Chapter XXII. The Cabin in the Hills
 

Glen's fears and forebodings of the previous night passed away as she rode Midnight along the trail on that beautiful summer morning. For a time a feeling of security filled her heart. Was she not well guarded by her father, her lover, and two reliable Indians, Sconda and Natsu! Why should she fear? Curly was evidently at Big Draw, and so discouraged over his reception at Glen West that he would hardly venture near the place again. It was a bright happy face that she turned to Reynolds as he rode by her side wherever the trail permitted their horses to ride abreast. They rejoiced in each other's company, and words were unnecessary, for love has a silent language all its own.

Jim Weston rode ahead, while the two Indians brought up in the rear. The horses which the natives rode bore a few extra provisions for several days' outing, such as tea, coffee, sugar, flour, and a supply of canned goods.

Glen rode Midnight gracefully. She was dressed the same as on the day Reynolds first saw her on Crooked Trail. She was perfectly at home in the saddle, and what to Reynolds was difficult riding to her was a pleasure. At times she smiled at his awkwardness as he tried to maintain his position where the trail was unusually rough and steep.

"You are better with the rifle, are you not?" Glen bantered.

"I certainly am," was the reply. "I have had very little experience on horse back. I wish I could ride like you, for you are so much at ease."

"I should be," and again the girl smiled. "I cannot remember the time when I did not know how to ride. But, then, you have not seen me at my best. Sconda has, though, and he knows that I can hold my own with the most expert rider. Oh, it's great when you're going like the wind, clearing rocks and fallen trees with tremendous bounds. Midnight understands, don't you, old boy?" and she affectionately patted the horse's glossy neck.

Reynolds watched the girl with deep admiration. He felt that her words were no mere idle boast, and he longed to see an exhibition of her skilful riding.

At noon they stopped by the side of a little stream which flowed out from under the Golden Crest, and ate their luncheon.

"We shall have a great dinner to-night," Weston informed them. "We must do honor to such an occasion as this."

"And if we can find Frontier Samson, all the merrier," Reynolds replied.

"Sure, sure, we must find the old man," Weston agreed. "But, then, it's unnecessary to worry about him. He's all right, never fear, though no doubt he is somewhat anxious about his runaway partner."

The ruler of Glen West was in excellent spirits. Glen had never seen him so animated, and at luncheon he joked and laughed in the most buoyant manner. During the afternoon he pointed out to his companions numerous outstanding features of nature's wonderful handiwork. At times he would look back, and draw their attention to a peculiar rock formation, a small lake lying cool and placid amidst the hills, or to some beautiful northern flowers by the side of the trail. Thus the afternoon passed quickly and pleasantly, and evening found them before the little cabin in the hills.

It was a beautiful spot where Weston had erected his forest habitation. The cabin nestled on the shore of a very fine lake. At the back stood the trees, which came almost to the door. The building was composed entirely of logs, and contained a small kitchen, two bed-rooms, and a living-room. A stone fire-place had been built at one end of the latter, while the walls were adorned with trophies of the chase. Books of various kinds filled several shelves, and magazines and newspapers were piled upon a side-table. It was a most cozy abode, and Weston was greatly pleased at the interest Glen and Reynolds took in everything.

"My, I should like to spend a few weeks here," Reynolds remarked, as he examined the books. "What a grand time one could have reading and meditating. You have a fine collection, sir," and he turned to Weston, who was standing near.

"I bring only the masters here," was the reply. "One cannot afford to pack useless truck over the trail. In a place such as this the mind is naturally reflective, and one craves for things that are old and firmly established."

"But what about those?" and Reynolds pointed to the magazines and newspapers.

"Oh, they have their place, too," and Weston smiled. "Even in the wilderness a man should not lose touch with the busy world outside. I consider that the study of the past and present should go together. By keeping abreast of the times one can form some idea how the world is progressing, and by reading the masters of other days one can interpret all the better the problems of the present."

While Weston and Reynolds discussed the books, Glen was busily engaged setting the table for supper. Natsu had taken the horses down to the wild meadow some distance away, and Sconda was in the kitchen. The latter was an excellent cook, and prided himself upon his ability to provide a most delicious repast, whether of moose meat or fried salmon. It was the latter he was preparing this evening, the fish having been brought from Glen West. Several loaves of fresh white bread, made the night before, had been provided by Nannie, as well as some choice cake and preserves.

In a little less than an hour supper was ready, and Glen took her place at the head of the table. Cloth for the table there was none, but the rough boards were spotlessly clean. The dishes were coarse, and all the dainty accessories of a modern household were wanting. But Reynolds never enjoyed a meal as he did that one in the little cabin by the mirroring lake. To him it was the girl who supplied all that was lacking. She performed her humble duties as hostess with the same grace as if presiding at a fashionable repast in the heart of civilization. He noted the happy expression in her eyes, and the rich color which mantled her cheeks whenever she met his ardent gaze.

Glen was happier than she had ever been in her life, and while her father and Reynolds talked, she paid little attention to what they were saying. She was thinking of the great change which had come over her father during the last few days. He had made no reference to her confession of love for the young man, for which she was most thankful. She believed that he liked Reynolds, and found in him a companion after his own heart. Her cares had been suddenly lifted, for in the presence of the two men she loved her fears and forebodings were forgotten.

After supper they sat for a while in front of the cabin. The men smoked and chatted. It was a perfect night, and not at all dark, for a young moon was riding over the hills. Not a ripple ruffled the surface of the lake, and the great forest lay silent and mysterious around. Weston told several stories of his experiences in the wilderness, especially of his encounter with a grizzly.

"I am very proud of the final shot which brought the brute down," he said in conclusion. "I wish you both could have seen it."

"I do not believe it was any finer than the one which brought my grizzly down," Glen challenged. "You should have seen that, daddy. It was wonderful!"

"Where did you learn to shoot so well?" Weston asked, turning to Reynolds.

"Over in France. I was a sharpshooter for a while."

"Well, that is interesting," and Weston blew a cloud of smoke into the air, while his eyes wandered off across the lake. "Had some lively experiences, I suppose?"

"Yes, at times. But, then, no more than others. All did their share, and did it the best they could."

"Did you get anything; that is, were you wounded?"

"I have a number of scars; that's all," was the modest reply.

"And were you decorated? Did you receive a medal?" Glen eagerly enquired. She had often wished to ask that question, but had hitherto hesitated. She had fondly dreamed that her lover was a hero of more than ordinary metal, and had carried off special honors. But he was so reserved about what he had done that never until the present moment had she found courage to voice the question.

Reynolds did not at once reply. It was not his nature to make a display of his accomplishments. He thought of the two medals securely fastened in his pocket. They were the only treasures he had brought with him. All else he had left behind. But he could not part with the medals which meant so much to him. He had not brought them for exhibition, but for encouragement in times of depression and trouble. In his terrible wanderings in the wilderness he had thought of them, and had been inspired. But why should he not show them now? he asked himself. It would please Glen, he was sure, and the medals would tell her father that he was no coward.

"I have something which you might like to see," he at length replied, touching his breast with his hand. "But perhaps we had better go inside, as it is getting dark out here."

"When once within the cabin, Reynolds brought forth his two medals and laid them upon the table. Eagerly Glen picked up one, and examined it by the light of the shaded lamp.

"'For Distinguished Conduct on the Field,'" she read. "Oh, isn't it great! I knew that you had done something wonderful," and she turned her sparkling eyes to her lover's face. "What is the other one for, daddy?" she asked, for her father was examining it intently.

"This is 'For Bravery on the Field,'" Weston read. "Allow me to congratulate you, young man," and he grasped Reynolds by the hand. "I am so thankful now that I did not submit such a man as you to the Ordeal."

Reynolds smiled, although, he was considerably confused.

"You reserved it for this moment, I suppose," he replied. "This is somewhat of an ordeal to me."

"Then, let me increase your agony," and Glen's eyes twinkled as she, too, held out her hand.

Reynolds took her firm, brown hand in his, and held it tight. He found it difficult to control himself. How he longed to stoop, clasp her in his arms, and take his toll from those smiling lips. That would have been the best congratulation of all. He merely bowed, however, and remained silent. His heart was beating rapidly, and his bronzed face was flushed.

"Suppose you tell us some of your experiences at the Front," Weston suggested, divining the cause of the young man's confusion. "It has not been my fortune to meet anyone who has come through what you have, and I am sure Glen will enjoy it as well as myself."

Although somewhat loath to tell of his adventures, Reynolds could not very well refuse such a request, so, seating himself, he simply related the story of his service under arms. He said as little as possible about his own part in the fray, and touched but lightly upon the scenes wherein he had won his special decorations. Weston, sitting by his side, listened as a man in a dream. At times a deep sigh escaped his lips, for he himself had ardently longed to enlist, but had been rejected owing to his age.

Not a word of the tale did Glen miss. With her arms upon the table, and her hands supporting her cheeks, she kept her eyes fixed earnestly upon her lover's face. Her bashfulness had departed, and she only saw in the young man across the table her ideal type of a hero. She had no realization of the beautiful picture she presented, with the light falling softly upon her hair and animated, face. But Reynolds knew, and as his eyes met hers, he became slightly confused, and hesitated in his story. What a reward, he told himself, for all that he had endured. He had been happy when the decorations were pinned upon his breast. But that reward was nothing, and the medals mere baubles compared to the joy he was experiencing now. If the love of such a woman had been his during the long, weary campaign, what might he not have accomplished? How he would have been inspired to do and to dare, and in addition to those medals there might have been the coveted Victoria Cross.

"Oh, I wish I were a man!" Glen fervently declared when Reynolds had finished his tale. "How I would like to have been 'over there.' You needn't smile, daddy," she continued. "I know you consider me foolish, but I mean every word I say."

"I understand, dear," was the quiet reply. "I know just how you feel, for it is only natural. However, I am glad that you are not a man, for you are of greater comfort to me because you are a girl. But, there, I think we have talked enough for to-night. You both must be tired after to-day's journey, and we have a hard trip ahead of us to-morrow."