Shadows On The Mist





The decision which Cavanagh made between love and duty distinguished the

officer from the man, the soldier from the civilian. He did not hesitate

to act, and yet he suffered a mental conflict as he rode back toward the

scene of that inhuman sacrifice on the altar of greed. His heart went out

to Lee Virginia in longing. Her appealing voice still lay in his ear with

an effect like the touch of her soft lips, and his flagging horse suffered

from the unconscious pressure of his haste.



"It will be hours before any part of the sheriff's posse can reach the

falls, even though they take to the swiftest motors, and then other long

hours must intervene before I can ride down to her. Yes, at least a day

and a night must drag their slow course before I can hope to be of service

to her," and the thought drew a groan of anxiety from him. At such moments

of mental stress the trail is a torture and the mountain-side an

inexorable barrier.



Half-way to the hills he was intercepted by an old man who was at work on

an irrigating ditch beside the road. He seemed very nervous and very

inquisitive, and as he questioned the ranger his eyes were like those of a

dog that fears his master's hand. Ross wondered about this afterward, but

at the moment his mind was busy with the significance of this patient

toiler with a spade. He was a prophetic figure in the most picturesque and

sterile land of the stockman. "Here within twenty miles of this peaceful

fruit-grower," he said, "is the crowning infamy of the free-booting

cowboy. My God, what a nation we are!"



He wondered, as he rode on, whether the papers of the State would make a

jest of this deed. "Will this be made the theme for caustic comment in

the Eastern press for a day, and then be forgotten?"



As his hot blood cooled he lost faith in even this sacrifice. Could

anything change the leopard West into the tameness and serenity of the ox?

"No," he decided, "nothing but death will do that. This generation, these

fierce and bloody hearts, must die; only in that way can the tradition of

violence be overcome and a new State reared."



At the foot of the toilsome, upward-winding trail he dismounted, and led

his weary horse. Over his head, and about half-way to the first hilltop,

lay a roof of fleecy vapor, faint purple in color and seamless in texture.

Through this he must pass, and it symbolized to him the line of

demarkation between the plain and the mountain, between order and

violence.



Again he rose above it, to find it a fantastic sea lit by the sun, and

glowing with pink and gold and violet. Celestial in its ethereal beauty,

it threw into still more appalling shadow the smoking altar of passion

toward which he spurred. From moment to moment the surface rose and

shifted in swift, tumultuous, yet soundless waves, breaking round

pine-clad promontories in shimmering breakers, faint, and far, and

serene.



Down through a deep canon to the south a prodigious river of mist was

rushing, a silent cataract of ashy vapor plunging to a soundless beach.

Above and beyond it the high peaks shone in radiance so pure that the

heart of the lover ached with the pain of its evanescent beauty. It was as

if he were looking across a foaming flood upon the stupendous and shining

park of some imperial potentate whose ornate and splendid country home lay

just beyond. Rocky spires rose like cathedral towers, and fortresses

abutted upon the stream. And yet in the midst of that glorified plain the

smoke of the burning rose.



Slowly he led his horse along the mountain-side, grasping with eager

desire at every changing aspect of this marvellous scene. It was

infinitely more gorgeous, more compelling, than his moonlight experience

the night before, for here reality, definite and powerful, was interfused

with mystery. These foot-hills, hitherto pleasantly precipitous, had

suddenly become grandiose. All was made over upon a mightier scale, each

rock and tree being distorted by the passing translucent clouds into a

kind of monstrous yet epic proportion.



Ghostly white ledges broke from the darker mist like fields of distant

crusted snow. Castellated crags loomed from the mystic river like

fortified islands. Cattle, silent, enormously aggrandized, emerged like

fabled beasts of the eld, and stared upon him, their jaws dripping with

dew. Bulls roared from the obscure deeps. Dead trees, with stark and

sinister arms, menaced warningly. All was as unreal as the world of pain's

delirium, and yet was as beautiful as the poet's vision; and the ranger,

feeling that he was looking upon one of Nature's rarest displays, removed

his hat in worship of it, thrilling with pride and satisfaction over the

thought that this was his domain, his to guard and preserve.



The crowning glow of mystery and grace came as he led his horse out upon a

projecting point of rocky ledge to rest. Here the cliff descended abruptly

to an enormous depth, and upon the vaporous rolling flood beneath him a

dome of darker shadow rested. At the summit of this shadow an aureole of

rainbow light, a complete and glorious circle rested, in the midst of

which his own image was flung, grotesque and gigantic.



"The Shadows of the Brocken!" he exclaimed, in ecstasy, all his

bitterness, his care, forgotten. "Now I understand Goethe's lines." In all

his life in the hills he had never before witnessed such a combination of

peak and sun and cloud and shadow.



His love for the range came back upon him with such power that tears

misted his eyes and his throat ached. "Where else will I find such scenes

as this?" he asked himself. "Where in all the lowlands could such

splendors shine? How can I leave this high world in which these wonders

come and go? I will not! Here will I bring my bride and build my home.

This is my world."



But the mist grew gray, the aureole of fire faded, the sun went down

behind the hills, and the chill of evening deepened on the trail, and as

he reapproached the scene of man's inhumanity to man the thought of

camping there beside those charred limbs called for heroic resolution. He

was hungry, too, and as the air pinched, he shivered.



"At the best, the sheriff cannot reach here before midnight," he said, and

settled down to his unsought, revolting vigil.



His one relief lay in the mental composition of a long letter to Lee

Virginia, whose life at that moment was a comfort to him. "If such purity,

such sweetness, can come from violence and vulgarity, then surely a new

and splendid State can rise even out of the ashes of these murdered men.

Perhaps this is the end of the old," he mused, "perhaps this is the

beginning of the new," and as he pondered the last faint crimson died out

of the west. "So must the hate and violence die out of America," he said,

"leaving the clear, sweet air of liberty behind."



He was near to the poet at the moment, for he was also the lover. His

allegiance to the great republic stood the test. His faith in democracy

was shaken, but not destroyed. "I will wait," he decided. "This shall be

the sign. If this deed goes unavenged, then will I put off my badge and my

uniform, and go back to the land where for a hundred years at least such

deeds as these have been impossible."



He built a fire, as night fell, to serve both as beacon and as a defence

against the cold. He felt himself weirdly remote in this vigil. From his

far height he looked abroad upon the tumbled plain as if upon an ocean

dimly perceptible yet august. "At this moment," he said, "curious and

perhaps guilty eyes are wondering what my spark of firelight may mean."



His mind went again and again to that tall old man in the ditch. What was

the meaning of his scared and sorrowful glance? Why should one so

peacefully employed at such a time and in such a place wear the look of a

hunted deer? What meant the tremor in his voice?



Was it possible that one so gentle should have taken part in this deed?

"Preposterous suspicion, and yet he had a guilty look."



He was not a believer in ghosts, but he came nearer to a fear of the dark

that night than ever before in his life. He brought his horse close to the

fire for company, and was careful not to turn his back upon the dead. A

corpse lying peacefully would not have produced this overpowering horror.

He had seen battle-fields, but this pile of mangled limbs conquered even

the hardened campaigner. He shivered each time his memory went back to

what he had first looked upon--the charred hand, the helpless heel.



From his high hill of meditation he reviewed the history of the West.

Based in bloody wars between the primitive races, and between the trappers

and their allies, the land had passed through a thin adumbration of

civilization as the stockmen drove out the buffalo and their hunters.

Vigilantes, sheriff's posses (and now and again the regular army) had

swept over these grassy swells on errands of retributory violence, and so

the territory had been divided at last into populous States. Then

politics, the great national game, had made of them a power, with Senators

to represent a mere handful of miners and herdsmen. In the Congress of the

United States these commonwealths had played their unscrupulous games,

trading for this and for that local appropriation. Happily in some

instances these Senators had been higher than their State, but in other

cases they represented only too loyally the violent and conscienceless

cow-man or lumber king, and now, as Redfield had said, the land-boomer was

to have his term. The man who valued residents, not Wild West performers,

was about to govern and despoil; this promoter, almost as selfish as the

cattle king, was about to advance the State along the lines of his

conception of civilization; and so, perhaps, this monstrous deed, this

final inexcusable inhuman offence against law and humanity, was to stand

as a monument dividing the old from the new. Such, at least, was the

ranger's hope.



At last, far in the night, he heard the snort of a horse and the sound of

voices. The law (such as it was) was creeping up the mountain-side in the

person of the sheriff of Chauvenet County, and was about to relieve the

ranger from his painful responsibility as guardian of the dead.



At last he came, this officer of the law, attended (like a Cheyenne chief)

by a dozen lesser warriors of various conditions and kinds, but among

them--indeed, second only to the sheriff--was Hugh Redfield, the Forest

Supervisor, hot and eager with haste.



As they rode up to the fire, the officer called out: "Howdy, ranger! How

about it?"



Ross stated briefly, succinctly, what he had discovered; and as he talked

other riders came up the hill and gathered closely around to listen in

wordless silence--in guilty silence, the ranger could not help believing.



The sheriff, himself a cattle-man, heard Cavanagh without comment till he

had ended with a gesture. "And there they are; I turn them over to you

with vast relief. I am anxious to go back to my own peaceful world, where

such things do not happen."



The sheriff removed his hat and wiped his brow, then swore with a mutter

of awe. "Well, by God, this is the limit! You say there were three

bodies?"



"I lacked the courage to sort them out. I've been in battle, Mr. Sheriff,

and I've seen dead men tumbled in all shapes, but someway this took the

stiffening out of my knees. I rode away and left them. I don't care to see

them again. My part of this work is done."



Redfield spoke. "Sheriff Van Horne, you and I have been running cattle in

this country for nearly thirty years, and we've witnessed all kinds of

shooting and several kinds of hanging, but when it comes to chopping and

burning men, I get off. I shall personally offer a reward of a thousand

dollars for the apprehension of these miscreants, and I hope you'll make

it your solemn duty to hunt them to earth."



"You won't have far to go," remarked Ross, significantly.



"What do you mean?" asked the sheriff.



"I mean this slaughter, like the others that have taken place, was the

work of cattle-men who claim this range. Their names are known to us

all."



"Can it be possible!" exclaimed Redfield, looking round at the silent

throng, and in the wavering light certain eyes seemed to shift and fall.



"In what essential does it differ from the affair over on the Red Desert?"

demanded Cavanagh. "Who would kill these poor sheep-herders but cattle-men

warring for the grass on which we stand?"



"But they would not dare to do such work themselves."



"No one else would do it. Hired assassins would not chop and burn. Hate

and greed were both involved in this butchery--hate and greed made mad by

drink. I tell you, the men who did this are less than a day's ride of

where we stand."



A silence followed--so deep a silence that the ranger was convinced of the

fact that in the circle of his listeners stood those who, if they had not

shared in the slaughter, at least knew the names of the guilty men.



At last the sheriff spoke, this time with a sigh. "I hope you're all

wrong, Cavanagh. I'd hate to think any constituent of mine had sanctioned

this job. Give me that lantern, Curtis."



The group of ranchers dismounted, and followed the sheriff over to the

grewsome spot; but Redfield stayed with the ranger.



"Have you any suspicion, Ross?"



"No, hardly a suspicion. However, you know as well as I that this was not

a sudden outbreak. This deed was planned. It represents the feeling of

many cattle-men--in everything but the extra horror of its execution.

That was the work of drunken, infuriated men. But I am more deeply

concerned over Miss Wetherford's distress. Did she reach you by telephone

to-night?"



"No. What's the trouble?"



"Her mother is down again. I telephoned her, and she asked me to come to

her, but I cannot go, for I have a case of smallpox up on the hill. Ambro,

the Basque herder, is down with it, and another herder is up there alone

with him. I must go back to them. But meanwhile I wish you would go to the

Fork and see what you can do for her."



His voice, filled with emotion, touched Redfield, and he said: "Can't I go

to the relief of the herder?"



"No, you must not think of it; you are a man of a family. But if you can

find any one who has had the smallpox send him up; the old herder who is

nursing the patient is not strong, and may drop any moment. Then it's up

to me."



The men came back to the camp-fire conversing in low voices, some of them

cursing in tones of awe. One or two of them were small farmers from Deer

Creek, recent comers to the State, or men with bunches of milk-cows, and

to them this deed was awesome.



The sheriff followed, saying: "Well, there's nothing to do but wait till

morning. The rest of you men better go home. You can't be of any use

here."



For more than three hours the sheriff and Redfield sat with the ranger

waiting for daylight, and during this time the name of every man in the

region was brought up and discussed. Among others, Ross mentioned the old

man in the ditch.



"He wouldn't hurt a bumblebee!" declared the sheriff. "He's got a bunch of

cattle, but he's the mildest old man in the State. He's the last rancher

in the country to even stand for such work. What made you mention him?"



"I passed him as I was riding back," replied Cavanagh, "and he had a

scared look in his eyes."



The sheriff grunted. "You imagined all that. The old chap always has a

kind of meek look."



Cavanagh, tired, hungry, and rebellious, waited until the first faint

light in the east announced the dawn; then he rose, and, stretching his

hand out toward it, said: "Here comes the new day. Will it be a new day to

the State, or is it to be the same old round of savagery?"



Redfield expressed a word of hope, and in that spirit the ranger mounted

and rode away back toward the small teepee wherein Wetherford was doing

his best to expiate his past--a past that left him old and friendless at

fifty-five. The sheriff and his men took up the work of vengeance which

fell to them as officers of the law.



It was nearly noon of a glorious day as Cavanagh, very tired and very

hungry, rode up to the sheep-herder's tent. Wetherford was sitting in the

sun calmly smoking his pipe, the sheep were feeding not far away, attended

by the dog, and an air of peace covered his sunlit rocky world.



"How is the Basque?" asked the ranger.



Wetherford pointed upward. "All over."



"Then it wasn't smallpox?"



"I reckon that's what it was; it sure was fierce. I judge it's a case of

Injun burial--no ceremony--right here in the rocks. I'll let you dig the

hole (I'm just about all in), but mind you keep to the windward all the

time. I don't want you spotted."



Cavanagh understood the necessity for these precautions, but first of all

came his own need of food and rest. Turning his tired horse to grass, he

stretched himself along a grassy, sunny cranny between the rocks, and

there ate and afterward slept, while all about him the lambs called and

the conies whined.



He was awakened by a pebble tossed upon him, and when he arose, stiff and

sore, but feeling stronger and in better temper, the sun was wearing low.

Setting to work at his task, he threw the loose rock out of a hollow in

the ledge near by, and to this rude sepulchre Wetherford dragged the dead

man, refusing all aid, and there piled a cairn of rocks above his grave.



The ranger was deeply moved by the pitiless contrast of the scene and the

drama. The sun was still shining warmly aslant the heavens; the wind,

crisp and sweet, wandered by on laggard wings, the conies cried from the

ledges; the lambs were calling--and in the midst of it one tattered

fragment of humanity was heaping the iron earth upon another, stricken,

perhaps, by the same dread disease.



Wetherford himself paused to moralize. "I suppose that chap has a mother

somewhere who is wondering where her boy is. This isn't exactly Christian

burial, but it's all he'll get, I reckon; for whether it was smallpox or

plain fever, nobody's going to uselessly resurrect him. Even the coyotes

will fight shy of his meat."



Nevertheless, the ranger took a hand at the end and rolled some huge

bowlders upon the grave, to insure the wolves' defeat.



"Now burn the bedding," he commanded--"the whole camp has got to go--and

your clothing, too, after we get down the hill."



"What will we do with the sheep?"



"Drive them over the divide and leave them."



All these things Wetherford did, and leaving the camp in ashes behind him,

Cavanagh drove the sheep before him on his homeward way. As night fell,

the dog, at his command, rounded them up and put them to bed, and the men

went on down the valley, leaving the brave brute on guard, pathetic figure

of faithful guardianship.



"It hurts me to desert you, old fellow," called the ranger, looking back,

"but there's no help for it. I'll come up in the morning and bring you

some biscuit."



The collie seemed to understand. He waggled his tail and whined, as though

struggling to express his wonder and pain, and Ross, moved to pity,

called: "Come on, boy, never mind the sheep! Come along with us!"



But the dog, leaping from side to side, uttered a short howl and a sharp

bark, as if to say: "I can't! I can't!"



"He's onto his job," remarked Wetherford. "It beats all how human they

do seem sometimes. I've no manner of doubt that dago's booted him all over

the place many a time, and yet he seemed horrible sorry about his master's

trouble. Every few minutes, all night long, he'd come pattering and

whining round the door of the tent--didn't come in, seemed just trying to

ask how things were coming. He was like a child, lonesome and grieving."



It was long after dark when they entered the canon just above the cabin,

and Wetherford was shivering from cold and weakness.



"Now you pull up just outside the gate, and wait there till I bring out

some blankets; then you've got to strip to the skin and start the world

all over again," said Cavanagh. "I'll build a fire here, and we'll cremate

your past. How about it?"



"I'm willing," responded Wetherford. "You can burn everything that belongs

to me but my wife and my girl."



All through the ceremony which followed ran this self-banter. "I'll be all

ranger, barring a commission," he said, with a grin, as he put on the

olive-yellow shirt and a pair of dusty-green trousers. "And here goes my

past!" he added, as he tossed his contaminated rags upon the fire.



"What a corking opportunity to make a fresh start," commented Cavanagh. "I

hope you see it."



"I see it; but it's hard to live up to your mark."



When every precaution had been taken, the ranger led the freshly scrubbed,

scoured, and transformed fugitive to his cabin.



"Why, man, you're fit for the State Legislature," he exclaimed, as they

came into the full light. "My clothes don't precisely meet every demand

you make upon them, but they give you an air of command. I wish your wife

could see you now."



Wetherford was quite serious as he answered: "This uniform means more to

me than you think. I wish I was entitled to wear it. The wild-wood is just

about populous enough for me."



"Good for you!" responded Cavanagh. "To convert a man of your record to a

belief in conservation is to demonstrate once again the regenerative power

of an idea." Then, seeing that Wetherford was really in earnest, he added:

"You can stay with me as long as you wish. Perhaps in time you might be

able to work into the service as a guard, although the chief is getting

more and more insistent on real foresters."



There were tears in Wetherford's eyes as he said: "You cannot realize what

this clean, warm uniform means to me. For nine years I wore the prison

stripes; then I was turned loose with a shoddy suit and a hat a size too

big for me--an outfit that gave me away everywhere I went. Till my hair

and beard sprouted I had a hard rustle of it, but my clothes grew old

faster than my beard. At last I put every cent I had earned into a poor

old horse, and a faded saddle, and once mounted I kept a-moving north." He

smoothed the sleeve of his coat. "It is ten years since I was dressed like

a man."



"You need not worry about food or shelter for the present," replied

Cavanagh, gently. "Grub is not costly here, and house-rent is less than

nominal, so make yourself at home and get strong."



Wetherford lifted his head. "But I want to do something. I want to redeem

myself in some way. I don't want my girl to know who I am, but I'd like to

win her respect. I can't be what you say she thinks I was, but if I had a

chance I might show myself a man again. I wouldn't mind Lize knowing that

I am alive--it might be a comfort to her; but I don't want even her to be

told till I can go to her in my own duds."



"She's pretty sick," said Cavanagh. "I telephoned Lee Virginia last night,

and if you wish you may ride down with me to-morrow and see her."



The old man fell a-tremble. "I daren't do that. I can't bear to tell her

where I've been!"



"She needn't know. I will tell her you've been out of your mind. I'll say

anything you wish! You can go to her in the clothes you have on if you

like--she will not recognize you as the prisoner I held the other night.

You can have your beard trimmed, and not even the justice will know you."



All reserve had vanished out of the convict's heart, and with choking

voice he thanked his young host. "I'll never be a burden to you," he

declared, in firmer voice. "And if my lung holds out, I'll show you I'm

not the total locoe that I 'pear to be."



No further reference was made to Lee Virginia, but Ross felt himself to be

more deeply involved than ever by these promises; his fortunes seemed to

be inextricably bound up with this singular and unhappy family. Lying in

his bunk (after the lights were out), he fancied himself back in his

ancestral home, replying to the questions of his aunts and uncles, who

were still expecting him to bring home a rich and beautiful American

heiress. Some of the Cavanaghs were drunkards and some were vixens, but

they were on the whole rather decent, rather decorous and very dull, and

to them this broken ex-convict and this slattern old barmaid would seem

very far from the ideal they had formed of the family into which Ross was

certain to marry.



But as he recalled the spot in which he lay and the uniform which hung

upon the wall, he was frank to admit that the beautiful and rich heiress

of whom his family dreamed was a very unsubstantial vision indeed, and

that, to be honest with himself, he had nothing to offer for such shining

good-fortune.



At breakfast next morning he said: "I must ride back and take some bread

to the dog. I can't go away and leave him there without saying 'hello.'"



"Let me do that," suggested Wetherford. "I'm afraid to go down to the

Fork. I reckon I'd better go back and tend the sheep till Gregg sends some

one up to take my place."



"That might be too late to see Lize. Lee's voice showed great anxiety. She

may be on her death-bed. No; you'd better go down with me to-day," he

urged. And at last the old man consented.



Putting some bread in his pockets, Ross rode off up the trail to see how

the dog and his flock were faring. He had not gone far when he heard the

tinkle of the bells and the murmur of the lambs, and a few moments later

the collie came toward him with the air of a boy who, having assumed to

disregard the orders of his master, expects a scolding. He plainly said:

"I've brought my sheep to you because I was lonesome. Please forgive me."



Cavanagh called to him cheerily, and tossed him a piece of bread, which he

caught in his teeth but did not swallow; on the contrary, he held it while

leaping for joy of the praise he heard in his new-found master's voice.



Turning the flock upward again toward the higher peaks, the ranger

commanded the collie to their heels, and so, having redeemed his promise,

rode back to the cabin, where he found Wetherford saddled and ready for

his momentous trip to the valley. He had shaved away his gray beard, and

had Ross been unprepared for these changes he would have been puzzled to

account for this decidedly military figure sitting statuesquely on his

pony before the door.



"You can prove an alibi," he called, as he drew near. "Gregg himself would

never recognize you now."



Wetherford was in no mood for joking. "Lize will. I wore a mustache in the

old days, and there's a scar on my chin."



As he rode he confided this strange thing to Cavanagh. "I know," said he,

"that Lize is old and wrinkled, for I've seen her, but all the same I

can't realize it. That heavy-set woman down there is not Lize. My Lize is

slim and straight. This woman whom you know has stolen her name and face,

that's all. I can't explain exactly what I feel, but Lee Virginia means

more to me now than Lize."



"I think I understand you," said Cavanagh, with sympathy in his voice.



The nearer Wetherford came to the actual meeting with his wife the more he

shook. At last he stopped in the road. "I don't believe I can do it," he

declared. "I'll be like a ghost to her. What's the use of it? She'll only

be worried by my story. I reckon I'd better keep dark to everybody. Let me

go back. I'm plum scared cold."



While still he argued, two men on horseback rounded a sharp turn in the

trail and came face to face with the ranger. Wetherford's face went

suddenly gray. "My God, there's the deputy!"



"Keep quiet. I'll do the talking," commanded Cavanagh, who was instant in

his determination to shield the man. "Good-morning, gentlemen," he called,

cheerily, "you're abroad early!"



The man in front was the deputy sheriff of the county; his companion was a

stranger.



"That was a horrible mess you stumbled on over on Deer Creek," the deputy

remarked.



"It certainly was. Have any arrests been made?"



"Not yet, but we're on a clew. This is Marshal Haines, of Dallas, Mr.

Cavanagh," pursued the deputy. The two men nodded in token of the

introduction, and the deputy went on: "You remember that old cuss that

used to work for Gregg?"



Again Cavanagh nodded.



"Well, that chap is wanted by the Texas authorities. Mr. Haines, here,

wants to see him mighty bad. He's an escaped convict with a bad record."



"Is that so?" exclaimed Cavanagh. "I thought he seemed a bit gun-shy."



"The last seen of him was when Sam Gregg sent him up to herd sheep. I

think he was mixed up in that killing, myself--him and Ballard--and we're

going up to get some track of him. Didn't turn up at your station, did

he?"



"Yes, he came by some days ago, on his way, so he said, to relieve that

sick Basque, Ambro. I went up a couple of days ago, and found the Basque

dead and the old man gone. I buried the herder the best I could, and I'm

on my way down to report the case."



The deputy mused: "He may be hanging 'round some of the lumber-camps. I

reckon we had better go up and look the ground over, anyhow. We might just

chance to overhaul him."



"He may have pulled out over the range," suggested the ranger. "Anyhow,

it's a long way up there, and you'll probably have to camp at my place

to-night. You'll find the key hanging up over the door. Go in and make

yourself comfortable."



The deputy thanked him, and was about to ride on when Cavanagh added: "I

burned that Basque's tent and bedding for fear of contagion. His outfit

was worthless, anyhow. You'll find the sheep just above my cabin, and the

horse in my corral."



"The old man didn't take the horse, eh? Well, that settles it; he's sure

at one of the camps. Much obliged. Good-day."



As the two officers rode away Wetherford leaned heavily on his pommel and

stared at the ranger with wide eyes. His face was drawn and his lips dry.

"They'll get me! My God, they'll get me!" he said.



"Oh no, they won't," rejoined Cavanagh. "You're all right yet. They

suspected nothing. How could they, with you in uniform and in my

company?"



"All the same, I'm scared. That man Haines had his eyes on me every

minute. He saw right through me. They'll get me, and they'll charge me up

with that killing."



"No, they won't, I tell you," insisted the ranger. "Haines suspected

nothing. I had his eye. He never saw you before, and has nothing but a

description to go by. So cheer up. Your uniform and your position with me

will make you safe--perfectly safe. They'll find the Basque's camp burned

and the sheep in charge of the dog, and they'll fancy that you have

skipped across the range. But see here, old man," and he turned on him

sharply, "you didn't tell me the whole truth. You said you were out on

parole."



"I couldn't tell you the whole truth," replied the fugitive. "But I will

now. I was in for a life sentence. I was desperate for the open air and

homesick for the mountains, and I struck down one of the guards. I was

willing to do anything to get out. I thought if I could get back to this

country and my wife and child I'd be safe. I said I'd be willing to go

back to the pen if necessary, but I'm not. I can't do it. I'd die there in

that hell. You must save me for my girl's sake."



His voice and eyes were wild with a kind of desperate fury of fear, and

Cavanagh, moved to pity, assured him of his aid. "Now listen," he said.

"I'm going to shield you on account of your work for that poor shepherd

and for your daughter's sake. It's my duty to apprehend you, of course,

but I'm going to protect you. The safest thing for you to do is to go back

to my cabin. Ride slow, so as not to get there till they're gone. They'll

ride over to the sawmill, without doubt. If they come back this way,

remember that the deputy saw you only as a ragged old man with a long

beard, and that Haines has nothing but a printed description to go by.

There's no use trying to flee. You are a marked man in that uniform, and

you are safer right here with me than anywhere else this side of Chicago.

Haines is likely to cross the divide in the belief that you have gone that

way, and, if he does, you have no one but the deputy to deal with."



He succeeded at last in completely rousing the older man's courage.



Wetherford rose to meet his opportunity. "I'll do it," he said, firmly.



"That's the talk!" exclaimed Cavanagh, to encourage him. "You can throw

them off the track this time, and when I come back to-morrow I'll bring

some other clothing for you, and then we'll plan some kind of a scheme

that will get you out of the country. I'll not let them make a scapegoat

of you."



The ranger watched the fugitive, as he started back over the trail in this

desperate defiance of his pursuers, with far less confidence in the

outcome than he had put into words.



"All depends on Wetherford himself. If his nerve does not fail him, if

they take the uniform for granted, and do not carry the matter to the

Supervisor, we will pull the plan through." And in this hope he rode away

down the trail with bent head, for all this bore heavily upon his

relationship to the girl waiting for him in the valley. He had thought

Lize a burden, a social disability, but a convict father now made the

mother's faults of small account.



The nearer he drew to the meeting with Lee Virginia the more important

that meeting became. After all, woman is more important than war. The love

of home and the child persists through incredible vicissitudes; the

conqueror returns from foreign lands the lover still; and in the deep of

flooded mines and on the icy slopes of arctic promontories dead men have

been found holding in their rigid hands the pictured face of some fair

girl. In the presence of such irrefutable testimony, who shall deny the

persistence and the reality of love?



Cavanagh had seen Virginia hardly more than a score of times, and yet she

filled his thought, confused his plans, making of his brain a place of

doubt and hesitation. For her sake he had entered upon a plan to shield a

criminal, to harbor an escaped convict. It was of no avail to argue that

he was moved to shield Wetherford because of his heroic action on the

peak. He knew perfectly well that it was because he could not see that

fair, brave girl further disgraced by the discovery of her father's

identity, for in the searching inquiry which would surely follow his

secret would develop.



To marry her, knowing the character of her father and her mother, was

madness, and the voice within him warned him of his folly. "Pure water

cannot be drawn from corrupt sources," it is said. Nevertheless, the

thought of having the girl with him in the wilderness filled him with

divine recklessness. He was bewitched by the satin smoothness of her skin,

the liquid light of her eye, the curve of her cheek, the swell of her

bosom, and, most of all, by the involuntary movement of yielding which

betrayed her trust and her love. While still he debated, alternately

flushed with resolve to be happy and chilled by some strange dejection, he

met Swenson, the young guard who guarded the forest on the south Fork.



As he rode up, Cavanagh perceived in the other man's face something

profoundly serious. He did not smile in greeting, as was usual with him,

and, taking some letters from his pocket, passed them over in ominous

silence.



Cavanagh, upon looking them over, selected a letter evidently from Mrs.

Redfield, and stuffed the others into his coat-pocket. It was a closely

written letter, and contained in its first sentence something which deeply

affected him. Slipping from his saddle, he took a seat upon a stone, that

he might the better read and slowly digest what was contained therein. He

read on slowly, without any other movement than that which was required to

turn the leaves. It was a passionate plea from Eleanor Redfield against

his further entanglement with Lize Wetherford's girl.



"You cannot afford to marry her. You simply cannot. The old mother is too

dreadful, and may live on for years. The girl is attractive, I grant you,

but she's tainted. If there is anything in the law of heredity, she will

develop the traits of her mother or her father sooner or later. You must

not marry her, Ross; and if you cannot, what will you do? There's only one

thing to do. Keep away. I enclose a letter from your sister, pleading with

me to urge you to visit them this winter. She is not very strong, as you

can see by her writing, and her request will give you an excuse for

breaking off all connection with this girl. I am sorry for her, Ross, but

you can't marry her. You must not--you must not! Ride over and see us

soon, and we will talk it all out together."



He opened another letter, but did not read it. He was too profoundly

shaken by the first. He felt the pure friendship, the fine faith, and the

guardianship of the writer, and he acknowledged the good sense of all she

said, and yet--and yet--



When he looked up Swenson was staring down at him with a face of such

bitterness that it broke through even the absorbed and selfish meditation

into which he had been thrown.



"What's the matter, Swenson? You look as if you had lost a friend."



"I have," answered the guard, shortly, "and so have you. The chief is

out."



"What?"



"They've got him!" he exclaimed. "He's out."



Cavanagh sprang up. "I don't believe it! For what reason? Why?"



"Don't that letter tell you? The whole town is chuckling. Every criminal

and plug-ugly in the country is spitting in our faces this morning. Yes,

sir, the President has fired the chief--the man that built up this

Forestry Service. The whole works is goin' to hell, that's what it is.

We'll have all the coal thieves, water-power thieves, poachers, and

free-grass pirates piling in on us in mobs. They'll eat up the forest. I

see the finish of the whole business. They'll put some Western man in,

somebody they can work. Then where will we be?"



Cavanagh's young heart burned with indignation, but he tried to check the

other man's torrent of protest.



"I can't believe it. There's some mistake. Maybe they've made him the

secretary of the department or something."



"No, they haven't. They've thrown him out. They've downed him because he

tried to head off some thievery of coal-mines in Alaska." The man was

ready to weep with chagrin and indignant sorrow. His voice choked, and he

turned away to conceal his emotion.



Cavanagh put the letter back into his pocket and mounted his horse. "Well,

go on back to your work, Swenson. I'm going to town to get the Supervisor

on the wire, and find out what it all means."



He was almost as badly stunned by the significance of Swenson's news as

Swenson himself. Could it be possible that the man who had built up the

field service of the bureau--the man whose clean-handed patriotism had

held the boys together, making them every year more clearly a unit, a

little army of enthusiasts--could it be possible that the originator, the

organizer of this great plan, had been stricken down just when his

influence was of most account? He refused to believe it of an

administration pledged to the cause of conservation.



As he entered the town he was struck instantly by the change in the faces

turned toward him, in the jocular greetings hurled at him. "Hello, Mr.

Cossack! What do you think of your chief now?"



"This will put an end to your infernal nonsense," said another. "We'll

have a man in there now who knows the Western ways, and who's willing to

boom things along. The cork is out of your forest bottle."



Gregg was most offensive of all. "This means throwing open the forest to

anybody that wants to use it. Means an entire reversal of this fool

policy."



"Wait and see," replied Cavanagh, but his face was rigid with the

repression of the fear and anger he felt. With hands that trembled he

opened the door to the telephone-booth, closed it carefully behind him,

and called for the Supervisor's office. As soon as Redfield replied, he

burst forth in question: "Is it true that the chief is out?"



Redfield's voice was husky as he replied, "Yes, lad, they've got him."



"Good Lord! What a blow to the service!" exclaimed Cavanagh, with a groan

of sorrow and rage. "What is the President thinking of--to throw out the

only man who stood for the future, the man who had built up this corps,

who was its inspiration?" Then after a pause he added, with bitter

resolution: "This ends it for me. Here's where I get off."



"Don't say that, boy. We need you now more than ever."



"I'm through. I'm done with America--with the States. I shall write my

resignation at once. Send down another man to take my place."



Redfield's pleadings were of no avail. Cavanagh went directly from the

booth to the post-office, and there, surrounded by jeering and exultant

citizens, he penned his resignation and mailed it. Then, with stern and

contemptuous face, he left the place, making no reply to the jeers of his

enemies, and, mounting his horse, mechanically rode away out upon the

plains, seeking the quiet, open places in order to regain calmness and

decision. He did not deliberately ride away from Lee Virginia, but as he

entered upon the open country he knew that he was leaving her as he was

leaving the forests. He had cut himself off from her as he had cut himself

off from the work he loved. His heart was swollen big within his breast.

He longed for the return of "the Colonel" to the White House. "What manner

of ruler is this who is ready to strike down the man whose very name means

conservation, and who in a few years would have made this body of forest

rangers the most effective corps of its size in the world?" He groaned

again, and his throat ached with the fury of his indignation.



"Dismissed for insubordination," the report said. "In what way? Only in

making war on greed, in checking graft, in preserving the heritage of the

people."



The lash that cut deepest was the open exultation of the very men whose

persistent attempt to appropriate public property the chief had helped to

thwart. "Redfield will go next. The influence that got the chief will get

Hugh. He's too good a man to escape. Then, as Swenson says, the thieves

will roll in upon us to slash, and burn, and corrupt. What a country! What

a country!"



As he reached the end of this line of despairing thought, he came back to

the question of his remaining personal obligations. Wetherford must be

cared for, and then--and then! there was Virginia waiting for him at this

moment. In his weakness he confessed that he had never intended to marry

her, and yet he had never deliberately intended to do her wrong. He had

always stopped short of the hideous treachery involved in despoiling her

young love. "And for her sake, to save her from humiliation, I will help

her father to freedom."



This brought him back to the hideous tragedy of the heights, and with that

thought the last shred of faith in the sense of justice in the State

vanished.



"They will never discover those murderers. They will permit this outrage

to pass unpunished, like the others. It will be merely another 'dramatic

incident' in the history of the range."



His pony of its own accord turned, and by a circuitous route headed at

last for the home canon as if it knew its master's wavering mind. Cavanagh

observed what he was doing, but his lax hand did not intervene. Helpless

to make the decision himself, he welcomed the intervention of the homing

instinct of his horse. With bent head and brooding face he returned to the

silence of the trail and the loneliness of the hills.





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