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A Mutual Benefit Association








From: 'firebrand' Trevison

Unheeding the drama that was rapidly and invisibly (except for the
incident of Braman and the window) working itself out in its midst, Manti
lunged forward on the path of progress, each day growing larger, busier,
more noisy and more important. Perhaps Manti did not heed, because Manti
was itself a drama--the drama of creation. Each resident, each newcomer,
settled quickly and firmly into the place that desire or ambition or greed
urged him; put forth whatever energy nature had endowed him with, and
pushed on toward the goal toward which the town was striving--success;
collectively winning, unrecking of individual failure or tragedy--those
things were to be expected, and they fell into the limbo of forgotten
things, easily and unnoticed. Wrecks, disasters, were certain. They
came--turmoil engulfed them.

Which is to say that during the two weeks that had elapsed since the
departure of Judge Graney for Washington, Manti had paid very little
attention to "Brand" Trevison while he haunted the telegraph station and
the post-office for news. He was pointed out, it is true, as the man who
had hurled banker Braman through the window of his bank building; there
was a hazy understanding that he was having some sort of trouble with
Corrigan over some land titles, but in the main Manti buzzed along, busy
with its visions and its troubles, leaving Trevison with his.

The inaction, with the imminence of failure after ten years of effort, had
its effect on Trevison. It fretted him; he looked years older; he looked
worried and harassed; he longed for a chance to come to grips in an
encounter that would ease the strain. Physical action it must be, for his
brain was a muddle of passion and hatred in which clear thoughts, schemes,
plans, plots, were swallowed and lost. He wanted to come into physical
contact with the men and things that were thwarting him; he wanted to feel
the thud and jar of blows; to catch the hot breath of open antagonism; he
yearned to feel the strain of muscles--this fighting in the dark with
courts and laws and lawyers, according to rules and customs, filled him
with a raging impotence that hurt him. And then, at the end of two weeks
came a telegram from Judge Graney, saying merely: "Be patient. It's a long
trail."

Trevison got on Nigger and returned to the Diamond K.

The six o'clock train arrived in Manti that evening with many passengers,
among whom was a woman of twenty-eight at whom men turned to look the
second time. Her traveling suit spoke eloquently of that personal quality
which a language, seeking new and expressive phrases describes as "class."
It fitted her smoothly, tightly, revealing certain lines of her graceful
figure that made various citizens of Manti gasp. "Looks like she'd been
poured into it," remarked an interested lounger. She lingered on the
station platform until she saw her trunks safely deposited, and then,
drawing her skirts as though fearful of contamination, she walked,
self-possessed and cool, through the doorway of the Castle
hotel--Manti's aristocrat of hostelries.

Shortly afterwards she admitted Corrigan to her room. She had changed from
her traveling suit to a gown of some soft, glossy material that
accentuated the lines revealed by the discarded habit. The worldly-wise
would have viewed the lady with a certain expressive smile that might have
meant much or nothing. And the lady would have looked upon that smile as
she now looked at Corrigan, with a faint defiance that had quite a little
daring in it. But in the present case there was an added expression--two,
in fact--pleasure and expectancy.

"Well--I'm here." She bowed, mockingly, laughingly, compressing her lips
as she noted the quick fire that flamed in her visitor's eyes.

"That's all over, Jeff; I won't go back to it. If that's why--"

"That's all right," he said, smiling as he took the chair she waved him
to; "I've erased a page or two from the past, myself. But I can't help
admiring you; you certainly are looking fine! What have you been doing to
yourself?"

She draped herself in a chair where she could look straight at him, and
his compliment made her mouth harden at the corners.

"Well," she said; "in your letter you promised you'd take me into your
confidence. I'm ready."

"It's purely a business proposition. Each realizes on his effort. You help
me to get Rosalind Benham through the simple process of fascinating
Trevison; I help you to get Trevison by getting Miss Benham. It's a sort
of mutual benefit association, as it were."

"What does Trevison look like, Jeff--tell me?" The woman leaned forward in
her chair, her eyes glowing.

"Oh, you women!" said Corrigan, with a gesture of disgust. "He's a
handsome fool," he added; "if that's what you want to know. But I haven't
any compliments to hand him regarding his manners--he's a wild man!"

"I'd love to see him!" breathed the woman.

"Well, keep your hair on; you'll see him soon enough. But you've got to
understand this: He's on my land, and he gets off without further
fighting--if you can hold him. That's understood, eh? You win him back and
get him away from here. If you double-cross me, he finds out what you
are!" He flung the words at her, roughly.

She spoke quietly, though color stained her cheeks. "Not 'are,' Jeff--what
I was. That would be bad enough. But have no fear--I shall do as you ask.
For I want him--I have wanted him all the time--even during the time I was
chained to that little beast, Harvey. I wouldn't have been what I
am--if--if--"

"Cut it out!" he advised brutally; "the man always gets the blame,
anyway--so it's no novelty to hear that sort of stuff. So you understand,
eh? You choose your own method--but get results--quick! I want to get that
damned fool away from here!" He got up and paced back and forth in the
room. "If he takes Rosalind Benham away from me I'll kill him! I'll kill
him, anyway!"

"Has it gone very far between them?" The concern in her voice brought a
harsh laugh from Corrigan.

"Far enough, I guess. He's been riding with her; every day for three
weeks, her aunt told me. He's a fiery, impetuous devil!"

"Don't worry," she consoled. "And now," she directed; "get out of here.
I've been on the go for days and days, and I want to sleep. I shall go out
to see Rosalind tomorrow--to surprise her, Jeff--to surprise her. Ha,
ha!"

"I'll have a rig here for you at nine o'clock," said Corrigan. "Take your
trunks--she won't order you away. Tell her that Trevison sent for
you--don't mention my name; and stick to it! Well, pleasant dreams," he
added as he went out.

As the door closed the woman stood looking at it, a sneer curving her
lips.





Next: Wherein A Woman Lies

Previous: A Rumble Of War



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