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Two On The Veranda








From: Cavanaugh: Forest Ranger

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.





Next: The Voice From The Heights

Previous: Virginia Takes Another Motor Ride



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