Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Cavanaugh: Forest Ranger - A Romance of the Mountain West
Author: Garland, Hamlin, 1860-1940
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Cavanaugh: Forest Ranger - A Romance of the Mountain West" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



[Illustration: THE RANGER]

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

CAVANAGH
FOREST RANGER

A Romance
Of The Mountain West

By
HAMLIN GARLAND

Author Of
"The Captain of the Gray-Horse Troop"
"Main-Travelled Roads" Etc.

HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS
New York and London
MCMX

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

Books by
HAMLIN GARLAND

Cavanagh--Forest Ranger                Post 8vo $1.50
The Captain of the Gray-Horse Troop.   Post 8vo  1.50
Hesper                                 Post 8vo  1.50
Money Magic. Ill'd                     Post 8vo  1.50
The Light of the Star. Ill'd           Post 8vo  1.50
The Tyranny of the Dark. Ill'd.        Post 8vo  1.50
The Shadow World                       Post 8vo  1.35
Main-Travelled Roads                   Post 8vo  1.50
Prairie Folks                          Post 8vo  1.50
Rose of Dutcher's Coolly               Post 8vo  1.50
The Moccasin Ranch. Ill'd              Post 8vo  1.00
Trail of the Gold-Seekers              Post 8vo  1.50
The Long Trail. Ill'd                  Post 8vo  1.25
Boy Life on the Prairie. Ill'd         Post 8vo  1.50
    (In Boys' and Girls' Library)                 .75

HARPER & BROTHERS, PUBLISHERS, N. Y.

Copyright, 1910, by Hamlin Garland

All rights reserved

Published March, 1910

Printed in the United States of America

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

TO THE FOREST RANGER

WHOSE LONELY VIGIL ON
THE HEIGHTS SAFEGUARDS
THE PUBLIC HERITAGE

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

CONTENTS

CHAPTER                                     PAGE
     I.  The Desert Chariot                    1
    II.  The Forest Ranger                    20
   III.  Lee Virginia Wages War               35
    IV.  Virginia Takes Another Motor Ride    57
     V.  Two On the Veranda                   80
    VI.  The Voice from the Heights           97
   VII.  The Poachers                        115
  VIII.  The Second Attack                   132
    IX.  The Old Sheep-Herder                149
     X.  The Smoke of the Burning            173
    XI.  Shadows on the Mist                 187
   XII.  Cavanagh's Last Vigil Begins        217
  XIII.  Cavanagh Asks for Help              230
   XIV.  The Pest-House                      247
    XV.  Wetherford Passes On                265
         Conclusion                          295

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

INTRODUCTION

My Dear Mr. Garland:--You have been kind enough to let me see the proofs
of _Cavanagh: Forest Ranger_. I have read it with mingled feelings--with
keen appreciation of your sympathetic understanding of the problems which
confronted the Forest Service before the Western people understood it, and
with deep regret that I am no longer officially associated with its work
(although I am as deeply interested, and almost as closely in touch as
ever).

The Western frontier, to the lasting sorrow of all old hunters like
yourself, has now practically disappeared. Its people faced life with a
manly dependence on their own courage and capacity which did them, and
still does them, high honor. Some of them were naturally slow to see the
advantages of the new order. But now that they have seen it, there is
nowhere more intelligent, convinced, and effective support of the
Conservation policies than in the West. The establishment of the new order
in some places was not child's play. But there is a strain of fairness
among the Western people which you can always count on in such a fight as
the Forest Service has made and won.

The Service contains the best body of young men I know, and many splendid
veterans. It is nine-tenths made up of Western men. It has met the West on
its own ground, and it has won the contest--an episode of which you have
so well described--because the West believes in what it stands for.

I have lived much among the Western mountain men. I have studied their
problems; differed with some of them, and worked with many of them.
Sometimes I have lost and sometimes I have won, but every time the fight
was worth while. I have come out of it all with a respect and liking for
the West which will last as long as I do.

                                               Very sincerely yours,
                                                       Gifford Pinchot.

  March 14, 1910.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

Cavanagh: Forest Ranger

-------------------------------------------------------------------------



Cavanagh: Forest Ranger

I

THE DESERT CHARIOT


Lee Virginia Wetherford began her return journey into the mountain West
with exultation. From the moment she opened her car-window that August
morning in Nebraska the plain called to her, sustained her illusions. It
was all quite as big, as tawny, as she remembered it--fit arena for the
epic deeds in which her father had been a leader bold and free.

Her memories of Roaring Fork and its people were childish and romantic.
She recalled, vividly, the stagecoach which used to amble sedately, not to
say wheezily, from the railway to the Fork and from the Fork back to the
railway, in the days when she had ridden away in it a tearful, despairing,
long-limbed girl, and fully expected to find it waiting for her at Sulphur
City, with old Tom Quentan still as its driver.

The years of absence had been years of growth, and though she had changed
from child to woman in these suns and moons, she could not think of the
Fork as anything other than the romantic town she had left--a list wherein
spurred and steel-girt cow-men strode lamely over uneven sidewalks, or
swooped, like the red nomads of the desert, in mad troops through the
starlit night.

The first hint of "the new West" came to her by way of the pretentious
Hotel Alma, which stood opposite the station at Sulphur, and to which she
was led by a colored porter of most elaborate and kindly manners.

This house, which furnished an excellent dinner and an absorbing mixture
of types both American and European, was vaguely disturbing to her. It was
plainly not of the old-time West--the West her father had dominated in the
days "before the invasion." It was, indeed, distinctly built for the
tourist trade, and was filled with all that might indicate the comfortable
nearness of big game and good fishing.

Upon inquiry as to the stage, she was amazed to hear that an automobile
now made the journey to the Fork in five hours, and that it left
immediately after the midday meal.

This was still more disconcerting than the hotel, but the closer she came
to the ride, the more resigned she became, for she began to relive the
long hours of torture on the trip outward, during which she had endured
clouds of dust and blazing heat. There were some disadvantages in the old
stage, romantic as her conception of it had been. Furthermore, the coach
had gone; so she made application for her seat at once.

At two o'clock, as the car came to the door, she entered it with a sense
of having stepped from one invading chariot of progress to another, so big
and shining and up to date was its glittering body, shining with brass and
glowing with brave red paint. It was driven, also, by a small, lean young
fellow, whom the cowboys on her father's ranch would have called a
"lunger," so thin and small were his hands and arms. He was quite as far
from old Tom Quentan as the car was from the coach on which he used to
perch.

The owner of the machine, perceiving under Virginia's veil a girl's pretty
face, motioned her to the seat with the driver, and rode beside her for a
few minutes (standing on the foot-board), to inquire if she were visiting
friends in the Fork.

"Yes," she replied, curtly, "I am."

Something in her tone discouraged him from further inquiry, and he soon
dropped away.

The seats were apparently quite filled with men, when at the last moment a
middle-aged woman, with a penetrating, nasal, drawling utterance, inquired
if she were expected to be "squoze in betwixt them two strange men on that
there back seat."

Lee Virginia turned, and was about to greet the woman as an old
acquaintance when something bold and vulgar in the complaining vixen's
face checked the impulse.

The stage-agent called her "Miss McBride," and with exaggerated courtesy
explained that travel was heavy, and that he had not known that she was
intending to go.

One of the men, a slender young fellow, moved to the middle of the seat,
and politely said, "You can sit on the outside, madam."

She clambered in with doleful clamor. "Well, I never rode in one of these
pesky things before, and if you git me safe down to the Fork I'll promise
never to jump the brute another time."

A chuckle went 'round the car; but it soon died out, for the new-comer
scarcely left off talking for the next three hours, and Virginia was very
glad she had not claimed acquaintanceship.

As they whirled madly down the valley the girl was astonished at the
transformation in the hot, dry land. Wire fences ran here and there,
enclosing fields of alfalfa and wheat where once only the sage-brush and
the grease-wood grew. Painted farm-houses shone on the banks of the
creeks, and irrigating ditches flashed across the road with an air of
business and decision.

For the first half-hour it seemed as if the dominion of the cattle-man had
ended, but as the swift car drew away from the valley of the Bear and
climbed the divide toward the north, the free range was disclosed, with
few changes, save in the cattle, which were all of the harmless or
hornless variety, appearing tame and spiritless in comparison with the
old-time half-wild broad-horn breeds.

No horsemen were abroad, and nothing was heard but the whirr of the motor
and the steady flow of the garrulous woman behind. Not till the machine
was descending the long divide to the west did a single cowboy come into
view to remind the girl of the heroic past, and this one but a symbol--a
figure of speech. Leaning forward upon his reeling, foaming steed, he
spurred along the road as if pursued, casting backward apprehensive
glances, as if in the brassy eyes of the car he read his doom--the doom of
all his kind.

Some vague perception of this symbolism came into Virginia's thought as
she watched the swift and tireless wheels swallow the shortening distance
between the heels of the flying pony and the gilded seat in which she sat.
Vain was the attempt to outride progress. The rider pulled out, and as
they passed him the girl found still greater significance in the fact that
he was one of her father's old-time cowboys--a grizzled, middle-aged,
light-weight centaur whom she would not have recognized had not the driver
called him by his quaint well-known nickname.

Soon afterward the motor overhauled and passed the battered stage
lumbering along, bereft of its passengers, sunk to the level of carrying
the baggage for its contemptuous aristocratic supplanter; and as Lee
Virginia looked up at the driver, she caught the glance of a simple-minded
farm-boy looking down at her. Tom Quentan no longer guided the plunging,
reeling broncos on their swift and perilous way--he had sturdily declined
to "play second fiddle to a kerosene tank."

Lee began to wonder if she should find the Fork much changed--her mother
was a bad correspondent.

Her unspoken question, opportunely asked by another, was answered by Mrs.
McBride. "Oh, Lord, yes! Summer tourists are crawlin' all over us sence
this otto line began. 'Pears like all the bare-armed boobies and
cross-legged little rips in Omaha and Denver has jest got to ride in and
look us over. Two of them new hotels in Sulphur don't do a thing but feed
these tenderfeet. I s'pose pro-hi-bition will be the next grandstand-play
on the part of our town-lot boomers. We old cow-punchers don't care
whether the town grows or not, but these hyer bankers and truck-farmers
are all for raisin' the price o' land and taxin' us quiet fellers out of
our boots."

Virginia winced a little at this, for it flashed over her that all the
women with whom she had grown up spoke very much in this fashion--using
breeding terms almost as freely as the ranchers themselves. It was natural
enough. What else could they do in talking to men who knew nothing but
cows? And yet it was no longer wholly excusable even to the men, who
laughed openly in reply.

The mountains, too, yielded their disappointment. For the first hour or
two they seemed lower and less mysterious than of old. They neither wooed
nor threatened--only the plain remained as vast and as majestic as ever.
The fences, the occasional farms in the valleys could not subdue its
outspread, serene majesty to prettiness. It was still of desert sternness
and breadth.

From all these impersonal considerations the girl was brought back to the
vital phases of her life by the harsh voice of one of the men. "Lize
Wetherford is goin' to get jumped one o' these days for sellin' whiskey
without a license. I've told her so, too. Everybody knows she's a-doin'
it, and what beats me is her goin' along in that way when a little time
and money would set her straight with the law."

The shock of all this lay in the fact that Eliza Wetherford was the mother
to whom Lee Virginia was returning after ten years of life in the East,
and the significance of the man's words froze her blood for an instant.
There was an accent of blunt truth in his voice, and the mere fact that a
charge of such weight could be openly made appalled the girl, although her
recollections of her mother were not entirely pleasant.

The young fellow on the back seat slowly said: "I don't complain of Lize
sellin' bad whiskey, but the grub she sets up is fierce."

"The grub ain't so bad; it's the way she stacks it up," remarked another.
"But, then, these little fly-bit cow-towns are all alike and all bad, so
far as hotels are concerned."

Lee Virginia, crimson and burning hot, was in agony lest they should go
further in their criticism.

She knew that her mother kept a boarding-house; and while she was not
proud of it, there was nothing precisely disgraceful in it--many widowed
women found it the last resort; but this brutal comment on the way in
which her business was carried on was like a slash of mud in the face. Her
joy in the ride, her impersonal exultant admiration of the mountains was
gone, and with flaming cheeks and beating heart she sat, tense and bent,
dreading some new and keener thrust.

Happily the conversation turned aside and fell upon the Government's
forest policy, and Sam Gregg, a squat, wide-mouthed, harsh-voiced
individual, cursed the action of Ross Cavanagh the ranger in the district
above the Fork. "He thinks he's Secretary of War, but I reckon he won't
after I interview him. He can't shuffle my sheep around over the hills at
his own sweet will."

The young fellow on the back seat quietly interposed. "You want to be sure
you've got the cinch on Cavanagh good and square, Sam, or he'll be
a-ridin' _you_."

"He certainly is an arbitrary cuss," said the old woman. "They say he was
one of Teddy's Rough-riders in the war. He sure can ride and handle a gun.
'Pears like he thinks he's runnin' the whole range," she continued, after
a pause. "Cain't nobody so much as shoot a grouse since he came on, and
the Supervisor upholds him in it."

Lee Virginia wondered about all this supervision, for it was new to her.

Gregg, the sheepman, went on: "As I tell Redfield, I don't object to the
forest policy--it's a good thing for me; I get my sheep pastured cheaper
than I could do any other way, but it makes me hot to have grazing lines
run on me and my herders jacked up every time they get over the line. Ross
run one bunch off the reservation last Friday. I'm going to find out about
that. He'll learn he can't get 'arbitrary' with me."

Lee Virginia, glancing back at this man, felt sorry for any one who
opposed him, for she recalled him as one of the fiercest of the
cattle-men--one ever ready to cut a farmer's fence or burn a
sheep-herder's wagon.

The old woman chuckled: "'Pears like you've changed your tune since '98,
Sam."

He admitted his conversion shamelessly. "I'm for whatever will pay best.
Just now, with a high tariff, sheep are the boys. So long as I can get on
the reserve at seven cents a head--lambs free--I'm going to put every
dollar I've got into sheep."

"You're going to get thrown off altogether one of these days," said the
young man on the back seat.

Thereupon a violent discussion arose over the question of the right of a
sheepman to claim first grass for his flocks, and Gregg boasted that he
cared nothing for "the dead-line." "I'll throw my sheep where I please,"
he declared. "They've tried to run me out of Deer Creek, but I'm there to
stay. I have ten thousand more on the way, and the man that tries to stop
me will find trouble."

The car was descending into the valley of the Roaring Fork now, and wire
fences and alfalfa fields on either side gave further evidence of the
change in the land's dominion. New houses of frame and old houses in fresh
paint shone vividly from the green of the willows and cottonwoods. A
ball-ground on the outskirts of the village was another guarantee of
progress. The cowboy was no longer the undisputed prince of the country
fair.

Down past the court-house, refurbished and deeper sunk in trees, Lee
Virginia rode, recalling the wild night when three hundred armed and
vengeful cowboys surrounded it, holding three cattle-barons and their
hired invaders against all comers, resolute to be their own judge, jury,
and hangman. It was all as peaceful as a Sunday afternoon at this moment,
with no sign of the fierce passions of the past.

There were new store-buildings and cement walks along the main street of
the town, and here and there a real lawn, cut by a lawn-mower; but as the
machine buzzed on toward the river the familiar little old battlemented
buildings came to view. The Palace Hotel, half log, half battlement,
remained on its perilous site beside the river. The triangle where the
trails met still held Halsey's Three Forks Saloon, and next to it stood
Markheit's general store, from which the cowboys and citizens had armed
themselves during the ten days' war of cattle-men and rustlers.

The car crossed the Roaring Fork and drew up before two small shacks, one
of which bore a faded sign, "The Wetherford House," and the other in
fresher paint, "The Wetherford Café." On the sidewalk a group of Indians
were sitting, and a half-dozen slouching white men stood waiting at the
door.

At sight of her mother's hotel Virginia forgot every other building, every
other object, and when the driver asked, respectfully, "Where will you
want to get off, miss?" she did not reply, but rose unsteadily in her
seat, blindly reaching for her bag and her wraps. Her slim, gray-robed
figure, graceful even in her dismay, appealed to every onlooker, but Gregg
was the one to offer a hand.

"Allow me, miss," he said, with the smile of a wolf.

Declining his aid, she took her bag from the driver and walked briskly up
the street as if she were a resident and knew precisely where she wanted
to go. "One o' those Eastern tourists, I reckon?" she heard the old woman
say.

As she went past the hotel-porch her heart beat hard and her breath
shortened. In a flash she divined the truth. She understood why her mother
had discouraged her coming home. It was not merely on account of the
money--it was because she knew that her business was wrong.

What a squalid little den it was! How cheap, bald, and petty the whole
town seemed of a sudden. Lee Virginia halted and turned. There was only
one thing to be done, and that was to make herself known. She retraced her
steps, pulled open the broken screen door, and entered the café. It was a
low, dingy dining-room filled with the odor of ham and bad coffee. At the
tables ten or fifteen men, a motley throng, were busily feeding their
voracious jaws, and on her left, behind a showcase filled with cigars,
stood her mother, looking old, unkempt, and worried. The changes in her
were so great that the girl stood in shocked alarm. At last she raised her
veil. "Mother," she said, "don't you know me?"

A look of surprise went over the older woman's flabby face--a glow which
brought back something of her other self, as she cried: "Why, Lee
Virginny, where did you come from?"

The boarders stopped chewing and stared in absorbed interest, while
Virginia kissed her blowsy mother.

"By the Lord, it's little Virginny!" said one old fellow. "It's her
daughter."

Upon this a mutter of astonishment arose, and the waiter-girls, giggling,
marvelling, and envious, paused, their platters in hand, to exchange
comment on the new-comer's hat and gown. A cowboy at the washing-sink in
the corner suspended his face-polishing and gaped over his shoulder in
silent ecstasy.

For a full minute, so it seemed, this singular, interesting, absorbed
immobility lasted; then a seedy little man rose, and approached the girl.
His manner was grotesquely graceful as he said: "We are all glad to greet
you home again, Miss Virginia."

She gave her hand hesitatingly. "It's Mr. Sifton, isn't it?"

"It is," he replied; "the same old ha'penny, only a little more
worn--worn, not polished," he added, with a smile.

She remembered him then--an Englishman, a remittance man, a "lord," they
used to say. His eyes were kind, and his mouth, despite its unshaved
stubble of beard, was refined. A harmless little man--his own worst enemy,
as the saying goes.

Thereupon others of the men came forward to greet her, and though she had
some difficulty in recognizing one or two of them (so hardly had the years
of her absence used them), she eventually succeeded in placing them all.

At length her mother led her through the archway which connected the two
shanties, thence along a narrow hall into a small bedroom, into which the
western sunset fell. It was a shabby place, but as a refuge from the crowd
in the restaurant it was grateful.

Lize looked at her daughter critically. "I don't know what I'm going to do
with a girl like you.--Why, you're purty--purty as a picture. You were
skinny as a child--I'm fair dazed. Great snakes, how you have opened
out!--You're the living image of your dad.--What started you back? I told
you to stay where you was."

The girl stared at her helplessly, trying to understand herself and her
surroundings. There was, in truth, something singularly alien in her
mother's attitude. She seemed on the defensive, not wishing to be too
closely studied. "Her manner is not even affectionate--only friendly. It
is as if I were only an embarrassing visitor," the girl thought. Aloud she
said: "I had no place to go after Aunt Celia died. I had to come home."

"You wrote they was willing to keep you."

"They were, but I couldn't ask it of them. I had no right to burden them,
and, besides, Mrs. Hall wrote me that you were sick."

"I am; but I didn't want you to come back. Lay off your things and come
out to supper. We'll talk afterward."

The eating-house, the rooms and hallways, were all of that desolate
shabbiness which comes from shiftlessness joined with poverty. The carpets
were frayed and stained with tobacco-juice, and the dusty windows were
littered with dead flies. The curtains were ragged, the paper peeling from
the walls, and the plastering cracked into unsightly lines. Everything on
which the girl's eyes fell contrasted strongly with her aunt's home on the
Brandywine--not because that house was large or luxurious, but because it
was exquisitely in order, and sweet with flowers and dainty arrangement of
color.

She understood now the final warnings uttered by her friends. "You will
find everything changed," they had said, "because you are changed."

She regretted bitterly that she had ever left her Eastern friends. Her
mother, in truth, showed little pleasure at her coming, and almost nothing
of the illness of which a neighbor had written. It was, indeed, this
letter which had decided her to return to the West. She had come, led by a
sense of duty, not by affection, for she had never loved her mother as a
daughter should--they were in some way antipathetic--and now she found
herself an unwelcome guest.

Then, too, the West had called to her: the West of her childhood, the
romantic, chivalrous West, the West of the miner, the cattle-man, the
wolf, and the eagle. She had returned, led by a poetic sentiment, and here
now she sat realizing as if by a flash of inward light that the West she
had known as a child had passed, had suddenly grown old and
commonplace--in truth, it had never existed at all!

One of the waitresses, whose elaborately puffed and waved hair set forth
her senseless vanity, called from the door: "You can come out now, your ma
says! Your supper's ready!"

With aching head and shaking knees Virginia reentered the dining-room,
which was now nearly empty of its "guests," but was still misty with the
steam of food, and swarming with flies. These pests buzzed like bees
around the soiled places on the table-cloths, and one of her mother's
first remarks was a fretful apology regarding her trials with those
insects. "Seems like you can't keep 'em out," she said.

Lee Virginia presented the appearance of some "settlement worker," some
fair lady on a visit to the poor, as she took her seat at the table and
gingerly opened the small moist napkin which the waiter dropped before
her. Her appetite was gone. Her appetite failed at the very sight of the
fried eggs and hot and sputtering bacon, and she turned hastily to her
coffee. A fly was in that! She uttered a little choking cry, and buried
her face in her handkerchief and sobbed.

Lize turned upon the waitress and lashed her with stinging phrases. "Can't
you serve things better than this? Take that cup away! My God, you make me
tired--fumblin' around here with your eyes on the men! Pay more attention
to your work and less to your crimps, and you'll please me a whole lot
better!"

With desperate effort Lee conquered her disgust. "Never mind, I'm tired
and a little upset. I don't need any dinner."

"The slob will go, just the same. I've put up with her because help is
scarce, but here's where she gits off!"

In this moment Virginia perceived that her mother was of the same nature
with Mrs. McBride--not one whit more refined--and the gulf between them
swiftly widened. Hastily sipping her coffee, she tried hard to keep back
the tears, but failed; and no sooner did her mother turn away than she
fled to her room, there to sob unrestrainedly her despair and shame. "Oh,
I can't stand it," she called. "I can't! I can't!"

Outside, the mountains deepened in splendor, growing each moment more
mysterious and beautiful under the sunset sky, but the girl derived no
comfort from them. Her loneliness and her perplexities had closed her eyes
to their majestic drama. She felt herself alien and solitary in the land
of her birth.

Lize came in half an hour later, pathetic in her attempt at "slicking up."
She was still handsome in a large-featured way, but her gray hair was
there, and her face laid with a network of fretful lines. Her color was
bad. At the moment her cheeks were yellow and sunken.

She complained of being short of breath and lame and tired. "I'm always
tired," she explained. "'Pears like sometimes I can't scarcely drag myself
around, but I do."

A pang of comprehending pain shot through Virginia's heart. If she could
not love, she could at least pity and help; and reaching forth her hand,
she patted her mother on the knee. "Poor old mammy!" she said. "I'm going
to help you."

Lize was touched by this action of her proud daughter, and smiled sadly.
"This is no place for you. It's nothin' but a measly little old cow-town
gone to seed--and I'm gone to seed with it. I know it. But what is a
feller to do? I'm stuck here, and I've got to make a living or quit. I
can't quit. I ain't got the grit to eat a dose, and so I stagger along."

"I've come back to help you, mother. You must let me relieve you of some
of the burden."

"What can you do, child?" Lize asked, gently.

"I can teach."

"Not in this town you can't."

"Why not?"

"Well, there's a terrible prejudice against--well, against me. And,
besides, the places are all filled for the next year. The Wetherfords
ain't among the first circles any more."

This daunted the girl more than she could express, but she bravely made
advance. "But there must be other schools in the country."

"There are--a few. But I reckon you better pull out and go back, at least,
to Sulphur; they don't know so much about me there, and, besides, they're
a little more like your kind."

Lee Virginia remembered Gregg's charge against her mother. "What do you
mean by the prejudice against you?" she asked.

Lize was evasive. "Since I took to running this restaurant my old friends
kind o' fell off--but never mind that to-night. Tell me about things back
East. I don't s'pose I'll ever get as far as Omaha again; I used to go
with Ed every time I felt like it. He was good to me, your father. If ever
there was a prince of a man, Ed Wetherford was him."

The girl's thought was now turned into other half-forgotten channels. "I
wish you would tell me more about father. I don't remember where he was
buried."

"Neither do I, child--I mean I don't know exactly. You see, after that
cattle-war, he went away to Texas."

"I remember, but it's all very dim."

"Well, he never came back and never wrote, and by-and-by word came that he
had died and was buried; but I never could go down to see where his grave
was at."

"Didn't you know the name of the town?"

"Yes; but it was a new place away down in the Pan Handle, and nobody I
knew lived there. And I never knew anything more."

Lee sighed hopelessly. "I hate to think of him lying neglected down
there."

"'Pears like the whole world we lived in in them days has slipped off the
map," replied the older woman; and as the room was darkening, she rose and
lighted a dusty electric globe which dangled from the ceiling over the
small table. "Well, I must go back into the restaurant; I hain't got a
girl I can trust to count the cash."

Left alone, Lee Virginia wept no more, but her face settled into an
expression of stern sadness. It seemed as if her girlhood had died out of
her, and that she was about to begin the same struggle with work and worry
which had marked the lives of all the women she had known in her
childhood.

Out on the porch a raw youth was playing wailing tunes on a mouth-organ,
and in the "parlor" a man was uttering silly jokes to a tittering girl.
The smell of cheap cigars filled the hallway and penetrated to her
nostrils. Every sight and sound sickened her. "Can it be that the old
town, the town of my childhood, was of this character--so sordid, so
vulgar?" she asked herself. "And mother--what is the matter with her? She
is not even glad to see me!"

Weary with her perplexities, she fastened her door at last, and went to
bed, hoping to end--for a few hours, at least--the ache in her heart and
the benumbing whirl of her thought.

But this respite was denied her. Almost at once she began to fancy that a
multitudinous minute creeping and stirring was going on about her--in her
hair, over her neck, across her feet. For a time she explained this by
reference to her disordered nerves, but at last some realization of the
truth came to her, and she sprang out upon the floor in horror and
disgust. Lighting the lamp, she turned to scrutinize her couch. It swarmed
with vermin. The ceiling was spattered with them. They raced across the
walls in platoons, thin and voracious as wolves.

With a choking, angry, despairing moan she snatched her clothing from the
chair and stood at bay. It needed but this touch to complete her
disillusionment.



II

THE FOREST RANGER


From her makeshift bed in the middle of the floor Lee Virginia was
awakened next morning by the passing of some one down the hall calling at
each door, "Six o'clock!" She had not slept at all till after one. She was
lame, heart-weary, and dismayed, but she rose and dressed herself as
neatly as before. She had decided to return to Sulphur. "I cannot endure
this," she had repeated to herself a hundred times. "I _will_ not!"

Hearing the clatter of dishes, she ventured (with desperate courage) into
the dining-room, which was again filled with cowboys, coal-miners,
ranchers and their tousled families, and certain nondescript town loafers
of tramp-like appearance. The flies were nearly as bad as ever--but not
quite, for under Mrs. Wetherford's dragooning the waiters had made a
nerveless assault upon them with newspaper bludgeons, and a few of them
had been driven out into the street.

Slipping into a seat at the end of the table which offered the cleanest
cloth, Lee Virginia glanced round upon her neighbors with shrinking eyes.
All were shovelling their food with knife-blades and guzzling their coffee
with bent heads; their faces scared her, and she dropped her eyes.

At her left, however, sat two men whose greetings were frank and manly,
and whose table-manners betrayed a higher form of life. One of them was a
tall man with a lean red face against which his blond mustache lay like a
chalk-mark. He wore a corduroy jacket, cut in Norfolk style, and in the
collar of his yellow shirt a green tie was loosely knotted. His hands were
long and freckled, but were manifestly trained to polite usages.

The other man was younger and browner, and of a compact, athletic figure.
On the breast of his olive-green coat hung a silver badge which bore a
pine-tree in the centre. His shirt was tan-colored and rough, but his head
was handsome. He looked like a young officer in the undress uniform of the
regular army. His hands were strong but rather small, and the lines of his
shoulders graceful. Most attractive of all were his eyes, so brown, so
quietly humorous, and so keen.

In the rumble of cheap and vulgar talk the voices of these men appealed to
the troubled girl with great charm. She felt more akin to them than to any
one else in the room, and from time to time she raised her eyes to their
faces.

They were aware of her also, and their gaze was frankly admiring as well
as wondering; and in passing the ham and eggs or the sugar they contrived
to show her that they considered her a lady in a rough place, and that
they would like to know more about her.

She accepted their civilities with gratitude, and listened to their talk
with growing interest. It seemed that the young man had come down from the
hills to meet his friend and take him back to his cabin.

"I can't do it to-day, Ross," said the older man. "I wish I could, but one
meal of this kind is all I can stand these days."

"You're getting finicky," laughed the younger man.

"I'm getting old. Time was when my fell of hair would rise at nothing, not
even flies in the butter, but now--"

"That last visit to the ancestral acres is what did it."

"No, it's age--age and prosperity. I know now what it is to have broiled
steak."

Mrs. Wetherford, seizing the moment, came down to do the honors. "You
fellers ought to know my girl. Virginny, this is Forest Supervisor
Redfield, and this is Ross Cavanagh, his forest ranger in this district.
You ought to know each other. My girl's just back from school, and she
don't think much of the Fork. It's a little too coarse for her."

Lee flushed under this introduction, and her distress was so evident that
both men came to her rescue.

The older man bowed, and said: "I didn't know you had a daughter, Mrs.
Wetherford," and Cavanagh, with a glance of admiration, added: "We've been
wondering who you might be."

Lize went on: "I thought I'd got rid of her. She's been away now for about
ten years. I don't know but it was a mistake--look's like she's grown a
little too fine-haired for us doughies out here."

"So much the worse for us," replied Redfield.

This little dialogue gave the girl time to recover herself, but as
Cavanagh watched the blush fade from her face, leaving it cold and white,
he sympathized with her--pitied her from the bottom of his heart. He
perceived that he was a chance spectator of the first scene in a painful
domestic drama--one that might easily become a tragedy. He wondered what
the forces might be which had brought such a daughter to this sloven, this
virago. To see a maid of this delicate bloom thrust into such a place as
Lize Wetherford's "hotel" had the reputation of being roused indignation.

"When did you reach town?" he asked, and into his voice his admiration
crept.

"Only last night."

"You find great changes here?"

"Not so great as in my mother. It's all----" She stopped abruptly, and he
understood.

Lize being drawn back to her cash-register, Redfield turned to say: "My
dear young lady, I don't suppose you remember me, but I knew you when you
were a tot of five or six. I knew your father very well."

"Did you?" Her face lighted up.

"Yes, poor fellow, he went away from here rather under a cloud, you
know."

"I remember a little of it. I was here when the shooting took place."

"So you were. Well, since then much has happened to us all," he explained
to the ranger. "There wasn't room for a dashing young blood such as Ed
Wetherford was in those days." He turned to Lee. "He was no worse than the
men on the other side--it was dog eat dog; but some way the people rather
settled on him as a scapegoat. He was forced out, and your mother has
borne the brunt of it since. Those were lawless days."

It was a painful subject, and Redfield's voice grew lower and more
hesitant as he went on. Looking at this charming girl through the smoke of
fried ham, with obscene insects buzzing about her fair head, made him feel
for the thousandth time, and more keenly than ever before, the amazing
combinations in American society. How could she be the issue of Edward and
Eliza Wetherford?

More and more Lee Virginia's heart went out in trust toward these two men.
Opposed to the malodorous, unshaven throng which filled the room, they
seemed wondrously softened and sympathetic, and in the ranger's gaze was
something else--something which made her troubles somehow less
intolerable. She felt that he understood the difficult situation in which
she found herself.

Redfield went on. "You find us horribly uncivilized after ten years'
absence?"

"I find _this_ uncivilised," she replied, with fierce intensity, looking
around the room. Then, on the impulse, she added: "I can't stand it! I
came here to live with my mother, but this is too--too horrible!"

"I understand your repulsion," replied Redfield. "A thousand times I
repeat, apropos of this country, 'Where every prospect pleases and only
man is vile.'"

"Do you suppose it was as bad ten years ago?" she asked. "Was everything
as dirty--as mean? Were the houses then as full of flies and smells?"

"I'm afraid they were. Of course, the country isn't all like this, and
there are neat homes and gentle people in Sulphur; but most cattle-men
are--as they've always been--a shiftless, happy-go-lucky lot at best--and
some of them have been worse, as you know."

"I never dreamed of finding my mother in such a place," she went on. "I
don't know what to do or say. She isn't well. I ought to stay and help
her, and yet--oh, it is disheartening!"

Lize tapped Redfield on the shoulder. "Come over here, Reddy, if you've
finished your breakfast; I want to talk with you."

Redfield rose and followed his landlady behind the counter, and there sat
in earnest conversation while she made change. The tone in which her
mother addressed the Supervisor, her action of touching him as one man
lays hand upon another, was profoundly revealing to Lee Virginia. She
revolted from it without realizing exactly what it meant; and feeling
deeply but vaguely the forest ranger's sympathy, she asked:

"How _can_ you endure this kind of life?"

"I can't, and I don't," he answered, cautiously, for they were being
closely observed. "I am seldom in town; my dominion is more than a mile
above this level. My cabin is nine thousand feet above the sea. It is
clean and quiet up there."

"Are all the other restaurants in the village like this?"

"Worse. I come here because it is the best."

She rose. "I can't stand this air and these flies any longer. They're too
disgusting."

He followed her into the other house, conscious of the dismay and
bitterness which burst forth the instant they were alone. "What am I to
do? She is my mother, but I've lost all sense of relationship to her. And
these people--except you and Mr. Redfield--are all disgusting to me. It
isn't because my mother is poor, it isn't because she's keeping boarders;
it's something else." At this point her voice failed her.

The ranger, deeply moved, stood helplessly silent. What could he say? He
knew a great deal better than she the essential depravity of her mother,
and he felt keenly the cruelty of fate which had plunged a fine young
spirit into this swamp of ill-smelling humanity.

"Let us go out into the air," he suggested, presently. "The mountain wind
will do you good."

She followed him trustfully, and as she stepped from the squalor of the
hotel into the splendor of the morning her head lifted. She drank the
clear, crisp wind as one takes water in the desert.

"The air is clean, anyway," she said.

Cavanagh, to divert her, pointed away to the mountains. "There is my
dominion. Up there I am sole ruler. No one can litter the earth with
corruption or poison the streams."

She did not speak, but as she studied the ranger her face cleared. "It
_is_ beautiful up there."

He went on. "I hate all this scrap-heap quite as heartily as you do, but
up there is sweetness and sanity. The streams are germless, and the forest
cannot be devastated. That is why I am a ranger. I could not endure life
in a town like this."

He turned up the street toward the high hill to the south, and she kept
step with him. As she did not speak, he asked: "What did you expect to do
out here?"

"I hoped to teach," she replied, her voice still choked with her emotion.
"I expected to find the country much improved."

"And so it is; but it is still a long way from an Eastern State. Perhaps
you will find the people less savage than they appear at first glance."

"It isn't the town or the people, it is my mother!" she burst forth again.
"Tell me! A woman in the car yesterday accused my mother of selling
whiskey unlawfully. Is this so? Tell me!"

She faced him resolutely, and perceiving that she could not be evaded, he
made slow answer. "I don't _know_ that she does, but I've heard it charged
against her."

"Who made the charge?"

"One of the clergymen, and then it's common talk among the rough men of
the town."

"Is that the worst they say of her? Be honest with me--I want to know the
worst."

He was quite decisive as he said: "Yes, that is the worst."

She looked relieved. "I'm glad to hear you say so. I've been imagining all
kinds of terrifying things."

"Then, too, her bad health is some excuse for her housekeeping," he added,
eager to lessen the daughter's humiliation, "and you must remember her
associations are not those which breed scrupulous regard for the
proprieties."

"But she's my mother!" wailed the girl, coming back to the central fact.
"She has sent me money--she has been kind to me--what am I to do? She
needs me, and yet the thought of staying here and facing her life
frightens me."

The rotten board walks, the low rookeries, the unshaven, blear-eyed men
sitting on the thresholds of the saloons, the slattern squaws wandering
abroad like bedraggled hens, made the girl stare with wonder and dismay.
She had remembered the town street as a highway filled with splendid
cavaliers, a list wherein heroic deeds were done with horse and pistol.

She recognized one of those "knights of the lariat" sitting in the sun,
flabby, grizzled, and inert. Another was trying to mount his horse with a
bottle in his hand. She recalled him perfectly. He had been her girlish
ideal of manly beauty. Now here he was, old and mangy with drink at forty.
In a most vivid and appealing sense he measured the change in her as well
as the decay of the old-time cowboy. His incoherent salutation as his eyes
fell upon her was like the final blasphemous word from the rear-guard of a
savage tribe, and she watched him ride away reeling limply in his saddle
as one watches a carrion-laden vulture take its flight.

She perceived in the ranger the man of the new order, and with this in her
mind she said: "You don't belong here? You're not a Western man."

"Not in the sense of having been born here," he replied. "I am, in fact, a
native of England, though I've lived nearly twenty years of my life in the
States."

She glanced at his badge. "How did you come to be a ranger--what does it
mean? It's all new to me."

"It is new to the West," he answered, smilingly, glad of a chance to turn
her thought from her own personal griefs. "It has all come about since you
went East. Uncle Sam has at last become provident, and is now 'conserving
his resources.' I am one of his representatives with stewardship over some
ninety thousand acres of territory--mostly forest."

She looked at him with eyes of changing light. "You don't talk like an
Englishman, and yet you are not like the men out here."

"I shouldn't care to be like some of them," he answered. "My being here is
quite logical. I went into the cattle business like many another, and I
went broke. I served under Colonel Roosevelt in the Cuban War, and after
my term was out, naturally drifted back. I love the wilderness and have
some natural taste for forestry, and I can ride and pack a horse as well
as most cowboys, hence my uniform. I'm not the best forest ranger in the
service, I'll admit, but I fancy I'm a fair average."

"And that is your badge--the pine-tree?"

"Yes, and I am proud of it. Some of the fellows are not, but so far as I
am concerned I am glad to be known as a defender of the forest. A tree
means much to me. I never mark one for felling without a sense of
responsibility to the future."

Her questions came slowly, like those of a child. "Where do you live?"

"Directly up the South Fork, about twenty miles."

"What do you do?"

He smiled. "Not much. I ride the trails, guard the game, put out fires,
scale lumber, burn brush, build bridges, herd cattle, count sheep, survey
land, and a few other odd chores. It's supposed to be a soft snap, but I
can't see it that way."

"Do you live alone?"

"Yes, for the larger part of the time. I have an assistant who is with me
during part of the summer months. Mostly I am alone. However, I am
supposed to keep open house, and I catch a visitor now and then."

They were both more at ease now, and her unaffected interest pleased him.

She went on, steadily: "Don't you get very lonely?"

"In winter, sometimes; in summer I'm too busy to get lonely. In the fire
season I'm in the saddle every day, and sometimes all night."

"Who cooks for you?"

"I do. That's part of a ranger's job. We have no 'servant problem' to
contend with."

"Do you expect to do this always?"

He smiled again. "There you touch my secret spring. I have the hope of
being Chief Forester some time--I mean we all have the prospect of
promotion to sustain us. The service is so new that any one with even a
knowledge of forestry is in demand; by and by real foresters will arise."

She returned abruptly to her own problem. "I dread to go back to my
mother, but I must. Oh, how I hate that hotel! I loathe the flies, the
smells, the people that eat there, the waiters--everything!" She
shuddered.

"Many of the evils you mention could be reformed--except, of course, some
of the people who come to eat. I fear several of them have gone beyond
reformation."

As they started back down the street she saw the motor-stage just leaving
the door of the office. "That settles one question," she said. "I can't
get away till to-morrow."

"Where would you go if you broke camp--back to the East?"

"No; my mother thinks there is a place for me in Sulphur City."

"Your case interests me deeply. I wish I could advise you to stay, but
this is a rough town for a girl like you. Why don't you talk the problem
over with the Supervisor?" His voice became firmer. "Mrs. Redfield is the
very one to help you."

"Where does she live?"

"Their ranch lies just above Sulphur, at the mouth of the Canon. May I
tell him what you've told me? He's a good sort, is Redfield--much better
able to advise than I am."

Cavanagh found himself enjoying the confidence of this girl so strangely
thrown into his care, and the curious comment of the people in the street
did not disturb him, except as it bore upon his companion's position in
the town.

At the door of the hotel some half-a-dozen men were clustered. As the
young couple approached they gave way, but a short, powerful man, whom Lee
Virginia recognized as Gregg the sheepman, called to the ranger:

"I want to see you before you leave town, Mr. Ranger."

"Very well. I shall be here all the forenoon," answered Cavanagh, in the
tone of a man accepting a challenge; then, turning to the girl, he said,
earnestly: "I want to help you. I shall be here for lunch, and meanwhile I
wish you would take Redfield into your confidence. He's a wise old boy,
and everybody knows him. No one doubts his motives; besides, he has a
family, and is rich and unhurried. Would you like me to talk with him?"

"If you will. I want to do right--indeed I do."

"I'm sure of that," he said, with eyes upon her flushed and quivering
face. "There's a way out, believe me."

They parted on the little porch of the hotel, and her eyes followed his
upright figure till he entered one of the shops. He had precisely the look
and bearing of a young lieutenant in the regular army, and she wondered
what Gregg's demand meant. In his voice was both menace and contempt.

She returned to her own room, strangely heartened by her talk with the
ranger. "If I stay here another night this room must be cleaned," she
decided, and approached the bed as though it harbored venomous reptiles.
"This is one of the things that must be reformed," she decided, harking
back to the ranger's quiet remark.

She was still pondering ways and means of making the room habitable when
her mother came in.

"How'd you sleep last night?"

Lee Virginia could not bring herself to lie. "Not very well," she
admitted.

"Neither did I. Fact of the matter is your coming fairly upset me. I've
been kind o' used up for three months. I don't know what ails me. I'd
ought to go up to Sulphur to see a doctor, but there don't seem to be any
free time. I 'pear to have lost my grip. Food don't give me any strength.
I saw you talking with Ross Cavanagh. There's a man--and Reddy. Reddy is
what you may call a fancy rancher--goes in for alfalfy and fruit, and all
that. He isn't in the forest service for the pay or for graft. He's got a
regular palace up there above Sulphur--hot and cold water all through the
house, a furnace in the cellar, and two bath-rooms, so they tell me; I
never was in the place. Well, I must go back--I can't trust them girls a
minute." She turned with a groan of pain. "'Pears like every joint in me
is a-creakin' to-day."

"Can't I take your place?" asked Lee Virginia, pity deepening in her heart
as she caught the look of suffering on her mother's face.

"No; you better keep out o' the caffy. It ain't a fit place for you. Fact
is, I weren't expecting anything so fine as you are. I laid awake till
three o'clock last night figurin' on what to do. I reckon you'd better go
back and give this outfit up as a bad job. I used to tell Ed you didn't
belong to neither of us, and you don't. I can't see where you _did_ come
from--anyhow, I don't want the responsibility of havin' you here. Why,
you'll have half the men in the county hitchin' to my corral--and the
males out here are a fierce lot o' brutes." She studied the girl again,
finding her so dainty, so far above herself, that she added: "It would be
a cruel shame for me to keep you here, with all these he-wolves roamin'
around. You're too good to be meat for any of them. You just plan to pack
up and pull out to-morrow."

She went out with a dragging step that softened the girl's heart. It was
true there was little of real affection between them. Her memories of
Eliza up to this moment had been rather mixed. As a child she had seldom
been in her arms, and she had always been a little afraid of the bold,
bright, handsome creature who rode horses and shot pistols like a man. It
was hard to relate the Eliza Wetherford of those days with this flabby,
limping old woman, and yet her daughter came nearer to loving her at this
moment than at any time since her fifth year.



III

LEE VIRGINIA WAGES WAR


IN truth, Lize had risen that morning intending "to whirl in and clean up
the house," being suddenly conscious to some degree of the dirt and
disorder around her, but she found herself physically unequal to the task.
Her brain seemed misted, and her food had been a source of keen pain to
her. Hence, after a few half-hearted orders, she had settled into her
broad chair behind the counter and there remained, brooding over her
maternal responsibilities.

She gave sharp answers to all the men who came up to ask after her
daughter, and to one who remarked on the girl's good looks, and demanded
an introduction, she said: "Get along! I'd as soon introduce her to a
goat. Now you fellers want to understand I'll kill the man that sets out
to fool with my girl, I tell you that!"

While yet Lee Virginia was wondering how to begin the day's work, some one
knocked on her door, and in answer to her invitation a woman stepped in--a
thin blond hag with a weak smile and watery blue eyes. "Is this little Lee
Virginy?" she asked.

The girl rose. "Yes."

"Well, howdy!" She extended her hand, and Lee took it. "My name's
Jackson--Mrs. Orlando Jackson. I knew yore pa and you before 'the war.'"

Lee Virginia dimly recalled such a family, and asked: "Where do you
live?"

"We hole up down here on a ranch about twenty miles--stayed with yore ma
last night--thought I'd jest nacherly look in and say howdy. Are ye back
fer to stay?"

"No, I don't think so. Will you sit down?"

Mrs. Jackson took a seat. "Come back to see how yore ma was, I reckon?
Found her pretty porely, didn't ye?" She lowered her voice. "I think she's
got cancer of the stummick--now that's my guess."

Virginia started. "What makes you think so?"

"Well, I knew a woman who went just that way. Had that same flabby, funny
look--and that same distress after eatin', I told her this mornin' she'd
better go up to Sulphur and see that new doctor. You see, yore ma has
always been a reckless kind of a critter--more like a man than a woman,
God knows--an' how she ever got a girl like you I don't fairly understand.
I reckon you must be what the breedin' men call 'a throw-back,' for yore
pa wa'n't much to brag of, 'ceptin' for looks--he certainly was
good-lookin'. He used to sober down when he got where you was; but
my--good God!--weren't they a pair to draw to? I've heard 'Lando tell
tales of yore ma's doin's that would 'fright ye. Not that she fooled with
men," she hastened to say. "Lord, no! For her the sun rose and set in Ed
Wetherford. She'd leave you any day, and go on the round-up with him. It
nigh about broke her up in business when Ed hit the far-away trail."

The girl perceived that in her visitor she had one of these self-oiled
human talking-machines "with tongue hung in the middle," as the old saying
goes, and she was dimly conscious of having heard her many times before.
"You don't look very well yourself," she said.

"Me? Oh, I'm like one o' these Injun dawgs--can't kill me. I've been on
the range so long I'm tough as dried beef. It's a fierce old place for a
woman--or it was before 'the war'--since then it's kind o' softened down a
hair."

"What do you mean by 'the war'?"

"Why, you remember the rustler war? We date everything out here from that
year. You was here, for I saw ye--a slob of a child."

"Oh!" exclaimed Virginia. "I understand now. Yes, I was here. I saw my
father at the head of the cowboys."

"They weren't cowboys; they were hired killers from Texas. That's what let
yore pa out o' the State. He were on the wrong side, and if it hadn't 'a'
been for the regular soldiers he'd 'a' been wiped out right hyer. As it
was he had to skip the range, and hain't never been back. I don't s'pose
folks will lay it up agin you--bein' a girl--but they couldn't no _son_ of
Ed Wetherford come back here and settle, not for a minute. Why, yore ma
has had to bluff the whole county a'most--not that _I_ lay anything up
agin her. I tell folks she was that bewitched with Ed she couldn't see
things any way but his way. She fought to save his ranch and stawk
and--but hell! she couldn't do nothin'--and then to have him go back on
her the way he did--slip out 'twixt two days, and never write; that just
about shot her to pieces. I never could understand that in Ed, he 'peared
so mortally fond of you and of her, too. He sure was fond of you!" She
shook her head. "No, can't anybody make me believe Ed Wetherford is
alive."

Lee Virginia started. "Who says he's alive?"

"Now don't get excited, girl. He ain't alive; but yet folks say we don't
_know_ he's dead. He jest dropped out so far as yore ma is concerned, and
so far as the county is concerned; but some thought you was with him in
the East."

The girl was now aware that her visitor was hoping to gain some further
information, and so curtly answered: "I've never seen my father since that
night the soldiers came and took him away to the fort. And my mother told
me he died down in Texas."

Mrs. Jackson seemed a little disappointed, but she smoothed the dress over
her sharp knees, and continued: "Right there the good old days ended for
yore ma--and for us. The cattle business has been steadily on the
chute--that is, the free-range business. I saw it comin', an' I says to
Jackson, 'Camp on some river-bottom and chuck in the alfalfy,' I says. An'
that's what we did. We got a little bunch o' cattle up in the park--Uncle
Sam's man is lookin' after 'em." She grinned. "Jackson kicked at the fee,
but I says: 'Twenty cents a head is cheap pasture. We're lucky to get any
grass at all, now that everybody's goin' in for sheep. 'Pears like the
sheepmen air gettin' bolder and bolder in this free-range graft, and I'm
a-bettin' on trouble.'" She rose. "Well, I'm glad to 've had a word with
ye; but you hear me: yore ma has got to have doctor's help, or she's
a-goin' to fall down some day soon."

Every word the woman uttered, every tone of her drawling voice, put Lee
Virginia back into the past. She heard again the swift gallop of
hooves, saw once more the long line of armed ranchers, and felt the hush
of fear that lay over the little town on that fateful day. The situation
became clearer in her mind. She recalled vividly the words of
astonishment and hate with which the women had greeted her mother on the
morning when the news came that Edward Wetherford was among the
invading cattle-barons--was, indeed, one of the leaders.

In Philadelphia the Rocky Mountain States were synonyms of picturesque
lawlessness, the theatre of reckless romance, and Virginia Wetherford,
loyal daughter of the West, had defended it; but in the coarse phrase of
this lean rancheress was pictured a land of border warfare as ruthless as
that which marked the Scotland of Rob Roy.

Commonplace as the little town looked at the moment, it had been the scene
of many a desperate encounter, as the girl herself could testify, for she
had seen more than one man killed therein. Some way the hideousness of
these scenes had never shown itself to her--perhaps because she had been a
child at the time, and had thrilled to the delicious excitement of it; but
now, as she imagined it all happening again before her eyes, she shivered
with horror. How monstrous, how impossible those killings now seemed!

Then her mind came back to her mother's ailment. Eliza Wetherford had
never been one to complain, and her groans meant real suffering.

Her mind resolved upon one thing. "She must see a doctor," she decided.
And with this in mind she reentered the café, where Lize was again in
violent altercation with a waitress.

"Mother," called Lee, "I want to see you."

With a parting volley of vituperation, Mrs. Wetherford followed her
daughter back into the lodging-house.

"Mother," the girl began, facing her and speaking firmly, "you must go to
Sulphur City and see a doctor. I'll stay here and look after the
business."

Mrs. Wetherford perceived in her daughter's attitude and voice something
decisive and powerful. She sank into a chair, and regarded her with intent
gaze. "Hett Jackson's been gabblin' to you," she declared. "Hett knows
more fool things that ain't so than any old heffer I know. She said I was
about all in, didn't she? Prophesied I'd fall down and stay? I know her."

Lee Virginia remained firm. "I'm not going by what she said, I've got eyes
of my own. You need help, and if the doctor here can't help you, you must
go to Sulphur or to Kansas City. I can run the boarding-house till you get
back."

Eliza eyed her curiously. "Don't you go to countin' on this 'chivalry of
the West' which story-writers put into books. These men out here will eat
you up if you don't watch out. I wouldn't dare to leave you here alone.
No, what I'll do is sell the place, if I can, and both of us get out."

"But you need a doctor this minute."

"I'll be all right in a little while; I'm always the worst for an hour or
two after I eat. This little squirt of a local doctor gave me some dope to
ease that pain, but I've got my doubts--I don't want any morphine habit in
mine. No, daughter Virginny, it's mighty white of you to offer, but you
don't know what you're up against when you contract to step into my
shoes."

Visions of reforming methods about the house passed through the girl's
mind. "There must be something I can do. Why don't you have the doctor
come down here?"

"I might do that if I get any worse, but I hate to have you stay in the
house another night. It's only fit for these goats of cowboys and women
like Hett Jackson. Did the bugs eat you last night?"

Virginia flushed. "Yes."

Eliza's face fell. "I was afraid of that. You can't keep 'em out. The
cowboys bring 'em in by the quart."

"They can be destroyed--and the flies, too, can't they?"

"When you've bucked flies and bugs as long as I have, you'll be less
'peart about it. I don't care a hoot in Hades till somebody like you or
Reddy or Ross comes along. Most of the men that camp with me are like
Injuns, anyway--they wouldn't feel natural without bugs a ticklin' 'em.
No, child, you get ready and pull out on the Sulphur stage to-morrow. I'll
pay your way back to Philadelphy."

"I can't leave you now, mother. Now that I know you're ill, I'm going to
stay and take care of you."

Lize rose. "See here, girl, don't you go to idealizin' me, neither. I'm
what the boys call an old battle-axe. I've been through the whole war. I'm
able to feed myself and pay your board besides. Just you find some decent
boarding-place in Sulphur, and I'll see that you have ten dollars a week
to live on, just because you're a Wetherford."

"But I'm your daughter!"

Again Eliza fixed a musing look upon her. "I reckon if the truth was known
your aunt Celia was nigher to being your mother than I ever was. They
always said you was all Wetherford, and I reckon they were right. I always
liked men better than babies. So long as I had your father, you didn't
count--now that's the God's truth. And I didn't intend that you should
ever come back here. I urged you to stay--you know that."

Lee Virginia imagined all this to be a savage self-accusation which sprang
from long self-bereavement, and yet there was something terrifying in its
brutal frankness. She stood in silence till her mother left the room, then
went to her own chamber with a painful knot in her throat. What could she
do with elemental savagery of this sort?

The knowledge that she must spend another night in the bed led her to
active measures of reform. With disgustful desperation, she emptied the
room and swept it as with fire and sword. Her change of mind, from the
passive to the active state, relieved and stimulated her, and she hurried
from one needed reform to another. She drew others into the vortex. She
inspired the chambermaid to unwilling yet amazing effort, and the
lodging-house endured such a blast from the besom that it stood in
open-windowed astonishment uttering dust like the breath of a dragon.
Having swept and garnished the bed-chambers, Virginia moved on the
dining-room. As the ranger had said, this, too, could be reformed.

Unheeding her mother's protests, she organized the giggling waiters into a
warring party, and advanced upon the flies. By hissing and shooing, and
the flutter of newspapers, they drove the enemy before them, and a
carpenter was called in to mend screen doors and windows, thus preventing
their return. New shades were hung to darken the room, and new
table-cloths purchased to replace the old ones, and the kitchen had such a
cleaning as it had not known before in five years.

In this work the time passed swiftly, and when Redfield and Cavanagh came
again to lunch they exclaimed in astonishment--as, indeed, every one did.

"How's this?" queried Cavanagh, humorously. "Has the place 'changed
hands?'"

Lize was but grimly responsive. "Seem's like it has."

"I hope the price has not gone up?"

"Not yet."

Redfield asked: "Who's responsible for this--your new daughter?"

"You've hit it. She's started right in to polish us all up to city
standards."

"We need it," commented Cavanagh, in admiration of the girl's prompt
action. "This room is almost civilized, still we'll sort o' miss the
flies."

Lize apologized. "Well, you know a feller gits kind o' run down like a
clock, and has to have some outsider wind him up now and again. First I
was mad, then I was scared, but now I'm cheerin' the girl on. She can run
the whole blame outfit if she's a mind to--even if I go broke for it. The
work she got out o' them slatter-heels of girls is a God's wonder."

Ross looked round for Virginia, but could not find her. She had seen him
come in, and was out in the kitchen doing what she could to have his food
brought in and properly served.

Redfield reassured the perturbed proprietor of "the joint." "No fear of
going broke, madam--quite the contrary. A few little touches like this,
and you'll be obliged to tear down and build bigger. I don't believe I'd
like to see your daughter run this eating-house as a permanent job, but if
she starts in I'm sure she'll make a success of it."

Lee Virginia came in flushed and self-conscious, but far lighter of spirit
than at breakfast; and stood beside the table while the waitress _laid_
the dishes before her guests with elaborate assumption of grace and
design. Hitherto she had bumped them down with a slash of slangy comment.
The change was quite as wonderful as the absence of the flies.

"Do we owe these happy reforms to you?" asked Cavanagh, admiring
Virginia's neat dress and glowing cheeks.

"Partly," she answered. "I was desperate. I had to do something, so I took
to ordering people around."

"I understand," he said. "Won't you sit at our table again?"

"Please do," said Redfield. "I want to talk with you."

She took a seat--a little hesitantly. "You see, I studied Domestic Science
at school, and I've never had a chance to apply it before."

"Here's your opportunity," Redfield assured her. "My respect for the
science of domestics is growing--I marvel to think what another week will
bring forth. I think I'll have to come down again just to observe the
improvement in the place."

"It can't last," Lize interjected. "She'll catch the Western
habits--she'll sag, same as we all do."

"No she won't," declared Ross, with intent to encourage her. "If you give
her a free hand, I predict she'll make your place the wonder and boast of
the county-side."

"When do you go back to the mountains?" Lee Virginia asked, a little
later.

"Immediately after my luncheon," he replied.

She experienced a pang of regret, and could not help showing it a little.
"Your talk helped me," she said; "I've decided to stay, and be of use to
my mother."

Redfield overheard this, and turned toward her.

"This is a rough school for you, Lee Virginia, and I should dislike seeing
you settle down to it for life: but it can't hurt you if you are what I
think you are. Nothing can soil or mar the mind that wills for good. I
want Mrs. Redfield to know you; I'm sure her advice will be helpful. I
hope you'll come up and see us if you decide to settle in Sulphur--or if
you don't."

"I should like to do so," she said, touched by the tone as well as by the
words of his invitation.

"Redfield's house is one of the few completely civilized homes in the
State," put in Cavanagh. "When I get so weary of cuss-words and poaching
and graft that I can't live without killing some one, I go down to Elk
Lodge and smoke and read the Supervisor's London and Paris weeklies and
recover my tone."

Redfield smiled. "When I get weak-kneed or careless in the service and
feel my self-respect slipping away, I go up to Ross's cabin and talk with
a man who represents the impersonal, even-handed justice of the Federal
law."

Cavanagh laughed. "There! Having handed each other reciprocal bouquets, we
can now tell Miss Wetherford the truth. Each of us thinks very well of
himself, and we're both believers in the New West."

"What do you mean by the New West?" asked the girl.

"Well, the work you've been doing here this morning is a part of it,"
answered Redfield. "It's a kind of housecleaning. The Old West was
picturesque and, in a way, manly and fine--certain phases of it were
heroic--and I hate to see it all pass, but some of us began to realize
that it was not all poetry. The plain truth is my companions for over
twenty years were lawless ruffians, and the cattle business as we
practiced it in those days was founded on selfishness and defended at the
mouth of the pistol. We were all pensioners on Uncle Sam, and fighting to
keep the other fellow off from having a share of his bounty. It was all
wasteful, half-savage. We didn't want settlement, we didn't want law, we
didn't want a State. We wanted free range. We were a line of pirates from
beginning to end, and we're not wholly, reformed yet."

He was talking to the whole table now, for all were listening. No other
man on the range could say these things with the same authority, for Hugh
Redfield was known all over the State as a man who had been one of the
best riders and ropers in his outfit--one who had started in as a common
hand at herding, and who had been entirely through "the war."

Lee Virginia listened with a stirring of the blood. Her recollections of
the range were all of the heroic. She recalled the few times when she was
permitted to go on the round-up, and to witness the breaking of new
horses, and the swiftness, grace, and reckless bravery of the riders, the
moan and surge of herds, the sweep of horsemen, came back and filled her
mind with large and free and splendid pictures. And now it was passing--or
past!

Some one at the table accused Redfield of being more of a town-site boomer
than a cattle-man.

He was quite unmoved by this charge. "The town-site boomer at least
believes in progress. He does not go so far as to shut out settlement. If
a neat and tidy village or a well-ordered farmstead is not considered
superior to a cattle-ranch littered with bones and tin cans, or better
than even a cow-town whose main industry is whiskey-selling, then all
civilized progress is a delusion. When I was a youngster these
considerations didn't trouble me. I liked the cowboy life and the careless
method of the plains, but I've some girls growing up now, and I begin to
see the whole business in a new light. I don't care to have my children
live the life I've lived. Besides, what right have we to stand in the way
of a community's growth? Suppose the new life _is_ less picturesque than
the old? We don't like to leave behind us the pleasures and sports of
boyhood; but we grow up, nevertheless. I'm far more loyal to the State as
Forest Supervisor than I was when I was riding with the cattle-men to
scare up the nester."

He uttered all this quite calmly, but his ease of manner, his absolute
disregard of consequences, joined with his wealth and culture, gave his
words great weight and power. No one was ready with an answer but Lize,
who called out, with mocking accent: "Reddy, you're too good for the
Forest Service, you'd ought 'o be our next Governor."

This was a centre shot. Redfield flushed, and Cavanagh laughed. "Mr.
Supervisor, you are discovered!"

Redfield recovered himself. "I should like to be Governor of this State
for about four years, but I'm likelier to be lynched for being in command
of twenty 'Cossacks.'"

At this moment Sam Gregg entered the room, followed by a young man in an
English riding-suit. Seeing that "the star-boarder table" offered a couple
of seats, they pointed that way. Sam was plainly in war-like frame of
mind, and slammed his sombrero on its nail with the action of a man
beating an adversary.

"That is Sam Gregg and his son Joe--used to be ranch cattle-man, now one
of our biggest sheepmen," Cavanagh explained. "He's bucking the cattle-men
now."

Lee Virginia studied young Gregg with interest, for his dress was that of
a man to whom money came easy, and his face was handsome, though rather
fat and sullen. In truth, he had been brought into the room by his father
to see "Lize Wetherford's girl," and his eyes at once sought and found
her. A look of surprise and pleasure at once lit his face.

Gregg was sullen because of his interview with Cavanagh, which had been in
the nature of a grapple; and in the light of what Redfield had said, Lee
Virginia was able to perceive in these two men a struggle for supremacy.
Gregg was the greedy West checked and restrained by the law.

Every man in the room knew that Gregg was a bitter opponent of the Forest
Service, and that he "had it in" for the ranger; and some of them knew
that he was throwing more sheep into the forest than his permits allowed,
and that a clash with Redfield was sure to come. It was just like the
burly old Irishman to go straight to the table where his adversary sat.

Virginia's eyes fell before the gaze of these two men, for they had none
of the shyness or nothing of the indirection of the ruder men she had met.
They expressed something which angered her, though she could not have told
precisely why.

Redfield did not soften his words on Gregg's account; on the contrary he
made them still more cutting and to the line.

"The mere fact that I live near the open range or a national forest does
not give me any _rights_ in the range or forest," he was saying, as Gregg
took his seat. "I enjoy the _privilege_ of these Government grazing
grounds, and I ought to be perfectly willing to pay the fee. These forests
are the property of the whole nation; they are public lands, and should
yield a revenue to the whole nation. It is silly to expect the Government
to go on enriching a few of us stockmen at the expense of others. I see
this, and I accept the change."

"After you've got rich at it," said Gregg.

"Well, haven't you?" retorted Redfield. "Are you so greedy that nothing
will stop you?"

Lize threw in a wise word. "The sporting-houses of Kansas City and Chicago
keep old Sam poor."

A roar of laughter followed this remark, and Gregg was stumped for a
moment; but the son grinned appreciatively. "Now be good!"

Cavanagh turned to Virginia in haste to shield her from all that lay
behind and beneath this sally of the older and deeply experienced woman.
"The Supervisor is willing to yield a point--he knows what the New West
will bring."

Gregg growled out: "I'm not letting any of my rights slip."

The girl was troubled by the war-light which she saw in the faces of the
men about her, and vague memories of the words and stories she had
overchanced to hear in her childhood came back to her mind--hints of the
drunken orgies of the cowboys who went to the city with cattle, and the
terrifying suggestion of their attitude toward all womankind. She set
Cavanagh and his chief quite apart from all the others in the room, and at
first felt that in young Gregg was another man of education and right
living--but in this she was misled.

Lize had confidence enough in the ranger to throw in another malicious
word. "Ross, old Bullfrog came down here to chase you up a tree--so he
said. Did he do it?"

Gregg looked ugly. "I'm not done with this business."

She turned to Ross. "Don't let him scare you--his beller is a whole lot
worse than his bite."

This provoked another laugh, and Gregg was furious--all the more so that
his son joined in. "I'll have your head, Mr. Supervisor; I'll carry my
fight to the Secretary."

"Very well," returned Redfield, "carry it to the President if you wish. I
simply repeat that your sheep must correspond to your permit, and if you
don't send up and remove the extra number I will do it myself. I don't
make the rules of the department. My job is to carry them out."

By this time every person in the room was tense with interest. They all
knew Gregg and his imperious methods. He was famous for saying once (when
in his cup): "I always thought sheepmen were blankety blank sons of guns,
and now I'm one of 'em I _know_ they are." Some of the cattle-men in the
room had suffered from his greed, and while they were not partisans of the
Supervisor they were glad to see him face his opponent fearlessly.

Lize delivered a parting blow. "Bullfrog, you and me are old-timers. We're
on the losing side. We belong to the 'good old days' when the Fork was 'a
man's town,' and to be 'shot up' once a week kept us in news. But them
times are past. You can't run the range that way any more. Why, man,
you'll have to buy and fence your own pasture in a few years more, or else
pay rent same as I do. You stockmen kick like steers over paying a few old
cents a head for five months' range; you'll be mighty glad to pay a dollar
one o' these days. Take your medicine--that's my advice." And she went
back to her cash-drawer.

Redfield's voice was cuttingly contemptuous as he said quite calmly:
"You're all kinds of asses, you sheepmen. You ought to pay the fee for
your cattle with secret joy. So long as you can get your stock pastured
(and in effect guarded) by the Government from June to November for twenty
cents, or even fifty cents, per head you're in luck. Mrs. Wetherford is
right: we've all been educated in a bad school. Uncle Sam has been too
bloomin' lazy to keep any supervision over his public lands. He's
permitted us grass pirates to fight and lynch and burn one another on the
high range (to which neither of us had any right), holding back the real
user of the land--the farmer. We've played the part of selfish and greedy
gluttons so long that we fancy our privileges have turned into rights.
Having grown rich on free range, you're now fighting the Forest Service
because it is disposed to make you pay for what has been a gratuity. I'm a
hog, Gregg, but I'm not a fool. I see the course of empire, and I'm
getting into line."

Gregg was silenced, but not convinced. "It's a long lane that has no
turn," he growled.

Redfield resumed, in impersonal heat. "The cow-man was conceived in
anarchy and educated in murder. Whatever romantic notions I may have had
of the plains twenty-five years ago, they are lost to me now. The
free-range stock-owner has no country and no God; nothing but a range that
isn't his, and damned bad manners--begging pardon, Miss Wetherford. The
sooner he dies the better for the State. He's a dirty, wasteful sloven,
content to eat canned beans and drink canned milk in his rotten bad
coffee; and nobody but an old crank like myself has the grace to stand up
and tell the truth about him."

Cavanagh smiled. "And you wouldn't, if you weren't a man of independent
means, and known to be one of the most experienced cow-punchers in the
county. I've no fight with men like Gregg; all is they've got to conform
to the rules of the service."

Gregg burst out: "You think you're the whole United States army! Who gives
you all the authority?"

"Congress and the President."

"There's nothing in that bill to warrant these petty tyrannies of yours."

"What you call tyrannies I call defending the public domain," replied
Redfield. "If I had my way, I'd give my rangers the power of the Canadian
mounted police. Is there any other State in this nation where the roping
of sheep-herders and the wholesale butchery of sheep would be permitted?
From the very first the public lands of this State have been a refuge for
the criminal--a lawless no-man's land; but now, thanks to Roosevelt and
the Chief Forester, we at least have a force of men on the spot to see
that some semblance of law and order is maintained. You fellows may
protest and run to Washington, and you may send your paid representatives
there, but you're sure to lose. As free-range monopolists you are
cumberers of the earth, and all you represent must pass, before this State
can be anything but the byword it now is. I didn't feel this so keenly ten
years ago, but with a bunch of children growing up my vision has grown
clearer. The picturesque West must give way to the civilized West, and the
war of sheepmen and cattle-men must stop."

The whole dining-room was still as he finished, and Lee Virginia, with a
girl's vague comprehension of the man's world, apprehended in Redfield's
speech a large and daring purpose.

Gregg sneered. "Perhaps you intend to run for Congress on that line of
talk."

Redfield's voice was placid. "At any rate, I intend to represent the
policy that will change this State from the sparsely settled battle-ground
of a lot of mounted hobos to a State with an honorable place among the
other commonwealths. If this be treason, make the most of it."

Cavanagh was disturbed; for while he felt the truth of his chief's words,
he was in doubt as to the policy of uttering them.

It was evident to Virginia that the cow-men, as well as Gregg, were nearly
all against the prophet of the future, and she was filled with a sense of
having arrived on the scene just as the curtain to a stern and purposeful
drama was being raised. With her recollections of the savage days of old,
it seemed as if Redfield, by his bold words, had placed his life in
danger.

Cavanagh rose. "I must be going," he said, with a smile.

Again the pang of loss touched her heart. "When will you come again?" she
asked, in a low voice.

"It is hard to say. A ranger's place is in the forest. I am very seldom in
town. Just now the danger of fires is great, and I am very uneasy. I may
not be down again for a month."

The table was empty now, and they were standing in comparative isolation
looking into each other's eyes in silence. At last she murmured: "You've
helped me. I'm going to stay--a little while, anyway, and do what I
can--"

"I'm sorry I can't be of actual service, but I am a soldier with a work to
do. Even if I were here, I could not help you as regards the
townspeople--they all hate me quite cordially; but Redfield, and
especially Mrs. Redfield, can be of greater aid and comfort. He's quite
often here, and when you are lonely and discouraged let him take you up to
Elk Lodge."

"I've been working all the morning to make this room decent. It was rather
fun. Don't you think it helped?"

"I saw the mark of your hand the moment I entered the door," he earnestly
replied. "I'm not one that laughs at the small field of woman's work. If
you make this little hotel clean and homelike, you'll be doing a very
considerable work in bringing about the New West which the Supervisor is
spouting about." He extended his hand, and as she took it he thrilled to
the soft strength of it. "Till next time," he said, "good luck!"

She watched him go with a feeling of pain--as if in his going she were
losing her best friend and most valiant protector.



IV

VIRGINIA TAKES ANOTHER MOTOR RIDE


Lee Virginia's efforts to refine the little hotel produced an amazing
change in Eliza Wetherford's affairs. The dining-room swarmed with those
seeking food, and as the news of the girl's beauty went out upon the
range, the cowboys sought excuse to ride in and get a square meal and a
glimpse of the "Queen" whose hand had witched "the old shack" into a
marvel of cleanliness.

Say what you will, beauty is a sovereign appeal. These men, unspeakably
profane, cruel, and obscene in their saddle-talk, were awed by the fresh
linen, the burnished glass, and the well-ordered tables which they found
in place of the flies, the dirt, and the disorder of aforetime. "It's
worth a day's ride just to see that girl for a minute," declared one
enthusiast.

They did not all use the napkins, but they enjoyed having them there
beside their plates, and the subdued light, the freedom from insects
impressed them almost to decorum. They entered with awe, avid for a word
with "Lize Wetherford's girl." Generally they failed of so much as a
glance at her, for she kept away from the dining-room at meal-time.

Lee Virginia was fully aware of this male curiosity, and vaguely conscious
of the merciless light which shone in the eyes of some of them (men like
Gregg), who went about their game with the shameless directness of the
brute. She had begun to understand, too, that her mother's reputation was
a barrier between the better class of folk and herself; but as they came
now and again to take a meal, they permitted themselves a word in her
praise, which she resented. "I don't want their friendship _now_," she
declared, bitterly.

As she gained courage to look about her, she began to be interested in
some of her coatless, collarless boarders on account of their
extraordinary history. There was Brady, the old government scout, retired
on a pension, who was accustomed to sit for hours on the porch, gazing
away over the northern plains--never toward the mountains--as if he
watched for bear or bison, or for the files of hostile red hunters--though
in reality there was nothing to see but the stage, coming and going, or a
bunch of cowboys galloping into town. Nevertheless, every cloud of dust
was to him diversion, and he appeared to dream, like a captive eagle,
bedraggled, spiritless, but with an inner spark of memory burning deep in
his dim blue eyes.

Then there was an old miner, distressingly filthy, who hobbled to his
meals on feet that had been frozen into clubs. He had a little gold loaned
at interest, and on this he lived in tragic parsimony. He and the old
scout sat much together, usually without speech (each knew to the last
word the other's stories), as if they recognized each other's utter
loneliness.

Sifton, the old remittance man, had been born to a higher culture,
therefore was his degradation the deeper. His poverty was due to his
weakness. Virginia was especially drawn toward him by reason of his
inalienable politeness and his well-chosen words. He was always the
gentleman--no matter how frayed his clothing.

So far as the younger men were concerned, she saw little to admire and
much to hate. They were crude and uninteresting rowdies for the most part.
She was put upon her defence by their glances, and she came to dread
walking along the street, so open and coarse were their words of praise.
She felt dishonored by the glances which her feet drew after her, and she
always walked swiftly to and from the store or the post-office.

Few of these loafers had the courage to stand on their feet and court her
favor, but there was one who speedily became her chief persecutor. This
was Neill Ballard, celebrated (and made impudent) by two years' travel
with a Wild West show. He was tall, lean, angular, and freckled, but his
horsemanship was marvellous and his skill with the rope magical. His
special glory consisted in a complicated whirling of the lariat. In his
hand the limp, inert cord took on life, grace, charm. It hung in the air
or ran in rhythmic waves about him, rising, falling, expanding,
diminishing, as if controlled by some agency other than a man's hand, and
its gyrations had won much applause in the Eastern cities, where such
skill is expected of the cowboys.

He had lost his engagement by reason of a drunken brawl, and he was now
living with his sister, the wife of a small rancher near by. He was vain,
lazy, and unspeakably corrupt, full of open boasting of his exploits in
the drinking-dens of the East. No sooner did he fix eyes upon Virginia
than he marked her for his special prey. He had the depraved heart of the
herder and the insolent confidence of the hoodlum, and something of this
the girl perceived. She despised the other men, but she feared this one,
and quite justly, for he was capable of assaulting and binding her with
his rope, as he had once done with a Shoshone squaw.

The Greggs, father and son, were in open rivalry for Lee also, but in
different ways. The older man, who had already been married several times,
was disposed to buy her hand in what he called "honorable wedlock," but
the son, at heart a libertine, approached her as one who despised the
West, and who, being kept in the beastly country by duty to a parent, was
ready to amuse himself at any one's expense. He had no purpose in life but
to feed his body and escape toil.

There are women to whom all this warfare would have been diverting, but it
was not so to Lee. Her sense of responsibility was too keen. It was both a
torture and a shame. The chivalry of the plains, of which she had read so
much--and which she supposed she remembered--was gone. She doubted if it
had ever existed among these centaurs. Why should it inhere in ignorant,
brutal plainsmen any more than in ignorant, brutal factory hands?

There came to her, now and again, gentle old ranchers--"grangers," they
would be called--and shy boys from the farms, but for the most part the
men she saw embittered her, and she kept out of their sight as much as
possible. Her keenest pleasures, almost her only pleasures, lay in the
occasional brief visits of the ranger, as he rode in for his mail.

Lize perceived all these attacks on her daughter, and was infuriated by
them. She snapped and snarled like a tigress leading her half-grown kitten
through a throng of leopards. Her brows were knotted with care as well as
with pain, and she incessantly urged Virginia to go back to Sulphur. "I'll
send you money to pay your board till you strike a job." But to this the
girl would not agree; and the business, by reason of her presence, went on
increasing from day to day.

To Redfield Lize one day confessed her pain. "I ought to send for that
doctor up there, but the plain truth is I'm afraid of him. I don't want to
know what's the matter of me. It's his job to tell me I'm sick and I'm
scared of his verdict."

"Nonsense," he replied; "you can't afford to put off getting him much
longer. I'm going back to-night, but I'll be over again to-morrow. Why
don't you let me bring him down? It will save you twelve dollars. And, by
the way, suppose you let me take Lee Virginia home with me? She looks a
bit depressed; an outing will do her good. She's taken hold here
wonderfully."

"Hasn't she! But I should have sent her away the very first night. I'm
getting to depend on her. I'm plumb foolish about her now--can't let her
out of my sight; and yet I'm off my feed worryin' over her. Gregg is
getting dangerous--you can't fool me when it comes to men. Curse 'em,
they're all alike--beasts, every cussed one of them. I won't have my girl
mistreated, I tell you that! I'm not fit to be her mother, now that's the
God's truth, Reddy, and this rotten little back-country cow-town is no
place for her. But what can I do? She won't leave me so long as I'm sick,
and every day ties her closer to me. I don't know what I'd do without her.
If I'm goin' to die I want her by me when I take my drop. So you see just
how I'm placed."

She looked yellow and drawn as she ended, and Redfield was moved by her
unwonted tenderness.

"Now let me advise," he began, after a moment's pause. "We musn't let the
girl get homesick. I'll take her home with me this afternoon, and bring
her back along with a doctor to-morrow."

"All right, but before you go I want to have a private talk--I want to
tell you something."

He warned her away from what promised to be a confession. "Now, now,
Eliza, don't tell me anything that requires that tone of voice; I'm a bad
person to keep a secret, and you might be sorry for it. I don't want to
know anything more about your business than I can guess."

"I don't mean the whiskey trade," she explained. "I've cut that all out
anyway. It's something more important--it's about Ed and me."

"I don't want to hear _that_ either," he declared. "Let bygones be
bygones. What you did then is outlawed, anyway. Those were fierce times,
and I want to forget them." He looked about. "Let me see this Miss
Virginia and convey to her Mrs. Redfield's invitation."

"She's in the kitchen, I reckon. Go right out."

He was rather glad of a chance to see the young reformer in action, and
smiled as he came upon her surrounded by waiters and cooks, busily
superintending the preparations for the noon meal, which amounted to a
tumult each day.

She saw Redfield, nodded, and a few moments later came toward him, flushed
and beaming with welcome. "I'm glad to see you again, Mr. Supervisor."

He bowed profoundly. "I'm delighted to find you well, Miss Virginia, and
doubly pleased to see you in your regimentals, which you mightily adorn."

She looked down at her apron. "I made this myself. Do you know our
business is increasing wonderfully? I'm busy every moment of the day till
bedtime."

"Indeed I do know it. I hear of the Wetherford House all up and down the
line. I was just telling your mother she'll be forced to build bigger,
like the chap in the Bible."

"She works too hard. Poor mother! I try to get her to turn the cash-drawer
over to me, but she won't do it. Doesn't she seem paler and weaker to
you?"

"She does, indeed, and this is what I came in to propose. Mrs. Redfield
sends by me a formal invitation to you to visit Elk Lodge. She is not
quite able to take the long ride, else she'd come to you." Here he handed
her a note. "I suggest that you go up with me this afternoon, and
to-morrow we'll fetch the doctor down to see your mother. What do you say
to that?"

Her eyes were dewy with grateful appreciation of his kindness as she
answered: "That would be a great pleasure, Mr. Redfield, if mother feels
able to spare me."

"I've talked with her; she is anxious to have you go."

Virginia was indeed greatly pleased and pleasantly excited by this
message, for she had heard much of Mrs. Redfield's exclusiveness, and also
of the splendor of her establishment. She hurried away to dress with such
flutter of joyous anticipation that Redfield felt quite repaid for the
pressure he had put upon his wife to induce her to write that note. "You
may leave Lize Wetherford out of the count, my dear," he had said. "There
is nothing of her discernible in the girl. Virginia is a lady. I don't
know where she got it, but she's a gentlewoman by nature."

Lize said: "Don't you figure on me in any way, Reddy. I'm nothing but the
old hen that raised up this lark, and all I'm a-livin' for now is to make
her happy. Just you cut me out when it comes to any question about your
wife and Virginia. I'm not in their class."

It was hot and still in the town, but no sooner was the car in motion than
both heat and dust were forgotten. Redfield's machine was not large, and
as he was content to go at moderate speed, conversation was possible.

He was of that sunny, optimistic, ever-youthful nature which finds delight
in human companionship under any conditions whatsoever. He accepted this
girl for what she seemed--a fresh, unspoiled child. He saw nothing cheap
or commonplace in her, and was not disposed to impose any of her father's
wild doings upon her calendar. He had his misgivings as to her
future--that was the main reason why he had said to Mrs. Redfield, "The
girl must be helped." Afterward he had said "sustained."

It was inevitable that the girl should soon refer to the ranger, and
Redfield was as complimentary of him as she could wish. "Ross hasn't a
fault but one, and that's a negative one: he doesn't care a hang about
getting on, as they say over in England. He's content just to do the duty
of the moment. He made a good cow-puncher and a good soldier; but as for
promotion, he laughs when I mention it."

"He told me that he hoped to be Chief Forester," protested Virginia.

"Oh yes, he says that; but do you know, he'd rather be where he is, riding
over the hills, than live in London. You should see his cabin some time.
It's most wonderful, really. His walls are covered with bookshelves of his
own manufacture, and chairs of his own design. Where the boy got the
skill, I don't see. Heaven knows, his sisters are conventional enough!
He's capable of being Supervisor, but he won't live in town and work in an
office. He's like an Indian in his love of the open."

All this was quite too absorbingly interesting to permit of any study of
the landscape, which went by as if dismissed by the chariot wheels of some
contemptuous magician. Redfield's eyes were mostly on the road (in the
manner of the careful driver), but when he did look up it was to admire
the color and poise of his seat-mate, who made the landscape of small
account.

She kept the conversation to the desired point. "Mr. Cavanagh's work
interests me very much. It seems very important; and it must be new, for I
never heard of a forest ranger when I was a child."

"The forester is new--at least, in America," he answered. "My dear young
lady, you are returned just in the most momentous period in the history of
the West. The old dominion--the cattle-range--is passing. The supremacy of
the cowboy is ended. The cow-boss is raising oats, the cowboy is pitching
alfalfa, and swearing horribly as he blisters his hands. Some of the
rangers at the moment are men of Western training like Ross, but whose
allegiance is now to Uncle Sam. With others that transfer of allegiance is
not quite complete, hence the insolence of men like Gregg, who think they
can bribe or intimidate these forest guards, and so obtain favors; the
newer men are college-bred, real foresters. But you can't know what it all
means till you see Ross, or some other ranger, on his own heath. We'll
make up a little party some day and drop down upon him, and have him show
us about. It's a lonely life, and so the ranger keeps open house. Would
you like to go?"

"Oh, yes indeed! I'm eager to get into the mountains. Every night as I see
the sun go down over them I wonder what the world is like up there."

Then he began very delicately to inquire about her Eastern experience.
There was not much to tell. In a lovely old town not far from
Philadelphia, where her aunt lived, she had spent ten years of happy
exile. "I was horribly lonely and homesick at first," she said. "Mother
wrote only short letters, and my father never wrote at all. I didn't know
he was dead then. He was always good to me. He wasn't a bad man, was he?"

"No," responded Redfield, without hesitation. "He was very like the rest
of us--only a little more reckless and a little more partisan, that's all.
He was a dashing horseman and a dead-shot, and so, naturally, a leader of
these daredevils. He was popular with both sides of the controversy up to
the very moment when he went South to lead the invaders against the
rustlers."

"What was it all about? I never understood it. What were they fighting
about?"

"In a sense, it was all very simple. You see, Uncle Sam, in his careless,
do-nothing way, has always left his range to whomever got there first, and
that was the cattle-man. At first there was grass enough for us all, but
as we built sheds and corrals about watering-places we came to claim
_rights_ on the range. We usually secured by fraud homesteads in the
sections containing water, and so, gun in hand, 'stood off' the man who
came after. Gradually, after much shooting and lawing, we parcelled out
the range and settled down covering practically the whole State. Our
adjustments were not perfect, but our system was working smoothly for us
who controlled the range. We had convinced ourselves, and pretty nearly
everybody else, that the State was only fit for cattle-grazing, and that
we were the most competent grazers; furthermore, we were in possession,
and no man could come in without our consent.

"However, a very curious law of our own making was our undoing. Of course
the 'nester' or 'punkin roller,' as we contemptuously called the small
farmer, began sifting in here and there in spite of our guns, but he was
only a mosquito bite in comparison with the trouble which our cow-punchers
stirred up. Perhaps you remember enough about the business to know that an
unbranded yearling calf without its mother is called a maverick?"

"Yes, I remember that. It belongs to the man who finds him, and brands
him."

"Precisely. Now that law worked very nicely so long as the poor cowboy was
willing to catch and brand him for his employer, but it proved a 'joker'
when he woke up and said to his fellows: 'Why brand these mavericks at
five dollars per head for this or that outfit when the law says it belongs
to the man who finds him?'"

Lee Virginia looked up brightly. "That seems right to me!"

"Ah yes; but wait. We cattle-men had large herds, and the _probabilities_
were that the calf belonged to some one of us; whereas, the cowboy, having
no herd at all, _knew_ the maverick belonged to some one's herd. True, the
law said it was his, but the law did not mean to reward the freebooter;
yet that is exactly what it did. At first only a few outlaws took
advantage of it; but hard years came on, the cattle business became less
and less profitable, we were forced to lay off our men, and so at last the
range swarmed with idle cow-punchers; then came the breakdown in our
scheme! The cowboys took to 'mavericking' on their own account. Some of
them had the grace to go into partnership with some farmer, and so claim a
small bunch of cows, but others suddenly and miraculously acquired herds
of their own. From keeping within the law, they passed to violent methods.
They slit the tongues of calves for the purpose of separating them from
their mothers. Finding he could not suck, bossy would at last wander away
from his dam, and so become a 'maverick.' In short, anarchy reigned on the
range."

"But surely my father had nothing to do with this?"

"No; your father, up to this time, had been on good terms with everybody.
He had a small herd of cattle down the river, which he owned in common
with a man named Hart."

"I remember him."

"He was well thought of by all the big outfits; and when the situation
became intolerable, and we got together to weed out 'the rustlers,' as
these cattle-thieves were called, your father was approached and converted
to a belief in drastic measures. He had suffered less than the rest of us
because of his small herd and the fact that he was very popular among the
cowboys. So far as I was concerned, the use of violent methods revolted
me. My training in the East had made me a respecter of the law. 'Change
the law,' I said. 'The law is all right,' they replied; 'the trouble is
with these rustlers. We'll hang a few of 'em, and that will break up the
business.'"

Parts of this story came back to the girl's mind, producing momentary
flashes of perfect recollection. She heard again the voices of excited men
arguing over and over the question of "mavericking," and she saw her
father as he rode up to the house that last day before he went South.

Redfield went on. "The whole plan as developed was silly, and I wonder
still that Ed Wetherford, who knew 'the nester' and the cowboy so well,
should have lent his aid to it. The cattle-men--some from Cheyenne, some
from Denver, and a few from New York and Chicago--agreed to finance a sort
of Vigilante Corps composed of men from the outside, on the understanding
that this policing body should be commanded by one of their own number.
Your father was chosen second in command, and was to guide the party; for
he knew almost every one of the rustlers, and could ride directly to their
doors."

"I wish he hadn't done that," murmured the girl.

"I must be frank with you, Virginia. I can't excuse that in him. It was a
kind of treachery. He must have been warped by his associates. They
convinced him by some means that it was his duty, and one fine day the
Fork was startled by a messenger, who rode in to say that the
cattle-barons were coming with a hundred Texas bad men 'to clean out the
town,' and to put their own men into office. This last was silly rot to
me, but the people believed it."

The girl was tingling now. "I remember! I remember the men who rode into
the town to give the alarm. Their horses were white with foam; their heads
hung down, and their sides went in and out. I pitied the poor things.
Mother jumped on her pony, and rode out among the men. She wanted to go
with them, but they wouldn't let her. I was scared almost breathless."

"I was in Sulphur City, and did not hear of it till it was nearly all
over," Redfield resumed, his speech showing a little of the excitement
which thrilled through the girl's voice. "Well, the first act of vengeance
was so ill-considered that it practically ended the whole campaign. The
invaders fell upon and killed two ranchers--one of whom was probably not a
rustler at all, but a peaceable settler, and the other one they most
barbarously hanged. More than this, they attacked and vainly tried to kill
two settlers whom they met on the road--German farmers, with no
connection, so far as known, with the thieves. These men escaped, and gave
the alarm. In a few hours the whole range was aflame with vengeful fire.
The Forks, as you may recall, was like a swarm of bumblebees. Every man
and boy was armed and mounted. The storekeepers distributed guns and
ammunition, leaders developed, and the embattled 'punkin rollers,'
rustlers, and townsmen rode out to meet the invaders."

The girl paled with memory of it. "It was terrible! I went all day without
eating, and for two nights we were all too excited to sleep. It seemed as
if the world were coming to an end. Mother cried because they wouldn't let
her go with them. She didn't know father was leading the other army."

"She must have known soon, for it was reported that your father was among
them. She certainly knew when they were driven to earth in that log fort,
for they were obliged to restrain her by force from going to your father.
As I run over those furious days it all seems incredible, like a sudden
reversal to barbarism."

"How did it all end? The soldiers came, didn't they?"

"Yes; the long arm of Uncle Sam reached out and took hold upon the necks
of both parties. I guess your father and his band would have died right
there had not the regular army interfered. It only required a sergeant
wearing Uncle Sam's uniform to come among those armed and furious cowboys
and remove their prisoners."

"I saw that. It was very strange--that sergeant was so young and so
brave."

He turned and smiled at her. "Do you know who that was?"

Her eyes flashed. She drew her breath with a gasp. "Was it Mr. Cavanagh?"

"Yes, it was Ross. He was serving in the regular army at the time. He has
told me since that he felt no fear whatever. 'Uncle Sam's blue coat was
like Siegfried's magic armor,' he said; 'it was the kind of thing the
mounted police of Canada had been called upon to do many a time, and I
went in and got my men.' That ended the war, so far as violent measures
went, and it really ended the sovereignty of the cattle-man. The power of
the 'nester' has steadily increased from that moment."

"But my father--what became of him? They took him away to the East, and
that is all I ever knew. What do you think became of him?"

"I could never make up my mind. All sorts of rumors come to us concerning
him. As a matter of fact, the State authorities sympathized with the
cattle-barons, and my own opinion is that your father was permitted to
escape. He was afterward seen in Texas, and later it was reported that he
had been killed there."

The girl sat still, listening to the tireless whir of the machine, and
looking out at the purpling range with tear-mist eyes. At last she said:
"I shall never think of my father as a bad man, he was always so gentle to
me."

"You need not condemn him, my dear young lady. First of all, it's not fair
to bring him (as he was in those days) forward into these piping times of
dairy cows and alfalfa. The people of the Forks--some of them, at
least--consider him a traitor, and regard you as the daughter of a
renegade, but what does it matter? Each year sees the Old West diminish,
and already, in the work of the Forest Service, law and order advance.
Notwithstanding all the shouting of herders and the beating to death of
sheep, no hostile shot has ever been fired within the bounds of a National
Forest. In the work of the forest rangers lies the hope of ultimate peace
and order over all the public lands."

The girl fell silent again, her mind filled with larger conceptions of
life than her judgment had hitherto been called upon to meet. She knew
that Redfield was right, and yet that world of the past--the world of the
swift herdsman and his trampling, long-horned, half-wild kine still
appealed to her imagination. The West of her girlhood seemed heroic in
memory; even the quiet account of it to which she had just listened could
not conceal its epic largeness of movement. The part which troubled her
most was her father's treachery to his neighbors. That he should fight,
that he should kill men in honorable warfare, she could understand; but
not his recreancy, his desertion of her mother and herself.

She came back to dwell at last on the action of that slim young soldier
who had calmly ridden through the infuriated mob. She remembered that she
had thrilled even then at the vague and impersonal power which he
represented. To her childish mind he seemed to bear a charm, like the
heroes of her story-books--something which made him invulnerable.

After a long pause Redfield spoke again. "The memory of your father will
make life for a time a bit hard for you in Roaring Fork--perhaps your
mother's advice is sound. Why not come to Sulphur City, which is almost
entirely of the new spirit?"

"If I can get my mother to come, too, I will be glad to do so, for I hate
the Fork; but I will not leave her there, sick and alone."

"Much depends upon the doctor's examination to-morrow."

They had topped the divide now between the Fork and Sulphur Creek Basin,
and the green fields, the alfalfa meadows, and the painted farm-houses
thickened beneath them. Strange how significant all these signs were now.
A few days ago they had appeared doubtful improvements, now they
represented the oncoming dominion of the East. They meant cleanliness and
decent speech, good bread and sweet butter. Ultimately houses with hot
water in their bath-rooms and pianos in their parlors would displace the
shack, the hitching-pole, and the dog-run, and in those days Edward
Wetherford would be forgotten.

Redfield swept through the town, then turned up the stream directly toward
the high wall of the range, which was ragged and abrupt at this point.
They passed several charming farm-houses, and the western sky grew ever
more glorious with its plum-color and saffron, and the range reasserted
its mastery over the girl. At last they came to the very jaws of the
canon; and there, in a deep natural grove of lofty cottonwood-trees,
Redfield passed before a high rustic gate which marked the beginning of
his estate. The driveway was of gravel, and the intermingling of
transplanted shrubs and pine-trees showed the care of the professional
gardener.

The house was far from being a castle; indeed, it was very like a house in
Bryn-Mawr, except that it was built entirely of half-hewn logs, with a
wide projecting roof. Giant hydrangeas and other flowering shrubs bordered
the drive, and on the rustic terrace a lady in white was waiting.

Redfield slowed down, and scrambled ungracefully out; but his voice was
charming as he said: "Eleanor, this it Miss Wetherford. She was on the
point of getting the blues, so I brought her away," he explained.

Mrs. Redfield, quite as urban as the house, was a slim little woman of
delicate habit, very far from the ordinary conception of a rancher's wife.
Her manner was politely considerate, but not heatedly cordial (the visitor
was not precisely hers), and though she warmed a little after looking into
Virginia's face, she could not by any stretch of phrase be called
cordial.

"Are you tired? would you like to lie down before dinner?" she asked.

"Oh no, indeed. Nothing ever tires me," Virginia responded, with a smile.

"You look like one in perfect health," continued her hostess, in the
envious tone of one who knew all too well what ill-health meant. "Let me
show you to your room."

The house was not precisely the palace the cowboy had reported it to be,
but it was charmingly decorated, and the furnishings were tasteful. To the
girl it was as if she had been transported with instant magic from the
horrible little cow-town back to the home of one of her dearest friends in
Chester. She was at once exalted and humbly grateful.

"We dine at seven," Mrs. Redfield was saying, "so you can take a cup of
tea without spoiling your dinner. Will you venture it?"

"If you please."

"Very well; come down soon, and I'll have it ready. Mr. Redfield, I'm
sure, will want some."

Virginia's heart was dancing with delight of this home as she came down
the stairs a little later. She found Mr. Redfield at the farther end of a
long sitting-room, whose dim light was as restful (after the glare of the
tawny plains) as the voice of her hostess was to her ears, which still
ached with the noise of profane and vulgar speech.

Redfield heard her coming and met her half-way, and with stately ceremony
showed her a seat. "I fear you will need something stronger than tea after
my exhausting conversation."

"I hope, Hugh, you were not in one of your talking moods?"

"I was, Eleanor. I talked incessantly, barring an occasional jolt of the
machine."

"You poor thing!" This to Virginia. "Truly you deserve a two hours' rest
before dinner, for our dinner is always a talk-fest, and to-night, with
Senator Bridges here, it will be a convention."

He turned to Virginia. "We were talking old times 'before the war,' and
you know it never tires veterans to run over their ancient campaigns--does
it, Lee Virginia?"

As they talked Mrs. Redfield studied the girl with increasing interest and
favor, and soon got at her point of view. She even secured a little more
of her story, which matched fairly well with the account her husband had
given. Her prejudices were swept away, and she treated her young guest as
one well-born and well-educated woman treats another.

At last she said: "We dress for dinner, but any frock you have will do. We
are not ironclad in our rules. There will be some neighbors in, but it
isn't in any sense a 'party.'"

Lee Virginia went to her room, borne high upon a new conception of the
possibilities of the West. It was glorious to think that one could enjoy
the refinement, the comfort of the East at the same time that one dwelt
within the inspiring shadow of the range. She caught some prophetic hint
in all this of the future age when each of these foot-hills would be
peopled by those to whom cleanliness of mind and grace of body were
habitual. Standing on the little balcony which filled the front of her
windows, she looked away at the towering heights, smoky purple against a
sky of burning gold, and her eyes expanded like those of the young eagle
when about to launch himself upon the sunset wind.

The roar of a waterfall came to her ears, and afar on the sage-green
carpet of the lower mesa a horseman was galloping swiftly. Far to the left
of this smoothly sculptured table-land a band of cattle fed, while under
her eyes, formal as a suburban home, lay a garden of old-fashioned English
flowers. It was a singular and moving union of the old and new--the East
and the West.

On her table and on the pretty bookshelves she found several of the latest
volumes of poetry and essays, and the bed, with its dainty covering and
ample spread, testified quite as plainly of taste and comfort. Her hands
were a-tremble as she put on the bright muslin gown which was all she had
for evening wear. She felt very much like the school-girl again, and after
she had done her best to look nice, she took a seat in the little rocker,
with intent to compose herself for her meeting with strangers. "I wish we
were dining without visitors," she said, as she heard a carriage drive up.
A little later a galloping horse entered the yard and stopped at the
door.

"It all sounds like a play," she said to herself, forgetting for the
moment that she was miles away from a town and in a lonely ranch-house
under the very shadows of the mountains.

She heard voices in the hall, and among them one with a very English
accent--one that sounded precisely like those she had heard on the stage.
It was the voice of a man, big, hearty, with that thick, throaty gurgle
which is so suggestive of London that one is certain to find a tweed suit
and riding-breeches associated with it.

At last she dared wait no longer, and taking courage from necessity,
descended the stairs--a pleasant picture of vigorous yet somewhat subdued
maidenhood.



V

TWO ON THE VERANDA


REDFIELD met his young guest in dinner-coat, looking extremely urban, and
presented his "friend and neighbor, Mr. Enderby."

Enderby turned out to be the owner of the voice with the English accent
which Lee Virginia had heard in the hall, but he was very nice, and a
moment later Mrs. Redfield entered with Mrs. Enderby, a large lady with a
smiling face. Then a voice she knew spoke from behind her: "I don't need a
presentation. Miss Wetherford and I have already met."

She turned to meet Ross Cavanagh, the young ranger.

"How did you get here?" she asked, in wonder.

"I rode across the hills; it's not far."

He too was in evening dress, and as she stared at him in surprise he
laughingly protested. "Please don't scrutinize this coat too closely. It's
the only one I've owned for ten years, and this is the only house in which
I'd _dare_ to wear it."

Bridges (who turned out to be a State senator) was a farmer-like elderly
man wearing a badly fitting serge suit. He was markedly Western; so was
his wife, who looked rather uneasy and hot.

It was all delightfully exciting to Lee Virginia, and to be taken in to
dinner by the transfigured ranger completed her appreciation of the
charming home and its refined hostess.

Redfield shone as host, presenting an admirable mixture of clubman and
Western rancher. His natural sense of humor, sharpened by twenty years of
plains life, was Western. His manner, his habits of dress, of dining, of
taking wine, were uncorruptedly Manhattan. Enderby, large, high-colored,
was naturally a bit of what we know as the "haw-haw type" of Englishman--a
thoroughly good fellow, kindly, tolerant, brave, and generous, who could
not possibly change his spots. He had failed utterly to acquire the
American idiom, and his attempts at cowboy slang were often
amusing--especially to Redfield, who prided himself on being quite
undistinguishable in a cow-camp.

Virginia and Ross, being the only young folk at the table, were seated
together, and Enderby remarked privately: "Ross, you're in luck."

"I know I am," he replied, heartily.

He was (as Redfield had said) highly susceptible, made so by his solitary
life in the mountains, and to be seated close beside this maid of the
valley stirred his blood to the danger-point. It was only by an effort of
the will that he kept in touch with Redfield's remarks.

"Enderby never can grow accustomed to his democratic neighbors," Redfield
was saying. "He's been here six years, and yet when one of his cowboy
friends tells him to 'go to hell' he's surprised and a bit offended."

"Oh, it isn't that," explained Mrs. Enderby; "it's to have your maids say
'All right' when you ask them to remove the soup. It's a bit shocking also
to have your cook or housemaid going about the house singing some wretched
ditty. What was that one, Charley, that Irma Maud sang till we were nearly
wild (Irma Maud was my chambermaid). What was it? Something about 'Tixey
Ann.'"

"Oh, I know it perfectly!" exclaimed Enderby. "'If you want to make a
niggah feel good--'"

"No, no; that's another one."

Redfield interposed. "You wouldn't have them go about in sullen stealth,
would you? Think how song lightens their drudgery."

"Ah yes; but if it drives the family out-of-doors?"

"It shouldn't. You should take it all as a part of the happy world of
democracy wherein even the maid-servant sings at her toil."

"But our democratic neighbors are all the time coming to look round the
place. We've no privacy whatever. On Sunday afternoon they drive through
the grounds in procession; you'd think our place a public park and we the
keepers."

In all this banter Virginia was given the English viewpoint as to Western
manners and conditions. She perceived that the Enderbys, notwithstanding
their heavy-set prejudices, were persons of discernment and right feeling.
It certainly was impertinent of the neighbors to ride through the grounds
as if they were public, and Mrs. Enderby was justified in resenting it.

Ross turned to her. "Enderby is the kind of Englishman who wants to adapt
himself to new conditions, but can't."

"You don't seem like an Englishman at all."

"Well, I was caught young, and, besides, I'm really Irish--on my father's
side."

"Oh, that's different!" she exclaimed, as though that somehow brought him
nearer to her own people.

"It is, isn't it?" he laughingly agreed. "But Enderby--I suppose his
pedigree goes back to Cedric and his swineherds. You can't change that
kind."

"I hadn't the least thought of seeing you here. How did you happen to
come?"

"Redfield telephoned me at the mill, and I came at once. I haven't been
here since May, and I just thought I'd take a half a day off. Luckily, my
understudy was with me. I left him 'on the job.'"

He did not tell her that she was the principal reason for this sudden
descent upon Elk Lodge, and no one but Redfield knew the killing ride he
had taken in order to be in at the beginning of the dinner. The girl's
face and voice, especially her voice, had been with him night and day as
he went about his solitary duties. Her life problem had come to fill his
mind to a disturbing degree, and he was eager to know more of her and of
her struggle against the vice and vulgarity of the Forks.

"How is your mother?" he asked, a few minutes later.

"Not at all well. Mr. Redfield is to take the doctor back with us
to-morrow." The ecstasy died out of her face, and the flexible lips
drooped with troubled musing. "I am afraid she suffers more than she will
admit."

"She needs a rest and change. She should get away from her seat at that
cash-register, and return to the open air. A touch of camp-life would help
her. She sticks too close to her work."

"I know she does, but she won't let me relieve her, even for an hour. It
isn't because she doesn't trust me; she says it's because she doesn't want
me sitting there--so--publicly. She doesn't oppose my housekeeping any
more--"

"You certainly have made the old hotel into a place of miraculous
neatness."

She flushed with pleasure. "I have done something, but not as I'd like to
do. I really think if mother wishes to sell she could do so now to much
better advantage."

"I've no doubt of it. Really, I'm not being funny, Miss Wetherford, when I
say you've done something heroic. It's no easy thing to come into a place
like that and make it habitable. It shows immense courage and
self-reliance on your part. It's precisely the kind of work this whole
country needs."

His praise, sincere and generous, repaid her for all she had gone through.
It was a great pleasure to hear her small self praised for courage and
self-reliance by one whose daily work was heroic. All things conspired to
make a conquest of her heart, for the ranger bore himself with grace, and
dealt with his silver deftly. His face, seen from the side, was older and
sterner than she had thought it, but it was very attractive in line.

She said: "Mr. Redfield and I were talking of 'the war' to-day--I mean our
'cattle-man's invasion'--and I learned that you were the sergeant who came
for the prisoners."

He smiled. "Yes; I was serving in the regular army at that time."

"You must have been very young?"

"I was--a kid."

"That was a brave thing to do."

"Not at all. I was a soldier under orders of the commander of the post. I
dared not disobey."

She would not have it so. "But you knew that you were going into danger?"

"To be honest about it, I did; but I relied on my blue coat to protect
me."

"It was a terrible time. I was only a child, but I can remember how wild
the men all seemed when you drove up and leaped out of the wagon. I didn't
realize that my father's life depended on your coming, but we all knew it
was brave of you."

"I think I was born a soldier. What I like about my present job is its
definiteness. I have my written instructions, and there's no need to argue
anything. I carry out my orders. But I beg pardon, I'm not going to talk
'shop' to you. I want you to tell me about yourself. I hope you are not to
return to the East, for if you do not I shall be able to see you
occasionally."

Here Redfield appealed to the ranger. "Ross, you're all sorts of a
reactionary. What do you say to this? Senator Bridges is opposed to all
Federal interference with State forests and State game."

The forester's eyes lit up. "But are they State forests and State game?
What makes them so? They are lands which the whole people purchased and
which the whole people defended."

"Heah! heah!" cheered Enderby.

Bridges bristled with anger, and went off into a long harangue on States
rights and the dangers of centralization, to which Enderby replied: "Bosh!
the whole trouble with your bally Government is its lack of cohesion. If I
had my way, I'd wipe out the Senate and put a strong man like Roosevelt at
the head of the executive. You're such blooming asses over here; you don't
know enough to keep a really big man in your presidential chair. This
fussing about every four years to put in some oily corporation lawyer is
bloody rot. Here's Roosevelt gets in the midst of a lot of the finest kind
of reforms, y' know, and directly you go and turn him out! Then if you get
a bad man, you've to wait four years till you can fetch him a whack. Why
not arrange it so you can pitch your President out the minute he goes
wrong? I say your old rag of a Constitution is a ball-and-chain on your
national leg. England is immeasurably better off so far as that goes."

Ross turned to Virginia, leaving the political discussion to go on over
his head. "I was back in the Old Island a couple of years ago, and you've
no idea how small it seemed to me. It surely is a 'right little, tight
little island.' I couldn't help wondering whether the men in Parliament
were as important as they seemed to think they were, and whether England
is not really an empty shell of empire, a memory of what it once was. I
couldn't settle down there, someway. I was homesick for the mountains in a
month. But what scared me most was the pauper population of the old
place--one in every thirty-seven must be helped. I came back to the States
gladly. 'I guess I'm an American,' I said to my sisters."

To Lee Virginia all this talk of "the curse of democracy" and "the decay
of empire" was unexciting, but when Cavanagh told of the sheepmen's
advance across the dead-line on Deer Creek, and of the threats of the
cattle-owners, she was better able to follow the discussion. Bridges was
heartily on the side of law and order, for he wished to boom the State
(being a heavy owner in a town-site), but he objected to Redfield's ideas
of "bottling up the resources of the State."

"We're not," retorted Redfield; "we're merely defending them against those
who would monopolize them. We believe in their fullest use, but we see no
reason for giving away the resources when the country needs the revenue."

Mrs. Redfield rose as soon as the coffee came on. "You gentlemen seem bent
upon discussing matters of no interest to us," she said, "so we'll leave
you to fight it out alone. I'm sure you'll all agree with Hugh in the end.
Like General Grant, he's a very obstinate man."

No sooner were they seated in the big living-room than Mrs. Enderby began
to relate comical stories of her household. Her cats had fits and ran up
the wall. Her dogs were forever getting quilled by reason of foolish
attacks upon porcupines, or else they came home so reminiscent of skunks
that they all but smothered the cook. "Invariably they return from
encounters of this kind just as we are sitting at dinner," she explained.
"Furthermore, Enderby's ditches are habitually getting clogged, and
overflowing the lawn and filling the cellar, and he stands in terror of
his cowboys. When I think of all these irruptions and distractions,
England's order and routine seem heavenly; but Charley finds all this
amusing, more's the pity, and leaves me to set things in order. Most
ludicrous of all, to me, is his habitual claim that the ranch is paying. I
tell him there's an error in his bookkeeping somewhere, but he assures me
that his receipts exceeded his expenditures last year--which is quite too
incredible. You've no idea how high wages are and how little we raise."

"Oh yes, I have," laughed Mrs. Redfield, "and my cat had a fit too. Hugh
says it's the high altitude. I tell him it's melancholia."

Cavanagh showed himself. "I hear so much laughter I'm coming in, we're all
so insufferably political out here. And, besides, I came to see the
ladies, and I can only stay a few minutes longer."

"You're not going back to-night!" exclaimed his hostess.

"I must be on my own precinct by daylight," he replied; "the Supervisor
has an eye on me."

Mrs. Redfield explained to Lee Virginia. "He rode fifty miles over the
mountains--"

"Thirty," corrected Ross. "But what does that matter when I'm in the
company of such charming ladies?" he added, gallantly.

"And now he's going to ride all the way back to-night!"

"Think of that," gasped Mrs. Enderby, "and no moon!"

"How can you find your way?" asked Mrs. Bridges, to whom this was a
mortally dangersome journey.

"Oh, it's quite simple. If you don't bump against a tree or fall into the
creek you may be quite sure you're on the trail," laughed Ross.

Mrs. Redfield knew the true reason for his coming, and was not at all
pleased, "for with all Lee's personal charm," she said to her husband,
"she is socially beneath Ross Cavanagh, even in a State where social
barriers are few."

"Come out on the veranda," suggested Cavanagh, "and I'll show you the
hills I must climb."

Lee accepted innocently; but as the young people left the room Mrs.
Enderby looked at her hostess with significant glance. "There's the lady
Ross rode down to meet. Who is she?"

"Her mother is that dreadful old creature that keeps the Wetherford Hotel
in Roaring Fork."

"No!" exclaimed Mrs. Enderby.

"Yes; Lee Virginia is Lize Wetherford's daughter."

"But the girl is charming."

"I cannot understand it. Hugh came home a week or so ago full of her
praise--" And at this point her voice dropped lower and the other drew
closer.

Outside, the young people stood in silence. There was no moon, and the
mountains rose darkly, a sheer wall at the end of the garden, their tops
cutting into the starry sky with a dull edge, over which a dim white cone
peered.

"That snow-peak is Wolftooth, and thirty miles from here, and at the head
of my 'beat,'" said the ranger, after a pause, as they leaned against the
railing and looked away to the south. "I go up that ridge which you see
faintly at the left of the main canon, and through that deep notch which
is above timber-line."

The girl's eyes widened with awe of the big, silent, dark world he
indicated. "Aren't you afraid to start out on such a trip alone--I mean,
don't you dread it?"

"I'll be sorry to start back, yes, but not because of the dark. I've
enjoyed my visit here so much it will be hard to say good-night."

"It seems strange to me that you should prefer this wild country to
England."

"Do you like the East better than the West?"

"In some ways; but then, you see, I was born out here."

"So was I--I mean to say I was regenerated out here. The truth is I was a
good deal of a scapegrace when I left England. I was always for hunting
and horses, and naturally I came directly to the wild West country, and
here I've been ever since. I've had my turn at each phase of
it--cow-puncher, soldier, Rough-rider, and finally forest ranger. I reckon
I've found my job at last."

"Do you like it so much?"

"At the present time I am perfectly contented. I'm associated now with a
country that will never yield to the plough--yes, I like my work. I love
the forests and the streams. I wish I might show them to you. You don't
know how beautiful they are. The most beautiful parks in the world are
commonplace to what I can show you. My only sorrow is to think of them
given over to the sawmill. Perhaps you and your mother will come up some
time, and let me show you my lakes and streams. There are waters so lovely
they make the heart ache. Hugh is planning to come up soon; perhaps you
and Mrs. Redfield will come with him."

"I'd like it above everything," she responded, fervently. Then her voice
changed: "But all depends on my mother's health."

It hurt him to hear her call Eliza Wetherford mother. He wanted to forget
her origin for the moment. He was not in love with her--far from it! But
she was so alluring, and the proprietress of the Wetherford House was not
nice, and that made one doubt the daughter.

She broke the silence. "It seems dreadfully dark and mysterious up there."
She indicated his path.

"It isn't as bad as it looks. There is a good trail, and my pony knows it
as well as I do. I enjoy riding by night."

"But there are bears and other wild things, are there not?"

"Not as many as I wish there were."

"Why do you say that?"

"I hate to see all the wild life killed off. Some day all these forests
will have game refuges like the Yellowstone National Park. They are coming
each year to have greater and greater value to the people of the plains.
They are playgrounds, like the Alps. Campers are coming into my valley
every day, and, while they increase the danger of fires, I welcome them.
They are all advocates of the forest. As one man said: 'The mountains
supplement the plains. They give color and charm to the otherwise
monotonous West.' I confess I couldn't live on the prairies--not even on
the plains--if out of sight of the mountains. If I should ever settle down
to a home it would be in a canon like this, with a great peak at my front
door."

"It _is_ beautiful," the girl said, in the tone of sadness with which we
confront the perfect night, the perfect flower, the flawless landscape.
"It is both grand and peaceful."

This tone of sadness pleased him. It showed her depth of perception, and
he reflected that she had not uttered a vacuous or silly phrase since
their first meeting. "She is capable of great development," he thought.
Aloud he said: "You are a strange mingling of East and West. Do you
realize it?"

"In what way?" she asked, feeling something ardent in his tone.

"You typify to me at this moment this whole State. You fill me with
enthusiasm for its future. Here you are, derived from the lawless West,
yet taking on the culture and restraint of the East so readily that you
seem not in the least related to--"

He checked himself at this point, and she said: "My mother is not as rough
as she seems, Mr. Cavanagh."

"She must be more of the woman than appears, or she could not have borne
such a daughter. But do you feel your relationship to her? Tell me
honestly, for you interest me."

"I didn't at first, but I do now. I begin to understand her, and, besides,
I feel in myself certain things that are in her, though I think I am more
like the Wetherfords. My father's family home was in Maryland."

Ross could have talked on all night, so alluring was the girl's dimly-seen
yet warmly-felt figure at his side, but a sense of danger and a knowledge
that he should be riding led him at last to say: "It is getting chill, we
must go in; but before we do so, let me say how much I've enjoyed seeing
you again. I hope the doctor will make favorable report on your mother's
case. You'll write me the result of the examination, won't you?"

"If you wish me to."

"I shall be most anxious to know."

They were standing very near to each other at the moment, and the ranger,
made very sensitive to woman's charm by his lonely life, shook with
newly-created love of her. A suspicion, a hope that beneath her cultivated
manner lay the passionate nature of her mother gave an added force to his
desire. He was sorely tempted to touch her, to test her; but her sweet
voice, a little sad and perfectly unconscious of evil, calmed him. She
said:

"I hope to persuade my mother to leave the Forks. All the best people
there are against us. Some of them have been very cruel to her and to me,
and, besides, I despise and fear the men who come to our table."

"You must not exchange words with them," he all but commanded. "Beware of
Gregg; he is a vile lot; do not trust him for an instant. Do not permit
any of those loafers to talk with you, for if you do they will go away to
defame you. I know them. They are unspeakably vile. It makes me angry to
think that Gregg and his like have the right to speak to you every day
while I can only see you at long intervals."

His heat betrayed the sense of proprietorship which he had begun to feel,
in spite of his resolution. But the girl only perceived his solicitation,
his friendly interest, and she answered: "I keep away from them all I
can."

"You are right to distrust them," he replied, grimly. "Because old Sam has
money, he thinks he can do as he pleases. You must be especially careful
of him."

"The worst is when I go on the street; but if mother does not sell the
business, I shall be obliged to stay in the Fork, no matter how I hate
it."

"I wish my station were not so far away," he mused, darkly. "But I'll ride
down as often as my duties will permit, and you must let me know how
things go. And if any of those fellows persecute you, you'll tell me,
won't you? I wish you'd look upon me as your big brother. Will you do
that?" His voice entreated, and as she remained silent, he continued:
"Roaring Fork is one of the worst towns in the State, and a girl like you
needs some one as a protector. I don't know just how to put it so that you
will not misunderstand me, but, you see, I protect the forest, the
streams, and the game; I help the settler in time of trouble; I am a kind
of all-round big brother to everybody who needs help in the forest. In
fact, I'm paid for protecting things that can't protect themselves, and
so"--here he tried to lend his voice the accent of humor--"why shouldn't I
be the protector of a girl like you, alone--worse than alone--in this
little cow-town?"

She remained dumb at one or two points where he clearly hoped for a word,
and she was unable to thank him when he had finished. In this silence a
curious constriction came into his throat. It was almost as if he had put
his passion into definite words, and as the light fell upon her he
perceived that her bosom was heaving with deep emotion.

"I _am_ lonely," she faltered out at last--"horribly lonely; and I know
now how people feel toward my mother, and it hurts me--it all hurts me;
but I'm going to stay and help her--" She paused to recover her voice.
"And you _do_ seem different! I--I--trust you!"

"I'm glad you understand me, and you _will_ let me know if I can help you,
won't you?"

"Yes," she answered, simply.

"Good-night," he said, extending his hand.

She placed her palm to his quite frankly, but the touch of it made further
speech at the moment impossible.

They went in with such tell-tale faces that even Redfield wondered what
had passed between them.

Excusing himself almost at once, Cavanagh left the room, and when he
looked in, a few moments later, he was clothed in the ranger's dusty green
uniform, booted and spurred for his long, hard ride. Mrs. Redfield
followed him into the hall and out on the door-stone to say: "Ross, you
must be careful. This girl is very alluring in herself, but her mother,
you know, is impossible."

"You're needlessly alarmed, as usual," he smilingly replied. "She
interests me--that's patent; but beyond that, why--nonsense! Good-night."

Nevertheless, despite his protestations, he went away up the trail with
his mind so filled with Lee Virginia's appealing face and form that he
would certainly have ridden over a precipice had it not been for his
experienced pony, who had fortunately but one aim, and that was to cross
the range safely and to reach the home pasture at the earliest moment.

Now that he was looking back upon three hours more of Lee's society,
Cavanagh was ready to admit that he had left his range and ridden hard and
far with that one purpose in mind. He had been hungry for the sight of
her, and now that he had touched her hand and looked upon her again he was
a little surprised and deeply disturbed to find himself hungrier than
before.



VI

THE VOICE FROM THE HEIGHTS


LEE VIRGINIA was not entirely without experience as regards respectful
courtship. Her life in the East had brought her to know a number of
attractive lads and a few men, but none of these had become more than good
companions, or friends; and though she wrote to one or two of these youths
letters of the utmost friendliness, there was no passion in them, and she
felt, as yet, the sting of nothing more intense in her liking for
Cavanagh; but he meant more to her, now that she was lonely and
beleaguered of those whose eyes were cruel and hot.

Then, too, he had come to represent a new world to her--this world of the
forest, this region toward the sunset, which was quite as mysterious to
her thinking as it was to the eyes of any plains-dweller. Her imagination
went with the ranger on his solitary march into those vague, up-billowing
masses of rocks and trees. To her there were many dangers, and she
wondered at his courage, his hardihood.

That he had ridden all that long, rough way merely to see her she was not
vain enough to believe; but she had, nevertheless, something of every
woman's secret belief in her individual charm. Cavanagh had shown a
flattering interest in her, and his wish to be her protector filled her
with joy and confidence.

She heard a good deal more about this particular forest ranger next
morning at breakfast. "He is throwing himself away," Mrs. Redfield
passionately declared. "Think of a man of Ross's refinement living in a
mountain shack miles from anybody, watching poachers, marking trees, and
cooking his own food. It's a shameful waste of genius."

"That's as you look at it, my dear," responded Redfield. "Ross is the
guardian of an immense treasure-chest which belongs to the nation.
Furthermore, he is quite certain--as I am--that this Forest Service is the
policy of the future, and that it offers fine chances for promotion--and
then, finally, he likes it."

"That is all well enough for a young man; but Ross is at least
thirty-five, and should be thinking of settling down. I can't understand
his point of view."

"My dear, you have never seen the procession of the seasons from such a
point of view as that which he enjoys."

"No, and I do not care to. It is quite lonely enough for me right here."

Redfield looked at Lee with comic blankness. "Mrs. Redfield is hopelessly
urban. As the wife of a forest supervisor, she cares more for pavements
and tram-cars than for the most splendid mountain park."

"I most certainly do," his wife vigorously agreed. "And if I had my way we
should be living in London."

"Listen to that! She's ten times more English than Mrs. Enderby."

"I'm not; but I long for the civilized instead of the wild. I like comfort
and society."

"So do I," returned he.

"Yes; the comfort of an easy-chair on the porch and the society of your
forest rangers. This ranch life is all very well for a summer outing, but
to be tied down here all the year round is to be denied one's birthright
as a modern."

All this more or less cheerful complaint expressed the minds of many
others who live amid these superb scenes. When autumn comes, when the sky
is gray and the peaks are hid in mist, they long for the music, the
lights, the comfort of the city; but when the April sun begins to go down
in a smother of crimson and flame, and the mountains loom with epic
dignity, or when at dawn the air is like some divine flood descending from
the unstained mysterious heights, then the dweller in the foot-hills cries
out: "How fortunate we are! Here is health and happiness! Here poverty is
unknown!" One side of the girl was of this strain, the other was of the
character described by her hostess. She began to see that Ross Cavanagh
was fitted for higher duties than those of forest guard.

Mrs. Redfield was becoming more and more interested in this child, who had
not merely the malodorous reputation of her mother to contend with, but
the memory of a traitorous sire to live down; and when Lee Virginia went
to her room to pack her bag, the wife turned to her husband and said:
"What are we to think of heredity when we see a thoroughly nice girl like
that rise out of the union of a desperado with a vixen?"

Redfield answered: "It is unaccountable. I knew her father well; he was a
reckless daredevil, with less real courage in him than there is in old
Lize; but I can't tell the girl that. She is sufficiently humiliated by
her mother; she takes comfort in the thought that her father at least was
brave and heroic."

"I don't believe in heredity as I did once," his wife resumed. "Aren't
scientific men rather divided about it?"

"Yes, there are those who deny that there is any inheritance of the
spirit, of character, insisting that the laws of transmission affect the
body only. Lee is certainly like her father in looks. He was a handsome
rascal."

"Ross is terribly smitten with her."

Redfield coughed, uneasily. "I hope not. Of course he admires her, as any
man must. She's physically attractive, very attractive, and, besides, Ross
is as susceptible as a cow-puncher. He was deeply impressed the first time
he saw her, I could see that."

"I didn't like his going out on the veranda with her last night,"
continued Mrs. Redfield, "and when they came in her eyes and color
indicated that he'd been saying something exciting to her. Hugh, Ross
Cavanagh must not get involved with that girl. It's your duty as his
superior to warn him."

"He's fully grown, my dear, and a bit dictatorial on his own part. I'm a
trifle timid about cutting in on his private affairs."

"Then I'll do it. Marriage with a girl like that is out of the question.
Think what his sisters would say."

Redfield smiled a bit satirically. "To the outsider a forest ranger at
$900 a year and find himself and horses is not what you may call a
brilliant catch."

"Oh, well, the outsider is no judge. Ross Cavanagh is a gentleman, and,
besides, he's sure to be promoted. I acknowledge the girl's charms, and I
don't understand it. When I think of her objectively as Lize Wetherford's
girl I wonder at her being in my house. When I see her I want her to stay
with me; I want to hug her."

"Perhaps we've been unjust to Lize all along," suggested Redfield. "She
has remained faithful to Ed Wetherford's memory all these years--that is
conceded. Doesn't that argue some unusual quality? How many women do we
know who are capable of such loyalty? Come, now! Lize is a rough piece of
goods, I'll admit, and her fly-bit lunch-counter was a public nuisance;
but she had the courage to send her girl away to be educated, denying
herself the joy of seeing her develop by her side. We mustn't permit our
prejudices to run away with us."

The girl's return put a stop to the discussion, which could end in nothing
but confusion anyway.

Lee Virginia said good-bye to Mrs. Redfield with grateful appreciation of
her kindness, and especially of her invitation to come again, and the
tears in her eyes profoundly affected the older woman, who, with a
friendliness which was something more than politeness, invited her to come
again. "Whenever Roaring Fork gets on your nerves we'll be very glad to
rescue you," she said in parting.

Hugh Redfield the girl thoroughly understood and loved, he was so
simple-hearted and so loyal. His bitter criticisms of the West were not
uttered in a destructive mood--quite the contrary. His work was
constructive in the highest degree. He was profoundly impatient of
America's shortcomings, for the reason that he deeply felt her
responsibility to the rest of the world. His knowledge of other republics
and "limited monarchies" gave his suggestions power and penetration; and
even Bridges, besotted in his provincial selfishness, had advised his
selection as Supervisor. Of his own fitness for the work, Redfield himself
took a dispassionate view. "I am only filling the place till the right man
comes along," he said to his friends. "The man before me was a
half-hearted and shifty advocate. I am an enthusiast without special
training; by-and-by the real forester will come to take my place."

On the way to the office, he said to Lee: "I will talk to the doctor if
you like."

"I wish you would," she responded, fervently.

She remained in the machine while he went in, and as she sat there a train
passed on its downward eastward run, and a feeling of loneliness, of
helplessness, filled her heart. She had written many brave letters to her
Eastern friends, but the vital contests, the important factors of her
life, she had not mentioned. She had given no hint of her mother's
physical and moral degeneration, and she had set down no word of her
longing to return; but now that she was within sight of the railway the
call of the East, the temptation to escape all her discomforts, was almost
great enough to carry her away; but into her mind came the thought of the
ranger riding his solitary way, and she turned her face to her own duties
once more, comforted by the words of praise he had spoken and by the blaze
of admiration in his eyes.

Redfield came out, followed by a small man carrying a neat bag. He was of
surpassing ugliness, and yet she liked him. His mouth had a curious twist.
He had no chin to speak of, and his bright eyes protruded like those of a
beetle. His voice, however, was surprisingly fine and resonant.

"You'd better sit behind, Doctor," said Redfield. "I shall be very busy on
this trip."

"Very well," replied the other, "if Miss Wetherford remains beside me;
otherwise I shall rebel." He was of those small, plain men whose absurd
gallantry is never taken seriously by women, and yet is something more
than pretence.

He began by asking a few questions about her mother's way of life, but as
Lee was not very explicit, he became impersonal, and talked of whatsoever
came into his mind--motor-cars, irrigation, hunting, flowers--anything at
all; and the girl had nothing to do but to utter an occasional phrase to
show that she was listening. It was all rather depressing to her, for she
could not understand how a man so garrulous could be a good physician. She
was quite sure her mother would not treat him with the slightest respect.

After all, he talked well. His stream of conversation shortened the way
for her, and she was surprised when they topped the last ridge and the
Fork could be seen lying before them in the valley. Soon they were rolling
quietly up the street to the door of the Wetherford House.

Springing out unaided, Lee hurried in, hoping to prepare her mother for
the shock of the little physician's unimposing appearance, while Redfield
remained behind to arm the physician for his encounter. "Now, Doctor, Mrs.
Wetherford is a very singular and plain-spoken person. She's quite likely
to swear like a man, but she will perform like a woman. Don't mind what
she says; go ahead in your own way. Will you wait till after dinner, or
shall I--"

"No, I shall make the examination first--while I'm hungry. My mind works
quicker. I can't diagnose properly on a full stomach."

"Very well; line up with me, and together we'll beard the old grizzly in
her den."

They found Lize on duty behind the counter as usual. Her face was
dejected, her eyes dull, but as she caught sight of the strange little
man, she cried out: "Lord God, Reddy, why didn't you bring me a _man_?"

"Hush, mother," cautioned Lee, "this is the famous Eastern physician."

"You can't be famous for your beauty--you must be brainy," she remarked to
herself in the stranger's hearing.

Redfield presented "Doctor Fessenden, of Omaha."

She started again on contemptuous ways, but was stopped by the little man.
"Get down out o' that chair!" he commanded. "My time is money!"

Lize flushed with surprise and anger, but obeyed, and Lee Virginia,
secretly delighted with the physician's imperative manner, led the way
into the lodging-house. "I'll look after the cash, mother," she said.
"Don't worry."

"I'm not worryin'," she replied; "but what does that little whelp mean by
talking to me like that? I'll swat him one if he isn't careful!"

"It's his way. Please don't anger him. You need his help."

The doctor interfered. "Now, madam, strip, and let's see what's the matter
with you," whereupon he laid off his coat, and opened his box of
instruments.

Lee fled, and Redfield, who had remained standing beside the counter,
could not repress a smile. "She's caught a tartar this time. He's a little
tiger, isn't he? I had prepared him for war, but I didn't expect him to
fly at her that way."

"Poor mother! how dreadfully ill she looks to-day. I hope the doctor will
order her to rest."

"But will she obey? I've argued that with her. She keeps saying she will,
but she won't."

It was nearly one, but the customers were coming in, and the girl, laying
aside her hat and veil, took her seat at the cash-register, while Redfield
went out to put his machine in order for the return trip. She realized
that she was now at close-hand grapple with life. For the most part she
had been able, up to this time, to keep in the background, and to avoid
the eyes of the rough men who came and went before her mother's seat. But
now she was not merely exposed to their bold glances; she was in a
position where each man could make excuse to stop and demand a word what
time his change was being counted.

Her glowing cheeks, her pretty dress, made her a shining mark, and the men
began at once to improve their opportunity by asking, "Where's Lize?" And
this embarrassed her, for the reason that she did not care to go into the
cause of her mother's temporary absence, and, perceiving her confusion,
one of them passed to coarse compliment. "There's nothing the matter with
you," he said, with a leer. Others, though coarse, were kindly in their
familiarity, and Sifton, with gentle face, remained to help her bear the
jests of the more uncouth and indelicate of her admirers.

Perceiving her nervousness, Neill Ballard raised loud outcry over a
mistake she made in returning change, and this so confused and angered her
that her eyes misted with tears, and she blundered sadly with the next
customer. His delight in her discomfiture, his words, his grin became
unendurable, and in a flush of rage and despair she sprang to her feet and
left them to make triumphant exit. "I got her rattled!" he roared, as he
went out. "She'll remember me."

The diners were all smiling, and Gregg took a malicious satisfaction in
her defeat. She had held herself haughtily apart from him, and he was glad
to see her humbled.

Leaving her place behind the counter, she walked through the room with
uplifted head and burning eyes, her heart filled with bitterness and fire.
She hated the whole town, the whole State, at the moment. Were these "the
chivalrous short-grass knights" she had heard so much about? These the
large-souled "Western founders of empire"? At the moment she was in the
belief that all the heroes of her childhood had been of the stamp of Neill
Ballard--selfish, lustful, and cruel.

In the hall her pride, her sense of duty, came back to her, and she halted
her fleeing feet. "I will not be beaten!" she declared, and her lips
straightened. "I will not let these dreadful creatures make a fool of me
in that way!"

Thereupon she turned and went back, pale now, but resolved to prove
herself the mistress of the situation. Fortunately Redfield had returned,
and his serene presence helped her to recover complete control of herself.
She remained coldly blank to every compliment, and by this means she
subdued them. "Why doesn't the doctor return for his dinner?" she asked,
after the room had cleared. The desire to know her mother's real condition
at last quite subordinated her own besetments. To some of the older men
whom she knew to be neighbors and friends she gladly explained the
situation, and their sympathy did something to restore her faith in
humankind. Nevertheless, this hour of unprotected intercourse with the
citizens of the town was disturbing, humiliating, and embittering.

                    *       *       *       *       *

The doctor appearing suddenly in the door beckoned to her, and, leaving
her place, she crossed to where he stood. "Your mother needs you," he
said, curtly. "Go to her, and keep her quiet for an hour or two if you
can."

"What is the matter, doctor?"

"I can't tell you precisely, but you must get her on a diet and keep her
there. I will write out some lists for you after my luncheon."

Lee found her mother sitting in such dejection as she had never known her
to display, though she fired up sufficiently to say: "That cussed little
thimble-rigger has been throwing a great big scare into me. He says I've
got to get out-doors, live on raw meat and weak tea, and walk five miles a
day. That's what he says!" she added, in renewed astonishment at the man's
audacity. "Who's at the cash?"

"Mr. Redfield," replied Lee. "I'll go right back."

"No you won't, I'm no dead horse yet." She struggled to her feet and
started for the cash-register. "I won't let no little Omaha doughgie like
that put me out o' business."

Despite all warnings, she walked out into the dining-room and took her
accustomed seat with set and stern face, while her daughter went to the
table where the doctor sat, and explained her inability to manage her
mother.

"That's _your_ problem," he replied, coolly. Then rapidly, succinctly, and
clearly he went over the case, and laid out a course of treatment. Out of
it all Lee deduced that her mother was very ill indeed, though not in
danger of sudden death.

"She's on the chute," said Fessenden, "and everything depends upon her own
action whether she takes the plunge this winter or twenty years from now.
She's a strong woman--or has been--but she has presumed upon her strength.
She used to live out-of-doors, she tells me, during all her early life,
and now, shut in by these walls, working sixteen hours a day, she is
killing herself. Get her out if you can, and cut out stimulants."

As he rose and approached the counter, Lize shoved a couple of gold pieces
across the board. "That wipes you off my map," she grimly declared. "I
hope you enjoyed your ride."

"It's up to you, madam," he replied, pocketing the gold. "Good-day!"

Lee followed him out to the car, eager to secure all she could of his
wisdom. He repeated his instructions. "Medicine can't help her much," he
said, "but diet can do a great deal. Get her out of that rut she's in.
Good-bye."

"I'll be down again in a day or two!" called Redfield.

The machine began to purr and spit and the wheels to spin, and Lee
Virginia was left to face her mother's obstinate resistance alone. She
felt suddenly very desolate, very weak, and very poor. "What if mother
should die?" she asked herself.

Gregg was standing before the counter talking with Lize as Lee returned,
and he said, with a broad smile: "I've just been saying I'd take this
hotel off your mother's hands provided you went with it."

In the mouths of some men these words would have been harmless enough, but
coming from the tongue of one whose life could only be obscurely hinted at
the jest was an insult. The girl shuddered with repulsion, and Lize spoke
out:

"Now see here, Bullfrog, I'm dead on the hoof and all that, but neither
you nor any other citizen like you can be funny with my girl. She's not
for you. Now that's final! She ain't your kind."

Gregg's smile died into a gray, set smirk, and his eyes took on a steely
glint. He knew when the naked, unadorned truth was spoken to him. Words
came slowly to his lips, but he said: "You'll be glad to come to me for
help some day--both of you."

"Oh, get along! You don't hold no mortgage on me," retorted Lize,
contemptuously, and turned to Lee. "I'm hungry. Where's that grub chart o'
mine?"

Lee brought the doctor's page of notes and read it through, while her
mother snorted at intervals: "Hah! dry toast, weak tea, no coffee, no
alcohol. Huh! I might as well starve! Eggs--fish--milk! Why didn't he say
boiled live lobsters and champagne? I tell you right now, I'm not going to
go into that kind of a game. If I die I'm going to die eating what I blame
please."

The struggle had begun. With desperate courage Lee fought, standing
squarely in the rut of her mother's daily habit. "You must not hive up
here any longer," she insisted; "you must get out and walk and ride. I can
take care of the house--at least, till we can sell it."

It was like breaking the pride of an athlete, but little by little she
forced upon her mother a realization of her true condition, and at last
Lize consented to offer the business for sale. Then she wept (for the
first time in years), and the sight moved her daughter much as the sobs of
a strong man would have done.

She longed for the presence of Ross Cavanagh at this moment, when all her
little world seemed tumbling into ruin; and almost in answer to her
wordless prayer came a messenger from the little telephone office: "Some
one wants to talk to you."

She answered this call hurriedly, thinking at first that it must be Mrs.
Redfield. The booth was in the little sitting-room of a private cottage,
and the mistress of the place, a shrewd little woman with inquisitive
eyes, said: "Sounds to me like Ross Cavanagh's voice."

Lee was thankful for the booth's privacy, for her cheeks flamed up at this
remark; and when she took up the receiver her heart was beating so loud it
seemed as if the person at the other end of the wire must hear it. "Who is
it, please?" she asked, with breathless intensity.

A man's voice came back over the wire so clear, so distinct, so intimate,
it seemed as if he were speaking into her ear. "It is I, Ross Cavanagh. I
want to ask how your mother is?"

"She is terribly disheartened by what the doctor has said, but she is in
no immediate danger."

He perceived her agitation, and was instantly sympathetic. "Can I be of
use--do you need me? If you do, I'll come down."

"Where are you?"

"I am at the sawmill--the nearest telephone station."

"How far away are you?"

"About thirty miles."

"Oh!" She expressed in this little sound her disappointment, and as it
trembled over the wire he spoke quickly: "Please tell me! Do you want me
to come down? Never mind the distance--I can ride it in a few hours."

She was tempted, but bravely said: "No; I'd like to see you, of course,
but the doctor said mother was in no danger. You must not come on our
account."

He felt the wonder of the moment's intercourse over the wilderness steeps,
and said so. "You can't imagine how strangely sweet and civilized your
voice sounds to me here in this savage place. It makes me hope that some
day you and Mrs. Redfield will come up and visit me in person."

"I should like to come."

"Perhaps it would do your mother good to camp for a while. Can't you
persuade her to do so?"

"I'm trying to do that--I mean, to stop work; but she says, 'What can we
do to earn a living?'"

"If nothing happens I hope to spend an hour or two at the Forks next
Sunday. I hope to find your mother better."

Their words were of this unemotional sort, but in their voices something
subtler than the electrical current vibrated. He called to her in wordless
fashion and she answered in the same mysterious code, and when she said
"Good-bye" and hung up the receiver her world went suddenly gray and
commonplace, as if a ray of special sunlight had been withdrawn.

The attendant asked, with village bluntness: "It _was_ Ross, wasn't it?"

Lee Virginia resented this almost as much as if it were the question of an
eavesdropper; but she answered: "Yes; he wanted to know how my mother
was."

She turned as she reached the street and looked up toward the glorious
purpling deeps from which the ranger's voice had come, and the thought
that he was the sole guardian of those dark forests and shining
streams--that his way led among those towering peaks and lone canons--made
of him something altogether admirable.

That night her loneliness, her sense of weakness, carried her to bed with
tears of despair in her eyes. Lize had insisted on going back to her work
looking like one stricken with death, yet so rebellious that her daughter
could do nothing with her; and in the nature of fate the day's business
had been greater than ever, so that they had all been forced to work like
slaves to feed the flood of custom. And Lize herself still kept her vigil
in her chair above her gold.

Closing her mind to the town and all it meant to her, the girl tried to
follow, in imagination, the ranger treading his far, high trails. She
recalled his voice, so cultivated, so rich of inflection, with dangerous
tenderness. It had come down to her from those lofty parapets like that of
a friend, laden with something sweeter than sympathy, more alluring than
song.

The thought of some time going up to the high country where he dwelt came
to her most insistently, and she permitted herself to dream of long days
of companionship with him, of riding through sunlit aisles of forest with
him, of cooking for him at the cabin--what time her mother grew strong
once more--and these dreams bred in her heart a wistful ache, a hungry
need which made her pillow a place of mingled ecstasy and pain.



VII

THE POACHERS


One morning, as he topped the rise between the sawmill and his own
station, Cavanagh heard two rifle-shots in quick succession snapping
across the high peak on his left. Bringing his horse to a stand, he
unslung his field-glasses, and slowly and minutely swept the tawny slopes
of Sheep Mountain from which the forbidden sounds seemed to come.

"A herder shooting coyotes," was his first thought; then remembering that
there were no camps in that direction, and that a flock of mountain-sheep
(which he had been guarding carefully) habitually fed round that grassy
peak, his mind changed. "I wonder if those fellows are after those sheep?"
he mused, as he angled down the slope. "I reckon it's up to me to see."

He was tired and hungry, a huge moraine lay between, and the trail was
long and rough. "To catch them in the act is impossible. However," he
reflected, "they have but two trails along which to descend. One of these
passes my door, and the other, a very difficult trail, leads down the
South Fork. I'll have time to get breakfast and change horses. They'll
probably wait till night before attempting to go out, anyway."

In less than three hours he was over on the trail in the canon, quite
certain that the hunters were still above him. He rode quietly up the
valley, pausing often to listen and to scrutinize the landscape; but no
sign of camp-fire and no further rifle-shots came, and at last he went
into camp upon the trail, resolved to wait till the poachers appeared, a
ward which his experience as a soldier helped him to maintain without
nodding.

In these long hours his thought played about the remembrance of his last
visit to the Fork and his hour with Lee. He wondered what she was doing at
the moment. How charming she had looked there at Redfields'--so girlish in
form, so serious and womanly of face!

He felt as never before the ineludible loneliness of the ranger's life.
Here he sat in the midst of a mighty forest with many hostile minds all
about him, and it must be confessed he began to wonder whether his
services to the nation were worth so much hardship, such complete
isolation. The stream sang of the eternities, and his own short span of
life (half gone already without any permanent accomplishment) seemed
pitifully ephemeral. The guardians of these high places must forever be
solitary. No ranger could rightfully be husband and father, for to bring
women and children into these solitudes would be cruel.

He put all this aside--for the time--by remembering that he was a soldier
under orders, and that marriage was a long way off, and so smoked his pipe
and waited for the dawn, persistent as a Sioux, and as silent as a fox.

At daylight, there being still no sign of his quarry, he saddled his
horse, and was about to ride up the trail when he caught the sound of
voices and the sharp click of iron hoofs on the rocks above him. With his
horse's bridle on his arm he awaited the approaching horseman, resolute
and ready to act.

As the marauders rounded the elbow in the trail, he was surprised to
recognize in the leader young Gregg. The other man was a stranger, an
older man, with a grizzled beard, and tall and stooping figure.

"Hello Joe," called the ranger, "you're astir early!"

The youth's fat face remained imperturbable, but his eyes betrayed
uneasiness. "Yes, it's a long pull into town."

"Been hunting?" queried the ranger, still with cheery, polite interest.

"Oh no; just visiting one of my sheep-camps."

Cavanagh's voice was a little less suave. "Not on this creek," he
declared. "I moved your herder last week." He walked forward. "That's a
heavy load for a short trip to a sheep-camp." He put his hand on the pack.
"I guess you'll have to open this, for I heard two shots yesterday morning
up where that flock of mountain-sheep is running, and, furthermore, I can
see blood-stains on this saddle-blanket."

Neither of the men made answer, but the old man turned an inquiring look
at his young leader.

The ranger flung his next sentence out like the lash of a whip. "Open this
sack or I cut the ropes!"

Gregg threw out a hand in command. "_Open it up, Edwards!_" he said,
sullenly.

With mechanical readiness the guide alighted from his horse, loosened the
cinch on the pack-horse, and disclosed the usual camp-bed.

"Put off that bedding!" insisted the ranger.

Off came the outfit, and under the tent lay the noble head of a wild
ram--a look of reproach still in his splendid yellow eyes.

Cavanagh's face hardened. "I thought so. Now heave it back and cinch up.
It's you to the nearest magistrate, which happens to be Higley, of Roaring
Fork. I'll make an example of you fellows."

There was nothing for Gregg to say and nothing for Edwards to do but obey,
for a resolute ranger with an excellent weapon of the latest and most
approved angular pattern stood ready to enforce his command; and when the
pack was recinched, Cavanagh waved an imperative hand. "I guess I'll have
to take charge of your guns," he said, and they yielded without a word of
protest. "Now march! Take the left-hand trail. I'll be close behind."

A couple of hours of silent travel brought them to the ranger's cabin, and
there he ordered a dismount.

As the coffee was boiling he lectured them briefly. "You fellows are not
entirely to blame," he remarked, philosophically. "You've been educated to
think a game warden a joke and Uncle Sam a long way off. But things have
changed a bit. The law of the State has made me game warden, and I'm going
to show you how it works. It's my duty to see that you go down the
road--and down you go!"

Edwards, the guide, was plainly very uneasy, and made several attempts to
reach Cavanagh's private ear, and at last succeeded. "I've been fooled
into this," he urged. "I was hard up and a stranger in the country, and
this young fellow hired me to guide him across the range. I didn't shoot a
thing. I swear I didn't. If you'll let me off, I'll hit the trail to the
West and never look back. For God's sake, don't take me down the road! Let
me off."

"I can't do that," replied Cavanagh; but his tone was kindlier, for he
perceived that the old fellow was thin, hollow-chested, and poorly clad.
"You knew you were breaking the laws, didn't you?"

This the culprit admitted. "But I was working for Sam Gregg, and when Joe
asked me to go show him the trail, I didn't expect to get cinched for
killing game. I didn't fire a shot--now that's the God's truth."

"Nevertheless," retorted Ross, "you were packing the head, and I must
count you in the game."

Edwards fell silent then, but something in his look deepened the ranger's
pity. His eyes were large and dark, and his face so emaciated that he
seemed fit only for a sanitarium.

The trip to the Fork (timed to the gait of a lazy pack-horse) was a
tedious eight hours' march, and it was nearly seven o'clock when they
arrived at the outskirts of the village. There had been very few words
spoken by Cavanagh, and those which the prisoners uttered were not
calculated to cheer the way. Joe blamed his guide for their mishap. "You
should have known how far the sound of our guns would carry," he said.

As they were nearing the village he called out: "See here, Cavanagh,
there's no use taking me through town under arrest. I'll cough up all we
got right now. How much is the damage?"

"I can't receive your fine," replied Ross, "and, besides, you took your
chances when you shot that sheep. You lost out, and I'm not going to let
you off. This poaching must stop. You go right along with your guide."

Again Edwards drew near, and pled in a low voice: "See here, Mr. Ranger, I
have special reasons why I don't want to go into this town under arrest. I
wish you'd let me explain."

There was deep emotion in his voice, but Ross was firm. "I'm sorry for
you," he said, "but my duty requires me to take you before a
magistrate--"

"But you don't know my case," he replied, with bitter intensity. "I'm out
'on parole.' I can't afford to be arrested in this way. Don't you see?"

Ross looked at him closely. "_Are_ you telling me the truth?"

"Would you have mercy on me if I were?"

"I should be sorry for you, but I couldn't let you go."

"You won't believe me, but it's the God Almighty's truth: I didn't know
Joe intended to kill that sheep. He asked me to show him over the pass. I
had no intention of killing anything. I wish to God you would let me go!"
His voice was tense with pleading.

"How about this, Gregg?" called Ross. "Your guide insists he had no hand
in killing the ram?"

"He fired first, and I fired and finished him," retorted Gregg.

"'Twas the other way," declared Edwards. "The beast was crippled and
escaping--I killed him with my revolver. I didn't want to see him go off
and die--"

"I guess that settles it," said Cavanagh, decisively. "You take your
medicine with Joe. If the justice wants to let you off easy, I can't help
it, but to turn you loose now would mean disloyalty to the service. Climb
back into your saddle."

Edwards turned away with shaking hands and unsteady step. "All right," he
said, "I'll meet it." He came back to say: "There's no need of your saying
anything about what I've told you."

"No, you are a stranger to me. I know nothing of your life except that I
found you with Joe, with this pack on your horse."

"Much obliged," said he, with a touch of bitter humor.

To the casual observer in a town of this character there was nothing
specially noticeable in three horsemen driving a pack-horse, but to those
whose eyes were keen the true relationship of the ranger to his captives
was instantly apparent, and when they alighted at Judge Higley's office a
bunch of eager observers quickly collected.

"Hello Joe, what luck?" called Ballard.

"Our luck was a little too good--we caught a game warden," replied the
young scapegrace.

The ranger was chagrined to find the office of the justice closed for the
day, and, turning to his captives, said: "I'm hungry, and I've no doubt
you are. I'm going to take you into Mike Halsey's saloon for supper, but
remember you are my prisoners." And to the little old remittance man,
Sifton, who caught his eye, he explained his need of a justice and the
town marshal.

"I'll try to find the judge," replied Sifton, with ready good-will, and at
a sign from the ranger, Gregg and his herder entered the saloon.

In fifteen minutes the town was rumbling with the news. Under Ballard's
devilry, all the latent hatred of the ranger and all the concealed
opposition to the Forest Service came to the surface like the scum on a
pot of broth. The saloons and eating-houses boiled with indignant protest.
"What business is it of Ross Cavanagh's?" they demanded. "What call has he
to interfere? He's not a game warden."

"Yes he is. All these rangers are game wardens," corrected another.

"No, they're not. They have to be commissioned by the Governor."

"Well, he's been commissioned; he's warden all right."

"I don't believe it. Anyhow, he's too fresh. He needs to have a halt.
Let's do him. Let's bluff him out."

Lee Virginia was in the kitchen superintending the service when one of the
waiters came in, breathless with excitement. "Ross Cavanagh has shot Joe
Gregg for killing sheep!"

Lee faced her with blanched face. "Who told you so?"

"They're all talking about it out there. Gee! but they're hot. Some of 'em
want to lynch him."

Lee hurried out into the dining-room, which was crowded with men and
voicing deep excitement. Anger was in the air--a stormy rage, perceptible
as a hot blast; and as she passed one table after another she heard ugly
phrases applied to Cavanagh.

A half-dozen men were standing before the counter talking with Lize, but
Lee pushed in to inquire with white, inquiring face: "What is it all
about? What has happened?"

"Nothing much," Lize replied, contemptuously, "but you'd think a horse had
been stole. Ross has nipped Joe Gregg and one of his herders for killing
mountain-sheep."

"Do you mean he shot them?"

"Yes; he took their heads."

Lee stood aghast. "What do you mean? Whose heads?"

Lize laughed. "The sheeps' heads. Oh, don't be scared, no one is hurt
yet!"

The girl flushed with confusion as the men roared over her blunder. "One
of the girls told me Mr. Cavanagh had killed a man," she explained. "Where
is he?"

Lize betrayed annoyance. "They say he's taking supper at Mike Halsey's,
though why he didn't come here I don't see. What's he going to do?" she
asked. "Won't the marshal take the men off his hands?"

"Not without warrant from Higley, and Higley is out of town. Ross'll have
to hold 'em till Higley gets back, or else take 'em over to Chauvenet,"
Lize snorted. "Old Higley! Yes, he's been known to disappear before when
there was some real work to be done."

The girl looked about her with a sharpening realization of the fact that
all these men were squarely opposed to the ranger, and rather glad to know
that his guardianship of the poachers was to be rendered troublesome. She
could hear on all sides bitter curses openly directed against him. How
little of real manliness could be detected in these grinning or malignant
faces! Ill-formed, half-developed, bestial most of them, while others,
though weakly good-humored, were ready to go with whatever current of
strong passion blew upon them. Over against such creatures Ross Cavanagh
stood off in heroic contrast--a man with work to do, and doing it like a
patriot.

She went back to her own task with a vague sense of alarm. "Certainly they
will not dare to interfere with an officer in the discharge of his
duties," she thought. She was eager to see him, and the thought that he
might be obliged to ride away to Chauvenet without a word to her gave her
a deeper feeling of annoyance and unrest. That he was in any real danger
she could not believe.

It was disheartening to Cavanagh to see how some of the most influential
citizens contrived to give encouragement to the riotous element of the
town. A wink, a gesture, a careless word to the proper messenger, conveyed
to the saloon rounders an assurance of sympathy which inflamed their
resentment to the murderous point.

The truth is, this little village, sixty miles from the railway, still
retained in its dives and shanties the lingering miasma of the old-time
free-range barbarism. It trailed a dark history on its legal side as well
as on its openly violent side, for it had been one of the centres of the
Rustler's War, and one of the chief points of attack on the part of the
cattle-barons. It was still a rendezvous for desperate and shameless
characters--a place of derelicts, survivals of the days of deep drinking,
furious riding, and ready gun-play.

True, its famous desperadoes were now either dead or distantly occupied;
but the mantle of violence, the tradition of lawlessness, had fallen to
the seedy old cow-punchers and to the raw and vulgar youths from the
ill-conditioned homes of the middle West. The air of the reckless old-time
range still clung rancidly in the low groggeries, as a deadly gas hangs
about the lower levels of a mine. It was confessedly one of the worst
communities in the State.

"Let's run the sonovagun!" was the suggestion of several of Gregg's
friends.

The fact that the ranger was a commissioned officer of the law, and that
the ram's head had been found on the poacher's pack, made very little
difference to these irresponsible instigators to assault. It was wonderful
how highly that loafing young rascal, Joe Gregg, was prized at the moment.
"It's an outrage that the son of a leading citizen should be held up in
this way by one of the forestry Cossacks," declared one of the merchants.

The discussion which took place over the bars of the town was at the
riot-heat by nine o'clock, and soon after ten a crowd of howling, whooping
bad boys, and disreputable ranch-hands was parading the walks, breathing
out vile threats against the ranger.

Accustomed to men of this type, Cavanagh watched them come and go at
Halsey's bar with calculating eyes. "There will be no trouble for an hour
or two, but meanwhile what is to be done? Higley is not to be found, and
the town marshal is also 'out of town.'" To Halsey he said: "I am acting,
as you know, under both Federal and State authority, and I call upon you
as a law-abiding citizen to aid me in holding these men prisoners. I shall
camp right here till morning, or until the magistrate or the marshal
relieves me of my culprits."

Halsey was himself a sportsman--a genuine lover of hunting and a fairly
consistent upholder of the game laws; but perceiving that the whole town
had apparently lined up in opposition to the ranger, he lost courage. His
consent was half-hearted, and he edged away toward the front window of his
bar-room, nervously seeking to be neutral--"to carry water on both
shoulders," as the phrase goes.

The talk grew less jocular as the drinks took effect, and Neill Ballard,
separating himself from the crowd, came forward, calling loudly: "Come out
o' there, Joe! Youse a hell of a sport! Come out and have a drink!"

His words conveyed less of battle than his tone. He was, in fact, urging a
revolt, and Cavanagh knew it.

Gregg rose as if to comply. The ranger stopped him. "Keep your seat," said
he. And to Ballard he warningly remarked: "And you keep away from my
prisoners."

"Do you own this saloon?" retorted the fellow, truculently. "I reckon
Halsey's customers have some rights. What are you doing here, anyway? This
is no jail."

"Halsey has given me the privilege of holding my prisoners here till the
justice is found. It isn't my fault that the town is without judge or
jail." He was weakened by the knowledge that Halsey had only
half-consented to aid justice; but his pride was roused, and he was
determined upon carrying his arrest to its legitimate end. "I'm going to
see that these men are punished if I have to carry them to Sulphur City,"
he added.

"Smash the lights!" shouted some one at the back.

Here was the first real note of war, and Ross cried out sharply: "If a man
lifts a hand toward the light I'll cut it off!"

There was a stealthy movement in the crowd, and leaping upon the counter a
reckless cub reached for the lamp.

Cavanagh's revolver shattered the globe in the fellow's very palm. "Get
down from there!" he commanded.

The crowd surged back against the front door, several drawn weapons
shining in their hands. Some of the faces were a-grin, others were thrust
forward like the heads of snakes, their eyes glittering with hate.

It is an appalling moment to a man of discernment when he looks into the
faces of his fellows and hears only the laugh of the wolf, the hiss of the
snake, the snarl of the tiger. At the moment Cavanagh despised with a
measureless contempt the entire commonwealth and its long-established
school of violence; but fixing his thought on his far-away chief, he lost
all fear. His voice was perfectly calm as he said: "I am wearing the
uniform of the Federal service, and the man that interferes with me will
feel the vengeance of the Federal arm. You can get me, but I'll get some
of you at the same time, and the department will get the rest."

The mob had not found its leader. It hesitated and blustered but did not
strike, and eventually edged out of the door and disappeared; but the
silence which followed its retreat was more alarming to the ranger than
its presence. Some slyer mischief was in these minds. He feared that they
were about to cut the electric-light wires, and so plunge him into
darkness, and to prepare for that emergency he called upon the bartender
(Halsey having vanished) for a lamp or a lantern.

The fellow sullenly set about this task, and Ross, turning to Gregg, said:
"If you've any influence with this mob, you'd better use it to keep them
out of mischief, for I'm on this job to the bitter end, and somebody's
going to be hurt."

Gregg, who seemed quite detached from the action and rather delighted with
it, replied: "I have no influence. They don't care a hang about me; they
have it in for you, that's all."

Edwards remained silent, with his hat drawn low over his eyes. It was
evident that he was anxious to avoid being seen and quite willing to keep
out of the conflict; but with no handcuffs and the back door of the saloon
unguarded, Ross was aware that his guard must be incessant and alertly
vigilant. "Where are the law-abiding citizens of the town?" he asked of
Sifton, who remained in the saloon.

The dry little whisp of manhood had some spark of life in him, for he
said: "In their beds, the cowardly hounds!"

"They must know that this gang of hobos is threatening me."

"Certainly they do; but they don't intend to endanger their precious
hides. They would be well pleased to have you disabled."

It was incredible! Low as his estimate of the Fork had been, Cavanagh
could not believe that it would sit quietly by and see an officer of the
State defeated in his duty. "Such a thing could not happen under the
English flag," he said, and at the moment his adopted country seemed a
miserable makeshift. Only the thought of Redfield and the chief nerved him
for the long vigil. "The chief will understand if it comes up to him," he
said.

Lize Wetherford came hurrying in, looking as though she had just risen
from her bed. She was clothed in a long red robe, her grizzled hair was
loose, her feet were bare, and she carried a huge old-fashioned revolver
in her hand. Her mouth was stern.

Stopping abruptly as she caught sight of Ross standing in the middle of
the floor unhurt, she exclaimed: "There you are! Are you all right?"

"As a trivet," he replied.

She let her gun-hand relax. "What was the shooting?"

"A little bluff on my part."

"Anybody hurt?"

"No."

She was much relieved. "I was afraid they'd got you. I came as quick as I
could. I was abed. That fool doctor threw a chill into me, and I've been
going to roost early according to orders. I didn't hear your gun, but Lee
did, and she came to tell me. They're hell-roaring down the street yet.
Don't let 'em get behind you. If I was any good I'd stay and help. Where's
Mike?" She addressed the tender at the bar.

"I don't know. Gone home, I guess."

"Sneaked, has he?"

"So far as I know the only law-upholding citizen in the place, barring
yourself, is Sifton," said Ross, indicating the Englishman, who stood as
if cold, pressing his hands together to hide their trembling.

Lize perceived the irony of this. "Two Britishers and two women! Well, by
God, this is a fine old town! What you going to do--hold your men here all
night?"

"I don't see any other way. Halsey turned the place over to me--but--" He
looked about him suspiciously.

"Bring 'em into my place. Lee has had new locks put on our doors; they'll
help some."

"I don't like to do that, Mrs. Wetherford," he replied, with greater
respect than he had ever shown her before. "They may attack me there."

"All the better; I'll be on hand to help--but they're less likely to boil
in on you through a locked door."

"But your daughter? It will alarm her."

"She'll be in the other house, and, besides, she'd feel easier if you are
in my place. She's all wrought up by the attack on you."

Ross turned to his prisoners. "Follow Mrs. Wetherford and--eyes front!"

"You needn't worry about me," said Joe, "I won't run."

"I don't intend to give you a chance," replied Ross.

Edwards seemed to have lost in both courage and physical stature; he
slouched along with shuffling step, his head bent and his face pale. Ross
was now profoundly sorry for him, so utterly craven and broken was his
look.



VIII

THE SECOND ATTACK


Lee was waiting on the porch of the hotel, tense with excitement,
straining her ears and eyes to see what was taking place.

The night had started with a small sickle of moon, but this had dropped
below the range, leaving the street dark, save where the lights from the
windows of the all-night eating-houses and saloons lay out upon the walk,
and, while she stood peering out, the sound of rancorous howling and
shrill whooping came to her ears with such suggestion of ferocity that she
shivered.

Every good and honorable trait seemed lost out of her neighbors. She saw
the whole country but as a refuge for criminals, ungovernable youths, and
unsexed women--a wilderness of those who had no regard for any code of
morals which interfered with their own desires. Her memories of the past
freshened as she listened. In such wise she had shuddered, as a child,
while troops of celebrating cowboys rode up and down the streets. In such
wise, too, the better (and more timid) element of the town had put out
their lights and retired, leaving their drunken helots and the marshal to
fight it out in vague tumult.

A few of the hotel guests had gone to bed, but the women were up, excited
and nervous, starting at every fresh outburst of whooping, knowing that
their sons or husbands were out in the street "to see the fun," and that
they might meet trouble.

At last Lee discerned her mother returning from Halsey's, followed by
three men. Withdrawing from the little porch whereon she had been
standing, she reentered the house to meet her mother in the hall. "Where
is Mr. Cavanagh?" she asked.

"Out in the dining-room. You see, Mike Halsey is no kind o' use. He
vamoosed and left Ross down there alone, with his two prisoners and the
lights likely to be turned out on him. So I offered the caffy as a
calaboose. They are sure in for a long and tedious night."

Lee was alarmed at her mother's appearance. "You must go to bed. You look
ghastly."

"I reckon I'd better lie down for a little while, but I can't sleep. Ross
may need me. There isn't a man to help him but me, and that loafer Ballard
is full of gall. He's got it in for Ross, and will make trouble if he
can."

"What can we do?"

"Shoot!" replied Lize, with dry brevity. "I wouldn't mind a chance to plug
some of the sweet citizens of this town. I owe them one or two."

With this sentence in her ears, Lee Virginia went to her bed, but not to
slumber. Her utter inability either to control her mother's action or to
influence that of the mob added to her uneasiness.

The singing, shouting, trampling of the crowd went on, and once a group of
men halted just outside her window, and she heard Neill Ballard noisily,
drunkenly arguing as to the most effective method of taking the prisoners.
His utterances, so profane and foul, came to her like echoes from out an
inferno. The voices were all at the moment like the hissing of serpents,
the snarling of tigers. How dared creatures of this vile type use words of
contempt against Ross Cavanagh?

"Come on, boys!" urged Ballard, his voice filled with reckless
determination. "Let's run him."

As they passed, the girl sprang up and went to her mother's room to warn
her of the threatened attack.

Lize was already awake and calmly loading a second revolver by the light
of the electric bulb.

"What are you doing?" the girl asked, her blood chilling at sight of the
weapon.

"Hell's to pay out there, and I'm going to help pay it." A jarring blow
was heard. "Hear that! They're breaking in--" She started to leave the
room.

Lee stopped her. "Where are you going?"

"To help Ross. Here!" She thrust the handle of a smaller weapon into Lee's
hand. "Ed Wetherford's girl ought to be able to take care of herself. Come
on!"

With a most unheroic horror benumbing her limbs, Lee followed her mother
through the hall. The sound of shouts and the trampling of feet could be
heard, and she came out into the restaurant just in time to photograph
upon her brain a scene whose significance was at once apparent. On a chair
between his two prisoners, and confronting Ballard at the head of a crowd
of frenzied villains, stood the ranger, a gleaming weapon in his hand, a
look of resolution on his face.

What he had said, or what he intended to do, she did not learn, for her
mother rushed at the invaders with the mad bravery of a she-bear. "Get out
of here!" she snarled, thrusting her revolver into the very mouth of the
leader.

They all fell back in astonishment and fear.

Ross leaped to her side. "Leave them to me!" he said. "I'll clear the
room."

"Not on your life! This is my house. I have the right to smash the fools."
And she beat them over the heads with her pistol-barrel.

Recognizing that she was minded to kill, they retreated over the
threshold, and Ross, drawing the door close behind them, turned to find
Lee Virginia confronting Edwards, who had attempted to escape into the
kitchen. The girl's face was white, but the eye of her revolver stared
straight and true into her prisoner's face.

With a bound Ross seized him and flung him against the wall. "Get back
there!" he shouted. "You must take your medicine with your boss."

The old fellow hurriedly replaced his ragged hat, and, folding his arms,
sank back into his chair with bowed head, while Lize turned upon Joe
Gregg. "What the devil did you go into this kind of deal for? You knew
what the game laws was, didn't you? Your old dad is all for State
regulation, and here you are breaking a State law. Why don't you stand up
for the code like a sport?"

Joe, who had been boasting of the smiles he had drawn from Lee, did not
relish this tongue-lashing from her mother, but, assuming a careless air,
he said, "I'm all out of smokes; get me a box, that's a good old soul."

Lize regarded him with the expression of one nonplussed. "You impudent
little cub!" she exclaimed. "What you need is a booting!"

The ranger addressed himself to Lee. "I want to thank you for a very
opportune intervention. I didn't know you could handle a gun so neatly."

She flushed with pleasure. "Oh yes, I can shoot. My father taught me when
I was only six years old."

As she spoke, Ross caught the man Edwards studying them with furtive
glance, but, upon being observed, he resumed his crouching attitude, which
concealed his face beneath the rim of his weather-worn hat. It was evident
that he was afraid of being recognized. He had the slinking air of the
convict, and his form, so despairing in its lax lines, appealed to Lee
with even greater poignancy than his face. "I'm sorry," she said to him,
"but it was my duty to help Mr. Cavanagh."

He glanced up with a quick sidewise slant. "That's all right, miss; I
should have had sense enough to keep out of this business." He spoke with
difficulty, and his voice was hoarse with emotion.

Lize turned to Lee. "The Doc said 'no liquor,' but I guess here's where I
draw one--I feel faint."

Ross hurried to her side, while young Gregg tendered a handsome flask.
"Here's something."

Lize put it away. "Not from you. Just reach under my desk, Ross; you'll
find some brandy there. That's it," she called, as he produced a bottle.
Clutching it eagerly, she added: "They say it's poison, but it's my meat
to-night."

She was, in truth, very pale, and her hands were trembling in a weakness
that went to her daughter's heart. Lee admired her bravery, her manlike
readiness of action, but her words, her manner (now that the stress of the
battle was over), hurt and shamed her. Little remained of the woman in
Lize, and the old sheep-herder eyed her with furtive curiosity.

"I was afraid you'd shoot," Lize explained to Ross, "and I didn't want you
to muss up your hands on the dirty loafers. I had the right to kill; they
were trespassers, and I'd 'a' done it, too."

"I don't think they intended to actually assault me," he said, "but it's a
bit discouraging to find the town so indifferent over both the breaking of
the laws and the doings of a drunken mob. I'm afraid the most of them are
a long way from law-abiding people yet."

Joe, who did not like the position in which he stood as respecting Lee,
here made an offer of aid. "I don't suppose my word is any good now, but
if you'll let me do it I'll go out and round up Judge Higley. I think I
know where he is."

To this Lize objected. "You can't do that, Ross; you better hold the fort
right here till morning."

Lee was rather sorry, too, for young Gregg, who bore his buffeting with
the imperturbable face of the heroes of his class. He had gone into this
enterprise with much the same spirit in which he had stolen gates and
misplaced signs during his brief college career, and he was now disposed
(in the presence of a pretty girl) to carry it out with undiminished
impudence. "It only means a fine, anyway," he assured himself.

Cavanagh did not trust Gregg, either, and as this was the first time he
had been called upon to arrest men for killing game out of season, he
could not afford to fail of any precaution. Tired and sleepy as he was, he
must remain on guard. "But you and your daughter must go to bed at once,"
he urged.

Lize, under the spur of her dram, talked on with bitter boldness. "I'm
going to get out o' this town as soon as I can sell. I won't live in it a
minute longer than I have to. It used to have men into it; now they're
only hobos. It's neither the old time nor the new; it's just a betwixt and
between, with a lot o' young cubs like Joe Gregg pretendin' to be tough. I
never thought I'd be sighin' for horse-cars, but these rowdy chumps like
Neill Ballard give me a pain. Not one of 'em has sand enough to pull a gun
in the open, but they'd plug you from a dark alley or fire out of a crowd.
It was different in the old days. I've seen men walk out into that street,
face each other, and open fire quiet as molasses. But now it's all talk
and blow. The _men_ have all grown old or got out."

To this Gregg listened with expressionless visage, his eyes dreamily fixed
on Lee's face; but his companion, the old herder, seemed to palpitate with
shame and fear. And Ross had the feeling at the moment that in this
ragged, unkempt old hobo was the skeleton of one of the old-time heroes.
He was wasted with drink and worn by wind and rain, but he was very far
from being commonplace. "Here they come again!" called Lize, as the hurry
of feet along the walk threatened another attack. Ross Cavanagh again drew
his revolver and stood at guard, and Lize recovering her own weapon took a
place by his side.

With the strength of a bear the new assailant shook the bolted door. "Let
me in!" he roared.

"Go to hell!" replied Lize, calmly.

"It's dad!" called young Gregg. "Go away, you chump."

"Let me in or I'll smash this door!" retorted Gregg.

"You smash that door, old Bullfrog," announced Lize, "and I'll carry one
of your lungs away. I know your howl--it don't scare me. I've stood off
one whole mob to-night, and I reckon I'm good for you. If you want to get
in here you hunt up the judge of this town and the constable."

After a pause Sam called, "Are you there, son?"

"You bet he is," responded Lize, "and here he'll stay."

Joe added: "And you'd better take the lady's advice, pop. She has the drop
on you."

The old rancher muttered a fierce curse while Ross explained the
situation. "I'm as eager to get rid of these culprits as any one can be,
but they must be taken by proper authority. Bring a writ from the
magistrate and you may have them and welcome."

Gregg went away without further word, and Lize said: "He'll find Higley if
he's in town; and he _is_ in town, for I saw him this afternoon. He's
hiding out to save himself trouble."

Lee Virginia, with an understanding of what the ranger had endured, asked:
"Can't I get you something to eat? Would you like some coffee?"

"I would, indeed," he answered, and his tone pleased her.

She hurried away to get it while Cavanagh disposed his prisoners behind a
couple of tables in the corner. "I guess you're in for a night of it," he
remarked, grimly. "So make yourselves as comfortable as you can. Perhaps
your experience may be a discouragement to others of your kind."

Lee returned soon with a pot of fresh coffee and some sandwiches, the
sight of which roused young Gregg to impudent remark. "Well, notice that!
And we're left out!" But Edwards shrank into the shadow, as if the light
hurt him.

Ross thanked Lee formally, but there was more than gratitude in his
glance, and she turned away to hide her face from other eyes. Strange
place it was for the blooming of love's roses, but they were in her cheeks
as she faced her mother; and Lize, with fresh acknowledgment of her
beauty, broke out again: "Well, this settles it. I'm going to get out of
this town, dearie. I'm done. This ends the cattle country for me. I don't
know how I've put up with these yapps all these years. I've been robbed
and insulted and spit upon just long enough. I won't have you dragged into
this mess. I ought to have turned you back the day you landed here."

The old man in the corner was listening, straining his attention in order
to catch every word she uttered, and Ross again caught a gleam in his eyes
which puzzled him. Before he had time to turn his wonder over in his mind
they all caught the sound of feet along the walk, but this time the sound
was sedate and regular, like the movement of police.

Both prisoners rose to their feet as Cavanagh again stood alert. The feet
halted; a sharp rap sounded on the door.

"Who's there?" demanded Lize.

"The law!" replied a wheezy voice. "Open in the name of the law!"

"It's old Higley," announced Lize. "Open the door, Ross."

"Come in, Law," she called, ironically, as the justice appeared. "You look
kind of mice-eaten, but you're all the law this blame town can sport. Come
in and do your duty."

Higley (a tall man, with a rusty brown beard, very much on his dignity)
entered the room, followed by a short, bullet-headed citizen in a rumpled
blue suit with a big star on his breast. Behind on the sidewalk Ballard
and a dozen of his gang could be seen. Sam Gregg, the moving cause of this
resurrection of law and order, followed the constable, bursting out big
curses upon his son. "You fool," he began, "I warned you not to monkey
with them sheep. You--"

Higley had the grace to stop that. "Let up on the cuss-words, Sam; there
are ladies present," said he, nodding toward Lee. Then he opened upon
Cavanagh. "Well, sir, what's all this row? What's your charge against
these men?"

"Killing mountain sheep. I caught them with the head of a big ram upon
their pack."

"Make him show his commission," shouted Gregg. "He's never been
commissioned. He's no game warden."

Higley hemmed. "I--ah--Oh, his authority is all right, Sam; I've seen it.
If he can prove that these men killed the sheep, we'll have to act."

Cavanagh briefly related how he had captured the men on the trail. "The
head of the ram is at the livery barn with my horse."

"How about that?" asked Higley, turning to Joe.

"I guess that's right," replied the insolent youth. "We killed the sheep
all right."

Higley was in a corner. He didn't like to offend Gregg, and yet the case
was plain. He met the issue blandly. "Marshal, take these men into
custody!" Then to Ross: "We'll relieve you of their care, Mr. Cavanagh.
You may appear to-morrow at nine."

It was a farcical ending to a very arduous thirty-six-hour campaign, and
Ross, feeling like a man who, having rolled a huge stone to the top of a
hill, has been ordered to drop it, said, "I insist on the maximum penalty
of the law, Justice Higley, especially for this man!" He indicated Joe
Gregg.

"No more sneaking, Higley," added Lize, uttering her distrust in blunt
phrase. "You put these men through or I'll make you trouble."

Higley turned, and with unsteady solemnity saluted. "Fear not my
government, madam," said he, and so made exit.

After the door had closed behind them, Cavanagh bitterly complained. "I've
delivered my prisoners over into the hands of their friends. I feel like a
fool. What assurance have I that they will ever be punished?"

"You have Higley's word," retorted Lize, with ironic inflection. "He'll
fine 'em as much as ten dollars apiece, and confiscate the head, which is
worth fifty."

"No matter what happens now, you've done your duty," added Lee Virginia,
with intent to comfort him.

Lize, now that the stress of the battle was over, fell a-tremble. "I
reckon I'll have to go to bed," she admitted. "I'm all in. This night
service is wearing."

Ross was alarmed at the sudden droop of her head. "Lean on me," he said,
"it's my turn to be useful."

She apologized. "I can't stand what I could once," she confessed, as he
aided her into the hotel part of the building. "It's my nerve--seem's like
it's all gone. I go to pieces like a sick girl."

She did, indeed, resemble the wreck of a woman as she lay out upon her
bed, her hands twitching, her eyes closed, and Ross was profoundly
alarmed. "You need the doctor," he urged. "Let me bring him."

"No," she said, huskily, but with decision, "I'm only tired--I'll be all
right soon. Send the people away; tell 'em to go to bed."

For half an hour Cavanagh remained in the room waiting to see if the
doctor's services would be required, but at the end of that time, as she
had apparently fallen asleep, he rose and tiptoed out into the hall.

Lee followed, and they faced each other in such intimacy as the
shipwrecked feel after the rescue. The house was still astir with the feet
of those to whom the noises of the night had been a terror or a lure, and
their presence, so far from being a comfort, a protection, filled the
girl's heart with fear and disgust. The ranger explained the outcome of
the turmoil, and sent the excited folk to their beds with the assurance
that all was quiet and that their landlady was asleep.

When they were quite alone Lee said: "You must not go out into the streets
to-night."

"There's no danger. These hoodlums would not dare to attack me."

"Nevertheless, you shall not go!" she declared. "Wait a moment," she
commanded, and reentered her mother's room.

As he stood there at Lize Wetherford's door, and his mind went back over
her brave deed, which had gone far to atone for her vulgarity, his respect
for her deepened. Her resolute insistence upon law showed a complete
change of front. "There is more good in her than I thought," he admitted,
and it gave him pleasure, for it made Lee Virginia's character just that
much more dependable. He thrilled with a new and wistful tenderness as the
girl opened the door and stepped out, close beside him.

"Her breathing is quieter," she whispered. "I think she's going to sleep.
It's been a terrible night! You must be horribly tired. I will find you
some place to sleep."

"It has been a strenuous campaign," he admitted. "I've been practically
without sleep for three nights, but that's all in my job. I won't mind if
Higley will 'soak' those fellows properly."

She looked troubled. "I don't know what to do about a bed for you;
everything is taken--except the couch in the front room."

"Don't trouble, I beg of you. I can pitch down anywhere. I'm used to hard
beds. I must be up early to-morrow, anyway."

"Please don't go till after breakfast," she smiled, wanly, "I may need
you."

He understood. "What did the doctor say?"

"He said mother was in a very low state of vitality and that she must be
very careful, which was easy enough to say. But how can I get her to rest
and to diet? You have seen how little she cares for the doctor's orders.
He told her not to touch alcohol."

"She is more like a man than a woman," he answered.

She led the way into the small sitting-room which lay at the front of the
house, and directly opposite the door of her own room. It was filled with
shabby parlor furniture, and in one corner stood a worn couch. "I'm sorry,
but I can offer nothing better," she said. "Every bed is taken, but I have
plenty of blankets."

There was something delightfully suggestive in being thus waited upon by a
young and handsome woman, and the ranger submitted to it with the awkward
grace of one unaccustomed to feminine care. The knowledge that the girl
was beneath him in birth, and that she was considered to be (in a sense)
the lovely flower of a corrupt stock, made the manifest innocency of her
voice and eyes the more appealing. He watched her moving about the room
with eyes in which a furtive flame glowed.

"This seems a long way from that dinner at Redfield's, doesn't it?" he
remarked, as she turned from spreading the blankets on the couch.

"It is another world," she responded, and her face took on a musing
gravity.

Then they faced each other in silence, each filled with the same delicious
sense of weakness, of danger, reluctant to say good-night, longing for the
closer touch which dawning love demanded, and yet--something in the girl
defended her, defeated him.

"You must call me if I can be of any help," he repeated, and his voice was
tremulous with feeling.

"I will do so," she answered.

Still they did not part. His voice was very tender as he said, "I don't
like to see you exposed to such experiences."

"I was not afraid--only for you a little," she answered.

"The Redfields like you. Eleanor told me she would gladly help you. Why do
you stay here?"

"I cannot leave my mother."

"I'm not so sure of your duty in that regard. She got on without you for
ten years. You have a right to consider yourself. You don't belong here."

"Neither do you," she retorted.

"Oh yes, I do--at least, the case is different with me; my work is here.
It hurts me to think of going back to the hills, leaving you here in the
midst of these wolves."

He was talking now in the low, throbbing utterance of a man carried out of
himself. "It angers me to think that the worst of these loafers, these
drunken beasts, can glare at you--can speak to you. They have no right to
breathe the same air with one like you."

She did not smile at this; his voice, his eyes were filled with the
gravity of the lover whose passion is not humorous. Against his training,
his judgment, he was being drawn into closer and closer union with this
daughter of violence, and he added: "You may not see me in the morning."

"You must not go without seeing my mother. You must have your breakfast
with us. It hurt us to think you didn't come to us for supper."

Her words meant little, but the look in her eyes, the music in her voice,
made him shiver. He stammered: "I--I must return to my duties to-morrow. I
should go back to-night."

"You mustn't do that. You can't do that. You are to appear before the
judge."

He smiled. "That is true. I'd forgotten that."

Radiant with relief, she extended her hand. "Good-night, then. You must
sleep."

He took her hand and drew her toward him, then perceiving both wonder and
fear in her eyes, he conquered himself. "Good-night," he repeated,
dropping her hand, but his voice was husky with its passion.

Tired as he was, the ranger could not compose himself to sleep. The memory
of the girl's sweet face, the look of half-surrender in her eyes, the
knowledge that she loved him, and that she was lying but a few yards from
him, made slumber impossible. At the moment she seemed altogether
admirable, entirely worthy to be won.



IX

THE OLD SHEEP-HERDER


The ranger was awakened in the first faint dawn by the passing of the
girl's light feet as she went across the hall to her mother's room, and a
moment later he heard the low murmur of her voice. Throwing off his
blankets and making such scant toilet as he needed, he stepped into the
hall and waited for her to return.

Soon she came toward him, a smile of confidence and pleasure on her lips.

"How is she?" he asked.

"Quite comfortable."

"And you?" His voice was very tender.

"I am a little tired," she acknowledged. "I didn't sleep very well."

"You didn't sleep at all," he declared, regretfully.

"Oh yes, I did," she replied, brightly.

She appeared a little pale but by no means worn. Indeed, her face had
taken on new charm with its confession of feminine weakness, its
expression of trust in him.

These two ardent souls confronted each other in absorbed silence with
keener perception, with new daring, with new intimacy, till he recalled
himself with effort. "You must let me help you if there's anything I can
do. Remember, I'm your big brother."

"I remember," she answered, smilingly, "and I'm going out to see what my
big brother is to have for breakfast."

Cavanagh found the street empty, silent, and utterly commonplace. And as
he walked past Halsey's saloon the tumult of the night seemed born of a
vision in disordered sleep--and yet it had happened! From these reeking
little dens a score of foul tatterdemalions had issued, charged with
malicious fury. Each of these shacks seemed the lurking-place of a species
of malevolent insect whose sting was out for every comer.

The rotting sidewalks, the tiny shops, with their dusty fly-specked
windows, the groggeries, from whose open doors a noisome vapor streamed,
poisoning the morning air--all these typed the old-time West as Redfield
and his farmstead typed the new.

"Once I would have laughed at this town," he said; "but now it is
disgusting--something to be wiped out as one expunges an obscene mark upon
a public wall."

As for the attack upon himself, terrifying as it had seemed to Lee
Virginia, it was in reality only another lively episode in the history of
the town, another disagreeable duty in the life of a ranger. It was all a
part of his job.

He went forth to his duties with a deepened conviction of the essential
lawlessness of the State and of America in general; for this spirit of mob
law was to be found in some form throughout the land. He was disgusted,
but not beaten. His resolution to carry out the terms of his contract with
the Government remained unshaken.

He carried with him, also, a final disturbing glimpse of Eliza
Wetherford's girl that did indeed threaten his peace of mind. There was an
involuntary appeal, a wistful depth, to her glance which awakened in him
an indignant pity, and also blew into flame something not so
creditable--something which smoldered beneath his conscious will. He
perceived in her a spirit of yielding which was difficult to resist. He
understood, much more clearly than at his first meeting with her, how
impossible it was for her to remain in this country (where law was a joke
and women a ribald jest) without being corrupted. She had not escaped her
heritage of passion, and her glances, innocent as they were, roused, even
in him, something lawless.

As he climbed the long hill he grappled deeply with this new and
inexplicable weakness. He had always been a decent fellow as respects
women, and had maintained the same regard for the moral code that he
instinctively bore toward the laws of his adopted country. He could not,
therefore, regard this girl (low as her parentage seemed) in the light of
license; for (he thought) whatever of evil may have been planted deep in
her nature by her ill-assorted father and mother, she is at the moment
sweet and fine, and the man who would awaken her other self should be
accursed.

In this mood, too, he acknowledged the loneliness of his life for the
first time, and rode his silent way up the trail like one in a dream. He
went over his life story in detail, wondering if he had not made a mistake
in leaving England, in taking out his American citizenship. He considered
again, very seriously, the question of going back to live on the estate of
his mother, and once more decided that its revenue was too small. To
return to it meant an acceptance of the restricted life of an English
farmer, and, worst of all, an acquiescence in the social despotism which
he had come to feel and to hate.

The English empire to him was falling apart. Its supremacy was already
threatened by Germany, whereas the future of the States appealed to his
imagination. Here the problems of popular government and of industry were
to be worked out on the grandest scale. The West inspired him. "Some day
each of these great ranges will be a national forest, and each of these
canons will contain its lake, its reservoir." There was something fine in
this vision of man's conquest of nature. "Surely in this development there
is a place for me," he said.

Start at any place he pleased, his mind circled and came back to Lee
Virginia. He reproached himself for not having remained one more day to
help her. She was in the midst of a most bleak and difficult pass, and
whether she came through or not depended on something not derived from
either her father or her mother. The test of her character was being
made.

"Happily the father is dead, and his exploits fading to a dim legend; but
the mother may live for years to dishearten and corrupt. It is foolish of
the girl to stay, and yet to have her go would leave me and the whole
valley poorer."

He perceived in her a symbol. "She is the new West just as the mother
represents the old, and the law of inheritance holds in her as it holds in
the State. She is a mixture of good and evil, of liberty and license. She
must still draw forward, for a time, the dead weight of her past, just as
the West must bear with and gradually slough off its violent moods."

His pony plodded slowly, and the afternoon was half-spent before he came
in sight of the long, low log-cabin which was the only home he possessed
in all America. For the first time since he built it, the station seemed
lonely and disheartening. "Would any woman, for love of me, come to such a
hearthstone?" he asked himself. "And if she consented to do so, could I be
so selfish as to exact such sacrifice? No, the forest ranger in these
attitudes must be young and heart-free; otherwise his life would be
miserably solitary."

He unsaddled his horse and went about his duties with a leaden pall over
his spirit, a fierce turmoil in his brain. He was no longer single-hearted
in his allegiance to the forest. He could not banish that appealing
girlish face, that trusting gaze. Lee Virginia needed him as he needed
her; and yet--and yet--the people's lands demanded his care, his social
prejudices forbade his marriage.

He was just dishing out his rude supper when the feet of a horse on the
log bridge announced a visitor.

With a feeling of pleasure as well as relief, he rose to greet the
stranger. "Any visitor is welcome this night," he said.

The horseman proved to be his former prisoner, the old man Edwards, who
slipped from his saddle with the never-failing grace of the cow-man, and
came slowly toward the cabin. He smiled wearily as he said: "I'm on your
trail, Mr. Ranger, but I bear no malice. You were doing your duty. Can you
tell me how far it is to Ambro's camp?"

There was something forlorn in the man's attitude, and Cavanagh's heart
softened. "Turn your horse into the corral and come to supper," he
commanded, with Western bluntness; "we'll talk about all that later."

Edwards accepted his hospitality without hesitation, and when he had
disposed of his mount and made himself ready for the meal, he came in and
took a seat at the table in silence, while the ranger served him and
waited for his explanation.

"I'm going up to take Ambro's place," he began, after a few minutes of
silent eating. "Know where his camp is?"

"I do," replied Ross, to whom the stranger now appeared in pathetic guise.
"Any man of his age consenting to herd sheep is surely hard hit by the
rough hand of the world," he reasoned, and the closer he studied his
visitor the plainlier he felt his ungoverned past. His chest was hollow,
his eyes unnaturally large, and his hands thin, but he still displayed
faint lines of the beauty and power he had once gloried in. His clothing
was worn and poor, and Ross said: "You'll need plenty of bedding up
there."

"Is it high?"

"About eleven thousand feet."

"Jehosaphat! How will I stand that kind of air? Still, it may be it's what
I need. I've been living down in the low country for ten years, and I'm a
little bit hide-bound."

"Lung trouble?"

"Oh no; old age, I reckon."

"You're not old--not more than fifty-five."

"I'm no colt," he admitted; "and, besides, I've lived pretty swift."

In this was the hint of a confession, but Cavanagh did not care to have
him proceed further in that line. "I suppose Gregg paid your fine?"

"Yes."

"In any other town in the State you'd have gone down the line."

He roused himself. "See here, Mr. Ranger, you've no warrant to believe me,
but I told you the God's truth. Young Gregg got me to ride into the range
and show him the trail. I didn't intend to get mixed up with a game
warden. I've had all the confinement I need."

"Well, it's a closed incident now," interposed Ross; "we won't reopen it.
Make yourself at home."

The stranger, hungry as he was, ate with unexpected gentility, and, as the
hot coffee sent its cheerful glow through his body, he asked, with
livening interest, a good many questions about the ranger and the Forest
Service. "You fellers have to be all-round men. The cowboys think you have
a snap, but I guess you earn your money."

"A man that builds trail, lays bridges, burns brush, fights fire, rides
the round-up, and covers seventy-five miles of trail every week on eighty
dollars per month, and feeds himself and his horses, isn't what I would
call enjoying a soft snap."

"What do you do it for?"

"God knows! I've been asking myself that question all day to-day."

"This playin' game warden has some outs, too. That was a wild crowd last
night. The town is the same old hell-hole it was when I knew it years ago.
Fine girl of Lize Wetherford's. She blocked _me_ all right." He smiled
wanly. "I certainly was on my way to the green timber when she put the
bars up."

Ross made no comment, and the other went on, in a tone of reminiscent
sadness. "Lize has changed terribly. I used to know her when she was a
girl. Judas Priest! but she could ride and shoot in those days!" His eyes
kindled with the memory of her. "She could back a horse to beat any woman
that ever crossed the range, but I didn't expect to see her have such a
skein of silk as that girl. She sure looks the queen to me."

Cavanagh did not greatly relish this line of conversation, but the pause
enabled him to say: "Miss Wetherford is not much Western; she got her
training in the East. She's been with an aunt ever since her father's
death."

"He's dead, is he?"

"So far as anybody knows, he is."

"Well, he's no loss. I knew him, too. He was all kinds of a fool; let a
few slick ones seduce him with fizz-water and oysters on the
half-shell--that's the kind of a weak sister he was. He got on the wrong
side of the rustler line-up--you know all about that, I reckon? Fierce old
days, those. We didn't know anything about forest rangers or game wardens
in them days."

The stranger's tone was now that of a man quite certain of himself. He had
become less furtive under the influence of the food and fire.

Ross defended Wetherford for Virginia's sake. "He wasn't altogether to
blame, as I see it. He was the Western type in full flower, that's all. He
had to go like the Indian and the buffalo. And these hobos like Ballard
and Gregg will go next."

Edwards sank back into his chair. "I reckon that's right," he agreed, and
made offer to help clear away the supper dishes.

"No, you're tired," replied Ross; "rest and smoke. I'll soon be done."

The poacher each moment seemed less of the hardened criminal, and more and
more of the man prematurely aged by sickness and dissipation, and
gradually the ranger lost all feeling of resentment.

As he sat down beside the fire, Edwards said: "Them Wetherford women think
a whole lot of you. 'Pears like they'd both fight for you. Are you sweet
on the girl?"

"Now, see here, old man," Ross retorted, sharply, "you want to do a lot of
thinking before you comment on Miss Wetherford. I won't stand for any
nasty clack."

Edwards meekly answered: "I wasn't going to say anything out of the way. I
was fixin' for to praise her."

"All the same, I don't intend to discuss her with you," was Cavanagh's
curt answer.

The herder fell back into silence while the ranger prepared his bunk for
the night. The fact that he transferred some of the blankets from his own
bed to that of his visitor did not escape Edwards's keen eyes, and with
grateful intent he said:

"I can give you a tip, Mr. Ranger," said he, breaking out of a silence.
"The triangle outfit is holding more cattle on the forest than their
permits call for."

"How do you know?"

"I heard one of the boys braggin' about it."

"Much obliged," responded Ross. "I'll look into it."

Edwards went on: "Furthermore, they're fixing for another sheep-kill over
there, too; all the sheepmen are armed. That's why I left the country. I
don't want to run any more chances of being shot up. I've had enough of
trouble; I can't afford to be hobnobbing with judges and juries."

"When does your parole end?" asked Ross.

Edwards forced a grin. "I was handing you one when I said that," he
declared, weakly. "I was workin' up sympathy. I'm not out on parole; I'm
just a broken-down old cow-puncher herdin' sheep in order to keep clear of
the liquor belt."

This seemed reasonable, and the ranger remarked, by way of dropping the
subject: "I've nothing to say further than this--obey the rules of the
forest, and you won't get into any further trouble with me. And as for
being shot up by the cow-men, you'll not be disturbed on any national
forest. There never has been a single herder shot nor a sheep destroyed on
this forest."

"I'm mighty glad to hear that," replied Edwards, with sincere relief.
"I've had my share of shooting up and shooting down. All I ask now is
quiet and the society of sheep. I take a kind of pleasure in protecting
the fool brutes. It's about all I'm good for."

He did, indeed, look like a man in the final year of life as he spoke.
"Better turn in," he said, in kindlier tone; "I'm an early riser."

The old fellow rose stiffly, and, laying aside his boots and trousers,
rolled into his bunk and was asleep in three minutes.

Cavanagh himself was very tired, and went to bed soon after, to sleep
dreamlessly till daylight. He sprang from his bed, and after a plunge in
the stream set about breakfast; while Edwards rose from his bunk, groaning
and sighing, and went forth to wrangle the horses, rubbing his hands and
shivering as he met the keen edge of the mountain wind. When he returned,
breakfast was ready, and again he expressed his gratitude.

"Haven't you any slicker?" asked Cavanagh. "It looks like rain."

"No, I'm run down pretty low," he replied. "The truth is, Mr. Ranger, I
blew in all my wages at roulette last week."

Ross brought out a canvas coat, well worn but serviceable. "Take this
along with you. It's likely to storm before we reach the sheep-camp. And
you don't look very strong. You must take care of yourself."

Edwards was visibly moved by this kindness. "Sure you can spare it?"

"Certain sure; I've another," returned the ranger, curtly.

It was hardly more than sunrise as they mounted their ponies and started
on their trail, which led sharply upward after they left the canon. The
wind was strong and stinging cold. Over the high peaks the gray-black
vapor was rushing, and farther away a huge dome of cloud was advancing
like an army in action. It was all in the day's work of the ranger, but
the plainsman behind him turned timorous eyes toward the sky. "It looks
owly," he repeated. "I didn't know I was going so high--Gregg didn't say
the camp was so near timber-line."

"You've cut out a lonesome job for yourself," Ross assured him, "and if
you can find anything else to do you'd better give this up and go back."

"I'm used to being lonesome," the stranger said, "but I can't stand the
cold and the wet as I used to. I never was a mountaineer."

Taking pity on the shivering man, Cavanagh turned off the trail into a
sheltered nook behind some twisted pine-trees. "How do you expect to take
care of your sheep a thousand feet higher than this?" he demanded as they
entered the still place, where the sun shone warm.

"That's what I'm asking myself," replied Edwards. He slipped from his
horse and crouched close to the rock. "My blood is mostly ditch-water,
seems like. The wind blows right through me."

"How do you happen to be reduced to herding sheep? You look like a man who
has seen better days."

Edwards, chafing his thin fingers to warm them, made reluctant answer:
"It's a long story, Mr. Ranger, and it concerns a whole lot of other
people--some of them decent folks--so I'd rather not go into it."

"John Barleycorn was involved, I reckon."

"Sure thing--he's generally always in it."

"You'd better take my gloves--it's likely to snow in half an hour. Go
ahead--I'm a younger man than you are."

The other made a decent show of resistance, but finally accepted the
offer, saying: "You certainly are white to me. I want to apologize for
making that attempt to sneak away that night--I had a powerful good reason
for not staying any longer."

Ross smiled a little. "You showed bad judgment--as it turned out."

"I sure did. That girl can shoot. Her gun was steady as a door-knob. She
filled the door. Where did she learn to hold a gun like that?"

"Her father taught her, so she said."

"She wouldn't remember me--an old cuss like me--but I've seen her with
Wetherford when she was a kidlet. I never thought she'd grow up into such
a 'queen.' She's a wonder."

Strange to say, Ross no longer objected to the old man's words of
admiration; on the contrary, he encouraged him to talk on.

"Her courage is greater than you know. When she came to that hotel it was
a place of dirt and vermin. She has transformed it. She's now engaged on
the reformation of her mother."

"Lize was straight when I knew her," remarked the other, in the tone of
one who wishes to defend a memory. "Straight as a die."

"In certain ways she's straight now, but she's been hard pushed at times,
and has traded in liquor to help out--then she's naturally a slattern."

"She didn't used to be," asserted Edwards; "she was a mighty handsome
woman when I used to see her riding around with Ed."

"She's down at the heel now, quite like the town."

"She looked sick to me. You shouldn't be too hard on a sick woman, but she
ought to send her girl away or get out. As you say, the Fork is no kind of
a place for such a girl. If I had a son, a fine young feller like that
girl is, do you suppose I'd let him load himself up with an old soak like
me? No, sir; Lize has no right to spoil that girl's life. I'm nothing but
a ham-strung old cow-puncher, but I've too much pride to saddle my pack on
the shoulders of my son the way Lize seems to be doin' with that girl."

He spoke with a good deal of feeling, and the ranger studied him with
deepening interest. He had taken on dignity in the heat of his protest,
and in his eyes blazed something that was both manly and admirable.

Cavanagh took his turn at defending Lize. "As a matter of fact, she tried
to send her daughter away, but Lee refuses to go, insisting that it is her
duty to remain. In spite of her bad blood the girl is surprisingly true
and sweet. She makes me wonder whether there is as much in heredity as we
think."

"Her blood ain't so bad. Wetherford was a fool and a daredevil, but he
came of good Virginia stock--so I've heard."

"Well, whatever was good in both sire and dame this girl seems to have
mysteriously gathered to herself."

The old man looked at him with a bright sidelong glance. "You are a little
sweet on the girl, eh?"

Ross began to regret his confidence. "She's making a good fight, and I
feel like helping her."

"And she rather likes being helped by you. I could see that when she
brought the coffee to you. She likes to stand close--"

Ross cut him short. "We'll not discuss her any further."

"I don't mean any harm, Mr. Ranger; we hobos have a whole lot of time to
gossip, and I'm old enough to like a nice girl in a fatherly way. I reckon
the whole valley rides in to see her, just the way you do."

Cavanagh winced. "You can't very well hide a handsome woman in a cattle
country."

Edwards smiled again, sadly. "Not in my day you couldn't. Why, a girl like
that would 'a' been worth a thousand head o' steers. I've seen a man come
in with a span of mules and three ordinary female daughters, and without
cinching a saddle to a pony accumulate five thousand cattle." Then he grew
grave again. "Don't happen to have a picture of the girl, do you?"

"If I did, would I show it to you?"

"You might. You might even give it to me."

Cavanagh looked at the man as if he were dreaming. "You must be crazy."

"Oh no, I'm not. Sheep-herders do go twisted, but I'm not in the business
long enough for that. I'm just a bit nutty about that girl."

He paused a moment. "So if you have a picture, I wish you'd show it to
me."

"I haven't any."

"Is that right?"

"That's right. I've only seen her two or three times, and she isn't the
kind that distributes her favors."

"So it seems. And yet you're just the kind of figure to catch a girl's
eye. She likes you--I could see that, but you've got a good opinion of
yourself. You're an educated man--do you intend to marry her?"

"See here, Mr. Sheep-herder, you better ride on up to your camp," and Ross
turned to mount his horse.

"Wait a minute," called the other man, and his voice surprised the ranger
with a note of authority. "I was terribly taken with that girl, and I owe
you a whole lot; but I've got to know one thing. I can see you're full of
her, and jealous as a bear of any other suitor. Now I want to know whether
you intend to marry her or whether you're just playing with her?"

Ross was angry now. "What I intend to do is none of your business."

The other man was suddenly ablaze with passion. His form had lost its
stoop. His voice was firm. "I merely want to say that if you play the goat
with that girl, I'll kill you!"

Ross stared at him quite convinced that he had gone entirely mad. "That's
mighty chivalrous of you, Mr. Sheep-herder," he replied, cuttingly; "but
I'm at a loss to understand this sudden indignation on your part."

"You needn't be--I'm her father!"

Cavanagh fairly reeled before this retort. His head rang as if he had been
struck with a club. He perceived the truth of the man's words instantly.
He gasped: "Good God, man! are _you_ Ed Wetherford?"

The answer was quick. "That's who I am!" Then his voice changed. "But I
don't want the women to know I'm alive--I didn't intend to let anybody
know it. My fool temper has played hell with me again"--then his voice
grew firmer--"all the same, I mean it. If you or any man tries to abuse
her, I'll kill him! I've loaded her up with trouble, as you say, but I'm
going to do what I can to protect her--now that I'm in the county again."

Ross, confused by this new complication in the life of the girl he was
beginning to love, stared at his companion in dismay. Was it not enough
that Virginia's mother should be a slattern and a termagant? At last he
spoke: "Where have you been all these years?"

"In the Texas 'pen.' I served nine years there."

"What for?"

"Shooting a man. It was a case of self-defence, but his family had more
money and influence than I did, so I went down the road. As soon as I was
out I started north--just the way a dog will point toward home. I didn't
intend to come here, but some way I couldn't keep away. I shied round the
outskirts of the Fork, picking up jobs of sheep-herding just to have time
to turn things over. I know what you're thinking about--you're saying to
yourself, 'Well, here's a nice father-in-law?' Well, now, I don't know
anything about your people, but the Wetherfords are as good as anybody. If
I hadn't come out into this cursed country, where even the women go
shootin' wild, I would have been in Congress; but being hot-headed, I must
mix in. I'm not excusing myself, you understand; I'm not a desirable
addition to any man's collection of friends, but I can promise you
this--no one but yourself shall ever know who I am. At the same time, you
can't deceive my girl without my being named in the funeral that will
follow."

It was a singular place for such an exchange of confidences. Wetherford
stood with his back against his pony, his face flushed, his eyes bright as
though part of his youth had returned to him, while the ranger, slender,
erect, and powerful, faced him with sombre glance. Overhead the detached
clouds swept swift as eagles, casting shadows cold as winter, and in the
dwarfed century-old trees the wind breathed a sad monody. Occasionally the
sun shone warm and golden upon the group, and then it seemed spring, and
the far-off plain a misty sea.

At last Cavanagh said: "You are only a distant and romantic figure to
Lee--a part of the dead past. She remembers you as a bold rider and a
wondrously brave and chivalrous father."

"Does she?" he asked, eagerly.

"Yes, and she loves to talk of you. She knows the town's folk despise your
memory, but that she lays to prejudice."

"She must never know. You must promise never to tell her."

"I promise that," Cavanagh said, and Edwards went on:

"If I could bring something to her--prove to her I'm still a man--it might
do to tell her, but I'm a branded man now, and an old man, and there's no
hope for me. I worked in one of the machine-shops down there, and it took
the life out of me. Then, too, I left a bad name here in the Fork--I know
that. Those big cattle-men fooled me into taking their side of the war. I
staked everything I had on them, and then they railroaded me out of the
county. So, you see, I'm double-crossed, no matter where I turn."

Every word he uttered made more apparent to Cavanagh that Lee Virginia
would derive nothing but pain and disheartenment from a knowledge that her
father lived. "She must be spared this added burden of shameful
inheritance," he decided.

The other man seemed to understand something of the ranger's indignant
pity, for he repeated: "I want you to _swear_ not to let Lee know I'm
alive, no matter what comes; she must not be saddled with my record. Let
her go on thinking well of me. Give me your word!" He held out an
insistent palm.

Ross yielded his hand, and in spite of himself his tenderness for the
broken man deepened. The sky was darkening to the west, and with a glance
upward he said: "I reckon we'd better make your camp soon or you'll be
chilled to the bone."

They mounted hastily and rode away, each feeling that his relationship to
the other had completely changed. Wetherford marvelled over the evident
culture and refinement of the ranger. "He's none too good for her, no
matter who he is," he said.

Upon leaving timber-line they entered upon a wide and sterile slope high
on the rocky breast of the great peak, whose splintered crest lorded the
range. Snow-fields lay all about, and a few hundred feet higher up the
canons were filled with ice. It was a savage and tempest-swept spot in
which to pitch a tent, but there among the rocks shivered the minute
canvas home of the shepherd, and close beside it, guarded by a lone dog,
and lying like a thick-spread flock of rimy bowlders (almost unnoticeable
in their silent immobility) huddled the sheep.

"There's your house," shouted Ross to Wetherford.

The older man, with white face of dismay, looked about him, unable to make
reply.

The walls of the frail teepee, flapping in the breeze, appeared hardly
larger than a kerchief caught upon a bush, and the disheartened collie
seemed nervously apprehensive of its being utterly swept away. The great
peaks were now hid by the rain, and little could be seen but wet rocks,
twisted junipers, and the trickling gray streams of icy water. The eastern
landscape was naked, alpine, splendid yet appalling, and the voices of the
sheep added to the dreary message of the scene.

"Hello there!" shouted Ross, wondering at the absence of human life about
the camp. "Hello the house!"

Receiving no answer to his hail, he turned to Wetherford. "Looks like Joe
has pulled out and left the collie to 'tend the flock. He's been kind o'
seedy for some days."

Dismounting, he approached the tent. The collie, who knew him, seemed to
understand his errand, for he leaped upon him as if to kiss his cheek.
Ross put him down gently. "You're almost too glad to see me, old fellow. I
wonder how long you've been left here alone?"

Thereupon he opened the tied flap, but started back with instant
perception of something wrong, for there, on his pile of ragged quilts,
lay the Basque herder, with flushed face and rolling eyes, crazed with
fever and entirely helpless. "You'd better not come in here, Wetherford,"
Ross warned. "Joe is here, horribly sick, and I'm afraid it's something
contagious. It may be smallpox."

Wetherford recoiled a step. "Smallpox! What makes you think that?"

"Well, these Basques have been having it over in their settlement, and,
besides, it smells like it." He listened a moment. "I'm afraid Joe's in
for it. He's crazy with it. But he's a human being, and we can't let him
die here alone. You rustle some wood for the stove, and I'll see what I
can do for him."

Wetherford was old and wasted and thin-blooded, but he had never been a
coward, and in his heart there still burned a small flame of his youthful,
reckless, generous daring. Pushing Cavanagh one side, he said, with firm
decision: "You keep out o' there. I'm the one to play nurse. This is my
job."

"Nonsense; I am younger and stronger than you."

"Get away!" shouted the older man. "Gregg hired me to do this work, and it
don't matter whether I live or die; but you've got something to do in the
world. My girl needs you, and she don't need me, so get out o' here and
stay out. Go bring me that wood, and I'll go in and see what's the
matter."

Cavanagh looked him in the face an instant. "Very well," said he, "I'll do
as you say. There's no use of our both taking chances."

It was beginning to rain, and the tent was dark and desolate, but as the
fire in the little stove commenced to snarl, and the smoke to pour out of
the pipe, the small domicile took on cheer. Wetherford knew how to care
for the sick, and in the shelter of the canvas wall developed unforeseen
vigor and decision. It was amazing to Cavanagh to witness his change of
manner.

Soon a pan of water was steaming, and some hot stones were at the
sufferer's feet, and when Wetherford appeared at the door of the tent his
face was almost happy. "Kill a sheep. There isn't a thing but a heel of
bacon and a little flour in the place."

As the ranger went about his outside duties he had time to take into full
account the tragic significance of the situation. He was not afraid of
death, but the menace of sickness under such surroundings made his blood
run cold. It is such moments as these that the wilderness appalls. Twenty
miles of most difficult trail lay between his own cabin and this spot. To
carry the sick man on his horse would not only be painful to the sufferer
but dangerous to the rescuer, for if the Basque were really ill of
smallpox contagion would surely follow. On the other hand, to leave him to
die here unaided seemed inhuman, impossible.

"There is only one thing to do," he called to Wetherford, "and that is for
me to ride back to the station and bring up some extra bedding and my own
tent, and so camp down beside you."

"All right; but remember I've established a quarantine. I'll crack your
head if you break over the line an inch."

There was no longer any feeling of reaching up or reaching down between
the two men--they were equals. Wetherford, altogether admirable, seemed to
have regained his manhood as he stood in the door of the tent confronting
the ranger. "This Basque ain't much of a find, but, as you say, he's
human, and we can't let him lie here and die, I'll stay with him till you
can find a doctor or till he dies."

"I take off my hat to you," responded Cavanagh. "You are a man."



X

THE SMOKE OF THE BURNING


The reader will observe that the forest ranger's job is that of a man and
a patriot, and such a ranger was Cavanagh, notwithstanding his foreign
birth. He could ride all day in the saddle and fight fire all night. While
not a trained forester, he was naturally a reader, and thoroughly
understood the theories of the department. As a practical ranger he stood
half-way between the cowboy (who was at first the only available material)
and the trained expert who is being educated to follow him.

He was loyal with the loyalty of a soldier, and his hero was the colonel
of the Rough-riders, under whom he had campaigned. The second of his
admirations was the Chief Forester of the department.

The most of us are getting so thin-skinned, so dependent upon steam-heat
and goloshes, that the actions of a man like this riding forth upon his
trail at all hours of the day and night self-sufficing and serene, seem
like the doings of an epic, and so indeed they are.

On the physical side the plainsman, the cowboy, the poacher, are all
admirable, but Cavanagh went far beyond their physical hardihood. He
dreamed, as he rode, of his responsibilities. The care of the poor Basque
shepherd he had accepted as a matter of routine without Wetherford's
revelation of himself, which complicated an exceedingly pitiful case. He
could not forget that it was Lee Virginia's father who stood in danger of
contracting the deadly disease, and as he imagined him dying far up there
on that bleak slope, his heart pinched with the tragedy of the old man's
life. In such wise the days of the ranger were smouldering to this end.

On the backward trail he turned aside to stamp out a smoking log beside a
deserted camp-fire, and again he made a detour into a lovely little park
to visit a fisherman and to warn him of the danger of fire. He was the
forest guardian, alert to every sign, and yet all the time he was being
drawn on toward his temptation. Why not resign and go East, taking the
girl with him? "After all, the life up here is a lonely and hard one, in
no sense a vocation for an ambitious man. Suppose I am promoted to Forest
Supervisor? That only means a little more salary and life in a small city
rather than here. District Supervisor would be better, but can I hope to
secure such a position?"

Up to this month he had taken the matter of his promotion easily; it was
something to come along in the natural course of things. "There is no
haste; I can wait." Now haste seemed imperative. "I am no longer so young
as I was," he admitted.

Once back at his cabin he laid aside his less tangible problems, and set
himself to cooking some food to take back with him to the peak. He brought
in his pack-horse, and burdened him with camp outfit and utensils, and
extra clothing. He filled his pockets with such medicines as he possessed,
and so at last, just as night was falling, he started back over his
difficult trail.

The sky was black as the roof of a cavern, for the stars were hid by a
roof of cloud which hung just above his head, and the ranger was obliged
to feel his way through the first quarter of his journey. The world grew
lighter after he left the canon and entered the dead timber of the glacial
valley, but even in the open the going was wearisome and the horses
proceeded with sullen caution.

"The Basque is a poor, worthless little peasant, but he is a human being,
and to leave him to die up there would be monstrous," he insisted, as the
horses stumbled upward over the rocks of a vast lateral moraine toward the
summit, blinded by the clouds through which they were forced to pass. He
was dismounted now and picking his way with a small lantern, whose feeble
ray (like that of a firefly) illuminated for a small space the dripping
rocks; all else was tangible yellow mist which possessed a sulphurous odor
and clung to everything it touched. The wind had died out entirely, and
the mountain-side was as silent as the moon.

Foot by foot he struggled up the slope, hoping each moment to break
through this blanket of vapor into the clear air. He knew from many
previous experiences that the open sky existed a little way above, that
this was but a roof.

At last he parted the layer of mist and burst into the moonlit heights
above. He drew a deep breath of awe as he turned and looked about him.
Overhead the sky was sparkling with innumerable stars, and the crescent
moon was shining like burnished silver, while level with his breast rolled
a limitless, silent, and mystical ocean of cloud which broke against the
dark peaks in soundless surf, and spread away to the east in ever-widening
shimmer. All the lesser hills were covered; only the lords of the range
towered above the flood in sullen and unmoved majesty.

For a long time Cavanagh stood beside his weary horses, filling his soul
with the beauty of this world, so familiar yet so transformed. He wished
for his love; she would feel and know and rejoice with him. It was such
experiences as these that made him content with his work. For the ranger
Nature plays her profoundest dramas--sometimes with the rush of winds, the
crash of thunder; sometimes like this, in silence so deep that the act of
breathing seems a harsh, discordant note.

Slowly the mystic waters fell away, sinking with slightly rolling action
into the valleys, and out of the wool-white waves sudden sharp dark forms
upthrust like strange masters of the deep. Towers took shape and islands
upheaved, crowned with dark fortresses. To the west a vast and inky-black
Gibraltar magically appeared. Soon the sea was but a prodigious river
flowing within the high walls of an ancient glacier, a ghost of the icy
stream that once ground its slow way between these iron cliffs.

With a shudder of awe the ranger turned from the intolerable beauty of
this combination of night, cloud, and mountain-crest, and resumed his
climb. Such scenes, by their majesty, their swift impermanency, their
colossal and heedless haste, made his heart ache with indefinable regret.
Again and again he looked back, longing for some power which would enable
him to record and reproduce for the eyes of his love some part of this
stupendous and noiseless epic. He was no longer content to enjoy Nature's
splendors alone.

On the cold and silent side of the great divide the faint light of the
shepherd's teepee shone, and with a returning sense of his duty to his
fellows on the roof of the continent, Cavanagh pushed onward.

Wetherford met him at the door, no longer the poor old tramp, but a
priest, one who has devoted himself to Christ's service.

"How is he?" asked the ranger.

"Delirious," replied the herder. "I've had to hold him to his bed. I'm
glad you've come. It's lonesome up here. Don't come too near. Set your
tent down there by the trees. I can't have you infected. Keep clear of me
and this camp."

"I've got some food and some extra clothing for you."

"Put 'em down here, and in the morning drive these sheep away. That noise
disturbs the dago, and I don't like it myself; they sound lonesome and
helpless. That dog took 'em away for a while, but brought 'em back again;
poor devil, he don't know what to think of it all."

Ross did as Wetherford commanded him to do, and withdrew a little way down
the slope; and without putting up his tent, rolled himself in his blankets
and went to sleep.

The sun rose gloriously. With mountain fickleness the wind blew gently
from the east, the air was precisely like late March, and the short and
tender grass, the small flowers in the sheltered corners of the rocks, and
the multitudinous bleatings of the lambs were all in keeping. It was
spring in the world and it was spring in the heart of the ranger, in spite
of all his perplexities. The Basque would recover, the heroic ex-convict
would not be stricken, and all would be well. Of such resiliency is the
heart of youth.

His first duty was to feed the faithful collie, and to send him forth with
the flock. His next was to build a fire and cook some breakfast for
Wetherford, and as he put it down beside the tent door he heard the wild
pleading of the Basque, who was struggling with his nurse--doubtless in
the belief that he was being kept a prisoner. Only a few words like "go
home" and "sheep" were intelligible to either the nurse or the ranger.

"Keep quiet now--quiet, boy! It's all right. I'm here to take care of
you," Wetherford repeated, endlessly.

Cavanagh waited till a silence came; then called, softly: "Here's your
breakfast, Wetherford."

"Move away," retorted the man within. "Keep your distance."

Ross walked away a little space and Wetherford came to the door. "The dago
is sure sick, there's no two ways about that. How far is it to the nearest
doctor?"

"I could reach one by 'phone from the Kettle Ranch, about twenty miles
below here."

"If he don't get better to-day I reckon we'll have to have a doctor." He
looked so white and old that Cavanagh said:

"You need rest. Now I _think_ I've had the smallpox--I know I've been
vaccinated, and if you go to bed--"

"If you're saying all that preliminary to offering to come in here, you're
wasting your breath. I don't intend to let you come any nearer than you
are. There is work for you to do. Besides, there's my girl; you're
detailed to look after her."

"Would a doctor come?" asked Ross, huskily, moved by Wetherford's words.
"It's a hard climb. Would they think the dago worth it?"

Wetherford's face darkened with a look of doubt. "It _is_ a hard trip for
a city man, but maybe he would come for you--for the Government."

"I doubt it, even if I were to offer my next month's salary as a fee.
These hills are very remote to the townsfolk, and one dago more or less of
no importance, but I'll see what I can do."

Ross was really more concerned for Wetherford himself than for the Basque.
"If the fever is something malignant, we must have medical aid," he said,
and went slowly back to his own camp to ponder his puzzling problem.

One thing could certainly be done, and that was to inform Gregg and Murphy
of their herder's illness; surely they would come to the rescue of the
collie and his flock. To reach a telephone involved either a ride over
into Deer Creek or a return to the Fork. He was tempted to ride all the
way to the Fork, for to do so would permit another meeting with Lee; but
to do this would require many hours longer, and half a day's delay might
prove fatal to the Basque, and, besides, each hour of loneliness and toil
rendered Wetherford just so much more open to the deadly attack of the
disease.

Here was the tragic side of the wilderness. At such moments even the Fork
seemed a haven. The mountains offer a splendid camping-place for the young
and the vigorous, but they are implacable foes to the disabled man or the
aged. They do not give loathsome diseases like pox, but they do not aid in
defence of the sick. Coldly aloof, its clouds sail by. The night winds
bite. Its rains fall remorselessly. Sheltering rocks there are, to be
sure, but their comfort is small to the man smitten with the scourge of
the crowded city. In such heights man is of no more value than the wolf or
the cony.

It was hard to leave an old and broken man in such a drear and
wind-contested spot, and yet it had to be done. So fastening his tent
securely behind a clump of junipers, Cavanagh mounted his horse and rode
away across the boundary of the forest into the Deer Creek Basin, which
had been the bone of much contention for nearly four years.

It was a high, park-like expanse, sparsely wooded, beautiful in summer,
but cold and bleak in winter. The summers were short, and frost fell
almost every week even in July and August. It had once been a part of the
forest, but under pressure the President had permitted it to be restored
to the public lands open for entry. It was not "agricultural grounds," as
certain ranchers claimed, but it was excellent summer pasture, and the
sheepmen and cattle-men had leaped at once into warfare to possess it.
Sheep were beaten to death with clubs by hundreds, herders were hustled
out of the park with ropes about their necks and their outfits
destroyed--and all this within a few miles of the forest boundary, where
one small sentinel kept effective watch and ward.

Cavanagh had never been over this trail but once, and he was trying to
locate the cliff from which a flock of sheep had been hurled by cattle-men
some years before, when he perceived a thin column of smoke rising from a
rocky hillside. With habitual watchfulness as to fire, he raised his glass
to his eyes and studied the spot. It was evidently a camp-fire and
smouldering dangerously, and turning his horse's head he rode toward it to
stamp it out. It was not upon his patrol; but that did not matter, his
duty was clear.

As he drew near he began to perceive signs of a broken camp; the ground
was littered with utensils. It was not an ordinary camp-fire, and the
ranger's heart quickened. "Another sheep-herder has been driven out, and
his tent and provisions burned!" he exclaimed, wrathfully.

His horse snorted and shied as he rode nearer, and then a shudder passed
through the ranger's heart as he perceived in the edge of the smouldering
embers a boot heel, and then--_a charred hand!_ In the smoke of that fire
was the reek of human flesh.

For a long time the ranger sat on his horse, peering down into those ashes
until at last it became evident to his eyes that at least two
sheep-herders had been sacrificed on the cattle-man's altar of hate and
greed.

All about on the sod the story was written, all too plain. Two men,
possibly three, had been murdered--cut to pieces and burned--not many
hours before. There stood the bloody spade with which the bodies had been
dismembered, and there lay an empty can whose oil had been poured upon the
mingled camp utensils, tent, and wagon of the herders, in the attempt to
incinerate the hacked and dismembered limbs of the victims. The
lawlessness of the range had culminated. The ferocity of the herder had
gone beyond the savage. Here in the sweet autumn air the reek of the
cattle-man's vengeance rose like some hideous vapor, poisonous and
obscene.

The ranger sickened as the bloody tale unfolded itself before him. Then a
fierce hate of such warfare flamed in his heart. Could this enormity be
committed under any other civilized flag? Would any other Government
intermingle so foolishly, so childishly its State and Federal authority as
to permit such diabolism?

Here lay the legitimate fruit of the State's essential hoodlumism. Here
was the answer to local self-government--to democracy. Such a thing could
not happen in Australia or Canada; only in America could lynch law become
a dramatic pastime, a jest, an instrument of private vengeance. The South
and the West were alike stained with the blood of the lynched, and the
whole nation was covered with shame.

In his horror, his sense of revolt, he cursed the State of which he was a
citizen. He would have resigned his commission at the moment, so intense
was his resentment of the supine, careless, jovial, slattern Government
under which he was serving.

"By the Lord!" he breathed, with solemn intensity, "if this does not shame
the people of this State into revolt, if these fiends are not hounded and
hung, I will myself harry them. I cannot live and do my duty here unless
this crime is avenged by law."

It did not matter to him that these herders were poor Basques; it was the
utter, horrifying, destructive disregard of law which raised such tumult
in his blood. His English education, his soldier's training, his native
refinement--all were outraged. Then, too, he loved the West. He had
surrendered his citizenship under the British flag--for this!

Chilled, shaking, and numb, he set spurs to his horse and rode furiously
down the trail toward the nearest town, so eager to spread the alarm that
he could scarcely breathe a deep breath. On the steep slopes he was forced
to walk, and his horse led so badly, that his agony of impatience was
deepened. He had a vision of the murderers riding fast into far countries.
Each hour made their apprehension progressively the more difficult.

"Who were they?" he asked himself, again and again. "What kind of man did
this thing? Was the leader a man like Ballard? Even so, he was hired. By
whom? By ranchers covetous of the range; that was absolutely certain."

It was long after noon before he came to the end of the telephone-line in
a little store and post-office at the upper falls of Deer Creek. The
telephone had a booth fortunately, and he soon had Redfield's ear, but his
voice was so strained and unnatural that his chief did not recognize it.

"Is that you, Ross? What's the matter? Your voice sounds hoarse."

Ross composed himself, and told his story briefly. "I'm at Kettle Ranch
post-office. Now listen. The limit of the cattle-man's ferocity has been
reached. As I rode down here, to get into communication with a doctor for
a sick herder, I came upon the scene of another murder and burning. The
fire is still smouldering; at least two bodies are in the embers."

At last, bit by bit, from hurried speech, the supervisor derived the fact,
the location, the hour, and directed the herder to ride back and guard the
remains till the sheriff arrived.

"Keep it all quiet," warned Ross, "and get the sheriff and a doctor to
come up here as quick as you can. What in the name of God is this country
coming to?" he cried, in despair. "Will this deed go unpunished, like the
rest?"

Redfield's voice had lost its optimistic ring. "I don't know; I am stunned
by it all. Don't do anything rash, Ross. Wait till I come. Perhaps this is
the turning-point out here. I'll be up at the earliest moment."

The embittered and disheartened ranger then called up Lee Virginia, and
the sound of her sweet voice turned his thoughts to other and, in a sense,
more important matters; for when she heard his name she cried out with
such eager longing and appeal that his heart leaped. "Oh, I wish you were
here! Mother has been worse to-day. She is asking for you. Can't you come
down and see us? She wants to tell you something."

"I can't--I can't!" he stammered. "I--I--I'm a long way off, and I have
important work to do. Tell her I will come to-morrow."

Her voice was filled with disappointment and fear as she said: "Oh, I need
you so! Can't you come?"

"Yes, I will come as soon as I can. I will try to reach you by daylight
to-morrow. My heart is with you. Call up the Redfields; they will help
you."

"Mother wants _you_. She says she _must_ see you. Come as soon as you can.
I don't know what she wants to tell you--but I do know we need you."

Her meaning was as clear as if she said: "I need you, for I love you. Come
to me." And her prayer filled him with pain as well as pleasure. He was a
soldier and under orders from his chief, therefore he said: "Dear girl,
there is a sick man far up on the mountain-side with no one to care for
him but a poor old herder who is in danger of falling sick himself. I must
go back to them; but, believe me, I will come just as soon as my duties
will let me. You understand me, don't you?"

Her voice was fainter as she said: "Yes, but I--it seems hard to wait."

"I know. Your voice has helped me. I was in a black mood when I came here.
I'm going back now to do my work, and then I will come to you. Good-bye."

Strangely beautiful and very subtle was the vibrant stir of that wire as
it conveyed back to his ear the little sigh with which she made answer to
his plea. He took his way upward in a mood which was meditative but no
longer bitter.



XI

SHADOWS ON THE MIST


The decision which Cavanagh made between love and duty distinguished the
officer from the man, the soldier from the civilian. He did not hesitate
to act, and yet he suffered a mental conflict as he rode back toward the
scene of that inhuman sacrifice on the altar of greed. His heart went out
to Lee Virginia in longing. Her appealing voice still lay in his ear with
an effect like the touch of her soft lips, and his flagging horse suffered
from the unconscious pressure of his haste.

"It will be hours before any part of the sheriff's posse can reach the
falls, even though they take to the swiftest motors, and then other long
hours must intervene before I can ride down to her. Yes, at least a day
and a night must drag their slow course before I can hope to be of service
to her," and the thought drew a groan of anxiety from him. At such moments
of mental stress the trail is a torture and the mountain-side an
inexorable barrier.

Half-way to the hills he was intercepted by an old man who was at work on
an irrigating ditch beside the road. He seemed very nervous and very
inquisitive, and as he questioned the ranger his eyes were like those of a
dog that fears his master's hand. Ross wondered about this afterward, but
at the moment his mind was busy with the significance of this patient
toiler with a spade. He was a prophetic figure in the most picturesque and
sterile land of the stockman. "Here within twenty miles of this peaceful
fruit-grower," he said, "is the crowning infamy of the free-booting
cowboy. My God, what a nation we are!"

He wondered, as he rode on, whether the papers of the State would make a
jest of _this_ deed. "Will this be made the theme for caustic comment in
the Eastern press for a day, and then be forgotten?"

As his hot blood cooled he lost faith in even this sacrifice. Could
anything change the leopard West into the tameness and serenity of the ox?
"No," he decided, "nothing but death will do that. This generation, these
fierce and bloody hearts, must die; only in that way can the tradition of
violence be overcome and a new State reared."

At the foot of the toilsome, upward-winding trail he dismounted, and led
his weary horse. Over his head, and about half-way to the first hilltop,
lay a roof of fleecy vapor, faint purple in color and seamless in texture.
Through this he must pass, and it symbolized to him the line of
demarkation between the plain and the mountain, between order and
violence.

Again he rose above it, to find it a fantastic sea lit by the sun, and
glowing with pink and gold and violet. Celestial in its ethereal beauty,
it threw into still more appalling shadow the smoking altar of passion
toward which he spurred. From moment to moment the surface rose and
shifted in swift, tumultuous, yet soundless waves, breaking round
pine-clad promontories in shimmering breakers, faint, and far, and
serene.

Down through a deep canon to the south a prodigious river of mist was
rushing, a silent cataract of ashy vapor plunging to a soundless beach.
Above and beyond it the high peaks shone in radiance so pure that the
heart of the lover ached with the pain of its evanescent beauty. It was as
if he were looking across a foaming flood upon the stupendous and shining
park of some imperial potentate whose ornate and splendid country home lay
just beyond. Rocky spires rose like cathedral towers, and fortresses
abutted upon the stream. And yet in the midst of that glorified plain the
smoke of the burning rose.

Slowly he led his horse along the mountain-side, grasping with eager
desire at every changing aspect of this marvellous scene. It was
infinitely more gorgeous, more compelling, than his moonlight experience
the night before, for here reality, definite and powerful, was interfused
with mystery. These foot-hills, hitherto pleasantly precipitous, had
suddenly become grandiose. All was made over upon a mightier scale, each
rock and tree being distorted by the passing translucent clouds into a
kind of monstrous yet epic proportion.

Ghostly white ledges broke from the darker mist like fields of distant
crusted snow. Castellated crags loomed from the mystic river like
fortified islands. Cattle, silent, enormously aggrandized, emerged like
fabled beasts of the eld, and stared upon him, their jaws dripping with
dew. Bulls roared from the obscure deeps. Dead trees, with stark and
sinister arms, menaced warningly. All was as unreal as the world of pain's
delirium, and yet was as beautiful as the poet's vision; and the ranger,
feeling that he was looking upon one of Nature's rarest displays, removed
his hat in worship of it, thrilling with pride and satisfaction over the
thought that this was his domain, his to guard and preserve.

The crowning glow of mystery and grace came as he led his horse out upon a
projecting point of rocky ledge to rest. Here the cliff descended abruptly
to an enormous depth, and upon the vaporous rolling flood beneath him a
dome of darker shadow rested. At the summit of this shadow an aureole of
rainbow light, a complete and glorious circle rested, in the midst of
which his own image was flung, grotesque and gigantic.

"The Shadows of the Brocken!" he exclaimed, in ecstasy, all his
bitterness, his care, forgotten. "Now I understand Goethe's lines." In all
his life in the hills he had never before witnessed such a combination of
peak and sun and cloud and shadow.

His love for the range came back upon him with such power that tears
misted his eyes and his throat ached. "Where else will I find such scenes
as this?" he asked himself. "Where in all the lowlands could such
splendors shine? How can I leave this high world in which these wonders
come and go? I will not! Here will I bring my bride and build my home.
This is my world."

But the mist grew gray, the aureole of fire faded, the sun went down
behind the hills, and the chill of evening deepened on the trail, and as
he reapproached the scene of man's inhumanity to man the thought of
camping there beside those charred limbs called for heroic resolution. He
was hungry, too, and as the air pinched, he shivered.

"At the best, the sheriff cannot reach here before midnight," he said, and
settled down to his unsought, revolting vigil.

His one relief lay in the mental composition of a long letter to Lee
Virginia, whose life at that moment was a comfort to him. "If such purity,
such sweetness, can come from violence and vulgarity, then surely a new
and splendid State can rise even out of the ashes of these murdered men.
Perhaps this is the end of the old," he mused, "perhaps this is the
beginning of the new," and as he pondered the last faint crimson died out
of the west. "So must the hate and violence die out of America," he said,
"leaving the clear, sweet air of liberty behind."

He was near to the poet at the moment, for he was also the lover. His
allegiance to the great republic stood the test. His faith in democracy
was shaken, but not destroyed. "I will wait," he decided. "This shall be
the sign. If this deed goes unavenged, then will I put off my badge and my
uniform, and go back to the land where for a hundred years at least such
deeds as these have been impossible."

He built a fire, as night fell, to serve both as beacon and as a defence
against the cold. He felt himself weirdly remote in this vigil. From his
far height he looked abroad upon the tumbled plain as if upon an ocean
dimly perceptible yet august. "At this moment," he said, "curious and
perhaps guilty eyes are wondering what my spark of firelight may mean."

His mind went again and again to that tall old man in the ditch. What was
the meaning of his scared and sorrowful glance? Why should one so
peacefully employed at such a time and in such a place wear the look of a
hunted deer? What meant the tremor in his voice?

Was it possible that one so gentle should have taken part in this deed?
"Preposterous suspicion, and yet he had a guilty look."

He was not a believer in ghosts, but he came nearer to a fear of the dark
that night than ever before in his life. He brought his horse close to the
fire for company, and was careful not to turn his back upon the dead. A
corpse lying peacefully would not have produced this overpowering horror.
He had seen battle-fields, but this pile of mangled limbs conquered even
the hardened campaigner. He shivered each time his memory went back to
what he had first looked upon--the charred hand, the helpless heel.

From his high hill of meditation he reviewed the history of the West.
Based in bloody wars between the primitive races, and between the trappers
and their allies, the land had passed through a thin adumbration of
civilization as the stockmen drove out the buffalo and their hunters.
Vigilantes, sheriff's posses (and now and again the regular army) had
swept over these grassy swells on errands of retributory violence, and so
the territory had been divided at last into populous States. Then
politics, the great national game, had made of them a power, with Senators
to represent a mere handful of miners and herdsmen. In the Congress of the
United States these commonwealths had played their unscrupulous games,
trading for this and for that local appropriation. Happily in some
instances these Senators had been higher than their State, but in other
cases they represented only too loyally the violent and conscienceless
cow-man or lumber king, and now, as Redfield had said, the land-boomer was
to have his term. The man who valued residents, not Wild West performers,
was about to govern and despoil; this promoter, almost as selfish as the
cattle king, was about to advance the State along the lines of _his_
conception of civilization; and so, perhaps, this monstrous deed, this
final inexcusable inhuman offence against law and humanity, was to stand
as a monument dividing the old from the new. Such, at least, was the
ranger's hope.

At last, far in the night, he heard the snort of a horse and the sound of
voices. The law (such as it was) was creeping up the mountain-side in the
person of the sheriff of Chauvenet County, and was about to relieve the
ranger from his painful responsibility as guardian of the dead.

At last he came, this officer of the law, attended (like a Cheyenne chief)
by a dozen lesser warriors of various conditions and kinds, but among
them--indeed, second only to the sheriff--was Hugh Redfield, the Forest
Supervisor, hot and eager with haste.

As they rode up to the fire, the officer called out: "Howdy, ranger! How
about it?"

Ross stated briefly, succinctly, what he had discovered; and as he talked
other riders came up the hill and gathered closely around to listen in
wordless silence--in guilty silence, the ranger could not help believing.

The sheriff, himself a cattle-man, heard Cavanagh without comment till he
had ended with a gesture. "And there they are; I turn them over to you
with vast relief. I am anxious to go back to my own peaceful world, where
such things do not happen."

The sheriff removed his hat and wiped his brow, then swore with a mutter
of awe. "Well, by God, this is the limit! You say there were three
bodies?"

"I lacked the courage to sort them out. I've been in battle, Mr. Sheriff,
and I've seen dead men tumbled in all shapes, but someway this took the
stiffening out of my knees. I rode away and left them. I don't care to see
them again. My part of this work is done."

Redfield spoke. "Sheriff Van Horne, you and I have been running cattle in
this country for nearly thirty years, and we've witnessed all kinds of
shooting and several kinds of hanging, but when it comes to chopping and
burning men, I get off. I shall personally offer a reward of a thousand
dollars for the apprehension of these miscreants, and I hope you'll make
it your solemn duty to hunt them to earth."

"You won't have far to go," remarked Ross, significantly.

"What do you mean?" asked the sheriff.

"I mean this slaughter, like the others that have taken place, was the
work of cattle-men who claim this range. Their names are known to us
all."

"Can it be possible!" exclaimed Redfield, looking round at the silent
throng, and in the wavering light certain eyes seemed to shift and fall.

"In what essential does it differ from the affair over on the Red Desert?"
demanded Cavanagh. "Who would kill these poor sheep-herders but cattle-men
warring for the grass on which we stand?"

"But they would not dare to do such work themselves."

"No one else would do it. Hired assassins would not chop and burn. Hate
and greed were both involved in this butchery--hate and greed made mad by
drink. I tell you, the men who did this are less than a day's ride of
where we stand."

A silence followed--so deep a silence that the ranger was convinced of the
fact that in the circle of his listeners stood those who, if they had not
shared in the slaughter, at least knew the names of the guilty men.

At last the sheriff spoke, this time with a sigh. "I hope you're all
wrong, Cavanagh. I'd hate to think any constituent of mine had sanctioned
this job. Give me that lantern, Curtis."

The group of ranchers dismounted, and followed the sheriff over to the
grewsome spot; but Redfield stayed with the ranger.

"Have you any suspicion, Ross?"

"No, hardly a suspicion. However, you know as well as I that this was not
a sudden outbreak. This deed was planned. It represents the feeling of
many cattle-men--in everything but the extra horror of its execution.
_That_ was the work of drunken, infuriated men. But I am more deeply
concerned over Miss Wetherford's distress. Did she reach you by telephone
to-night?"

"No. What's the trouble?"

"Her mother is down again. I telephoned her, and she asked me to come to
her, but I cannot go, for I have a case of smallpox up on the hill. Ambro,
the Basque herder, is down with it, and another herder is up there alone
with him. I must go back to them. But meanwhile I wish you would go to the
Fork and see what you can do for her."

His voice, filled with emotion, touched Redfield, and he said: "Can't I go
to the relief of the herder?"

"No, you must not think of it; you are a man of a family. But if you can
find any one who has had the smallpox send him up; the old herder who is
nursing the patient is not strong, and may drop any moment. Then it's up
to me."

The men came back to the camp-fire conversing in low voices, some of them
cursing in tones of awe. One or two of them were small farmers from Deer
Creek, recent comers to the State, or men with bunches of milk-cows, and
to them this deed was awesome.

The sheriff followed, saying: "Well, there's nothing to do but wait till
morning. The rest of you men better go home. You can't be of any use
here."

For more than three hours the sheriff and Redfield sat with the ranger
waiting for daylight, and during this time the name of every man in the
region was brought up and discussed. Among others, Ross mentioned the old
man in the ditch.

"He wouldn't hurt a bumblebee!" declared the sheriff. "He's got a bunch of
cattle, but he's the mildest old man in the State. He's the last rancher
in the country to even stand for such work. What made you mention him?"

"I passed him as I was riding back," replied Cavanagh, "and he had a
scared look in his eyes."

The sheriff grunted. "You imagined all that. The old chap always has a
kind of meek look."

Cavanagh, tired, hungry, and rebellious, waited until the first faint
light in the east announced the dawn; then he rose, and, stretching his
hand out toward it, said: "Here comes the new day. Will it be a new day to
the State, or is it to be the same old round of savagery?"

Redfield expressed a word of hope, and in that spirit the ranger mounted
and rode away back toward the small teepee wherein Wetherford was doing
his best to expiate his past--a past that left him old and friendless at
fifty-five. The sheriff and his men took up the work of vengeance which
fell to them as officers of the law.

It was nearly noon of a glorious day as Cavanagh, very tired and very
hungry, rode up to the sheep-herder's tent. Wetherford was sitting in the
sun calmly smoking his pipe, the sheep were feeding not far away, attended
by the dog, and an air of peace covered his sunlit rocky world.

"How is the Basque?" asked the ranger.

Wetherford pointed upward. "All over."

"Then it wasn't smallpox?"

"I reckon that's what it was; it sure was fierce. I judge it's a case of
Injun burial--no ceremony--right here in the rocks. I'll let you dig the
hole (I'm just about all in), but mind you keep to the windward all the
time. I don't want you spotted."

Cavanagh understood the necessity for these precautions, but first of all
came his own need of food and rest. Turning his tired horse to grass, he
stretched himself along a grassy, sunny cranny between the rocks, and
there ate and afterward slept, while all about him the lambs called and
the conies whined.

He was awakened by a pebble tossed upon him, and when he arose, stiff and
sore, but feeling stronger and in better temper, the sun was wearing low.
Setting to work at his task, he threw the loose rock out of a hollow in
the ledge near by, and to this rude sepulchre Wetherford dragged the dead
man, refusing all aid, and there piled a cairn of rocks above his grave.

The ranger was deeply moved by the pitiless contrast of the scene and the
drama. The sun was still shining warmly aslant the heavens; the wind,
crisp and sweet, wandered by on laggard wings, the conies cried from the
ledges; the lambs were calling--and in the midst of it one tattered
fragment of humanity was heaping the iron earth upon another, stricken,
perhaps, by the same dread disease.

Wetherford himself paused to moralize. "I suppose that chap has a mother
somewhere who is wondering where her boy is. This isn't exactly Christian
burial, but it's all he'll get, I reckon; for whether it was smallpox or
plain fever, nobody's going to uselessly resurrect him. Even the coyotes
will fight shy of his meat."

Nevertheless, the ranger took a hand at the end and rolled some huge
bowlders upon the grave, to insure the wolves' defeat.

"Now burn the bedding," he commanded--"the whole camp has got to go--and
your clothing, too, after we get down the hill."

"What will we do with the sheep?"

"Drive them over the divide and leave them."

All these things Wetherford did, and leaving the camp in ashes behind him,
Cavanagh drove the sheep before him on his homeward way. As night fell,
the dog, at his command, rounded them up and put them to bed, and the men
went on down the valley, leaving the brave brute on guard, pathetic figure
of faithful guardianship.

"It hurts me to desert you, old fellow," called the ranger, looking back,
"but there's no help for it. I'll come up in the morning and bring you
some biscuit."

The collie seemed to understand. He waggled his tail and whined, as though
struggling to express his wonder and pain, and Ross, moved to pity,
called: "Come on, boy, never mind the sheep! Come along with us!"

But the dog, leaping from side to side, uttered a short howl and a sharp
bark, as if to say: "I can't! I can't!"

"He's onto _his_ job," remarked Wetherford. "It beats all how human they
do seem sometimes. I've no manner of doubt that dago's booted him all over
the place many a time, and yet he seemed horrible sorry about his master's
trouble. Every few minutes, all night long, he'd come pattering and
whining round the door of the tent--didn't come in, seemed just trying to
ask how things were coming. He was like a child, lonesome and grieving."

It was long after dark when they entered the canon just above the cabin,
and Wetherford was shivering from cold and weakness.

"Now you pull up just outside the gate, and wait there till I bring out
some blankets; then you've got to strip to the skin and start the world
all over again," said Cavanagh. "I'll build a fire here, and we'll cremate
your past. How about it?"

"I'm willing," responded Wetherford. "You can burn everything that belongs
to me but my wife and my girl."

All through the ceremony which followed ran this self-banter. "I'll be all
ranger, barring a commission," he said, with a grin, as he put on the
olive-yellow shirt and a pair of dusty-green trousers. "And here goes my
past!" he added, as he tossed his contaminated rags upon the fire.

"What a corking opportunity to make a fresh start," commented Cavanagh. "I
hope you see it."

"I see it; but it's hard to live up to your mark."

When every precaution had been taken, the ranger led the freshly scrubbed,
scoured, and transformed fugitive to his cabin.

"Why, man, you're fit for the State Legislature," he exclaimed, as they
came into the full light. "My clothes don't precisely meet every demand
you make upon them, but they give you an air of command. I wish your wife
could see you now."

Wetherford was quite serious as he answered: "This uniform means more to
me than you think. I wish I was entitled to wear it. The wild-wood is just
about populous enough for me."

"Good for you!" responded Cavanagh. "To convert a man of your record to a
belief in conservation is to demonstrate once again the regenerative power
of an idea." Then, seeing that Wetherford was really in earnest, he added:
"You can stay with me as long as you wish. Perhaps in time you might be
able to work into the service as a guard, although the chief is getting
more and more insistent on real foresters."

There were tears in Wetherford's eyes as he said: "You cannot realize what
this clean, warm uniform means to me. For nine years I wore the prison
stripes; then I was turned loose with a shoddy suit and a hat a size too
big for me--an outfit that gave me away everywhere I went. Till my hair
and beard sprouted I had a hard rustle of it, but my clothes grew old
faster than my beard. At last I put every cent I had earned into a poor
old horse, and a faded saddle, and once mounted I kept a-moving north." He
smoothed the sleeve of his coat. "It is ten years since I was dressed like
a man."

"You need not worry about food or shelter for the present," replied
Cavanagh, gently. "Grub is not costly here, and house-rent is less than
nominal, so make yourself at home and get strong."

Wetherford lifted his head. "But I want to do something. I want to redeem
myself in some way. I don't want my girl to know who I am, but I'd like to
win her respect. I can't be what you say she thinks I was, but if I had a
chance I might show myself a man again. I wouldn't mind Lize knowing that
I am alive--it might be a comfort to her; but I don't want even her to be
told till I can go to her in my own duds."

"She's pretty sick," said Cavanagh. "I telephoned Lee Virginia last night,
and if you wish you may ride down with me to-morrow and see her."

The old man fell a-tremble. "I daren't do that. I can't bear to tell her
where I've been!"

"She needn't know. I will tell her you've been out of your mind. I'll say
anything you wish! You can go to her in the clothes you have on if you
like--she will not recognize you as the prisoner I held the other night.
You can have your beard trimmed, and not even the justice will know you."

All reserve had vanished out of the convict's heart, and with choking
voice he thanked his young host. "I'll never be a burden to you," he
declared, in firmer voice. "And if my lung holds out, I'll show you I'm
not the total locoe that I 'pear to be."

No further reference was made to Lee Virginia, but Ross felt himself to be
more deeply involved than ever by these promises; his fortunes seemed to
be inextricably bound up with this singular and unhappy family. Lying in
his bunk (after the lights were out), he fancied himself back in his
ancestral home, replying to the questions of his aunts and uncles, who
were still expecting him to bring home a rich and beautiful American
heiress. Some of the Cavanaghs were drunkards and some were vixens, but
they were on the whole rather decent, rather decorous and very dull, and
to them this broken ex-convict and this slattern old barmaid would seem
very far from the ideal they had formed of the family into which Ross was
certain to marry.

But as he recalled the spot in which he lay and the uniform which hung
upon the wall, he was frank to admit that the beautiful and rich heiress
of whom his family dreamed was a very unsubstantial vision indeed, and
that, to be honest with himself, he had nothing to offer for such shining
good-fortune.

At breakfast next morning he said: "I must ride back and take some bread
to the dog. I can't go away and leave him there without saying 'hello.'"

"Let me do that," suggested Wetherford. "I'm afraid to go down to the
Fork. I reckon I'd better go back and tend the sheep till Gregg sends some
one up to take my place."

"That might be too late to see Lize. Lee's voice showed great anxiety. She
may be on her death-bed. No; you'd better go down with me to-day," he
urged. And at last the old man consented.

Putting some bread in his pockets, Ross rode off up the trail to see how
the dog and his flock were faring. He had not gone far when he heard the
tinkle of the bells and the murmur of the lambs, and a few moments later
the collie came toward him with the air of a boy who, having assumed to
disregard the orders of his master, expects a scolding. He plainly said:
"I've brought my sheep to you because I was lonesome. Please forgive me."

Cavanagh called to him cheerily, and tossed him a piece of bread, which he
caught in his teeth but did not swallow; on the contrary, he held it while
leaping for joy of the praise he heard in his new-found master's voice.

Turning the flock upward again toward the higher peaks, the ranger
commanded the collie to their heels, and so, having redeemed his promise,
rode back to the cabin, where he found Wetherford saddled and ready for
his momentous trip to the valley. He had shaved away his gray beard, and
had Ross been unprepared for these changes he would have been puzzled to
account for this decidedly military figure sitting statuesquely on his
pony before the door.

"You can prove an alibi," he called, as he drew near. "Gregg himself would
never recognize you now."

Wetherford was in no mood for joking. "Lize will. I wore a mustache in the
old days, and there's a scar on my chin."

As he rode he confided this strange thing to Cavanagh. "I know," said he,
"that Lize is old and wrinkled, for I've seen her, but all the same I
can't realize it. That heavy-set woman down there is not Lize. My Lize is
slim and straight. This woman whom you know has stolen her name and face,
that's all. I can't explain exactly what I feel, but Lee Virginia means
more to me now than Lize."

"I think I understand you," said Cavanagh, with sympathy in his voice.

The nearer Wetherford came to the actual meeting with his wife the more he
shook. At last he stopped in the road. "I don't believe I can do it," he
declared. "I'll be like a ghost to her. What's the use of it? She'll only
be worried by my story. I reckon I'd better keep dark to everybody. Let me
go back. I'm plum scared cold."

While still he argued, two men on horseback rounded a sharp turn in the
trail and came face to face with the ranger. Wetherford's face went
suddenly gray. "My God, there's the deputy!"

"Keep quiet. I'll do the talking," commanded Cavanagh, who was instant in
his determination to shield the man. "Good-morning, gentlemen," he called,
cheerily, "you're abroad early!"

The man in front was the deputy sheriff of the county; his companion was a
stranger.

"That was a horrible mess you stumbled on over on Deer Creek," the deputy
remarked.

"It certainly was. Have any arrests been made?"

"Not yet, but we're on a clew. This is Marshal Haines, of Dallas, Mr.
Cavanagh," pursued the deputy. The two men nodded in token of the
introduction, and the deputy went on: "You remember that old cuss that
used to work for Gregg?"

Again Cavanagh nodded.

"Well, that chap is wanted by the Texas authorities. Mr. Haines, here,
wants to see him mighty bad. He's an escaped convict with a bad record."

"Is that so?" exclaimed Cavanagh. "I thought he seemed a bit gun-shy."

"The last seen of him was when Sam Gregg sent him up to herd sheep. I
think he was mixed up in that killing, myself--him and Ballard--and we're
going up to get some track of him. Didn't turn up at your station, did
he?"

"Yes, he came by some days ago, on his way, so he said, to relieve that
sick Basque, Ambro. I went up a couple of days ago, and found the Basque
dead and the old man gone. I buried the herder the best I could, and I'm
on my way down to report the case."

The deputy mused: "He may be hanging 'round some of the lumber-camps. I
reckon we had better go up and look the ground over, anyhow. We might just
chance to overhaul him."

"He may have pulled out over the range," suggested the ranger. "Anyhow,
it's a long way up there, and you'll probably have to camp at my place
to-night. You'll find the key hanging up over the door. Go in and make
yourself comfortable."

The deputy thanked him, and was about to ride on when Cavanagh added: "I
burned that Basque's tent and bedding for fear of contagion. His outfit
was worthless, anyhow. You'll find the sheep just above my cabin, and the
horse in my corral."

"The old man didn't take the horse, eh? Well, that settles it; he's sure
at one of the camps. Much obliged. Good-day."

As the two officers rode away Wetherford leaned heavily on his pommel and
stared at the ranger with wide eyes. His face was drawn and his lips dry.
"They'll get me! My God, they'll get me!" he said.

"Oh no, they won't," rejoined Cavanagh. "You're all right yet. They
suspected nothing. How could they, with you in uniform and in my
company?"

"All the same, I'm scared. That man Haines had his eyes on me every
minute. He saw right through me. They'll get me, and they'll charge me up
with that killing."

"No, they won't, I tell you," insisted the ranger. "Haines suspected
nothing. I had his eye. He never saw you before, and has nothing but a
description to go by. So cheer up. Your uniform and your position with me
will make you safe--perfectly safe. They'll find the Basque's camp burned
and the sheep in charge of the dog, and they'll fancy that you have
skipped across the range. But see here, old man," and he turned on him
sharply, "you didn't tell me the whole truth. You said you were out on
parole."

"I couldn't tell you the whole truth," replied the fugitive. "But I will
now. I was in for a life sentence. I was desperate for the open air and
homesick for the mountains, and I struck down one of the guards. I was
willing to do anything to get out. I thought if I could get back to this
country and my wife and child I'd be safe. I said I'd be willing to go
back to the pen if necessary, but I'm not. I can't do it. I'd die there in
that hell. You must save me for my girl's sake."

His voice and eyes were wild with a kind of desperate fury of fear, and
Cavanagh, moved to pity, assured him of his aid. "Now listen," he said.
"I'm going to shield you on account of your work for that poor shepherd
and for your daughter's sake. It's my duty to apprehend you, of course,
but I'm going to protect you. The safest thing for you to do is to go back
to my cabin. Ride slow, so as not to get there till they're gone. They'll
ride over to the sawmill, without doubt. If they come back this way,
remember that the deputy saw you only as a ragged old man with a long
beard, and that Haines has nothing but a printed description to go by.
There's no use trying to flee. You are a marked man in that uniform, and
you are safer right here with me than anywhere else this side of Chicago.
Haines is likely to cross the divide in the belief that you have gone that
way, and, if he does, you have no one but the deputy to deal with."

He succeeded at last in completely rousing the older man's courage.

Wetherford rose to meet his opportunity. "I'll do it," he said, firmly.

"That's the talk!" exclaimed Cavanagh, to encourage him. "You can throw
them off the track this time, and when I come back to-morrow I'll bring
some other clothing for you, and then we'll plan some kind of a scheme
that will get you out of the country. I'll not let them make a scapegoat
of you."

The ranger watched the fugitive, as he started back over the trail in this
desperate defiance of his pursuers, with far less confidence in the
outcome than he had put into words.

"All depends on Wetherford himself. If his nerve does not fail him, if
they take the uniform for granted, and do not carry the matter to the
Supervisor, we will pull the plan through." And in this hope he rode away
down the trail with bent head, for all this bore heavily upon his
relationship to the girl waiting for him in the valley. He had thought
Lize a burden, a social disability, but a convict father now made the
mother's faults of small account.

The nearer he drew to the meeting with Lee Virginia the more important
that meeting became. After all, woman is more important than war. The love
of home and the child persists through incredible vicissitudes; the
conqueror returns from foreign lands the lover still; and in the deep of
flooded mines and on the icy slopes of arctic promontories dead men have
been found holding in their rigid hands the pictured face of some fair
girl. In the presence of such irrefutable testimony, who shall deny the
persistence and the reality of love?

Cavanagh had seen Virginia hardly more than a score of times, and yet she
filled his thought, confused his plans, making of his brain a place of
doubt and hesitation. For her sake he had entered upon a plan to shield a
criminal, to harbor an escaped convict. It was of no avail to argue that
he was moved to shield Wetherford because of his heroic action on the
peak. He knew perfectly well that it was because he could not see that
fair, brave girl further disgraced by the discovery of her father's
identity, for in the searching inquiry which would surely follow his
secret would develop.

To marry her, knowing the character of her father and her mother, was
madness, and the voice within him warned him of his folly. "Pure water
cannot be drawn from corrupt sources," it is said. Nevertheless, the
thought of having the girl with him in the wilderness filled him with
divine recklessness. He was bewitched by the satin smoothness of her skin,
the liquid light of her eye, the curve of her cheek, the swell of her
bosom, and, most of all, by the involuntary movement of yielding which
betrayed her trust and her love. While still he debated, alternately
flushed with resolve to be happy and chilled by some strange dejection, he
met Swenson, the young guard who guarded the forest on the south Fork.

As he rode up, Cavanagh perceived in the other man's face something
profoundly serious. He did not smile in greeting, as was usual with him,
and, taking some letters from his pocket, passed them over in ominous
silence.

Cavanagh, upon looking them over, selected a letter evidently from Mrs.
Redfield, and stuffed the others into his coat-pocket. It was a closely
written letter, and contained in its first sentence something which deeply
affected him. Slipping from his saddle, he took a seat upon a stone, that
he might the better read and slowly digest what was contained therein. He
read on slowly, without any other movement than that which was required to
turn the leaves. It was a passionate plea from Eleanor Redfield against
his further entanglement with Lize Wetherford's girl.

"You cannot afford to marry her. You simply cannot. The old mother is too
dreadful, and may live on for years. The girl is attractive, I grant you,
but she's tainted. If there is anything in the law of heredity, she will
develop the traits of her mother or her father sooner or later. You must
not marry her, Ross; and if you cannot, what will you do? There's only one
thing to do. Keep away. I enclose a letter from your sister, pleading with
me to urge you to visit them this winter. She is not very strong, as you
can see by her writing, and her request will give you an excuse for
breaking off all connection with this girl. I am sorry for her, Ross, but
you can't marry her. You must not--you must not! Ride over and see us
soon, and we will talk it all out together."

He opened another letter, but did not read it. He was too profoundly
shaken by the first. He felt the pure friendship, the fine faith, and the
guardianship of the writer, and he acknowledged the good sense of all she
said, and yet--and yet--

When he looked up Swenson was staring down at him with a face of such
bitterness that it broke through even the absorbed and selfish meditation
into which he had been thrown.

"What's the matter, Swenson? You look as if you had lost a friend."

"I have," answered the guard, shortly, "and so have you. The chief is
out."

"What?"

"They've got him!" he exclaimed. "He's out."

Cavanagh sprang up. "I don't believe it! For what reason? Why?"

"Don't that letter tell you? The whole town is chuckling. Every criminal
and plug-ugly in the country is spitting in our faces this morning. Yes,
sir, the President has fired the chief--the man that built up this
Forestry Service. The whole works is goin' to hell, that's what it is.
We'll have all the coal thieves, water-power thieves, poachers, and
free-grass pirates piling in on us in mobs. They'll eat up the forest. I
see the finish of the whole business. They'll put some Western man in,
somebody they can work. Then where will we be?"

Cavanagh's young heart burned with indignation, but he tried to check the
other man's torrent of protest.

"I can't believe it. There's some mistake. Maybe they've made him the
secretary of the department or something."

"No, they haven't. They've thrown him out. They've downed him because he
tried to head off some thievery of coal-mines in Alaska." The man was
ready to weep with chagrin and indignant sorrow. His voice choked, and he
turned away to conceal his emotion.

Cavanagh put the letter back into his pocket and mounted his horse. "Well,
go on back to your work, Swenson. I'm going to town to get the Supervisor
on the wire, and find out what it all means."

He was almost as badly stunned by the significance of Swenson's news as
Swenson himself. Could it be possible that the man who had built up the
field service of the bureau--the man whose clean-handed patriotism had
held the boys together, making them every year more clearly a unit, a
little army of enthusiasts--could it be possible that the originator, the
organizer of this great plan, had been stricken down just when his
influence was of most account? He refused to believe it of an
administration pledged to the cause of conservation.

As he entered the town he was struck instantly by the change in the faces
turned toward him, in the jocular greetings hurled at him. "Hello, Mr.
Cossack! What do you think of your chief now?"

"This will put an end to your infernal nonsense," said another. "We'll
have a man in there now who knows the Western ways, and who's willing to
boom things along. The cork is out of your forest bottle."

Gregg was most offensive of all. "This means throwing open the forest to
anybody that wants to use it. Means an entire reversal of this fool
policy."

"Wait and see," replied Cavanagh, but his face was rigid with the
repression of the fear and anger he felt. With hands that trembled he
opened the door to the telephone-booth, closed it carefully behind him,
and called for the Supervisor's office. As soon as Redfield replied, he
burst forth in question: "Is it true that the chief is out?"

Redfield's voice was husky as he replied, "Yes, lad, they've got him."

"Good Lord! What a blow to the service!" exclaimed Cavanagh, with a groan
of sorrow and rage. "What is the President thinking of--to throw out the
only man who stood for the future, the man who had built up this corps,
who was its inspiration?" Then after a pause he added, with bitter
resolution: "This ends it for me. Here's where I get off."

"Don't say that, boy. We need you now more than ever."

"I'm through. I'm done with America--with the States. I shall write my
resignation at once. Send down another man to take my place."

Redfield's pleadings were of no avail. Cavanagh went directly from the
booth to the post-office, and there, surrounded by jeering and exultant
citizens, he penned his resignation and mailed it. Then, with stern and
contemptuous face, he left the place, making no reply to the jeers of his
enemies, and, mounting his horse, mechanically rode away out upon the
plains, seeking the quiet, open places in order to regain calmness and
decision. He did not deliberately ride away from Lee Virginia, but as he
entered upon the open country he knew that he was leaving her as he was
leaving the forests. He had cut himself off from her as he had cut himself
off from the work he loved. His heart was swollen big within his breast.
He longed for the return of "the Colonel" to the White House. "What manner
of ruler is this who is ready to strike down the man whose very name means
conservation, and who in a few years would have made this body of forest
rangers the most effective corps of its size in the world?" He groaned
again, and his throat ached with the fury of his indignation.

"Dismissed for insubordination," the report said. "In what way? Only in
making war on greed, in checking graft, in preserving the heritage of the
people."

The lash that cut deepest was the open exultation of the very men whose
persistent attempt to appropriate public property the chief had helped to
thwart. "Redfield will go next. The influence that got the chief will get
Hugh. He's too good a man to escape. Then, as Swenson says, the thieves
will roll in upon us to slash, and burn, and corrupt. What a country! What
a country!"

As he reached the end of this line of despairing thought, he came back to
the question of his remaining personal obligations. Wetherford must be
cared for, and then--and then! there was Virginia waiting for him at this
moment. In his weakness he confessed that he had never intended to marry
her, and yet he had never deliberately intended to do her wrong. He had
always stopped short of the hideous treachery involved in despoiling her
young love. "And for her sake, to save her from humiliation, I will help
her father to freedom."

This brought him back to the hideous tragedy of the heights, and with that
thought the last shred of faith in the sense of justice in the State
vanished.

"They will never discover those murderers. They will permit this outrage
to pass unpunished, like the others. It will be merely another 'dramatic
incident' in the history of the range."

His pony of its own accord turned, and by a circuitous route headed at
last for the home canon as if it knew its master's wavering mind. Cavanagh
observed what he was doing, but his lax hand did not intervene. Helpless
to make the decision himself, he welcomed the intervention of the homing
instinct of his horse. With bent head and brooding face he returned to the
silence of the trail and the loneliness of the hills.



XII

CAVANAGH'S LAST VIGIL BEGINS


On his solitary ride upward and homeward the ranger searched his heart and
found it bitter and disloyal. Love had interfered with duty, and pride had
checked and defeated love. His path, no longer clear and definite, looped
away aimlessly, lost in vague, obscure meanderings. His world had suddenly
grown gray.

The magnificent plan of the Chief Forester (to which he had pledged such
buoyant allegiance) was now a thing apart, a campaign in which he was to
be merely an onlooker. It had once offered something congenial, helpful,
inspiring; now it seemed fantastic and futile without the man who shaped
it. "I am nearing forty," he said; "Eleanor is right. I am wasting my time
here in these hills; but what else can I do?"

He had no trade, no business, no special skill, save in the ways of the
mountaineer, and to return to his ancestral home at the moment seemed a
woful confession of failure.

But the cause of his deepest dismay and doubt was the revelation to
himself of the essential lawlessness of his love, a force within him which
now made his duties as a law-enforcer sadly ironic. After all, was not the
man who presumed upon a maiden's passion and weakness a greater malefactor
than he who steals a pearl or strangles a man for his gold? To betray a
soul, to poison a young life, is this not the unforgivable crime?

"Here am I, a son of the law, complaining of the lawlessness of the
West--fighting it, conquering it--and yet at the same time I permit myself
to descend to the level of Neill Ballard, to think as the barbaric man
thinks."

He burned hot with contempt of himself, and his teeth set hard in the
resolution to put himself beyond the reach of temptation. "Furthermore, I
am concealing a criminal, cloaking a convict, when I should be arresting
him," he pursued, referring back to Wetherford. "And why? Because of a
girl's romantic notion of her father, a notion which can be preserved only
by keeping his secret, by aiding him to escape." And even this motive, he
was obliged to confess, had not all been on the highest plane. It was all
a part of his almost involuntary campaign to win Virginia's love. The
impulse had been lawless, lawless as the old-time West, and the admission
cut deep into his self-respect.

It was again dusk as he rode up to his own hitching-pole and slipped from
the saddle.

Wetherford came out, indicating by his manner that he had recovered his
confidence once more. "How did you find things in the valley?" he
inquired, as they walked away toward the corral.

"Bad," responded the ranger.

"In what way?"

"The chief has been dismissed and all the rascals are chuckling with glee.
I've resigned from the service."

Wetherford was aghast. "What for?"

"I will not serve under any other chief. The best thing for you to do is
to go out when I do. I think by keeping on that uniform you can get to the
train with me."

"Did you see Lize and my girl?"

"No, I only remained in town a minute. It was too hot for me. I'm done
with it. Wetherford, I'm going back to civilization. No more wild West for
me." The bitterness of his voice touched the older man's heart, but he
considered it merely a mood.

"Don't lose your nerve; mebbe this ends the reign of terror."

"Nothing will end the moral shiftlessness of this country but the death of
the freebooter. You can't put new wine into old bottles. These cattle-men,
deep in their hearts, sympathize with the wiping-out of those
sheep-herders. The cry for justice comes from the man whose ear is not
being chewed--the man far off--and from the town-builder who knows the
State is being hurt by such atrocities; but the ranchers over on Deer
Creek will conceal the assassins--you know that. You've had experience
with these free-grass warriors; you know what they are capable of. That
job was done by men who hated the dagoes--hated 'em because they were
rival claimants for the range. It's nonsense to attempt to fasten it on
men like Neill Ballard. The men who did that piece of work are well-known
stock-owners."

"I reckon that's so."

"Well, now, who's going to convict them? I can't do it. I'm going to pull
out as soon as I can put my books in shape, and you'd better go too."

They were standing at the gate of the corral, and the roar of the mountain
stream enveloped them in a cloud of sound.

Wetherford spoke slowly: "I hate to lose my girl, now that I've seen her,
but I guess you're right; and Lize, poor old critter! It's hell's shame
the way I've queered her life, and I'd give my right arm to be where I was
twelve years ago; but with a price on my head and old age comin' on, I
don't see myself ever again getting up to par. It's a losing game for me
now."

There was resignation as well as despair in his voice and Cavanagh felt
it, but he said, "There's one other question that may come up for
decision--if that Basque died of smallpox, you may possibly take it."

"I've figured on that, but it will take a day or two to show on me. I
don't feel any ache in my bones yet. If I do come down, you keep away from
me. You've got to live and take care of Virginia."

"She should never have returned to this accursed country," Cavanagh
harshly replied, starting back toward the cabin.

The constable, smoking his pipe beside the fireplace, did not present an
anxious face; on the contrary, he seemed plumply content as he replied to
the ranger's greeting. He represented very well the type of officer which
these disorderly communities produce. Brave and tireless when working
along the line of his prejudices, he could be most laxly inefficient when
his duties cut across his own or his neighbor's interests. Being a
cattle-man by training, he was glad of the red herring which the Texas
officer had trailed across the line of his pursuit.

This attitude still further inflamed Cavanagh's indignant hate of the
country. The theory which the deputy developed was transparent folly. "It
was just a case of plain robbery," he argued. "One of them dagoes had
money, and Neill Ballard and that man Edwards just naturally follered him
and killed the whole bunch and scooted--that's my guess."

Cavanagh's outburst was prevented by the scratching and whining of a dog
at his door. For a moment he wondered at this; his perturbed mind had
dropped the memory of the loyal collie.

As he opened the door, the brute, more than half human in his gaze, looked
beseechingly at his new master, as if to say, "I couldn't help it--I was
so lonely. And I love you."

"You poor beastie," the ranger called, pityingly, and the dog leaped up in
a frenzy of joyous relief, putting his paws on his breast, then dropped to
the ground, and, crouching low on his front paws, quivered and yawned with
ecstasy of worship. It seemed that he could not express his passionate
adoration, his relief, except by these grotesque contortions.

"Come in, Laddie!" Ross urged, but this the dog refused to do. "I am a
creature of the open air," he seemed to say. "My duties are of the outer
world. I have no wish for a fireside--all I need is a master's praise and
a bit of bread."

Cavanagh brought some food, and, putting it down outside the door, spoke
to him, gently: "Good boy! Eat that and go back to your flock. I'll come
to see you in the morning."

When Cavanagh, a few minutes later, went to the door the dog was gone,
and, listening, the ranger could hear the faint, diminishing bleating of
the sheep on the hillside above the corral. The four-footed warden was
with his flock.

An hour later the sound of a horse's hoofs on the bridge gave warning of a
visitor, and as Cavanagh went to the door Gregg rode up, seeking
particulars as to the death of the herder and the whereabouts of the
sheep.

The ranger was not in a mood to invite the sheepman in, and, besides, he
perceived the danger to which Wetherford was exposed. Therefore his
answers were short. Gregg, on his part, did not appear anxious to enter.

"What happened to that old hobo I sent up?" he asked.

Cavanagh briefly retold his story, and at the end of it Gregg grunted.
"You say you burned the tent and all the bedding?"

"Every thread of it. It wasn't safe to leave it."

"What ailed the man?"

"I don't know, but it looked and smelled like smallpox."

The deputy rose with a spring. "Smallpox! You didn't _handle_ the cuss?"

Cavanagh did not spare him. "Somebody had to lend a hand. I couldn't see
him die there alone, and he had to be buried, so I did the job."

Gregg recoiled a step or two, but the deputy stood staring, the
implication of all this sinking deep. "Were you wearing the same clothes
you've got on?"

"Yes, but I used a slicker while working around the body."

"Good King!" The sweat broke out on the man's face. "You ought to be
arrested."

Ross took a step toward him. "I'm at your service."

"Keep off!" shouted the sheriff.

Ross smiled, then became very serious. "I took every precaution, Mr.
Deputy; I destroyed everything that could possibly carry the disease. I
burned every utensil, including the saddle, everything but the man's horse
and his dog!"

"The dog!" exclaimed the deputy, seized with another idea. "Not that dog
you fed just now?"

"The very same," replied Cavanagh.

"Don't you know a dog's sure to carry the poison in his hair? Why, _he
jumped on you_! Why didn't you shoot him?" he demanded, fiercely.

"Because he's a faithful guardian, and, besides, he was with the sheep,
and never so much as entered the tent."

"Do you _know_ that?"

"Not absolutely, but he seemed to be on shy terms with the herder, and I'm
sure--"

The officer caught up his hat and coat and started for the door. "It's me
for the open air," said he.

As the men withdrew Ross followed them, and, standing in his door,
delivered his final volley. "If this State does not punish those fiends,
every decent man should emigrate out of it, turning the land over to the
wolves, the wildcats, and other beasts of prey."

Gregg, as he retreated, called back: "That's all right, Mr. Ranger, but
you'd better keep to the hills for a few weeks. The settlers down below
won't enjoy having a man with smallpox chassayin' around town. They might
rope and tie you."

Wetherford came out of his hiding-place with a grave face. "I wonder I
didn't think of that collie. They say a cat's fur will carry disease germs
like a sponge. Must be the same with a dog."

"Well, it's too late now," replied Cavanagh. "But they're right about our
staying clear of town. They'll quarantine us sure. All the same, I don't
believe the dog carried any germs of the disease."

Wetherford, now that the danger of arrest was over, was disposed to be
grimly humorous. "There's no great loss without some small gain. I don't
think we'll be troubled by any more visitors--not even by sheriffs or
doctors. I reckon you and I are in for a couple of months of the quiet
life--the kind we read about."

                    *       *       *       *       *

Cavanagh, now that he was definitely out of the Forest Service, perceived
the weight of every objection which his friends and relatives had made
against his going into it. It was a lonely life, and must ever be so. It
was all very well for a young unmarried man, who loved the woods and hills
beyond all things else, and who could wait for advancement, but it was a
sad place for one who desired a wife. The ranger's place was on the trail
and in the hills, and to bring a woman into these high silences, into
these lone reaches of forest and fell, would be cruel. To bring children
into them would be criminal.

All the next day, while Wetherford pottered about the cabin or the yard,
Cavanagh toiled at his papers, resolved to leave everything in the perfect
order which he loved. Whenever he looked round upon his belongings, each
and all so redolent of the wilderness--he found them very dear. His chairs
(which he had rived out of slabs), his guns, his robes, his saddles and
their accoutrements--all meant much to him. "Some of them must go with
me," he said. "And when I am settled down in the old home I'll have one
room to myself which shall be so completely of the mountain America that
when I am within it I can fancy myself back in the camp."

He thought of South Africa as a possibility, and put it aside, knowing
well that no other place could have the same indefinable charm that the
Rocky Mountains possessed, for the reason that he had come to them at his
most impressionable age. Then, too, the United States, for all their
faults, seemed merely an extension of the English form of government.

Wetherford was also moving in deep thought, and at last put his perplexity
into a question. "What am I to do? I'm beginning to feel queer. I reckon
the chances for my having smallpox are purty fair. Maybe I'd better drop
down to Sulphur and report to the authorities. I've got a day or two
before the blossoms will begin to show on me."

Cavanagh studied him closely. "Now don't get to thinking you've got it. I
don't see how you could attach a germ. The high altitude and the winds up
there ought to prevent infection. I'm not afraid for myself, but if you're
able, perhaps we'd better pull out to-morrow."

Later in the day Wetherford expressed deeper dejection. "I don't see
anything ahead of me anyhow," he confessed. "If I go back to the 'pen'
I'll die of lung trouble, and I don't know how I'm going to earn a living
in the city. Mebbe the best thing I could do would be to take the pox and
go under. I'm afraid of big towns," he continued. "I always was--even when
I had money. Now that I am old and broke I daren't go. No city for me."

Cavanagh's patience gave way. "But, man, you can't stay here! I'm packing
up to leave. Your only chance of getting out of the country is to go when
I go, and in my company." His voice was harsh and keen, and the old man
felt its edge; but he made no reply, and this sad silence moved Cavanagh
to repentance. His irritability warned him of something deeply changing in
his own nature.

Approaching the brooding felon, he spoke gently and sadly. "I'm sorry for
you, Wetherford, I sure am, but it's up to you to get clear away so that
Lee will never by any possible chance find out that you are alive. She has
a romantic notion of you as a representative of the old-time West, and it
would be a dreadful shock to her if she knew you as you are. It's hard to
leave her, I know, now that you've seen her, but that's the manly thing to
do--the only thing to do."

"Oh, you're right--of course you're right. But I wish I could be of some
use to her. I wish I could chore round for the rest of my life, where I
could kind o' keep watch over her. I'd be glad enough to play the scullion
in her kitchen. But if you're going to take her--"

"But I'm not," protested Ross. "I'm going to leave her right here. I can't
take her."

Wetherford looked at him with steady eyes, into which a keen light leaped.
"Don't you intend to marry her?"

Ross turned away. "No, I don't--I mean it is impossible!"

"Why not? Don't tell me you're already married?" He said this with
menacing tone.

"No, I'm not married, but--" He stopped without making his meaning plain.
"I'm going to leave the country and--"

Wetherford caught him up. "I reckon I understand what you mean. You
consider Lize and me undersirable parents--not just the kind you'd cut out
of the herd of your own free will. Well, that's all right, I don't blame
you so far as I'm concerned. But you can forget me, consider me a dead
one. I'll never bother her nor you."

Cavanagh threw out an impatient hand. "It is impossible," he protested.
"It's better for her and better for me that I should do so. I've made up
my mind. I'm going back to my own people."

Wetherford was thoroughly roused now. Some part of his old-time fire
seemed to return to him. He rose from his chair and approached the ranger
firmly. "I've seen you act like a man, Ross Cavanagh. You've been a good
partner these last few days--a son couldn't have treated me better--and I
hate like hell to think ill of you; but my girl loves you--I could see
that. I could see her lean to you, and I've got to know something else
right now. You're going to leave here--you're going to throw her off. What
I want to know is this: Do you leave her as good as you found her? Come,
now, I want an answer, as one man to another."

Cavanagh's eyes met his with firm but sorrowful gaze. "In the sense in
which you mean, I leave her as I found her."

The old man's open hand shot out toward his rescuer. "Forgive me, my lad,"
he said, humbly; "for a minute I--doubted you."

Ross took his hand, but slowly replied: "It will be hard for you to
understand, when I tell you that I care a great deal for your daughter,
but a man like me--an Englishman--cannot marry--or he ought not to
marry--to himself alone. There are so many others to consider--his
friends, his sisters--"

Wetherford dropped his hand. "I see!" His tone was despairing. "When I was
young we married the girls we loved in defiance of man, God, or the
cupboard; but you are not that kind. You may be right. I'm nothing but a
debilitated old cow-puncher branded by the State--a man who threw away his
chance--but I can tell you straight, I've learned that nothing but the
love of a woman counts. Furthermore," and here his fire flashed again,
"I'd have killed you had you taken advantage of my girl!"

"Which would have been your duty," declared Cavanagh, wearily.

And in the face of this baffling mood, which he felt but could not
understand, the old man fell silent.



XIII

CAVANAGH ASKS FOR HELP


Lee Virginia waited with increasing impatience for Ross Cavanagh's return,
expecting each noon to see him appear at the door; but when three days
passed without word or sign from him, her uneasiness deepened into alarm.
The whole town was profoundly excited over the murder, that she knew, and
she began to fear that some of the ranger's enemies had worked their evil
will upon him.

With this vague fear in her heart, she went forth into the street to
inquire. One of the first men she met was Sifton, who was sitting, as
usual, outside the livery-barn door, smiling, inefficient, content. Of him
she asked: "Have you seen Mr. Cavanagh?"

"Yes," he answered, "I saw him yesterday, just after dinner, down at the
post-office. He was writing a letter at the desk. Almost immediately
afterward he mounted and rode away. He was much cut up over his chief's
dismissal."

"Why has he not written to me," she asked herself, "and why should he have
gone away without a word of greeting, explanation, or good-bye? It would
have taken but a moment's time to call at the door."

The more she dwelt upon this neglect the more significant it became. After
the tender look in his eyes, after the ardent clasp of his hand, the
thought that he could be so indifferent was at once a source of pain and
self-reproach.

With childish frankness she went to Lize and told her what she had
learned, her eyes dim with hot tears. "Ross came to town, and went away
back to his cabin without coming to see me."

"Are you sure he's been here?"

"Yes. Mr. Sifton saw him go. He came in, got some letters at the
post-office, and then rode away--" Her voice broke as her disappointment
and grief overcame her.

Lize struggled to a sitting position. "There's some mistake about this.
Ross Cavanagh never was the whifflin' kind of man. You've got to remember
he's on duty. Probably the letter was some order that carried him right
back to his work."

"But if he had really cared, he could have ridden by to say just a word;
but he didn't, he went away without a sign, after promising to come." She
buried her face in the coverlet of her mother's bed, and wept in childish
grief and despair.

Lize was forced to acknowledge that the ranger's action was inexplicable,
but she did her best to make light of it. "He may have hurried to town on
some errand, and hadn't a moment to spare. These are exciting days for
him, remember. He'll be in to-morrow sure."

With a faint hope of this, the girl rose and went about her daily tasks;
but the day passed, and another, without word or sign of the recreant
lover, and each day brought a deeper sense of loss, but her pride would
not permit her to show her grief.

Young Gregg, without knowing in the least the cause of her troubled face,
took this occasion to offer comfort. His manner toward her had changed
since she no longer had a part in the management of the eating-house, and
for that reason she did not repulse him as sharply as she had been wont to
do. He really bore Cavanagh no ill-will, and was, indeed, shrewd enough to
understand that Lee admired the ranger, and that his own courtship was
rather hopeless; nevertheless, he persisted, his respect for her growing
as he found her steadfast in her refusal to permit any familiarity.

"See here, Miss Virginia," he cried, as she was passing him in the hall,
"I can see you're worried about Lize (I mean your mother), and if I can be
of any use I hope you'll call on me." As she thanked him without
enthusiasm, he added: "How is she to-night?"

"I think she's better."

"Can I see her?"

His tone was so earnest that the girl was moved to say: "I'll ask her."

"I wish you would; I want to say something to her."

Lize's voice reached where they stood. "Come in, Joe, the door's open."

He accepted her invitation rather awkwardly, but his face was impassive as
he looked down upon her.

"Well, how about it?" she asked. "What's doing in the town?"

"Not much of anything--except talk. The whole country is buzzing over this
dismissal of the Chief Forester."

"They'd better be doing something about that murder."

"They are; they're going up there in streams to see where the work was
done. The coroner's inquest was held yesterday." He grinned. "'Parties
came to their death by persons unknown.'"

Lize scowled. "It's a wonder they don't charge it up to Ross Cavanagh or
some other ranger."

"That would be a little too raw, even for this country. They're all
feeling gay over this change in the forestry head; but see here, don't you
want to get out for a ride? I've got my new machine out here; it rides
like silk."

"I reckon a hearse is about my kind," she replied, darkly. "If you could
take me up to Cavanagh's cabin, I'd go," she added. "I want to see him."

"I can take you part way," he instantly declared. "But you'd have to ride
a horse the last ten miles."

"Couldn't do it, Joe," she sighed. "These last few days I've been about as
boneless as an eel. Funny the way a fellow keeps going when he's got
something to do that has to be done. I'll tell you what, if you want to
take me and Lee up to Sulphur, I'll go ye."

"Sure thing. What day?"

"Not for a day or two. I'm not quite up to it just now; but by Saturday
I'll be saddle-wise again."

Joe turned joyously to Lee. "That will be great! Won't you come out for a
spin this minute?"

For a moment Lee was tempted. Anything to get away from this horrible
little den and the people who infested it was her feeling, but she
distrusted Gregg, and she knew that every eye in the town would be upon
her if she went, and, besides, Ross might return while she was away. "No,
not to-day," she replied, finally; but her voice was gentler than it had
ever been to him.

The young fellow was moved to explain his position to Lize. "You don't
think much of me, and I don't blame you. I haven't been much use so far,
but I'm going to reform. If I had a girl like Lee Virginia to live up to,
I'd make a great citizen. I don't lay my arrest up against Cavanagh. I'm
ready to pass that by. And as for this other business--this free-range war
in which the old man is mixed up--I want you to know that I'm against it.
Dad knows his day is short; that's what makes him so hot. But he's a
bluff--just a fussy old bluff. He knows he has no more right to the
Government grass than anybody else, but he's going to get ahead of the
cattle-men if he can."

"Does he know who burned them sheep-herders?"

"Of course he knows, but ain't going to say so. You see, that old Basque
who was killed was a monopolist, too. He went after that grass without
asking anybody's leave; moreover, he belonged to that Mexican-Dago outfit
that everybody hates. The old man isn't crying over that job; it's money
in his pocket. All the same it's too good a chance to put the hooks into
the cattle-men, hence his offering a reward, and it looks as if something
would really be done this time. They say Neill Ballard was mixed up in it,
and that old guy that showed me the sheep, but I don't take much stock in
that. Whoever did it was paid by the cattle-men, sure thing." The young
fellow's tone and bearing made a favorable impression upon Lize. She had
never seen this side of him, for the reason that he had hitherto treated
her as a bartender. She was acute enough to understand that her social
status had changed along with her release from the cash-register, and she
was slightly more reconciled, although she could not see her way to
providing a living for herself and Lee. For all these reasons she was
unwontedly civil to Joe, and sent him away highly elated with the success
of his interview.

"I'm going to let him take us up to Sulphur," she said to Lee. "I want to
go to town."

Lee was silent, but a keen pang ran through her heart, for she perceived
in this remark by her mother a tacit acknowledgment of Ross Cavanagh's
desertion of them both. His invitation to them to come and camp with him
was only a polite momentary impulse. "I'm ready to go," she announced, at
last. "I'm tired of this place. Let us go to-morrow."

On the following morning, while they were busy packing for this journey,
Redfield rolled up to the door in company with a young man in the uniform
of a forester.

"Go ask Reddy to come in," commanded Lize. "I want to see him."

Redfield met the girl at the door and presented his companion as "Mr.
Dalton, District Forester." Dalton was a tall young fellow with a marked
Southern accent. "Is Cavanagh, the ranger, in town?" he asked.

"No," Lee replied, with effort; "he was here a few days ago, but he's gone
back to the forest."

Redfield studied the girl with keen gaze, perceiving a passionate
restraint in her face.

"How is your mother?" he asked, politely.

Lee smiled faintly. "She's able to sit up. Won't you come in and see
her?"

"With pleasure," assented Redfield, "but I want to see you alone. I have
something to say to you." He turned to his superior. "Just go into the
café, Dalton. I'll see you in a moment."

Lee Virginia, hitherto ashamed of the house, the furniture, the
bed--everything--led the way without a word of apology. It was all
detached now, something about to be left behind, like a bad garment
borrowed in a time of stress. Nothing mattered since Ross did not return.

Lize, looking unwontedly refined and gentle, was sitting in a big
rocking-chair with her feet on a stool, her eyes fixed on the mountains,
which showed through the open window. All the morning a sense of profound
change, of something passing, had oppressed her. Now that she was about to
leave the valley, its charm appealed to her. She was tearing up a
multitude of tiny roots of whose existence she had hitherto remained
unaware. "I belong here," she acknowledged, silently. "I'd be homesick
anywhere else on God's earth. It's rough and fly-bit, and all that, but so
am I. I wouldn't fit in anywhere that Lee belonged."

She acknowledged an especial liking for Redfield, and she had penetration
enough, worldly wisdom enough, to know that Lee belonged more to his world
than to her own, and that his guidance and friendship were worth more,
much more, than that of all the rest of the country, her own included.
Therefore, she said: "I'm mighty glad to see you, Reddy. Sit down. You've
got to hear my little spiel this time."

Redfield, perched on the edge of a tawdry chair, looked about (like the
charity visitor in a slum kitchen) without intending to express disgust;
but it was a dismal room in which to be sick, and he pitied the woman the
more profoundly as he remembered her in the days when "all out-doors" was
none too wide for her.

Lize began, abruptly: "I'm down, but not out; in fact, I was coming up to
see you this afternoon. Lee and I are just about pulling out for good."

"Indeed! Why not go back with me?"

"You can take the girl back if you want to, but now that I'm getting my
chance at you I may not go."

Redfield's tone was entirely cordial as he turned to Lee. "I came hoping
to carry you away. Will you come?"

"I'm afraid I can't unless mother goes," she replied, sadly.

Lize waved an imperative hand. "Fade away, child. I want to talk with Mr.
Redfield alone. Go, see!"

Thus dismissed, Lee went back to the restaurant, where she found the
Forester just sitting down to his luncheon. "Mr. Redfield will be out in a
few minutes," she explained.

"Won't you join me?" he asked, in the frank accent of one to whom women
are comrades. "The Supervisor has been telling me about you."

She took a seat facing him, feeling something refined in his long,
smoothly shaven, boyish face. He seemed very young to be District
Forester, and his eyes were a soft brown with small wrinkles of laughter
playing round their corners.

He began at once on the subject of his visit. "Redfield tells me you are a
friend of Mr. Cavanagh's; did you know that he had resigned?"

She faced him with startled eyes. "No, indeed. Has he done so?"

"Yes, the Supervisor got a letter yesterday enclosing his resignation, and
asking to be relieved at once. And when I heard of it I asked the
Supervisor to bring me down to see him; he's too good a man to lose."

"Why did he resign?"

"He seemed very bitter over the chief's dismissal; but I hope to persuade
him to stay in the service; he's too valuable a man to lose just now when
the war is so hot. I realize that his salary is too small; but there are
other places for him. Perhaps when he knows that I have a special note to
him from the chief he will reconsider. He's quite capable of the
Supervisor's position, and Mr. Redfield is willing to resign in his favor.
I'm telling you all this because Mr. Redfield has told me of your interest
in Mr. Cavanagh--or rather his interest in you."

Sam Gregg, entering the door at this moment, came directly to the
Forester's table. He was followed by the sheriff, a bearded old man with a
soiled collar and a dim eye.

Gregg growled out, "You'd better keep your man Cavanagh in the hills, Mr.
Forester, or somebody will take a pot-shot at him."

"Why, what's new?"

"His assistant is down with smallpox."

"_Smallpox_!" exclaimed Dalton.

Every jaw was fixed and every eye turned upon the speaker.

"Smallpox!" gasped Lee.

Gregg resumed, enjoying the sensation he was creating. "Yes, that Basque
herder of mine--the one up near Black Tooth--sent word he was sick, so I
hunted up an old tramp by the name of Edwards to take his place. Edwards
found the dago dying of pox, and skipped out over the range, leaving him
to die alone. Cavanagh went up and found the dago dead, and took care of
him--result is, he's full of germs, and has brought his apprentice down
with it, and both of 'em must be quarantined right where they are."

"Good heavens, man!" exclaimed Dalton. "This is serious business. Are you
sure it's smallpox?"

"One of my men came from there last night. I was there myself on Monday,
so was the deputy. The sheriff missed Tom this morning, but I reached him
by 'phone, and Cavanagh admitted to us that the Basque died of smallpox,
and that he buried him with his own hands."

The sheriff spoke up. "The criminal part of it is this, Mr. Dalton:
Cavanagh didn't report the case when he came down here, just went about
leaving a trail of poison. Why didn't he report it? He should be
arrested."

"Wait a moment," said Dalton. "Perhaps it wasn't pox, perhaps it was only
mountain-fever. Cavanagh is not the kind of man to involve others in a
pestilence. I reckon he knew it was nothing but a fever, and, not wishing
to alarm his friends, he just slid into town and out again."

A flash of light, of heat, of joy went through Lee's heart as she listened
to Dalton's defence of Cavanagh. "That was the reason why he rode away,"
she thought. "He was afraid of bringing harm to us." And this conviction
lighted her face with a smile, even while the Forester continued his
supposition by saying, "Of course, proper precautions should be taken, and
as we are going up there, the Supervisor and I will see that a quarantine
is established if we find it necessary."

Gregg was not satisfied: "Cavanagh admitted to the deputy and to me that
he believed the case to be smallpox, and said that he had destroyed the
camp and everything connected with it except the horse and the dog, and
yet he comes down here infectin' everybody he meets." He turned to Lee.
"You'd better burn the bed he slept on. He's left a trail of germs
wherever he went. I say the man is criminally liable, and should be jailed
if he lives to get back to town."

Lee's mind was off now on another tangent. "Suppose it is true?" she asked
herself. "Suppose he has fallen sick away up there, miles and miles from
any nurse or doctor--"

"There's something queer about the whole business," pursued Gregg. "For
instance, who is this assistant he's got? Johnson said there was an old
man in ranger uniform potterin' round. Why didn't he send word by him? Why
did he let me come to the door? He might have involved _me_ in the
disease. I tell you, if you don't take care of him the people of the
county will."

The Forester looked grave. "If he _knew_ it was pox and failed to report
it he certainly did wrong; but you say he took care of this poor
shepherd--nursed him till he died, and buried him, taking all
precautions--you can't complain of that, can you? That's the act of a good
ranger and a brave man. _You_ wouldn't have done it!" he ended, addressing
Gregg. "Sickness up there two full miles above sea-level is quite a
different proposition from sickness in Sulphur City or the Fork. I shall
not condemn Mr. Cavanagh till I hear his side of the story."

Lee turned a grateful glance upon him. "You must be right. I don't believe
Mr. Cavanagh would deceive any one."

"Well, we'll soon know the truth," said Dalton, "for I'm going up there.
If the ranger has been exposed, he must not be left alone."

"He ain't alone," declared the sheriff. "Tom 'phoned me that he had an
assistant."

"Swenson, I suppose," said Redfield, who entered at this moment. "Swenson
is his assistant."

"I didn't see him myself," Gregg continued, "but I understood the deputy
to say that he was an old man."

"Swenson is a young man," corrected Redfield.

The sheriff insisted. "Tom said it was an old man--a stranger to
him--tall, smooth-shaven, not very strong, he said--'peared to be a cook.
He had helped nurse the dago, so Tom said."

"That's very curious," mused Redfield. "There isn't an old man in the
service of this forest. There's a mistake somewhere."

"Well," concluded Gregg, "that's what he said. I thought at first it might
be that old hobo Edwards, but this feller being in uniform and
smooth-shaven--" His face changed, his voice deepened. "Say, by the Lord!
I believe it was Edwards, and, furthermore, Edwards is the convict that
Texas marshal was after the other day, and this man Cavanagh--your prize
ranger--is harborin' him."

"What nonsense!" exclaimed Redfield.

The sheriff banged his hand upon the table. "That's the whole mystery. I
see it all now. He's up there concealing this man. He's given out this
smallpox scare just to keep the officers away from him. Now you've got
it!"

The thunder in his voice drew toward him all those who remained in the
dining-room, and Lee found herself ringed about by a dozen excited men.
But she did not flinch; she was too deeply concerned over Cavanagh's fate
to be afraid, and, besides, Redfield and the Forester were beside her.

The Supervisor was staggered by Gregg's accusation, and by certain
confirmatory facts in his own possession, but he defended Cavanagh
bravely. "You're crazy," he replied. "Why should Ross do such a foolish
thing? What is his motive? What interest would he have in this man
Edwards, whom you call a tramp? He can't be a relative and certainly not a
friend of Cavanagh's, for you say he is a convict. Come, now, your hatred
of Cavanagh has gone too far."

Gregg was somewhat cooled by this dash of reason, but replied: "I don't
know what relation he is, but these are facts. He's concealing an escaped
convict, and he knows it."

Dalton put in a quiet word. "What is the use of shouting a judgment
against a man like Cavanagh before you know the facts? He's one of the
best and ablest rangers on this forest. I don't know why he has resigned,
but I'm sure--"

"Has he resigned?" asked Gregg, eagerly.

"He has."

"A damn good job for him. I was about to circulate a petition to have him
removed."

"If all the stockmen in the valley had signed a petition against him, it
wouldn't have done any good," replied Dalton. "We know a good man when we
see him. I'm here to offer him promotion, not to punish him."

Lee, looking about at the faces of these men, and seeing disappointment in
their faces, lost the keen sting of her own humiliation. "In the midst of
such a fight as this, how can he give time or thought to me?" Painful as
the admission was, she was forced to admit that she was a very humble
factor in a very large campaign. "But suppose he falls ill!" Her face grew
white and set, and her lips bitter. "That would be the final, tragic
touch," she thought, "to have him come down of a plague from nursing one
of Sam Gregg's sheep-herders." Aloud she said: "His resignation comes just
in time, doesn't it? He can now be sick without loss to the service."

Dalton answered her. "The Supervisor has not accepted his resignation. On
the contrary, I shall offer him a higher position. His career as a
forester is only beginning. He would be foolish to give up the work now,
when the avenues of promotion are just opening. I can offer him very soon
the supervision of a forest."

As they talked Lee felt herself sinking the while her lover rose. It was
all true. The Forester was right. Ross was capable of any work they might
demand of him. He was too skilled, too intelligent, too manly, to remain
in the forest, heroic as its duties seemed.

Upon this discussion, Lize, hobbling painfully, appeared. With a cry of
surprise, Lee rose to meet her.

"Mother, you must not do this!"

She waved her away. "I'm all right," she said, "barring the big marbles in
my slippers." Then she turned to Dalton. "Now what's it all about? Is it
true that Ross is down?"

"No. So far as we know, he is well."

"Well, I'm going to find out. I don't intend to set here and have him up
there without a cook or a nurse."

At this moment a tall, fair young fellow, dressed in a ranger's uniform,
entered the room, and made his way directly to the spot where Lee, her
mother, and Redfield were standing. "Mr. Supervisor, Cavanagh has sent me
to tell you that he needs a doctor. He's got a sick man up at The Station,
and he's afraid it's a case of smallpox." He turned to Lee. "He told me to
tell you that he would have written, only he was afraid to even send a
letter out."

"What does he need?" asked Redfield.

"He needs medicine and food, a doctor, and he ought to have a nurse."

"That's my job," said Lize.

"Nonsense!" said Redfield. "You're not fit to ride a mile. I won't hear of
your going."

"You wait and see. I'm goin', and you can't stop me."

"Who is the man with him?" asked the Forester.

"I don't know. An old herder, he said. He said he could take care of him
all right for the present, but that if he were taken down himself--"

Lee's mounting emotion broke from her in a little cry. "Oh, Mr. Redfield,
please let me go too! I want to help--I must help!"

Redfield said: "I'll telephone to Sulphur City and ask Brooks to get a
nurse, and come down as soon as possible. Meanwhile I'll go out to see
what the conditions are."

"I'm going too, I tell you," announced Lize. "I've had the cussed disease,
and I'm not afraid of it. We had three sieges of it in my family. You get
me up there, and I'll do the rest."

"But you are ill?"

"I was, but I'm not now." Her voice was firmer than it had been for days.
"All I needed was something to do. Ross Cavanagh has been like a son to me
for two years; he's the one man in this country I'd turn my hand over
for--barrin' yourself, Reddy--and it's my job to see him through this
pinch."

In spite of all opposition, she had her way. Returning to her room to get
such clothing as she needed for her stay in the hills, she waited for
Redfield to send a carriage to her. "I can't ride a horse no more," she
sorrowfully admitted.

Lee's secret was no secret to any one there. Her wide eyes and heaving
breast testified to the profound stir in her heart. She was in an anguish
of fear lest Ross should already be in the grip of his loathsome enemy.
That it had come to him by way of a brave and noble act only made the
situation the more tragic.



XIV

THE PEST-HOUSE


Cavanagh had kept a keen watch over Wetherford, and when one night the old
man began to complain of the ache in his bones his decision was instant.

"You've got it," he said. "It's up to us to move down the valley
to-morrow."

Wetherford protested that he would as soon die in the hills as in the
valley. "I don't want Lee Virginia to know, but if I seem liable to fade
out, I'd like Lize to be told that I didn't forget her, and that I came
back to find out how she was. I hate to be a nuisance to you, and so I'll
go down the valley if you say so."

As he was about to turn in that night Ross heard a horse cross the bridge,
and with intent to warn the rider of his danger, went to the door and
called out: "Halt! Who's there?"

"A friend," replied the stranger, in a weak voice.

Ross permitted his visitor to ride up to the pole. "I can't ask you in,"
he explained. "I've a sick man inside. Who are you, and what can I do for
you?"

Notwithstanding this warning the rider dropped from his saddle, and came
into the light which streamed from the door.

"My name is Dunn," he began. "I'm from Deer Creek."

"I know you," responded the ranger. "You're that rancher I saw working in
the ditch the day I went to telephone, and you've come to tell me
something about that murder."

The other man broke into a whimper. "I'm a law-abiding man, Mr. Cavanagh,"
he began, tremulously. "I've always kept the law, and never intended to
have anything to do with that business. I was dragged into it against my
will. I've come to you because you're an officer of the Federal law. You
don't belong here. I trust you. You represent the President, and I want to
tell you what I know--only I want you to promise not to bring me into it.
I'm a man of a family, and I can't bear to have them know the truth."

There was deep agitation and complete sincerity in the rancher's choked
and hesitant utterance, and Cavanagh turned cold with a premonition of
what he was about to disclose. "I am not an officer of the law, Mr. Dunn,
not in the sense you mean, but I will respect your wishes."

"I know that you are not an officer of the county law, but you're not a
cattle-man. It is your business to keep the peace in the wild country, and
you do it, everybody knows that; but I can't trust the officers of this
country, they're all afraid of the cowboys. You're not afraid, and you
represent the United States, and I'll tell you. I can't bear it any
longer!" he wailed. "I must tell somebody. I can't sleep and I can't eat.
I've been like a man in a nightmare ever since. I had no hand in the
killing--I didn't even see it done; but I knew it was going to happen. I
saw the committee appointed. The meeting that decided it was held in my
barn, but I didn't know what they intended to do. You believe me, don't
you?" He peered up at Cavanagh with white face and wild eyes.

"Go on," replied the ranger; "I'll protect you--if I can. Go on. It's your
duty--tell all you know."

The troubled man, after a little silence, resumed. "Sometimes I feel that
I'd be happier in jail than I am walking about in the sunshine. I never
dreamed civilized men could do such deeds. I thought they were only going
to scare the herders and drive them out, as they've done so many times
before. I can see now that they used my barn for a meeting-place because
everybody believed me to be a man of peace. And I am. I'm over seventy
years of age, Mr. Cavanagh, and I've been a law-abiding citizen all my
life."

His mind, shattered by the weight of his ghastly secret, was in confusion,
and, perceiving this, Cavanagh began to question him gently. One by one he
procured the names of those who voted to "deal with" the herders. One by
one he obtained also the list of those named on "the Committee of
Reprisal," and as the broken man delivered himself of these accusing facts
he grew calmer. "I didn't know--I couldn't _believe_--that the men on that
committee could chop and burn--" His utterance failed him again, and he
fell silent abruptly.

"They must have been drunk--mad drunk," retorted Cavanagh. "And yet who
would believe that even drink could inflame white men to such devil's
work? When did you first know what had been done?"

"That night after it was done one of the men, my neighbor, who was drawn
on the committee, came to my house and asked me to give him a bed. He was
afraid to go home. 'I can't face my wife and children,' he said. He told
me what he'd seen, and then when I remembered that it had all been decided
in my stable, and the committee appointed there, I began to tremble. You
believe I'm telling the truth, don't you?" he again asked, with piteous
accent.

"Yes, I believe you. You must tell this story to the judge. It will end
the reign of the cattle-men."

"Oh no, I can't do that."

"You must do that. It is your duty as a Christian man and citizen."

"No, no; I'll stay and help you--I'll do anything but that. I'm afraid to
tell what I know. They would burn me alive. I'm not a Western man. I've
never been in a criminal court. I don't belong to this wild country. I
came out here because my daughter is not strong, and now--" He broke down
altogether, and leaning against his horse's side, sobbed pitifully.

Cavanagh, convinced that the old man's mind was too deeply affected to
enable him to find his way back over the rough trail that night, spoke to
him gently. "I'll get you something to eat," he said. "Sit down here, and
rest and compose yourself."

Wetherford turned a wild eye on the ranger as he reentered. "Who's out
there?" he asked. "Is it the marshal?"

"No, it's only one of the ranchers from below; he's tired and hungry, and
I'm going to feed him," Ross replied, filled with a vivid sense of the
diverse characters of the two men he was serving.

Dunn received the food with an eager hand, and after he had finished his
refreshment, Cavanagh remarked: "The whole country should be obliged to
you for your visit to me. I shall send your information to Supervisor
Redfield."

"Don't use my name," he begged. "They will kill me if they find out that I
have told. We were all sworn to secrecy, and if I had not seen that
fire--that pile of bodies--"

"I know, I know! It horrified me. It made me doubt humanity," responded
Cavanagh. "We of the North cry out against the South for lynching black
rapers; but here, under our eyes, goes on an equally horrible display of
rage over the mere question of temporary advantage, over the appropriation
of free grass, which is a Federal resource--something which belongs
neither to one claimant nor to the other, but to the people, and should be
of value to the people. There is some excuse for shooting and burning a
man who violates a woman, but what shall we say of those who kill and
dismember men over the possession of a plot of grass? You must bring these
men to punishment."

Dunn could only shiver in his horror and repeat his fear. "They'll kill me
if I do."

Cavanagh at last said: "You must not attempt to ride back to-night. I
can't give you lodging in the cabin, because my patient is sick of
smallpox, but you can camp in the barn till morning, then ride straight
back to my friend Redfield, and tell him what you've told me. He will see
that you are protected. Make your deposition and leave the country, if you
are afraid to remain."

In the end the rancher promised to do this, but his tone was that of a
broken and distraught dotard. All the landmarks of his life seemed
suddenly shifted. All the standards of his life hitherto orderly and fixed
were now confused and whirling, and Cavanagh, understanding something of
his plight, pitied him profoundly. It was of a piece with this ironic
story that the innocent man should suffer madness and the guilty go calmly
about their business of grazing their cattle on the stolen grass.

Meanwhile the sufferings of his other patient were increasing, and he was
forced to give up all hope of getting him down the trail next morning; and
when Swenson, the Forest Guard from the south Fork, knocked at the door to
say that he had been to the valley, and that the doctor was coming up with
Redfield and the District Forester, Ross thanked him, but ordered him to
go into camp across the river, and to warn everybody to keep clear of the
cabin. "Put your packages down outside the door," he added, "and take
charge of the situation on the outside. I'll take care of the business
inside."

Wetherford was in great pain, but the poison of the disease had misted his
brain, and he no longer worried over the possible disclosure of his
identity. At times he lost the sense of his surroundings and talked of his
prison life, or of the long ride northward. Once he rose in his bed to
beat off the wolves which he said were attacking his pony.

He was a piteous figure as he struggled thus, and it needed neither his
relationship to Lee nor his bravery in caring for the Basque herder to
fill the ranger's heart with a desire to relieve his suffering. "Perhaps I
should have sent for Lize at once," he mused, as the light brought out the
red signatures of the plague.

Once the old man looked up with wide, dark, unseeing eyes and murmured, "I
don't seem to know you."

"I'm a friend--my name is Cavanagh."

"I can't place you," he sadly admitted. "I feel pretty bad. If I ever get
out of this place I'm going back to the Fork; I'll get a gold-mine, then
I'll go back and make up for what Lize has gone through. I'm afraid to go
back now."

"All right," Ross soothingly agreed; "but you'll have to keep quiet till
you get over this fever you're suffering from."

"If Lize weren't so far away, she'd come and nurse me--I'm pretty sick.
This stone-cutting--this inside work is hell on an old cow-puncher like
me."

Swenson came back to say that probably Redfield and the doctor would reach
The Station by noon, and thereafter, for the reason that Cavanagh expected
their coming, the hours dragged wofully. It was after one o'clock before
Swenson announced that two teams were coming with three men and two women
in them. "They'll be here in half an hour."

The ranger's heart leaped. Two women! Could one of them be Lee Virginia?
What folly--what sweet, desperate folly! And the other--she could not be
Lize--for Lize was too feeble to ride so far. "Stop them on the other side
of the bridge," he commanded. "Don't let them cross the creek on any
pretext."

As he stood in the door the flutter of a handkerchief, the waving of a
hand, made his pulses glow and his eyes grow dim. It was Virginia!

Lize did not flutter a kerchief or wave a hand, but when Swenson stopped
the carriage at the bridge she said: "No, you don't! I'm going across. I'm
going to see Ross, and if he needs help, I'm going to roll up my sleeves
and take hold."

Cavanagh saw her advancing, and, as she came near enough for his voice to
reach her, he called out: "Don't come any closer! Stop, I tell you!" His
voice was stern. "You must not come a step nearer. Go back across the
dead-line and stay there. No one but the doctor shall enter this door. Now
that's final."

"I want to help!" she protested.

"I know you do; but I won't have it. This quarantine is real, and it
goes!"

"But suppose you yourself get sick?"

"We'll cross _that_ bridge when we get to it. I'm all right so far, and
I'll call for help when I need it."

His tone was imperative, and she obeyed, grumbling about his youth and the
value of his life to the service.

"That's all very nice," he replied; "but I'm in it, and I don't intend to
expose you or any one else to the contagion."

"I've had it once," she asserted.

He looked at her, and smiled in recognition of her subterfuge.

"No matter; you're ailing, and might take it again, so toddle back. It's
mighty good of you, and of Lee, to come--but there isn't a thing you can
do, and here's the doctor," he added, as he recognized the young student
who passed for a physician in the Fork. He was a beardless youth of small
experience and no great courage, and as he approached with hesitant feet
he asked:

"Are you sure it's smallpox?"

Cavanagh smiled. "The indications are all that way. That last importation
of Basques brought it probably from the steerage of the ship. I'm told
they've had several cases over in the Basin."

"Have you been vaccinated?"

"Yes; when I was in the army."

"Then you're all right."

"I hope so."

There was a certain comic relief in this long-distance diagnosing of a
"case" by a boy, and yet the tragic fact beneath it all was that
Wetherford was dying, a broken and dishonored husband and father, and that
his identity must be concealed from his wife and daughter, who were much
more deeply concerned over the ranger than over the desperate condition of
his patient. "And this must continue to be so," Cavanagh decided. And as
he stood there looking toward the girl's fair figure on the bridge, he
came to the final, fixed determination never to speak one word or make a
sign that might lead to the dying man's identification. "Of what use is
it?" he asked himself. "Why should even Lize be made to suffer?
Wetherford's poor misspent life is already over for her, and for Lee he is
only a dim memory."

Redfield came near enough to see that the ranger's face, though tired,
showed no sign of illness, and was relieved. "Who is this old herder?" he
asked. "Hasn't he any relatives in the country?"

"He came from Texas, so he said. You're not coming in?" he broke off to
say to the young physician, whom Lize had shamed into returning to the
cabin.

"I suppose I'll have to," he protested, weakly.

"I don't see the need of it. The whole place reeks of the poison, and you
might carry it away with you. Unless you insist on coming in, and are sure
you can prevent further contagion, I shall oppose your entrance. You are
in the company of others--I must consider their welfare."

The young fellow was relieved. "Well, so long as we know what it is I can
prescribe just as well right here," he said, and gave directions for the
treatment, which the ranger agreed to carry out.

"I tried to bring a nurse," explained Redfield, "but I couldn't find
anybody but old Lize who would come."

"I don't blame them," replied Ross. "It isn't a nice job, even when you've
got all the conveniences."

His eyes, as he spoke, were on the figure of Lee, who still stood on the
bridge awed and worshipful, barred of approach by Lize. "She shall not
know," he silently vowed. "Why put her through useless suffering and
shame? Edward Wetherford's disordered life is near its end. To betray him
to his wife and daughter would be but the reopening of an old wound."

He was stirred to the centre of his heart by the coming of Lee Virginia,
so sweet and brave and trustful. His stern mood melted as he watched her
there waiting, with her face turned toward him, longing to help. "She
would have come alone if necessary," he declared, with a fuller revelation
of the self-sacrificing depth of her love, "and she would come to my side
this moment if I called her."

To the District Forester he said no more than to Redfield. "Edwards is
evidently an old soldier," he declared. "He was sent up here by Gregg to
take the place of a sick herder. He took care of that poor herder till he
died, and then helped me to bury him; now here he lies a victim to his own
sense of duty, and I shall not desert him." And to himself he added: "Nor
betray him."

He went back to his repulsive service sustained and soothed by the little
camp of faithful friends on the other side of the stream. The tender grace
of the girl's attitude, her air of waiting, of anxiety, of readiness to
serve, made him question the basis of his family pride. He recognized in
her the spirit of her sire, tempered, sweetened, made more stable, by
something drawn from unknown sources. At the moment he felt that Lee was
not merely his equal but his superior in purity of character and in
purpose. "What nonsense we talk of heredity, of family," he thought.

Standing over the wasted body of his patient, he asked again: "Why let
even Lize know? To her Ed Wetherford is dead. She remembers him now as a
young, dashing, powerful horseman, a splendid animal, a picturesque lover.
Why wring her heart by permitting her to see this wreck of what was once
her pride?"

As for Wetherford himself, nothing mattered very much. He spoke of the
past now and then, but not in the phrase of one who longs for the return
of happy days--rather in the voice of one who murmurs a half-forgotten
song. He called no more for his wife and child, and if he had done so
Cavanagh would have reasoned that the call arose out of weakness, and that
his better self, his real self, would still desire to shield his secret
from his daughter.

And this was true, for during one of his clearest moments Wetherford
repeated his wish to die a stranger. "I'm goin' out like the old-time
West, a rag of what I once was. Don't let them know--put no name over
me--just say: 'An old cow-puncher lies here.'"

Cavanagh's attempt to change his hopeless tone proved unavailing.
Enfeebled by his hardships and his prison life, he had little reserve
force upon which to draw in fighting such an enemy. He sank soon after
this little speech into a coma which continued to hold him in its unbroken
grasp as night fell.

Meantime, seeing no chance of aiding the ranger, Redfield and the Forester
prepared to return, but Lee, reinforced by her mother, refused to
accompany them. "I shall stay here," she said, "till he is safely out of
it--till I _know_ that he is beyond all danger."

Redfield did not urge her to return as vigorously as Dalton expected him
to do, but when he understood the girl's desire to be near her lover, he
took off his hat and bowed to her. "You are entirely in the right," he
said. "Here is where you belong."

Redfield honored Lize for her sympathetic support of her daughter's
resolution, and expressed his belief that Ross would escape the plague. "I
feel that his splendid vigor, combined with the mountain air, will carry
him through--even if he should prove not to be immune. I shall run up
again day after to-morrow. I shall be very anxious. What a nuisance that
the telephone-line is not extended to this point. Ross has been insisting
on its value for months."

Lee saw the doctor go with some dismay. Young as he was, he was at least a
reed to cling to in case the grisly terror seized upon the ranger. "Mr.
Redfield, can't you send a real doctor? It seems so horrible to be left
here without instructions."

The Forester, before going, again besought Cavanagh not to abandon his
work in the Forestry Service, and intimated that at the proper time
advancement would be offered him. "The whole policy is but beginning,"
said he, "and a practical ranger with your experience and education will
prove of greatest value."

To this Ross made reply. "At the moment I feel that no promise of
advancement could keep me in this country of grafters, poachers, and
assassins. I'm weary of it, and all it stands for. However, if I could aid
in extending the supervision of the public ranges and in stopping forever
this murder and burning that goes on outside the forestry domain, I might
remain in the West."

"Would you accept the supervisorship of the Washakie Forest?" demanded
Dalton.

Taken by surprise, he stammered: "I might; but am I the man?"

"You are. Your experience fits you for a position where the fight is hot.
The Washakie Forest is even more a bone of contention than this. We have
laid out the lines of division between the sheep and the cows, and it will
take a man to enforce our regulations. You will have the support of the
best citizens. They will all rally, with you as leader, and so end the
warfare there."

"It can never end till Uncle Sam puts rangers over every section of public
lands and lays out the grazing lines as we have done in this forest,"
retorted Cavanagh.

"I know; but to get that requires a revolution in the whole order of
things." Then his fine young face lighted up. "But we'll get it. Public
sentiment is coming our way. The old order is already so eaten away that
only its shell remains."

"It may be. If these assassins are punished I shall feel hopeful of the
change."

"I shall recommend you for the supervisorship of the Washakie Forest,"
concluded Dalton, decisively. "And so good-bye and good-luck."

England, his blood relatives, even the Redfields, seemed very remote to
the ranger, as he stood in his door that night and watched the sparkle of
Swenson's camp-fire through the trees. With the realization that there
waited a brave girl of the type that loves single-heartedly, ready to
sacrifice everything to the welfare of her idealized subject, he felt
unworthy, selfish, vain.

"If I should fall sick she would insist on nursing me. For her sake I must
give Swenson the most rigid orders not to allow her--no matter what
happens--to approach. I will not have her touched by this thing."

Beside the blaze Lee and her mother sat for the most part in silence, with
nothing to do but to wait the issue of the struggle going on in the cabin,
so near and yet so inaccessible to their will. It was as if a magic wall,
crystal-clear yet impenetrable, shut them away from the man whose quiet
heroism was the subject of their constant thought.

To the girl this ride up into her lover's world had been both exalting and
awesome--not merely because the rough and precipitous road took her closer
to her lover while placing her farther from medical aid, but also because
it was so vast a world, so unpeopled and so beautiful.

It was marvellous, as the dusk fell and the air nipped keen, to see how
Lize Wetherford renewed her youth. The excitement seemed to have given her
a fresh hold on life. She was wearied but by no means weakened by her
ride, and ate heartily of the rude fare which Swenson set before her.
"This is what I needed," she exultantly said; "the open air and these
trout. I feel ten years younger already. Many's the night I've camped on
the range with your father with nothing but a purp-tent to cover us both,
and the wolves howling round us. I'd feel pretty fairly gay if it weren't
for Ross over there in that cabin playin' nurse and cook all by his
lonesomeness."

Lee expressed a deep satisfaction from the fact of their nearness. "If he
is ill we can help him," she reiterated.

She had put behind her all the doubt and fear which his abrupt desertion
of her had caused, and, though he had not been able to speak a word to
her, his self-sacrifice had made amends. She excused it all as part of his
anxious care. Whatever the mood of that other day had been, it had given
way to one that was lofty and deeply altruistic. Her one anxiety now was
born of a deepening sense of his danger, but against this she bent the
full strength of her will. "He shall not die," she declared beneath her
breath. "God will not permit it."

There was a touch of frost in the air as they went to their beds, and,
though she shivered, Lize was undismayed. "There's nothing the matter with
my heart," she exulted. "I don't believe there was anything really serious
the matter with me, anyway. I reckon I was just naturally grouchy and
worried over you and Ross."

Lee Virginia was now living a romance stranger and more startling than any
she had ever read. In imagination she was able to look back and down upon
the Fork as if she had been carried into another world--a world that was
at once primeval yet peaceful: a world of dreaming trees, singing streams,
and silent peaks; a realm in which law and order reigned, maintained by
one determined young man whose power was derived from the President
himself. She felt safe--entirely safe--for just across the roaring
mountain torrent the two intrepid guardians of the forest were encamped.
One of them, it is true, came of Swedish parentage and the other was a
native of England, but they were both American in the high sense of being
loyal to the Federal will, and she trusted them more unquestioningly than
any other men in all that West save only Redfield. She had no doubt there
were others equally loyal, equally to be trusted, but she did not know
them.

She rose to a complete understanding of Cavanagh's love for "the high
country" and his enthusiasm for the cause, a cause which was able to bring
together the student from Yale and the graduates of Bergen and of Oxford,
and make them comrades in preserving the trees and streams of the mountain
States against the encroachments of some of their own citizens, who were
openly, short-sightedly, and cynically bent upon destruction, spoliation,
and misuse.

She had listened to the talk of the Forester and the Supervisor, and she
had learned from them that Cavanagh was sure of swift advancement, now
that he had shown his courage and his skill; and the thought that he might
leave the State to take charge of another forest brought her some
uneasiness, for she and Lize had planned to go to Sulphur City. She had
consented to this because it still left to her the possibility of
occasionally seeing or hearing from Cavanagh. But the thought that he
might go away altogether took some of the music out of the sound of the
stream and made the future vaguely sad.



XV

WETHERFORD PASSES ON


For the next two days Cavanagh slept but little, for his patient grew
steadily worse. As the flame of his fever mounted, Wetherford pleaded for
air. The ranger threw open the doors, admitting freely the cool, sweet
mountain wind. "He might as well die of a draught as smother," was his
thought; and by the use of cold cloths he tried to allay the itching and
the pain.

"What I am doing may be all wrong," he admitted to Swenson, who came often
to lean upon the hitching-pole and offer aid. "I have had no training as a
nurse, but I must be doing something. The man is burning up, and hasn't
much vitality to spare. I knew a ranger had to be all kinds of things,
cowboy, horse-doctor, axe-man, carpenter, surveyor, and all the rest of
it, but I didn't know that he had to be a trained nurse in addition."

"How do you feel yourself?" asked his subordinate, anxiously.

"Just tired; nothing more. I reckon I am going to escape. I should be
immune, but you never can tell. The effect of vaccination wears off after
a few years."

"The women folks over there are terribly worried, and the old lady has
made me promise to call her in if you show the slightest signs of coming
down."

"Tell her to rest easy. I am keeping mighty close watch over myself, and
another night will tell the story so far as the old man is concerned. I
wish I had a real doctor, but I don't expect any. It is a long hard climb
up here for one of those tenderfeet."

He returned to his charge, and Swenson walked slowly away, back to the
camp, oppressed with the sense of his utter helplessness.

Again and again during the day Lee Virginia went to the middle of the
bridge, which was the dead-line, and there stood to catch some sign, some
wave of the hand from her lover. Strange courtship! and yet hour by hour
the tie which bound these young souls together was strengthened. She
cooked for him in the intervals of her watch and sent small pencilled
notes to him, together with the fish and potatoes, but no scrap of paper
came back to her--so scrupulous was Cavanagh to spare her from the
faintest shadow of danger.

Swenson brought verbal messages, it was true, but they were by no means
tender, for Cavanagh knew better than to intrust any fragile vessel of
sentiment to this stalwart young woodsman. Now that Lee knew the
mysterious old man was dying, she longed for his release--for his release
would mean her lover's release. She did not stop to think that it would be
long, very long, before she could touch Cavanagh's hand or even speak with
him face to face. At times under Swenson's plain speaking she grew faint
with the horror of the struggle which was going on in that silent cabin.

This leprous plague, this offspring of crowded and dirty tenements and of
foul ship-steerages, seemed doubly unholy here in the clean sanity of the
hills. It was a profanation, a hideous curse. "If it should seize upon
Ross--" Words failed to express her horror, her hate of it. "Oh God, save
him!" she prayed a hundred times each day.

Twice in the night she rose from her bed to listen, to make sure that
Cavanagh was not calling for help. The last time she looked out, a white
veil of frost lay on the grass, and the faint light of morning was in the
east, and in the exquisite clarity of the air, in the serene hush of the
dawn, the pestilence appeared but as the ugly emanation of disordered
sleep. The door of the ranger's cabin stood open, but all was silent. "He
is snatching a half-hour's sleep," she decided.

If the guard had carried in his mind the faintest intention of permitting
Lize to go to Cavanagh's aid, that intention came to no issue, for with
the coming of the third night Wetherford was unconscious and
unrecognizable to any one who had known him in the days of "the free
range." Lithe daredevil in those days, expert with rope and gun, he was as
far from this scarred and swollen body as the soaring eagle is from the
carrion which he sees and scorns.

He was going as the Wild West was going, discredited, ulcerated, poisoned,
incapable of rebirth, yet carrying something fine to his grave. He had
acted the part of a brave man, that shall be said of him. He had gone to
the rescue of the poor Basque, instinctively, with the same reckless
disregard of consequences to himself which marked his character when as a
cow-boss on the range he had set aside the most difficult tasks for his
own rope or gun. His regard for the ranger into whose care he was now
about to commit his wife and daughter, persisted in spite of his
suffering. In him was his hope, his stay. Once again, in a lucid moment,
he reverted to the promise which he had drawn from Cavanagh.

"If I go, you must take care--of my girl--take care of Lize, too. Promise
me that. Do you promise?" he insisted.

"I promise--on honor," Ross repeated, and, with a faint pressure of his
hand (so slender and weak), Wetherford sank away into the drowse which
deepened hour by hour, broken now and then by convulsions, which wrung the
stern heart of the ranger till his hands trembled for pity.

All day, while the clouds sailed by, white as snow and dazzlingly pure,
while the stream roared with joy of exploration, and the sunshine fell in
dazzling floods upon the world, the ranger bent above his ward or walked
the floor of his cabin marvelling that the air and light of this high
place should be so powerless to check the march of that relentless plague.
It seemed that to open the doors, to fill the room with radiance, must
surely kill the mutinous motes which warred upon the tortured body. But in
the midst of nature's sovereign charm the reek of the conflict went up;
and he wondered whether even the vigor which his outdoor life had built up
could withstand the strain another day.

Once Lee Virginia approached close enough to hear his voice as he warned
her to go back. "You can do nothing," he called to her. "Please go away."
His face was haggard with weariness, and her heart filled with bitter
resentment to think that this repulsive warfare, this painful duty, should
be thrust upon one so fine.

He himself felt as though his youth were vanishing, and that in these few
days he had entered upon the sober, care-filled years of middle life. The
one sustaining thought, his one allurement, lay in the near presence of
the girl to whom he could call, but could not utter one tender word. She
was there where he could see her watching, waiting at the bridge. "The
sound of the water helps me bear the suspense," she said to Swenson, and
the occasional sight of her lover, the knowledge that he was still
unbroken, kept her from despair.

The day was well advanced when the sound of rattling pebbles on the hill
back of his cabin drew his attention, and a few moments later a man on a
weary horse rode up to his door and dropped heavily from the saddle. He
was a small, dark individual, with spectacles, plainly of the city.

"Beware! Smallpox!" called Ross, as his visitor drew near the door.

The new-comer waved his hand contemptuously. "I've had it. Are you Ross
Cavanagh?"

"I am!"

"My name is Hartley. I represent the Denver _Round-up_. I'm interested in
this sheep-herder killing--merely as a reporter," he added, with a
fleeting smile. "Did you know old man Dunn, of Deer Creek, had committed
suicide?"

Cavanagh started, and his face set. "No!"

"They found him shot through the neck, and dying--this morning. As he was
gasping his last breath, he said, 'The ranger knows,' and when they asked,
'What ranger,' he said, 'Cavanagh.' When I heard that I jumped a horse and
beat 'em all over here. Is this true? Did he tell you who the murderers
are?"

Cavanagh did not answer at once. He was like a man caught on a swaying
bridge, and his first instinct was to catch the swing, to get his balance.
"Wait a minute! What is it all to you?"

Again that peculiar grin lighted the small man's dark, unwholesome face.
"It's a fine detective stunt, and besides it means twenty dollars per
column and mebbe a 'boost.' I can't wait, you can't wait! It's up to us to
strike _now_! If these men knew you have their names they'd hike for Texas
or the high seas. Come now! Everybody tells me you're one of these
idealistic highbrow rangers who care more for the future of the West than
most natural-born Westerners. What's your plan? If you'll yoke up with me
we'll run these devils into the earth and win great fame, and you'll be
doing the whole country a service."

The ranger studied the small figure before him with penetrating gaze.
There was deliberative fearlessness in the stranger's face and eyes, and
notwithstanding his calm, almost languid movement, restless energy could
be detected in his voice.

"What is your plan?" the ranger asked.

"Get ourselves deputized by the court, and jump these men before they
realize that there's anything doing. They count the whole country on their
side, but they're mistaken. They've outdone themselves this time, and a
tremendous reaction has set in. Everybody knows you've held an even hand
over these warring Picts and Scots, and the court will be glad to deputize
you to bring them to justice. The old sheriff is paralyzed. Everybody
knows that the assassins are prominent cattle-ranchers, and yet no one
dares move. It's up to you fellows, who represent law and order, to act
quick."

Cavanagh followed him with complete comprehension, and a desire to carry
out the plan seized upon him.

"I'd do it if I could," he said, "but it happens I am nursing a sick man.
I am, perhaps, already exposed to the same disease. I can't leave here for
a week or more. It would not be right for me to expose others--"

"Don't worry about that. Take a hot bath, fumigate your clothing, shave
your head. I'll fix you up, and I'll get some one to take your place."
Catching sight of Swenson and Lize on the bridge, he asked: "Who are those
people? Can't they take your nursing job?"

"No!" answered Cavanagh, bluntly. "It's no use, I can't join you in
this--at least, not now."

"But you'll give me the names which Dunn gave you?"

"No, I can't do that. I shall tell the Supervisor, and he can act as he
sees fit--for the present I'm locked up here."

The other man looked the disappointment he felt. "I'm sorry you don't feel
like opening up. You know perfectly well that nothing will ever be done
about this thing unless the press insists upon it. It's up to you and me
(me representing 'the conscience of the East'"--here he winked an
eye--"and you Federal authority) to do what we can to bring these men to
their punishment. Better reconsider. I'm speaking now as a citizen as well
as a reporter."

There was much truth in what he said, but Cavanagh refused to go further
in the matter until he had consulted with Redfield.

"Very well," replied Hartley, "that's settled. By-the-way, who is your
patient?"

Eloquently, concisely, Ross told the story. "Just a poor old mounted hobo,
a survival of the cowboy West," he said; "but he had the heart of a hero
in him, and I'm doing my best to save him."

"Keep him in the dark, that's the latest theory--or under a red light.
White light brings out the ulcers."

"He hates darkness; that's one reason why I've opened the doors and
windows."

"All wrong! According to Finsen, he wouldn't pit in the dark. However, it
doesn't matter on a cowboy. You've a great story yourself. There's a fine
situation here which I'll play up if you don't object."

Cavanagh smiled. "Would my objection have any weight?"

The reporter laughed. "Not much; I've got to carry back some sort of game.
Well, so long! I must hit the trail over the hill."

Cavanagh made civil answer, and returned to his patient more than half
convinced that Hartley was right. The "power of the press" might prove to
be a very real force in this pursuit.

As the journalist was about to mount his horse he discovered Lee Virginia
on the other side of the creek. "Hello!" said he, "I wonder what this
pretty maiden means?" And, dropping his bridle-rein again, he walked down
to the bridge.

Swenson interposed his tall figure. "What do you want?" he asked, bluntly.
"You don't want to get too close. You've been talking to the ranger."

Hartley studied him coolly. "Are you a ranger, too?"

"No, only a guard."

"Why are you leaving Cavanagh to play it alone in there?"

Lee explained. "He won't let any of us come near him."

"Quite right," retorted Hartley, promptly. "They say smallpox has lost its
terrors, but when you're eight hours' hard trail from a doctor, or a
hospital, it's still what I'd call a formidable enemy. However, Cavanagh's
immune, so he says."

"We don't know that," Lee said, and her hands came together in a spasm of
fear. "Are you a doctor?"

"No, I'm only a newspaper man; but I've had a lot of experience with
plagues of all sorts--had the yellow fever in Porto Rico, and the typhoid
in South Africa; that's why I'm out here richochetting over the hills. But
who are you, may I ask? You look like the rose of Sharon."

"My name is Lee Wetherford," she answered, with childish directness, for
there was something compelling in the man's voice and eyes. "And this is
my mother." She indicated Lize, who was approaching.

"_You_ are not out here for your health," he stated, rather thoughtfully.
"How happens it you're here?"

"I was born here--in the Fork."

His face remained expressionless. "I don't believe it. Can such maidens
come out of Roaring Fork--nit! But I don't mean that. What are you doing
up here in this wilderness?"

Lize took a part in the conversation. "Another inspector?" she asked, as
she lumbered up.

"That's me," he replied; "Sherlock Holmes, Vidocque, all rolled into
one."

"My mother," again volunteered Lee.

Hartley's eyes expressed incredulity; but he did not put his feelings into
words, for he perceived in Lize a type with which he was entirely
familiar--one to be handled with care. "What are you two women doing here?
Are you related to one of these rangers?"

Lize resented this. "You're asking a good many questions, Mr. Man."

"That's my trade," was the unabashed reply, "and I'm not so old but that I
can rise to a romantic situation." Thereupon he dropped all direct
interrogation, and with an air of candor told the story of his mission.
Lize, entirely sympathetic, invited him to lunch, and he was soon in
possession of their story, even to the tender relationship between Lee
Virginia and the plague-besieged forest ranger.

"We're not so mighty disinterested," he said, referring to his paper.
"_The Round-up_ represents the New West in part, but to us the New West
means opportunity to loot water-sites and pile up unearned increment. Oh
yes, we're on the side of the fruit and alfalfa grower, because it pays.
If the boss of my paper happened to be in the sheep business, as Senator
Blank White is, we would sing a different tune. Or if I were a Congressman
representing a district of cattle-men, I'd be very slow about helping to
build up any system that would make me pay for my grass. As it is, I'm
commissioned to make it hot for the ranchers that killed those dagoes, and
I'm going to do it. If this country had a man like Cavanagh for sheriff,
we'd have the murderers in two days. He knows who the butchers are, and
I'd like his help; but he's nailed down here, and there's no hope of his
getting away. A few men like him could civilize this cursed country."

Thereupon he drew from three pairs of lips a statement of the kind of man
Ross Cavanagh was, but most significant of all were the few words of the
girl, to whom this man of the pad and pencil was a magician, capable of
exalting her hero and of advancing light and civilization by the mere
motion of his hand. She liked him, and grew more and more willing to
communicate, and he, perceiving in her something unusual, lingered on
questioning. Then he rose. "I must be going," he said to Lee. "You've
given me a lovely afternoon."

Lee Virginia was all too ignorant of the ways of reporters to resent his
note-taking, and she accepted his hand, believing him to be the sincere
admirer of her ranger. "What are you going to do?" she asked.

"I'm going back to Sulphur to spread the report of Cavanagh's quarantine."
Again that meaning smile. "I don't want any other newspaper men mixed up
in my game. I'm lonesome Ned in stunts like this, and I hope if they _do_
come up you'll be judiciously silent. Good-bye."

Soon after the reporter left, Cavanagh called to Swenson: "The old man
can't last through another such a night as last night was, and I wish you
would persuade Mrs. Wetherford and her daughter to return to the valley.
They can do nothing here--absolutely _nothing_. Please say that."

Swenson repeated his commands with all the emphasis he could give them,
but neither Lize nor Lee would consent to go. "It would be heathenish to
leave him alone in this lonesome hole," protested Lize.

"I shall stay till he is free," added Lee. And with uneasy heart she
crossed the bridge and walked on and on toward the cabin till she was
close enough to detect the lines of care on her lover's haggard face.

"Stop!" he called, sharply. "Keep away. Why don't you obey me? Why don't
you go back to the valley?"

"Because I will not leave you alone--I can't! Please let me stay!"

"I beg of you go back."

The roar of the stream made it necessary to speak loudly, and he could not
put into his voice the tenderness he felt at the moment, but his face was
knotted with pain as he asked: "Don't you see you add to my uneasiness--my
pain?"

"We're so anxious about you," she answered. "It seems as though we should
be doing something to help you."

He understood, and was grateful for the tenderness which brought her so
near to him, but he was forced to be stern.

"There is nothing you can do--nothing more than you are doing. It helps me
to know that you are there, but you must not cross the bridge. Please go
back!" There was pleading as well as command in his voice, and with a
realization of the passion his voice conveyed, she retraced her steps, her
heart beating quickly with the joy which his words conveyed.

At sunset Redfield returned, bringing with him medicines but no nurse.
"Nobody will come up here," he said. "I reckon Ross is doomed to fight it
out alone. The solitude, the long trail, scares the bravest of them away.
I tried and tried--no use. Eleanor would have come, of course--demanded to
come; but I would not permit that. She commissioned me to bring you both
down to the ranch."

Lee Virginia thanked him, but reiterated her wish to stay until all
possible danger to Cavanagh was over.

Redfield crossed the bridge, and laid the medicines down outside the
door.

"The nurse from Sulphur refused to come when she found that her patient
was in a mountain cabin. I'm sorry, old man; I did the best I could."

"Never mind," replied Cavanagh. "I'm still free from any touch of fever.
I'm tired, of course, but good for another night of it. My main anxiety
concerns Lee--get her to go home with you if you can."

"I'll do the best I can," responded Redfield, "but meanwhile you must
_not_ think of getting out of the Forest Service. I have some cheering
news for you. The President has put a good man into the chief's place."

Cavanagh's face lighted up. "That'll help some," he exclaimed; "but who's
the man?"

Redfield named him. "He was a student under the chief, and the chief says
he's all right, which satisfies me. Furthermore, he's a real forester, and
not a political jobber or a corporation attorney."

"That's good," repeated Cavanagh; "and yet--" he said, sadly, "it leaves
the chief out just the same."

"No, the chief is not out. He's where he can fight for the idea to better
advantage than when he was a subordinate under another man. Anyhow, he
asks us all to line up for the work and not to mind him. The work, he
says, is bigger than any man. Here's that resignation of yours," he said,
taking Cavanagh's letter from his pocket; "I didn't put it on file. What
shall I do with it?"

"Throw it to me," said Cavanagh, curtly.

Redfield tossed it over the hitching-pole, and Ross took it up, looked at
it for a moment in silence, then tore it into bits and threw it on the
ground.

"What are your orders, Mr. Supervisor?" he asked, with a faint, quizzical
smile around his eyes.

"There's nothing you can do but take care of this man. But as soon as you
are able to ride again, I've got some special work for you. I want you to
join with young Bingham, the ranger on Rock Creek, and line up the
'Triangle' cattle. Murphy is reported to have thrown on the forest nearly
a thousand head more than his permit calls for. I want you to see about
that. Then complete your maps so that I can turn them in on the first of
November, and about the middle of December you are to take charge of this
forest in my stead. Eleanor has decided to take the children abroad for a
couple of years, and as I am to be over there part of the time, I don't
feel justified in holding down the Supervisor's position. I shall resign
in your favor. Wait, now!" he called, warningly. "The District Forester
and I framed all this up as we rode down the hill yesterday, and it goes.
Oh yes, there's one thing more. Old man Dunn--"

"I know."

"How did you learn it?"

"A reporter came boiling over the ridge about noon to-day, wanting me to
give him the names which Dunn had given me. I was strongly tempted to do
as he asked me to--you know these newspaper men are sometimes the best
kind of detectives for running down criminals; but on second thought I
concluded to wait until I had discussed the matter with you. I haven't
much faith in the county authorities."

"Ordinarily I would have my doubts myself," replied Redfield, "but the
whole country is roused, and we're going to round up these men this time,
sure. The best men and the big papers all over the West are demanding an
exercise of the law, and the reward we have offered--" He paused,
suddenly. "By-the-way, that reward will come to you if you can bring about
the arrest of the criminals."

"The reward should go to Dunn's family," replied the ranger, soberly.
"Poor chap, he's sacrificed himself for the good of the State."

"That's true. His family is left in bad shape--"

Cavanagh broke off the conversation suddenly. "I must go back to--" he had
almost said "back to Wetherford." "My patient needs me!" he exclaimed.

"How does he seem?"

"He's surely dying. In my judgment he can't last the night, but so long as
he's conscious it's up to me to be on the spot."

Redfield walked slowly back across the river, thinking on the patient
courage of the ranger.

"It isn't the obvious kind of thing, but it's courage all the same," he
said to himself.

Meanwhile Lize and Virginia, left alone beside the fire, had drawn closer
together.

The girl's face, so sweet and so pensive, wrought strongly upon the older
woman's sympathy. Something of her own girlhood came back to her. Being
freed from the town and all its associations, she became more considerate,
more thoughtful. She wished to speak, and yet she found it very hard to
begin. At last she said, with a touch of mockery in her tone: "You like
Ross Cavanagh almost as well as I do myself, don't you?"

The girl flushed a little, but her eyes remained steady. "I would not be
here if I did not," she replied.

"Neither would I. Well, now, I have got something to tell you--something I
ought to have told you long ago--something that Ross ought to know. I
intended to tell you that first day you came back, but I couldn't somehow
get to it, and I kept putting it off and putting it off till--well, then I
got fond of you, and every day made it harder." Here she made her supreme
effort. "Child, I'm an old bluff. I'm not your mother at all."

Lee stared at her in amazement. "What do you mean?" she asked.

"I mean your real mother died when you was a tiny little babe. You see, I
was your father's second wife; in fact, you weren't a year old when we
married. Ed made me promise never to let you know. We were to bring you up
just the same as if you was a child to both of us. Nobody knows but Reddy.
I told him the day we started up here."

The girl's mind ran swiftly over the past as she listened. The truth of
the revelation reached her instantly, explaining a hundred strange things
which had puzzled her all her life. The absence of deep affection between
herself and Lize was explained. Their difference in habit, temperament,
thought--all became plain. "But my mother!" she said, at last. "Who _was_
my mother?"

"I never saw her. You see, Ed came into the country bringing you, a little
motherless babe. He always said your mother was a fine woman, but I never
so much as saw a picture of her. She was an educated woman, he said--a
Southern woman--and her name was Virginia, but that's about all I can tell
you of her. Now, I am going to let Ross know all of this as soon as I can.
It will make a whole lot of difference in what he thinks of you."

She uttered all this much as a man would have done, with steady voice and
with bright eyes, but Lee Virginia could feel beneath her harsh
inflections the deep emotion which vibrated there, and her heart went out
toward the lonely woman in a new rush of tenderness. Now that she was
released from the necessity of excusing her mother's faults--faults she
could now ignore; now that she could look upon her as a loyal friend, she
was moved to pity and to love, and, rising, she went to her and put her
arm about her neck, and said: "This won't make any difference. I am going
to stay with you and help you just the same."

The tears came to the old woman's eyes, and her voice broke as she
replied: "I knew you would say that, Lee Virginia, but all the same I
don't intend to have you do any such thing. You've got to cut loose from
me altogether, because some fine chap is going to come along one of these
days, and he won't want me even as a _step_-mother-in-law. No, I have
decided that you and me had better live apart. I'll get you a place to
live up in Sulphur, where I can visit you now and again; but I guess I am
elected to stay right here in the Fork. They don't like me, and I don't
like them; but I have kind o' got used to their ways of looking at me
sidewise; they don't matter as much as it would up there in the city."

Lee turned back wistfully toward the story of her mother. "Where did my
mother meet my father? Do you know that?"

"No, I don't. It was a runaway match, Ed said. I never did know who her
folks were--only I know they thought she was marrying the wrong man."

The girl sighed as her mind took in the significance of her mother's
coming to this wild country, leaving all that she knew and loved behind.
"Poor little mother. It must have been very hard for her."

"I am afraid she did have a hard time, for Ed admitted to me that he
hadn't so much as a saddle when he landed in the State. He hadn't much
when I met him first, but everybody liked him. He was one of the
handsomest men that ever jumped a saddle. But he was close-mouthed. You
never could get anything out of him that he didn't want to tell, and I was
never able to discover what he had been doing in the southern part of the
State."

As she pondered on her changed relationship to Lize, Lee's heart
lightened. It _would_ make a difference to Ross. It would make a
difference to the Redfields. Traitorous as it seemed, it was a great
relief--a joy--to know that her own mother, her real mother, had been
"nice." "She _must_ have been nice or Lize would not have said so," she
reasoned, recalling that her stepmother had admitted her feeling of
jealousy.

At last Lize rose. "Well, now, dearie, I reckon we had better turn in. It
is getting chilly and late."

As they were about to part at the door of the tent Virginia took Lize's
face between her hands. "Good-night, mother," she said, and kissed her, to
show her that what she had said would not make any difference.

But Lize was not deceived. This unwonted caress made perfectly plain to
her the relief which filled the girl's heart.

                    *       *       *       *       *

Lee Virginia was awakened some hours later by a roaring, crackling sound,
and by the flare of a yellow light upon her tent. Peering out, she saw
flames shooting up through the roof of the ranger's cabin, while beside
it, wrapped in a blanket, calmly contemplating it, stood Cavanagh with
folded arms. A little nearer to the bridge Redfield was sitting upon an
upturned box.

With a cry of alarm she aroused her mother, and Lize, heavy-eyed, laggard
with sleep, rose slowly and peered out at the scene with eyes of dull
amazement. "Why don't they try to put it out?" she demanded, as she took
in the import of the passive figures.

Dressing with tremulous haste, Lee stepped from the tent just in time to
see Swenson come from behind the burning building and join the others in
silent contemplation of the scene. There was something uncanny in the calm
inaction of the three strong men.

A dense fog hung low, enveloping the whole canon in a moist, heavy,
sulphurous veil, through which the tongues of flame shot with a grandiose
effect; but the three foresters, whose shadows expanded, contracted, and
wavered grotesquely, remained motionless as carven figures of ebony. It
was as if they were contemplating an absorbing drama, in whose enactment
they had only the spectator's curious interest.

Slowly, wonderingly, the girl drew near and called to Cavanagh, who turned
quickly, crying out: "Don't come too close, and don't be frightened. I set
the place on fire myself. The poor old herder died last night, and is
decently buried in the earth, and now we are burning the cabin and every
thread it contains to prevent the spread of the plague. Hugh and Swenson
have divided their garments with me, and this blanket which I wear is my
only coat. All that I have is in that cabin now going up in smoke--my
guns, pictures, everything."

"How could you do it?" she cried out, understanding what his sacrifice had
been.

"I couldn't," he replied. "The Supervisor did it. They had to go. The
cabin was saturated with poison; it had become to me a plague spot, and
there was no other way to stamp it out. I should never have felt safe if I
had carried out even so much as a letter."

Dumb and shivering with the chill of the morning, Lee Virginia drew
nearer, ever nearer. "I am so sorry," she said, and yearned toward him,
eager to comfort him, but he warningly motioned her away.

"Please don't come any nearer, for I dare not touch you."

"But you are not ill?" she cried out, with a note of apprehension in her
voice.

He smiled in response to her question. "No, I feel nothing but weariness
and a little depression. I can't help feeling somehow as if I were burning
up a part of myself in that fire--the saddle I have ridden for years, my
guns, ropes, spurs, everything relating to the forest, are gone, and with
them my youth. I have been something of a careless freebooter myself, I
fear; but that is all over with now." He looked her in the face with a sad
and resolute glance. "The Forest Service made a man of me, taught me to
regard the future. I never accepted responsibility till I became a ranger,
and in thinking it all over I have decided to stay with it, as the boys
say, 'till the spring rains.'"

"I am very glad of that," she said.

"Yes; Dalton thinks I can qualify for the position of Supervisor, and
Redfield may offer me the supervision of this forest. If he does, I will
accept it--if you will go with me and share the small home which the
Supervisor's pay provides. Will you go?"

In the light of his burning cabin, and in the shadow of the great peaks,
Lee Virginia could not fail of a certain largeness and dignity of mood.
She neither blushed nor stammered, as she responded: "I will go anywhere
in the world with you."

He could not touch so much as the hem of her garment, but his eyes
embraced her, as he said: "God bless you for the faith you seem to have in
me!"

                    *       *       *       *       *

Redfield's voice interrupted with hearty clamor. "And now, Miss Virginia,
you go back and rustle some breakfast for us all. Swenson, bring the
horses in and harness my team; I'm going to take these women down the
canon. And, Ross, you'd better saddle up as soon as you feel rested and
ride across the divide, and go into camp in that little old cabin by the
dam above my house. You'll have to be sequestered for a few days, I
reckon, till we see how you're coming out. I'll telephone over to the Fork
and have the place made ready for you, and I'll have the doctor go up
there to meet you and put you straight. If you're going to be sick we'll
want you where we can look after you. Isn't that so, Lee Virginia?"

"Indeed it is," replied the girl, earnestly.

"But I'm not going to be sick," retorted Cavanagh. "I refuse to be sick."

"Quite right," replied Redfield; "but all the same we want you where we
can get at you, and where medical aid of the right sort is accessible. I'm
going to fetch my bed over here and put you into it. You need rest."

Lee still lingered after Redfield left them. "Please do as Mr. Redfield
tells you," she pleaded, "for I shall be very anxious till you get safely
down the mountains. If that poor old man has any relatives they ought to
be told how kind you have been. You could not have been kinder to one of
your own people."

These words from her had a poignancy of meaning which made his reply
difficult. His tone was designedly light as he retorted: "I would be a
fraud if I stood here listening to your praise without saying--without
confessing--how deadly weary I got of the whole business. It was simply
that there was nothing else to do. I had to go on."

Her mind still dwelt on the tragic event. "I wish he could have had some
kind of a service. It seems sort of barbarous to bury him without any one
to say a prayer over him. But I suppose that was impossible. Surely some
one ought to mark his grave, for some of his people may come and want to
know where he lies."

He led her thoughts to pleasanter paths. "I am glad you are going with the
Supervisor. You _are_ going, are you not?"

"Yes, for a few days, till I'm sure you're safe."

"I shall be tempted to pretend being sick just to keep you near me," he
was saying, when Redfield returned, bringing his sleeping-couch. Unrolling
this under a tree beside the creek, the Supervisor said: "Now, get into
that."

Cavanagh resigned Lee with a smile. "Good-night," he said. "Oh, but it's
good to remember that I shall see you to-morrow!"

With a happy glance and a low "Good-bye" she turned away.

Laying aside his blanket and his shoes, Cavanagh crept into the snug
little camp-bed. "Ah," he breathed, with a delicious sense of relief, "I
feel as if I could sleep a week!" And in an instant his eyes closed in
slumber so profound that it was barren even of dreams.

When he awoke it was noon, and Swenson, the guard, was standing over him.
"I'm sorry, but it's time to be moving," he said; "it's a long ride over
there."

"What time is it?" inquired Cavanagh, with some bewilderment.

"Nearly noon. I've got some coffee ready. Want some?"

"Do I? Just watch me!" And he scrambled out of his bed with vigor, and
stretched himself like a cat, exclaiming: "Wow! but it does feel good to
know that I am out of jail!"

Going down to the stream, he splashed his face and neck in the clear cold
water, and the brisk rubbing which followed seemed to clear his thought as
well as sharpen his appetite.

"You seem all right so far," hazarded the guide.

"I am all right, and I'll be all right to-morrow, if that's what you
mean," replied Cavanagh. "Well, now, pack up, and we'll pull out."

For a few moments after he mounted his horse Cavanagh looked about the
place as if for the last time--now up at the hill, now down at the meadow,
and last of all at the stream. "I hope you'll enjoy this station as much
as I have, Swenson. It's one of the prettiest on the whole forest."

Together they zigzagged up the side of the hill to the north, and then
with Cavanagh in the lead (followed by his pack-horse), they set up the
long lateral moraine which led by a wide circle through the wooded park
toward the pass. The weather was clear and cold. The wind bit, and
Cavanagh, scantily clothed as he was, drew his robe close about his neck,
saying: "I know now how it feels to be a blanket Indian. I must say I
prefer an overcoat."

A little later the keen eyes of the guard, sweeping the mountain-side,
were suddenly arrested. "There's a bunch of cowboys coming over the pass!"
he called.

"I see them," responded Cavanagh. "Get out your glasses and tell me who
they are."

Swenson unslung his field-glasses and studied the party attentively.
"Looks like Van Horne's sorrel in the lead, and that bald-face bay just
behind looks like the one Gregg rides. The other two I don't seem to
know."

"Perhaps it's the sheriff after me for harboring Edwards," suggested
Cavanagh.

But Swenson remained sober. He did not see the humor of the remark. "What
are they doing on the forest, anyhow?" he asked.

Half an hour later the two parties came face to face on a little stretch
of prairie in the midst of the wooded valley. There were four in the
sheriff's party: Gregg, the deputy, and a big man who was a stranger to
Cavanagh. Their horses were all tired, and the big civilian looked
saddle-weary.

"Good evenin', gentlemen!" called the sheriff, in Southern fashion, as he
drew near.

"Good evenin', Mr. Sheriff," Cavanagh civilly answered. "What's the
meaning of this invasion of my forest?"

The sheriff, for answer, presented the big stranger. "Mr. Cavanagh, this
is Mr. Simpson, the county attorney."

Cavanagh nodded to the attorney. "I've heard of Mr. Simpson," he said.

Simpson answered the question Ross had asked. "We were on our way to your
station, Mr. Cavanagh, because we understand that this old man Dunn who
shot himself had visited you before his death, giving you information
concerning the killing of the Mexican sheep-herders. Is that true?"

"It is."

"When did he visit you?"

"Two days ago, or maybe three. I am a little mixed about it. You see, I
have been pretty closely confined to my shack for a few days."

Gregg threw in a query. "How _is_ the old man?"

"He's all right; that is to say, he's dead. Died last night."

The sheriff looked at Simpson meaningly. "Well, I reckon that settles his
score, judge. Even if he was implicated, he's out of it now."

"He couldn't have been implicated," declared the ranger, "for he was with
me at the time the murder was committed. I left him high on the mountain
in the Basque herder's camp. I can prove an alibi for him. Furthermore, he
had no motive for such work."

"What did Dunn tell you?" demanded the sheriff. "What names did he give
you?"

"Wait a moment," replied Cavanagh, who felt himself to be on his own
territory, and not to be hurried. "There's a reward offered for the arrest
of these men, is there not?"

"There is," replied the attorney.

"Well, before I make my statement I'd like to request that my share of the
reward, if there is any coming to me, shall be paid over to the widow of
the man who gave me the information. Poor chap, he sacrificed himself for
the good of the State, and his family should be spared all the suffering
possible."

"Quite right, Mr. Cavanagh. You may consider that request granted. Now for
the facts."

"Before going into that, Mr. Attorney, I'd like to speak to you alone."

"Very well, sir," replied the attorney. Then waving his hand toward the
others, he said: "Boys, just ride off a little piece, will you?"

When they were alone, Cavanagh remarked: "I don't think it wise to give
these names to the wind, for if we do, there will be more fugitives."

"I see your point," Simpson agreed.

Thereupon, rapidly and concisely, the ranger reported what Dunn had said,
and the attorney listened thoughtfully without speaking to the end; then
he added: "That tallies with what we have got from Ballard."

"Was Ballard in it?" asked Cavanagh.

"Yes, we forced a confession from him."

"If he was in it, it was merely for the pay. He represented some one
else."

"What makes you think that?"

"Because he was crazy to return to the show with which he used to perform,
and desperately in need of money. Have you thought that Gregg might have
had a hand in this affair? Dunn said he had, although he was not present
at any of the meetings."

This seemed to surprise the attorney very much. "But he's a sheepman!" he
exclaimed.

"I know he is; but he's also a silent partner in the Triangle cattle
outfit, and is making us a lot of trouble. And, besides, he had it in for
these dagoes, as he calls them, because they were sheeping territory which
he wanted himself."

"I don't think he's any too good for it," responded Simpson, "but I doubt
if he had any hand in the killing; he's too cunning and too cowardly. But
I'll keep in mind what you have said, and if he is involved in any degree,
he'll have to go down the road with the others--his money can't save
him."

As they came back to the party Cavanagh thought he detected in Gregg's
eyes a shifting light that was not there before, but he made no further
attempt to impress his opinion upon the attorney or the sheriff. He only
said: "Well, now, gentlemen, I must go on over the divide. I have an
appointment with the doctor over there; also with a bed and a warmer suit
of clothes than I have on. If I can be of any service to you when I am out
of quarantine, I hope you will call upon me."

"It is possible that we may need you in order to locate some of the men
whose names you have given me."

"Very good," replied Cavanagh. "If they come upon the forest anywhere, the
Supervisor and I will find them for you."

So they parted, and Cavanagh and his guard resumed their slow journey
across the range.



CONCLUSION


In her career as the wife of a Western rancher, Eleanor Redfield had been
called upon to entertain many strange guests, and she made no very
determined objection when her husband telephoned that he was bringing Lize
as well as Lee Virginia to stay at Elk Lodge for a few days. The
revelation of the true relation between the two women had (as Lize put it)
made a "whole lot of difference" to Mrs. Redfield. It naturally cleared
the daughter of some part of her handicap, and it had also made the
mother's attitude less objectionable.

Furthermore, the loyalty of Eliza to Ross, her bravery in defending him
from attack, and the love and courage which enabled her to rise from a
sick-bed and go to the mountains, ready and insistent on taking his place
as nurse--all these were not the traits of a commonplace personality. "I
begin to think I've been unjust to Mrs. Wetherford," she admitted to her
husband.

She had seen Lize but once, and that was in the distorting atmosphere of
the restaurant, and she remembered her only as a lumpy, scowling,
loud-voiced creature with blowsy hair and a watchful eye. She was
profoundly surprised, therefore, when Lee Virginia introduced a
quiet-spoken, rather sad-faced elderly woman as her mother.

"I'm glad to see you, Mrs. Wetherford," Eleanor said, with the courtesy
which was instinctive with her.

"I'm mightily obliged for the chance to come," replied Lize. "I told
Reddy--I mean the Supervisor--that you didn't want no old-timer like me,
but he said 'Come along,' and Lee she fixed me out, and here I am." She
uttered this with a touch of her well-known self-depreciation, but she was
by no interpretation sordid or common.

She did, indeed, show Lee's care, and her manner, while manifestly formed
upon Lee's instructions, was never ludicrous. She was frankly curious
about the house and its pretty things, and swore softly in her surprise
and pleasure. "Think of an old cow-boss like me living up to these
jimmy-cracks!" As they went to their room together, she made a confession:
"The thing that scares me worst is _eating_. I've et at the Alma times
enough, but to handle a fork here with El'nor Redfield lookin' on! Great
peter! ain't there some way of takin' my meals out in the barn? I wouldn't
mind you and Ross and Reddy--it's the missis."

Ross had not yet arrived at the cabin, but Redfield had warned Lee not to
expect him till after dark. "He probably slept late, and, besides, there
are always delays on the trail. But don't worry. Swenson will ride to the
top of the divide with him, and if it seems necessary will come all the
way."

This feeling of anxiety helped to steady Lize, and she got through the
meal very well. She was unwontedly silent, and a little sad as well as
constrained. She could see that Lee fitted in with these surroundings,
that she was at home with shining silver and dainty dishes, and she said
to herself: "I could have been something like her if I'd had any sort o'
raisin', but it's too late now. But oh, Lord! wouldn't Ed like to see her
now!"

It was not yet dark when they came out on the veranda to meet the doctor,
who had come to meet Ross, and Lee's anxiety led her to say: "Can't we go
up to the cabin and wait for him there?"

"I was about to propose that," replied Redfield. "Shall we walk?"

Lee was instant in her desire to be off, but Lize said: "I never was much
on foot and now I'm hoof-bound. You go along, and I'll sit on the porch
here and watch."

So Lee, the doctor, and Redfield went off together across the meadow
toward the little cabin which had been built for the workmen while putting
in the dam. It was hardly a mile away, and yet it stood at the mouth of a
mighty gorge, out of which the water sprang white with speed.

But Lee had no mind for the scenery, though her eyes were lifted to the
meadow's wall, down which the ranger was expected to ride. It looked
frightfully steep, and whenever she thought of him descending that trail,
worn and perhaps ill, her heart ached with anxiety. But Redfield rambled
on comfortably, explaining the situation to the doctor, who, being a most
unimaginative person, appeared to take it all as a matter of course.

At the cabin itself Lee transferred her interest to the supper which had
been prepared for the ranger, and she went about the room trying to make
it a little more comfortable for him. It was a bare little place, hardly
more than a camp (as was proper), and she devoutly prayed that he was not
to be sick therein, for it stood in a cold and gloomy place, close under
the shadow of a great wall of rock.

As it grew dark she lighted a lamp and placed it outside the window in
order that its light might catch the ranger's eye, and this indeed it did,
for almost instantly a pistol-shot echoed from the hillside, far above,
signalling his approach.

"There he is!" she exclaimed, in swift rebound to ecstasy. "Hear him
shout?"

His voice could indeed be heard, though faintly, and so they waited while
the darkness deepened and the voice of the stream rose like an exhalation,
increasing in violence as the night fell.

At last they could hear the sound of his horse's feet upon the rocks, and
with girlish impulse Lee raised a musical cry--an invitation as well as a
joyous signal.

To this the ranger made vocal answer, and they could soon see him moving
athwart the hillsides, zigzagging in the trailer's fashion, dropping down
with incredible swiftness. He was alone, and leading his horse, but his
celerity of movement and the tones of his voice denoted confidence and
health.

The doctor laughed as he said: "I don't think a very sick man could come
down a mountain like that."

"Oh, he isn't sick yet," said Redfield. "What we are afraid of is a
possible development."

The ranger, as he came rushing down the final slope, found his knees
weakened as much by excitement as by weariness. To hear Lee's clear voice
down there, to know that she was waiting for him, was to feel himself the
luckiest of men. Escaping contagion and being on his way to a larger
position were as nothing compared to the lure of that girlish halloo. He
saw the lamp shine afar, but he could not distinguish the girl's form till
he emerged from the clump of pine-trees which hid the bottom of the trail.
Then they all shouted together, and Redfield, turning to Lee, warningly
said:

"Now, my dear girl, you and I must not interfere with the doctor. We will
start back to the house at once."

"Not yet--not till we've seen him and talked with him," she pleaded.

"I don't think there's a particle of danger," said the doctor, "but
perhaps you'd better not wait."

Cavanagh came up with shining eyes and heavy breath. "I made it--but oh,
I'm tired! I never was tired like this before in my life." He looked at
her as he spoke. "But I'm feeling fine."

"This is Doctor French, Ross."

"How are you doctor? I'm not shaking hands these days."

"Well see about that," replied the physician.

"I met the sheriff on the way, Mr. Supervisor, and I gave him the story
Dunn told me, and I made a request that the reward for the information be
paid to Dunn's widow."

"I'll see to that," responded Redfield. "And now we'll leave you to the
tender mercies of the doctor."

"I made some coffee for you, and you'll find some supper under a napkin on
the table," explained Lee.

"Thank you."

"I'm sorry it isn't better. It's only cold chicken and sandwiches--"

"Only cold chicken!" he laughed. "My chief anxiety is lest it should not
prove a whole chicken. I'm hungry as a coyote!"

"Well, now, good-night," said Redfield. "Doctor, you'll report as you go
by?"

"Yes; expect me in half an hour or so."

And so Lee walked away with Redfield, almost entirely relieved of her
care. "He can't be ill, can he?" she asked.

"I don't see how he can. His life has made him as clean and strong as an
oak-tree on a windy slope. He is all right, and very happy. Your being
there to meet him was very sweet to him, I could see that. If it should
turn out that you should be the one to keep him here and in the Forest
Service I shall be very grateful to you."

She did not reply to this, but walked along in silence by his side,
feeling very small, very humble, but very content.

Lize was on the veranda. "Did he get through?"

"He's all right so far," returned Redfield, cheerily. "We left the doctor
about to fly at him. We'll have a report soon."

They had hardly finished telling of how the ranger had descended the hill
when the doctor arrived. "He hasn't a trace of it," was his report. "All
he needs is sleep. I cut him off from his entire over-the-range outfit,
and there's no reason why he should not come down to breakfast with you in
the morning."

Mrs. Redfield thanked the doctor as fervently as if he had conferred a
personal favor upon her, and the girl echoed her grateful words.

"Oh, that's all right," the doctor replied, in true Western fashion; "I'll
do as much more for you any time." And he rode away, leaving at least one
person too happy to sleep.

                    *       *       *       *       *

The same person was on the veranda next morning when Cavanagh, dressed in
the Supervisor's best suit of gray cassimere, came striding across the
lawn--too impatient of the winding drive to follow it. As he came, his
face glowing with recovered health, Lee thought him the god of the
morning, and went to meet him unashamed, and he took her to his arms and
kissed her quite as he had promised himself to do.

"Now I _know_ that I am delivered!" he exclaimed, and together they
entered upon the building of a home in the New West.

THE END





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Cavanaugh: Forest Ranger - A Romance of the Mountain West" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home