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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Forest Ranger - Chapter 7
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The Forest Ranger - Chapter 7 Post by :andrewtan94 Category :Long Stories Author :Hamlin Garland Date :May 2012 Read :1381

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The Forest Ranger - Chapter 7

CHAPTER VII

Dr. Carmody, who had held the office of coroner less than a year, had a keen sense of the importance which this his first murder case had given him. His procedure at the cabin had been easy and rather casual, it is true, but contact with the town-folk and a careful perusal of the State Code had given him a decided tone of authority and an air of judicial severity which surprised and somewhat irritated Hanscom, fresh from his encounter with Kitsong.

"What was the cause of that row out there?" demanded the doctor, resuming his seat behind his desk with the expression of a police magistrate.

The ranger, still hot with anger, looked at his questioner with resentful eyes. "Kitsong and his gang were laying for me and I stood 'em off--that's all. Old Abe was out for trouble, and he got it. I punched his jaw and the other outlaws started in to do me up."

Carmody softened a bit. "Well, you're in for it. He'll probably have you arrested and charged with assault and battery."

"If he can," interposed Throop. "He'll find some trouble gettin' a warrant issued in this town to-night."

Carmody continued his accusing interrogation: "What about this report of your helping the Kauffmans to leave the country? Is that true?"

Hanscom's tone was still defiant as he replied: "It is, but I wonder if you know that they were being chased out of the country at the time?"

"Chased out?"

"Yes. After receiving several warnings, they got one that scared them, and so they hitched up and started over early in the morning to find me. On the way they were waylaid by an armed squad and chased for several miles. I heard the shooting, and by riding hard across the Black Hogback intercepted them and scared the outlaws off, but the Kauffmans were in bad shape. One of the horses had been killed and Kauffman himself was lying on the ground. He'd been thrown from the wagon and was badly bruised. The girl was unhurt, but naturally she wanted to get out of the country at once. She wasn't scared; she was plain disgusted. She wanted me to take them to the train, and I did. Any decent citizen would have done the same. I didn't know you wanted them again, and if I had I wouldn't have tried to hold them at the time, for I was pretty well wrought up myself."

Carmody was less belligerent as he said: "What about arresting these young people? How did that happen?"

"Well, on the way back from the station I got to thinking about those raiders, and it struck me that it would be easy for them to ride down to the Kauffman cabin and do some damage, and that I'd better go over and see that everything was safe. It was late when I got home, but I saddled up and drove across. Good thing I did, for I found the house all lit up, and Henry Kitsong, young Busby, and old Pete Cuneo's girl were in full possession of the place and having a gay time. I arrested the boys for breaking into the house on the theory that they were both in that raid. Furthermore, I'm sure they know something about Watson's death. That's what Abe and Eli were fighting me about to-night--they're afraid Henry was mixed up in it. He and Watson didn't get on well."

The vigor and candor of the ranger's defense profoundly affected Carmody. "You may be right," he said, thoughtfully. "Anyhow, I'll bring them all before the jury to-morrow. Of course, I can't enter into that raid or the housebreaking--that's out of my jurisdiction--but if you think this Cuneo girl knows something--"

"I am certain she does. She made those tracks in the flour."

The coroner turned sharply. "What makes you think so?"

Hanscom then told him of the comparison he had made of her shoes with the drawings in his note-book, and the coroner listened intently.

"That's mighty important," he said, at last. "You did right in bringing her down. I'll defend your action."

Hanscom persisted: "You must make it clear to that jury that Helen McLaren never entered Watson's gate in her life."

Carmody was at heart convinced. "Don't worry," said he. "I'll give you a chance to get all that evidence before the jury, and for fear Abe may try to arrest you and keep you away from the session, I reckon I'd better send you home in charge of Throop." He smiled, and the sheriff smiled, but it was not so funny to the ranger.

"Never mind about me," he said. "I can take care of myself. Kitsong is only bluffing."

"All the same, you'd better go home with Throop," persisted the coroner. "You're needed at the hearing to-morrow, and Miss McLaren will want you all in one piece," he said.

Hanscom considered a moment. "All right. I'm in your hands till to-morrow. Good night."

"Good night," replied Carmody. "Take good care of him," he added to the sheriff as he rose.

"He won't get away," replied Throop. As he stepped into the street he perceived a small group of Kitsong's sympathizers still hanging about the door of the saloon. "What are you hanging around here for?" he demanded.

"Waiting for Abe. He's gone after a warrant and the city marshal," one of them explained.

"You're wasting time and so is Abe. You tell him that the coroner has put Hanscom in my custody and that I won't stand for any interference from anybody--not even the county judge--so you fellers better clear off home."

The back streets were silent, and as they walked along Throop said: "I'm going to lose you at the door of the hotel, but you'd better turn up at my office early to-morrow."

Hanscom said "Good night" and went to his bed with a sense of physical relaxation which should have brought slumber at once, but it didn't. On the contrary, he lay awake till long after midnight, reliving the exciting events of the day, and the hour upon which he spent most thought was that in Mrs. Throop's front room when he sat opposite Helen and discussed her future and his own.

When he awoke it was broad day, and as Kauffman, who occupied a bed in the same chamber, was still soundly slumbering, the ranger dressed as quietly as possible and went out into the street to take account of a dawn which was ushering in the most important morning of his life--a day in which his own fate as well as that of Helen McLaren must be decided.

The air was clear and stinging and the mountain wall, lit by the direct rays of the rising sun, appeared depressingly bald and prosaic, like his own past life. The foot-hills, in whose minute wrinkle the drama of which he was a vital part had taken place, resembled a crumpled carpet of dull gold and olive-green, and for the first time in his experience L. J. Hanscom, wilderness trailer, acknowledged a definite dissatisfaction with his splendid solitude.

"What does my life amount to?" he bitterly inquired. "What am I headed for? Where is my final camping-place? I can't go on as I'm going. If I were sure of some time getting a supervisor's job, or even an assistant supervisor's position, the outlook would not be so hopeless. But to get even that far means years of work, years of riding." And then, as he thought of his lonely cabin, so unsuited to a woman's life, he said: "No, I must quit the service; that's sure."

Returning to the hotel, he wrote out his resignation with resolute hand and dropped it into the mail-box. "There," he told himself, "now you're just naturally obliged to hustle for a new job," and, strange to say, a feeling of elation followed this decisive action.

Kauffman was afoot and dressing with slow and painful movements as Hanscom re-entered, saying, cheerily, "Well, uncle, how do you feel by now?"

With a wan smile the old man answered: "Much bruised and very painful, but I am not concerned about myself. I am only afraid for you. I hope you will not come to harm by reason of your generous aid to us."

"Don't you fret about me," responded Hanscom, sturdily. "I'm hard to kill; and don't make the mistake of thinking that the whole country is down on you, for it isn't. Abe and his gang are not much better than outlaws in the eyes of the people down here in the valley, and as soon as the town understands the case the citizens will all be with you--and--Helen." He hesitated a little before speaking her name, and the sound of the word gave him a little pang of delight--brought her nearer, someway. "But let's go down to breakfast; you must be hungry."

The old man did not reply as cheerily as the ranger expected him to do. On the contrary, he answered, sadly: "No, I do not feel like eating, but I will go down with you. Perhaps I shall feel better for it."

The dining-room was filled with boarders, and all betrayed the keenest interest in Kauffman. It was evident also that the ranger's punishment of Kitsong was widely known, for several spoke of it, and Simpson warningly said:

"Abe intends to have your hide. He's going to slap a warrant on you as soon as you're out of Carmody's hands and have you sent down the line for assault with intent to kill."

All this talk increased Kauffman's uneasiness, and on the way over to the jail he again apologized for the trouble they had brought upon him.

"Don't say a word of last night's row to Helen," warned Hanscom. "Throop promised to keep it from her, and don't consider Kitsong; he can't touch me till after Carmody is through with me."

The deputy who let them in said that the sheriff was at breakfast--a fact which was made evident by the savory smell of sausages which pervaded the entire hall, and a moment later, Throop, hearing their voices, came to the dining-room door, napkin in hand. "Come in," he called. "Come in an have a hot cake."

"Thank you, we've had our breakfast," Hanscom replied.

"Oh, well, you can stand a cup of coffee, anyway, and Miss Helen wants to see you."

The wish to see Helen brought instant change to the ranger's plan. Putting down his hat, he followed Kauffman into the pleasant sunlit breakfast-room with a swiftly pounding heart.

Helen, smiling cheerily, rose to meet her stepfather with a lovely air of concern. "Dear old daddy, how do you feel this morning?"

"Very well indeed," he bravely falsified.

She turned to Hanscom with outstretched hand. "Isn't it glorious this morning!" she exclaimed, rather than asked.

The sheriff, like the good boomer that he was, interrupted the ranger's reply. "Oh, we have plenty of mornings like this."

She protested. "Please don't say that! I want to consider this morning especially fine. I want it to bring us all good luck."

Evidently Throop had kept his promise to Hanscom, for Helen said nothing of the battle of the night before, and with sudden flare of confidence the ranger said:

"You're right. This is a wonderful morning, and I believe this trial is coming out right, but just to be prepared for anything that comes, I think I'd better get a lawyer to represent you. I don't feel able properly to defend your interests."

"But you must be there," she quickly answered. "You are the one sure friend in all this land."

His sensitive face flushed with pleasure, for beneath the frank expression of her friendship he perceived a deeper note than she had hitherto expressed, and yet he was less sure of her than ever, for in ways not easily defined by one as simple as he she had contrived to accent overnight the alien urban character of her training. She no longer even remotely suggested the hermit he had once supposed her to be. A gown of graceful lines, a different way of dressing her hair, had effected an almost miraculous change in her appearance. She became from moment to moment less of the mountaineer and more of the city dweller, and, realizing this, the trailer's admiration was tinged with something very like despair. He was not a dullard; he divined that these outer signs of change implied corresponding mental reversals. Her attitude toward the mountains, toward life, had altered.

"She is turning away from my world back to the world from which she came," was his vaguely defined conclusion.

Meanwhile the sheriff was saying: "Well, now, Carmody opens court in the town-hall at ten this morning, and, Hans, you are to be on hand early. I'll bring Miss McLaren up in the car about a quarter to ten and have her in the doctor's office, which is only a few doors away."

"How is the Cuneo girl?" asked Hanscom.

"She seems rested and fairly chipper, but I can see she's going to be a bad witness."

Helen's face clouded. "Poor girl! I feel sorry for her."

Mrs. Throop was less sympathetic. "She certainly has made a mess of it. I can't make out which of these raiders she ran away with."

"She's going to defend them both," said Throop; "and she's going to deny everything. I'd like to work the third degree on her. I'd bet I'd find out what she was doing down at Watson's."

Helen, who knew the value which her defenders placed on the correspondence between Rita's shoes and the footprint, was very grave as she said: "I hope she had no part in the murder. Mrs. Throop says she is hardly more than a child."

"Well," warned the sheriff, "we're not the court. It's up to Carmody and his jury."

They said no more about the trial, and Hanscom soon left the room with intent to find a lawyer who would be willing for a small fee to represent the Kauffmans--a quest in which he was unsuccessful.

The sheriff followed him out. "Reckon I'd better take you up to Carmody's office in my car," he said. "Kitsong may succeed in clapping a warrant on your head."

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