Cavanagh Asks For Help





Lee Virginia waited with increasing impatience for Ross Cavanagh's return,

expecting each noon to see him appear at the door; but when three days

passed without word or sign from him, her uneasiness deepened into alarm.

The whole town was profoundly excited over the murder, that she knew, and

she began to fear that some of the ranger's enemies had worked their evil

will upon him.



With this vague fear in her heart, she went forth into the street to

inquire. One of the first men she met was Sifton, who was sitting, as

usual, outside the livery-barn door, smiling, inefficient, content. Of him

she asked: "Have you seen Mr. Cavanagh?"



"Yes," he answered, "I saw him yesterday, just after dinner, down at the

post-office. He was writing a letter at the desk. Almost immediately

afterward he mounted and rode away. He was much cut up over his chief's

dismissal."



"Why has he not written to me," she asked herself, "and why should he have

gone away without a word of greeting, explanation, or good-bye? It would

have taken but a moment's time to call at the door."



The more she dwelt upon this neglect the more significant it became. After

the tender look in his eyes, after the ardent clasp of his hand, the

thought that he could be so indifferent was at once a source of pain and

self-reproach.



With childish frankness she went to Lize and told her what she had

learned, her eyes dim with hot tears. "Ross came to town, and went away

back to his cabin without coming to see me."



"Are you sure he's been here?"



"Yes. Mr. Sifton saw him go. He came in, got some letters at the

post-office, and then rode away--" Her voice broke as her disappointment

and grief overcame her.



Lize struggled to a sitting position. "There's some mistake about this.

Ross Cavanagh never was the whifflin' kind of man. You've got to remember

he's on duty. Probably the letter was some order that carried him right

back to his work."



"But if he had really cared, he could have ridden by to say just a word;

but he didn't, he went away without a sign, after promising to come." She

buried her face in the coverlet of her mother's bed, and wept in childish

grief and despair.



Lize was forced to acknowledge that the ranger's action was inexplicable,

but she did her best to make light of it. "He may have hurried to town on

some errand, and hadn't a moment to spare. These are exciting days for

him, remember. He'll be in to-morrow sure."



With a faint hope of this, the girl rose and went about her daily tasks;

but the day passed, and another, without word or sign of the recreant

lover, and each day brought a deeper sense of loss, but her pride would

not permit her to show her grief.



Young Gregg, without knowing in the least the cause of her troubled face,

took this occasion to offer comfort. His manner toward her had changed

since she no longer had a part in the management of the eating-house, and

for that reason she did not repulse him as sharply as she had been wont to

do. He really bore Cavanagh no ill-will, and was, indeed, shrewd enough to

understand that Lee admired the ranger, and that his own courtship was

rather hopeless; nevertheless, he persisted, his respect for her growing

as he found her steadfast in her refusal to permit any familiarity.



"See here, Miss Virginia," he cried, as she was passing him in the hall,

"I can see you're worried about Lize (I mean your mother), and if I can be

of any use I hope you'll call on me." As she thanked him without

enthusiasm, he added: "How is she to-night?"



"I think she's better."



"Can I see her?"



His tone was so earnest that the girl was moved to say: "I'll ask her."



"I wish you would; I want to say something to her."



Lize's voice reached where they stood. "Come in, Joe, the door's open."



He accepted her invitation rather awkwardly, but his face was impassive as

he looked down upon her.



"Well, how about it?" she asked. "What's doing in the town?"



"Not much of anything--except talk. The whole country is buzzing over this

dismissal of the Chief Forester."



"They'd better be doing something about that murder."



"They are; they're going up there in streams to see where the work was

done. The coroner's inquest was held yesterday." He grinned. "'Parties

came to their death by persons unknown.'"



Lize scowled. "It's a wonder they don't charge it up to Ross Cavanagh or

some other ranger."



"That would be a little too raw, even for this country. They're all

feeling gay over this change in the forestry head; but see here, don't you

want to get out for a ride? I've got my new machine out here; it rides

like silk."



"I reckon a hearse is about my kind," she replied, darkly. "If you could

take me up to Cavanagh's cabin, I'd go," she added. "I want to see him."





"I can take you part way," he instantly declared. "But you'd have to ride

a horse the last ten miles."



"Couldn't do it, Joe," she sighed. "These last few days I've been about as

boneless as an eel. Funny the way a fellow keeps going when he's got

something to do that has to be done. I'll tell you what, if you want to

take me and Lee up to Sulphur, I'll go ye."



"Sure thing. What day?"



"Not for a day or two. I'm not quite up to it just now; but by Saturday

I'll be saddle-wise again."



Joe turned joyously to Lee. "That will be great! Won't you come out for a

spin this minute?"



For a moment Lee was tempted. Anything to get away from this horrible

little den and the people who infested it was her feeling, but she

distrusted Gregg, and she knew that every eye in the town would be upon

her if she went, and, besides, Ross might return while she was away. "No,

not to-day," she replied, finally; but her voice was gentler than it had

ever been to him.



The young fellow was moved to explain his position to Lize. "You don't

think much of me, and I don't blame you. I haven't been much use so far,

but I'm going to reform. If I had a girl like Lee Virginia to live up to,

I'd make a great citizen. I don't lay my arrest up against Cavanagh. I'm

ready to pass that by. And as for this other business--this free-range war

in which the old man is mixed up--I want you to know that I'm against it.

Dad knows his day is short; that's what makes him so hot. But he's a

bluff--just a fussy old bluff. He knows he has no more right to the

Government grass than anybody else, but he's going to get ahead of the

cattle-men if he can."



"Does he know who burned them sheep-herders?"



"Of course he knows, but ain't going to say so. You see, that old Basque

who was killed was a monopolist, too. He went after that grass without

asking anybody's leave; moreover, he belonged to that Mexican-Dago outfit

that everybody hates. The old man isn't crying over that job; it's money

in his pocket. All the same it's too good a chance to put the hooks into

the cattle-men, hence his offering a reward, and it looks as if something

would really be done this time. They say Neill Ballard was mixed up in it,

and that old guy that showed me the sheep, but I don't take much stock in

that. Whoever did it was paid by the cattle-men, sure thing." The young

fellow's tone and bearing made a favorable impression upon Lize. She had

never seen this side of him, for the reason that he had hitherto treated

her as a bartender. She was acute enough to understand that her social

status had changed along with her release from the cash-register, and she

was slightly more reconciled, although she could not see her way to

providing a living for herself and Lee. For all these reasons she was

unwontedly civil to Joe, and sent him away highly elated with the success

of his interview.



"I'm going to let him take us up to Sulphur," she said to Lee. "I want to

go to town."



Lee was silent, but a keen pang ran through her heart, for she perceived

in this remark by her mother a tacit acknowledgment of Ross Cavanagh's

desertion of them both. His invitation to them to come and camp with him

was only a polite momentary impulse. "I'm ready to go," she announced, at

last. "I'm tired of this place. Let us go to-morrow."



On the following morning, while they were busy packing for this journey,

Redfield rolled up to the door in company with a young man in the uniform

of a forester.



"Go ask Reddy to come in," commanded Lize. "I want to see him."



Redfield met the girl at the door and presented his companion as "Mr.

Dalton, District Forester." Dalton was a tall young fellow with a marked

Southern accent. "Is Cavanagh, the ranger, in town?" he asked.



"No," Lee replied, with effort; "he was here a few days ago, but he's gone

back to the forest."



Redfield studied the girl with keen gaze, perceiving a passionate

restraint in her face.



"How is your mother?" he asked, politely.



Lee smiled faintly. "She's able to sit up. Won't you come in and see

her?"



"With pleasure," assented Redfield, "but I want to see you alone. I have

something to say to you." He turned to his superior. "Just go into the

cafe, Dalton. I'll see you in a moment."



Lee Virginia, hitherto ashamed of the house, the furniture, the

bed--everything--led the way without a word of apology. It was all

detached now, something about to be left behind, like a bad garment

borrowed in a time of stress. Nothing mattered since Ross did not return.



Lize, looking unwontedly refined and gentle, was sitting in a big

rocking-chair with her feet on a stool, her eyes fixed on the mountains,

which showed through the open window. All the morning a sense of profound

change, of something passing, had oppressed her. Now that she was about to

leave the valley, its charm appealed to her. She was tearing up a

multitude of tiny roots of whose existence she had hitherto remained

unaware. "I belong here," she acknowledged, silently. "I'd be homesick

anywhere else on God's earth. It's rough and fly-bit, and all that, but so

am I. I wouldn't fit in anywhere that Lee belonged."



She acknowledged an especial liking for Redfield, and she had penetration

enough, worldly wisdom enough, to know that Lee belonged more to his world

than to her own, and that his guidance and friendship were worth more,

much more, than that of all the rest of the country, her own included.

Therefore, she said: "I'm mighty glad to see you, Reddy. Sit down. You've

got to hear my little spiel this time."



Redfield, perched on the edge of a tawdry chair, looked about (like the

charity visitor in a slum kitchen) without intending to express disgust;

but it was a dismal room in which to be sick, and he pitied the woman the

more profoundly as he remembered her in the days when "all out-doors" was

none too wide for her.



Lize began, abruptly: "I'm down, but not out; in fact, I was coming up to

see you this afternoon. Lee and I are just about pulling out for good."



"Indeed! Why not go back with me?"



"You can take the girl back if you want to, but now that I'm getting my

chance at you I may not go."



Redfield's tone was entirely cordial as he turned to Lee. "I came hoping

to carry you away. Will you come?"



"I'm afraid I can't unless mother goes," she replied, sadly.



Lize waved an imperative hand. "Fade away, child. I want to talk with Mr.

Redfield alone. Go, see!"



Thus dismissed, Lee went back to the restaurant, where she found the

Forester just sitting down to his luncheon. "Mr. Redfield will be out in a

few minutes," she explained.



"Won't you join me?" he asked, in the frank accent of one to whom women

are comrades. "The Supervisor has been telling me about you."



She took a seat facing him, feeling something refined in his long,

smoothly shaven, boyish face. He seemed very young to be District

Forester, and his eyes were a soft brown with small wrinkles of laughter

playing round their corners.



He began at once on the subject of his visit. "Redfield tells me you are a

friend of Mr. Cavanagh's; did you know that he had resigned?"



She faced him with startled eyes. "No, indeed. Has he done so?"



"Yes, the Supervisor got a letter yesterday enclosing his resignation, and

asking to be relieved at once. And when I heard of it I asked the

Supervisor to bring me down to see him; he's too good a man to lose."



"Why did he resign?"



"He seemed very bitter over the chief's dismissal; but I hope to persuade

him to stay in the service; he's too valuable a man to lose just now when

the war is so hot. I realize that his salary is too small; but there are

other places for him. Perhaps when he knows that I have a special note to

him from the chief he will reconsider. He's quite capable of the

Supervisor's position, and Mr. Redfield is willing to resign in his favor.

I'm telling you all this because Mr. Redfield has told me of your interest

in Mr. Cavanagh--or rather his interest in you."



Sam Gregg, entering the door at this moment, came directly to the

Forester's table. He was followed by the sheriff, a bearded old man with a

soiled collar and a dim eye.



Gregg growled out, "You'd better keep your man Cavanagh in the hills, Mr.

Forester, or somebody will take a pot-shot at him."



"Why, what's new?"



"His assistant is down with smallpox."



"Smallpox!" exclaimed Dalton.



Every jaw was fixed and every eye turned upon the speaker.



"Smallpox!" gasped Lee.



Gregg resumed, enjoying the sensation he was creating. "Yes, that Basque

herder of mine--the one up near Black Tooth--sent word he was sick, so I

hunted up an old tramp by the name of Edwards to take his place. Edwards

found the dago dying of pox, and skipped out over the range, leaving him

to die alone. Cavanagh went up and found the dago dead, and took care of

him--result is, he's full of germs, and has brought his apprentice down

with it, and both of 'em must be quarantined right where they are."



"Good heavens, man!" exclaimed Dalton. "This is serious business. Are you

sure it's smallpox?"



"One of my men came from there last night. I was there myself on Monday,

so was the deputy. The sheriff missed Tom this morning, but I reached him

by 'phone, and Cavanagh admitted to us that the Basque died of smallpox,

and that he buried him with his own hands."



The sheriff spoke up. "The criminal part of it is this, Mr. Dalton:

Cavanagh didn't report the case when he came down here, just went about

leaving a trail of poison. Why didn't he report it? He should be

arrested."



"Wait a moment," said Dalton. "Perhaps it wasn't pox, perhaps it was only

mountain-fever. Cavanagh is not the kind of man to involve others in a

pestilence. I reckon he knew it was nothing but a fever, and, not wishing

to alarm his friends, he just slid into town and out again."



A flash of light, of heat, of joy went through Lee's heart as she listened

to Dalton's defence of Cavanagh. "That was the reason why he rode away,"

she thought. "He was afraid of bringing harm to us." And this conviction

lighted her face with a smile, even while the Forester continued his

supposition by saying, "Of course, proper precautions should be taken, and

as we are going up there, the Supervisor and I will see that a quarantine

is established if we find it necessary."



Gregg was not satisfied: "Cavanagh admitted to the deputy and to me that

he believed the case to be smallpox, and said that he had destroyed the

camp and everything connected with it except the horse and the dog, and

yet he comes down here infectin' everybody he meets." He turned to Lee.

"You'd better burn the bed he slept on. He's left a trail of germs

wherever he went. I say the man is criminally liable, and should be jailed

if he lives to get back to town."



Lee's mind was off now on another tangent. "Suppose it is true?" she asked

herself. "Suppose he has fallen sick away up there, miles and miles from

any nurse or doctor--"



"There's something queer about the whole business," pursued Gregg. "For

instance, who is this assistant he's got? Johnson said there was an old

man in ranger uniform potterin' round. Why didn't he send word by him? Why

did he let me come to the door? He might have involved me in the

disease. I tell you, if you don't take care of him the people of the

county will."



The Forester looked grave. "If he knew it was pox and failed to report

it he certainly did wrong; but you say he took care of this poor

shepherd--nursed him till he died, and buried him, taking all

precautions--you can't complain of that, can you? That's the act of a good

ranger and a brave man. You wouldn't have done it!" he ended, addressing

Gregg. "Sickness up there two full miles above sea-level is quite a

different proposition from sickness in Sulphur City or the Fork. I shall

not condemn Mr. Cavanagh till I hear his side of the story."



Lee turned a grateful glance upon him. "You must be right. I don't believe

Mr. Cavanagh would deceive any one."



"Well, we'll soon know the truth," said Dalton, "for I'm going up there.

If the ranger has been exposed, he must not be left alone."



"He ain't alone," declared the sheriff. "Tom 'phoned me that he had an

assistant."



"Swenson, I suppose," said Redfield, who entered at this moment. "Swenson

is his assistant."



"I didn't see him myself," Gregg continued, "but I understood the deputy

to say that he was an old man."



"Swenson is a young man," corrected Redfield.



The sheriff insisted. "Tom said it was an old man--a stranger to

him--tall, smooth-shaven, not very strong, he said--'peared to be a cook.

He had helped nurse the dago, so Tom said."



"That's very curious," mused Redfield. "There isn't an old man in the

service of this forest. There's a mistake somewhere."



"Well," concluded Gregg, "that's what he said. I thought at first it might

be that old hobo Edwards, but this feller being in uniform and

smooth-shaven--" His face changed, his voice deepened. "Say, by the Lord!

I believe it was Edwards, and, furthermore, Edwards is the convict that

Texas marshal was after the other day, and this man Cavanagh--your prize

ranger--is harborin' him."



"What nonsense!" exclaimed Redfield.



The sheriff banged his hand upon the table. "That's the whole mystery. I

see it all now. He's up there concealing this man. He's given out this

smallpox scare just to keep the officers away from him. Now you've got

it!"



The thunder in his voice drew toward him all those who remained in the

dining-room, and Lee found herself ringed about by a dozen excited men.

But she did not flinch; she was too deeply concerned over Cavanagh's fate

to be afraid, and, besides, Redfield and the Forester were beside her.



The Supervisor was staggered by Gregg's accusation, and by certain

confirmatory facts in his own possession, but he defended Cavanagh

bravely. "You're crazy," he replied. "Why should Ross do such a foolish

thing? What is his motive? What interest would he have in this man

Edwards, whom you call a tramp? He can't be a relative and certainly not a

friend of Cavanagh's, for you say he is a convict. Come, now, your hatred

of Cavanagh has gone too far."



Gregg was somewhat cooled by this dash of reason, but replied: "I don't

know what relation he is, but these are facts. He's concealing an escaped

convict, and he knows it."



Dalton put in a quiet word. "What is the use of shouting a judgment

against a man like Cavanagh before you know the facts? He's one of the

best and ablest rangers on this forest. I don't know why he has resigned,

but I'm sure--"



"Has he resigned?" asked Gregg, eagerly.



"He has."



"A damn good job for him. I was about to circulate a petition to have him

removed."



"If all the stockmen in the valley had signed a petition against him, it

wouldn't have done any good," replied Dalton. "We know a good man when we

see him. I'm here to offer him promotion, not to punish him."



Lee, looking about at the faces of these men, and seeing disappointment in

their faces, lost the keen sting of her own humiliation. "In the midst of

such a fight as this, how can he give time or thought to me?" Painful as

the admission was, she was forced to admit that she was a very humble

factor in a very large campaign. "But suppose he falls ill!" Her face grew

white and set, and her lips bitter. "That would be the final, tragic

touch," she thought, "to have him come down of a plague from nursing one

of Sam Gregg's sheep-herders." Aloud she said: "His resignation comes just

in time, doesn't it? He can now be sick without loss to the service."



Dalton answered her. "The Supervisor has not accepted his resignation. On

the contrary, I shall offer him a higher position. His career as a

forester is only beginning. He would be foolish to give up the work now,

when the avenues of promotion are just opening. I can offer him very soon

the supervision of a forest."



As they talked Lee felt herself sinking the while her lover rose. It was

all true. The Forester was right. Ross was capable of any work they might

demand of him. He was too skilled, too intelligent, too manly, to remain

in the forest, heroic as its duties seemed.



Upon this discussion, Lize, hobbling painfully, appeared. With a cry of

surprise, Lee rose to meet her.



"Mother, you must not do this!"



She waved her away. "I'm all right," she said, "barring the big marbles in

my slippers." Then she turned to Dalton. "Now what's it all about? Is it

true that Ross is down?"



"No. So far as we know, he is well."



"Well, I'm going to find out. I don't intend to set here and have him up

there without a cook or a nurse."



At this moment a tall, fair young fellow, dressed in a ranger's uniform,

entered the room, and made his way directly to the spot where Lee, her

mother, and Redfield were standing. "Mr. Supervisor, Cavanagh has sent me

to tell you that he needs a doctor. He's got a sick man up at The Station,

and he's afraid it's a case of smallpox." He turned to Lee. "He told me to

tell you that he would have written, only he was afraid to even send a

letter out."



"What does he need?" asked Redfield.



"He needs medicine and food, a doctor, and he ought to have a nurse."



"That's my job," said Lize.



"Nonsense!" said Redfield. "You're not fit to ride a mile. I won't hear of

your going."



"You wait and see. I'm goin', and you can't stop me."



"Who is the man with him?" asked the Forester.



"I don't know. An old herder, he said. He said he could take care of him

all right for the present, but that if he were taken down himself--"



Lee's mounting emotion broke from her in a little cry. "Oh, Mr. Redfield,

please let me go too! I want to help--I must help!"



Redfield said: "I'll telephone to Sulphur City and ask Brooks to get a

nurse, and come down as soon as possible. Meanwhile I'll go out to see

what the conditions are."



"I'm going too, I tell you," announced Lize. "I've had the cussed disease,

and I'm not afraid of it. We had three sieges of it in my family. You get

me up there, and I'll do the rest."



"But you are ill?"



"I was, but I'm not now." Her voice was firmer than it had been for days.

"All I needed was something to do. Ross Cavanagh has been like a son to me

for two years; he's the one man in this country I'd turn my hand over

for--barrin' yourself, Reddy--and it's my job to see him through this

pinch."



In spite of all opposition, she had her way. Returning to her room to get

such clothing as she needed for her stay in the hills, she waited for

Redfield to send a carriage to her. "I can't ride a horse no more," she

sorrowfully admitted.



Lee's secret was no secret to any one there. Her wide eyes and heaving

breast testified to the profound stir in her heart. She was in an anguish

of fear lest Ross should already be in the grip of his loathsome enemy.

That it had come to him by way of a brave and noble act only made the

situation the more tragic.





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