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A Rescue And A Vigilance Committee

From: Hidden Gold

At the end of an hour, or so, the lion withdrew and Wade thought he had
seen the last of it. He began to pace up and down the fissure once more,
for now that his thin shirt was damp with perspiration, set flowing by
the nervous strain he had been under, he began to get chilly again. He
had just begun to warm up, when he heard the animal returning. He
crouched back against the cavern wall, but the lion had evidently lost
the zest for such impossible prey. It walked about and sniffed at the
edges of the fissure for some minutes; then it sneaked off into the
timber with a cat-like whimper.

The exhausted ranchman kept his feet as long as he could, but when the
first rays of the morning sun cast purple shadows into the depths of the
hole, he could no longer keep awake. With his hands, he drifted the
loose sand about him, as travelers do when exposed to a snow-blizzard,
and slept until Goat Neale aroused him, in broad daylight. The Texan
performed this service by deftly dropping a small stone upon the
sleeping man's face.

"I just stepped over to inquire what you-all'd like for breakfast this
mornin'," he said with a grin. "Not that it matters much, 'cause the
dumb-waiter down to where you be ain't waitin' to-day, but it's
manners, kinder, to ask."

Wade looked up at him grimly, but said nothing. Just awake as he was,
his healthy stomach clamored for food, but since none would be given
him, he knew that he might as well try to be patient.

"Mebbe you'd like to step over to our hotel an' take your meals, eh?"
The Texan went on, after a short pause. "I've got a pot of coffee bilin'
an' a mess o' bacon fryin'. No?" He grinned sardonically. "How'd you
like me to give you some o' this here cabareet stuff, while you're
waitin'? I ain't no great shucks as a entertainer, but I'll do what I
can. Mebbe, you'd like to know how I happened to catch you that clump on
the head yesterday. Huh?

"I was up in the low branches of a thick pine, where you was moseyin'
along. You was that busy watchin' the ground, you never thought to raise
them eyes o' yourn. I just reached down and lammed you good with a piece
of stick, an' here you be, safe an' sound as a beetle in a log. Here
you'll stay, too, likely, on-less you get some sense, and I don't know
when that there dumbwaiter'll get to runnin'. It's a shame, too, if you
ask me, 'cause a man needs his three or four squares a day in this here

"How much do you want to give me a hand out of here, Neale?" the
cattleman demanded abruptly, tired of listening to the fellow's
monotonous drawl; and after all the chance was worth taking.

The eyes of the Texan glittered.

"Got the money on you?"

"You'd get the money all right."

"Sure, son, I know that--if you had it! I'd just hold my gun on you, an'
you'd toss the roll up here, without puttin' me to the trouble o' givin'
you no hand." He chuckled in appreciation of his own humor. "But I know
you ain't got it on you--we frisked you down yonder in the timber--an' I
don't deal in no promises. This here is a cash game. If I thought

He whirled about suddenly, looking behind him and seemed to listen for
an instant; then his hand dropped to the gun at his hip. He never drew
the weapon, however, for with a horrible facial grimace, as his body
contorted under the impact of a bullet, he threw his arms into the air
and reeled over the edge of the hole. A second afterward the report of a
rifle came to Wade's ears.

"Hello!" the rancher shouted, springing from under the Texan's falling
body. The instant it struck the sand, Wade snatched Neale's revolver
from its holster and waited for him to try to rise; but he did not move.
A bloody froth stained his lips, while a heavier stain on his shirt,
just under the heart, told where the bullet had struck. The man was

"Hello! Hello!" Wade shouted repeatedly, and discharged the revolver
into the sand. He realized that, although a friend must have fired the
rifle, there was nothing to show where he was. "Hello!"

"Hello!" The hail was answered by the newcomer, who, thus guided,
approached the spot until his voice was near at hand. "Hello!"

"Hello! Come on!" The prisoner threw his hat up out of the hole. "Here I

The next moment Bill Santry, with tears streaming down his
weather-beaten cheeks, was bending over the edge of the fissure with
down-stretched hands. Beneath his self-control the old man was
soft-hearted as a woman, and in his delight he now made no attempt to
restrain himself.

"Thank Gawd for this minute!" he exclaimed. "Give me your hands, boy. I
can just reach 'em if I stretch a little an' you jump." Wade did so and
was drawn up out of the hole. "Thank Gawd! Thank Gawd!" the old fellow
kept exclaiming, patting his employer on the back. "Didn't hurt you
much, did they?"

Before Wade could answer, a patter of hoofs caused him to turn, as
Dorothy slipped from Gypsy's bare back and ran toward him. She stumbled
when she had almost reached him, and he caught her in his arms.

"Are you all right? Oh, your head! It's hurt--see, the blood?" She clung
to him and searched his face with her eyes, while he tried to soothe

"It's nothing, just a bad bruise, but how--?" He checked the question
upon his lips. "We mustn't stay here. Moran may have...."

"There ain't nobody here. I wish to Gawd he was here. I'd...." Santry's
face was twisted with rage. "'Course," he added, "I knew it was him,
so'd Lem Trowbridge. But we come right smack through their camp, and
there was nobody there. This here skunk that I plugged, he must be the
only one. I got him, I reckon."

"Yes," Wade answered simply, as he watched three men from the Trowbridge
ranch ride up to them. "Where's Lem?"

Dorothy explained that she had set out to find him in company with the
man she had met at the big pine; but on the way they had met Santry and
the three cowboys. One of the men had then ridden on to Bald Knob after
Trowbridge, while the rest had come straight to Coyote Springs. She
tried to speak quietly, but she could not keep the song of happiness out
of her voice, or the love out of her eyes.

"Then you did this, too?" Wade wrung her hands and looked at her
proudly. "But how--I don't understand?"

"I'll tell you, when we're in the saddle," she said shyly. "There's so
much to tell."

"Santry!" The ranch owner threw his arm fondly across the shoulders of
his foreman. "You, too, and Lem. I've got all my friends to thank. Say,
dig a grave for this fellow, Neale. There was a lion around here last
night, and I'd hate to have him get Neale, bad as he was. Then--" His
voice became crisp with determination. "Hunt up Trowbridge and ask him
to pass the word for everybody to meet at the ranch, as soon as
possible. There's going to be open war here in the valley from now on."
He turned again to Dorothy. "Dorothy, I'm going to take you right on
home with me."

"Oh, but...." The gleam in his eyes made her pause. She was too glad to
have found him safe, besides, to wish to cross him in whatever might be
his purpose.

"No buts about it. I'll send for your mother, too, of course. Town won't
be any place for either of you until this business is settled. George!"
he called to one of the three cowmen, who rode over to him. "I suppose
it'll be all right for you to take orders from me?"

"I reckon so."

"I want you to ride into Crawling Water. Get a buckboard there and bring
Mrs. Purnell out to my place. Tell her that her daughter is there, and
she'll come. Come now, little girl." He caught Dorothy in his arms and
lifted her on to Gypsy's back. "All right, boys, and much obliged." He
waved the little cavalcade on its way, and swung into the saddle on the
extra horse, which Santry had provided.

On the way down through the timber, Dorothy modestly told him of the
part she had played, with the help of Lem Trowbridge. He listened with
amazement to the story of her generalship, and was relieved to hear that
the Rexhills were probably already out of Crawling Water, for that left
him a free hand to act against Moran. This time the agent must suffer
the penalty of his misdeeds, but greater even than his pleasure at that
thought, was Wade's gratitude to Dorothy for all she had done for him.
He was filled with a wonderful tenderness for her, which made him see in
the play of her facial expression; the shy lowering of her lashes; the
color which ebbed and flowed in her cheeks; the free use which she made
of her red lips, a greater fascination than she had ever before exerted
over him. There, in the fissure, he had expected never to be at her side
again, and now that he was so, and knew what she had come to mean to
him, the old friendship between them seemed no longer possible;
certainly not from his side. He felt, in its place, all the confusion of
a lover, anxious to speak and yet struck dumb with clumsiness and the
fear, never absent no matter what the degree of encouragement, that his
suit might not find favor with the lady when put into words.

"You're a wonderful girl," he burst out, at last, with a heartiness
that, in bringing a flush to her cheeks, made the old phrase seem new to
her ears.

"I'm not at all," she denied shyly. "I just had to do it, that was all.
People always do what they have to do."

"They do not. Lots of them can't, but you--you're always capable; that's
what makes you so wonderful, Dorothy!" He pulled his horse closer to
hers, meaning to put his arm around her, but he dared not attempt it,
when her dress brushed his sleeve.

"Yes?" She was trembling now far more than when she had faced the
Rexhills. "What is it?"

His arm dropped to his side, and he suddenly became acutely conscious of
his appearance, what with his blood-matted hair; his blood-stained and
soiled face; his generally woe-begone and desperate state. At least,
before he risked his future on such a question, he ought to make
himself as presentable as he could.


"But--" She looked at him curiously. "You were going to say something,
weren't you?"

"Yes; but I'm not going to do it until I can get to a hair-brush, and a
wash-basin, and a clean shirt," he answered lugubriously. "What I've got
on my mind is a church-going sentiment and I want to be in church-going
clothes." The expression of his countenance contributed more than his
words to the humor he strove for, and she laughed at him, merrily with
her mouth, very tenderly with her eyes.

"There's the house." She pointed ahead. "Even though I'm riding
bareback, I can beat you to it. Come on!"

Once Wade was within reach of food, his hunger became insistent, and he
could not wait for the cook to prepare a meal of fried chicken. He
foraged in the larder beforehand, and then did full justice to the meal
put before him. By the time this was over, Mrs. Purnell arrived, and he
had no chance to get into his "church-going clothes," as he called them.
He had to tell the old lady all that had befallen him.

"I never would have thought it of that Miss Rexhill," Mrs. Purnell

"It wasn't Miss Rexhill, it was her father and Race Moran," Dorothy

"Or the Senator either, speaking merely from the looks of him," her
mother retorted. "And think of the position he holds, a Senator of the
United States!"

"That's no hall-mark of virtue these days," Wade laughed.

"Well, it should be. If we're to have people like him running the
Nation, there's no telling where we'll end."

"It just goes to show how an honest man, for I think Rexhill was an
honest man when I first knew him, can go wrong by associating with the
wrong people," said Wade. He could not forget his earlier friendship for
the Rexhills, and to him the word friendship meant much. "He not only
got in with a bad crowd, but he got going at a pace that wrung money out
of him every time he moved. Then, in the last election, he was hit hard,
and I suppose he felt that he had to recoup, even if he had to sacrifice
his friends to do it. We mustn't judge a man like that too hard. We live
differently out here, and maybe we don't understand those temptations.
I'm mighty glad they've gone away. I can get right down to work now,
without any qualms of conscience."

"But think of you, Dorothy, out all night in those mountains!" Mrs.
Purnell exclaimed.

"Mother--" Dorothy smiled tenderly. "You always think backward to
yesterday, instead of forward to to-morrow."

By then, the first of the neighboring ranchers were drifting in, in
response to Wade's summons. When all were present, and Trowbridge had
wrung Wade's hand in a hearty pressure of congratulation, they were
asked into the living-room, where Santry stood in a corner, munching
slowly on a mouthful of tobacco and smiling grimly to himself.

"Gentlemen," began Wade, facing the little group of stern-faced men,
"you all know why we are here. To a greater or lesser extent, we've all
suffered from Race Moran's depredations, although until lately none of
us knew his motive. Now, however, we know that there is gold here in the
valley--on our land--which Moran is trying to get possession of. He has
proved that he is willing to resort to any villainy to get what he
wants, and while he and his men are at large our lives and most of our
ranches are in danger.

"We have tried the law, but it has not helped us. Such little law as we
have here is entirely in the hands of the enemy. We must now assume the
direction of our own affairs. Many of you have already served in a
vigilance committee, and you all know the purpose of such an
organization. My idea is to form one now to take possession of Crawling
Water and run Moran and his hired bullies out of the county. Between us,
we can muster about a hundred men; more than enough to turn the trick,
and the quicker we get to work the sooner we'll be able to go about our
business affairs without fear of being shot in the back. My plan is
this: Let us assemble our force quietly, ride into Crawling Water,
capture Moran and his followers, and escort them out of the county.
There must be no lynching or unnecessary bloodshed; but if they resist,
as some of them will, we must use such force as is needed to overcome

He stopped speaking, and for some minutes silence prevailed. Then Bill
Santry shifted the quid in his cheek, spat unerringly through the open
window, and began to talk. His loose-jointed figure had suddenly become
tense and forceful; his lean face was determined and very grim.

"Being as I've suffered some from this skunk, and have lived here some
while, so to say, mebbe I can horn in?" he began.

"Go ahead!" said Wade heartily.

"Gordon here has stated the gist o' this business a whole lot better'n I
could, but I'd like to make a few additional remarks. We've all been
neighbors for some years, and in the natural course of things we've been
pretty good friends. Until this feller, Moran, got to monkeyin' around
here, there wasn't no trouble to talk about, and we was all able to
carry on our work calm and peaceful like. But since this skunk camped
among us, we ain't hardly knowed what a decent sleep is like; he's
grabbed our range, butchered our stock, shot up our men, lied, and
carried on high, in general. We've given the law a chance to do the
square thing by us. All we asked was a fair shake, and we turned the
other cheek, as the Bible says, hopin' that we could win through without
too much fightin', but we've been handed the muddy end of the stick
every time. It's come to a showdown, gents. We either got to let Moran
do as he damn pleases 'round here, or show him that he's tackled a
buzz-saw. Most of us was weaned some earlier than the day before
yisterday. We gradooated from the tenderfoot class some time back, and
it's up to us to prove it."

He paused and looked around him earnestly for a moment; then, as his
audience remained silent, he went on:

"I'm older'n you men, an' I've lived a heap in my time. For nearly forty
years I've been knockin' 'round this Western country without no nurse or
guardeen to look after me. I've mixed with all kinds, and I've been in
some scrapes; there's notches on my gun handles to prove that I ain't
been no quitter. I've rode with the vigilantes more'n once, and the
vigilantes has rode after me--more'n once; in my young days I wa'n't
exactly what you'd call a nickel-plated saint. But I never killed a man,
'cept in a fair fight, an' I don't believe in violence unless it's
necessary. It's necessary right now, fellers! Moran's gone too far!
Things have drawed to a point where we've got to fight or quit. In my
experience, I ain't never seen but one judge that couldn't be bought;
money an' influence don't count a whoop with him. It's Judge Colt,
gents! You all know him; an' with him on our side we can round up Moran
an' his crew of gun-fighters, an' ship 'em out of the country for keeps.
Now's the time! The quicker we get busy, the quicker the air in these
hills will be fit for a white man to breathe."

"It's a go with me," Lem Trowbridge declared grimly. "That's what I'm
here for. How about the rest of you?"

When the other stock men assented, Wade smiled, for he knew their type.
Honest, hard-working, peace-loving men though they were, when aroused
they possessed the courage and tenacity of bull-dogs. They were aroused
now, and they would carry on to the end, with a step as firm and
relentless as the march of Time. Woe to whoever attempted to thwart them
in their purpose!

Wade's neighbor to the north, Dave Kelly, spoke up in his slow, nasal
drawl. "You say there's to be no lynchin'," he remarked. "How about Tug
Bailey, when he gets here from Sheridan? According to what Lem says,
Bailey shot Jensen."

"Sure, he did," Trowbridge put in. "We'll just slip a noose over his
head and make him confess. That'll publicly clear Gordon and Bill. Then
we'll give him a good coat of tar and feathers and run him out of town."

"That's right," said Santry. "Jensen was only a Swede and a sheepherder.
This here committee's to protect men."

Kelly chuckled. "Have it your own way," he said. "I'm not particular. As
it is, there'll be plenty doing."

For an hour or more the cattlemen went over the plan of their campaign,
which worked out into simplicity itself. Early the next evening they
would marshal their force outside of Crawling Water, each man armed and
mounted. After dark they would ride up the main street, where they would
halt at each crossing, while a squad detailed for the purpose searched
each saloon and other gathering place for members of Moran's gang. After
the prisoners were rounded up they would be assembled in a compact body
and marched to the railroad where they would be set free, under threat
of instant death if they ever returned to Crawling Water.

Although counting on superior numbers and the morale of his men, Wade,
who had been chosen to command the little army, knew that there would be
considerable hard fighting. Moran's people would probably be scattered
and otherwise unprepared for the attack, but many of them would resist
to the death. If Moran should attempt an organized resistance, the
cattlemen meant to storm the town. Once the first shot was fired, the
fight would be to a finish, for any other outcome than victory would
spell ruin for the cattle interests in that section.

The prospect was more than serious. Moran had established himself in
Crawling Water and practically ruled it, surrounded as he was by some
sixty adherents, the off-scouring of a dozen lawless communities. The
decent citizens held aloof from him, but on the other hand the lower
element viewed his reign with favor. The gamblers, particularly Monte
Joe, who proclaimed himself Moran's lieutenant, had welcomed him, as had
the saloonkeepers, to all of whom the presence of his men meant gainful
trade. The better class, in the town itself, was in the minority and
unable to restrain the unbridled license which flourished everywhere.

No matter how stiff Moran's resistance proved, however, Wade felt very
sure of the final result. He knew the men in his party and he knew that
they meant business. He was relieved to believe that Dorothy and her
mother would be safe at the ranch until after the trouble was over, and
that Helen and Senator Rexhill had left Crawling Water. The two factions
were now arrayed against each other almost like opposing armies, and the
cattleman shuddered to think what his state of mind would have been had
Dorothy and Mrs. Purnell remained in Crawling Water.

"You'll be entirely safe here," he told them, when he was ready to leave
for Crawling Water on the following evening. "I shall leave Barker to
look after your wants, but you won't really need him. There isn't a
sheepherder, or any of the Moran gang, between here and Crawling Water.
The fighting will all be in town, thank goodness."

At the word "fighting" Dorothy caught her breath sharply, too proud to
urge him against his duty and yet afraid for him. He had not been able
to muster courage enough to speak to her of what was in his heart,
foolish though that was in him, and he sat there in the saddle for a
moment, looking tenderly down on her as she stood smoothing out his
horse's forelock.

"Do be careful of yourself, Gordon," Mrs. Purnell called to him from the
porch, but he did not hear her.

"I haven't had a chance yet to get into my church-going clothes, have
I?" he said whimsically to Dorothy, who flushed prettily and looked

"I don't see what clothes have to do with talking to me," she said half
coyly and half mischievously.

"Neither do I," he agreed. She had stepped aside and his horse's head
was free. "I guess they haven't a thing to do with it, but I haven't
been seeing things exactly straight lately. I reckon I've been half

Touching his horse with the spurs, he loped away to join Santry, who was
waiting for him on ahead.

Next: Baffled But Still Dangerous

Previous: A War Of Wits

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