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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Forest Ranger - Chapter 6
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The Forest Ranger - Chapter 6 Post by :andrewtan94 Category :Long Stories Author :Hamlin Garland Date :May 2012 Read :1952

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The Forest Ranger - Chapter 6

CHAPTER VI

Meanwhile the fugitives on the westbound express were nearing the town in charge of the marshal of Lone Rock, and Helen (who had telegraphed her plight to Hanscom and had received no reply) was in silent dread of the ordeal which awaited her. Her confidence in the ranger had not failed, but, realizing how difficult it was to reach him, she had small hope of seeing his kindly face at the end of her journey.

"He may be riding some of those lonely heights this moment," she thought, and wondered what he would do if he knew that she was returning, a prisoner. "He would come to me," she said, in answer to her own question, and the thought that in all that mighty spread of peak and plain he was the one gracious and kindly soul lent a kind of glamour to his name. "After all, a loyal soul like his is worth more than any mine or mountain," she acknowledged.

The marshal, a small, quaint, middle-aged person with squinting glance and bushy hair, was not only very much in awe of his lovely prisoner, but so accustomed to going about in his shirt-sleeves that he suffered acutely in the confinement of his heavy coat. Nevertheless, in spite of his discomfort, he was very considerate in a left-handed way, and did his best to conceal the official relationship between himself and his wards. He not only sat behind them all the way, but he made no attempt at conversation, and for these favors Helen was genuinely grateful. Only as they neared the station did he venture to address her.

"Now the sheriff will probably be on hand," he said; "and if he is I'll just naturally turn you over to him; but in case he isn't I'll have to take you right over to the jail. I'm sorry, but that's my orders. So if you'll kindly step along just ahead of me, people may not notice you're in my charge."

Helen assured him that she would obey every suggestion, and that she deeply appreciated his courtesy.

Kauffman's spirit was sadly broken. His age, the rough usage of the day before, and this unwarranted second arrest had combined to take away from him a large part of his natural courage. He insisted that Helen should wire her Eastern friends, stating the case and appealing for aid.

"We need help now," he said. "We are being persecuted."

Helen, however, remembering Carmody's kindness, said: "Don't be discouraged, daddy. It may be that we are only witnesses and that after we have testified we shall be released. Wait until to-morrow; I hate to announce new troubles to my relatives."

"But we shall need money," he said, anxiously. "We have only a small balance."

It was nearly six o'clock as they came winding down between the grassy buttes which formed the gateway to the town, and the girl recalled, with a wave of self-pity, the feeling of exaltation with which she had first looked upon that splendid purple-walled canyon rising to the west. It had appealed to her at that time as the gateway to a mystic sanctuary. Now it was but the lair of thieves and murderers, ferocious and obscene. Only one kindly human soul dwelt among those majestic, forested heights.

She was pale, sad, but entirely composed, and to Hanscom very beautiful, as she appeared in the vestibule of the long day-coach, but her face flushed with pleasure at sight of him, and as she grasped his hand and looked into his fine eyes something warm and glowing flooded her heart.

"Oh, how relieved I am to find you here!" she exclaimed, and her lips trembled in confirmation of her words. "I did not expect you. I was afraid my telegram had not reached you."

"Did you telegraph me?" he asked. "I didn't get it--but I'm here all the same," he added, and fervently pressed the hands which she had allowed him to retain.

Oblivious of the curious crowd, she faced him in a sudden realization of her dependence upon him, and her gratitude for his stark manliness was so deep, so full, she could have put her hands about his neck. How dependable, how simple, how clear-eyed he was!

He on his part found her greatly changed in both face and voice. She seemed clothed in some new, strange dignity, and yet her glance was less remote, less impersonal than before and her pleasure at sight of him deeply gratifying. In spite of himself his spirits lightened.

"I have a lot to tell you," he began, but the sheriff courteously interposed:

"Put her right into my machine--You go too, Hanscom."

"I couldn't prevent this," he began, sorrowfully, as he took a seat beside her; "but you will not be put into a cell. Mrs. Throop will treat you as a guest."

The self-accusation in his voice moved her to put her hand on his arm in caressing reassurance. "Please don't blame yourself about that," she said. "I don't mind. It's only for the night, anyway. Let us think of to-morrow."

The ride was short and Mrs. Throop, a tall, dark, rather gloomy woman, came to the door to meet her guests with the air of an old-fashioned village hostess, serious but kindly.

"Mrs. Throop," said her husband. "This is Miss McLaren and her father, Mr. Kauffman. Make them as comfortable as you can."

Mrs. Throop greeted Helen with instant kindly interest. "I am pleased to know you. Come right in. You must be tired."

"I am," confessed the girl, "very tired and very dusty. I hope you always put your prisoners under the hose."

"I'll give you my spare chamber," replied the matron, with abstracted glance. "It's next the bath-room. I'm sorry, but I guess your father'll have to go down below."

"What do you mean by that?"

The sheriff explained, "The cells are below."

Helen was instantly alarmed. "Oh no!" she protested. "My father is not at all well. Please give him my room. I'll go down below."

"It won't be necessary for either of you to go below," interposed the sheriff. "Hanscom, I'll put Kauffman in your charge. You can take him to your boarding-house if you want to."

"You're very kind," said Helen, with such feeling that the sheriff reacted to it. "I hope it won't get you into trouble."

"Oh, I don't think it will," he said, cheerily. "So long as I know he's safe, it don't matter where he sleeps."

"Well, you'd better all stay to supper, anyhow," said Mrs. Throop. "It's ready and waiting."

No one but Helen perceived anything unusual in this hearty offhand invitation. To Hanscom it was just another instance of Western hospitality, and to the sheriff a common service, and so a few minutes later they all sat down at the generous table, in such genial mood (with Mrs. Throop doing her best to make them feel at home) that all their troubles became less than shadows.

Although disinclined to go into a detailed story of his return to the hills, Hanscom described the capture of the housebreakers and, in spite of a careful avoidance of anything which might sound like boasting, disclosed the fact that at the moment when he threw open the door of the cabin he had exposed himself to the weapons of a couple of reckless young outlaws and might have been killed.

"You shouldn't have risked that," Helen protested. "Our poor possessions are not worth such cost."

"I couldn't endure the notion of those hoodlums looting the place," he explained.

At the thought of Rita (who was occupying a cell in the women's ward) Helen grew a little sad, for, according to the ranger's own account, she was hardly more than a child, and had been led away by her first passion.

At the close of the meal, upon Mrs. Throop's housewifely invitation, they all took seats in the "front room" and Helen quite forgot that she was a prisoner, and the ranger almost returned to boyhood as he faced the marble-topped table, the cabinet organ, and the enlarged family portraits on the walls, for of such quality were his mother's adornments in the old home at Circle Bend. Something vaguely intimate and a little confusing filled his mind as he listened to the voice of the woman before him. Only by an effort could he connect her with the cabin in the high valley. She was becoming each moment more alien, more aloof, but at the same time more desirable, like the girls he used to worship in the church choir.

Speech was difficult with him, and he could only repeat: "It makes me feel like a rabbit to think I could not keep you from coming here, and the worst of it is I had nothing to offer as security. All I have in the world is a couple of horses, a saddle, and a typewriter."

"It really doesn't matter," she replied in hope of easing his mind. "See how they treat us! They know we're unjustly held and that we shall be set free to-morrow."

Strange to say, this did not lighten his gloom. "And then--you will go away," he said, soberly.

"Yes; we cannot remain here."

"And I shall never see you again," he pursued.

Her face betrayed a trace of sympathetic pain. "Don't say that! _Never is such a long time."

"And you'll forget us all out here--"

"I shall never forget what you have done, be sure of that," she replied.

Nevertheless, despite the tenderness of her tone and her gratitude openly expressed, something disconcerting had come into her eyes and voice. She was more and more the lady and less and less the recluse, and as she receded and rose to this higher plane, the ranger lost heart, almost without knowing the cause of it.

At last he turned to Kauffman. "I suppose we'd better go," he said. "You look tired."

"I am tired," the old man admitted. "Is it far to your hotel?"

"Only a little way."

"Good night," said Helen, extending her hand with a sudden light in her face which transported the trailer. "We'll meet again in the morning."

He took her hand in his with a clutch in his throat which made reply difficult; but his glance expressed the adoration which filled his heart.

* * * * *

Kauffman left the house, walking like a man of seventy. "My bones are not broken, but they are weary," he said, dejectedly; "I fear I am to be ill."

"Oh, you'll be all right in the morning," responded the ranger much more cheerily than he really felt.

"Is it not strange that any reasonable being should accuse my daughter and me of that monstrous deed?"

"That is because no one knows you. When the towns-folk come to know you and her they will think differently. That is why I am glad the coroner is to hold his court here in the town."

"Well, if only we are set free--We shall be set free, eh?"

"Surely? But what will you do then? Where will you go?"

"I hope Helen will return to her people." He sighed deeply. "It was all very foolish to come out here. But it was natural. She was stricken, and sensitive--so morbidly sensitive--to pity, to gossip. Then, too, a romantic notion about the healing power of the mountains was in her thought. She wished to go where no one knew her--where she could live the simple life and regain serenity and health. She said: 'I will not go to a convent. I will make a sanctuary of the green hills.'"

"Something very sorrowful must have happened--" said Hanscom, hesitatingly.

The old man's voice was very grave as he replied: "Not sorrow, but treachery," he said. "A treachery so cruel, a betrayal so complete, that when she lost her lover and her most intimate girl friend (one nearer than a sister) she lost faith in all men and all women--almost in God. I cannot tell you more of her story--" He paused a moment, then added: "She believes in you--she already trusts you--and some time, perhaps, she herself will tell the story of her betrayal. Till then you must be content with this--she is here through no fault or weakness of her own."

The ranger, pondering deeply, dared not put into definite form the precise disloyalty which had driven a broken-hearted girl to seek the shelter of the hills, but he understood her mood. Hating her kind and believing that she could lose herself in the immensity of the landscape, she had come to the mountains only to be cruelly disillusioned. The Kitsongs had taught her that in the wilderness a woman is more noticeable than a peak.

Just why she selected the Shellfish for her retreat remained to be explained, and to this question Kauffman answered: "We came here because a friend of ours, a poet, who had once camped in the valley, told us of the wonderful beauty of the place. It is beautiful--quite as beautiful as it was reported--but a beautiful landscape, it appears, does not make men over into its image. It makes them seem only the more savage."

Hanscom, refraining from further question, helped the old man up the stairway to his bed and then returned to the barroom, in which several of the regular boarders were loafing. One or two greeted him familiarly, and it was evident that they all knew something of the capture and were curious to learn more. His answers to their questions were brief: "You'll learn all about it to-morrow," he said.

Simpson, the proprietor of the hotel, jocosely remarked: "Well, Hans, as near as I can figure it out, to-morrow is to be your busy day, but you'd better lay low to-night. The Kitsongs'll get ye, if ye don't watch out."

"I'll watch out. What do you hear?"

"The whole of Shellfish Valley is coming in to see that your Dutchman and his girl gets what's coming to them. Abe has just left here, looking for you. He's turribly wrought up. Says you had no right to arrest them youngsters and he'll make you sorry you did."

One of the clerks dryly remarked: "They's a fierce interest in this inquest. Carmody will sure have to move over to the court-house. Gee! but he feels his feed! For one day, anyhow, he's bigger than the _en_tire County Court."

The ranger had a clearer vision of his own as well as Helen's situation as he replied: "Well, I'm going over to see him. When it comes to a show-down he's on my side, for he needs the witnesses I've brought him."

"Abe sure has got it in for you, Hans. Your standing up for the Dutchman and his woman was bad enough, but for you to arrest Hank without a warrant has set the old man a-poppin'." He glanced at the ranger's empty belt. "Better take your gun along."

"No; I'm safer without it," he replied. "I might fly mad and hurt somebody."

The loafers, though eager to witness the clash, did not rise from their chairs till after Hanscom left. No one wished to betray unseemly haste.

"There'll be something doing when they meet," said Simpson. "Let's follow him up and see the fun."

As he walked away in the darkness the ranger began to fear--not for himself, but for Helen. The unreasoning ferocity with which the valley still pursued her was appalling. For the first time in his life he strongly desired money. He felt his weakness, his ignorance. In the face of the trial--which should mean complete vindication for the girl, but which might prove to be another hideous miscarriage of justice--he was of no more value than a child. Carmody had seemed friendly, but some evil influence had evidently changed his attitude.

"What can I do?" the ranger asked himself, and was only able to answer, "Nothing."

From a sober-sided, capable boy, content to do a thing well, he had developed at thirty into a serious but singularly unambitious man. Loving the outdoor life and being sufficiently resourceful to live alone in a wilderness cabin without becoming morbid, he had naturally drifted into the Forest Service. Without being slothful, he had been foolishly unaspiring, and he saw that now. "I must bestir myself," he said, sharply. "I must wake up. I must climb. I must get somewhere."

He took close grip on himself. "Carmody must squeeze the truth out of these youngsters to-morrow, and I must help him do it. If Brinkley can't help, I must have somebody else." And yet deep in his heart was the belief that the sight of Helen as she took the witness-chair would do more to clear her name than any lawyer could accomplish by craft or passionate speech.

At the door of Carmody's office he came upon Kitsong and a group of his followers, waiting for him. Abe was in a most dangerous mood, and his hearers, also in liquor, were listening with approval to the description of what he intended to do to the ranger.

"You can't arrest a man without a warrant," he was repeating. "Hanscom's no sheriff--he's only a dirty deputy game-warden. I'll make him wish he was a goat before I get through with him."

Although to advance meant war, Hanscom had no thought of retreating. He kept his way, and as the band of light which streamed from the saloon window fell on him one of the watchers called out, "There's the ranger now."

Kitsong turned, and with an oath of savage joy advanced upon the forester. "You're the man I have been waiting for," he began, with a menacing snarl.

"Well," Hanscom retorted, "here I am. What can I do for you?"

His quiet tone instantly infuriated the ruffian. Shaking his fist close to the ranger's nose, he shouted: "I'll do for you, you loafer! What right had you to arrest them kids? What right had you to help them witnesses to the train? You're off your beat, and you'd better climb right back again."

Righteous wrath flamed hot in the ranger's breast. "You keep your fist out of my face or I'll smash your jaw," he answered, and his voice was husky with passion. "Get out of my way!" he added, as Kitsong shifted ground, deliberately blocking his path.

"You can't bluff me!" roared the older man. "I'm going to have you jugged for false arrest. You'll find you can't go round taking people to jail at your own sweet will."

The battle song in the old man's voice aroused the street. His sympathizers pressed close. All their long-felt, half-hidden hatred of the ranger as a Federal officer flamed from their eyes, and Hanscom regretted the absence of his revolver.

Though lean and awkward, he was one of those deceptive men whose muscles are folded in broad, firm flakes like steel springs. A sense of danger thrilled his blood, but he did not show it--he could not afford to show it. Therefore he merely backed up against the wall of the building and with clenched hands awaited their onset.

Something in his silence and self-control daunted his furious opponents. They hesitated.

"If you weren't a government officer," blustered Abe, "I'd waller ye--But I'll get ye! I'll put ye where that Dutchman and his--"

Hanscom's fist crashing like a hammer against the rancher's jaw closed his teeth on the vile epithet which filled his mouth, and even as he reeled, stunned by this blow, the ranger's left arm flashed in another savage swing, and Abe, stunned by the swift attack, would have fallen into the gutter had not one of his gang caught and supported him.

"Kill him! Kill the dog!" shouted one of the others, and in his voice was the note of the murderer.

Eli Kitsong whipped out his revolver, but the hand of a friendly bystander clutched the weapon. "None of that; the man is unarmed," he said.

At this moment the door of the saloon opened and five or six men came rushing, eager to see, quick to share in a fight. Believing them to be enemies, Hanscom with instant rush struck the first man a heavy blow, caught and wrenched his weapon from his fist, and so, armed and desperate, faced the circle of inflamed and excited men.

"Hands up now!" he called.

"Don't shoot, Hans!" shouted the man who had been disarmed. "We're all friends."

In the tense silence which followed, the sheriff, attracted by the noise, emerged from the coroner's door with a shout and hurled himself like an enormous ram into the crowd. Pushing men this way and that, he reached the empty space before the ranger's feet.

"What's the meaning of all this?" he demanded, with panting intensity. "Put up them guns." The crowd obeyed. "Now, what's it all about?" he said, addressing Abe.

"He jumped me," complained Kitsong. "I want him arrested for that and for taking Henry without a warrant."

"Where's _your warrant?" asked Throop.

Abe was confused. "I haven't any yet, but I'll get one."

Throop addressed the crowd, which was swiftly augmenting. "Clear out of this, now! _Vamose_, every man of you, or I'll run you all in. Clear out, I say!" The throng began to move away, for the gestures with which he indicated his meaning were made sinisterly significant by the weapon which he swung. The leaders fell back and began to move away. Throop said to the ranger: "Hans, you come with me. The coroner wants you."

Hanscom returned the revolver to the man from whom he had snatched it. "I'm much obliged, Pete," he said, with a note of humor. "Hope I didn't do any damage. I didn't have time to see who was coming. I wouldn't have been so rough if I'd known it was you."

The other fellow grinned. "'Peared to me like you'd made a mistake, but I couldn't blame you. Feller has to act quick in a case like that."

"Bring your prisoner here," called Carmody from his open door. "I'll take care of him."

"I'll get you yet," called Kitsong, venomously. "I'll get you to-morrow!"

"Go along out o' here!" repeated the sheriff, hustling him off the walk. "You're drunk and disturbing the peace. Go home and go to bed."

With a sense of having made a bad matter worse the ranger followed the coroner into his office and closed the door.

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CHAPTER IIOne day in early autumn, as he was returning to his station, Hanscom met Abe Kitsong just below Watson's cabin, riding furiously down the hill. Drawing his horse to a stand, the rancher called out: "Just the man I need!" "What's the trouble?" "Ed Watson's killed!" Hanscom stared incredulously. "No! Where--when?" "Last night, I reckon. You see, Ed had promised to ride down to my place this morning and help me to raise a shed, and when he didn't come I got oneasy and went up to see what kept him, and the first thing I saw when I opened
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