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Wetherford Passes On








From: Cavanaugh: Forest Ranger

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.





Next: Conclusion

Previous: The Pest-house



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