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Lee Virginia Wages War








From: Cavanaugh: Forest Ranger

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 cafe, 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.





Next: Virginia Takes Another Motor Ride

Previous: The Forest Ranger



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