the virtue of exercise consequently the livery service is somewhat uncertain." Archer Patterson muttered his disgust. Tire station
was the only building that stood between him and what seemed an infinity of rolling hills.
“Leave your traps on the platform and one of the boys will see to them, later. By Jove, but it’s good to find a man who knows how little to include in his camping kit! It’s quite a problem to be confronted with steamer trunks, telescopes, and dunnage bags, packed w ith such oddments as folding baths, hammocks, amateurish ideas of fishing tackle and hunting equipment, delicacies in the way of bottled food, and the family portrait gallery!”
Patterson lit a cigarette. He did not explain that the meagerness of his luggage was due, not so much to a profound knowledge of a camper’s requirements, as to a determination to avoid a lengthy stay in the woods, and he followed Lane from the platform rather like a small boy going to school on the morning after a holiday.
They walked along a country road, quiet and fragrant, coming presently upon a sapphire lake that lay placid in the waning light of afternoon.
“Yonder,” said the older man, indicating the opposite shore, where trees of various greens pushed their soft foliage into the fleecy clouds, “yonder, lies your timber. I must say I never saw a finer limit.”
“The Devil took him up into a high mountain”.... Patterson mumbled, although not so disagreeably as he had intended.
Lane shot him a swift glance—a glance that spoke of sympathy as well as understanding—a glance that lacked resentment, and the subject of timber died suddenly.
DURING the next half hour, Patterson found his companion was by no means illiterate; he possessed a store of knowledge that put his own scant college gleanings to shame, and yet so modestly did he display it that Patterson was never embarrassed by his own ignorance.
As a rule, Lane talked little and listened well, and his silence was always fruitful. He dreamed, it is true, but he also planned and executed. When he had anything to say, he said it fluently, enthusiastically, and convincingly.
Not that Patterson was to be weaned from his antagonistic attitude so early in their association. As they paddled lazily across the lake, he took a good deal of trouble to impress Lane with the fact that neither the timber nor an expert’s appreciation of it roused a spark of interest in him.
“You may as well know at the start,” said he, “that I can’t tell a jackpine from a balsam, nor a birch from a beech, and I don’t care a damn. This was my father’s idea— this trip. It spoiled a perfectly good summer for me!”
“Rotten luck,” said Lane, with such genuine sympathy that the other flushed and felt impelled to change the subject.
Presently, they had a swim and then set out for camp with scarcely more truculence on Patterson’s part than his pride deemed necessary.
The forest closed round them with startling suddenness. It was dark, and damp, and very still. The ground was clothed with small, insipid red berries, and strewn with oozing, moss-covered rocks, upon which the new-comer frequently stumbled.
He had no idea how Lane could find his way through the maze of evergreens, watery maples and silver birches. He had lost all sense of direction and simply plunged after his guide as rapidly as he could.
His ill-humor returned, intensified a thousand-fold. Not only did he find the going very difficult and tiring, but clouds of mosquitoes and black flies rose at every step and settled upon him. He began to feel like a bull frenzied by darts that he could not remove and could not escape. He beat his arms about and cursed—large, well-thought out, all-comprehensive oaths.
“We’re nearly home,” cheered Lane, over his shoulder. “Ray will give you something for the bites and, magically, they will disappear. She wrung many a valuable herb secret from an old Abenakis squaw', merely by promising not to tell and never to sell them. A first-class medicine man is Ray.”
Patterson did not know who Ray was and did not care,
but if she could relieve the sting of a million red-hot needles in his face, neck, hands and ankles, he had no more ardent wish than to reach her.
“Smell the supper?” asked Lake. “Coffee and bacon and flap-jacks with maple syrup. . . Come along. . . one good spurt . . and we’re there!”
The glow of a camp fire flared through the gathering dusk. A dog barked. Patteison heard the splutter of frying grease.
“That you, Jimmie?” a girl’s voice called. “You see, I’ve timed supper to the dot.”
“Good little chumster,” cried Lane. “Speaking for myself, I’m ready to devour anything that bears the slightest resemblance to food. But I expect our guest here will feel hungrier after the application of some of your famous Abenakis ointment. The flies have given him a warm reception. Patterson, this is my sister, Ray.”
HE FORGOT the bites in his amazement, as a tall, slender girl detached herself from the firelight and ,came towards him. It was as though a glorified Pocahontes bade him welcome.
How vividly he recalled his first impression of her; her suggestion of everything that was wholesome and pure and free! She seemed to glow with health and happiness.
At sight of him she became concerned, sympathetic. For fifteen minutes her strong, cool fingers pressed against the swollen welts raised on his burning skin, while he sat immovable, hypnotized, under the spell of her ministrations. She bound a pungently fragrant leaf on a swollen eyelid and touched his lips with something sweet
and bitter. She knelt to bathe his ankles as naturally as she had sponged his hands.
Quite suddenly, all pain and irritation left him. He got to his feet infused with new' life, and as hungry as a bear.
What an evening that was, and howT quickly the forest cast its enchantment over him! The fire—a mere spark of light in the vastness of that sombre hillside—threw a series of flaming shapes a_ ainst the screen of black behind
them; the trees, silent but watchful, pushed close to the edge of the ruddy circle and seemed actually to advance as the flames died.
“See how they creep out of the shadows,” Ray whispered. “One would think they wanted to embrace us.”
“Smother us,” he had amended, hoping his nervousness was not apparent.
“Oh,” she returned quickly, “do you feel that way? Yes, perhaps you would, at first. I’ll socn put them in their places.”
She leaped to her feet, seized a big log and threw it on the embers. “Get back,” she cried, laughing. “You must not crowd the gentleman!” And as the fames flared up, Patterson would have sworn that he saw the trees re treating.
A little mountain stream talked to itself as it rushed down towards the lake. Now and again, the crackling of a branch would make him feel as though something were gliding stealthily out of the gloom to lay cold hands upon him. Great soft-winged creatures sailed hurriedly past, and white shapes rose from the over-hanging boughs to tremble above them for an instant, then disappear into the blackness beyond. Little sc-urryings and squeakings sounded on every side—“like giggling children watching the grown-up’s party from a sheltering screen,” said Ray; and more than once he felt the cool breath of a passing object that he could not see.
In the distance, an owl raised its plaintive voice and the girl answered it so perfectly that he would scarcely have been surprised had she spread a pair of wings and flown off into the night.
Hardly had the sound of her call died away-when down by the shore, a loon cried,
“ Ka-wee-heek! ka-we-heek!"
It roused in Patterson a wonder that so mirthless a note could ever have been likened to laughter. And once, two shining eyes appeared just beyond the rim of light, causing the bristles on the dog’s back to rise quickly, while he made unpleasant noises in his throat.
“Why, Epitaph!” scolded Ray, “how can you show so ugly a spirit to your little brotheof the woods? Once you, too, were at loggerheads wi h man, and only by kindness on both sides have different relations been established. Given your advantages, sir, that poor beast, yonder would be just as tame as you are. Go and lie down!”
THEY talked lazily of many things —of political economy, baseball, ancient religions, occult chemistry and trained fleas, and not until later, when the camp was wrapped in slumber and he was rapidly drifting into a state of being called sleep, did Patterson realize that during his six hours acquaintanceship with Jim Lane, the latter had never once referred to his dashed old conservation theories at all!
Before a wreek had passed, he fcund himself crazily in love with Ray and the discovery was anything but pleasing. He had agreed at college— with Somerville—that “getting tied up early in life” wrould be fatal to men with sufficient imagination to enjoy their fathers’ money. Flirtations need not be embarrassing, but entanglements positively must be avoided.
And here he w?as, entangled, in a sense, at twrenty-four, and suffering the ignominy of utter impotence!
Of course he had done his share of philandering, for wromen had been kind, as a rule, to the son of G. J. Patterson. But they had been w'omen “of his own class.” He simply w'ould not admit that a girl of the woods, without the least effort on her part, and despite frantic struggles on his owm, could seriously intrigue or hold him.
Like most men, young Patterson dreaded the grip of pow erful emotion. Instinctively, he knew that it w~as much less painful to simulate than to feel. He had no wish to experience the passionate, volcanic upheavals that enlivened the dull day of his forbears, for he suspected that even under the most auspicious circumstances, love combines bitterness and poignancy with its sweetness, and he regarded the emotion with mortal dread.
His determination to kill this love before it spread its
blight over his being must have made the young man a noxious companion, for his only weapons were exaggerated flippance, insincere ridicule, and borrowed cynicism. Somewhat as our primitive brothers rang a bell to frighten off the evil spirits, so he made a tremendous noise hoping to show his contempt for love, and break the spell that had enmeshed him. He might better have tried to escape growing older by wearing a picture of Youth around his neck.
Patterson had never decided whether or not Lane guessed his secret. Certainly he never showed by word or look anything but the most cordial friendliness; and, more than that, he honored him with his complete confidence where Ray was concerned. He did not throw them together, but he did not keep them apart nor chaperone them. Superficially, they were like three awfully good pals boys, one should say. and Ray, he was confident, had not the slightest suspicion of his love for her.
Therein lay part of his trouble. If she had only suspected it and given him a little encouragement! She was so frank, so natural, so lacking in coquetry that he might have t een her cousin. Her attitude towards him was neither complimentary nor critical. She was never superior; she never argued. When he said anything funny, she laughed with genuine appreciation of his wit: when he was merely “smart”, she smiled as though saying, “Well that is not very good, but it is probably the best you can do at the moment.”
COMKTIMKS he thought he puzzled her, and she ^ studied him with the sort of impersonal curiosity one might feel in considering the domestic habits of the penguin, or the ibis, or some other unfamiliar creature. But. shrewd as she was, he thought she did not know in what sort of niche to place him.
He could see her now. her head a little to one side, her short hair clustering in heavy brown-gold ringlets above her face, her big. velvety eyes turned earnestly to his, listening, while he delivered himself of some insanely extravagant idea. Every minute or so she would nod her head to show that she was following his thoughts, but when he had finished, she would purse her lips and look away, as though finding it difficult to discuss so prodigious a subject without considerable preparations. She made him feel inordinately clever, even while he knew he was a fool!
Once, she remarked :
“Well, I must say I don't quite see your point of view, but that doesn’t prove anything. Broadly speaking, nothing that furthers one’s development is wrong according to my way of thinking, and if such a view meets your needs, your requirements, so much the better. Why, even cannibalism has its uses—for cannibals.”
‘‘So had missionaries their uses—for cannibals,” he suggested flippantly. “Many a stalwart hunter has been saved from starvation by a tough but pious missionary.”
Ray laughed. “I wonder,” she said, “why you are never serious?”
He dared not be serious even with himself, for being serious would mean that he must acknowledge the futility of his struggles, admit the supremacy of sentiment over reason, confess his own unworthiness, and commence the weary ascent up the steep incline towards self-improvement, earning in the end, perhaps, nothing more than Ray's pity. It was not a prospect that lured him who was so full of plans for other things in life, in the realms of seriousness.
‘T hate serious people,” he replied.
This business of climbing to spiritual heights in an effort to attain some woman’s ideal, struck Patterson as being a very irksome pilgrimage. In fact, for himself he could see nothing in it but backsliding. Why, he would feel like a drunkard trying to reform! He didn’t want to be worthy; worthy people never had any fun!
But he wanted Ray! He wanted her desperately, fiercely!
Life became a muddle of contradictions. He was unhappy when out of her sight; he was miserable when with her. One moment he resolved to go to Tasmania and forget her, and the next sent him hurrying up the hill after his 3wim to get a glimpse of her!
There were times when he persuaded himself that she would enjoy the pleasures he could give her; there were others—and these were much more frequent—when he knew for a certainty that he and all he represented meant nothing more to her than a bubble on life’s current, and she considered that the catching of bubbles retarded rather than advanced her earthly evolution.
"But she doesn’t know how devilish jolly life can be,” he argued. “Once she got a taste of it.... ”
The picture of her in his home—in their home—rose before him and he would close his eyes imagining all sorts of deliciously intimate scenes with her.
Then from the dizzying cloud which seemed to lift him off his feet, he would fall down with a series of bumps against such a thought as this: “How long would Ray be happy? Would not her inherent Puritanism damp the joy that colored his pursuit, and would he not be a source of constant pain to her?”
For his idea was to take all he could from life, w hile hers
was to put something into it. His standards were those set up by man and money; tiers, by nature and God. She strove for truth, he for brilliance.
She tried to live for humanity and he hoped to make humanity live for him. They looked upon the world from opposite poles.
So, like a squirrel in a cage, he ran round and round his arguments, pausing only now and then to cry:—
"But 1 want lier! 1 want her!”
'1''HE new ranger liad found that her first concern 1 would be for some sort of adequate shelter. A restricted survey of the limit revealed a dilapidated shack about two-thirds of the way to the summit, and this she decided to repair and inhabit.
"But the thing isn’t fit for a pig-sty,” Devine protested. The young man from the camp office had made good a promise to her to benefit by a Çunday in the woods, and had really been of considerable assistance to Ray in helping her carry her food and equipment back.
Ray did not answer for the moment. She was considering the possibilities offered by the sack. Obviously, its builder possessed as little architectural knowledge as Devine, and not even symmetry of line, permanency or ordinary concessions to comfort and convenience seemed to have been factors guiding his efforts.
It stood on a small patch of level ground at the top of a steep, rocky incline. There was no sign of clearing done by the hand of man, but, through some freak of nature, pines, birches, maples and firs formed a palisade around an open quadrangle. On one side of the shack—the side nearest the lake —a rollicking mountain freshet foamed down the hill, its gay song rising above the whispering of the trees. On the other side there stood a giant pine, at the first glimpse of which the new r~..iger had given an exclamation of delight.
The shack was not equally pleasing to the eye. Thè space between four young maples had been utilized for its one room. A half-hearted attempt at making the roof water-tight had evidently been abandoned in the first stages, and the whole place canted to one side after the manner of a dissolute reveller leaning for support against a post.
Inside, the floor suggested a corduroy road, and the walls were constructed of unsquared logs, from between which long strips of daylight threw sharp patches against the interior. Here and there were pinned the gaudy covers of magazines that suggested a salacious taste in literature; a rusty dipper hung by a shoe-string from the roof.
There was no door. A rough bunk occupied one corner of the room, and sundry evidences proved that the last occupant had spent many hours there, soothed by the insidious influence of le tabac Canadien. A tree trunk served the dual purposes of stool and table, and beside the door-frame, looking amazingly out of place in such primitive surroundings, was a telephone.
“I say, I suppose you wouldn’t think of going home?” Devine repeated, anxiously.
“Of course not! If the repairing of this shack proves to be the worst of my duties, I shall consider myself tremendously lucky. There isn’t really much to do, and this wonderful Laurentian air gives me the desire and the power to do it. But,” she hesitated, and a deeper flush crept into her cheeks, “if I may be quite frank with you, Mr. Devine, it won’t be so easy for me to work while you are here.”
The chips were flying under Ray’s hatchet, and for a second or two its musical whinh .... whinh .... whinh .... was the only definite sound in the forest.
Devine looked on in frank admiration. “You’re a top-notch woodsman,” he applauded, “and that means you’re able to take care of yourself almost anywhere. Where did you learn it all, Miss Crump?”
He didn’t see the shadow that crossed Ray’s face, but he caught the rebuff, faint thought it was, in her voice as she answered;
“At the moment, I have no time to give you an outline of my life, but this much I can say; one can’t live in the woods without learning, and I’ve lived in the woods since I was a child. You must be getting hungry.”
He was! Under her directions, he prepared some food which tasted like nothing that had ever come out of a restaurant’s kitchen.
THE ranger chatted easily and without restraint, but as often as Devine steered the conversation into narrow personal channels, just so often did she unobtrusively take the helm and guide the craft into broader generalities.
“I suppose you’ve been over the limit?” she asked him, after a pause.
“Not I! It’s awfully rough you know; ‘virgin forest’ as they say in books; not even blazed except this bit to the Lookout.”
“Well, how has it been ranged, then?”
“Ask me another! Janisse, the previous ranger, yo know, had gone before I got here, but I have my doul
that he ever explored any distance into the remoter sections.”
“A ranger should. I shall!”
Concern for his attractive companion overcame his lukewarm loyalty to the Company. He raised himself on his elbow, whacked his pipe against a stone, caught the Ranger’s eye and hastily extinguished the glowing sparks, then said:
“I hope you won’t carry ‘fidelity to duty,’ as the Sunday school motto so aptly puts it, too far, Miss Crump. No use overdoing it, you know, and I might remark that if you hadn’t happened along, and we had been obliged to take on Therien, ranging would have been confined to a very limited circle, and, mark you, the brute would have got away with it.”
“Who is Therien?” asked Ray.
“He’s the bad man of the district,” returned Dickie, “and I don’t think I’m prejudiced. He applied for the job after Janisse cashed in, and except for your coming, dashed if I don’t think old Cox would have given it to him.”
“The bad man,” she repeated thoughtfully. “Do you mean that? Is he really bad, or just shiftless and lazy, like so many of these village loafers?”
“He’s a rotter, out and out,” insisted Devine.
“In what way?”
“That’s not definite.”
“Well, I can’t give you his record, nor can I mention any particular crime he has committed. But he’s a bully, a liar, and a brutal drinker—besides, one just knows when a man’s rotten.”
Ray became thoughtful. Her next question was characteristic.
“Did he need the work? Have I taken his living away?”
Devine’s muttering presently translated itself into an intelligible reply to the effect that work and Therien were sworn enemies, that his ranging would have been a farce, that he would have filched his salary from the company and given no return—or worse, that his drunken, slothful habits would have been a positive menace to the timber. “That’s the kind of bounder he is,” said Devine.
This impression of Auguste Therien was considerably strengthened on the following day, when the ranger paid her first call upon Madame Janisse, widow of Ray’s predecessor on the limits.
IT APPEARED that Madame Janisse had known Auguste Therien “since fifteen years, since before she marry on Ba’tiste.” Indeed, he had been a rival suitor, and his love-making had not ceased with the Janisse-Pinard nuptials. Unfortunately for the tooalluring Madame, his opportunities were not few, for Ba’tiste went to the shanty in the winter and often hired out in the summer as guide to foreign Messieurs, same as Mr. Lane, Ray’s brother, and Madame was much alone except for “too much childrens.”
Continued rebuffs, however, seemed to have soured Therien’s temperament, and he began to show the mauvais bouche. More than that, he harried the couple whenever possible, one winter going so far as to spring all of Ba’tiste’s traps.
“But why did you not inform against him?” said Ray. An eloquent shoulder answered her.
“W’at de use, h-even if you could say for sure how ’e do dis fing? You fink dere is policemans stand h-on de corner of de poz-office in Lac St. Dennis, sam as Montreal? Mon Jeieu!”
According to Madame, Therien was not the man to ignore an opportunity for evil-doing. No sooner had he heard of Ba’tiste’s illness than he applied for the ranger’s job and redoubled his unwelcome attentions.
“I tell Laura, seek Boul-boul h-on dat man de nex tam ’e come ’ere wit’ hees oglee face, but Laura say, ‘Ho, Boul-boul, maman! For sure ’e hate dat mans, but ’e won’ bite heem no more dan ’e bite a porcupine! Me, I dunno if ’e had fear of Therien—bit anyway, ’e don bite. Maybe becos de flesh she is too rotten, I dunno. All de sam’, w’at you fink we can do, Mam’selle Crr-omp —stay h-on de ’ouse all de day, wif de door lock’?” Ray admitted that the problem was a difficult one, and Madame, firmly launched in the flood of her grievance, hurried on —
“ ’E fink ’e is sure for to get de job. you understand so ’e come to say ’ow ’e not wish me to go away from de cabane. Dat, for sure! ‘1 will joos tak my h-ole frien , Ba’tiste' place,’ 'e say, ‘an’ we will be de happy little familee, hein? I love h-a.ll your nice childrens, e say, dam oglee, ‘an’ you will see how 1 will be de good fader to dem. Poor Ba’tiste. ’e is done.’ 'e say, ‘for sure! bo you must ’ave some noder mans for tak' care of you, ’e say, ‘an’ regardez, how I am here, toute suite'."
“He ought to be thrashed,” cried Rav.
“Ur«’,” agreed the other, promptly, “but dat is not de worse, ‘of course,’ 'e say, ‘if you don' lak me to come an’ leev wit' you, Cherie. den w'at 'appen? Sure. 1 mus’ ’ave de cabane. Ce n'est pas ma taute! De
company, she mak de ranger leev on de limit, an’ joos imagine all dose lovely childrens turn out dere ’ome. Shoe pity h-on your childrens, mon bijou ’e say, ‘an’ let us call it arrange’!”
Ray suggested that it was strange for Mr. Cox to consider the application of such a man, at all. Madame reminded her sapiently that most of what one doesn’t understand is strange.
“Par exemple,” said she, “Therien drink so much, that if Boul-boul bite heem, I bet ’e don’ blood anyt’ing but whisky! Sure, ’e smell enough booze to kill de flower, an’ w’en ’e is drunk, Pere Narcotte, himself, stay h-out of de way.
But listen ’ere, Mees Crr-omp—dere’s not one noder man who want de job of fire ranger! For w’y? I tell you . . . Some are gone at St. Justin h-on de factory, some are gone far off h-on de farm, some dey too h-ole to clam, an’ some, too young. Also, some de don’ wan’ mak’ no troub’ wit’ Auguste Therien—so Mr.
Cox, ’e can’t get no noder mans—dat de reason ’e tak’ you—for sure!”
“Well, it’s not one that is flattering, but it’s adequate,” said the girl, laughing.
“Tak' care how you don’ laugh on de noder side your face,” warned Madame.
“You t’ink Auguste Therien be please’ to ’ave womans get ’is job? Mon Jeieu!
—you don’ know dat mans!—’e will not speak mad h-on your face, and mak’ fight wit’ is ’and. . . non! ’e go lak de loup h-on de book Miss Ray Lane send —’e smile h-on your face, but in de dark, ’e crr-ip up an’ push de knife h-on your back!”
THE picture was not particularly heartening, for Ray had begun to suspect that the possibility, though exaggerated, held an element of truth.
She recalled Devine’s reference to Therien as the “bad man” of the district, and a vague uneasiness stole over her.
Not for herself, but she stared out through the open door into the heart of a great jade temple over which a seethe of amber sunlight lay like misty incense, and she wondered if he would dare Boul-boul announced the coming of a friend. Noisily, the children crowded to the door, and Ray quietly took her departure.
The ranger returned to her shack that day a prey to disturbing reflections.
For the first time since her mad flight from her native New Brunswick village, when the death of her beloved brother had driven her to seek the means of her livelihood, she felt uneasiness as to the result of her venture.
In the village she had caught just enough of stray conversation to pick up a rumor that Archer Patterson was expected soon to visit the camp. To meet Archer Patterson under any circumstances could not fail to be painful; but to be discovered by him, masquerading on his limit, would, Ray felt, place her under a justifiable misapprehension as to her actions.
And Therien! Were his enmity to take such definite form as Devine implied and Madame Janisse prophesied, might not her presence be a menace rather than a protection of the trees?
From the bare thought she quailed! Not only because destruction of the timber by the application of Therien’s torches would entail a financial loss that was positively appalling, but because she dreaded lest Archer Patterson should misinterpret such a disaster as a deliberate expression of resentment on her part—resentment against him for his failure to repeat the proposal he had made so many years ago.
It was quite unlike Ray to harbor so morbid and extravagant a supposition, and, instinctively, she knew it. But somehow that fear would not be dispelled. Throughout the summer, it persisted and poisoned many of her days.
Arrived at her shack, the homely tasks of a housewife turned her thoughts into pleasanter channels. She played hostess to a pair of gluttonous chipmunks, a daring robin, and a family of friendly waxwings. Then, she cleared a tiny plot for the flower guests that she would presently welcome round her cabin. In the depressions of the rocks, nearby, she transplanted ferns, and sowed the poppy and portulacca seeds that had comprised part of her equipment.
Suddenly, she looked up to find the eyes of a great snowy owl fixed unblinkingly upon her, and that night had crept up out of the forest.
But sleep eluded her. Unformed worries, vague
anxieties and vexing possibilities played about in her mind like marbles on a tesselated floo v She could not gather them into a definite fear, not could she control their scattered wandering. Had she been given to nerves of superstitions, she would have confessed to the presence of a premonition, the sensation that disaster lay ahead
THE night noises were particularly penetrating, but she loved them, even while they disturbed her. An impatient scratching announced the failure of a field-
mouse to break into her tin-encased supplies. A dull gnawing proclaimed the fact that a porcupine had taken a fancy to her door-step. In the near distance, a sharp and intermittent shearing of wood argued that a bear was rewarded for his attack upon a stump by finding an ant’s nest there. Far away, the cry of a wolf broke the deeper stillness, while over all the rush of unseen wings mingled with the vague drip and whispering of the trees.
Presently, though, Ray became unconscious of these sounds. Her mind went back to the gossip she had heard in the village. Archer Patterson had said he w'as coming to Lac St. Dennis!
She couldn’t meet him! She simply couldn’t do it! Their last conversation, her part of it, made this impossible. How she hated herself as she recalled it!
It seemed but yesterday that they were all together — she and Archer and Jim, her brother. How' vividly she remembered the day before they broke camp, when, with Archer Patterson, she had taken leave of the hills, and the birds, and the animals, and the spots she had learned to love especially. She remembered his air of fine indifference, and how' he had twitted her for such mawkish sentimentalism.
“Don’t tease,” she begged. “I have the blues.”
“They are devilishly becoming,” he answered. “Still, if there’s anything I can do. ...”
“Even King Canute couldn’t keep back the waves," she reminded him. “You won’t be offended because my confidence in your ability to keep summer with us a month or tw o longer, is slight.”
“Not at all,” he agreed, politely. “But surely you admit—” this, with mock surprise—“that each season, like each phase of life, brings its own peculiar joys?”
She had chosen to take him seriously.
“Beyond a doubt! But I can’t help liking one sort of joy better than another. Can you?’
“Oh, I don’t know! If joys are joyful enough, that’s all I ask.”
She remembered the sudden flash of understanding that swept over her, and the realization that he had been a better sport than she had suspected. There must have been times without number when he had longed for metropolitan pleasures that were familiar, instead of the simplicities of camp life to which he had been unaccustomed. And yet, he had never really complained.
“I say, Pat,” she asked suddenly, “you don’t feel your summer wasted, do you?” He didn’t answer at once, and she misunderstood his silence. She could not know how her question affected him, nor how widely he w'as casting about for a suitable answer.
She had laughed, and told him that they would miss his happy idiocies. Then, feeling instinctively that she had wounded him, made an immediate effort to heal the hurt.
“I repeat, Pat, you have been splendid! You’ve never gone about looking like ‘the family of the deceased followed the body to the grave,’ and you’ve been the greatest help to me, teaching me many things...”
“What rot!” he said.
“No, really! You’re alw'ays so goodtempered, and so stimulating. I’m
afraid my nature is much too serious to make me a pleasing companion.”
He made no denial, although Ray had rather expected that he wrould. Instead, he remarked:
“I don’t mind seriousness of a kind, but, damn it all, Ray, your seriousness at times is positively anarchistic! It’s
“Why, Archer Patterson,” she cried, “whatever are you talking about?” “This—” He produced her own copy of Ruskin, and drew' her down beside him on a fallen log.
“Do you remember the day Lane and I set out for the burned area, and I wrenched my ankle when less than half the distance had been covered?”
She did; and that Jim had left him with plenty of tobacco, some lunch and a bandage on his foot, to be picked up several hours later.
“Well,” continued Patterson, “he also left me this book of yours, prompted, I am prepared to admit, by a friendly desire to mitigate my loneliness and pain. Now, had it been a volume of Emerson, I could have borne it. Don’t mind Ralph’s preachments, now and again But this stuff—I tell you, honestly, it made me mad all over! Ruskin should stick to his painting and let political economy alone— should John!”
“But, Pat, he’s so sound! I’ve marked some passages—•”
“Don’t I know' it? Aren’t they the very ones that made my gorge rise? Listen—
“ ‘Since the essence of wealth consists in power over men, will it not follow' that the nobler and the more in number the persons are over w'hom it had pow'er, the greater the w'ealth? Perhaps it may even appear after some consideration, that the persons themselves are the wealth—that those pieces of gold with which we are in the habit of guiding them are, in fact, nothing more than a kind of Byzantine harness or trappings, very glittering and beautiful in barbaric sight, wherewith W'e bribe the creatures; but that if these same living creatures could be guided without the fretting and jingling of the Byzants in their mouths and ears, they might, themselves, be more than their bridles.’
“ ‘Nevertheless, it is open to serious question whether among national manufactures, that of souls o' a good quality may not at last turn out quite a leading lucrative one.’
“ ‘Absolute justice is indeed no more obtainable than absolute truth; but the righteous man is distinguished from the unrighteous by his desire and hope of justice, as the true man from the false by his desire and hope of truth. And though absolute justice be unobtainable.
Continued on page 47
The Patterson Limit
Continued, from page 13
as much justice as we need for all practical use is attainable by all those who make it their aim.’ ”
He closed the book impatiently, and turned to her.
“These principles are unhealthy—for a girl in her teens, anyway! First thing you know, young lady, you’ll be doing speeches in Sunday school basemfents, orating from soap-boxes to factory workers, and making yourself generally unpleasant. A fine lot of enjoyment can be wrested from life by the fellow who plods along manufacturing ‘souls of a good quality’!”
SHE had never seen him so thorough ly roused, and she asked if there was any harm in making justice one’s aim in life.
“Of course not!” He still spoke heatedly. “Every one wants justice! It’s my own aim, as a matter of fact. But,” he added, somewhat irrelevantly, “you don’t have to join a society, wear a badge, and meet every alternate Thursday night to aim at having justice!”
Ray had not dared to laugh, amused though she had been, to see him lashing himself into a very creditable fury against Ruskin and against her. Sensitive as a rule to suffering in others, it was curious that she did not realize his mental struggle at the time, nor how desperately Archer Patterson was trying to kill the j emotipn that threatened to dominate him.
A long silence fell between them—an , uncomfortable silence for Patterson, had ! Ray but known it. For herself, she was i
busy with thoughts that projected themselves into a shadowy and uncertain future.
‘‘What plans your father has dreamed for you, Pat,” she said, at last. “I can picture him, sitting in his office thinking about you, sending out great clouds of fondness to you . . drawing little squiggles on his pad, and not half listening when the boy comes in to announce somebody. I can fancy how often he tells himself that he must not be impatient in expecting big things from you, hut how eagerly he watches just the same, for something that may justify his belief.
I suppose every man sees in his son the superman he should have been!”
He shied quickly away from the serious tone.
“Your picture of the Governor is certainly original,” he said handing her a large stone. “Pray continue this crystal gazing and divulge to me these secret hopes of his. I will pay for an unexpurgated vision.”
Ray took the stone from him and placed it in her lap, but her eyes fixed themselves on a drifting, smoke-rimmed cloud.
“Has he never talked to you about yourself?” she asked.
“Frequently,” he told her.
“I mean about your future. ...” “Never! The Governor is the soul of practicality; he dilates upon the past. There, he knows his ground!”
“But your future should not be so problematical, now,” she persisted. “Wouldn’t your father like you to succeed him in the lumber business?”
“He has hinted at such.”
“Well, aren’t you interested in it?”
“Oh, I don’t know!”
“What would you like better?” Patterson sat up and knocked the stone from her lap.
“Look here,” he complained, “you’re a fake! I thought you were going to tell me how much I’m going to be allowed this winter, promise that I’m going to travel across water to meet some dark girl; and I expected you to warn me that a fair widow, who pretends to be my friend ...and what have you done? Very nearly spoiled a perfectly good afternoon by badgering me with questions about my future! By rights, Madam, I should report you to the authorities!”
“Yes, I told you I was too serious,” she admitted with a smile. “But the truth is, that I envy you your opportunities, and I meddle. I don’t like to see you drifting.... you should have an aim.”
“Justice?” he snorted. “It seems to me, however, that you and your brother do a great deal of drifting, if one might mention it without offence.”
“Moving isn’t drifting,” she answered. “We have an aim.”
“In a sense. Justice to those who will come after us, and to nature, herself.”
“It sounds immense,” he mocked. “Not that I understand you, at all!”
She laughed good-naturedly at this. “Why, conserving the resources we have left, and trying to repair the waste of former years is, I think, something like making an effort to do nature justice.” “Oh, Lord!” he groaned.
“Nature isn’t ours,” she went on, more to herself than to him. “It isn’t ours to abuse, to wreck. We stand in the position of tenants in a rented house; we hold the country in trust for posterity, and for our sins, our children and grandchildren must suffer. I wish I knew how to make people realize that!”
He turned away as she looked at him, and muttered something about “insane altruism.”
“Then you would rather do this”—he | waved an explanatory hand out towards the wooded hillside—“than anything else? Than live like other girls?”
“I should like to have the companionship of other girls,” she replied, “but— no, I should not like to live their lives.
If I could choose,” she continued, slowly,
“I think I should be a sort of glorified fire-ranger.”
“By the gods,” he shouted, “you shall have your wish! Fairy Godmother has said so! I will make that a condition before getting into the harness that the Governor has ready for me. Have you any preference as to locality? I don’t mind buying an extra limit or two!” “You needn’t laugh,” she said, rising. “Some day you may be glad enough to have me protect your timber!”