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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCavanaugh, Forest Ranger: A Romance Of The Mountain West - Chapter 8. The Second Attack
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Cavanaugh, Forest Ranger: A Romance Of The Mountain West - Chapter 8. The Second Attack Post by :salonmar Category :Long Stories Author :Hamlin Garland Date :May 2012 Read :2303

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Cavanaugh, Forest Ranger: A Romance Of The Mountain West - Chapter 8. The Second Attack

CHAPTER VIII. THE SECOND ATTACK

Lee was waiting on the porch of the hotel, tense with excitement, straining her ears and eyes to see what was taking place.

The night had started with a small sickle of moon, but this had dropped below the range, leaving the street dark, save where the lights from the windows of the all-night eating-houses and saloons lay out upon the walk, and, while she stood peering out, the sound of rancorous howling and shrill whooping came to her ears with such suggestion of ferocity that she shivered.

Every good and honorable trait seemed lost out of her neighbors. She saw the whole country but as a refuge for criminals, ungovernable youths, and unsexed women--a wilderness of those who had no regard for any code of morals which interfered with their own desires. Her memories of the past freshened as she listened. In such wise she had shuddered, as a child, while troops of celebrating cowboys rode up and down the streets. In such wise, too, the better (and more timid) element of the town had put out their lights and retired, leaving their drunken helots and the marshal to fight it out in vague tumult.

A few of the hotel guests had gone to bed, but the women were up, excited and nervous, starting at every fresh outburst of whooping, knowing that their sons or husbands were out in the street "to see the fun," and that they might meet trouble.

At last Lee discerned her mother returning from Halsey's, followed by three men. Withdrawing from the little porch whereon she had been standing, she reentered the house to meet her mother in the hall. "Where is Mr. Cavanagh?" she asked.

"Out in the dining-room. You see, Mike Halsey is no kind o' use. He vamoosed and left Ross down there alone, with his two prisoners and the lights likely to be turned out on him. So I offered the caffy as a calaboose. They are sure in for a long and tedious night."

Lee was alarmed at her mother's appearance. "You must go to bed. You look ghastly."

"I reckon I'd better lie down for a little while, but I can't sleep. Ross may need me. There isn't a man to help him but me, and that loafer Ballard is full of gall. He's got it in for Ross, and will make trouble if he can."

"What can we do?"

"Shoot!" replied Lize, with dry brevity. "I wouldn't mind a chance to plug some of the sweet citizens of this town. I owe them one or two."

With this sentence in her ears, Lee Virginia went to her bed, but not to slumber. Her utter inability either to control her mother's action or to influence that of the mob added to her uneasiness.

The singing, shouting, trampling of the crowd went on, and once a group of men halted just outside her window, and she heard Neill Ballard noisily, drunkenly arguing as to the most effective method of taking the prisoners. His utterances, so profane and foul, came to her like echoes from out an inferno. The voices were all at the moment like the hissing of serpents, the snarling of tigers. How dared creatures of this vile type use words of contempt against Ross Cavanagh?

"Come on, boys!" urged Ballard, his voice filled with reckless determination. "Let's run him."

As they passed, the girl sprang up and went to her mother's room to warn her of the threatened attack.

Lize was already awake and calmly loading a second revolver by the light of the electric bulb.

"What are you doing?" the girl asked, her blood chilling at sight of the weapon.

"Hell's to pay out there, and I'm going to help pay it." A jarring blow was heard. "Hear that! They're breaking in--" She started to leave the room.

Lee stopped her. "Where are you going?"

"To help Ross. Here!" She thrust the handle of a smaller weapon into Lee's hand. "Ed Wetherford's girl ought to be able to take care of herself. Come on!"

With a most unheroic horror benumbing her limbs, Lee followed her mother through the hall. The sound of shouts and the trampling of feet could be heard, and she came out into the restaurant just in time to photograph upon her brain a scene whose significance was at once apparent. On a chair between his two prisoners, and confronting Ballard at the head of a crowd of frenzied villains, stood the ranger, a gleaming weapon in his hand, a look of resolution on his face.

What he had said, or what he intended to do, she did not learn, for her mother rushed at the invaders with the mad bravery of a she-bear. "Get out of here!" she snarled, thrusting her revolver into the very mouth of the leader.

They all fell back in astonishment and fear.

Ross leaped to her side. "Leave them to me!" he said. "I'll clear the room."

"Not on your life! This is my house. I have the right to smash the fools." And she beat them over the heads with her pistol-barrel.

Recognizing that she was minded to kill, they retreated over the threshold, and Ross, drawing the door close behind them, turned to find Lee Virginia confronting Edwards, who had attempted to escape into the kitchen. The girl's face was white, but the eye of her revolver stared straight and true into her prisoner's face.

With a bound Ross seized him and flung him against the wall. "Get back there!" he shouted. "You must take your medicine with your boss."

The old fellow hurriedly replaced his ragged hat, and, folding his arms, sank back into his chair with bowed head, while Lize turned upon Joe Gregg. "What the devil did you go into this kind of deal for? You knew what the game laws was, didn't you? Your old dad is all for State regulation, and here you are breaking a State law. Why don't you stand up for the code like a sport?"

Joe, who had been boasting of the smiles he had drawn from Lee, did not relish this tongue-lashing from her mother, but, assuming a careless air, he said, "I'm all out of smokes; get me a box, that's a good old soul."

Lize regarded him with the expression of one nonplussed. "You impudent little cub!" she exclaimed. "What you need is a booting!"

The ranger addressed himself to Lee. "I want to thank you for a very opportune intervention. I didn't know you could handle a gun so neatly."

She flushed with pleasure. "Oh yes, I can shoot. My father taught me when I was only six years old."

As she spoke, Ross caught the man Edwards studying them with furtive glance, but, upon being observed, he resumed his crouching attitude, which concealed his face beneath the rim of his weather-worn hat. It was evident that he was afraid of being recognized. He had the slinking air of the convict, and his form, so despairing in its lax lines, appealed to Lee with even greater poignancy than his face. "I'm sorry," she said to him, "but it was my duty to help Mr. Cavanagh."

He glanced up with a quick sidewise slant. "That's all right, miss; I should have had sense enough to keep out of this business." He spoke with difficulty, and his voice was hoarse with emotion.

Lize turned to Lee. "The Doc said 'no liquor,' but I guess here's where I draw one--I feel faint."

Ross hurried to her side, while young Gregg tendered a handsome flask. "Here's something."

Lize put it away. "Not from you. Just reach under my desk, Ross; you'll find some brandy there. That's it," she called, as he produced a bottle. Clutching it eagerly, she added: "They say it's poison, but it's my meat to-night."

She was, in truth, very pale, and her hands were trembling in a weakness that went to her daughter's heart. Lee admired her bravery, her manlike readiness of action, but her words, her manner (now that the stress of the battle was over), hurt and shamed her. Little remained of the woman in Lize, and the old sheep-herder eyed her with furtive curiosity.

"I was afraid you'd shoot," Lize explained to Ross, "and I didn't want you to muss up your hands on the dirty loafers. I had the right to kill; they were trespassers, and I'd 'a' done it, too."

"I don't think they intended to actually assault me," he said, "but it's a bit discouraging to find the town so indifferent over both the breaking of the laws and the doings of a drunken mob. I'm afraid the most of them are a long way from law-abiding people yet."

Joe, who did not like the position in which he stood as respecting Lee, here made an offer of aid. "I don't suppose my word is any good now, but if you'll let me do it I'll go out and round up Judge Higley. I think I know where he is."

To this Lize objected. "You can't do that, Ross; you better hold the fort right here till morning."

Lee was rather sorry, too, for young Gregg, who bore his buffeting with the imperturbable face of the heroes of his class. He had gone into this enterprise with much the same spirit in which he had stolen gates and misplaced signs during his brief college career, and he was now disposed (in the presence of a pretty girl) to carry it out with undiminished impudence. "It only means a fine, anyway," he assured himself.

Cavanagh did not trust Gregg, either, and as this was the first time he had been called upon to arrest men for killing game out of season, he could not afford to fail of any precaution. Tired and sleepy as he was, he must remain on guard. "But you and your daughter must go to bed at once," he urged.

Lize, under the spur of her dram, talked on with bitter boldness. "I'm going to get out o' this town as soon as I can sell. I won't live in it a minute longer than I have to. It used to have men into it; now they're only hobos. It's neither the old time nor the new; it's just a betwixt and between, with a lot o' young cubs like Joe Gregg pretendin' to be tough. I never thought I'd be sighin' for horse-cars, but these rowdy chumps like Neill Ballard give me a pain. Not one of 'em has sand enough to pull a gun in the open, but they'd plug you from a dark alley or fire out of a crowd. It was different in the old days. I've seen men walk out into that street, face each other, and open fire quiet as molasses. But now it's all talk and blow. The _men have all grown old or got out."

To this Gregg listened with expressionless visage, his eyes dreamily fixed on Lee's face; but his companion, the old herder, seemed to palpitate with shame and fear. And Ross had the feeling at the moment that in this ragged, unkempt old hobo was the skeleton of one of the old-time heroes. He was wasted with drink and worn by wind and rain, but he was very far from being commonplace. "Here they come again!" called Lize, as the hurry of feet along the walk threatened another attack. Ross Cavanagh again drew his revolver and stood at guard, and Lize recovering her own weapon took a place by his side.

With the strength of a bear the new assailant shook the bolted door. "Let me in!" he roared.

"Go to hell!" replied Lize, calmly.

"It's dad!" called young Gregg. "Go away, you chump."

"Let me in or I'll smash this door!" retorted Gregg.

"You smash that door, old Bullfrog," announced Lize, "and I'll carry one of your lungs away. I know your howl--it don't scare me. I've stood off one whole mob to-night, and I reckon I'm good for you. If you want to get in here you hunt up the judge of this town and the constable."

After a pause Sam called, "Are you there, son?"

"You bet he is," responded Lize, "and here he'll stay."

Joe added: "And you'd better take the lady's advice, pop. She has the drop on you."

The old rancher muttered a fierce curse while Ross explained the situation. "I'm as eager to get rid of these culprits as any one can be, but they must be taken by proper authority. Bring a writ from the magistrate and you may have them and welcome."

Gregg went away without further word, and Lize said: "He'll find Higley if he's in town; and he _is in town, for I saw him this afternoon. He's hiding out to save himself trouble."

Lee Virginia, with an understanding of what the ranger had endured, asked: "Can't I get you something to eat? Would you like some coffee?"

"I would, indeed," he answered, and his tone pleased her.

She hurried away to get it while Cavanagh disposed his prisoners behind a couple of tables in the corner. "I guess you're in for a night of it," he remarked, grimly. "So make yourselves as comfortable as you can. Perhaps your experience may be a discouragement to others of your kind."

Lee returned soon with a pot of fresh coffee and some sandwiches, the sight of which roused young Gregg to impudent remark. "Well, notice that! And we're left out!" But Edwards shrank into the shadow, as if the light hurt him.

Ross thanked Lee formally, but there was more than gratitude in his glance, and she turned away to hide her face from other eyes. Strange place it was for the blooming of love's roses, but they were in her cheeks as she faced her mother; and Lize, with fresh acknowledgment of her beauty, broke out again: "Well, this settles it. I'm going to get out of this town, dearie. I'm done. This ends the cattle country for me. I don't know how I've put up with these yapps all these years. I've been robbed and insulted and spit upon just long enough. I won't have you dragged into this mess. I ought to have turned you back the day you landed here."

The old man in the corner was listening, straining his attention in order to catch every word she uttered, and Ross again caught a gleam in his eyes which puzzled him. Before he had time to turn his wonder over in his mind they all caught the sound of feet along the walk, but this time the sound was sedate and regular, like the movement of police.

Both prisoners rose to their feet as Cavanagh again stood alert. The feet halted; a sharp rap sounded on the door.

"Who's there?" demanded Lize.

"The law!" replied a wheezy voice. "Open in the name of the law!"

"It's old Higley," announced Lize. "Open the door, Ross."

"Come in, Law," she called, ironically, as the justice appeared. "You look kind of mice-eaten, but you're all the law this blame town can sport. Come in and do your duty."

Higley (a tall man, with a rusty brown beard, very much on his dignity) entered the room, followed by a short, bullet-headed citizen in a rumpled blue suit with a big star on his breast. Behind on the sidewalk Ballard and a dozen of his gang could be seen. Sam Gregg, the moving cause of this resurrection of law and order, followed the constable, bursting out big curses upon his son. "You fool," he began, "I warned you not to monkey with them sheep. You--"

Higley had the grace to stop that. "Let up on the cuss-words, Sam; there are ladies present," said he, nodding toward Lee. Then he opened upon Cavanagh. "Well, sir, what's all this row? What's your charge against these men?"

"Killing mountain sheep. I caught them with the head of a big ram upon their pack."

"Make him show his commission," shouted Gregg. "He's never been commissioned. He's no game warden."

Higley hemmed. "I--ah--Oh, his authority is all right, Sam; I've seen it. If he can prove that these men killed the sheep, we'll have to act."

Cavanagh briefly related how he had captured the men on the trail. "The head of the ram is at the livery barn with my horse."

"How about that?" asked Higley, turning to Joe.

"I guess that's right," replied the insolent youth. "We killed the sheep all right."

Higley was in a corner. He didn't like to offend Gregg, and yet the case was plain. He met the issue blandly. "Marshal, take these men into custody!" Then to Ross: "We'll relieve you of their care, Mr. Cavanagh. You may appear to-morrow at nine."

It was a farcical ending to a very arduous thirty-six-hour campaign, and Ross, feeling like a man who, having rolled a huge stone to the top of a hill, has been ordered to drop it, said, "I insist on the maximum penalty of the law, Justice Higley, especially for this man!" He indicated Joe Gregg.

"No more sneaking, Higley," added Lize, uttering her distrust in blunt phrase. "You put these men through or I'll make you trouble."

Higley turned, and with unsteady solemnity saluted. "Fear not my government, madam," said he, and so made exit.

After the door had closed behind them, Cavanagh bitterly complained. "I've delivered my prisoners over into the hands of their friends. I feel like a fool. What assurance have I that they will ever be punished?"

"You have Higley's word," retorted Lize, with ironic inflection. "He'll fine 'em as much as ten dollars apiece, and confiscate the head, which is worth fifty."

"No matter what happens now, you've done your duty," added Lee Virginia, with intent to comfort him.

Lize, now that the stress of the battle was over, fell a-tremble. "I reckon I'll have to go to bed," she admitted. "I'm all in. This night service is wearing."

Ross was alarmed at the sudden droop of her head. "Lean on me," he said, "it's my turn to be useful."

She apologized. "I can't stand what I could once," she confessed, as he aided her into the hotel part of the building. "It's my nerve--seem's like it's all gone. I go to pieces like a sick girl."

She did, indeed, resemble the wreck of a woman as she lay out upon her bed, her hands twitching, her eyes closed, and Ross was profoundly alarmed. "You need the doctor," he urged. "Let me bring him."

"No," she said, huskily, but with decision, "I'm only tired--I'll be all right soon. Send the people away; tell 'em to go to bed."

For half an hour Cavanagh remained in the room waiting to see if the doctor's services would be required, but at the end of that time, as she had apparently fallen asleep, he rose and tiptoed out into the hall.

Lee followed, and they faced each other in such intimacy as the shipwrecked feel after the rescue. The house was still astir with the feet of those to whom the noises of the night had been a terror or a lure, and their presence, so far from being a comfort, a protection, filled the girl's heart with fear and disgust. The ranger explained the outcome of the turmoil, and sent the excited folk to their beds with the assurance that all was quiet and that their landlady was asleep.

When they were quite alone Lee said: "You must not go out into the streets to-night."

"There's no danger. These hoodlums would not dare to attack me."

"Nevertheless, you shall not go!" she declared. "Wait a moment," she commanded, and reentered her mother's room.

As he stood there at Lize Wetherford's door, and his mind went back over her brave deed, which had gone far to atone for her vulgarity, his respect for her deepened. Her resolute insistence upon law showed a complete change of front. "There is more good in her than I thought," he admitted, and it gave him pleasure, for it made Lee Virginia's character just that much more dependable. He thrilled with a new and wistful tenderness as the girl opened the door and stepped out, close beside him.

"Her breathing is quieter," she whispered. "I think she's going to sleep. It's been a terrible night! You must be horribly tired. I will find you some place to sleep."

"It has been a strenuous campaign," he admitted. "I've been practically without sleep for three nights, but that's all in my job. I won't mind if Higley will 'soak' those fellows properly."

She looked troubled. "I don't know what to do about a bed for you; everything is taken--except the couch in the front room."

"Don't trouble, I beg of you. I can pitch down anywhere. I'm used to hard beds. I must be up early to-morrow, anyway."

"Please don't go till after breakfast," she smiled, wanly, "I may need you."

He understood. "What did the doctor say?"

"He said mother was in a very low state of vitality and that she must be very careful, which was easy enough to say. But how can I get her to rest and to diet? You have seen how little she cares for the doctor's orders. He told her not to touch alcohol."

"She is more like a man than a woman," he answered.

She led the way into the small sitting-room which lay at the front of the house, and directly opposite the door of her own room. It was filled with shabby parlor furniture, and in one corner stood a worn couch. "I'm sorry, but I can offer nothing better," she said. "Every bed is taken, but I have plenty of blankets."

There was something delightfully suggestive in being thus waited upon by a young and handsome woman, and the ranger submitted to it with the awkward grace of one unaccustomed to feminine care. The knowledge that the girl was beneath him in birth, and that she was considered to be (in a sense) the lovely flower of a corrupt stock, made the manifest innocency of her voice and eyes the more appealing. He watched her moving about the room with eyes in which a furtive flame glowed.

"This seems a long way from that dinner at Redfield's, doesn't it?" he remarked, as she turned from spreading the blankets on the couch.

"It is another world," she responded, and her face took on a musing gravity.

Then they faced each other in silence, each filled with the same delicious sense of weakness, of danger, reluctant to say good-night, longing for the closer touch which dawning love demanded, and yet--something in the girl defended her, defeated him.

"You must call me if I can be of any help," he repeated, and his voice was tremulous with feeling.

"I will do so," she answered.

Still they did not part. His voice was very tender as he said, "I don't like to see you exposed to such experiences."

"I was not afraid--only for you a little," she answered.

"The Redfields like you. Eleanor told me she would gladly help you. Why do you stay here?"

"I cannot leave my mother."

"I'm not so sure of your duty in that regard. She got on without you for ten years. You have a right to consider yourself. You don't belong here."

"Neither do you," she retorted.

"Oh yes, I do--at least, the case is different with me; my work is here. It hurts me to think of going back to the hills, leaving you here in the midst of these wolves."

He was talking now in the low, throbbing utterance of a man carried out of himself. "It angers me to think that the worst of these loafers, these drunken beasts, can glare at you--can speak to you. They have no right to breathe the same air with one like you."

She did not smile at this; his voice, his eyes were filled with the gravity of the lover whose passion is not humorous. Against his training, his judgment, he was being drawn into closer and closer union with this daughter of violence, and he added: "You may not see me in the morning."

"You must not go without seeing my mother. You must have your breakfast with us. It hurt us to think you didn't come to us for supper."

Her words meant little, but the look in her eyes, the music in her voice, made him shiver. He stammered: "I--I must return to my duties to-morrow. I should go back to-night."

"You mustn't do that. You can't do that. You are to appear before the judge."

He smiled. "That is true. I'd forgotten that."

Radiant with relief, she extended her hand. "Good-night, then. You must sleep."

He took her hand and drew her toward him, then perceiving both wonder and fear in her eyes, he conquered himself. "Good-night," he repeated, dropping her hand, but his voice was husky with its passion.

Tired as he was, the ranger could not compose himself to sleep. The memory of the girl's sweet face, the look of half-surrender in her eyes, the knowledge that she loved him, and that she was lying but a few yards from him, made slumber impossible. At the moment she seemed altogether admirable, entirely worthy to be won.

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