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Cavanagh Asks For Help








From: Cavanaugh: Forest Ranger

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
cafe, 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.





Next: The Pest-house

Previous: Cavanagh's Last Vigil Begins



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